Is Africa's History less violent than Europe's? info
When the west regards the inner-state conflict within African nations like Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, it is often view as Tribal Wars. The term "Tribal War" appears to be a discriminitory remark to regard Africans as primative and exists within the realm of "New Age Primitism". There are media reports that suggests that Africa is a dying continent and millions are dying from starvation. Unfortunately, when people see images of blacks suffering from malnutrition, some would immediately suggests this is Africa. However the statistics contradicts those suggestions and the study shown below highlight key points that might suggests why large-scale wars between African nations do not occur in that continent and why ethnic division turns into violence.
| In 1997, at the height of the war that brought down Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, The New Republic published a special issue devoted to Africa. The cover featured a striking black-and-white photograph of ragged refugees in flight, and an ominous headline across the top in appropriately grim, gray letters: "AFRICA IS DYING." The headline captured the conventional American conception of Africa as a unitary landscape of unremitting despair. But this and other attempts at apocalyptic concision hardly squared with my experience of a continent churning with passion and rage. Most Africans I encountered, far from passively succumbing to their fate, were struggling mightily, and ingeniously, to survive. Others, for reasons of their own, were killing, raping, torturing and looting. On the ground, at least, Africa felt less like a terminal ward than a seething, writhing, operatic drama charged with intrigue, dominated by larger-than-life characters trapped in Macbethian logic, compelled to shed ever greater quantities of blood merely to survive. |
| One might have hoped we civilized white folks had long since learned as much about ourselves. Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Stalin killed 20 million Soviets. Japanese imperial troops machine-gunned, bayoneted, raped and beheaded some 300,000 Chinese civilians in just six weeks in the Rape of Nanking. |
The worst genocide in recorded African history was perpetrated not by Africans but by the Belgians, in what came to be known as the Belgian Congo--Europe's richest colony in Africa and the actual setting for Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Between 1885 and 1912, King Leopold's private army, composed primarily of African conscripts led by European officers, shot, starved, and worked to death between 5 million and 10 million native inhabitants.
| Ethnic conflict in Africa is a product of tyranny. By "product" I mean in both an immediate sense--it is a tactic that tyrants use to divide and rule--as well as in a deeper, historical sense: ethnic conflict is a legacy of tyranny. |
The countries I examine--Liberia, Congo-Zaire, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda--are diverse in many ways, but they have this much in common: all have at least a century-long history of racial or ethnically based tyranny. Belgian and British colonial rule, apartheid in South Africa, Arab domination in Sudan, and the oligarchy of the Americo-Liberians, descendants of freed American slaves--all were race-based tyrannies, and all relied upon institutionalized mechanisms of coercion and co-optation that were inherently divisive.
Ethnically based militias, ethnically skewed education systems, arbitrary justice, and, above all, "indirect rule"--the widespread colonial practice of dominating a majority by investing power and privilege in a favored minority--had a way of outlasting the tyrannies they were designed to preserve. They seeped into the social and political fabric of society, and into the minds of its inhabitants. They rendered these countries especially vulnerable to the divisive tactics of those just cynical and reckless enough to exploit this vulnerability for their own ends.
There is a widespread assumption that "tribalism" is an indelible remnant of traditional, precolonial Africa, reflecting ancient, atavistic enmities. The opposite is the case. What we think of as tribalism in Africa is a relatively modern phenomenon that evolved in response to outside interventions rather than in spite of them.
| Many suppose that tyranny and anarchy are at opposite ends of a linear spectrum. But often they are side by side on what might better be described as a circle: the one is a product of the other, and vice versa. The law of the jungle does obtain in parts of Africa, but the jungle is inhabited by men. Anarchy is a vacuum that brings out the worst in men and selects for the worst among them. The pursuit of power is a life-and-death struggle. Those who excel distinguish themselves through nothing more exotic than boundless cunning and ruthlessness. The most successful of all become tyrants, and the anarchy in which they thrive is called tyranny. |
Even the most rigidly institutionalized tyrannies--Rwanda was one, South Africa another--rely above all on the total absence of lawful accountability for the criminal abuse of power. They harness the forces of anarchy to their own ends, the forces of lawlessness and terror, murder and rape, arson and theft. For them, anarchy is an instrument of tyranny.
In South Africa, where "black-on-black" violence killed 20,000 between 1985 and 1994 and nearly derailed the transition to majority rule, they called it "informal repression." The Afrikaner police who fueled the fighting called it the "kleur teen kleur beginsel"--the "color-against-color principle.".
In Sudan, where northern Arabs through the ages have dominated the state and decimated the south by pitting one black African tribe against another, they say "Aktul al-abid bil abid"--"Kill the slave through the slave.".
It is a phenomenon that runs like poison through all of Africa's seemingly senseless wars: Big Men using little men, cynically maneuvering for power and booty while thousands perish. Harnessing proxies, arming ethnically based militias, cultivating warlords, propagating hate and fear, preying on ignorance, manufacturing rumors and myths, stacking the police and army with ethnic kinsmen, demonizing dissidents as traitors to the tribe, or faith, or "volk"--these are the tactics of the crafty despot with his back against the wall.
| Nearly 2 million dead in Sudan, as many as 800,000 killed in Rwanda, 150,000 in Liberia--numbers like these defy comprehension, and they may make a figure like 20,000 killed in South Africa look like, well, a "peaceful" transition to majority rule. Yet the number killed in South Africa's embattled province of KwaZulu-Natal since the historic 1994 election exceeds the total number killed in thirty years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland; it's more than the number of Palestinians killed in the entire seven-year Intifada against Israeli occupation. The value we attach to numbers is often arbitrary. The element of race has a way of coloring our judgment. Virtually all of those casualties in KwaZulu-Natal were black. Yet they were most assuredly produced by the tactics and legacies of white tyranny--the most recognizably evil of any of the tyrannies examined here. |
The bad guys in Africa are black and white, and shades in between. So are the good guys. These stories are a measure of how much Africans have in common with the rest of humankind, not how much they differ. The Kenyan scholar Michael Chege, long since exiled from his homeland, put it this way: "Today there is genuine cultural diversity in the gallery of twentieth-century demonology, the late arrival of black fascism providing the ultimate testimony that political sin, as with all other kinds of sin and virtue, truly knows no color.".
Is Africa a more peaceful continent than Europe? The no so long ago Bosnian Conflict demonstrates that Europe can do an equal share of ethnic violence after World War II.
Cogito ergo sum
Last edited by CABAL; May 18th, 2006 at 03:37..