bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

It's been awhile since I've used this icon so let's read a depressing book.

I just finished The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis. Mr. Burgis looks at how resource-rich countries in Africa remain locked in poverty despite the riches under their feet.

The answer is pretty straight-forward: governments simply treat their natural resources as a giant piggy bank they can use to enrich themselves and their supporters. Multinational corporations show up and offer vast sums of money for mining/drilling rights. The value of these contracts is usually a fraction of the value of what the mining companies dig up, but it's more than enough money to keep government officials in power and very well off. Additionally, this reliance on resource money means that officials are more interested making deals and enriching themselves rather than responding to the concerns of their constituency.

Mr. Burgis travels around Africa and highlights the stories of several countries. From oil and diamonds to iron and limestone, everything is up for sale and very little of the money trickles down to the majority of the citizens. One organization that many of these stories have in common is The Queensway Group -- a mosaic of companies whose parent is located in Hong Kong. The group's operational structure is extremely murky. For a long time it was assumed that it was simply a front for the Chinese state, but it may simply be closely allied with them and taking advantage of those connections (in both China and Africa) to enrich its principals.

The Queensway Group forms an obvious focus to hang the narrative around. They represent China's thrust into Africa which has become very aggressive over the past 10 years. In large part this comes from their willingness to deal with absolutely anyone even when major economies in the West refuse to have anything to do with them. If you're an African dictator whose atrocities have made you a pariah -- Chinese firms are more than happy to cut lucrative deals to refill your coffers. As long as you give them access, they won't ask questions.

Still, Queensway is just the latest in a long line of multinational firms that are happy to look the other way in exchange for choice mining concessions. Many of these private endeavors have also received financial assistance from the IMF and World Bank. Despite a mandate to improve the economic well-being of people in impoverished countries, many of these loans have been gobbled up by shadow state apparatuses.

The book doesn't offer a lot of solutions. The scope of the problem is enormous and needs to be tackled on several levels from several different directions. Still, the book is a good overview of what's going on and something to think about next time you fill up your car or make a cell phone call.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So you may not have noticed that conflict has flared up in the Congo (the Democratic Republic of the Congo to be precise). A rebel group known as M23 (whose leader is wanted for war crimes) has been taking over large chunks of the eastern part of Congo. All evidence suggests that the rebels are funded, trained and supplied by Rwanda just over the border.

This is essentially a repeat of the ethnic violence that spilled out of Rwanda and started the last war in the Congo that killed up to 5.4 million people. All the major industrialized countries (East and West) have political ties to Rwanda that keep them from more forceful action against the rebels who are most likely carving out a mineral-rich chunk of the Congo for Rwandan purposes.

Here's a brief summary on the state of things so far.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So for some cheery reading, let’s read books about societies coming apart at the seams!

First up: Dancin—in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason K. Stearns. I’ve had an interest in the various African conflicts for awhile now and the Congolese wars of the past two decades has been one of the real standouts. This book provides an excellent overview of what became an incredibly complex conflict. Mr. Stearns worked for a UN panel investigating Congo rebels and he has laid out this tragedy both in it’s broad strokes and subtle nuances. He points to the host of factors that lead to the conflicts and how the fires of war kept feeding themselves.

In the end, Stearns talks about what the International community can and should do. And here, I think Stearns really does a great job. Conflicts in places like the Congo can often make us throw up our hands in exasperation. Western colonialism planted a lot of the seeds for the current problems and half-hearted international attention is often mis-directed. Still, Stearns feels there are ways in which the wider world can help out the people of the Congo, despite the serious problems and he offers a number of ideas.

I really liked this book. It’s probably one of the most clear-eyed looks at what happened (and is happening) in the Congo today. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to better understand what’s going on.

The second book goes from Africa’s Great War to Europe’s. I have a bit of a fascination for the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of WWI and to get a sense of what it was like for one who lived through it, I picked up Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. Stefan Zweig was an author and intellectual who was born in the late 1800’s in Vienna. He describes the Empire he knew and loved, his opposition to the war that destroyed it, the inter-war years in Austria, and finally the cold winds of WWII that obliterated his home. Shortly after finishing the book in 1942, with Hitler at the height of his power, Stefan and his wife (exiled to Brazil) killed themselves.

Stefan, by reason of his writing successes and pacifist leanings managed to avoid the worst deprivations of the war — he was never sent to the front, for example. But he does provide a paint a vivid portrait of the world before and after the war and his encounters with artists and intellectuals of all stripes from all over Europe. He constantly holds to an ideal of pan-European brotherhood and the desire for personal freedom and improvement. It was a very moving book and while more of an autobiography than a history story, I really enjoyed it. The parallels between Europe’s rush to war compared to our own post-9/11 actions give one a bit of pause. Even if Zweig romanticizes his world of yesterday, it’s a very appealing romance.

Later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So for some cheery reading, let’s read books about societies coming apart at the seams!

First up: Dancin—in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason K. Stearns. I’ve had an interest in the various African conflicts for awhile now and the Congolese wars of the past two decades has been one of the real standouts. This book provides an excellent overview of what became an incredibly complex conflict. Mr. Stearns worked for a UN panel investigating Congo rebels and he has laid out this tragedy both in it’s broad strokes and subtle nuances. He points to the host of factors that lead to the conflicts and how the fires of war kept feeding themselves.

In the end, Stearns talks about what the International community can and should do. And here, I think Stearns really does a great job. Conflicts in places like the Congo can often make us throw up our hands in exasperation. Western colonialism planted a lot of the seeds for the current problems and half-hearted international attention is often mis-directed. Still, Stearns feels there are ways in which the wider world can help out the people of the Congo, despite the serious problems and he offers a number of ideas.

I really liked this book. It’s probably one of the most clear-eyed looks at what happened (and is happening) in the Congo today. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to better understand what’s going on.

The second book goes from Africa’s Great War to Europe’s. I have a bit of a fascination for the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of WWI and to get a sense of what it was like for one who lived through it, I picked up Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. Stefan Zweig was an author and intellectual who was born in the late 1800’s in Vienna. He describes the Empire he knew and loved, his opposition to the war that destroyed it, the inter-war years in Austria, and finally the cold winds of WWII that obliterated his home. Shortly after finishing the book in 1942, with Hitler at the height of his power, Stefan and his wife (exiled to Brazil) killed themselves.

Stefan, by reason of his writing successes and pacifist leanings managed to avoid the worst deprivations of the war — he was never sent to the front, for example. But he does provide a paint a vivid portrait of the world before and after the war and his encounters with artists and intellectuals of all stripes from all over Europe. He constantly holds to an ideal of pan-European brotherhood and the desire for personal freedom and improvement. It was a very moving book and while more of an autobiography than a history story, I really enjoyed it. The parallels between Europe’s rush to war compared to our own post-9/11 actions give one a bit of pause. Even if Zweig romanticizes his world of yesterday, it’s a very appealing romance.

Later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So I just finished up My Friend the Mercenary by James Brabazon. Mr. Brabazon is a journalist and in 2002 he wants to go into Liberia to cover a civil war that no one seems to know much about. He needs protection and through his sources he meets up with Nick du Toit, former member of the South African Special Services, high-ranking member of the mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes and now just working his own jobs freelance. He agrees to accompany Brabazon into Liberia and watch his back while he films the war.

Although du Toit has a very shady past, he routinely steps in to cover Barabazon's ass and the two men form something of a bond. As the war in Liberia progresses, Nick tells James that he's got something else in the offing and he's hoping that James will come along to film the action and legitimize the upcoming "regime change".

It turns out the "regime change" was a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. You may remember that sometime in 2004 a whole bunch of mercenaries got rounded up -- this is that mission. Supposedly Mark Thatcher, Margret Thatcher's son was involved in backing a deal to have an exiled ruler of Equatorial Guinea back in control (why? Oh, huge amounts of oil and other natural resources why does anyone care about the mish-mash of countries in Africa?).

Mr. Brabazon digs into the coup in part to try and help save his friend and to figure out what really happened.

I liked this book. The grueling slog to get into Liberia, Brabazon's ethical dilemmas and the various choices he made all of that was interesting, but I also liked reading about all the planning and effort that went into setting up the failed coup. It's a whirlwind of trips to London, Geneva, New York, Capetown, shady arms deals, massive funds being passed around, covert logistics, intelligence work, all kinds of stuff. At one point, Brabazon is walking down the street in London, on his satellite phone to a guy in the Congo discussing the details of an ammo shipment. The fact that this whole thing was carried out like a wild-eyed start-up was pretty striking.

Anyway, fascinating reading if you're interested in that part of the world or the shadowy business that keeps it so awash in blood.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So I just finished up My Friend the Mercenary by James Brabazon. Mr. Brabazon is a journalist and in 2002 he wants to go into Liberia to cover a civil war that no one seems to know much about. He needs protection and through his sources he meets up with Nick du Toit, former member of the South African Special Services, high-ranking member of the mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes and now just working his own jobs freelance. He agrees to accompany Brabazon into Liberia and watch his back while he films the war.

Although du Toit has a very shady past, he routinely steps in to cover Barabazon's ass and the two men form something of a bond. As the war in Liberia progresses, Nick tells James that he's got something else in the offing and he's hoping that James will come along to film the action and legitimize the upcoming "regime change".

It turns out the "regime change" was a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. You may remember that sometime in 2004 a whole bunch of mercenaries got rounded up -- this is that mission. Supposedly Mark Thatcher, Margret Thatcher's son was involved in backing a deal to have an exiled ruler of Equatorial Guinea back in control (why? Oh, huge amounts of oil and other natural resources why does anyone care about the mish-mash of countries in Africa?).

Mr. Brabazon digs into the coup in part to try and help save his friend and to figure out what really happened.

I liked this book. The grueling slog to get into Liberia, Brabazon's ethical dilemmas and the various choices he made all of that was interesting, but I also liked reading about all the planning and effort that went into setting up the failed coup. It's a whirlwind of trips to London, Geneva, New York, Capetown, shady arms deals, massive funds being passed around, covert logistics, intelligence work, all kinds of stuff. At one point, Brabazon is walking down the street in London, on his satellite phone to a guy in the Congo discussing the details of an ammo shipment. The fact that this whole thing was carried out like a wild-eyed start-up was pretty striking.

Anyway, fascinating reading if you're interested in that part of the world or the shadowy business that keeps it so awash in blood.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

So if you're looking for some depressing reading, might I suggest Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps by Karen Palmer.

Ms. Palmer takes a tour of Ghana, a small West African country on the Gold Coast. Oil, minerals and chocolate have provided a fairly steady economic footing, but most of the benefits fall on the southern part of the nation. In the sub-Saharan north of the country life is much poorer and much harder. The country as a whole, like much of Africa, has a strong animist tradition that lurks beneath Christian or Muslim beliefs. All of this adds up to a place where witchcraft is taken seriously and used as a level against women too old or infertile or too wealthy or too outspoken for comfort.

A fever dream might reveal that a woman is a witch. The woman is hauled before the chief who ritually kills a chicken. If the chicken dies on it's back, the woman is innocent. If it dies beak-down, the woman is a witch. If you're a witch (and really, the odds are very good that you are), then you can seek out sanctuary in the local witch-camp where the chief will protect you, hire you out as menial labor and attempt to "cure" you of witchcraft OR you can take your chances and hope you won't get lynched.

It's really a much better system than the bad old days where they skipped right to the lynching.

Ms. Palmer talks to accused witches, some of whom seem to be innocent victims and some who seem to be suffering from mental problems. She talks to the chief who's supposed to be curing them, aid workers trying to help them, friends and family of the accused and the local villagers. It's a series of nested vicious cycles that resist correction short of massive economic development. Once branded a witch, a woman loses what little voice she has and trying to directly help them breed jealousy and resentment.

The book does a pretty good job of illustrating a cross-section of a society and culture that could produce this system. I only have two minor complaints: 1.) The book sorely needs a map of Ghana. The villages Ms. Palmer visits probably wouldn't show up, but just a general sense of Ghana's location in Africa and major regions would be a big help. 2.) Ms. Palmer relied on translators and I worry about how much was misunderstood or deliberately obfuscated. Yes, yes, I'm hardly a cunning linguist and Ms. Palmer points out that there's half a dozen languages and dialects spoken in the region and few people can speak more than one or two, but you're left wondering how much was left out or presented in a format the translator hoped she wanted to hear. It's just the chance you have to take when you want to shine a light on the intersection of poverty and superstition.

The book is certainly available from the Library of Tom if you're interested.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

So if you're looking for some depressing reading, might I suggest Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps by Karen Palmer.

Ms. Palmer takes a tour of Ghana, a small West African country on the Gold Coast. Oil, minerals and chocolate have provided a fairly steady economic footing, but most of the benefits fall on the southern part of the nation. In the sub-Saharan north of the country life is much poorer and much harder. The country as a whole, like much of Africa, has a strong animist tradition that lurks beneath Christian or Muslim beliefs. All of this adds up to a place where witchcraft is taken seriously and used as a level against women too old or infertile or too wealthy or too outspoken for comfort.

A fever dream might reveal that a woman is a witch. The woman is hauled before the chief who ritually kills a chicken. If the chicken dies on it's back, the woman is innocent. If it dies beak-down, the woman is a witch. If you're a witch (and really, the odds are very good that you are), then you can seek out sanctuary in the local witch-camp where the chief will protect you, hire you out as menial labor and attempt to "cure" you of witchcraft OR you can take your chances and hope you won't get lynched.

It's really a much better system than the bad old days where they skipped right to the lynching.

Ms. Palmer talks to accused witches, some of whom seem to be innocent victims and some who seem to be suffering from mental problems. She talks to the chief who's supposed to be curing them, aid workers trying to help them, friends and family of the accused and the local villagers. It's a series of nested vicious cycles that resist correction short of massive economic development. Once branded a witch, a woman loses what little voice she has and trying to directly help them breed jealousy and resentment.

The book does a pretty good job of illustrating a cross-section of a society and culture that could produce this system. I only have two minor complaints: 1.) The book sorely needs a map of Ghana. The villages Ms. Palmer visits probably wouldn't show up, but just a general sense of Ghana's location in Africa and major regions would be a big help. 2.) Ms. Palmer relied on translators and I worry about how much was misunderstood or deliberately obfuscated. Yes, yes, I'm hardly a cunning linguist and Ms. Palmer points out that there's half a dozen languages and dialects spoken in the region and few people can speak more than one or two, but you're left wondering how much was left out or presented in a format the translator hoped she wanted to hear. It's just the chance you have to take when you want to shine a light on the intersection of poverty and superstition.

The book is certainly available from the Library of Tom if you're interested.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So this weekend I was in a LARP about peace negotiations over the Darfur region in the Sudan. A game like that has a lot of potential to really explore a thorny issue. It also has the potential to go really, really badly.

The game was...problematic.

Here's the deal. I was the Chinese ambassador. In real life, the Chinese give money/weapons to the Sudanese government in exchange for lucrative oil deals and they generally support the status quo. They do this both to maintain their lucrative oil deals and because they've got their own human rights issues so they're touchy about the idea of a sovereign nation being "interfered" with by outsiders.

That right there is more than sufficient to be a base on which to portray a character and present a viewpoint. But apparently not enough for the author. So things got..."juiced up".

So now the Chinese are running a pair of top-secret projects in the Darfur region. The first is an autonomous robot drill that can dig a pipeline into neighboring Chad and steal their oil. The second is a mind-control device.

Yeah. A mind-control device. Which we're testing out in Darfur.

And this project is so top-secret that lots of people know about the mind control device and probably the robot drill. Oh, and the robot drill achieved singularity thanks to a virus piggy-backing on some porn downloaded by a research scientist and the robot made a cyberwar attack on China and...

Yeah. Problematic.

I haven't even mentioned the rebel leader who was hit by mind control and thought he was Klatuu from "The Day the Earth Stood Still", or the Janjaweed leader who was a psychotic cannibal or the Russian official who was a super-spy with a stealth jet pack and a space laser and....

Yeah. Problematic.

And then there's the thing I'm not even going to mention.

I do think there's a very good game to be had out of this. People game out all kinds of crisis situations and they can be useful in better understanding something that gets glossed over. This just wasn't that game.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hey,

So this weekend I was in a LARP about peace negotiations over the Darfur region in the Sudan. A game like that has a lot of potential to really explore a thorny issue. It also has the potential to go really, really badly.

The game was...problematic.

Here's the deal. I was the Chinese ambassador. In real life, the Chinese give money/weapons to the Sudanese government in exchange for lucrative oil deals and they generally support the status quo. They do this both to maintain their lucrative oil deals and because they've got their own human rights issues so they're touchy about the idea of a sovereign nation being "interfered" with by outsiders.

That right there is more than sufficient to be a base on which to portray a character and present a viewpoint. But apparently not enough for the author. So things got..."juiced up".

So now the Chinese are running a pair of top-secret projects in the Darfur region. The first is an autonomous robot drill that can dig a pipeline into neighboring Chad and steal their oil. The second is a mind-control device.

Yeah. A mind-control device. Which we're testing out in Darfur.

And this project is so top-secret that lots of people know about the mind control device and probably the robot drill. Oh, and the robot drill achieved singularity thanks to a virus piggy-backing on some porn downloaded by a research scientist and the robot made a cyberwar attack on China and...

Yeah. Problematic.

I haven't even mentioned the rebel leader who was hit by mind control and thought he was Klatuu from "The Day the Earth Stood Still", or the Janjaweed leader who was a psychotic cannibal or the Russian official who was a super-spy with a stealth jet pack and a space laser and....

Yeah. Problematic.

And then there's the thing I'm not even going to mention.

I do think there's a very good game to be had out of this. People game out all kinds of crisis situations and they can be useful in better understanding something that gets glossed over. This just wasn't that game.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hi,

A fascinating, but all-too-brief article on how satellite cell phones are transforming warfare in Darfur.

Cellphones and Landcruisers
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hi,

A fascinating, but all-too-brief article on how satellite cell phones are transforming warfare in Darfur.

Cellphones and Landcruisers
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

So this guy here (I hope you can see this photo):



is El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba. Usually known as Omar Bongo or just Bongo. He died a couple days ago.

Why I bring this up is because Bongo was the president of the African country of Gabon and at the time of his death was the longest-serving ruler still in power in the world. He ruled Gabon for 42 years and was pretty much the smoothest dictator you'd ever hope to meet.

Gabon has an interesting story. It was formerly a French colony which gained independence in 1960. However, its first president, Leon M'ba, won an election funded largely by French business concerns. When M'ba faced a coup because he was being a dictatorial jerk, French paratroopers swooped in and kept M'ba in power. Those troopers still maintain a military base outside of the capital. The official language of Gabon is French and it's long been the private playground of the French-owned Total Oil company

So M'ba dies in '67 and Bongo gets sworn in. And he's been at the job ever since. For the first couple of decades it was at the head of a single-party political system. In the early 90's Bongo allowed the formation of opposition parties, but he won handily every time since then.

How does he say in power? Well, obviously those French paratroopers are a big help. Bongo basically held the position of French colonial governor. Gabon and France are closely intertwined and Gabon is very dependent on its former owner. Almost everything you can find in a Gabonese store comes from France (including the food). This imposed French culture may be one of the factors that's helped unite the various tribal groups that found themselves part of Gabon when it was formed. So France has long looked after its former colony.

Bongo also had a lot of cash. Gabon is something like the 6th largest oil exporter in the world (almost all of that oil being pumped/processed by Total) and so they're sitting on just ridiculous amounts of cash (on top of Manganese and other valuable natural resources). In fact, the country is a stellar example of how vast natural resources can impoverish a country -- rather than maintain or develop its own agricultural system, Gabon simply sells more oil and imports food from France. If the oil ever runs out, Gabon will be almost completely devoid of an agricultural or industrial base.

While a lot of people still live in poverty, Bongo was actually been pretty smart about the money and was happy to cut his opponents in on a piece of the action in exchange for their cooperation. He could afford to -- the money Bongo skimmed off the top or got in kickbacks/bribes was so immense that there's really no harm in spreading the wealth around.

Finally, Bongo was actually pretty charming. He was only 4'11", a little dynamo of a man, and was often involved in peace-making efforts around the continent.

In the annals of Great Dictators, Bongo probably doesn't have the body count and he doesn't have the cult of personality or the crazy personal habits, but he's almost certainly the richest and most congenial. Definitely the kind of dictator you'd aspire to be or work for.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

So this guy here (I hope you can see this photo):



is El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba. Usually known as Omar Bongo or just Bongo. He died a couple days ago.

Why I bring this up is because Bongo was the president of the African country of Gabon and at the time of his death was the longest-serving ruler still in power in the world. He ruled Gabon for 42 years and was pretty much the smoothest dictator you'd ever hope to meet.

Gabon has an interesting story. It was formerly a French colony which gained independence in 1960. However, its first president, Leon M'ba, won an election funded largely by French business concerns. When M'ba faced a coup because he was being a dictatorial jerk, French paratroopers swooped in and kept M'ba in power. Those troopers still maintain a military base outside of the capital. The official language of Gabon is French and it's long been the private playground of the French-owned Total Oil company

So M'ba dies in '67 and Bongo gets sworn in. And he's been at the job ever since. For the first couple of decades it was at the head of a single-party political system. In the early 90's Bongo allowed the formation of opposition parties, but he won handily every time since then.

How does he say in power? Well, obviously those French paratroopers are a big help. Bongo basically held the position of French colonial governor. Gabon and France are closely intertwined and Gabon is very dependent on its former owner. Almost everything you can find in a Gabonese store comes from France (including the food). This imposed French culture may be one of the factors that's helped unite the various tribal groups that found themselves part of Gabon when it was formed. So France has long looked after its former colony.

Bongo also had a lot of cash. Gabon is something like the 6th largest oil exporter in the world (almost all of that oil being pumped/processed by Total) and so they're sitting on just ridiculous amounts of cash (on top of Manganese and other valuable natural resources). In fact, the country is a stellar example of how vast natural resources can impoverish a country -- rather than maintain or develop its own agricultural system, Gabon simply sells more oil and imports food from France. If the oil ever runs out, Gabon will be almost completely devoid of an agricultural or industrial base.

While a lot of people still live in poverty, Bongo was actually been pretty smart about the money and was happy to cut his opponents in on a piece of the action in exchange for their cooperation. He could afford to -- the money Bongo skimmed off the top or got in kickbacks/bribes was so immense that there's really no harm in spreading the wealth around.

Finally, Bongo was actually pretty charming. He was only 4'11", a little dynamo of a man, and was often involved in peace-making efforts around the continent.

In the annals of Great Dictators, Bongo probably doesn't have the body count and he doesn't have the cult of personality or the crazy personal habits, but he's almost certainly the richest and most congenial. Definitely the kind of dictator you'd aspire to be or work for.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

I have a new LJ icon. This one is for all those "africa is screwed" posts. It's a child soldier from Liberia. They often wore drag or outlandish costumes (like the fairy wings) partially to be distinctive, partially as magical protection, and partially as a psychological buffer for their sanity.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (africa is screwed)
Hi,

I have a new LJ icon. This one is for all those "africa is screwed" posts. It's a child soldier from Liberia. They often wore drag or outlandish costumes (like the fairy wings) partially to be distinctive, partially as magical protection, and partially as a psychological buffer for their sanity.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hi,

I have a morbid fascination with all the various ways African countries have been screwed over (both externally and internally) and the latest book on that topic is I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation by Michela Wrong. The title is a bit misleading, the world has betrayed lots of small African nations.

The small nation in question this time is Eritrea. Don't exactly remember where that one is? Here's a map:



The map is a bit close, but you can see that Eritrea is south of Egypt on the Red Sea.

Right so, a condensed timeline of recent Eritrean history:

First, the Italians and the Fascists screw Eritrea over with ham-handed colonization attempts and apartheid.

Next, the British kick out the Italians and promptly sell off all the Italian colonial infrastructure to British interests, essentially de-industrializing the country.

Then Ethiopia, Eritrea's neighbor to the south, screws them over by convincing the UN that Eritrea should be run under the auspices of an Ethiopian federation. Once the UN feels the problem is off its hands, the Ethopians abolish the federation and just take over wholesale.

The US screws over Eritrea because it leases large amounts of land from Eritrea to use as a spy post. In exchange, Ethiopia gets millions of dollars of military aid so that it can fight the Eritrean insurgency. When the US gets fed up with the constant begging for cash, Ethiopia decides to get a better deal...

And calls in the Soviets who screw over Ertirea by becoming Ethiopia's new patron and shipping billions of dollars worth of military aid to Ethiopia who proceeds to blow the crap out of the Eritreans and force them north into mountain fortresses.

Eventually, the plucky Eritreans outlast and outmaneuver the Ethiopians and win their independence.

Whereupon the Eritreans screw themselves over by believing far too strongly in their former rebel chief and carrying a very large (and admittedly justified) chip on their shoulder. There's a second war with Eritrea over a border dispute. They lose the war, win the UN resolution, still don't actually control the disputed area. The ill-will has destroyed the economies of both Eritrea and Ethiopia and the president is cracking down hard on everyone who might oppose him. Eritrea managed to rank dead last in press freedom surveys (beating out North Korea which must take some doing) and they just might make the list of state sponsors of terrorism (they're accused of assisting rebels in the Sudan).

So that's the short version. The book goes into a deeper amount of detail and it's put together fairly well. The author discusses how Eritrea often seduces outsiders and that these rose-tinted glasses often blind the viewer to the hidden issues that produced the most recent outbreaks of violence and repression. She does a good job of explaining how Eritrea's history creates both great hope and optimism and at the same time undercuts it with pride and a stubborn refusal to rely on anyone else. Eritrea's problems stem from some of the same causes as other African nations, but those problems develop in sharply different ways from the rest of the continent. Certainly it was an interesting read on a part of the continent I hadn't studied much.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hi,

I have a morbid fascination with all the various ways African countries have been screwed over (both externally and internally) and the latest book on that topic is I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation by Michela Wrong. The title is a bit misleading, the world has betrayed lots of small African nations.

The small nation in question this time is Eritrea. Don't exactly remember where that one is? Here's a map:



The map is a bit close, but you can see that Eritrea is south of Egypt on the Red Sea.

Right so, a condensed timeline of recent Eritrean history:

First, the Italians and the Fascists screw Eritrea over with ham-handed colonization attempts and apartheid.

Next, the British kick out the Italians and promptly sell off all the Italian colonial infrastructure to British interests, essentially de-industrializing the country.

Then Ethiopia, Eritrea's neighbor to the south, screws them over by convincing the UN that Eritrea should be run under the auspices of an Ethiopian federation. Once the UN feels the problem is off its hands, the Ethopians abolish the federation and just take over wholesale.

The US screws over Eritrea because it leases large amounts of land from Eritrea to use as a spy post. In exchange, Ethiopia gets millions of dollars of military aid so that it can fight the Eritrean insurgency. When the US gets fed up with the constant begging for cash, Ethiopia decides to get a better deal...

And calls in the Soviets who screw over Ertirea by becoming Ethiopia's new patron and shipping billions of dollars worth of military aid to Ethiopia who proceeds to blow the crap out of the Eritreans and force them north into mountain fortresses.

Eventually, the plucky Eritreans outlast and outmaneuver the Ethiopians and win their independence.

Whereupon the Eritreans screw themselves over by believing far too strongly in their former rebel chief and carrying a very large (and admittedly justified) chip on their shoulder. There's a second war with Eritrea over a border dispute. They lose the war, win the UN resolution, still don't actually control the disputed area. The ill-will has destroyed the economies of both Eritrea and Ethiopia and the president is cracking down hard on everyone who might oppose him. Eritrea managed to rank dead last in press freedom surveys (beating out North Korea which must take some doing) and they just might make the list of state sponsors of terrorism (they're accused of assisting rebels in the Sudan).

So that's the short version. The book goes into a deeper amount of detail and it's put together fairly well. The author discusses how Eritrea often seduces outsiders and that these rose-tinted glasses often blind the viewer to the hidden issues that produced the most recent outbreaks of violence and repression. She does a good job of explaining how Eritrea's history creates both great hope and optimism and at the same time undercuts it with pride and a stubborn refusal to rely on anyone else. Eritrea's problems stem from some of the same causes as other African nations, but those problems develop in sharply different ways from the rest of the continent. Certainly it was an interesting read on a part of the continent I hadn't studied much.

later
Tom

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