Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
Dynamics
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's

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Today's slow-motion genocide in Darfur recalls the lightning quick genocide in Rwanda in 1994

Why do these things always seem to happen in Africa? Understanding Africa's geography explains why. (22-Aug-2004)
Summary Africa has been going through a cluster of genocidal wars recently, currently in Darfur and Burundi, almost exactly ten years after the genocide in Rwanda. However, Africa is not unique in this, since all countries go through genocidal wars on a regular basis.


Darfur - southwest region of Sudan <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Darfur - southwest region of Sudan (Source: BBC)

There's a slow-motion genocide going on today in the Darfur region of Sudan. Over a million people have been displaced from their homes, thanks to massacres and rapes by government-sponsored Janjaweed militias. The United Nations and other international agencies have been bickering over whether aiding the displaced people is just another excuse for American intervention in a Muslim country.

Contents - This page
A cluster of genocidal wars
Africa's size
Africa's geography
Slavery and colonialism
19th Century Crisis wars for Southern Africa
   The Mfecane - The Crushing (1817-28)
   Aftermath of the Mfecane
   The Boer War (1899-1902)
Understanding Africa

A genocide like the one going on in Darfur today is a force of nature. Human beings can no more prevent it than they can stop a raging typhoon. All the politicians can do is appear to be trying to do something about it so that they won't be blamed, and that's what's going on. I suspect that, by this time, most of the international politicians are well aware that the death of a million people in Darfur cannot be stopped.

This comes just a few months after the international community gathered together to mourn the genocide that killed a million people in Rwanda in 1994. At that meeting, the politicians bemoaned the fact that they didn't stop the 1994 genocide, and they vowed that they would never let it happen again. It's ironic that a new genocide would call their bluff by occuring so soon after, but the fact is that they could not have prevented the Rwanda genocide if they had wanted to, and they can't prevent the Darfur genocide today.

And it comes at a time when a new genocide appears to be building in Burundi between the Hutus and the Tutsis. It was the Tutsis who were mass-murdered and mass-raped and hacked to death by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.

So what's wrong with Africa anyway? Why do these things keep happening there? Is there a racial issue, as some people think? Or is there a tribal issue as other people claim? The answer is "none of the above," and that there's nothing exceptional about the amount of genocide going on in Africa. What's happening in Africa today is actually typical of the human race as a whole, and the current cluster of genocidal African wars is a foretaste of what's to come in the Western world when the "clash of civilizations" world war begins.

A cluster of genocidal wars

The easy answer to the question of why so many of these genocidal wars seem to happen only in Africa is that it's an accident of timing. From the point of view of Generational Dynamics there are two kinds of wars -- crisis wars that come "from the people," and non-crisis wars that come "from the politicians." Crisis wars tend to happen in regular intervals, usually every 70-90 years, and they're often genocidal.

Since the 1960s, Africa just happens to be at a time when many of these genocidal crisis wars have been clustering together, creating the impression that these kinds of wars are endemic to Africa.

In fact, the Western world has had plenty of genocidal crisis wars.

For example, there were the Balkans wars of the 1990s. The acts of "ethnic cleansing" were performed by whites living in developed regions that included cosmopolitan cities like Belgrade and Sarajevo. As Yale professor Amy Chua described it, "In the [Serbian] concentration camps [of the early 1990s], the women prisoners were raped over and over, many times a day, often with broken bottles, often together with their daughters. The men, if they were lucky, were beaten to death as their [Serbian] guards sang national anthems; if they were not so fortunate, they were castrated or, at gunpoint, forced to castrate their fellow prisoners, sometimes with their own teeth. In all, thousands were tortured and executed."

Another example was the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, which was a particularly murderous and genocidal war. More than 50% of the males of military age in Iraq were conscripted, yielding an army of 1.3-1.6 million men. There were some 400,000 casualties in Iraq, and about 600,000 casualties in Iran. Chemical weapons of mass destruction were used.

However, those are individual wars. There have always been clusters of genocidal wars in the West. The last major cluster of genocidal wars in the West was World War II. The most obvious example of World War II genocide was the German campaign to exterminate the Jews. It was also apparent in the Japanese genocidal treatment of American prisons. But during a crisis war, visceral attitudes becoming increasingly furious, until the war ends with a major explosion of rage. This happened in World War II, when America firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, and then dropped nuclear weapons on Japan. (I am not criticizing America for doing what they had to do in 1945; I'm simply saying it happened.)

So if you look at Africa narrowly, then it does seem that the continent is especially prone to genocidal wars. But if you widen your focus, you see that genocidal wars are part of being human, and Africa is not unique at all.

Africa's size

But another question arises: Why do so many genocidal wars happen in just one little continent of Africa? Africa isn't so little.

If you look at some maps of Africa, you might think that Africa is about as big as Texas. This misleading view of Africa's size leads to the idea that Africa has more genocidal wars than the developed world. How could so many genocidal wars occur in a region the size of Texas?

Actually, just the Darfur region of the Sudan alone is about the size of Texas.


Africa
Africa

First off, Africa is just a little bit bigger than Texas. In fact, Africa is bigger than the ENTIRE United States INCLUDING Alaska PLUS all of China PLUS all of Europe -- and there's still enough room left over to throw in New Zealand.

So when we think of continuing violence in Africa, remember that, for its size, it's no more violent than comparable areas on the rest of the planet.

Africa's geography

There were other important geographical factors as well.


Africa's geography
Africa's geography

There was little European penetration of Africa until the mid 1800s, especially into the rain forests. Why? Because Europeans who tried to penetrate Africa usually died pretty quickly. Why? Because they got either malaria from the mosquito or sleeping sickness from the tsetse fly.

The worst were the rain forests, which act as "sponges, soaked with water; they are thick with giant trees and tangled underbrush, dark and silent." They are inhabited only by African pygmies, one of the four major ethnic groups in Black Africa.

Other black ethnic groups exist outside the rain forest.On the edge of the Kalahari Desert (in the south) are the Khoi-khoi or Hottentots and Saan or Bushmen; in Sudan are the Sudanese, and all along the east are the Bantu, the largest group. These groups all have distinct ethnic origins, languages, and customs.

As a result of the medical and geographical problems, most of Africa was off limits to Europeans for centuries. The result was that the Africans themselves suffered the most of all, since they had little or no access to the technological advances of the outside world.

But Africa wasn't entirely off limits to outsiders. There were some areas of early outsider settlements:

Slavery and colonialism

A little more needs to be said about slavery.

Slavery is as old as humanity. It's only in recent times that wars have become "civilized," with conventions about prisoners of war, war crimes trials, and so forth. In today's world, the winner of a major, murderous war usually simply kills all the men and rapes all the women, but this is somewhat new. In the old days, war victors had a third choice, enslaving the losers, and that was done as a common matter. The Romans had slaves, the Muslims had slaves - every civilization had slaves, and every civilization was enslaved when it lost major wars. People were enslaved by other people in their own civilization, and by people in other civilizations.

So why was black Africa the last civilization to been enslaved? It seems to me that returns again to the question of the impenetrability of Africa, the resulting demonization of an unknown race, and a lack of the technology that would have made it possible for Africans to tell their story. Once colonization began in earnest, and Africans could use modern communications to tell their story, slavery could no longer survive. However, slavery still exists today within Africa itself, especially where modern technology hasn't yet reached.

But in the 1850s it was discovered that malaria could be controlled with quinine, and by the 1870s the floodgates opened. The "Scramble for Africa" pitted England, Belgium, France, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Germany against each other to snap up as much of the continent as possible. By the mid 1890s the Scramble had just carved up just about all of Africa, and in 1914, all of black Africa except Ethiopia and Liberia were European colonies. Since 1914, former colonies have become independent nations.

So the problem of finding generational timelines for all the major African regions is a big one -- probably as big as finding them for the rest of the world combined.

19th Century Crisis wars for Southern Africa

Because of its size, Africa has had many crisis wars. In this section, we're going to summarize two southern Africa crisis wars that were world famous at the time they occurred, and are still well remembered in Africa today.

        The Mfecane - The Crushing (1817-28)

The Zulus were a tribe in the northern portion of what is now South Africa. The Zulus went from obscurity to world renown as a result of Shaka, born in 1787, who became the tribal chief in the early 1800s, and who took the Zulu from being a tribe to being an empire.


This picture shows Skaka's stabbing assegai on the top, contrasted to the throwing spears on the bottom
This picture shows Skaka's stabbing assegai on the top, contrasted to the throwing spears on the bottom

Shaka revolutioned tribal warfare. For centuries, warriors had fought with long spears such as those illustrated at the bottom of the picture to the right. The warriors would throw them at the enemy and run. Shaka's radical development used the short stabbing assegai, such as those illustrated on the top. This forced the warrior to fight in close with his foe, and either kill or be killed.

His army did not attack the enemy head-on. He used a fighting formation that was likened to the head of an ox. The "horns" were warriors who ran ahead on either side to envelope the enemy, as the main body attacked from the front.

Leading an army of 40,000 to 80,000 warriors in the early 1800s, Shaka merged with or conquered a number of nearby tribes, killing more than a million men, and by 1818 became Emperor Shaka the Great, head of the Zulu Kingdom. At that point, the Mfecane began in earnest. Genocidal warfare broke out among the tribes that the Zulus had defeated, turning much of the region into a depopulated wasteland.

        Aftermath of the Mfecane

The Boer people were Dutch farmers who settled in the southern part of Africa in the early 1600s. They came to be known as Afrikaners (as well as Boers, which is Dutch for farmers). They cut off ties to the the Netherlands, and by the early 1800s were having confrontations with the British, who gained control of South Africa by international agreement following the Napoleonic Wars.

This led to a remarkable event. In order to escape the British in the 1830s, the Boers embarked on the Great Trek to find a new place to live. They moved into the South African interior, into the regions that had been depopulated by the Mfecane, by agreement with the Zulus.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, crisis wars tend to occur 70-90 years apart. Thus, there were occasional wars between the British and the Boers, but the level of violence was low to moderate, and they evaluate to non-crisis wars.

The discovery of diamonds in the 1860s and 1870s transformed the region, commercializing agriculture and leading to migrant labor systems, increase in Christian missionary activity, and conquest of independent kingdoms. [Stearns]

The pace of the non-crisis wars began to pick up in 1877 when the British annexed the South African Republic, with the intent of creating a larger federation of South Africa under British control. This brought them into further conflict with the Boers. However, non-crisis wars tend to be resolved by compromise and containment, so after a couple of back and forth victories, in an 1881 treaty the British even recognized Boer control of the South African Republic.

        The Boer War (1899-1902)

In 1899, 82 years after the beginning of the Mfecane wars, the Boers invaded British towns and drove them out. The Boers had the initial military advantage because of knowledge of terrain and because there was only a small British force on hand. But within a year, British reinforcements were turning the tide, and the British expected to win soon.

Contents - This page
A cluster of genocidal wars
Africa's size
Africa's geography
Slavery and colonialism
19th Century Crisis wars for Southern Africa
   The Mfecane - The Crushing (1817-28)
   Aftermath of the Mfecane
   The Boer War (1899-1902)
Understanding Africa

What followed is very much like the American Vietnam war of the 1960s and 70s. The Boers excaped into the vast bush country, and for two more years continued to wage unconventional guerilla warfare by blowing up trains and ambushing British troops.

The British public turned against the war, just as the American public turned against the Vietnam war in the 1970s. The British government responded by sending in massive reinforcements and by confining Boer women and children in concentration camps. Almost 30,000 women and children died of disease and dysentery. The Boers were finally defeated and forced to accept British sovereignty.

The Boer war was a non-crisis war for the British, but it was a crisis war for the Boers. This is like the Vietnam war, which was a non-crisis war for America, but was a crisis war for the North Vietnamese.

The Boer war was also a major humiliation for the British, since the great British army had been held off for so long. It gave rise to a strong antiwar movement and forced the British to completely reevaluate their previously favorable view of imperialism.

Understanding Africa

Africa does have genocidal wars, but no more than other regions of the world. The rules of war developed in Generational Dynamics apply just as surely to Africa as to anywhere else.

Africa has been going through a cluster of genocidal wars recently, just as the Western World did in World War II. However, far from being unique, Africa's genocidal wars are more a sign of what's to come in the Western World, as we continue to head for the "clash of civilizations" world war that's expected to begin in the next few years.


Copyright © 2002-2013 by John J. Xenakis.