Wednesday, October 29, 2014

There is a lot I don't know about Central Africa

There is a lot I don't know, and one of the good things about writing my almost daily blog is that it makes me learn things, so that in the end I know a little more. I knew almost nothing about the Central African Republic until I read Jon Lee Anderson's challenging and interesting article in the New Yorker (October 20, 2014). I didn't know that the Central African Republic with its land area larger than France and a bit of Europe thrown in and with the population of New Zealand it is one of the richest lands in terms of natural resources, forests, gold, uranium, oil. Yet its people are among the poorest and things are not getting better. Blame the French who ruled the land and stole its riches from the time the European powers carved up the map of Africa until independence in the 1960s. But although the French left behind a viable and potentially prosperous country when they ceded power, things went from bad to worse since independence, so that it is now a virtually failed state. Until recently Christians, Muslims and animists lived in reasonable harmony. Muslims made up 15% of the population. Then they formed an Islamist militia, the Seleka, and started murdering their Christian neighbours. The Christians in response formed their own militia, the antibalaka, who slaughtered Muslims indiscriminately. It was not a genocide, Muslims and Christians were not different races. It was a religious war. Most of us being ignorant of large chunks of Africa dismiss such carnage as Africa, what would you expect from these primitive people. But if an African would look at European history, where in my lifetime German protestants and German Catholics, and even German atheists who only believed in the German folk and their glorious Wagnerian roots murdered German Jews, perhaps he would view Europeans as a primitive people despite their flash technology. And would think of Europe of the twentieth century with its ruthless dictators and unbridled carnage as failed states, that failed with the beginning of the First World War, which grew from small skirmishes into a wholesale conflagration just as Africa spawned failed states after the end of the colonial era, and continues to destroy states to the present day as a result of the colonial heritage. States fail because neighbours kill neighbours, because a multicity of ethnic groups vie for supremacy. They kill each other for religion, for ideology, for perceived grievances, but kill each other they do. Militant factions split, with a group always more extreme than the next, so that bringing them together to make peace is an impossibly challenging task. If their priority would be to get richer, live a better life, make the world a better place for their children they would desist from fighting, but irrational hartred is a greater motivator than self interest.