They signed a "peace accord" on Burundi a couple of weeks ago. I guess it makes some people feel better, writing out these treaties and getting the local gangs to sign on the dotted line for human rights and kindness to animals. I hope so, because it sure doesn't accomplish anything else. There's a war in Burundi, and there always will be, and no signatures on UN letterhead are going to stop it.
People know that by now. We all know these treaties don't matter. You see a headline "Peace Treaty in Congo" or "Accord Signed on Rwanda" and you go on to the next story, because you know it doesn't mean a thing. Even the words they use sound fake, like "accord." It's one of those words they only use in the papers. They could sign an accord a day in Central Africa, in fact it seems like they do, and the only difference it would make would be on some bureaucrat's resume.
Maybe that's what these deals are about, when you come down to it -- getting it on your resume, so you can go back to the State Department and say, "I'm the guy that brokered Peace Treaty No. 3,549 in Rwanda/Burundi/Congo/Uganda/-Tanzania. It was a great treaty, too -- lasted almost two weeks!"
All those countries, jammed up against each other -- that's part of the problem. The more countries you have on your borders, the more enemies you've got. If you've ever played Risk (and if you haven't played Risk, what the hell are you doing reading my column?) you know that the worst continent to have is Europe, because it can be attacked from about half the countries on the board, and the best one to have is Australia, because even if it's only worth two armies, you can only attack it from one country, so all you have to do is pile armies up on New Guinea and you just rake in your two armies every turn.
Burundi would be the worst country on the board in Risk, because it's tiny, not worth much, and open to attack from just about anywhere south of the Sahara. All these countries are like an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter in reverse. They're like war junkies who keep each other from quitting. If peace breaks out in Uganda, there's always a war next door in Tanzania or Congo ready to "spill over" (that's the word the newspapers always use) and start things up again. Then when Tanzania goes quiet, there's always some handy little brush war in Uganda ready to return the favor. The regional motto should be, "Hey buddy, got a light?"
When you look hard at a place like Burundi, you start to realize that war is normal in most of the world. Tribes move around, try to grab the good land just over the next hill, and when they do, the locals try to push them back. Boom, you've got a war.
Europe used to be like that. People don't remember that the Hungarians only got to Europe a thousand years ago. They came straight off the Steppes and cut through Eastern Europe like a smalltime Mongol horde, and when they came to a nice piece of grazing land they said, "We're staying." In those days, it was tribes, not land, that counted. So a king wasn't king of any particular piece of land, he was king of his tribe of people: "King of the Franks," or "King of the Magyar." The big battles come when one tribe decides to make the move on another tribe. That's what the battle of Hastings was, for one example: Normans vs. Saxons in a classic gang turf war, South Central LA with chain-mail hauberks instead of Raiders jackets.
Central Africa is like Europe used to be: people are still moving around, trying to elbow themselves some room. A thousand years ago the only people in Burundi or Rwanda were the pygmies. It's too bad they didn't get to keep the place. It'd be a blast, nothing but gorillas and pygmies. But it was too good to last. Bantu people, taller, darker tribes who raised cattle and farmed crops, came down from the North and started killing off or enslaving the pygmies, chopping down the forests, and multiplying. Most of the time, farmer-tribes end up defeating hunter-tribes, because farms make more food, so the farmers outnumber the hunters in a generation or so. So the Bantu farmers outnumbered the Pygmy hunters in a few generations.