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Thursday, May 20, 2010

TECHNOLOGY & THE HEART OF DARKNESS - SAVING AFRICA

From Foreign Policy Magazine:
There is a very simple reason why some of Africa's bloodiest, most brutal wars never seem to end: They are not really wars. Not in the traditional sense, at least. The combatants don't have much of an ideology; they don't have clear goals. They couldn't care less about taking over capitals or major cities -- in fact, they prefer the deep bush, where it is far easier to commit crimes. Today's rebels seem especially uninterested in winning converts, content instead to steal other people's children, stick Kalashnikovs or axes in their hands, and make them do the killing. Look closely at some of the continent's most intractable conflicts, from the rebel-laden creeks of the Niger Delta to the inferno in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this is what you will find.

What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else -- something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you'd like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry...

nearly half of the continent's 53 countries are home to an active conflict or a recently ended one... Add together the casualties in just the dozen countries that I cover, and you have a death toll of tens of thousands of civilians each year. More than 5 million have died in Congo alone since 1998, the International Rescue Committee has estimated...

Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don't want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they've already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?

The short answer is you don't. The only way to stop today's rebels for real is to capture or kill their leaders. Many are uniquely devious characters whose organizations would likely disappear as soon as they do. That's what happened in Angola when the diamond-smuggling rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was shot, bringing a sudden end to one of the Cold War's most intense conflicts. In Liberia, the moment that warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was arrested in 2006 was the same moment that the curtain dropped on the gruesome circus
We cannot & should not try yo run Africa - it is not in our interests & ultimately it is not in theirs. However if there are cases where a relatively small effort on our part can steer hundreds of millions of people into a better life then we should do it. I have previously suggested giving Africa a good mobile telephone system (the main driver of the growth the continent is seeing) as spin off of our own space development. I have commented on Douglas Carswell's remarks about that phone system being able to morph into a banking system which would not be subject to the confiscatory inflation that the inept & parasitic African governments are even more prone to than our own.

However for success a country has to have a rule of law. Making governments more respectful of the law may be at least encouraged by a telecommunications system that lets the world see what is happening. However bandits are not so susceptible. Ultimately only a military option will suffice. However conventional forces are expensive & ineffective facing guerrillas who can vanish into the bush.

But one unconventional force is having considerable success at just that conflict. As I have previously written
The Americans are using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) not just as observers but to kill Taliban. There have been some amazing successes here, with many of the leaders dead... If current UAVs are invisible to the locals because they fly at 20,000 feet future ones will be the size of medium sized birds & able to track individuals. This ability to hit and run before being seen was a large part of what made the 20thC the century of the guerrilla
I was & am very uncomfortable with the way UAVs are changing the balance of power between the state & low tech rebels but we must use the tools we have. It would not take many UAFs, without any risk to western personnel, to search the bush & find the camps of such bandit leaders. If killing a few selected leaders is the way to end these conflicts as the article says then UAVs could achieve this with minimum (not zero, that is never an option) collateral casualties where an entire conventional army might not, even with mass casualties. I suspect the article is right about the small number of real leaders - organisations run for purely selfish motives, ie loot, tend not to outlast their leaders.

We could do this relatively easily, certainly we could bring relative peace to the continent of Africa for a tiny fraction of the cost, in both money & lives of whatever it is we are doing in Afghanistan.

However if it is not just to be neocolonialism it must be done without playing favourites. If you are going to play God, bringing death from the skies, you must do it without partiality. This means Darfur as well. There has been a massive western media campaign to tell us how dreadful the Sudanese government are & how nobly the insurgents. This has culminated in the politically controlled ICC "indicting" Sudan's leader. I have seen no evidence that he is worse than his opponents & think that the main crime that brought western opprobrium was cutting a deal to have Sudan's oil drilled by Chinese oil companies rather than the traditional Seven Sisters. The widely unreported thing that most convinces me that the insurgents are not the "goodies" here is that they have split into at least 3 groups - all against all. That is not how real national liberation movements behave, it is how bandit gangs do.

And better to do it now, under UN or at least Security Council auspices than to wait till China offers to do it for us.

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