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African Responses Night And Day From Rwanda, U.N. Envoy Says

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power addresses top officials from the African peacekeeping mission in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Wednesday.
Jerome Delay
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power addresses top officials from the African peacekeeping mission in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Wednesday.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: three months of slaughter in which nearly a million people were killed.

As a scholar, Samantha Power wrote extensively about the U.S. failure to intervene in Rwanda and bring the genocide to an end. Now, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Power led the American delegation to memorial services in Rwanda this past Monday.

On her way home, she visited the Central African Republic, a country where conditions are being compared to the genocide two decades ago. Sectarian violence has forced 80 percent of the Muslim population to flee, and the U.N. says 1.5 million people face starvation.

What little security exists is provided by several thousand African peacekeepers, supported by a smaller French force. Just after the U.N. Security Council approved a peacekeeping force of 12,000 troops in the region, NPR's David Greene spoke with Ambassador Power about the Central African Republic and how it compares to Rwanda.

Interview Highlights

On whether the response is too late

It is a devastating situation and nobody should sugarcoat it in any way. But everything we do is itself an act of prevention. The more security we have, the more people who will be safe. But I want to be clear; our challenge is not an absence of will, it is that the number of emergencies right now on the continent — including the Central African Republic, including Darfur, including South Sudan, which has deteriorated, and of course including Mali — it's placing a lot of demand on African countries.

On lessons from Rwanda

I think the response to the Central African Republic is night and day from that to Rwanda. The level of commitment is much greater than [what] we saw 20 years ago. We're seeking to get the heaviest and most capable force in there as soon as possible. Recalling Rwanda, the response of the international community was to withdraw U.N. peacekeepers who [were] already on the ground. We are seeking to build up a very small force that existed when the crisis originally started, and again we already have [7,000] or 8,000 troops on the ground with more on the way.

On comparing the old Samantha Power to the new Samantha Power

The old Samantha Power is the new Samantha Power; they get to talk to each other every day. ... I feel privileged. I mean, look, if I were outside government now I'd be writing editorials, seeking meetings with the U.N. ambassador [and] seeking meetings with the secretary of state. Instead I get to work with the secretary of state every day who's as committed to I am of dealing with the problem. I get to talk to the president about it, who has dedicated $100 million to get African forces in there in as timely a fashion as possible in tough budget times. So I'm in a much better position now to affect both the pace and the scope of our response, and we've come a long way. But ... neither the new Samantha Power nor the old Samantha Power can be satisfied when you still have Muslim and Christian civilians who are living in great fear.

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