France, the United Nations and the African Union dispatched some 4,000 troops soon after the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that the C.A.R. was “on the verge of genocide.” Yet the country doesn’t face genocide; it is experiencing state collapse and limited intercommunal killings after a military takeover by a coalition of undisciplined militiamen known as Seleka.
It’s almost never “genocide”. But when Africa seems constantly riven by war, killings and murder this word retains talismanic force, the ability to separate out those conflicts we should care about from those that need not trouble us. The campaigners, with their own reasons for persuading us to give money or take action, know its power and have used it with good effect to marshal support. The trouble, as Alex de Waal points out in this NY Times piece, is that its misuse complicates efforts to find solutions – the wrong diagnosis leading us down blind alleys – and ultimately weakens the definition of genocide to the point where its application become meaningless. We can do better than this.