Revolutionary Times

Revolutionary Times

In the British Parliament a prominent Lord urges the government to recolonize Zimbabwe. Russia’s methodical promotion of oligarchy finds purchase in the Central African Republic, where it’s close to controlling the government. In the U.S. religious groups blossom in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Like any revolutionary period, politics becomes so upset that old ideas resurface and new ones fashioned of opposite extremes develop as well. That’s happening today in Africa as in the U.S.

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Dēmos Gravitas In Spades

Dēmos Gravitas In Spades

USEgyptCARfailing democracyThe trial of deposed Egyptian president Morsi, the bloodbath looming in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the new tribulations of Pennsylvania Congressman Shuster are all linked by the power and failure of democracy.

I’m not giving up on democracy, yet. But it needs some work. Here are the facts:

If ever there was a “Show Trial” in our lifetime it began today in Egypt, where the deposed president Mohamed Morsi is charged with murder. He and his co-defendants were defiant, shouting until their voices were hoarse. The trial, which carries the death penalty, next convenes on January 8.

The country of 5 million in the middle of Africa will likely soon be the world’s next site of major genocide. NPR, the BBC and others interviewing UN staff in the country report today that genocide is imminent.

Seven term Congressman and committee chair, Bill Shuster, a man about as conservative as you can get, faces a credible challenge from a Pennsylvania T-Party right-winger for having voted to end the government shutdown.

My take on the three ongoing events:

EGYPT: I’m glad Morsi was deposed by the military. He was destroying everything progressive in Egyptian society, defying the constitution including the judiciary, and essentially wrecking vengeance on a society for the long oppressed Muslim Brotherhood of which he was an important leader.

He had not yet quite started “rounding up the Christians” as former military leaders including Mubarak did to Muslims like himself, but he moved modern Egyptian society radically backwards, away from representative governance towards a dictatorship of Muslims that was polarizing society and aggravating the Christian/Muslim cleavage in society.

There was no mechanism in Egypt to get rid of a bad president, and that is the mantra used by progressives in Egypt today to justify the military coup. The irony, of course, is that had there been such a mechanism, Morsi would have prevailed over it since the fairly elected majority of the country and their elected representatives would never have voted to convict.

From far away, though, I feel the generals are going too far. They do not seem to believe that any compromise with the Muslim Brotherhood is possible, and that bodes very badly for the future of Egyptian stability.

CAR: What is happening, today, and going to happen in far worse measure very soon in the CAR is a failure of global institutions precisely because global institutions can’t navigate well the growing enmity between Christians and Muslims.

Note with great importance that in such a deep part of Africa, “Muslim/Christian” is actually a misnomer for any conflict. The ethnic divides, which are at the root of the conflict, existed long before Islam was born and perhaps before Christianity was born.

And as in Rwanda, all these various ethnic groups have lived together and intermarried and even shared languages for generations.

The Banda, Hausa, Fulfulde, Runga and similar ethnic groups in the north of the country, consider themselves “Muslim” especially in the current conflict. This is true even though practicing Muslims of the sort that pray regularly towards Mecca are rare. Many of these tribe were pretty undeveloped, remote jungle villages.

Almost all the rest of the ethnic groups are “Christian,” and they roughly occupy the south of the country and represent about two-thirds of the overall population including the only legitimate city and capital of Bangui. But they have no military support. The French long ago abandoned them.

The Muslims have no state support, either. But as the Obama/Holande alliance to crush al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa succeeds, the CAR is where the last guns, missile launchers, grenades and IUDs get dumped, and they are being dumped by fugitive Muslims on those in the CAR who call themselves native Muslims. So the one side is armed, and the other isn’t.

And the way it looks right now, nobody really cares. It seems the general consensus in the world is to just let everyone in the CAR destroy themselves. The UN Special Representative on Genocide said over the weekend, “We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion…and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, like the father before him, represents a very rural part of southern Pennsylvania. Like so many other nonurban areas in America, it has not done well over my lifetime.

Median income has fallen, traditional life ways like independent farming have declined, even health statistics are worse than they were. In a nutshell, a father can no longer presume anything except that his children will be worse off than he was.

The reason for this is clear to me: a redistribution of wealth to the top of the pyramid. A cluster of power at the top oppresses those below with feudal outcomes like Walmart and phony mortgages followed by foreclosures.

But armed with money, the forces in power manipulate these folks to such a degree that they work constantly against their own self-interest. The most poignant example is how school referendum after school referendum is defeated.

Education is compromised to the point that no one in southern rural Pennsylvania has a clue as to why they’re more miserable than their folks. So…

… they blame the government. Add a pinch of “it couldn’t get worse than it already is” and a rather healthy American dose of revolution, and why not just close the government down?

All three of these examples are outcomes of failed democracy. Because all three situations are the result of democratic institutions paving their paths.

Egypt is clear. It was truly a fair and free election that brought Morsi to power.

In the CAR, which suffered ethnic conflict short of genocide for centuries, ethnic conflict is now oiled by the democratic processes of the west that permit if not encourage the sale of arms, by the “democratic choice” of Presidents Obama and Hollande to allow the CAR to be the “fire that burns out,” and the democratic (if highly filibustered) UN Security Council that has decided this spot on the world isn’t worth saving.

And in Pennsylvania it is people manifesting power in such a way that it returns to oppress them.

In each case, the value of self-determination turns against itself and democracy ends up destroying itself. Self-interest is compromised not for the betterment of the whole, but to destroy self-interest.

As I said, I’m not abandoning democracy. But someone with a really good stethoscope needs to take a look at it.

We Need Shrinks not Generals

We Need Shrinks not Generals

CongoMarchUnder the noise of Snowden, dysfunction of Congress, frantic media and lackluster personality of Obama, the War Against Terrorism is being massively ratcheted up in Africa.

The French Foreign Legion was dispatched last week to the remote deserts of Mali, to support a freely elected government that is being newly challenged by rebel groups in its most outlying cities.

Crack South African troops added to increased United Nations peacekeeping forces and ruthless Congolese government troops newly armed by the west, have been crushing the last of the known rebel groups in the eastern Congo, an area of conflict for nearly a half century.

How’s it going?

Hard. The unspoken but terribly obvious Hollande/Obama alliance to make Africa the last great military battleground against organized terrorism began five years ago in Somalia. American advisers were everywhere in northern Kenya and the port of Mombasa, and French warships were just off the coast of Somalia.

Drones were added and the war begun. Kenya was enlisted as the visible front army and Somalia was “liberated.” Its al-Qaeda affiliates were scattered and what was left of anything organized raced through Uganda into the center of the continent.

The world watched 90 U.S. soldiers chase them across the Uganda.

But Hollande and Obama miscalculated the arsenal of weapons that liberated Libya would make available, and scattered groups in Mali benefited enormously. France’s end-game mission to America’s chasing of the rebels into the center of the continent was to crush them in the Central African Republic (CAR).

But instead, it had to focus on Mali, far northwest of the CAR. So today the CAR is essentially anarchistic. A report published this morning by Amnesty International describes the CAR in the most horrific, barbaric terms. Every civilized person seems to have abandoned the country, making it ripe for organized terrorist control.

Hardly two years ago the focus of visible battles between the west and its proxies, and al-Qaeda and its proxies was in Somalia. Only a few months ago it reemerged in Mali where it persists. And the riffraff, disparate, heavily armed leftovers of a dozen so-called al-Qaeda affiliates or older rebel groups (like the LRA) are now duking it out like barbarians in the CAR.

You cannot eliminate terrorism, Mr. & Monsieur President.

You cannot eliminate unless you had global gun control the likes of which evades my most fanciful dreams. Where there are weapons and the materials for making them, there will be terrorism.

The question is, Are We Safer Now?

Before I give you my opinion, don’t you think it’s important to also ask, Is Africa Safer Now? What right does the west presume in order to use Africa as the backforty into which the wolves are chased and kept at bay?

If the world ever runs out of weapons, we’ll be forced to deal with conflicting ideologies, as well as crazy terrorists, in ways we should develop, now.

Modern force is so omnipresent, as easily mastered by an internet keyboard, that it can’t possibly end conflict, today. It will only interrupt or delay it.

Consider this, first. The conflict in the DRC’s Kivu Province is a half century old. It’s based largely on the same ethnic divisions that caused the Rwandan genocide. Those divisions are festering. The calm in Rwanda is the calm of a benevolent strongman. Once his biceps snap, all hell is going to break loose.

Consider this, second. Organized terrorism is fanatical. Unlike ethnic conflict, terrorism may have no other explanation except the obsession to rule and control.

Both turn men into beasts eager to die – to kill themselves – for reasons they don’t wholly understand. Hypnotic or simply psychotic.

You can’t get them all. We don’t need any more generals. We need shrinks.

Great White Fool

Great White Fool

My sarcastic PhotoShop impression of David Simpson.
The Central African Republic is one of the most lawless and corrupt countries on the continent and known mostly today as the presumed home of LRA fugitive, Joseph Kony. Turns out he has some interesting company.

The reason Kony is probably in the CAR, routed from Uganda and being hunted down by a posse of 100 green berets recently sent by Obama, is that the CAR is ungovernable and unmanageable, in part because so much of it is remote, thick jungle. The other part of the reason is because its leaders are thugs.

What a wonderful place to raise a family and run a business, right?

Wrong. Unless… you’re a hunting company.

Hunting companies are extremely small, highly lucrative businesses. Compared, for example, to the overhead of a photography safari company, today, a hunting company of similar size may require a tenth of the capital investment, have about the same operating costs, and yet provide a return ten times or more of a photography safari company with the same amount of assets and staff.

The product sale price, which is ten times or more that of a photography safari company, is justified because of the company’s … “guts.”

Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.

This is mostly because the service and “plant” (actual tents, food, equipment, and even staff) is of much lower quality than in a photography safari company. In the old days this was reversed, but today a hunting camp is just above OK and maybe even not OK.

Flush toilets, for example, are unusual. Solar lighting or lighting of any kind other than kerosene lanterns is unlikely. Simple spring beds replace four-poster rosewood sculptures. Frankly, I prefer this kind of camp, but I’m old and nostalgic and something of a penny-pincher.

But the food is only so-so because the cooks aren’t well trained. The staff is pulled from a line of relatives in need of work, both African help-staff (always black) and so-called poorly named professional hunters (which are almost always white).

And while the principals may know how to shoot, the younger hunters generally portray hardened biceps and much less, have little upstairs, and generally can’t get any other kind of work. Their resumes are short descriptions of Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.

And sometimes, simple stupidity.

Such is the story of the erstwhile Swedish hunting company, Central African Wildlife Adventures. (Oh, did I fail to mention that their websites are on par with an eighth grader’s weekend project?)

This brilliant enterprise decided to set up business just about the time that Kony was fleeing north from Uganda, incapable of resting his fugitive soul anywhere in Africa with a teaspoon of stability, so we deduce he’s set up camp in the CAR.

We don’t know specifically what shenanigans the company produced to get its plot of land in the CAR, but we do know that the bribes were apparently not good enough. Because last month the principal and general manager were arrested for the slaughter and murder of somewhere between 13 and 18 people in a situation that reeks of Joseph Kony’s calling card.

According to the 24-year old general manager, David Simpson, who has languished in a CAR prison just long enough to get another cub scout badge of courage and whose brother reported him as being “upbeat” about the situation, he was flying the company’s small plane when he noticed the massacre site below him and so did what every good cub scout is taught to do: report it to the trusted authorities.

Listen, David Simpson, there are no trusted authorities in the CAR. What were you expecting? That they would send you a letter of commendation?

Full disclosure: I am no hunter. But in my long career I have known and worked with good hunters, a very rare breed, rarer than the bongo which companies like CAWA offer to assist making extinct.

But in the main, and especially today, hunting companies are not only bad businesses but directed by if not bad people pretty dumb ones. Bribing is second nature and those who play the game in places like the CAR generally get called out.

The media is filled with sympathetic reports, and I’m a bit surprised by the amount of sarcasm I feel. It would otherwise go without saying that Simpson and the company owner are not guilty of this, and that only the basest and most corrupt justice on earth would dare pursue this case against them.

But read between the lines of the current volume of sympathetic media and you’ll learn that the British Foreign Office is not quite as involved as it was when British tourists were kidnapped by Somalis, or is currently now involved in the great Chinese scandal of the century. And not for want of class, I don’t think.

I prefer to believe that the British Foreign Office, like me, realizes that someone so stupid as to invite their arrest in the CAR is quite likely to do something equally stupid once sprung.

That doesn’t mean Simpson et al should be abandoned. But we’ve got to overlay some reasonable perspective on this story. Not every African country is so barbarous and primitive as the Central African Republic.

And I think I could count on one hand the number of colleagues in African tourism that would have done something so stupid as report a Kony massacre site in the CAR to CAR officials. David Simpson and CAWA owner, Erik Mararv, are apparently two. I won’t name the other three. There’s always hope.

Play with the pyre and you generally get burned.