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Insurgents in Africa: Congo and Mozambique Again in the Spotlight

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 5, 2021 17:17

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In the fringe areas of Africa, insurgents challenge largely absent governments. Official forces seek to stamp their authority by all means. Violence begets violence, oppression begets resistance. Rule by force seems to become a fashion worldwide.

In the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as medical services begin to regroup to fight Ebola after the virus had been absent for a year, rebels from the fastnesses of the Rwenzori mountains attack villagers. 

Rwenzori mountain range. Photo Wikipedia CC BY-SA3.0

Government forces are seen as ineffective enforcers for an unrepresentative and far-away government. After a recent series of attacks, soldiers displayed the body of a killed rebel, to try to gain some prestige, but also to instill fear.

On the other side of the African continent, in the remote Cabo Delgado forces, Al Shabaab rebels face an Army that seeks to create a climate of terror to gain control, and private contractors constrained only by their paymasters. Amnesty International recently reported in excruciating detail how all actors in the struggle for control throw rules out of the window to gain control.

An African proverb says: When elephants fight, the grass suffers. Security forces, often from distant ethnic groups and representing a government that has done little if anything for the people of this remote region, act indiscriminately and with impunity. Corruption, rape, extra-judicial killings and torture are alleged. In support of the government, the South African-based Dyck group provides air support, including the dropping of hand grenades and gas cylinder bombs from helicopters. Indiscriminate bombing and firing into civilian groups are alleged. Not that the opponents are angels. The local Al Shabaab has built a campaign over the past years that went from small armed propaganda attacks to the full-scale occupation of towns. Beheadings, beatings, abduction of girls as sex slaves, and burning of houses are standard procedures.

Sunset at Ibo, Cabo Delgado. Photo Rosino, Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.0

The problem for government forces is that the insurgents are, to use the expression of Mao, like fish in the water. They are of the population, can move without fear of betrayal, and know the area. Government attempts at brutally suppressing the insurgency results in the classic Guevara conundrum: violent repression of insurgency validates the rebellion and recruits new rebels.

Both the insurgencies described above are based on marginalized, often brutalized populations. Modern concepts of social contracts and social interdependence does not obtain here. It is akin to Hobbes: life is nasty, brutish, short. With the added risk of destabilizing countries around the conflict zones. Colonial officials were all too quick to revert to the law of force despite the nominally democratic basis of the mother governments. Post-independent democracies reverted in many cases to pseudo-monarchical systems. People seek support from alternative groupings and find it in Al Shabaab and similar extremist groups.

Democracy, worldwide, seems to be obsessed with violence as alternative to Democracy. Is the law of the jungle returning? Is the violent occupation of Government buildings an alternative to properly conducted, credible elections where citizens are free to vote? The alternative, regrettably, is a return to the law of the jungle. 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 5, 2021 17:17

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The escalating extremist insurgency in northern Mozambique has displaced 310,000 people, creating an urgent humanitarian...

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