Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (pt. 2/5): War

Location of the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania
Location of the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania

Welcome back to our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, an account of chimpanzee life in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. I enjoyed this book quite a bit; my chief difficulty has been deciding which parts to excerpt for you.

Tanzania borders the DRC ne Congo ne Belgian Congo, which was (coincidentally) the location of our previous Anthropology Friday selection, Isaac Bacirongo’s Still a Pygmy.

The book begins with the difficulties inherent in setting up the research–obtaining permits and funding, overcoming the locals’ distrust, (they of course did not believe that this white woman actually wanted to live in the forest and stare at monkeys all day,) and a massive influx of refugees:

Once we reached Nairobi, however, I could think of nothing save the excitement of the eight-hundred-mile journey to Kigoma–and the chimpanzees. … When we reached Kigoma, however, after a dusty three days on the road, we found the whole town in a state of chaos. Since we had left Nairobi violence and bloodshed had erupted in the Congo, which lay only some twenty-five miles to the west of Kigoma, on the other side of lake Tanganyika. Kigoma was overrun by boatloads of Belgian refugees. …

Eventually we ran the District Commissioner to earth, and he explained, regretfully but firmly, that there was no chance at all of my proceeding to the chimpanzee reserve. First it was necessary to wait and find out how the local Kigoma district Africans would react to the tales of rioting and disorder in the Congo. …

Bernard shared his room with two homeless Belgians, and we even got out our three camp beds and lent them to the harassed hotel owner. Every room was crammed, but these refugees were in paradise compared to those housed in the huge warehouse, normally used for storing cargo… There everyone slept in long rows on mattresses or merely blankets on the cement floor, and queued up in the hundreds for the scant meals that Kigoma was able to provide for them.

… On our second evening in Kigoma we three and a few others made two thousand SPAM sandwiches. …

Two evenings later most of the refugees had gone, carried off by a series of extra trains to Tanganyika’s capital, Dar es Salaam.

Belgian refugees fleeing violence in the Congo, 1960
Belgian refugees fleeing violence in the Congo, 1960

There follows a nice description of the town of Kigoma itself, and of course there is soon a great deal of material about chimpanzees and rather little about humans. Jane doesn’t mention the refugees again. (To be fair, isolation probably meant that she had rather little knowledge about most human affairs for most of the 60s and 70s.)

So who were these refugees? Where did they come from, and why?

Obviously they were Belgians, from the Congo. We briefly covered this conflict back in Anthropology Friday: War, Violence, and More War:

Patrice Lumumba was an anti-colonialist protestor who was jailed for opposing Belgian rule in the Congo and became the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC.

He then gave raises to everyone in the government except the military, so of course the military revolted. He asked the UN for help putting down the rebellion, but the UN sucked so he went to the Soviets.

The Wikipedia page on the Congo Crisis gives far more detail on this conflict–notably, it blames the outbreak of the crisis not on Lumumba failing to give the army a raise, but on a Belgian military commander’s speech:

Lieutenant-General Émile Janssens, the Belgian commander of the Force Publique, refused to see Congolese independence as marking a change in the nature of command.[36] The day after the independence festivities, he gathered the black non-commissioned officers of his Léopoldville garrison and told them that things under his command would stay the same, summarising the point by writing “Before Independence = After Independence” on a blackboard.

Basically, the Belgians officially proclaimed that the Republic of the Congo was independent on June 30, 1960, thirty years earlier than they had intended to. They seemed to have thought they could get people to stop protesting against Belgian rule by “officially” handing over power, but would still run everything. After all, while the colony had been advancing rapidly in recent decades–

During the 1940s and 1950s, the Congo experienced an unprecedented level of urbanisation and the colonial administration began various development programmes aimed at making the territory into a “model colony”.[10] One of the results of the measures was the development of a new middle class of Europeanised African “évolués” in the cities.[10] By the 1950s the Congo had a wage labour force twice as large as that in any other African colony.[11]

–most native Congolese still weren’t well-educated in the fields thought necessary to run a country (or army.)

The idea that the Congolese were too dumb and inexperienced to run their own country and therefore needed the Belgians to do it for them went over great with the army:

This message was hugely unpopular among the rank and file—many of the men had expected rapid promotions and increases in pay to accompany independence.[36] On 5 July, several units mutinied against their white officers at Camp Hardy near Thysville. The insurrection spread to Léopoldville the next day and later to garrisons across the country.[37]

Rather than deploying Belgian troops against the mutineers as Janssens had wished, Lumumba dismissed him and renamed the Force Publique the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). All black soldiers were promoted by at least one rank.[38]Victor Lundula was promoted directly from sergeant-major to major-general and head of the army, replacing Janssens.[37]

Of course, the Congolese proved the Belgians wrong by transforming their country into one of the world’s best-run economic powerhouses with an astonishing per capita GDP of $499 and reports of cannibalism. (By contrast, the nearby country of Botswana has a per cap GDP of over $6,000.)

But back to the post-independence anti-Belgian violence:

The government attempted to stop the revolt… but in most of the country the mutiny intensified. White officers and civilians were attacked, white-owned properties were looted and white women were raped.[37] The Belgian government became deeply concerned by the situation, particularly when white civilians began entering neighbouring countries as refugees.[40]

A 1960s newsreel reports:

Photo from the newsreel; no caption given
Photo from the newsreel; no caption given

Violence and chaos in the Congo. Barely 11 days after official independence from Belgium, Congolese troops begin a wave of attacks and looting throughout the fare flung sectors of the former colony. Meanwhile in Belgium and African countries bordering on the Congo, refugees are pouring in with harrowing tales of violence and of hasty flight. …

The mutiny first started only four days after independence, on July 4, 1960, in the camp outside Leopoldville. The rebels used machetes on their white officers and broke into the armory. On day eight, all 1000+ Belgian officers were removed from their positions, and replaced with Congolese. With or without an Africanized officer corps, the soldiers are running amok throughout the Congo, and panic-stricken whites are fleeing in all directions. Numerous European targets have been attacked.

The flight of officers has left the army totally uncontrolled, and the new country has no effective instrument to control the territory.

Back to Wikipedia:

… On 9 July, Belgium deployed paratroopers, without the Congolese state’s permission, in Kabalo and elsewhere to protect fleeing white civilians.[41] …At Lumumba’s request, white civilians from the port city of Matadi were evacuated by the Belgian Navy on 11 July. Belgian ships then bombarded the city; at least 19 civilians were killed. This action prompted renewed attacks on whites across the country, while Belgian forces entered other towns and cities, including Léopoldville, and clashed with Congolese troops.[40]

This one is captioned "Mike Hoare and Belgian Congo Armed Forces evacuating refugees 1969." Let me know if that's inaccurate.
This one is captioned “Mike Hoare and Belgian Congo Armed Forces evacuating refugees 1969.” Let me know if that’s inaccurate.

Then parts of the Congo started secede. UN “Peace Keeping” troops tried to get people to stop fighting but without actually defeating once side or the other, so predictably people kept killing each other. The Prime Minister, Lumumba, went to the Soviets for help, which concerned everyone because the Congo made a lot of money selling uranium to the US, which used it in atomic bombs, so the Congolese President dismissed Lumumba and Lumumba dismissed the President, at which point Mobutu dismissed both of them (leading pro-Lumumba protesters in Yugoslavia to attack the local Belgian embassy,) and had Lumumba shot. Mobutu, while awful in many ways, did end the civil war and restore a modicum of order.

“Mad” Mike Hoare was a Irish mercenary active in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa:

In 1964, Congolese Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe, his employeer back in Katanga, hired “Major” Mike Hoare to lead a military unit called 5 Commando, Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) (later led by John Peters) (not to be confused with No.5 Commando, the British Second World War commando force) made up of about 300 men most of whom were from South Africa. … The unit’s mission was to fight a revolt known as the Simba Rebellion.

Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge. This operation saved many lives.[3] Hoare was later promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Armée Nationale Congolaise and 5 Commando expanded into a two-battalion force. Hoare commanded 5 Commando from July 1964 to November 1965.[4]

Mad Mike once tried to conquer the Seychelles, but failed when customs officials noticed his groups’ weapons.

Many of the Belgian refugees, meanwhile, fled to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became just “Rhodesia” after Northern Rhodesia changed its name to Zambia (one of the obscurer African countries, with a per cap GDP of $1,143) The white folks + refugees of Southern Rhodesia took one look at the chaos over in the Congo, said “Nope,” and declared themselves independent of Great Britain to avoid handing over power to the black majority (97% of the Rhodesian population.)

The rest of the world (Great Britain included) never officially recognized Rhodesia as a country and hit it with a bunch of sanctions. According to Wikipedia:

Although prepared to grant formal independence to Southern Rhodesia (now Rhodesia), the British government had adopted a policy of no independence before majority rule, dictating that colonies with a substantial population of European settlers would not receive independence except under conditions of majority rule.[20][21][22]

After the federal break-up in 1963, then-Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home insisted that preconditions on independence talks hinge on what he termed the “five principles” – unimpeded progress to majority rule, assurance against any future legislation decidedly detrimental to black interests, “improvement in the political status” of local Africans, moves towards ending racial discrimination, and agreement on a settlement which could be “acceptable to the whole population”.[25][26][27][28]

Note that Douglas-Home here is the head of the British conservatives.

Harold Wilson and his incoming Labour government took an even harder line on demanding that these points be legitimately addressed before an independence agenda could be set.[24] …

However, few seemed to initially realise that Rhodesia was no longer within the Commonwealth’s direct sphere of influence and British rule was now a constitutional fiction; Salisbury remained virtually immune to credible metropolitan leverage.[15]

In October 1965, the United Nations Security Council had warned Whitehall about the possibility of UDI, urging Wilson to use all means at his disposal (including military pressure) to prevent the Rhodesian Front from asserting independence.[44] After UDI was proclaimed, UN officials branded Ian Smith’s government as an “illegal racist minority regime”[45] and called on member states to sever economic ties with Rhodesia, recommending sanctions on petroleum products and military hardware.[24] In December 1966, these measures became mandatory, extending to bar the purchase of Rhodesian tobacco, chrome, copper, asbestos, sugar, meat, and hides.[24]

Britain, having already adopted extensive sanctions of its own, dispatched a Royal Navy squadron to monitor oil deliveries in the port of Beira, from which a strategic pipeline ran to Umtali. The warships were to deter “by force, if necessary, vessels reasonably believed to be carrying oil destined for (Southern) Rhodesia”.[46][47]

Meanwhile, of course, no one is allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia, but no one seems to care about that.

You probably know the story by now: the USSR supported the black nationalists, pretty much no one supported the white Rhodesians, and eventually they got tired of civil war and gave up. According to Wikipedia:

In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated, most to South Africa and to other mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. …

While as Rhodesia, the country was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. Today, Zimbabwe is a net importer of foodstuffs, with the European Union and United States providing emergency food relief as humanitarian aid on a regular basis.[151] The nation has suffered profound economic and social decline in the past twenty years. Recently the agriculture sector has started to do well since the availability of expertise and machines has improved supported mainly by China.[152][153]

Zimbabwe also suffered from a crippling inflation rate, as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had a policy of printing money to satisfy government debts, which introduces excessive currency into the economic system which led to the demise of the local currency. This policy caused the inflation rate to soar from 32% in 1998 (considered extremely high by most economic standards) to an astonishing 11,200,000% by 2007. Monetary aid by the International Monetary Fund has been suspended due to the Zimbabwe government’s defaulting on past loans, inability to stabilise its own economy, and its inability to stem corruption and advance human rights.[151] In 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency, relying instead on foreign currencies such as the South African rand, the US dollar, the Botswana pula, the euro and the British pound, among others.[154]

Zimbabwe‘s current per cap GDP is $1,054.

I think one of the common misconceptions about NRx is that it is based on a bunch of overly-pessimistic speculations about the future of democracy in places like the US or Germany. There’s plenty of that, of course. But much of Neoreaction is actually based on observation of events that have already happened in places like the DRC, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Chimpanzee family from the Gombe
Chimpanzee family from the Gombe

To be fair, though, we are getting really off track from our original mission of reviewing Jane Goodall’s book about chimpanzees. In the book’s Forward, David A. Hamburg writes:

The picture of chimpanzee life that emerges is fascinating. Here is a highly intelligent, intensely social creature capable of close and enduring attachments, yet nothing that looks quite like human love, capable of rich communication through gestures, posture, facial expressions, and sounds, yet nothing quite like human language. This is a creature who not only uses tools effectively but also makes tools with considerable foresight; a creature who does a little sharing of food, though much less than man; a creature gifted in the arts of bluff and intimidation, highly excitable and aggressive, capable of using weapons, yet engaging in no activity comparable to human warfare; a creature who frequently hunts and kills small animals of other species in an organized, cooperative way, and seems to have some zest for the process of hunting, killing, and eating the prey; a creature whose repertoire of acts in aggression, deference, reassurance, and greeting bear uncanny similarity to human acts in similar situations.

This bold turns out to be false.

In the Shadow of Man was published in 1971; the chimpanzees of the Kahama region of the Gombe Stream went to war against the chimps of Kasakala in 1974:

The two [groups] had previously been a single, unified community, but by 1974 researcher Jane Goodall, who was observing the community, first noticed the chimps dividing themselves into northern and southern sub-groups.[2]

The Kahama group, in the south, consisted of six adult males (among them the chimpanzees known to Goodall as “Hugh”, “Charlie”, and “Goliath”), three adult females and their young, and an adolescent male (known as “Sniff”).[2] The larger Kasakela group, meanwhile, consisted of twelve adult females and their young, and eight adult males.[2] …

The first outbreak of violence occurred on January 7, 1974,[4] when a party of six adult Kasakela males attacked and killed “Godi”, a young Kahama male …

Over the next four years, all six of the adult male members of the Kahama were killed by the Kasakela males.[5] Of the females from Kahama, one was killed, two went missing, and three were beaten and kidnapped by the Kasakela males.[5] The Kasakela then succeeded in taking over the Kahama’s former territory.[5]

I have the luxury of reading this account after already hearing, at least vaguely, that chimps wage war on each other. To Jane–despite having observed chimpanzee belligerence for years–it came as a surprise:

The outbreak of the war came as a disturbing shock to Goodall, who had previously considered chimpanzees to be, although similar to human beings, “rather ‘nicer'” in their behavior.[7] Coupled with the observation in 1975 of cannibalistic infanticide by a high-ranking female in the community, the violence of the Gombe war first revealed to Goodall the “dark side” of chimpanzee behavior.[7] She was profoundly disturbed by this revelation; in her memoir Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, she wrote:

“For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge. Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind—Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff’s chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face; old Rodolf, usually so benign, standing upright to hurl a four-pound rock at Godi’s prostrate body; Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé’s thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes. [8]”


I suspect that humans evolved their upright stance to be better at carrying around large sticks with which to kill other apes. This made it harder for us to climb trees, but may have allowed for our voice boxes to descend (the voice box is actually important for closing off the lungs to provide rigidity to the chest while climbing,) allowing for a greater range of vocalizations, which in turn made us better at communicating and so organizing our bashing-apes-with-sticks expeditions. Eventually we stopped hunting other primates and turned our attention to more efficient game, like mammoths.

Refugee flow from the DRC to other nations
Refugee flow from the DRC to other nations

Anthropology Friday: Still A Pygmy (pt 4/4): War, violence, and more war

Today we’re wrapping up our review of Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Micheal Nest

Mobutu Sese Seko

It’s no secret that Mobutu Sese Seko (ne Joseph-Desiré Mobutu) was a shitty dictator who forced school children to sing anthems praising him every morning and had his own citizens tortured if they disputed his claim to be immortal.

Of course Mobuto was not immortal; he is now very much dead.

But let’s back up a minute:

Patrice Lumumba was an anti-colonialist protestor who was jailed for opposing Belgian rule in the Congo and became the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC.

He then gave raises to everyone in the government except the military, so of course the military revolted. He asked the UN for help putting down the rebellion, but the UN sucked so he went to the Soviets.

Patrice Lumumba

American hates the Soviets, so America + Belgium helped Mobutu overthrow the government, kill Lumumba, and squash the rebellion.

The execution is thought to have taken place on 17 January 1961, between 21:40 and 21:43 (according to the Belgian report.) The Belgians and their counterparts wished to get rid of the bodies, and did so by digging up and dismembering the bodies, then having them dissolved in sulphuric acid while the bones were ground and scattered.[27] (Source)

Mobutu became dictator and changed the country’s name to Zaire to show that he was totally anti-colonialist, despite using Belgian money and soldiers to overthrow the democratically elected government anti-colonialist government of the DRC.

During his reign, Mobutu built a highly centralized state and amassed a large personal fortune through economic exploitation and corruption, leading some to call his rule a “kleptocracy.”[3][4] The nation suffered from uncontrolled inflation, a large debt, and massive currency devaluations. (source)

I seriously question the idea of a “highly centralized state” in the DRC, given the lack of basic things like roads, but I think I know what Wikipedia is trying to say.

But, say what you will, Mobutu did crush several rebellions and bring a relative order of peace to his country:

By 1970, nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed, and for the most part, law and order was brought to nearly all parts of the country. That year marked the pinnacle of Mobutu’s legitimacy and power. King Baudouin of Belgium, made a highly successful state visit to Kinshasa. …

Early in his rule[when?], Mobutu consolidated power by publicly executing political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other threats to his rule. To set an example, many were hanged before large audiences, including former Prime Minister Evariste Kimba, who, with three cabinet members – Jérôme Anany (Defense Minister), Emmanuel Bamba (Finance Minister), and Alexandre Mahamba (Minister of Mines and Energy) – was tried in May 1966, and sent to the gallows on 30 May, before an audience of 50,000 spectators. …

Mobutu later moved away from torture and murder, and switched to a new tactic, buying off political rivals. He used the slogan “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer still”[26] to describe his tactic of co-opting political opponents through bribery.

The idea that Mobutu was somehow more pro-capitalist than Lumumba is silly, of course, but somehow the capitalist colonialists didn’t get the joke:

[Mobutu] initially nationalized foreign-owned firms and forced European investors out of the country. In many cases he handed the management of these firms to relatives and close associates who stole the companies’ assets. This precipitated such an economic slump that Mobutu was forced by 1977 to try to woo foreign investors back.[29] Katangan rebels based in Angola invaded Zaire in 1977 in retaliation for Mobutu’s support for anti-MPLA rebels. France airlifted 1,500 Moroccan paratroopers into the country and repulsed the rebels, ending Shaba I. The rebels attacked Zaire again, in greater numbers, in the Shaba II invasion of 1978. The governments of Belgium and France deployed troops with logistical support from the United States and defeated the rebels again.

Why the US, France, or Belgium should spend their money to help Mobutu is beyond me, but I suppose he was our anti-European communist oligarch and not the USSR’s anti-European communist oligarch.

Mobutu might have started out as a smart guy. The Wikipedia certainly gives that impression. But he ran his country like an idiot.

He spent most of his time increasing his personal fortune, which in 1984 was estimated to amount to US$5 billion,[30][31] most of it in Swiss banks … This was almost equivalent to the country’s foreign debt at the time, and, by 1989, the government was forced to default on international loans from Belgium. He owned a fleet of Mercedes-Benz vehicles that he used to travel between his numerous palaces, while the nation’s roads rotted and many of his people starved. Infrastructure virtually collapsed, and many public service workers went months without being paid. … A popular saying that the civil servants pretended to work while the state pretended to pay them expressed this grim reality.

Another feature of Mobutu’s economic mismanagement, directly linked to the way he and his friends siphoned off so much of the country’s wealth, was rampant inflation. The rapid decline in the real value of salaries strongly encouraged a culture of corruption and dishonesty among public servants of all kinds.

At some point, according to Isaac Bacirongo, Mobutu actually stopped paying the army, telling them “You have guns; go get money yourself.” (I am only remembering the quote so it may not be exact.) Unsurprisingly, the army began exploiting the ordinary citizens even more than usual, and when the DRC got invaded yet again, didn’t bother defending it.

He was also the subject of one of the most pervasive personality cults of the 20th century. The evening news on television was preceded by an image of him descending through clouds like a god descending from the heavens. Portraits of him adorned many public places, and government officials wore lapels bearing his portrait. He held such titles as “Father of the Nation,” “Messiah,” “Guide of the Revolution,” “Helmsman,” “Founder,” “Savior of the People,” and “Supreme Combatant.” In the 1996 documentary of the 1974 Foreman-Ali fight in Zaire, dancers receiving the fighters can be heard chanting “Sese Seko, Sese Seko.” At one point, in early 1975, the media was even forbidden from mentioning by name anyone but Mobutu; others were referred to only by the positions they held.[41][42]

Isaac Bacirongo once told a neighbor that he didn’t think Mobutu was actually immortal. The neighbor reported Isaac to the secret police, who arrested and tortured him every day for, IIRC, two weeks. They considered transferring him to a formal prison for political prisoners, where he probably would have been tortured more, but in an ironic twist of fortune, decided that Pygmies were worthless and so couldn’t be real political opponents and so not worth the bother of imprisoning. So Isaac was released.

Here the story gets a little complicated, because it involves other countries, but I’ll try to keep it short:

Over in Rwanda, the Tutusis were a small minority of relatively well-off people and the Hutus were a large majority of very poor people. So the Hutus kicked out the Tutsis, leading to a lot of Tutsis living in places like the DRC. The Tutsis got themselves an army, and in 1994, shot down the Rwandan president’s plane. This enraged the already not happy Hutus, who responded by killing all of the Tutsis they could get their hands on (resulting in more refugees.) The Tutsi army responded by invading Rwanda and taking over, resulting in a bunch of Hutu refugees.

Isaac notes that the sudden influx of refugees into his area made the price of unskilled labor plummet. He took advantage of this by hiring workers to build him a second, extremely cheap house.

But of course immigration and the cost of labor have nothing to do with each other.

Private meeting between Kabila, Micheal Jackson, and the guy on the left.
Private meeting between Kabila, Micheal Jackson, and the guy on the left.

Anyway, then Kabila, a dedicated Marxist who’d worked with Che Guevara back in the day*, with the help of the Tutsi army, invaded and conquered the DRC. This worked out for the Tutsi army, which got to shoot all of the Hutu refugees in the DRC, and worked out for Kabila, who promptly abandoned Marxism in favor of being Mobutu 2.0.

*Even Che Guevara didn’t think much of Kabila:

[Kabila] was sent[by whom?] to eastern Congo to help organize a revolution, in particular in the Kivu and North Katanga provinces. In 1965, Kabila set up a cross-border rebel operation from Kigoma, Tanzania, across Lake Tanganyika.[3] …

 Che Guevara assisted Kabila for a short time in 1965. Guevara had appeared in the Congo with approximately 100 men who planned to bring about a Cuban-style revolution. Guevara judged Kabila (then 26) as “not the man of the hour” he had alluded to, being too distracted. This, in Guevara’s opinion, accounted for Kabila showing up days late at times to provide supplies, aid, or backup to Guevara’s men. The lack of cooperation between Kabila and Guevara contributed to the suppression of the revolt that same year.[4]

… After the failure of the rebellion, Kabila turned to smuggling gold and timber on Lake Tanganyika. He also ran a bar and brothel in Tanzania.[5]

Kabila was later shot by one of his own bodyguards.

Isaac himself was only about 500 meters away when the invading army began massacring Hutu refugees who had gathered in his area. He and a friend’s children escaped into the forest, where they reverted to hunting and gathering while hiding from the army. (In this case, it was a very good thing Isaac was a Pygmy; if I had to survive in the Congolese rainforest for a couple of weeks, I wouldn’t know the first thing about gathering food.) Isaac’s entire family thought he was dead until he managed to return home.

The security situation deteriorated from there, with the country split between two armies and a bunch of militias in the forests. Now instead of merely jailing and torturing people, the armies took to shooting them. Trade and commerce broke down because you couldn’t travel anywhere because the different armies would shoot you if you went into a different part of the country, and besides, the armies were just stealing everything. They looted one of Isaac’s pharmacies and then burned it down.

Sad to say, it sounds like everyone was actually better off under Mobutu.

Around this time, Isaac decided to become a Pygmy rights advocate and went to a couple of international conferences to speak about how Pygmies are discriminated against by Bantus, not allowed to hunt in the national parks, etc., and was promptly arrested for making the government look bad. He managed to bribe his way out of prison and fled the country in the middle of the night, convinced that if he stayed, he’d be killed.

Isaac was lucky to escape.

I wager the security situation in the DRC is still a mess.

Anthropology Friday: Still a Pygmy (pt 3) Bantus, Mobutu, and Witchcraft

Continuing with our review of Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Michael Nest

 “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Tolstoy

One of the things I find interesting (and reassuring) when reading about other peoples and places is discovering that they have problems, too–it’s not just us. This is a bit of a personal life philosophy–when the going gets tough, I tell myself “Other people have been through this. You are not the only one. They got through it and so will you.” It is always useful to have some perspective on life.

These days, the biggest source of trouble in Pygmies’ lives isn’t leopards, but the Bantus. Of course this must be taken with a grain of salt, since the book was written by a Pygmy; perhaps Bantus have a whole list of their own grievances–maybe Pygmies “hunt” their livestock and “gather” their crops. I should try to be at least a little cautious of accepting uncritically a single account of relations between two groups of people I have no personal experience with.

Thankfully there is a lot of other evidence on the subject, and it looks like the Pygmies are generally on the losing end of Bantu violence, and the Bantus are not generally on the losing end of Pygmy violence. The Wikipedia: article on Pygmies quotes a BBC report:

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN’s Indigenous People’s Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. In neighbouring North Kivu province there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs (“the erasers”) who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.[23] Both sides of the war regarded them as “subhuman” and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.[24] Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognise cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.[25]

It’s sad that we have to add “cannibalism” to the list of “things people have to be explicitly told not to do.”

Since the world of Pygmy activists is pretty small, it’s not surprising that Isaac also mentions Sinafasi Makelo. “My position in APDMAC [A pygmy rights group] was Founder and Coordinator. Sinafasi, a Pygmy from the Mangurejipa Forest in North Kivu, was the Secretary.”

Continuing with Wikipedia:

According to Minority Rights Group International there is extensive evidence of mass killings, cannibalism and rape of Pygmies and they have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate a campaign of extermination against pygmies. Although they have been targeted by virtually all the armed groups, much of the violence against Pygmies is attributed to the rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, which is part of the transitional government and still controls much of the north, and their allies.[26]

The Pygmy population was also a target of the Interahamwe during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Of the 30,000 Pygmies in Rwanda, an estimated 10,000 were killed and another 10,000 were displaced. They have been described as “forgotten victims” of the genocide.[27] The current Rwandan Pygmy population is about 33,000, and is reportedly declining.[28]

By one estimate, the total number of Pygmies killed in the civil wars in Congo and Rwanda is 70,000.[27]

I am not sure that the Pygmies are actually being targeted anymore than everyone else in the area–the Tutsis have a pretty good claim to have been victims of genocide as well, and the Tutsis got back at the Hutus by massacring them. And plenty of ordinary Bantus living in the area have been raped, shot, massacred, and probably eaten, too. The only difference is that you never hear of the Pygmies being the victors (or aggressors) in these conflicts. Not that Pygmies are peace-loving forest hippies or something like that, but they are a tiny group of hunter-gatherers and therefore don’t have the numbers nor the weapons to attack their neighbors.

Regardless, the situation in the Congo is not good. As Reuters reports (2014):

A militia leader accused of kidnap, rape and cannibalism in Democratic Republic of Congo was killed on Monday alongside four other people during a firefight as he sought to escape his army captors, the government said. … U.N. experts said in December he switched his focus from poaching elephants to attacking gold mines. They accuse him and his men of kidnapping people to carry looted goods and of forcing women into being sexual slaves for militia members.

They said in another report last July that former captives had told them the group, known as “Mai Mai Morgan”, had engaged in cannibalism on several occasions.

From the Toronto Star, in a report about “child soldiers” (children kidnapped by the Congolese militias and forced into service):

“When you kill a Tutsi, you remove his heart and mix it with special potions, like a medicine,’’ explains Popy Matenda, rather blandly. “Other parts of the body can be eaten too but the heart is special. It gives you the strength of the person you killed, like you are sucking in his spirit. It’s a kind of magic.’’ … “It didn’t make me sick or anything, eating humans,’’ continues 15-year-old Matenda as he slurps up a cola, when what he’d really wanted was a whiskey. “You couldn’t even taste the flesh because it was all ground up with the medicine.”

From Worldcrunch, In Congo, A Tribal Chief Forced to Flee Cannibalistic Militia:

“Since 2003, 40 chiefs have been killed by the Mai-Mai, who ate their flesh, which they believe can strengthen their power and make them invulnerable to bullets. This has happened to the leaders Musumari, Mwele, Lwalaba, Dilenge, Kawama Mubidi, Kiyombo, Ntambo, Kileba …”

As I have noted before, the belief that eating people (or animals) can give you magic powers leads quickly down a very bad path. If you want an historical view, I recommend Cannibalism in the African Congo.

Isaac Bacirongo does not actually dwell much at all on the specific targeting of Pygmies for cannibalism and genocide. However, he does say:

The owners of the forest became those who had guns. If APDMAC went there and said, ‘Pygmies are the owners of the forest,’ they would put us in prison. In the past, pygmies id not worry about the future. Life was easy because it was easy to find something to eat and thee was only one need: meat. … Many had fled deep into the forest because of the fighting but life was hard because militias operated there as well. They might be killed or raped. there was no medicine in the forest and many people died because of this, including my papa. …

A lot of people are suffering back home and there is nothing I can do about it. In the north-east of Congo, a rebel militia went into the Ituri Forest to hunt Pygmies because they thought they could get magic powers from them. One of my aunts was also killed by rebel forces. They found out she was a Pygmy and wanted to learn about Pygmy magic because they thought it would help them in the forest. he told them she knew nothing, so they buried her alive. Sinafasi, one of the founders of APDMAC,went to the Unted Nations in New york to petition to include cannibalism as a crime against humanity, because other militas were eating Pygmies. The militas thout this would help them in the forest.

… In 2005, Kabungulu from Herieters de la Justice, the man who convinced me to become an activist, was murdered, probably because of his activist work. After that I got the news that 56 people in Bunyakiri were killed by a Hutu milita fighting the Congolese government. Among the dead were my sister’s husband, Josephine’s [his wife’s] nephew, the father of Akili (the nephew I brought to Australia,) and many other neighbors. …

The Pygmies’ reputation for magical powers, which earned them a special position in Bantu religious rituals (see last week’s Anthropology Friday,) definitely backfires when people decide they can get those same magic powers for themselves by eating you.

But enough sensationalism–let’s get back to the mundane, because the day-to-day lives of Congolese Pygmies obviously isn’t invading armies or cannibals.

As a small child, Isaac lived on the banana plantation where his parents worked and attended the local school. He was the only Pygmy at the school, for the simple reason that school cost money, which Pygmies generally could not afford, and because Pygmies tend to prefer living their lives and not worrying about school. But Isaac wanted to be like all of the other kids on the plantation, so he bugged his parents until they somehow scraped up the cash and sent him to school.

I first became aware of politics when I was at this school, because every morning we had to stand in assembly and sing praises to our president, Joseph Mobutu. The government forced shops to put up President Mobutu’s picture and some people even had a picture of Mobutu in their homes, although we didn’t in our hut made of sticks and leaves. … Mama and Papa knew about Mobutu but were not interested in politics and paid no attention to any of it.

Having to pay homage to Mobutu as part of a fake religion was pretty dumb, but a lot better than getting shot by invaders. Unfortunately, the kinds of people who set up fake religions about themselves are often idiots who do things like not pay their armies, which leads to your people getting shot by invaders.

My teacher at the school was Mr. Enoch. ‘Which tribe are you from?’ he asked me, as all the other students in the whole school were Shi. I told him ‘BaTembo.’ ‘That,’ he replied, ‘means you are a Pygmy.’ … Mr. Enoch despised me. He made a point of calling me a ‘Pygmy’ in a way that told the other students I was inferior. …

After three months at the Kabuga school I had a very bad experience. One day I wet my pants, and Mr Enoch hit me very hard with his fists and kicked me. Mr Enoch shouted, ‘that’s what I think of Pygmies!’ as he punched me… I remember bleeding from my ears and nose…

(Remember that Isaac was, at this time, only in the equivalent of kindergarten or first grade.)

My parents were not surprised to see me beaten half-dead by my teacher. They had told us that Bantu always treat Pygmies badly. But I did not understand Mr. Enoch when he told me that Pygmies are not human! …

After I arrived home my body started to swell up. My parents massaged me with hot water and herb from the forest. … The police asked my parents to pay 5 makutas–what they called the ‘arrest fee’–to arrest Mr. Enoch, but where could they get 5 makutas? … ‘Will you insist on going to school again?’ Papa asked. … ‘School is not for us. Now you see for yourself why we don’t go to school.’

Eventually Isaac does go back to school, after his parents move to a different area.

Isaac also recounts the story of a time when his mother was selling firewood, and a Bantu man did not like the price she asked for her wood, so he just hit her and stole her wood.

When Bantu cheat Pygmies or refuse to honor a promise of payment, they do not want the Pygmies to react badly. For example, most Pygmies work at times on the farms of Bantu villagers. The villager might promise to give them two or three measure of beans as payment, but then only give one. …

There are Pygmies who have had their lands sold to Bantu. If we complain, the territorial administrator or the lawyers will be given a cow by the person who bought the land, and because they have bee bought off, they do nothing for the Pygmies.

Anyway, Isaac finishes 10 years of schooling (plus part of year 11,) and sets out to get a job. He has more than enough education to become a teacher, but it is very tough to find people willing to hire a Pygmy teacher. He ends up going into business, leading to his successful pharmacy chain. Eventually he gets married to a town girl, Josephine. Unfortunately, Josephine and Isaac’s mom don’t get along:

Mama was not happy. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘you are marrying someone from a rich family. Town girls don’t know how to look for crabs or firewood…’ Mama wanted me to marry a girl from the forest. …

Mama also blamed Papa for me wanting to stay in town. ‘I told you not to send your son to school,’ she said, ‘because he will want to live in town. It will change his thinking and he won’t want to live in the forest.’ But Papa hadn’t sent me to school.

… Mama tried everything she could with witchcraft to kill Josephine.

Mama thought Josephine was controlling me, and told me the reason I did not return to the forest was because Josephine had used witchcraft to make me change my mind and beliefs… So Mama went to a witchdoctor to ask for magic herbs more powerful than those she thought Josephine had given me, to kill the power of Josephine’s magic. Mum tried to get me t eat these herbs and she placed others where I was sitting or stepping. The herbs did not work…

Mama then went to a woman who was known to be a sorceress, Nagabushu… Mama said that if Josephine were to die while pregnant with Deborah, people would think it was because of the pregnancy and would not suspect witchcraft. Nagabushu got upset and started fighting with Mum. ‘I’m not a sorceress!’ she shouted. ‘I’ve never killed anyone!’ …

In 1991, ten years after we married, Mama went to a different witchdoctor… He was an older man in his forties. … The witchdoctor told mama how powerful he was. ‘It will be very simple to kill your daughter-in-law,’ he said. ‘I have the power to bring storms, such as lighting storms… Someone died a few months ago from a lightning strike, and it was me who did that. … If you give me your youngest daughter, Sibaruzi, to be my wife that would be enough payment…’

Mama told Sibaruzi that if she refused to be the witchdoctor’s wife, everyone in our family would be killed. … mama escorted her to the witchdoctor and when they arrived he showed them teeth of wild animals, herbs and bottles of liquids. Sibaruzi was afraid. … She was twelve at the time and had not even had her first period. I still do not know how Mama could do this. What a bad heart!

Obviously the witchdoctor failed and Josephine is still alive and well. Eventually Sibaruzi figured out what was up and left, saying she never wanted to see him again. (What a creep.)

Amusingly, sometime I get witchdoctor spam, but being an idiot, I didn’t save the part I wanted to quote for you and my spam folder auto-deleted it. Oh, well. It was funny.

Well, Josephine, if it’s any consolation, I’ve heard lots horrible mother-in-law stories here in the US, too. I guess this means that “horrible mothers-in-law” may be a true human universal.

Anthropology Friday: Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Micheal Nest

51TxcmouEEL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_My copy of Still a Pygmy has arrived!

I am excited because this book is probably the only autobiography/first-hand account of growing up with a Pygmy lifestyle in the whole world. (In English, anyway.) Sure, plenty of anthropologists have studied Pygmies and written about their lives, but not many Pygmies have written (or co-written) their own books and gotten them published.

(Since this book was only recently published, and I’m sure Isaac and Michael would like to get their royalties, I am going to quote less than usual and instead try to provide interesting commentary/discussion.)

Basic plot: Isaac Bacironogo, a Pygmy, was born in the Congolese rainforest where he learned to hunt and gather in the traditional Pygmy style. When he was a kid, his family went to work on a local plantation (Pygmies regularly work as hired agricultural laborers,) and noticed that all of the other kids on the plantation were going to school. So after much pestering of his parents, Isaac started going to school. He attended, IIRC, 10 or 11 years of school, learned French fluently, and eventually became a successful businessman who owned three pharmacies and traveled internationally.

Then everything went to shit, between the Rwandan genocide and the Congolese civil war, and Isaac had to get out before the gov’t put a bullet in his brain. Eventually the UN resettled him and his family in Australia.

I have mentioned before that I doubt refugees–wherever they are from–represent a random cross-section of their home societies. They are, at least, the people who managed to get to refugee camps–in Isaac’s case, just escaping required $7,500 in bribes. Additionally, as Isaac has documented in abundant detail, many refugees bribe UN workers in order to get the extremely coveted foreign resettlement slots.

I guarantee that the average Congolese–much less the average Congolese Pygmy–does not have this kind of cash.

According to the Wikipedia:

A pygmy is a member of an ethnic group whose average height is unusually short; anthropologists define pygmy as a member of any group where adult men are on average less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) tall.[1] A member of a slightly taller group is termed “pygmoid“.[2]

The term is most associated with peoples of Central Africa, such as the Aka, Efé and Mbuti.[3] If the term pygmy is defined as a group’s men having an average height below 1.55 meters (5 feet 1 inch), then there are also pygmies in Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Andaman Islands,[4]Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, and Brazil,[5] including some Negritos of Southeast Asia.

Pygmy_languages_(Bahuchet)For the purposes of this post, “Pygmy” only refers to African Pygmies.

Isaac’s people, the BaTembo, come from the region marked on this map as “Great Lakes Twa,” which overlaps the Democratic Republic of the Congo, (hereafter either DRC or just “Congo,” after Isaac’s usage,) Rwanda, and Burundi.

Isaac describes the different Pygmy groups:

… we say there are three kinds of Pygmy. The first we cal BaTwa be Bungukuma in KiTembo. This means something like ‘stocky Pygmies with muscular bodies.’ They are shorter than normal Pygmies, they are strong–their chests are like hard stones–and their whole body works together perfectly. This kind of Pygmy is quite hairy and they don’t like to mix with other people. The second kind is a normal Pygmy, like my family. … The third kind of Pygmy is the Pygmoid people. … Full-blooded Pygmies are sometimes scared of Pygmoid people, because Pygmoid people see themselves as masters of the full-bloods and act like this towards us.

There is a fair amount of debate over whether the various Pygmy peoples are all closely related, or if they are a bunch of different people who all happen to evolve shorter stature just because of some environmental factor, like the rainforest being low on salt. It looks like the answer is a bit of both: the existence of other pygmy or pygmoid people outside of Africa, as far away as the rainforests of Australia and Brazil, suggests that it’s highly likely that rainforests do select for small stature, but the African Pygmies appear to be descended from a single ancestral group that split up thousands of years ago, may have admixed with an archaic population or two, and some of which have mixed significantly with the recently-arrived Bantus.

For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that Pygmies and Bantus are probably about as genetically distant European and Africans–if not more so. (Keeping in mind that there now exist substantial numbers of mixed-race Pygmy-Bantu people and tribes.)

800px-Explorer_Chapin_with_Club_Flag_-4 1280px-RuwenpflanzenAccording to Secret Corners of the World, which I coincidentally picked up at a used book shop this week, there are actually glacier-capped mountains on the border between Congo and Uganda, known as the Rwenzori, or Mountains of the Moon. These mountains have some enormous vegetation.

The town where Isaac lived, Bukavu, lies near the Rwenzori, just outside the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park. Wikipedia notes:

Kahuzi Gorilla
Kahuzi Gorilla

…the park’s 1975 expansion, which included inhabited lowland areas, resulted in forced evacuations with about 13,000 people of the tribal community of Shi, Tembo and Rega affected and refusing to leave.[2] Cooperation by the communities living around the park and employment of the Twa people to enforce park protection was pursued by the park authorities. In 1999 a plan was developed to protect the people and the resources of the park.[8]

The Tembo, aka BaTembo, are Isaac’s people (“Ba” is a local prefix that I think means “the people”, so BaTembo means “the Tembo people.” They’re the same group whether you attach the Ba or not.) Isaac speaks of this same incident:

White people with the power to help also ignored us. This was the case with the Pygmies who were thrown out of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park that was create din part of our traditional country, and which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The headquarters of the park is called Madaga. This is the name of a Pygmy family that is still living. … The Madaga family’s land, their area of hunting, became part of the national park. So much money is given to support the park but the Madaga family is living in poverty.

Basically, a lot more people have been trying to save the gorillas and chimpanzees than have been trying to save the Pygmies, who have not fared too well at the hands of the Bantus.

(If it is any consolation, it looks like there has been poaching in the park. Isaac reports:

The camp where the Pygmies lived was right on the edge of Mr. Francis’ farm, next to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The government authorities wanted the camp moved off the boundary because they suspected us of hunting in the forest. They were right. … Meat was expensive and my father was not rich enough to have chickens or goats, so if we wanted meat we had to hunt for it. All Papa thought about was going back into the forest to check his snares when he was finished work for the day. … In the rainy season, when there were a lot of animals around and they were easy to trap, Papa and the other Pygmies living in the camp would desert the farm for up to three months to hunt. …

The authorities knew that Pygmies and other hunters poached game int he Kahuzi-Biega reserve and used to stop and search them when they were walking into town… if the authorities caught a man with bush meat he would be fined, but they never stopped children, so a few times I used to take meat to sell in town..

Mama developed a strategy to get Papa about of trouble when he was caught poaching. She discovered that the local territorial administrator, Salumu, liked monkey, so several times Mama smoked monkey or antelope meat and gave it to him for free. … When Papa was caught, Salumu would let him off with a warning.

Bribes and corruption are going to be a frequent theme of this series.)

Secret Corners of the World describes traveling from Bukavu to the Rwenzori around 1982:

1024px-Dawn_on_Lake_KivuOur road to the Ruwenzori [older spelling] was filled with scenes of promise, frustration, and vistas of primeval Beauty.

Our journey began in Bukavu, capital of Zaire’s Kivu Province, a place that visiting Americans have called “an African San Francisco.” Appealing, solidly built villas overlook the water from four peninsulas that extend into Lake Kivu–but on the slopes behind them sit flimsy, fly-ridden shacks. Such contrasts inflamed the turbulent 1960s … Now, as non-African visitors, Jim and I drew friendly attention. To the dozens of French-speaking Zairians that we met along the way, we were simply Americains, objects of sociable curiosity and frequently the recipients of help in case of a mired car or parched throat.

Near Bukavu, apparently far from politics, we walked into a Garden of Eden. … In verdant Kahuzi-Biega Park, nearly 250,000 acres, we sought those muscular dwellers of the rain forest, the lowland gorillas.

Our small safari consisted of several Pygmy trackers and the assistant curator of the park… Since 1970, nearly 30,000 visitors have hiked into the volcanic mountains an hour outside Bukavu to see the gorillas.

Quite a contrast to Frederick and Josephine’s more recent trek through the Congo! Years of genocide and civil war have not been good to the region. Secret Corners continues:

For the next stage of our journey to the Ruqenzori, we joled local travelers in a five-hour boat ride to Goma, at the north end of Lake Kivu. …

Just outside of Goma, a lakeside town with a hint of frontier atmosphere, rises Nyiragongo, one of a string of still-active volcanoes. A nearly perfect cone, its outer shell slants steeply upward to forma  achalice roughly 4,125 feet across. That cup holds molten rock.

At 10 o’clock on January 10, 1977, the cone sprang a leak–at least five fissures. A fiery rver rushed toward Goma, obliterating crops and engulfing hapless villagers. As many as a hundred people may lie entombed in hardened lava several meters thick. …

(One of Isaac’s pharmacies was located near Goma, at least until an invading army made travel between villages much too difficult.)

“Anybody working hard with initiative and imagination can make a fortune here,” insists 38-year-old entrepreneur Victor Ngezayo… in their Beni coffee warehouse. Victor started as a truck driver at age 19; now he and Brigitte own a fleet of trucks, a coffee export business, an air charter service, and an interest in a chain of hotels. they provide advice and credit to employees undertaking business ventures of their own.

Isaac was about 20 or 21 when this article was written; his story and Victor’s stories sound pretty similar (though they obviously differ in the particulars.)

016022011114125000000victorngezayoI got to wondering how things turned out for Victor, and so Googled around. Looks like he survived all of the upheavals of the 90s and continues being a successful businessman; here’s his picture from an article about him and his hotels in Jeune Africa, 2011. He still has the same mustache he had in the 1983 photo in Secret Corners. In 2002, the local volcano filled his garden with lava; in 2005, he helped found a new Congolese political party, the Convention of Christian Democrats.

Wikileaks has some interesting records of conversations between US ambassadors or other US gov’t officials and Victor in 2007:

Floribert Bwana Chuy bin Kositi, North Kivu provincial secretary of the RCD-G party, was found murdered July 9 in Goma outside the grounds of a hotel owned by a prominent Tutsi businessman. … A MONUC-Goma political officer told us Chuy, a section chief in the Congolese Office of Control (OCC), disappeared on Saturday. His body, which showed signs of strangulation, was found 300-400 meters from the entrance of Goma’s Hotel Karibu. The owner, Victor Ngezayo, told us the body was discovered by a passing motorbike driver around noon. …

Chuy’s position at OCC involved monitoring the quality of imported food. Ngezayo told us Congolese and resident foreign importers often buy expired foodstuffs on the international market for pennies on the dollar and resell them in Goma. Ngezayo hypothesized that Chuy’s killing was related to his job. Just prior to his death, Chuy had ordered the destruction of 80 tons of imported rice which he had determined was unfit for human consumption.

and in 2009:

Ambassador met April 17 with influential North Kivu businessman Victor Ngezayo. Unsurprisingly, Ngezayo was highly critical of the GDRC, particularly its efforts to bring peace to the East, which he characterized as superficial. Ngezayo maintained that the new CNDP was a Rwandan concoction, with no grassroots support. Efforts to impose a “Rwandophone solution” on North Kivu would be a repeat of the disastrous RCD-Goma experiment. … Ngezayo warned that the different regions of the DRC, which he divided into “Congo Occidentale,” “Congo Orientale,” Katanga, and the Kasais were culturally and economically independent from each other.

I don’t know what he’s up to today, but I don’t see any obituaries.

The Secret Corners article also mentions problems like roads marred by giant, car-swallowing potholes and schools with no teachers due to the Congolese government not paying them, but the tone is relentlessly upbeat and cheerful (these children are so enthusiastic, they’re learning even without a teacher! Some helpful passers-by pitched in and pushed our truck out of the giant hole!) I suspect this is partially because they wanted to write an upbeat article, and partially because the region was actually a lot better prior to the Rwandan Genocide than after. People like Isaac and Victor really were coming up from extremely poor backgrounds to become successful businessmen; opportunities were increasing across the region.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at the Pygmies themselves.

Is Taxation Theft? The state vs bandits

Inspired by Infowarrior1’s comments on Theory: the inverse relationship between warfare and homicide, I got to thinking about “What is a state?” (Please note that I am sort of thinking out loud, so I can’t promise that I’ve got every detail worked out. Feedback is welcome and useful.)

I tend to take a pretty expansive definition of “government,” including not just the formally recognized thing people mean when they say government, but also the entire power structure of the entire society, including your boss, newspaper publishers, popular people, religious leaders, and even parents. (Note: most of the time when I use the word “government,” I mean it in the normal way that people would understand it.) Under the normal definition, the gang violence is just homicide, but under the expensive, gangs are a form of small-scale government (they exert power over others, after all,) and violence between them is warfare.

Gangs do many things that formal governments do: they engage in trade, regulate contracts, tax people, punish people who break their laws, control territory, and engage in warfare. The Mafia clearly has its origins in the family-based governing structure of Sicily/southern Italy, and creates a structure within which its family members benefit from government contracts and the like. The Japanese Yakuza “began as a temporary staffing agency on the docks of Kobe” and host “an annual rice cake-making event at the start of the year in which the gang distributes food and booze to the locals. … And after the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and the great disaster of March 2011, the earthquake and tsunami and Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown, the Yamaguchi-gumi was quick to provide aid in the form of blankets, food, water, and shelter.” (source)

(It has long been somewhat of a mystery to me why the formal gov’t doesn’t just treat gangs like invading armies, and simply shoot everyone involved until they stop trying to occupy American cities.)

So what is the difference between such groups and formal governments? If we call a formal government a “state” and these other organizations “non-state governments”, then what is a state? Is ISIS a state? Yes, it seems to have enough of the normal characteristics of a state to call it a state. Is a gang a state? No, clearly a gang is not a state. What about Somalia? No, not a state so much as a state-shaped hole in the map where other states don’t want to go. The Somali government simply does not exert an organizing influence over its own territory.

Which got me thinking about the state as an institution that increases organizational complexity of a society/aids in its homeostatic maintenance within a specific territory.

By contrast, bandits, while they exert power over others, decrease a system’s organizational complexity by interfering with normal function in order to shunt other people’s wealth to themselves.

I’m sure you’ve heard the claim that “taxation is theft.” This has always seemed like a fallacious argument, especially since most things that taxes get spent on are actually programs that people want and support, and so such conversations generally lead to painstakingly laying out the fact that libertarianism doesn’t deal very well with multipolar traps yet again, which, sorry, starts quickly feeling like explaining to my kids again that, yes, things really do cost money and no, people aren’t going to just give you what you want in life because you want them to. (Not that libertarianism is all bad–just the vacuous repetition of certain catchphrases.)

At any rate, a legitimate government uses its taxes to increase the overall order of the system, while an illegitimate one uses its power to decrease order. The Somali government does not increase (or maintain) the overall order of Somalia, so it is not a state.

Let’s switch for a moment from Somalia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ne Zaire, ne the Belgian Congo.

I have mentioned before Josephine and Frederick’s account of their attempt to drive from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa–a distance of about a thousand miles, or 1,500 km–in the DRC. It’s a great story, so I recommend you read it yourself, but I’m going to highlight a few relevant bits:

When the Belgians ruled the area, they built a lot of roads. Today, if you are brave enough to go there, you can see the condition the roads are in:

Photos by Frederick and Jospehine
Photo by Frederick and Jospehine

There are a few good roads in the country–built by Belgian-run NGOs, mining companies (I believe these are generally run by the Chinese), and Catholic missionaries, eg:

“That night we talked for hours with Frère Louis. Our little adventures here dissapear in the nothing compared to everything he went trough. He had been in DRC for over 40 years, he stayed during all the wars. He had to abandon everything and run for his live three times as teams were sent out to kill him. But he always returned. Many books could be filled with his adventures.

He is also responsible for most of the bridges Katanga. He build hundreds of bridges himself. He has a small working budget from Franciscans, but he funds most of it all by himself. He has put every last penny in the Congolese people. That is why his house in Luena was so rundown.

He also told us about the Mayi-Mayi rebels that still roam the jungle. We were not prepared for the horror stories we would hear. I still have problems giving these stories a place. They are not just stories though, he gave us a 100 page document with his interviews of victims. If you thought, like us, that cannibalism was something that belonged in comic books and dusty museums about Africa. You are wrong. :cry:” [source]

Not only do the Congolese themselves not maintain their own roads, they contribute to their destruction by digging holes in them to trap passing vehicles so they can demand money in exchange for helping them out. Likewise, many of the “tolls” charged of passing vehicles go not to road maintenance (a legit reason to charge people for using a road,) but to line the pockets of the people charging the tolls.

In other words, while many Congolese are trying to use the roads to conduct trade and transport goods, others are actively destroying the roads and sabotaging that trade in order to benefit off other people’s hard work. A man who charges tolls in order to pay for improvements to the road is contributing to the structural complexity of society; a man who charges tolls to line his own pockets is a bandit.

In response to a comment in the thread–“Absolutely great to read you ! Belgians in the Congo ! You must be nuts ! “–Frederik responds:

I presume you are referring to the “not so nice” role Belgium has had in the history of Congo. For a while I thought that would be a problem as well, but it isn’t. Just about anything that still exists in Congo is made by the Belgians. The older generation who had their education from the Belgians really have fond memories of that era. And at the moment Belgium is still one of the main funders of the country (via aid). The dark pages of history during the Leopold 2 era is not what the Congolese people think about. All in all I think being Belgian was actually a plus. As a matter of fact, a lot of people asked how things were going with the “war” in Belgium :-o” [source]

Also on the subject:

“Occasionally (and I must admit, it was a rare event) we meet nice people. Like this guy on his bike. [picture] He stopped to say hello. He was a well educated person who previsouly worked as an accountant for a big company. The company is no longer there so now he survives like everybody else by trading a few things. [picture] He was a good example of the older generation. They grew up in a prosperous (relative) Congo and have seen it go downhill. They still have the pride every person should have. The younger generation grew up in disastrously f*cked up country and lack the pride. Why should they, they know they do not get any chances?
It is that old generation that longs back to the colonial time. They acknowledge there were a lot of problems in that period and that they were discriminated by the white colonisator. But at least they had a functional country. They had roads and schools. They had jobs and could buy supplies. And above all, there was stability. Now there is nothing but uncertainty.. waiting for the next war to start.” [source]

And on a related note:

If there is any thing you can find anywhere in the world it is Coca-Cola. They should know how to get their goods in the country. We had no response on mails, so we called them up. Their answer was pretty short: They do not have a distribution network outside the major cities in Congo 8O And it proved to be true, Congo is the first country we have visited were Coca-cola is hard to get once you leave the major cities.” [source]

Someone else–Christian P.–comments on his own experiences,

Before entering the country, we did not really know what to expect and we had the same exact nervosity as you were reffering. And it never went away.

The place is hard to imagine and describe. I have travelled a lot in Africa but the DRC is like nothing else. And I have only spend a few days there….

The look on people’s face is different. The vibe on the street is intense. It seems like everything is on the verge of exploding. I had never seen that many guns in one place. There is no bank, no guidebooks, no backpackers, no tour bus, no hotels, nothing. It truly still is the dark side. [source]

And I haven’t even mentioned all of the times random villagers tried to hack Frederik and Josephine to pieces with machetes, which is a definite deterrent to trade!

Like Somalia, the DRC isn’t a country so much as a country-shaped hole in the map. What government there is tends to be local, tribal, or run by folks like the mining companies or Catholic missions, and much of the time, what authority exists is actively undermining any larger systems of social/economic complexity for their own short term gain.

But what about states that are clearly “states”, but are clearly bad for the people under their rule? Soviet land collectivization in Ukraine, for example, killed 2.5–7.5 million people. Collectivization caused mass famines throughout the USSR; the exact number of lives lost is unknown, but estimated between 5.5 and 8 million deaths. The previous Soviet famine of 1921 had killed another 6 million people. Depending on whose definitions we use, communist regimes are generally blamed for somewhere between 20 and 100 million civilian deaths during the 20th century.

(How is it, then, that some of the nicest people I know are communists? Are they just idiots?)

Communist governments, I think it is safe to say, are state-level bandits.