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Circles of Violence
April 1, 2010 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Africa's Forever Wars - Why the continent's conflicts never end. There is a very simple reason why some of Africa's bloodiest, most brutal wars never seem to end: They are not really wars. Not in the traditional sense, at least. The combatants don't have much of an ideology; they don't have clear goals. Terror has become an end, not just a means.

Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don't want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they've already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?

The world has let Somalia fester too long without a permanent government. Now, many powerful Somalis have a vested interest in the status quo chaos. Most frightening is how many sick states like Congo are now showing Somalia-like symptoms. Whenever a potential leader emerges to reimpose order in Mogadishu, criminal networks rise up to finance his opponent, no matter who that may be. The longer these areas are stateless, the harder it is to go back to the necessary evil of government.
posted by VikingSword (55 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
The world has let Somalia fester too long without a permanent government.

The world has also attempted to intervene in Somalia several times now, sometimes simply to provide humanitarian relief, sometimes to try to prop up the Transitional Federal Government; I'd be hard-pressed to point to any way that Somalia is a better place today, or closer to stability, because of those actions.

One thing I find interesting is that even though any kind of genuine Somali government has been absent for almost 20 years now, Somaliland still has no international recognition at all, in spite of having a functioning democracy (imperfectly functioning to be sure, but better than many other East African states).
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Rather than fighting in Iraq, stable "1st world" counties would be wiser to assist counties in establishing stable, sustainable governance. A systematic region by region security assistance approach (as opposed to occupation and governing by proxy, direct or absent) would be long and drawn out (think 20 - 30 years) as the need to education cross generational, but potentially would reduce global strife dramatically over time.
posted by edgeways at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2010


The world has let Somalia fester too long without a permanent government. Now, many powerful Somalis have a vested interest in the status quo chaos.

Somalia has let Somalia fester too long without a permanent government.

The outside world seems to have a vested interest in the status quo chaos.

Until the Somalis figure that out for themselves, nothing will change.
posted by three blind mice at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the article: Maybe it's pure nostalgia, but it seems that yesteryear's African rebels had a bit more class.

Janjaweed punks get off my lawn!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:17 PM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ah, the legacy of European imperialism. The gift that keeps on giving. Take a thousand distinct tribes with unique views, cultures, and long-standing enmities going back centuries and brutally enslave most of them for a century or two, in the process demonstrating exactly how to use superior weapons technology and ruthlessness to gain power and influence over their brethren. Then, after you've extracted the majority of the most useful resources, remove almost all European influences (and infrastructural support), but in the process of leaving carve up their entire continent into the foreign political constructs that are nation-states, which splits some tribes across multiple borders and groups others into the same nations as their sworn enemies. Finally, provide just enough in the way of modern technology and medicine to allow their populations to explode by a thousand-fold. I can't imagine how that could go wrong.
posted by Caduceus at 1:20 PM on April 1, 2010 [54 favorites]


I can't imagine how that could go wrong.

But you just gave us all those reasons!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


Every time I read about these atrocities in Africa, I'm just astounded by how insanely cruel and inhuman people can be. I mean, yes, Stanford Prison Experiment, blah blah blah blah blah, Milgram Experiment, blah blah blah blah blah, French TV Show, blah blah blah blah blah.

But you know what? Fuck that noise.

Raping women with machine guns? Cutting off peoples' lips? Pounding newborn babies to death in wooden mortars? This has to be something different entirely.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:24 PM on April 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


This is what religion is good for, and precisely why our intervention to prevent an Islamist government from forming in Somalia has ensured that they remain chaotic. Absent other input, our monkey brains form tribes of about a hundred people. With a guiding ethos, that organization can go much further, forming a civilization. So far, at least, religion is the only proven way for that to happen.

Had we not intervened, our danger level today would be lower, not higher.
posted by Malor at 1:27 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rather than fighting in Iraq, stable "1st world" counties would be wiser to assist counties in establishing stable, sustainable governance.... potentially would reduce global strife dramatically over time.

But governments aren't in the "making things happier" business, they're interested in solidifying their interests and the interests of their supporters.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


three blind mice: "Somalia has let Somalia fester too long without a permanent government.

The outside world seems to have a vested interest in the status quo chaos.

Until the Somalis figure that out for themselves, nothing will change.
"

Yes, the outside world so loves the chaos in Somalia and will try to protect the many benefits it conveys. And Somalis clearly haven't figured out that having rampaging warlords is a bad thing, otherwise there would be no more warlords, right?
posted by battlebison at 1:28 PM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Caduceus, I agree with you entirely, but I'm afraid that perhaps you implied one step too far in the chain of responsibility - because regardless of the evil influence of colonialism (which I agree with you on 100%), there is still human nature. And some of these new "wars" are only tangentially if at all connected to the long chain of colonial evil, but more immediately down to economic and political and social and finally, plain human failures in Africa itself. There are indigenous problems. No question, frequently exploited by outside interests - but that's incidental, something that would happen opportunistically anywhere, just like flies attracted to a festering sore. The interesting question is precisely these "new" wars, the new character of wars, separate from the wars of liberation from colonialism. Of course, one could always extend the chain of causality back to colonialism, but in a trivial and not entirely illuminating way - in the same way that we can extend all causes back to our ancestors and down to bacteria. The question is not how far back we can stretch the chain, but what has the most explanatory power for the current conditions - and here, it's clear that it's not the effects of colonialism that best explain what is going on, rather some of the things mentioned in the article.
posted by VikingSword at 1:29 PM on April 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Somaliland still has no international recognition at all

Isn't this the place you drop off your kids while you shop for Swedish some-assembly-required furniture?

If so, it's got all kinds of international recognition.
posted by weston at 1:36 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have experience with development in Africa... I don't agree with the analysis. I think the reasons there are never ending wars in Africa are VERY complicated.

I reject the idea that the financial/economic ties people have to armed groups are the main cause of trouble too. The Vietnam war dragged out in part because local people became suppliers of various goods and services to the foreign militaries. There are examples of this happening in Iraq and Afghanistan too. These vendor/client relationships do drag out modern wars but not forever.

I could name the trade in blood diamonds, the intervention of third parties like the French Foreign Legion, boundary squabbles over borders which were drawn arbitrarily, lack of other opportunity, easy access to guns, and tribal conflicts as some of the factors that feed the conflicts that seem to never end in Africa (Using the blanket term "Africa" is problematic too as Somalia, Sudan and Congo are really different places, it’s like lumping people living in Nunavut with people living on the Yucatan Peninsula because they are all in North America). Africa is a diverse and complicated place, and there are a lot of problems.

Another thing to consider is that some of these "wars" are fought by people better understood as well-armed gangsters - but it helps show that sometimes these kind of conflicts are small, localized, gangs of thugs which don't disrupt the security of the greater region much. We have some of these problems in the more developed world too. I've met people in SE Asia who never want to travel to the U.S.A because they think day-to-day life resembles an episode of CSI Miami - full of crime and violence. So, proportion and perspective is important here.

I don't have the answer to the problems of war and violence in Africa, but I don't think we've come up with it in this article.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:41 PM on April 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Raping women with machine guns? Cutting off peoples' lips? Pounding newborn babies to death in wooden mortars? This has to be something different entirely.

Do you think if you were press-ganged into some bush army at the age of 9, handed an AK-47, and exposed to nothing but violence from then on, you would have the moral strength not to participate in any of those atrocities? What would be your benchmark for even recognizing those things as wrong? After all, you're not doing those things to people - they're from some other tribe.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:45 PM on April 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


I don't have the answer to the problems of war and violence in Africa, but I don't think we've come up with it in this article.

I don't think the article is purporting to have a solution. I'd be hard-pressed to find a single sentence in the article that's prescriptive rather than descriptive.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:47 PM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


However, one thing that I'm pretty sure is not the solution is to reflexively blame colonialism for everything.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:50 PM on April 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Do you think if you were press-ganged into some bush army at the age of 9, handed an AK-47, and exposed to nothing but violence from then on, you would have the moral strength not to participate in any of those atrocities? What would be your benchmark for even recognizing those things as wrong? After all, you're not doing those things to people - they're from some other tribe.

I don't really see how any of those points contradicts Afroblanco's argument, "Shooting kids to death is horrible."
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 1:50 PM on April 1, 2010


Yes, believe it or not, I'm not actually arguing that shooting children to death isn't horrible - I agree with Afroblanco wholeheartedly that it is. I'm just disagreeing with the idea that these atrocities are "different entirely" from the human propensity to obey one's leaders and do horrible things to people in an outgroup as documented in Milgram and the Stanford Prison Experiment and so on. They're different in degree, but entirely the same in kind.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:56 PM on April 1, 2010


However, one thing that I'm pretty sure is not the solution is to reflexively blame colonialism for everything.

Agreed. The colonialists did however have some tendency to blow up, magnify, and pick sides in some already existing conflicts. Europeans also had a tendency to make some theatric and ritualistic tribal wars and conflicts much more deadly.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:57 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you're right, VikingSword; the after-effects of colonialism are certainly not the only reason for the violence in large swaths of Africa today. There are undoubtedly a host of complex and sometimes contradictory reasons behind most of it, many boiling down to individual groups or even single individuals.

Still, I've got a $100 down that when the first dimensional transportation machine allows us to jump over to a world that didn't have European colonialism in Africa, that the violence will be less there. I bet even the world where when the colonialists pulled out, instead of graciously granting former colonies the gift of nationhood, they instead recognized each individual tribe as a sovereign entity will have less violence.
posted by Caduceus at 2:10 PM on April 1, 2010


I think perhaps it's worth looking at My Lai for some common perspective on atrocities. I don't profess to know all the answers, but demoralization and bad leadership are apparently very powerful demons.
posted by crapmatic at 2:11 PM on April 1, 2010


I invoke the fundamental principle People Are Wretched. After that, it's just finding the various directions and magnitudes of wretchedness darting off like arrows from a symbol you might find burned into Stormbringer's handle. Atrocity is a byproduct of human metabolism almost as certain as carbon dioxide, wedded to the systematic way you can explore the problem space of cruelty by finding one awful thing to do after another. It looks like creativity but is only seeking some local maximum, hill-climbing with child sacrifice on top. What have you got on hand? Look through The History of Torture Throughout the Ages. Hit some of the Old Testament — everyone gets put to death, no matter the age. These particular displays are just the latest iteration humanity's nastiness; that, sadly reflective, is all.
posted by adipocere at 2:13 PM on April 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


Still, I've got a $100 down that when the first dimensional transportation machine allows us to jump over to a world that didn't have European colonialism in Africa, that the violence will be less there. I bet even the world where when the colonialists pulled out, instead of graciously granting former colonies the gift of nationhood, they instead recognized each individual tribe as a sovereign entity will have less violence.

Perhaps. And it's an easy bet to make, given the malign influence of colonialism and its immediate aftermath replete with arbitrary map-drawing. But would the violence be necessarily less? I just don't know - and there is no way to know... the older I grow the more humble I become about my own powers of prediction and analysis, and the more convinced that when you are dealing with so many different variables in a dynamic - not to say chaotic - system, expect the unexpected. We know history can be altered by a single individual - that's humbling. So yes, if we go by broad trends, you are probably right. But I remain humble - and unsure. The best I can muster is "probably".
posted by VikingSword at 2:17 PM on April 1, 2010


“They're different in degree, but entirely the same in kind.”
Perhaps in terms of execution. But in perpetuation, I think it’s because they are disassociated not only from other tribes but from any kind of society at all (and even themselves). They’re not prepared to deal with any sort of interaction without violence establishing dominance. I agree with your larger points.
Re the article, much as I’m all for killing or capturing the leaders here, it’s going to require a bit more depth and engagement. A lot of those folks have forgotten there are better ways to get better things out of life.
I don’t think it will spread though. Or rather, it won’t spread beyond a certain limit because in part it’s containment and lack of engagement by the world that is part of the problem in the first place.
Get a certain kind of pressure in proper places in proper proportions you have storms that lasts centuries (like the red spot on Jupiter). It’s not possible without ongoing external pressure feeding it.
One aspect (beyond the others pointed out) being the arms trade. (Yeah, ok, you can do a lot of damage with machetes.)
One can argue the fine points of ripping off minerals and so forth, but the only people making a buck off 'endless' wars are the arms dealers. Indeed, security often accompanies mineral exploitation. Often localized and temporary, sure. But you're not going to try to pull some stuff out of the ground if there's constant gunfire going on. Who's going to sell someone a crate of missles?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:23 PM on April 1, 2010


That was probably one of the least helpful comments I could possibly make, I know. But the article, if I'm reading it right, is essentially advocating the assassination of all the leaders of these various armed rebel/bandit groups, which is only marginally more helpful than my talk of alternate worlds. I sure as fuck don't know what any answers might be. But the article doesn't even seem to offer questions.
posted by Caduceus at 2:23 PM on April 1, 2010


And as an addendum - colonialism is still a very recent phenomenon, so we can expect the effects to persist, just as the effects of the slightly more distant slavery persist to this day in the U.S. as expressed in the lower economic strata occupied by African Americans. However, with time there will be less and less of an immediate connection, the further we go into the future (I think the Brits can let the Romans/Italians off the hook for what happens in Britain today, notwithstanding that whole Emperor Claudius thing). The question is "which effect and when" - at this point, I find more light in looking to indigenous causes for some of these conflicts than in extending the chain of causality back to colonial times - for many other things, these links hold the primary explanatory power - and that's the context in which I find the article interesting.
posted by VikingSword at 2:25 PM on April 1, 2010


Still, I've got a $100 down that when the first dimensional transportation machine allows us to jump over to a world that didn't have European colonialism in Africa, that the violence will be less there

Honestly, you might at least gander at some material on pre-colonial-domination Africa. This is an interesting read, regardless.

You would likely lose that bet assuming that we are talking raw violence and not something focused on the availability of advanced weapons.
posted by rr at 2:42 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe there'll be a paradigm shift if the entire continent forms some kind of strategic/economic union. Europe had seen a heck of a lot of "tribal" bloodshed over the last couple of millennia, up until the end of WW2.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:43 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


they instead recognized each individual tribe as a sovereign entity

I don't think it's as simple as that anyway; and if they'd tried it, don't you think some would now be blaming the violence on the 'forcible Balkanisation' imposed by the colonialists, on 'imperialist divide and rule policies', on patronising European assumptions that Africans were incapable of nationhood in the advanced sense appreciated by whites?

In parts of Africa the colonial legacy clearly still has a baleful influence; in others, I'm not so sure. But even if colonialism were solely to blame, there's not much point in talking about it, because it can't be undone. We mustn't assume that the destiny of Africa was fixed for all time by European intervention. The question is, how does the violence get stopped?
posted by Phanx at 2:47 PM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Isn't it the case that in the 1950s, as the Mau Mau uprising was was for a time gaining on the colonialists, that they had no demands and no spokesperson to whom negotiated concessions could be offered?
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:09 PM on April 1, 2010


It is a red herring - and very convenient to the warlords - to blame these ongoing acts of auto-genocide and obscene savagery on "white Western colonialism."

Throughout human history people of all races and locales and religions have suffered at the hands of others. You can blame this on politics or religion or tribalism or whatever, but still it goes on and there are few idyllic exceptions in any time or place in human history.

So it really does not matter one iota what or who is behind the continual savagery in Africa.

If "the world" wants it to stop, it can be stopped.
posted by geeyore at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Raping women with machine guns.. Cutting off peoples' lips.. Pounding newborn babies to death in wooden mortars..

This is extremely disturbing. This is most upsetting thing I've ever read on metafilter.

Speaking of volunteer work in africa... I would donate money to someone who volunteers to hunt down the motherfuckers who are committing these atrocities.
posted by water bear at 4:08 PM on April 1, 2010


Isn't it the case that in the 1950s, as the Mau Mau uprising was was for a time gaining on the colonialists, that they had no demands and no spokesperson to whom negotiated concessions could be offered?
Won't pretend to have done any more than read this not so long back in the LRB and a review of Wunyabari O. Maloba's book, but you come away with the impression that while the uprising was somewhat fragmented, there were clear enough aims and little attempt to address those in good faith, a brutal crackdown being preferred.
posted by Abiezer at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2010


Afroblanco: Every time I read about these atrocities in Africa, I'm just astounded by how insanely cruel and inhuman people can be. I mean, yes, Stanford Prison Experiment, blah blah blah blah blah, Milgram Experiment, blah blah blah blah blah, French TV Show, blah blah blah blah blah.

But you know what? Fuck that noise.

Raping women with machine guns? Cutting off peoples' lips? Pounding newborn babies to death in wooden mortars? This has to be something different entirely.


There is a large and clear difference between the evil science has demonstrated in the first world and horrors we often see now in much of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Milgram and Standford Prison Experiments were not conducted on children, had no consequences, and had only a white lab coat or a guard uniform backing them up.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:44 PM on April 1, 2010


I would love it, love it, if people would stop talking about all this "African violence" and start acknowledging that an enormous continent with a billion people and fifty-odd countries might have a diverse set of problems with a diverse set of causes.

While the atrocities people mention here and that most of us are familiar with (in the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, etc) are certainly horrific, it still isn't the reality of daily life for the vast majority of people on the continent. As the article notes, a great many countries on the continent have ongoing violent conflict, but there are many people even within those countries who carry on their lives in a more or less stable fashion. Deep Dish has a great point here.

I don't know that I disagree with the article's diagnosis of these "forever wars" in particular and I don't deny the ugly tenacity of these situations, but articles like this one and the sorts of comments they engender often seem straight out of the How to Write about Africa playbook.

And while it would certainly be silly and unproductive to "blame everything" on Western colonialism, I'd argue that the marginal and exploited place in the global economy that much of Africa has occupied for the past two hundred years (a position that still broadly holds--witness coltan and diamonds in DRC, oil in Angola, Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, and so forth) should be a part of any discussion of the continent's problems.
posted by col_pogo at 5:24 PM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Part of the problem in Africa is they just can't win--take what's called the resource curse. Africa has oil, but the problem with oil is that it costs a crapload of money to get it out, so naturally Africa has been forced to bring in outside investors (Shell, China, etc.), who split the profit with the national government, which is often corrupt of course. And once you tap it and the pipelines are running, it doesn't cost much money or require much in the way of employment to keep the oil flowing, so few local jobs are created. Further compounding matters is that it drives up the local currency, which then kills other export markets like agriculture. It just never ends really--wealthier countries are able to buy these natural resources and utilize them to grow even more, further widening the gap. Got some uranium? Nice. You mine it, sell it to us, and we'll use it to build a Silicon Valley.

I hope there is a solution to Africa's problems, but I think I agree with the author at the end when he says there's "no end in sight."
posted by stevenstevo at 5:26 PM on April 1, 2010


Africans were raping and murdering each other a thousand years ago. To be fair, so were Europeans. We just don't know as much about atrocities in the pre-colonial period because there isn't as much documentation, but the awful things (see the reign of Queen Ranavalona I) that were occurring at the start of colonization indicate that the pre-colonial period was probably every bit as bad as what is going on today.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:45 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


geeyore: "Throughout human history people of all races and locales and religions have suffered at the hands of others. You can blame this on politics or religion or tribalism or whatever, but still it goes on and there are few idyllic exceptions in any time or place in human history. "

It's a primate thing.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:48 PM on April 1, 2010


Jeffrey Gettleman is a sensationalist, and his unreconstructedly pessimistic generalization is indicative of how low standards of accuracy are with regard to narratives about African societies and lives. This article makes it sound as though every nation in Africa is doomed to be convulsed with constant, senseless bloodshed of the most brutal variety imaginable. That's simply not true, but it does fit perfectly with the narrative so many people already have about Africa: those people are mad, they're totally irrational, they do nothing but brutalize each other for no reasons that we could possible understand. He's categorically Othering African conflict, which obscures rather than clarifies the diverse etiologies involved. He should be ashamed of himself. This isn't even reportage. It's an exercise in self-serving obfuscation. He obviously had a deadline and no ideas.

Disparate African conflicts of the sort he's describing often have at least one common factor: resources. Natural resources and social resources, like food, security, and employment. Many African governments don't distribute resources or the wealth resulting from resources in an egalitarian fashion, so it's hardly surprising that Africans would want to take their share. This is, under the circumstances, a rational decision, or at least a comprehensible one. I'm not talking about raping and pillaging--those are part of the story of how conflicts in various parts of Africa play out, but they aren't always proximal causes. Those things have always gone on, and we European-descended people who see them as aberrational or distinctly African are simple wrong. I'm not saying they're okay, just not an African innovation, as people like Gettleman would have you believe.

Here's part of the problem: we're looking at societies that don't necessarily have the cultural or civil institutions in place to handle the sort of egalitarian schemes of resource distribution that we've come to associate with stability in the West, and we're wondering why conflicts linger indefinitely. It shouldn't be so surprising. A cynic might suggest that African governments or members of government aren't necessarily incentivized to end conflicts or engage in good governance generally because aid continues to flow regardless. It took Europe hundreds upon hundreds of years to become stable, with the last major war having occurred less than a century ago. African countries, by and large, are not even industrialized yet. Most Africans are subsistence farmers. And yet we expect, on some level, that African societies will function like ours do, with all the benefit of hundreds of years of material advantages.

Seriously, you can safely ignore anything Jeffrey Gettleman says if you want to actually understand events in Africa. Read Jina Moore and Glenna Gordon, to name just two excellent journalists actually working and living in Africa today, if you want to get some real perspective on events there, rather than the lazy Heart-of-Darkness bullshit Gettleman is peddling.
posted by clockzero at 6:54 PM on April 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Here's part of the problem: we're looking at societies that don't necessarily have the cultural or civil institutions in place to handle the sort of egalitarian schemes of resource distribution that we've come to associate with stability in the West, and we're wondering why conflicts linger indefinitely.

Interestingly enough, one of the brighter success stories in Africa, namely Botswana, has a rich history of participative decision-making institutions which was left largely intact by the benign colonialist rule of the British.

Botswana gets 40% of its income from diamonds, but has escaped the so-called resource curse.

It was also lucky enough to escape the attention of either side during the Cold War.
posted by storybored at 7:13 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]



The success of Botswana is more complex than just that, but a couple notable points: the value of diamonds has not decreased in the past 20 years [unlike other natural resources], the diamond market is less volatile than other natural resources, and a lot of the more valuable finds of diamond mines, were post-independence, so the semi-nationalized [i think] diamond industry was able to keep more revenue had then these valuable mines were found during colonialism.

[sorry, i don't have any citations, I'm just remembering this from a presentation from a visiting scholar from botswana that visited my school last year].
posted by fizzix at 7:31 PM on April 1, 2010


The success of Botswana is more complex than just that...

Yes, that's true (although rising prices for oil did nothing to encourage stability in Nigeria). Other success factors include a relatively homogeneous ethnic mix, two generations of political integrity, and generally moderate economic policies.
posted by storybored at 7:43 PM on April 1, 2010


Current evidence in support of rapacious war as an "African" problem.

Somalia
Sudan
D.R. Congo

Current evidence to the contrary:

Botswana
Tunisia
Libya
Malawi
Gabon
Ghana
Mozambique
Egypt
Zambia
Tanzania
Equatorial Guinea
Morocco
Namibia
Burkina Faso
Madagascar
senegal
Rwanda
Cameroon
Mali
Guyana
Kenya
Cote d'Ivoire
Algeria
Mauritania
posted by storybored at 7:45 PM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Finally, provide just enough in the way of modern technology and medicine to allow their populations to explode by a thousand-fold. I can't imagine how that could go wrong.

I find it easy to believe that colonialism made things worse in Africa, but somehow I don't think medicine is the problem. I'm going with the AK-47s.
posted by Xezlec at 8:11 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rwanda's not a great example for the "Against" column - the Kagame government has been deeply involved in some of the worst parts of the Congo wars.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:13 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think modern day economic neocolonialism is as much to blame for African misery as historical political colonialism. The capitalist greed machine abetted by conflict of interest politics is causing untold damage around the globe and Africa is just the worst example of it. (Not that I am anticapitalist, just the unregulated, worshipping the market as god kind). At the same time, there is never any excuse for such brutal behaviour, just a very sad, horrifying example of human nature.

"It's a primate thing."

You're going down that road? At some point utter moral failure comes in, regardless of circumstances, not to sidetrack too much into the nature of evil.
posted by blue shadows at 9:06 PM on April 1, 2010


In college I had an amazing professor for a class on Modern African History. He made the point that studying "African" history was preposterous, and did his best to highlight certain countries or group countries together with similar history (colonial and tribal) economy, and culture/religion.

For the final we were to right an essay supporting one of two thesis' (I don't remember the exact wording): that African problems were primarily the result of Colonialism (and Neocolonialism), or that African agency was a more important lens for viewing African history and current events. When I saw the question I realized I could argue either point successfully. I have no idea what I wrote but I remember the lesson he was trying to teach:

Neither answer is completely correct, for anywhere in Africa.

And I was frustrated as hell writing that essay cause I wanted to argue for nuance.

It seems we can continue to argue about the root causes of violence in parts of Africa, the shocking atrocities being committed, the power hungry leaders, the contributions of neocolonialism, the insane covert ops propping up dictators during the "Cold" Wars and at the end of the day it seems to breed an Africa is hopeless mentality in the West.

Maybe there's not a solution, maybe some wars will wage for another century. Right now, all I can try to do is continue to look at problems and solutions that have worked and support as many grassroots organizations as possible that work to improve the quality of life for people suffering in Africa, thru access to resources and education.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 11:00 PM on April 1, 2010


My problem with "blame colonialism" is the same as my problem with this article : neither suggest a positive way forward.

So what if colonialism is the problem? So fucking what? Maybe that rationalizes something in your liberal arts mind. Still doesn't help the women being raped with machine guns right now.

And what, and what, and what? Yeah, I'm talking to you, Gettleman. What do you want us to do? Go around assassinating people? You have ALL THIS EXPERIENCE with Africa and blah blah fucking blah, and all you can do is tell us it's hopeless and that we should just go around assassinating people? You know what? Fuck you. We were better off without you.

As much as we hate John Kerry and nuance and complicated thought processes, I think it's time to say : WE NEED ANOTHER WAY. Let's fucking come up with something.

Maybe Kiva does have problems -- yeah, I know my $25 didn't necessarily go to Kwambe Mufutu, who's trying to start a grocery store -- but hell, at least they're TRYING.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:08 AM on April 2, 2010


You could always try Caribbean Stalinism - the Cuban intervention in Angola to thwart a US-backed invasion by apartheid South Africa, their role in Namibian independence and subsequent humanitarian and security assistance offered over decades is probably one of the most selfless acts on internationalism of the twentieth century. Don't suppose that's top of any liberal agenda though.
posted by Abiezer at 2:02 AM on April 2, 2010


I invoke the fundamental principle People Are Wretched.

That's what gets my vote too.

FREDERICK: You missed a very dull TV show on Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips, and more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions. The reason they can never answer the question "How could it possibly happen?" is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is "Why doesn't it happen more often?"
posted by Meatbomb at 5:20 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a garbage article, absolutely useless and shameful.

At best it sensationalizes the violence that wracks many parts of Africa; at worst it perpetuates the deep racism that permeates Western media coverage of Africa. None of the conflicts listed have gone on forever, and Gettleman repeatedly and speciously conflates atrocities, conflicts to make it sound like there is something "African" about this problem.

Sorry Africa is complicated, and sorry its painful for us all to hear about some of the most disgusting atrocities; that does not make it okay for white, non-African media sources to clumsily argue that Africa's problems are inevitable and unending.
posted by RajahKing at 7:46 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


At best it sensationalizes the violence that wracks many parts of Africa; at worst it perpetuates the deep racism that permeates Western media coverage of Africa.

Brilliantly put, RajahKing. Yesterday, when I was just sort of posting one-liners after reading Gettleman's article, it was because I couldn't quite articulate what bothered me about it, but it really does seem to carry this undercurrent of shrugged shoulders and "Gee, I don't know, I guess those Africans really just like to commit atrocities."
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:55 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it easy to believe that colonialism made things worse in Africa, but somehow I don't think medicine is the problem.

That's because that comment fell into the highly racist idea set of "too many brown people". It dates back to the 70s "population bomb" nonsense and was a self-justifying smear against helping non-whites with the idea of "with our medicine they'll just make more of the savages".

Not only is it an extraordinarily bigoted idea, but it also ignores the fact that modern medicine has an important role in hastening the demographic transition to smaller families and population decrease. So whatever bigot wrote that line not only has no business saying anything about Africa at all, they should have their knuckles slapped by a nun for the sheer stupidity of their comment.
posted by happyroach at 1:44 PM on April 2, 2010


hunt down the motherfuckers who are committing these atrocities

paul collier, for one, argues for armed intervention as "an acceptable development policy tool..."

re: Natural resources and social resources, like food, security, and employment + cultural or civil institutions, collier sez:
With neither the social unity needed for cooperation, nor the size to reap the benefits of larger scale, they are structurally unable to provide the public goods—such as security—that are critical for decent quality of life and imperative for economic development. They have diverged from the rest of mankind. They will never tap their vast reservoir of frustrated human potential unless the international community, at least for a time, supplies basic public goods that go beyond the typical aid agenda. This, stated baldly, is the thesis of my new book, Wars, Guns, and Votes. It is a troubling thesis. I have come to it reluctantly, and the international community has shied away from it...
and to be clear he's not talking about africa as a whole, but "about 60 small, impoverished, post-colonial countries that "came unnatural into the world.' "

which brings to mind paul romer's idea for charter cities (call it neocolonialism if you will ;) as a congruent (potential) 'solution'.

i thought jagdish bhagwati also brought up a good point: "while many development debates are still aid-related, the most recent development success stories, such as those in India and China, have a very different relation to aid—almost none at all."

and now interestingly, ibid.:
Suspicion and disapproval have long attended the pursuit of profit in post-conflict societies. The economic incentives surrounding natural resources, in particular, are often seen as prolonging wars, obstructing peacemaking and holding back social progress. Yet now, driven principally by the growing desire of post-conflict governments to complement aid with trade and the increasing availability of long-term investment, a new path to development and peace is opening up... where a wave of state-backed investment in natural resources presents new options for leaders in the developing world.

The principal western charge against such investments, particularly those from China – that they are pursued as a matter of commercial, as opposed to charitable, interest – is both accurate and entirely unobjectionable to many African governments... the caricature of no-strings-attached, no-questions-asked macro-finance does not describe the growing number of state-backed investors seeking long-term, commercially and politically viable relationships that depend on providing lasting benefits to both sides. Nor does it take account of the ongoing re-examination among African governments of the benefits and risks of aid-dependency.

Finally, while the early period of macro-finance investments has been dominated by Asian, and in particular Chinese, state-backed companies, there is no reason why others cannot compete on the same terms. Many African governments are attracted to the Chinese development model, but there is also a desire to avoid going from one form of dependency to another. This is an opportunity for western and other macro-finance investors willing to engage African governments as economic partners.
cf. China Railway wins $4.8bn Indonesia deal
...the latest in a string of offshore contracts for China's state-controlled rail companies. They have been winning rail projects across the world, including in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa and Australia. Chinese companies have also been snapping up global coal assets for the country's power stations...

Beijing has made the transfer of sophisticated technology a prerequisite for international rail companies trying to enter the huge Chinese market and in the process, Chinese companies have rapidly become technologically competitive while offering much lower prices than their global rivals. State-owned Chinese financial institutions usually offer favourable financing terms for projects such as the coal transport line in South Sumatra, making Chinese bids even more attractive... Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of thermal coal. Last year 15 per cent of its coal exports went to China.
also interesting to me is the interaction between migrant populations with their host countries, the problems they face, and the attention that reflects back on why they left in the first place (to begin with) and what, if anything, can be done, viz. en terre étrangère
posted by kliuless at 10:20 AM on April 3, 2010


As a Westerner, reading an article like this (even taking into account the sensationalism) is extremely frustrating. To the extent that colonialism plays a role, and it would be hard to argue that it doesn't even for the firmest believers in pure African agency, how can any action the West/industrialized nations/the UN/etc. take in dealing with these wars not perpetuate the problems caused and/or exacerbated by colonialism? It's like anything those groups do is just going to make things worse in some way, even if it's just sending in people to stop atrocities from happening.

I don't like isolationism through despair but it seems like most of our (American/European) possible policies of intervention are just hubris in action.
posted by immlass at 10:43 AM on April 3, 2010


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