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Canada Can't Remain An 'Island' As Conflict Sweeps Across Africa

01/03/2017 11:11 EST | Updated 01/03/2017 11:11 EST

mali conflict

Tuareg fighters drive near Kidal, northern Mali on Sept. 28, 2016, where rival groups have clashed in recent weeks over the country's shaky peace deal. (Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

In these turbulent times, are humanitarian and peace-support missions still essential, worth sacrificing blood and treasure? Are those missions' objectives well-defined, let alone attainable? Do individual nation-states have the necessary resources and force of will to sustain them?

These are some of the many mission-planning questions the Canadian government, like others, is pondering when considering the deployment of national forces in support of a UN mission, such those currently under consideration in Mali and elsewhere in Africa. In fact, they are the same questions that Médecins Sans Frontières and other NGOs have to answer before sending medical personnel to help some "Damnés de la terre."

They are also questions that journalists in general, and freelance photographers such as myself, have to ponder before deciding to go or not to go.

Why do we still go to such countries, unheeding of official warnings? The simple answer is because it matters.

According to Global Affairs Canada travel advisories, individuals should definitely avoid going to Mali due to the threat of terrorism and banditry. Despite such warnings echoed by other countries, the French aid worker Sophie Petronin stayed in Gao, knowing how vulnerable she was to kidnapping. She was abducted on Saturday Dec. 24, 2016. The same plight was bestowed upon 93 journalists killed in 2016 covering conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria.

Why do we still go to such countries, unheeding of official warnings? The simple answer is because it matters. These individual actions make a difference for all the vulnerable people living in conflict areas for whom it is a question of life and death.

Did the actions of medical personnel in Syria change the outcome of the conflict? Alas, it didn't; but for so many of the thousands of innocent victims of this conflict who were saved by the heroic actions of so few, it was very significant.

aleppo medical

A Syrian civilian is loaded into a bus by members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent before heading to Homs in order to receive medical care on December 22, 2016 at a makeshift shelter in Jibrin on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo. (Photo: GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Ask yourself: if your family were in need of medical assistance, food or shelter in order to survive but another day, wouldn't you be grateful for such courageous personnel as those that went over to Syria, bringing with them not more suffering but rather assistance and relief? Wouldn't you want reporters to shine the spotlight on your predicament so the rest of the world notices, and believe that your life also matters? As an unarmed civilian, wouldn't you want mandated military forces to combat evil and create a safe zone?

The answer to those questions is likely to be yes.

It is time to demonstrate again with more than just words what we stand on guard for.

As individual citizens of the same world or as countries within the international community, we cannot allow ourselves to become morally paralyzed as we have been so far with the Syrian conflict, or be content to remain what the Canadian minister of defence has called "an island of stability in an ocean of turmoil."

In these early days of 2017, 150 years after the creation of this very same "island," it is time to demonstrate again with more than just words what we stand on guard for. On our behalf, the Canadian government must make the decision to go or not to go in Mali, or elsewhere in Africa, to provide assistance to peace-support operations. For your part, what decision would you have them take?

As for mine, it is taken: I am going.

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