Violence in Africa

The Graves Are Not Yet Full -- Violence in Africa

Africa has been riddled with violence over the past few decades due to numerous causes. In his book, The Graves Are Not Yet Full, Bill Berkeley examines how corrupt government, foreign influence, racism, and various other factors have contributed to violence, genocide, civil war, and a variety of injustices that have taken place in Africa.

The United States has played a very large roll in African politics and has greatly influenced the events that have transpired there. Most of the US's political agenda in Africa originated because of and during the Cold war. The US used Africa as a bulwark against the Soviet Union--mainly to stop Soviet influence and communism from spreading. From the 1950's until the beginning of the 1990's the US based its relations with Africa on the principle that "the enemy of our enemy is our friend." It often supported brutal tyrants principally because they were willing to oppose communism. Millions and even billions of dollars were given to dictators such as Samuel Doe and Mobute Sese Seko in order to help them, "our trusted allies", retain power even while they used the money to violently thwart opposition, ignore rule of law, and violate basic human rights. (Berkeley, 17)

Because of the funds that the US has pumped into such dictatorships, it has greatly contributed to much of the violence that has occurred there. Furthermore, when the Cold War finally came to a close and the US no longer had use of Africa to further its primary interest, most of Africa's aid was cut, leaving a power vacuum which has only led to more violence.

Although it is obvious that the US acted in its self interest, Berkeley undervalues the justification of those interests. During the Cold War the primary objective of the US was to stop communism from spreading since during that time communism was seen as the greatest threat to world peace. The US was involved in an arms race and had a vested interest in multiple countries spanning across six continents. Arguably the Soviets would have exploited Africa in the same way the US did and this may have triggered a different and worse outcome of the Cold War. The Soviet influence in Ethiopa and Angola, for example, led to a great deal of bloodshed. The US was to some extent forced into a situation in which it had to uphold anyone in power that would support them--no matter their actions towards their local populations--it being the most stable and reliable tactic the US could employ. At the time US opinion held that the benefits of impeding Soviet expansion outweighed the costs of upholding African tyrants. As Chester A. Crocker put it, "The Cold War happened. It was a success from the point of view of the West. It is wrong to imply that there was nothing legitimate about our conduct" (75).

In any case, not all the blame for African violence can be placed on the US. While the US exercised influence on Africa, Berkeley shows that it was the African "Big Men" that implemented violent tactics and committed the atrocities. Men such as Mobutu Seko and Charles Taylor (who was not backed by the US) would "tease out someone else's latent prejudice and inflame it with scapegoating rhetoric" and then use this to rally one ethnic group against another, essentially creating racism (140). Utilizing such methods, Mobutu was able to survive a surprisingly long time after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. While most predicted a quick demise, he lasted another seven years, demonstrating his skillful playing of the ethnic card (139-140).

Cases such as these show that in Africa "a handful of elites endlessly [maneuver] for power and booty while millions perish" (197). Berkeley shows plenty of evidence to support these views--coup after coup, bloody civil war, genocide, tyranny, gangs, factions--all due to an endless fight for power. "In Africa, power is controlled by whoever has the gun" (236). This has undoubtedly been the case over the past decades.

In Rwanda, however, "racial stereotypes, envy, resentment, scapegoating, fear--all helped to make genocide possible, but not inevitable" (260). The Rwandan government was organized in such a way that all of the governmental leaders became co-conspirators in the genocide. A relative few Hutus used their control of the government to organize regular citizens into an overwhelming force. Leaders from the top down played on the prejudices they had cultivated to induce regular Hutu civilians to murder their neighbors and friends.

Nevertheless, when Berkeley spoke with Jenkins Z. B. Scott, Samuel Doe's justice minister in Liberia where thousands had died, he admitted that no one had been prosecuted for any of the mass killings, gang rape, detentions without trial, or floggings. The justice system is virtually nonexistent in many African countries, or at least it's merely starting to develop. Berkeley correctly asserts that a fair justice system is the key to preventing (or reducing) both large and small scale future crimes--certainly it will be a major factor in the future of peace in Africa. If there is no punishment then law is ineffective. Justice systems can provide a sense of responsibility to leaders and individuals alike--at least it can provide fear of punishment which will deter horrendous acts. The current efforts to bring criminals to justice by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda may pave the way for peace and prosperity in the war-ridden continent.

In his book, Bill Berkeley thoughtfully examines violence in Africa and helps the reader come to realize the extent of its crimes as well as their causes. His experiences in Africa and the US help him to correctly analyze most of the circumstances and identify solutions to the many problems which have faced the continent over the past decades.

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