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War and peace in Africa
Peace In The Congo? Why The World Should Care

One of the biggest questions of the 21st century is whether the demand for ethnic, cultural and/or religious homogeneity will continue to convulse world politics, drive new generations of conflict, and create millions more victims.

Published on: December 15, 2013
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  • johngbarker

    ” Reducing the danger requires an active, global American foreign policy whether we like it or not.” It is going to be a very difficult to sell that to the American people. Only another and a more deadly 9/11 will dispel neo-isolationism.

    • Corlyss

      “Only another and a more deadly 9/11 will dispel neo-isolationism”

      Interesting idea. Seems to me that 9/11 combined with the financial melt down is largely responsible for our most recent bout of neo-isolationism. Too many bucks, too little bang. It was easier before media became so one-sided and before the 24-7 news cycle. There’s not much time for policy making to assess the situation and devise a solution before the meddlesome public weighs in with its two cents, which wouldn’t be so troublesome but for the facts that 1) the public is so miserably undereducated and 2) the public knows so little about what’s in its best interest. The voters only know what they don’t like. They can take apart the bicycle; they just don’t know how to put it back together.

  • Anthony

    “The Congo War has been responsible for more than five million deaths, created untold numbers of refugees, been responsible for countless atrocities and at various times has sucked in other neighboring countries…The Congo war should be a remainder to all of us that the foundations of our world are dynamite, and the potential for new conflicts on the scale of the horrific wars of the 20th century is very much with us today.”

    In a world torn by various power struggles on every hand, a corollary question WRM to your ‘why we should care’ is can United States in 21st century be guarantor of what remains of modern civilization (we may at most play a palliative international role – without serious work at home). Regarding Congo and Africa, the very existence of the ‘state’ on the continent has recently been considered (Jean-Loup Amselle). Institutions and historical antecedents matter WRM from Africa to Pakistan to Bangladesh to Middle East to Sri Lanka to China. Historical patterns of organizational/institutional arrangements generally illuminate what you depict as one of the biggest questions of the 21st century.

    WRM, generally commenting, humans by nature are fearful and insecure animals – we do not like what is unfamiliar or unknown. Superimpose on those inherent characteristics framework of institutions (colonialism, tribalism, nationalism, Nazism, inclusive and exclusive political/economic social arrangements, etc.) that rationalize dark human impulses and the Congo’s of the world metastasize. So, I concur that Congo matters, as does China, Middle East, Ukraine, etc. But, can we make a difference that makes a difference or must we remain conscious that “all exist in accordance with their character” and that even though it is in America’s strategic interest to be an active global power there presently exist around the globe explosive situations (dynamic configurations) where American interposition may or may not achieve human gains.

  • Corlyss

    “The short answer is that the people who live there are made in God’s image as much as anybody else and they are infinitely dear to him, and to remain indifferent to the suffering of people there is to fail in our clear duty to our Creator and to some degree to betray our own humanity.”
    More feckless “Duty to Protect” nonsense. Make the execrable Belgians go in there and clean up the mess they left.

    • free_agent

      You write, “More feckless “Duty to Protect” nonsense.”

      You may dislike “duty to protect”, but “feckless” isn’t the right word — feckless means lacking courage, purpose, or vitality.

      • Jim__L

        I thought it implied lack of success, despite energy and purpose. That’s how I’ve seen it used, anyway.

      • Corlyss

        That about sums it up. But that isn’t how my dictionary defines feckless. Mine defines it as feeble, ineffective, unthinking, and irresponsible. I don’t mind if you apply your dictionary’s definition to Duty to Protect. I’m sticking with mine, but both work in tandem.

    • Cimon Alexander

      When the Belgians left, it was actually pretty nice. Having a relatively benevolent first-world overlord is actually a pretty good deal for a third world country.

      • Corlyss

        I don’t know of any historian that would refer to the Belgians as “relatively benevolent.” I would agree with you about the Brits only. They left behind some important infrastructure that managed to stay relatively coherent and in place, with some exceptions, like Sudan. But mostly the French, Belgians, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese managed just to loot the countries and bug out before the bill came due.

        • Karl F. Boetel

          Link is relevant.

          • Corlyss

            Link is to a blog of unknown repute and authoritativeness.

          • Karl F. Boetel

            Link is to a collection of primary sources.

  • Pete

    Africans have been killing and enslaving each other since the dawn of time.

    What makes matters especially ugly today is that Western technology (firearms, cars, planes, etc) are now in the hands of people there who, on their own, could never have conceive or manufactured such things. .

  • TommyTwo

    When I consider the hellholes that many countries are, I can reach only one conclusion: we must fundamentally transform the USA.

  • Jim__L

    The savage wars of peace, eh?

    Look, all this boils down to a very human battle-cry that has echoed through history… “We will not be ruled by those whose ways are strange to us.” This isn’t going to lose its potency any time soon, if ever.

    That said, this isn’t about intentions, this isn’t about morals. This is about power and competence — the ability to effect those intentions, and impose those morals. You need people who know how to get good deeds done.

    Want to bring liberty to the world on the points of our bayonets? Want to (re-)impose the Pax Americana? That’ll be another $200B-$400B per annum, at least, and practically a military draft for our best engineers, our most effective organizers, and our most talented diplomats.

    But in the end, you may be looking for St. Michael and St. George, a thousandfold… the best we can do with the best we actually have might not be good enough.

  • Serious Black

    These conflicts can not be solved. Most parties involved (except the Tutsis, perhaps) hope for a next round.
    Regarding Rwanda: about one million Tutsis were literally hacked to death with machetes by their fellow Hutu neighbors. It took just 90 days. This genocide was an effort of a very large part of Hutu society. The main reason why so many Hutus fled across the border: They had blood on their hands and stuck with the standard mode of operations: looting and raping Tutsi villages.

    Heartwarming, how the ‘international community’ got involved after the dirty deed was done and then decided to help the perpetrators.

  • qet

    I join with most of the commenters here in believing that these conflicts are not going away any time soon. Via Meadia mentions: Central Afrtica; North Africa; the Middle East; India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh. Pretty big slice of the globe there, eh? Perhaps it is we Americans who are flailing against the current of history, are trying to emulate WF Buckley and start athwart history yelling “Stop!” These wars are not rational, yet Via Meadia and other like-minded analysts continue to evaluate them against standards and concepts of rationality which are in world-historical terms still in their infancy. Hutus did not pick up machetes en masse and hack millions to death in order to secure basic services and the benefits of international trade to their side any more than the Iroquois waged a war of extermination against the Hurons in order to monopolize the French fur trade. The rational policy-wonk world is so non-plussed by all of this murder and mayhem because it can only conceive of life in materialist terms. Material things no doubt have something to do with it. Oxygen has something to do with it. But we should look to the irrational more (and irrational does not mean unpredictable; it has been a singular failure of rationality that it is mostly useless as a predictor of human behavior).

  • xbox361

    To say there are conflicts with terrible suffering requiring our concern begs the question, where does it end? Does America, borrowing money to perform its basic functions, need to care when a swallow falls? There are always low level conflicts everywhere in the world. We cannot afford and haven’t the will to intervene everywhere. Maybe they are better off left to themselves and reaching a regional homeostasis without us around. We don’t understand all the local intricacies.

    Leave them alone to set their own course. Or maybe we will lead them like Obamacare. Sure it will work out well. Ask the Shah.

  • Karl F. Boetel

    “Perhaps its root cause is the chaos that the execrable Belgians (whose colonization of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi was perhaps the ugliest episode in the history of European colonization) left behind.”

    You little creep — pretending the Belgian Congo (1908–1960) was anything like the Congo Free State (1885–1908). (Not that you know anything about the Congo Free State.)

    Time magazine, 1955: “So far, the evidence is that the Belgian way is working. The Congo, under hard-working capitalism, has become a tropical cornucopia in the heart of a poverty-stricken continent. … Nowhere in Africa is the Bantu so well fed and housed, so productive and so content as he is in the Belgian Congo.”

    Time magazine, 2008: “Le Blanc and I are into our 500th kilometer on the river when he turns my view of modern African history on its head. ‘We should just give it all back to the whites,’ the riverboat captain says. ‘Even if you go 1,000 kilometers down this river, you won’t see a single sign of development. When the whites left, we didn’t just stay where we were. We went backwards.'”

  • Cimon Alexander

    It’s interesting to read accounts of Congo before the liberation from the Belgian government. Here’s a link to an old Time article, though sadly it’s gated. Excerpt:

    “In the Belgian Congo last week massed tom-tom drummers practiced a welcome tattoo. Prosperous Negro shopkeepers climbed up wooden ladders and draped the Congolese flag (a golden star on a blue field) from lampposts and triumphal arches set up along Boulevard Albert I, the spanking concrete highway that bisects the capital city of Léopoldville. In far-off mission churches, encircled by the rain forest that stretches through Belgian territory from the Atlantic to the Mountains of the Moon, choirs of Bantu children rehearsed the Te Deum. African regiments drilled, jazz bands blared in the bush, and on the great brown river that drains the middle of the continent Negro captains tooted the raucous steam whistles on their swiftly gliding paddle boats.

    The toots and Te Deums were all in preparation for the arrival this week of the slim, spectacled young man who is King of the Belgians and, as such, the sovereign lord of 14 million Congolese. It will be his first state visit to his African Empire.

    The Congo is King Baudouin’s richest, widest realm. It is eighty times the size of the mother country, and half again as populous. Booming Congo exports provide the dollars and pounds that make the Belgian franc one of the world’s hardest currencies. Belgians drink Congo coffee, wear shirts made of Congo cotton, wash them with soap made from Congo palm kernels. Without the mighty Congo, little Belgium might go broke; with it, a nation of 9,000,000 still counts as a world empire.


    The Belgians like to feel that they have devised “a middle way,” making possible black-white partnership. Their program is: full speed ahead in economics and education, dead slow in politics.

    So far, the evidence is that the Belgian way is working. The Congo, under hard-working capitalism, has become a tropical cornucopia in the heart of a poverty-stricken continent.

    The Congo supplies the U.S. with well over half the uranium produced in the non-Communist world; it also mines and exports 75% of the free world’s cobalt (essential for jet aircraft engines), 70% of the industrial diamonds. One third the size of the U.S., it is a hot, humid, fecund basin drained by a river system second only to the Amazon in volume. In the east lies Ruanda-Urundi, where the seven-foot Watussi live; in the south lies Katanga, the metalliferous wonderland that fronts on Rhodesia and is the site of Shinkolobwe, the world’s richest uranium mine. Between is the timeless jungle (48% of the Congo is forested), with beetles the size of pigeons, dwarf antelope no bigger than terriers, bearded Pygmies with humplike buttocks who hunt the rare okapi (half antelope, half giraffe).

    […]Today, all has changed. Nowhere in Africa is the Bantu so well fed and housed, so productive and so content as he is in the Belgian Congo.

    In little more than a generation of intense economic effort, the Belgians have injected 20 centuries of Western mechanical progress into a Stone Age wilderness. The results are staggering: in forests, where 50 years ago there were no roads because the wheel was unknown, no schools because there was no alphabet, no peace because there was neither the will nor the means to enforce it, the sons of cannibals now mine the raw materials of the Atomic Age.

    Belgian brains and Bantu muscle have thrust back the forest and checked the dread diseases (yaws, sleeping sickness, malaria) which sapped the Bantu’s strength.

    In some areas, the Congo’s infant-mortality rate is down to 60 per 1,000 — better than Italy’s figure. More than 1,000,000 children attend primary and secondary schools — 40% of the school-age population (compared with less than 10% in the French empire).

    Belgium’s plan for the inevitable march to self-government for Africans lies in education and economic opportunity for the blacks. The multiracial, Catholic-run Lovanium University will graduate its first Negro lawyers and engineers next year. At Luluabourg, deep in the heart of the Congo, black cadets are training at the colony’s first military academy. Nowhere in Africa is there such a solid, well-paid class of native technicians. Congolese pilot river and lake steamers, run locomotives, do 90% of the repair work at the big military base at Kamina.”

    Putting aside our moral qualms for a moment, I sometimes wonder, empirically, if the great suffering of independence was worth it. Would the relatives of all the millions who died in the Congo civil wars choose differently if they could? If the Congolese of the 1960s knew the future, what would they do?

  • AntiGnostic

    Walter Russell Mead is proof the only thing conservatives are conserving at this point is 20th century Progressivism.

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