Alan Caruba / Jul 28, 2003

We've all been seeing scenes on the television news of horrible events in Liberia, but it seems to me that I have been watching, hearing and reading about such events in African nations for as long as I can recall. What is it about Africa that seems to defy any kind of modern governance or civilized behavior?

Liberia was founded in 1822 and became a republic in 1847. In this regard, it preceded most formerly colonized African nations that did not achieve independence until the 1960s. In the past fourteen years, estimates of 150,000 dead have resulted from a civil war that has included support for an insurgency in neighboring Sierra Leone. The United Nations, now famous for its inability to do anything substantive, imposed sanctions in 2001. The killings in the streets of Monrovia are testament to the UN's impotence.

Those nations that achieved independence have now had four decades in which to establish democratic governments. Ordinary Africans hoped for the benefits of democracy and the rule of law. With few exceptions, they have demonstrated a genius for electing men famed for plundering their nations in the midst of social problems of such magnitude they defy comprehension.

Peter Brookes, a senior fellow for national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation, did his best to provide some insights. In a recent commentary he noted that "Africa's challenges are monumental. Today, 40 million Africans are at risk of starvation. Another 30 million have AIDS. Forty-two million children are not even enrolled in school. And civil war and ethnic violence rock the Democratic Republic of Congo (3 million dead) and Liberia (200,000 killed), among others."

The same United Nations that did not want the United States to invade Iraq, arguably in the control of one of the great monsters of modern times, Saddam Hussein, is clambering for US intervention in Liberia. What was once a prosperous nation has spawned what Reuter's reporter, Matthew Tostevin, calls "a generation of ruthless drugged-up killers" that has "spread chaos to neighboring countries."

Last year I met Dr. Emma S. Etuk, Ph.D., the author of "Listen Africans: Freedom Is Under Fire" ($19.95, Emida International Publishers, PO Box 50317, Washington, DC and Uyo, Nigeria). Following the end of colonial rule, wrote Dr. Etuk, "What emerged after independence was neo-colonialism bolstered by the new task masters in dark skins. Tyranny, despotism, dictatorship, oppression, state-sponsored terrorism and barbarism have become part and parcel of the post-colonial experience." Born in Nigeria, he knows Africa.

There are fifty-three nations in Africa today. From North to South Africa, much of its current problems can be directly traced to its earliest colonialists, the Muslims who invaded from Saudi Arabia. From the seventh century to the fifteenth when the Europeans arrived, the Arabs were Africa's masters. It was Muslims who pioneered the slave trade, buying and selling African slaves during their 800 years of domination. It has continued to this day. The poverty and oppression that exists throughout much of Africa, combined with its large Muslim population, makes that continent a rich breeding ground for the terrorism being waged by fundamentalist Muslims.

Suffice it to say that colonialism taught the modern generation of African despots everything they needed to know about the use of coercion, economic exploitation, and every other ill that afflicts most African nations. Since the colonial powers gave way to independence, African nations have spawned, in Dr. Etuk's words, "cannibals like Idi Amin of Uganda and brutes like Francisco Nquema of Equatorial Guinea." To that list he can add the thugocracy of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and a dozen others. Since independence, there have been wars in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Namibia, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. From 1967 to 1970, in Nigeria alone, war claimed nearly a million lives.

Modern geopolitics, however, has insured that the United States can no longer benignly ignore Africa. Terrorism, showing up in places as diverse as Morocco and Tanzania, is a major reason. Oil is the other. In order to undermine Saudi Arabia, the greatest financier of terrorism around the world, America needs greater access to Africa's vast reserves of oil. Nigeria, Angola and Gabon number among the top fifteen US crude oil providers. Other African nations that provide oil include Algeria, Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. The Energy Department estimates that US-owned oil firms will invest $10 billion this year in Africa. The British and French are there as well.

The US must, perforce, deal with oil-rich African nations often controlled by evil men. Nigeria has received more than $300 billion in oil revenues over the last twenty-five years and yet its citizens have a per-capita income of less than $1 a day! In Angola, the International Monetary Fund discovered that anywhere from $1 to $5 billion in state oil revenue goes missing every year. By itself, the US cannot do much about these abuses.

No doubt, events in both Afghanistan and Iraq have made President Bush wary of sending US troops into yet another nation, no matter how urgent the need to establish some stability. Americans have not forgotten that the last time the US sent troops on a peacekeeping mission to feed starving Somalis, they killed eighteen of our soldiers. We sensibly packed up and went home. If the UN cannot demonstrate the ability to organize some kind of peace force in Liberia that may prove to be yet another nail in its well-earned coffin.

One last thought. I marveled that when President Bush visited several African nations, the only thing the American press wanted to ask him about was a single reference to an Iraqi effort to purchase uranium. The US media made no effort to inform Americans about today's Africa in their frenzy to portray the President as a liar. Too bad because you better learn as much as you can about it in the years to come. In important ways, America's future will depend on events there.

Alan Caruba is the author of "Warning Signs", published by Merril Press. It is a collection of his weekly columns, posted on, the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center.

© Alan Caruba 2003

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