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2003 June 26: A continent beneath the sea
1998 May 17
Things are not going as well after the removal of Mobutu Sese Seko. There is no reason to believe Laurent Kabila, whose astounding march across Zaïre and ouster of Mobutu raised so many hopes a year ago, will surrender power to a popular electorate at any point in the near future. The economic situation may slowly improve, but the civil situation will remain dreary and impoverished. Kabila’s apparent fear of an open society suggests that he spent all those years in the wilderness out of a simple desire to rule Congo himself, out of competition with a rival, not concern over the dictatorial, rapacious régime of Mobutu. Rebel movements in real life are never romantic; their leaders are often self-important and their methods are typically compromised at best. Kabila has not disappointed in that respect at least. It seems clear that the new clique of leaders in Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda will not be the engine for an African renaissance, but another problem to be dealt with down the road ― a sad, if predictable, result.
Lesotho elections, 1998 May 24
It would be wonderful if the parochial press in the Yankee state paid more attention to the events in the larger world. It would be wonderful to have something to say about the progress of self-determination and the end of minority rule in Lesotho, instead of having to complain about the nature of press coverage. Southern Africa, with the enduring reliability of Botswana and the new situations in South Africa and Namibia, could be the beachhead for progress in all of Africa. But the pockets of resistance in the region are cause for concern, however small they may be. Let us hope that there is now one fewer.
Lesotho, 1998 September 27
Any time a ruling party scores an overwhelming victory (the results from May elections: seventy-nine seats in parliament for the party in power, one for the opposition), the reasonable assumption is that democracy has not in fact taken place. We do not need opposition charges of fraud, though there have been such. An army mutiny is usually suspicious, but when it comes in alliance with opposition street protests, against a government whose legitimacy is also suspect, then the intervention of outside forces ― in this case, South Africa and Botswana ― is more likely to be self-interested. As a rule, if there are two states in Africa that have any legitimacy, they are Botswana and the new South Africa. And few wish to speak ill of Nelson Mandela. But stability by itself is not a valid goal, or we could all have supported apartheid, and the continued imprisonment of a subversive such as Mandela. The mutiny has been quelled now, and the looting stopped, in a rather draconian fashion. If there was a just reason for this, it should become apparent soon, or Mandela himself will be held accountable, by history if by nothing else.
Horn of Africa, 1998 June 7
For a while, the guerrilleros of ኤርትራ ’Er-t-ra and ትግራይ T-g-raj- fought side by side against መንግስቱ ሃይለማርያም Män-g-s-tu Haj-lämar-jam-, and when he had been driven out, those of ትግራይ T-g-raj-, who were the new powers in ኢትዮጵያ ’It-jopija, recognized the sovereignty of ኤርትራ ’Er-t-ra, and even made a point of reorganizing ኢትዮጵያ ’It-jopija along ethnic lines, and guaranteeing the right of secession. But a change in state borders brought about through violence (and for the most part through peaceful means, for that matter) is always tenuous, always subject to aspirations of reversal by those who feel deprived of former imperial possessions. The current dispute, carried out in bomber sorties, is supposedly over a small amount of land on the border. But we cannot assume that it ends there. Perhaps ኢትዮጵያ ’It-jopija wishes to reclaim ኤርትራ ’Er-t-ra. Perhaps ኤርትራ ’Er-t-ra wishes to annex those parts of ትግራይ T-g-raj- where its ethnolinguistic kin dwell. Perhaps both. What is certain is that the common people of this region have gone through dictatorship after dictatorship, war upon war, and do not need another round of turmoil to make their suffering that much worse.
A Guiné-Bissau, 1998 June 21
Africa must be fully democratic, immediately, and must give the masses, long oppressed by European powers and native militaries, a chance to decide for themselves how to manage their economic situations. But handing the vote to electorates in states drawn up for arbitrary or even oppressive reasons by the Europeans is short of the mark. The entire continent needs to be polled, at the smallest possible community level, to give real meaning to self-determination. The division of some peoples, and the ill-informed grouping of others, by the colonial boundaries is a situation working against the resolution of problems and the eventual arrival of justice in Africa.
And Africa has just spawned yet another civil war. The current régime in Bissau has run afoul of some faction in the military, and the capital is inflamed with fighting. Civilians are caught in the mêlée. Foreigners are evacuated. Structures and natural resources are destroyed. Neighboring states’ militaries are called in. This could be any of a dozen places in Africa. And nothing will change until the overall geopolitical situation changes. Africa has become the world’s ghetto. We allow a lower standard of civilization there, allow individuals in need to go without help, because they are, apparently, not our people in need. I do not know what the fighting in Bissau is about. But I refuse to say that it has nothing to do with me. I will not send to know for whom the bell tolls.
East Africa, 1998 July 5
Amid noises that they will actually get involved in the long war in السودان ’al-Sūdān, three states in eastern Africa ― Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania ― conducted military exercises in Kenya, with logistical support from the United States. The US denied instigating the affair, and this may be credible. Africa, especially in this region, is developing a new geopolitical situation which represents one of the most significant departures from the colonial era. The states of Africa, for good or ill, are beginning to function more as sovereign states, less as clients of this or that northern power. We can only hope as the process continues that this means an abandonment of the worst parts of colonialism and imperialism, and not an embrace of the worst parts of nativist tyranny, which Africa has had far, far too much of.
Unfortunately, two of the participants in that process, Congo (south) and Rwanda, have just been strongly implicated by a UN investigative body in massacres in eastern Congo. The Hutu refugee camps just outside of Rwanda were a source of resistance to the new Rwandan (heavily Tutsi) government and the catalyst of Laurent Kabila’s march across Mobutu’s Zaïre. Rwanda is not democratic, and Congo has exchanged one appalling autocracy for another. The promise of a year ago has vanished. The only question would seem to be how much worse things can get before yet another upheaval occurs. Judging from the apparent slaughter of thousands of refugees in Congo, the answer will not be pleasant.
Angola, 1998 August 2
The United Nations has reported the discovery of one hundred five bodies in a mass grave in the northeastern part of the country, villagers massacred and dumped by some force within the country. The recognized government blames UNITA, the long-fighting guerrilleros who have refused to accept an election defeat meant to settle the Angolan war. UNITA blames bandits. Presumably if they had reason to believe government involvement, they would make the accusation. Hopefully the UN can establish the nature of the act. Perhaps it will find its way to the new tribunal. The truth is the concern, though, not punishment of the guilty. If legitimate discredit falls on one of the parties in the conflict, and that discredit helps bring about an end to the war, then the investigation will have served a purpose. As it is, the massacre only reminds us that war brings atrocities from every side. All combatants in Angola must be held accountable for this.
Congo, 1998 August 9
Laurent Kabila is Mobutu Sese Seko. His rule is tyrannical and its legitimacy is transparently false. Like Mobutu, Kabila is receiving support in his efforts to perpetuate and strengthen his autocracy from the capitalist democracies. And now, like Mobutu, Kabila is facing an insurrection far from Kinshasa ― in Kivu, in fact, where his own phenomenal march across Zaïre began. And again, the Tutsi of the Rwandan border region are at the center of the uprising. Kabila could once call them allies, and very effective allies. Now, like Mobutu, he is threatening to smash them, and blaming Rwanda for destabilizing his régime, such as it is.
Washington is solidly with him. His own presumed army is not, though, not entirely. While there seems little chance at the moment of another sweep across the basin, change does seem in the air. The rebels have taken Bukavu and Goma. Kabila’s foreign minister has defected. Where is principle in all of this? As usual, the principle in operation in geopolitics is obviously the right of entrenchment. The current state is sacred, and must not be altered, for whatever reason, regardless of the justice or injustice of that state. The only wholesale exception to this practice was the ideological divide between post-Ленин communism and capitalism. That exception, presumably, traced its origin to the revolutionary commitment of Ленин and his successors to the overthrow of all the capitalist states. But for that, every development taking place within established state borders might have been viewed as an internal matter. With the end of the cold war, it seemed possible that the western support for dictators might finally end. Not so. Now, instead of fighting communists, the new breed of dictators are enlisted by the established states to resist the ancient enemy ― those who question the legitimacy of the established states. We in the stewardship would not want to identify with the rebels of Kivu. But any attack on dissidents as dissidents alone is an attack on us, as dissidents, and is strengthening the hand of dominion.
A relevant aphorism: We reap what we sow. Another: History will teach us nothing.
1998 August 9
The Congo-Rwanda border is troubled on the Rwanda side as well, where the Hutu extremists are apparently attacking other Hutu who are not adequately supporting them. And so those innocent Hutu are made to suffer doubly, both in the direct violence from their supposed fellows, and in the further postponement of democracy in Rwanda which this violence is certain to encourage.
Congo rise and fall, 1998 August 16
The announcement of a new coalition by those dedicated to the overthrow of dictator Laurent Kabila may bring the opposition to a state of superior organization to the purported government. It is apparently easier to unite against Kabila than with him. Half of Kabila’s ministers have now defected. The rebels advance. Kinshasa is partially besieged. Kabila himself is largely absent from the stage, possibly preparing a last stand in his home province of Katanga, which has briefly been a sovereign territory once already.
The alliance of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and eastern Congo (primarily the Banyamulenge Tutsi) which brought Kabila to power scarcely more than a year ago is now looking to change horses. The involvement of Rwandan troops at the beginning of the uprising in Kivu now seems established. The possibility for overt involvement by the allied powers is certainly present. The support for Kabila in the west is growing more subdued. “Voici l’homme qu’il fallait”, says the Kabila slogan, accompanying a big-brother portrait of l’homme himself. But Kabila was not indispensable last year, and he is not indispensable now.