Pinehurst, N.C. — Pete Strzok’s pine-shaded home in North Carolina is a long way from Mali. But the Pinehurst resident is drawn to that place and all of West Africa.
For more than 30 years, the retired Army officer has traveled repeatedly to the region as president of the nonprofit group Agency to Facilitate the Growth of Rural Organizations, which does development projects in rural areas.
Strzok said everyone should be concerned about what is happening in Mali, where Islamic insurgents have seized control of the northern part of the country.
“We need Africa,” Strzok said. “We need a stable Africa. Poverty drives people to desperation.”
He sees that desperate drive now in the news coming out of Timbuktu. Radical Islamist rebels, many backed by al-Qaeda, are imposing sharia law, a brutally strict form of Islam. Strzok says nothing-to-lose young people are drawn to these rebel groups and the glory of waging a holy war.
“It’s gruesome,” he said. “And the people are not used to this. This is not West Africa. West Africa is a country of hospitality.”
It was also a country with a proven democracy – one of the few in Africa. But the president was overthrown last year after an ethnic insurgency.
Africa should not be ignored, no matter how deeply troubled its past, Strzok said.
“That’s the great conceit, the great terrible belief that it is a country, a continent that can’t really be saved. So, let it go down the slippery slope,” he said.
Strzok said government corruption breeds the poverty that breeds the madness. It's a cycle that must stop.
“We have allowed the national governments to remain corrupt or become even more corrupt, and we don’t’ have the guts globally – whether it’s the World Bank or UN agencies – to insist on accountability,” he said.