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The War Nerd March 3, 2003
 
Congo: The War without Battles
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 4
 
A lot of African countries got lucky when independence came in the 60s. Either there was one dominant tribe covering most of the country, or there'd been a century or so of "civilization" that built some sort of educated class who were ready to take over. Congo didn't have either. Leopold hadn't even bothered to teach the Congolese a thing. He just wanted the rubber -- or the hands. Most of the country was thick jungle, with the river the only way to travel.
Lt. Col. Freddy Ngalimo (MLC)

Lt. Col. Freddy Ngalimo (MLC)

The biggest, strongest tribes in Central Africa were the Hutu and the Tutsi, who were based in Rwanda and Burundi. They ended up in power over various parts of Congo at the end of the century just because nobody in Congo had the organization. The Hutu and the Tutsi are real law-abiding, organized people. If you've only heard about them from the genocide news out of Rwanda, that might seem surprising. But...well, to understand this you have to be willing to tell the bitter truth. And here it is: the people who do genocide best are law-abiding, decent, stand-up folks. Strange but true. Take the Germans: wouldn't hurt a fly...unless someone in uniform told them to. Then they would fry every fly on the planet.

The Tutsi and Hutu had been lucky -- in a way. The European colonists liked hanging out in the Hutu and Tutsis' homelands, Rwanda and Burundi -- cool mountain air, fertile volcanic soil. And they liked these two intelligent, obedient tribes. So they, um, "civilized" them. The Hutu and Tutsi turned into the most literate, Christian, tidy, hard-working people in Central Africa. Then the Europeans overseers left...and after a little while these two tribes get that old itch to wipe each other out. It was all organized. The churches helped out. Two of the big war criminals were nuns. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, imagining hundreds of thousands of neat, clean Hutus with machetes running around cheerfully hacking every Tutsi or Tutsi-lover they catch. The old line, "I was just following orders," may seem pretty lame, but after you read about the Hutu killers you end up kind of believing it. They did it because they were told to.

Rwanda and Burundi are two small, heavily-populated countries due east of Congo -- so you could guess their well-trained killers might be looking west and getting excited. Meanwhile, who was running the store in Congo? Bad news: it was a corrupt, superstitious, stupid, dying old jerk-off named Mobutu -- a guy only a CIA bagman could love. (We can really pick'em, all right!) With Mobutu in charge, Congo wasn't a country, it was a racket. You always hear reporters jabbering about what a shame it is that, "...with all its mineral riches and natural wealth," Congo is still a hellhole. Well, with leaders like Mobutu, Heaven would be a hellhole in no time. He knew how to do two things: steal, and play one tribe against another. That was all he needed to stay in power for life -- meaning until '97, when the bastard finally died.

Under Mobutu, Congo was officially "at peace." Which meant it was small-scale stuff, murder and torture, instead of big armies. It'd be a lie to call that "Peace," but it kept Congo out of the headlines. When "war" came, it was thanks to that dynamic duo, the Tutsis and the Hutus. Congo was too fucked up to have a war by itself. To have a war, you need organization. Soldiers who obey orders. Lines of communication. The only people in the neighborhood who had what it took to make a war were...you guessed it! Those Hatfields'n'McCoys of Central Africa: the Hutus and the Tutsis!

The bloodbath really got going in the early 90s, after a suspicious plane crash that killed the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi. The Rwandan Hutus polished up their machetes and started killing Tutsi. Maybe a million or so. Only then did the feud spill over into that big stinking power vacuum to the west: Congo.


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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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