September 8, 2010

Africa's Forever Wars

Africa's Forever Wars
Here is a good attempt by the NY Times E. Africa Bureau Chief to explain the current state of rebel warfare in Africa. Regrettably, the author omits the primary cause for the violence and suffering - crushing, debilitating, mind-numbing poverty. His inclusion of Kenya's 2008 violence as an example of non-ideological bandr...ity misses the real cause - raw, greedy politics, not bush level banditry. Also, his view of Somalia as having a "deeply ingrained culture of war profiteering", though true as a recent development, misses the more important fact that Somalis, with their clan-based society and pastoral ecology, are and have never been a "fit" for the Western concept of a nation-state that the Europeans imposed on Africa in the 1800s. Otherwise there is much of value in this article as long as it is remembered that banditry has a root cause, poverty, not some implied false notion of greed, insanity or moral failings of Africa's peoples.


Dave said...

Hmm, poverty as a root cause of rebellion, it is very similar to the argument that crime is driven by poverty and I have never been terribly comfortable with that rational. Billions have been dirt poor and never turned to crime or rebellion and many who are rich steal and rebel. Looking at relative wealth might give more insight, especially when tied to the distribution of social wealth. That won't explain a millionaire from Saudi Arabia blowing up buildings in the US, but I think it might help us start teasing out the real causes.

Jim Lassiter said...

Dave, Good point on the multiple causes of conflict and war, and that many who are in poverty do not engage in conflict and many with wealth do. It is very hard to tease out the causes and when one does, how many cases make for a trend or a root cause? How many and what type of contrary cases debunk a suspected root cause? ... When I first posted my position on this matter some time back I was, and still remain, fairly certain that if young African men and women (and others elsewhere) have economic and social mobility opportunities under safe and secure societal conditions, they will more often than not opt to work as a means of establishing a home, attracting a spouse and establishing a family. That such men and women are less likely to follow an upstart rebel group or revolutionary movement when their basic and most personal needs are being met and goals being achieved under secure societal conditions. On the contrary, so many of the young men in Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, for example, had little to no social or economic opportunities and certainly no secure society in which to work or farm, marry, build a home and raise a family. The only option that came along for many of them was following equally impoverished, power-seeking and strangely charismatic leaders - free drugs, alcohol and women sweetened the deal for many of these adolescents. ... Your point about relative wealth and the distribution of social wealth is a good one though I must admit I'm inexperienced and very poor at thinking about these matters in such higher levels of economic abstraction. I would be grateful to learn more specifics about what you are referring to. I can see how an individual can develop a resentment and become violently enraged at the unequal distribution of capital and social wealth he sees around him, in his community or in the country at large, if that is what you are referring to. I guess my Peace Corps days drove home in me a need to try and understand others' worldviews, motivations and actions from the grassroots view of things and I have trouble shaking that perspective. Looking forward to hearing more from you and others on this subject. Jim

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