The eccentric atmosphere following the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s President, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity (short of genocide) in Darfur open the obscurities of evil in Africa for the past 50 years.
In some sort of grim moment, al-Bashir and the ICC are quarrelling over the darkness in Darfur, where the United Nations estimates that over 300,000 people (and still counting) have died in the past six years of the conflict. So, what have al-Bashir being doing in the past years to have prevented such evil? And al-Bashir, with a cold-shoulder, denies the ICC charges and dismisses any ruling by the ICC as insignificant and rejects the chilling pains, horrors, darkness, and deaths hovering over Darfur.
Africans, who have over the past 50 years seen other horrifying evils across their borders, are a bit relieved over the al-Bashir indictment – at least, for now, psychologically. Al Bashir’s formal arrest and trial will add up to the updating on Liberia’s Charles Taylor, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s ex-warlord Thomas Lubanga and Chad’s Hissène Habré. And as Clifton Crais meditates in Politics of Evil, Africans, with the help of the international community, are capable of fighting evils that have destroyed their progress as they did against one of the great evils of the 20th century – South Africa’s apartheid.
For the past decades, from Idi Amin’s Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa’s Central African Republic (CAR), Samuel Doe’s Liberia, Foday Sankoh’s Sierra Leone, Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia to Juvénal Habyarimana’s Rwanda, stains of deadly ethnicity, threats, frightening tension, harassments, massacres, witchcraft, human sacrifices, genocides, deaths, civil wars, famine, murders, floods, locusts and other natural disasters have visited Africa.
With fast developing global communication gadgets, Africa’s evils are being tracked day in, day out by satellites, video clips, radio, mobile phones, photographs, and computers, showing vivid clarities of the heavy suffering of the people of Darfur, CAR’s north-east region, Chad’s Zaghawa and Tama ethnic groups and the DRC’s eastern region. Video clips released by the British-based Aegis Trust show a Sudanese government soldier saying he was forced to rape at gunpoint by a senior officer and other doers said such acts were intended to make babies of a different race.
Now and then, an evil, a true chasm.
An evening newscast would tell the natural tribulations – the Supreme Being (God)’s anger and nature – locusts’ outbreak in Mali, the Gambia, Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso, the floods in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia, the deaths by cholera in Zimbabwe, and ebola outbreak in the DRC. As Darfur shows, it would add up to moral evils – the horrors accomplished by Africa’s “Big Men” and their foreign accomplices. After Darfur, Liberia and Sierra Leone, anything new about Africa’s evils? Hackings in apartheid South Africa? The simultaneous assassination of Guinea-Bissau’s President Bernardo Vieira and Chief of its Armed Forces, Gen. Tagme na Waie, on purely tribal hatred? A baby, called Mercy, left to die in Ghana’s Upper West region for allegedly being a witch? Or the constant kidnappings in Nigeria’s fidgety Niger Delta region where pregnant women are raped to death? Its being awhile in 2005 when the charity Medecine Sans Frontieres reported that almost 500 cases of rape against women, children and men in Darfur – the horror is still going on.
From genocide, rape, human sacrifices, floods, moral evils, cannibalism to juju-marabout mediums and witchdoctors messing up families, Africa has seen all evils and appears to have explored all sorts of evil deeds. Villages and farms burned in Sierra Leone and Liberia during their civil wars were evils made noticeable. The evil turned people’s shelters and livehood upside down, with some committing suicide as a result.
Despite highly developed high-tech war gadgets, the genocide in Rwanda saw the use of crude weapons – machetes. In Conspiracy to Murder – the Rwandan Genocide, Linda Melvern explains how machetes were purposely imported from Egypt and France to commit the genocide in an atmosphere of frightful tribalism. In the Liberian civil war, both President Samuel Doe and then rebel leader Charles Taylor used sophisticated weapons and demonized each other as evil. Doe had Taylor as evil, Taylor had Doe as evil. After Doe’s murder and with Taylor confronted with new war as President, Taylor came down as the evil one by rebel forces. Liberian women organized protests that helped push Taylor into exile in Nigeria and later on his on-going trial at The Hague on eleven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other slaughter.
Is there more or less evil in Africa today?
Is there more or less evil in Africa today than 50 years ago? As Ghana and Benin Republic exemplify, the past years have brought the triumph of democratic order and freedoms against long years of detestable military juntas and insomniac one-party systems. In Ethiopia and Benin Republic communism collapsed; in South Africa apartheid was toppled; the end of the Cold War freed Africa as the threatre of Superpower rival that left Somalia burnt down and Liberia in the gutter. But state violence persists in most African states – in the style of CAR’s Bokassa, Guinea’s Sekou Toure and Mobutu’s Zaire.
Across Africa, democracy and freedoms are flowering, though with pains, announcing the beginning of history, with mass communications and global prosperity knocking down the old order. Africa can take satisfaction from the progress of Ghana, Cape Verde, Senegal, Tanzania, Benin, South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius, without disparagement, that reason, the rule of law, freedoms, human rights and democracy are pushing out some of its evils into the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and enlightening the continent.
But as Somalia, CAR, the DRC and Darfur show some parts of Africa are concurrently darker. The amputations in Sierra Leone and the dismembering of people in Liberia during their respective civil wars not only announced that each African era reveals its own evils but also the sorting out of different darkness. In some parts of Africa evil may be changing its priorities and intentions but pretty much of it remain the same – human sacrifices remains the same, and is increasing in Gabon over the past twenty years, where Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo, a school teacher, has been waging national campaigns against human sacrifices after his 12-year-old son and a friend were ritualistically killed, their dismembered bodies washed up on a Libreville beach.
From the African culture to the practices of their nation-states, evil does exist – Africans do not argue about that, they know all about the horrors evil brings, as new killing-fields, from DRC, Darfur to Somalia, show, the level of horrors still shock even the most hardened observers, revealing how violent, corrupt, atrocious and vicious Africa’s evil perpetrators can be. Natural evils or the hands of the Supreme Being? The 2000 catastrophic flood in Mozambique that made many homeless, about 800 people killed, over 1,400 km² of arable land destroyed and over 20,000 head of cattle lost, the worst in 50 years, shows nature’s impulses and brutalities that go past reasoning.
But though Africans know evil exist, they do not give it too much credit, to do that is to give more power to evil than good. Africans acknowledge that their cultural universe is a battleground between evil and good forces, the outcome not in doubt, where good triumph over evil, over witchcraft and demons. As the re-marking of Uganda by Yoweri Museveni shows after Idi Amin’s cataclysm, Africans know evil is temporary but good is permanent. From the various Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, Africans, who are one of the most forgiving of humanity, do not allow their lower instincts and tragedies grow-up as the dominant idea. To do that is to make evil equal to the Supreme Being. What passes for evil, such as a baby called Mercy abandoned to die in Ghana’s Upper West region, for allegedly being a witch, may be mere ignorance that can be corrected with public human rights education. Guinea-Bissau’s dark metaphysics can be managed by the regional body ECOWAS seeing it as outlandish accidents or absolute stupidity.
Or, for the matter of evil challenging the Supreme Being, Zambia’s ex-Roman Catholic Archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo, talks of the fact that in African tradition, development occurs only when the metaphysical is balanced with the physical. And where there is no balance, crises occur. Here darkness isn’t empowered; the darkness hasn’t the same power as the light.
But as Africans deal with evil, the issue is being moved out of their metaphysics into the intellectual framework, into the human agency, into the ICC, into the various Truth and Reconciliation Commissions across Africa, into the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, into the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone and the growing democracies, the rule of law and freedoms across the continent. This means evil as an African dilemma will be solved more intelligently outside the African cosmological context.
This moves the evil discussions out of African fatalism and “na god mak am” (God has destined it) syndrome, as the Sierra Leonean would say, to the holistic, making the evil-doers responsible for their actions, as human agencies, and not some demons, evil spirits influencing malevolent perpetrators. When in DRC’s Ituri province between June 2007 and June 2008, 6,766 cases of rape were reported, according to the UN, with 43% involving children, the evil debate was being addressed outside demonology to the intellectual framework, to the real world. Despite that, as Lance Morrow explains in Evil: An Investigation, evil is amorphous, intellectually unmanageable, an anonymous, hideous charm, difficult to comprehend, and no explanation as to what it is despite attempts by geo-politics and sociobiology to do so.