The Minor African Deity That Failed


Back in the '90s, Eritrea was supposed to be Africa's grand exception: a self-reliant country that refused foreign aid and embraced democratic values. It hasn't worked out that way.

[Via Bill Weinberg. For some dark comedy, check out the reader comments at the end of his post.]

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  1. I started reading a randomly acquired book about the last Eritrea/Ethiopian war, I think called “Eritrea’s war.” When I was 30 pages in, I came across the sentence, more or less, “now I shall go on to show how Eritrea was 100% responsibile for beginning this conflict…” etc. Then I looked at the publication info and realized it was Ethiopian propaganda written by some Israeli professor. Oh well.

  2. From the Bill Weinberg link, what’s a “loobyist?”

    Jesse, that is indeed some good funny in the comments, if you like your humor of the “we’re all doomed!” variety. Or more properly, of the “humanity is f**ked” variety.

  3. You can watch Ethiopian and Eritrean tv shows on cable here in the DC area. They both tend to focus mainly on the war. I don’t know why, but both countries’ shows usually air back-to-back. Is someone trying to provoke something?

  4. I like to consider myself fairly well-educated and knowledgeable about history and geography. But for me, The figurative description of Africa as “The Dark Continent” is remarkably descriptive.

    i.e. I have no idea what is going on over there and why every country (it seems) is under the control of a bloody dictator engaged in a bloody war with another bloody dictator engaged in a bloody war with another…you get the point.

    I’m interested in some insight on just why Africa is such a mess. My understanding is that the continent has a remarkable volume of natural resources and plenty of countries that would be willing to do business with them…if only they’d stop hacking each other to pieces.

    Can some of you good folks enlighten me?

  5. madpad,

    Read Thomas Sowell’s “Cultures and Conflicts”

    Excellent book and details very well why, exactly, Africa is so fukt.

  6. I’m sorry, it’s called Conquests and Cultures, not what I said before.

  7. I think it has something to do with the arbitrary way much of Africa was split up between the various European countries that colonised it. You had Italian, French, English, Portugese, Spanish, German, etc control of areas, trying to put warring tribes together. Seems to have caused a lot of resentment.

    Beyond that, I’m as much in the dark as you are about it, madpad. While a fascinating country, I was more interested in European history, probably because I’m of European decent and the way of life/thinking seems more familiar to me.

  8. madpad – Yeah, that’s the sad thing about a lot of the world: if you haven’t heard about country XYZ lately, it’s probably because they’re doing OK. The third world only gets in the news because somebody’s killing somebody else, perpetrating a coup, suffering from a famine, again.

  9. Colonialization fallout is, no doubt, a factor. It’s arguably a large part of the problems further north and is considered by many to be a large part of the current problems with Iraq.

    But Europe colonized countries all over the world. Why is it Africa that seems especially brutal and vicious…let alone unsolvable?

    I mean the folks in these conflicts can’t seem to stop killing each other long enough to rise above basic sanitation problems and food acquisition.

    And this is a continent that get a LOT of help…from EVERYONE. I can see that help being an aggravator…but not a cause.

  10. BTW, thanks for the resource, Andy.

  11. I used to volunteer to teach conversational English to furriners. I sometimes had Ethiopeans and Eritreans in the same class. Granting the language barrier between them and me, I dare say neither side has the slightest idea why they are warring.
    One thing I know for sure: Natives put the emphasis on the “er” of Eritrea and leave out the “i,” while Amurikans put the emphasis on the “tre.”

  12. Ruthless,
    I’ve run across many people from that area as well. What struck me was that they tend not to mind being confused with each other. I even had one Eritrean girl I knew say “Ethiopian/Eritrean, whatever”. Of course, that is here, not there. I guess the common culture outweighs any political differences when you are outside of the countries themselves.
    BTW, Ethiopian/Eritrean girls are often breathtakingly beautiful. I’m a big fan.

  13. For some reason the conflict in Ethiopia and Eritrea always seemed to me like a hypothetical war between Canada and the US. Two otherwise indistinguishable countries, originally part of one nation, whose populations have a deep seated resentment of each other.

  14. madpad – no, I’m with you, which is why I also professed a lot of ignorance re: Africa.

  15. And I always thought that Botswana was Africa’s grand exemption, notwithstanding the 30% AIDS infection rate and the cultural genocide of the San Bushmen.

  16. Africa is a tough nut to crack. Between tribalism, overpopulation, the lingering effects of colonialism (and of the Cold War), insane levels of corruption, and a gemeral lack of industry, it’s hard to know where to start to fix the problems. Inevitably, it’ll have to be the Africans that make things right. And, of course, each country has its own particular advantages and disadvantages. Probably the nation that makes me shake my head the most is Nigeria, which should have parlayed its oil wealth into something. I like David Lamb’s The Africans for an overview of the issues facing the continent, though it’s a bit dated nowadays.

  17. Africa is a tough nut to crack. Between tribalism, overpopulation

    Overpopulation doesn’t seem to be the problem (though all the rest in your list undeniably are.

    Or maybe it’s more fair for you to say relative Overpopulation. Africa has 20% of the worlds total land and only 12% of it’s population.

    It’s amount of untapped natural resources is stunning. But without any stability, refinement is difficult and markets can’t flourish. So while the population is certainly large for the available refined resources, the potential is certainly there.

  18. Shem,

    Yeah, I’m familiar with the generalities of the approach so thank you for shining some light on the specifics.

    But you know, here we are some 30-40 years on from most of those European countries leaving. And it’s still a shithole.

    Asians were colonized and they got it together. India and the Middle East were colonized and they got it together too – they’re at least killing each other with missiles and MIGS instead of machettes and stolen RPGs.

    And the Middle east has little arable land compared to Africa’s abundance of it…yet it’s the Africans that are starving.

    What’s the difference?

  19. I happen to have been to Africa. East Africa, anyway, and I can enlighten you a little about what I saw. First, “Africa” is not a monolith. The continent is huge and there are substantial differences. What this means is, some parts of Africa are starving, mostly in the Sahel region, largely due to droughts and the advancement of the Sahara. A lot of it isn’t.

    East Africa was poor, but only in a relative sense. Lot of people there live the way people did in the nineteenth century, although even in very poor places there was often internet access, satellite tv, and shops where you could pay to play video games. The most isolated I was at was about twenty or thirty miles from the nearest phone or powerline, yet there was still one generator and satellite television in the village, which was fired up for a few hours every day. There was an army garrison (this was on the border between Tanzania and Zambia) but no police. None were needed.

    Violence in East Africa is worst in the cities but generally rare in the smaller towns and the rural area. Women travelling alone in the towns along Lake Tanganyika were usually told to be back at their hotel by midnight. Most people are law-abiding and the Islamic areas are the safest.

    Economically, Tanzania and Kenya are stunted by excessive government bureaucracy that leads, naturally, to corruption. That is, if there were no regulations, then no one could use them to demand a payoff. Nonetheless there is growth and even gradual reform. Uganda has the fastest reforms and the fastest economic growth. It’s also more densely populated but is capable of growing enough food to support itself.

    In short, much of what you have heard about Africa is either exaggeration or a lie, at least in the case of the three countries I visited. And while “aid” looks impressive on paper, it usually goes to contractors who are well connected to the donor, working on the pet projects and schemes of the donor. In other words, the money Congress and Parliaments spend in Africa is no more wisely allocated than the money they spend at home. Are you shocked? Frankly, the Eritreans are right to reject aid-especially loans.

  20. madpad- The other areas you cite have the benefit of homogenous populations. This was not the case in Africa, where various tribes all consider themselves to be specific, distinct groups with grievances against their neighbors. And the old problems created at the beginning of colonial days were never fixed; the borders created to prevent any group from gaining too much power by itself remain in existence even today. There are specifics actions which could be taken for certain tribes, but the only thing which could really stop the fighting quickly would be to restructure the borders so that the tribes don’t come into conflict. Now, this wouldn’t solve the economic difficulties, which are, as James notes, largely the result of corrupt officials giving favorable contracts to friends, but it would help the completely seperate issue of the often bloody fighting between tribes, which will be necessary to address the economic issues.

  21. Shem and James,

    Thanks again for the insight.

    There was a time when the Middle East was not so homogenous. About 100 years ago to be exact.

    But then they had the Ottoman Empire to unite against. I wonder if that has anything to do with Africa’s constant bloody neighbor disputes…no one to rise up and find commonality with in order to best an oppressor. Instead, just a bunch of people trying to help.

    Not that helping is a bad thing in itself. But if it’s ineffective…

  22. There are specifics actions which could be taken for certain tribes, but the only thing which could really stop the fighting quickly would be to restructure the borders so that the tribes don’t come into conflict.

    Didn’t they try this already with India and Pakistan? or Yugoslavia? Or Israel and Palestine? Partitioning those areas between different ethnic groups didn’t exactly resolve ethnic difficulties. Plus its very hard to draw borders in areas where there is a long history of inter-tribal contacts. Just look at Rwanda. It would be impossible to separate the Hutus from the Tutsis barring some major resettlement plan.

  23. India and Pakistan haven’t fought any wars lately, have they? And, I thought that splitting up Yugoslavia was what *stopped* most of the ethnic clensing. Was I wrong?

    At any rate, “redistricting” Africa wouldn’t be as difficult as one might think.* Most tribes have specific areas where they’re the either the only ones around or where they have come to terms with their neighbors. The problems today usually come about in either A) places where a large country holds two or more groups of competing interests (like Sudan) or B) Places where problems were hyped up by Europeans during peoples who had previously gotten along, as in Rwanda. The Hutus and the Tutsis didn’t even exist until the Dutch created an arbitrary split based on their looks. And if for some reason they can’t get along, I’d rather spend money to move people to an area where they won’t feel the need to fight than spend it to bury the dead that come about as a result of doing nothing.

    *assuming the people there agree to it, of course.

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