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July 29, 2003

Concepts to Remember

There are two concepts that are helpful when discussing or considering Africa: colonialism and the Destabilization Loop.

The impact that colonialism had on Africa is much the same as other areas of the world, and has been mentioned several times in the context of problems we face in dealing with Iraq. The modern borders of nations had nothing to do with natural boundaries between homogenous peoples, interests or even languages. The borders were set for the convenience of the colonial powers. Sometimes to aid in administration, but often deliberately arranged so that ethnic groups were separated into separate nations and grouped with another ethnic group, so that one was always a distinct minority. The colonial power (whether England, France, Belgium, etc) would then put the minority group in power over the majority. This ensured that a significant minority would be educated, relatively wealthy, and firmly committed to supporting the European colonial power due to dependence on the colonial power to maintain the status quo with its military might.

Much of the instability we have seen over the last few decades in Africa is due to majority groups attempting to wrest back control from a minority group accustomed to being in power. One of the most tragic examples is that of Rwanda and Burundi. In both cases, the Tutsis were in placed in power, despite making up just 14-15% of the population. Most of the slaughter in that region comes from Hutus either trying to wrest control from the Tutsis or "getting revenge" for decades of oppression, or else the Tutsis trying to keep the Hutus cowed and in line. (thanks to IB Bill for the catch of my mistake)

The destabilization loop grows out of disturbances like I just described. The theory of the loop describes a domino-like progression, in which a country undergoes difficulties (a common one being the problems associated with overpopulation), and its citizens flee in droves. They flee to neighboring countries who lack the military force to prevent the refugee flow. The refugees are usually put into camps where the standard of living is poor. This acts as a fertile breeding ground for disease, which affects the health at large of the host nation. The host nation is also paying for the basics of living for these refugees, which puts a strain on their finances. Crime rises as people in the refugee camps get sick of living in squalor and attempt to raise their standard of living by force. Conditions deteriorate in the host country by the population pressure brought on by the refugees, and the government collapses, or a neighbor invades, or the military attempts a coup. In any case, the influx of refugees leads to crisis in the host nation in a fairly direct manner. The crisis in the host nation causes its citizens to flee into neighboring nations, destabilizing the new host nation, and so on.

This is something that has played out time and again, and is a big factor in Western Africa right now.

Posted by at July 29, 2003 02:56 PM

Outstanding points, and you've saved me an entry by bringing up the issue of minority power.

Only one thing: Double-check the Rwanda-Burundi thing. Rwanda and Burundi are both about 80 percent Hutu, and 20 percent Tutsi. In both cases the Belgians gave the Tutsis special privileges, but they were building on an existing structure, too: The Tutsis have often ruled over the shorter Hutus from before the period of colonialism.

The Tutsis have committed horrible atrocities against the Hutus, and vice versa, in a cycle of genocide that goes back decades, from when Belgium abandoned the colonies. It's also important to note that both countries are overpopulated, which contributes to the problem as they compete for land and resources.

Posted by: IB Bill at July 29, 2003 04:14 PM

The greed of man trips him every time.

Posted by: dave at December 7, 2003 09:45 PM

Yeeeahd, it's csool

Posted by: Numit at February 21, 2004 04:48 AM
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