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Vol 40 No 9

Published 30th April 1999

Diplomacy with attitude

The Labour government's ideas of an ethical foreign policy and activist diplomacy have met their toughest test in Africa's conflicts

British ministers talk boldly of 'militant humanitarianism' and 'defending civilians against terror'. They refer to Kosovo, but some African officials have asked their Western counterparts if such considerations extend to the wars enveloping almost a third of Africa's 53 states. Most Western capitals reply with a definitive if slightly apologetic 'no'. But African diplomats hope that Britain may push their continent's case in the United Nations Security Council when the international focus moves on from the Balkans. The kill rate in Africa's wars - 1.5 million in Sudan, 1 million in Rwanda, over 500,000 in Angola, 150,000 in Liberia, 80,000 in Algeria, 15,000 in Sierra Leone, and 40,000 in a few weeks in Ethiopia and Eritrea - easily eclipses the Balkans' death toll of some 400,000 dead since 1990. There is no causal relation between war casualties and diplomatic concentration.

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