Deft Diplomacy: How a Little-Known Document May Have Just Prevented an African Genocide


As multiple media outlets this week have bashed President Barack Obama for having a difficult year, he very well may have just had one of the greatest triumphs of his presidency.


And, not surprisingly, nobody in the media is talking about it.


The background on this story involves the escalating conflict in the Central African Republic between secretariat Christian and Muslim groups for the preceding eight months.  In early December, nearly 400 people were killed in clashes in the capital city of Bangui.  Thousands of refugees fled the city and it appeared that there was nothing that could be done to prevent the additional violence and murders.  The world appeared to be watching the events of a modern-day Rwanda unfold in front of its eyes and seemed perfectly content to let it happen.


Enter Barack Obama and a little-known 2011 document called Presidential Directive Study 10, or PSD-10.


PSD-10 stated that ”preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.”  This is the first official document in our nation’s history in which genocide prevention is specifically designated as an area of American security.  PSD-10 allowed for the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, a panel which drew upon eleven agencies such as the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the CIA.  It addition to long-term planning, it also established an emergency response to emerging crises and it outlined specific steps that should be followed should potential genocide situations arise.  With the situation in the Central African Republic precariously close to all-out war, the board went swiftly into action.


On December 9th, President Barack Obama met with with security advisers on the board.  A plan was implemented in which he would give a nationally broadcasted speech to the people of the Central African Republic, urging peace and tranquility.  The speech was actually recorded in Senegal while Obama was on a layover on his way to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  Obama’s speech, available on, reads as follows:


Mbi bala ala kouè.  This is President Barack Obama, and today I want to speak directly to you—the people of the Central African Republic.

I know that in your lives you have faced great hardship.  But I also know that you’ve lived together in peace—as diverse and vibrant communities, Christian and Muslim.  Together, you celebrate a proud history and a land of extraordinary beauty.  Together, you emerged from colonialism and achieved independence.  Together, you realize that we are all children of God and that—whatever our faith—we all deserve to live in peace and dignity.

But the awful violence of recent days threatens the country you love.  Innocent men, women and children have been killed.  Families have fled their homes.  And we know from the bitter experience of other countries what happens when societies descend into violence and retribution.  Today, my message to you is simple: it doesn’t have to be this way.  You—the proud citizens of the Central African Republic—have the power to choose a different path.

Respected leaders in your communities—Muslim and Christian—are calling for calm and peace.  I call on the transitional government to join these voices and to arrest those who are committing crimes.   Individuals who are engaging in violence must be held accountable—in accordance with the law.  Meanwhile, as forces from other African countries and France work to restore security, the United States will support their efforts to protect civilians.

Most of all, every citizen of the Central African Republic can show the courage that’s needed right now.  You can show your love for your country by rejecting the violence that would tear it apart.  You can choose peace.  You can choose to live up to the rule that is at the heart of all great faiths— that we treat other people the way we want to be treated ourselves.

That is how we honor our faiths.  That is how reconciliation occurs.  That’s how the Central African Republic can move forward—and return to a better path, toward a future where you and your fellow citizens can seek the security and dignity and peace you deserve.



In addition to the speech, on December 11th the United States donated $60 million worth of aid to the Central African Republic in an effort to re-establish peace in the region.  They then donated an additional $15 million on December 19th for further relief efforts, including the airlifting in of supplies.  According to an in-depth piece by ThinkProgress, it was almost like a “switch had been thrown” in the region due to both President Obama’s call for unity as well as the aid and supplies provided by the United States.  The violence had temporarily subsided and refugees were being given the essential supplies they needed in order to survive.


What’s remarkable about this story is the fact that it was done entirely without the gridlock of a partisan Washington, D.C.  PSD-10 is brilliant in that it gives its advisory board complete authority to act in the best interest of the United States in preventing genocide.  It takes the lessons learned from Rwanda in 1994 and replaces them with a quick and efficient way to act at once to avert a crisis.  Whereas the United States had a politically volatile debate regarding whether or not to act in Syria last year, PSD-10 clearly outlines the need to immediately act on behalf of our country’s national security.


It also helps establish the United States as a force for good in the world.  Whereas the previous administration had arbitrary reasons for intervening in foreign lands, PSD-10 specifically states that the United States’ ”security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.”  Those lines right there are a loud and clear message that the United States will not stand down and allow a repeat of Rwanda to happen on its watch.


While the American media last week chose to ridicule our President for taking a picture with other world leaders, he very well may have helped to prevent an African genocide a mere hours beforehand.  All this was accomplished with no political gamesmanship, no flashy press releases or conferences, and no public acknowledgement of what he and his administration had just done.  He just did it, simply because it was the right thing to do to ensure peace among the Central African people.


Somewhere up there, Nelson Mandela is smiling on a job well done.











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