Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Rape of Africa continues unabated, Part II

As frequent readers of this blog might know, I make it a point to stay abreast of what is happening in many African nations, mostly because I feel too little attention is paid by much of the media and the public in this regard. What follows here is the second of a three part series on the state of Africa--mostly sub-Saharan--in general. The first can be found here.
The first part in this series ended with a look at the GDP, foreign aid flows, and foreign investment dollars for a number of sub-Saharan African nations: the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, the Republic of the Sudan, the Republic of South Sudan, and Uganda. Here is a map of all the sub-Saharan nations from Freedom House that also shows the level of freedom--as assessed by Freedom House--for each nation therein:

Key: Green=Free, Yellow=Partly Free, Purple=Not Free
All of the nations I listed above are rated as either "Not Free" or "Partly Free." In fact, in all of sub-Saharan Africa--some fifty nations--there are but nine which were rated "Free" in 2011. Twenty-one were rated "Partly Free" and nineteen were rated "Not Free." This interactive map at Freedom House provides specific information on each nation, including levels of freedom for the Press in each and for internet usage (use the "Countries and Topics" tab).

Note the nation right in the center of the map, colored yellow and therefore "Partly Free," according to Freedom House. This is CAR, the Central African Republic. And the designation of "Partly Free" is likely to change in the very near future, I think. These current rankings use data compiled up until 2011. But in late 2012, CAR became embroiled in yet another civil war. It pitted the government forces of CAR--ostensibly a democratic government in theory--against a loose coalition of rebel groups operating under the leadership of Michael Djotodia and named Séléka. The rebels were victorious and Djotodia became the new President of CAR in March of 2013, and shortly after that--in September of 2013--he proclaimed Séléka to be officially disbanded.

But the various groups comprising the rebel forces never actually laid down arms at all, and areas of CAR quickly spiraled into chaos as these various groups went on a series of rampages, with plenty of looting, killing, and raping. Militias formed immediately in opposition to these events, but this only led to even more violence. Peacekeeping forces have been dispatched to CAR by the UN, but they have had little effect. A number of UN peacekeepers have already been killed. Reports are coming in now of children being beheaded in the capital city of Bangui, while nearly one million people have been displaced by the violence, according to the UN (CAR's population is less than five million).

On top of all this, the violence has a religious component as well, as most of the groups in the rebel coalition were predominantly Muslim and the militias that have risen to oppose them are mostly composed of Christians. Interestingly, somewhere between 50% and 80% of CAR's population is Christian (depending on who you ask/believe), while only 10-15% is Muslim. And even though Djotodia and those in his administration are all Muslims, the rebel groups that brought him to power turned on him in short order.

The unfortunate truth here is that there is nothing exceptional nor even all that unusual going on in CAR, as compared to much of sub-Saharan Africa. While not every nation there is undergoing spasms of violence or civil war right now (though a number of them are), chances are good (far too good, in my opinion) that many have in the recent past or will in the near future. Which brings us back to the question posed at the end of Part I: Why is it that--as a continent--Africa appears to consistently trail the remainder of the world in economic development, in standards of living, and in so many other metrics, from education to health? Indeed, this is the answer to that question: much of Africa has been a virtual see of political turmoil for decades. Consider this graphic from Virgil Hawkins, author of Stealth Conflicts (a book which details how many of the worst conflicts in the world have been largely ignored by most news organizations):

Source page:

The percentages are of conflict-related deaths, just from 1990-2007. It's a truly shocking graphic and the lack of attention to events in Africa from most of the media (Mr. Hawkins has additional graphics on the above page which make this point clear) is shameful, to say the least.

But this isn't about media coverage. I'm sharing this map simply to establish just how bad, how violent, things are and have been in Africa. And again, the repercussions from such near-constant political violence are severe, as the populations of nations in Africa suffer from destroyed infrastructure, from a lack of access to things like education, food, and medical care. Improvements are short-lived in most cases (there are exceptions, to be sure).

Why so much unrest, so much violence? It is easy--and not wholly incorrect--to find fault with European Colonialism in Africa, the so-called "Scramble for Africa" during the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Many of the borders established by European powers in this period continue to hold sway in Africa, despite their impact on the various cultures and ethnicities within Africa. And before this, there was the African slave trade and the damage it did.

Still, we are now generations removed from these events. African nations are no longer colonies of European ones; many have been independent for more than fifty years at this point (though a few achieved independence from other African nations only quite recently, like South Sudan and Eritrea). One might argue that the time frame is still too short. After all, the United States only truly became one nation after its civil war, and that was some eighty years after its independence from England. And unlike most African nations, the United States lacked the internal ethnic divisions that can feed unrest and propel violence. And yet European--and American--colonization outside of Africa could and sometimes did take on a similar character as in Africa, such as in the Asian-Pacific region.

There has, of course, been plenty of violence and conflicts in that part of the world, but it has not kept pace with Africa in the least in this regard. A look at the freedom levels for this region show a near-even three way split in numbers, with regard to nations designated "Free," "Partly Free," and "Not Free." And while there is internal conflict in some of these nations, the previous graphic indicates how little there is, relative to Africa.

Of course, the Asian-Pacific region has also been dominated by the Chinese civilization for thousands of years (and to a lesser extent the Indian civilization). The European powers tested the Chinese and ultimately set the stage for the communist revolution there. And during the 19th century (and early 20th), there was a great deal of unrest and actual rebellion in China, proper (including the largely ignored--by the West--Taiping Rebellion from 1850 to 1864). But the history and culture of China as a whole, despite the presence of many ethnicities there, can fairly be said to have acted as a calming force, allowing the quick restoration of peace (even if based on subservience) after the communist revolution ended.

In Africa, there would seem to be a similar force: the civilization of Egypt. Yet, things in Africa went very differently, even in those regions in close proximity to Egypt. Why? We can speculate easily here, as well. Though the European powers ultimately retreated from Africa in the decades after World War II, just as they did in the Asian-Pacific region, their interests in the periphery, in the Middle East, did not wane thanks to two things: first there was the issue of oil and the demand for it, and second the proximity of both Africa and the Middle East, just across the Mediterranean or the Red Sea. Necessarily, the protection and establishment of trade routes remained a concern, especially with regard to the delivery of oil. Thus, Europe--and other powers in the world--have never, ever really left Africa alone.

But we cannot fairly blame all of Africa's problems on other nations. Because nations in Africa have had opportunities aplenty (and some have made the most of them). In the past decades, even as all of these conflicts were happening, African nations have received billions and billions of dollars in aid, along with plenty of non-monetary aid as well, from food to medicine to all manner of experts and volunteer do-gooders. And Africans in some nations have exploited this, to their own personal benefit and to the detriment of their fellows. Similarly, the tribal and religious differences that fuel these conflicts are the fault of those who persist in seeing others through such a light and using this as a basis to do violence to these others.

If people want to be treated with justice and humanity, they must necessarily treat others the same way. And while such a standard is not wholly observed by the citizens of any nation, it seems to me that the peoples of Africa have been, far and away, the most egregious offenders in this regard (and yes, this is reality is also exploited by both leaders in Africa and in other parts of the world who are intent on using Africa for their own ends.

It is an ugly thing, the cycle of violence in Africa, the continued metaphorical rape of the continent that gave birth to mankind and to civilization. And again, the rapists are both within and without. The question is, can the cycle be stopped? And if so, how? When? By whom? These are the questions we will take up in Part III.

Cheers, all.

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