Postmodern classic?

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Future of War: Africa

I'm currently 2/3rds through this book on Mercenaries in Africa and it's all starting to blend together. Hard to keep events distinct from each other- it all blends into a revolution to replace a corrupt government, succeeds, differs from the previous in it's style of corruption and violence, then replaced by another revolution (in the meantime with advice and guidance from foreign mercenaries attached to neighboring states trying to undermine them). You can read about the 'West Side Boys' of Sierra Leone- brutal child warriors of the RUF, known for cannibalism. Not too much different from the seven other groups trying to wipe each other out at the time.

Anyhow, it turns out there's a lot of Ugandans over here in Iraq working for MNFI (Multinational Forces- Iraq). At first I thought it was an embarrassing farce, and it is a little. As a member of the 'Coalition of the Willing', they are here protecting the PX. Wow, I feel safer. Well, they do a bit more than that, working at some Camp entrances and other places, mostly (but not always) with supervision. Funny thing though- they don't come here directly by their government, their deployment is managed by different security companies in different locations. Makes you wonder if their presence here is just a matter of bribes, covered up in their home country.

However, they do their job well, and don't take shit at the checkpoints. All of them have a high understanding of English. And one would be stupid to underestimate them.

I was talking to one of those guards this afternoon, as my readings were on my mind- African war is quite different from this. Well, taking what he said with a grain of salt- every soldier is prone to exaggeration I'm sure, certain facts were true. According to him, he had been in the Army for 9 years- during that time he spent 2 years in the Congo and 3 in Sudan. For those unfamiliar with African geography, Uganda is a small country west of Kenya, east of Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) directly south of Sudan and north of Rwanda and Tanzania. Some of those names should ring bells- just think 'massacre' and some of the biggest ones have been around there. Idi Amin was from there...

I digress, falling into the same bloody history I was trying to avoid. There's so much the details really don't matter- unless, of course, you're going there. But for someone like me, listening to this former (or present, depending on his status) compare there to here, it was interesting.

He was happy that he was single- didn't have a wife and kids to feed or send back money to like a lot of the other guys in this situation. Seemed like a fun guy, although his eyes were a bit yellow (maybe previous malaria?), and yet I got this cold desensitized perception after talking a while. I have to attribute it to the veterans 'thousand yard stare'. It gave his claims credence, in the manner he spoke- not that of an inexperienced youth, or an impressed and overawed villager.

He got pulled out of school to fight Mobutu Sese Soko back in 1996, in the Congo. Bad stuff was happening, and it sounded brutal. But it was only 2 years and he survived. He had no 'post-modern' questioning of his duty, it was to protect his country. The same everywhere he went, he didn't like how the Army controlled him, but it was taken for granted that he did it for the 'better of the country'.

It was also taken for granted that Arabs (and all Muslims as well) are terrorists. They were in the Sudan when he went there, and that's the way they're treated at home (Uganda) too. To think otherwise is candy-eyed nonsense. There was an interesting story of working with an Israeli Mossad anti-terror team... probably something to it, even if it didn't happen to this guy. They are mentioned in my book as well as known to keep an eye on events such as Sudan, not to mention an interesting history with Uganda as well. But the Arabs or those who sympathize with them wouldn't leave the Christians alone and so they (the Ugandans) took part of southern Sudan. I'm missing alot, and my imagination is filling in the blanks with what I do know about how African states get 'involved' in their neighbors disputes...

Now he was done with that- earning big money by coming here to Iraq to guard gates. Afterward he would probably go back to school of some sort. In the meantime, he was kind of confused with how we treated the Iraqis, said we should 'just go and destroy their mosques, shoot them in the streets'. It sounded like these weren't idle threats, based on his experiences in Sudan. What would an army of these Africans do to a place like this if led? It's a chilling prospect to consider...

It makes you think; things have really died down here. Controversial political statement- I know, especially in light of the fact that people continue to die and danger continues to exist. The key word is clearly 'relative'. Relative to other places, relative to the past in Iraq even. But it is relative, even as there are holdouts and ongoing problems. Yet nothing like the dramatic upheaval that occurs cyclicly in the African conflicts.

I'm really not keen on Africa, but with things going the way they are, I don't see us being able to stay out of it. Ideally we'd go in with our eyes open, at the appropriate time. It's a different world there, very different. Hopefully someone else will think this through, not underestimating the Africans. It's easy to do, but one must also realize how we are looked down on for our 'kid gloves' in dealing with this situation here, someone similar to this Ugandan would wonder why we are so rich and powerful, yet so weak and unable to control things when they are 'relatively calm'.

I doubt my disjointed thoughts make this argument particularly coherent. In the end I wonder why I always end up with more questions than answers?

Update: an interesting debate developing in the comments of a related thread at the libertarian site Q and O.


  • I think you're supposed to find thequestions, not the answers.

    So Africa is the future?

    By Anonymous el gringo viejo, at 9:39 PM  

  • East Africa is an interesting region of the world, I was just reading up on LRA and Congo because soon I'll be doing extended travels in East Africa. Uganda is the country I most look forward to seeing, the people are incredibly friendly I hear. Anyway, very informative post about Ugandan mercenaries. I don't know why the West didn't just hire and send in mercenaries to stop the Rwandan Genocide, since apparently it wasn't worth the life of even 1 white soldier. But to sit by and do NOTHING...that is unforgiveable.

    By Blogger Crystal, at 9:53 PM  

  • Well, questions are nice, but working on the answers is what makes things happen. The world is the future- Africa, Asia, South America- why we still worry about what impotent Europeans think bothers me.

    Thanks for stopping by Crystal. I'm pretty sure you're right about the Ugandans, all my impressions of them have been favorable. And people I've known traveling through Africa have said the same. Good luck for your trip.

    Why didn't the West do anything about Rwanda- that is a good question. Clearly not because we don't have the capacity to. From my former military experience I know what can be done. But the will to do it... is it so hard to justify force? Any study of 'multilateral peacekeeping' visavis the UN is a study in expensive, ineffective and corrupt debacles. It's just in Africa the scale is so much larger... if the idea is good, how do we make it work? Or if it's no good, where do we go from there?

    To do nothing- won't be an option. But to do something might mean using violence to stop violence. This includes unorthodox means such as hiring mercenaries (which also might mean a different definition of human rights). I believe it'd be best to think it through now before we're pulled into it later.

    By Blogger sunguh5307, at 4:31 PM  

  • Enough continents already :)

    In Israeli context, Uganda means the rescue operation of the 1976 Air France flight hostages.

    and some more trivia - Uganda was sort of plan b to early Zionists. The british offered some of their colonies there as an alternative to Palestine. Could have been interesting.

    By Blogger Effi, at 12:26 PM  

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