This is the second chapter of Robert Young Pelton and Tim Freccia’s sprawling 35,000-plus word epic exploration of the crisis in South Sudan. We will release a new chapter daily, but you can skip ahead read the full text here or watch the documentary.
Do not believe almost anything you read or hear about Africa, especially concerning the continent’s cultural sensitivity, ethnic peculiarities, or borders. The source of this information usually has an agenda, is an outright bigot or moron, or has some misguided notion of how African salvation might eventually occur at some wholly imagined point in the future. Forget everything and just be honest: Greater Africa is a country, or is at least treated as one by most of the world, no matter how politically incorrect it may be to plainly state such a thing. It’s a market and a marketing hook; it’s a carefully analyzed genre of the fashion, music, and travel industries; and above all else, it is and always has been a singular obsession of the West. It’s the place somebody is always trying to save.
How South Sudan Got Lost
Sudan was once home to a great civilization that was the most advanced in all of Africa—but centuries of colonialism and conflict, and a post-independence period ravaged by coups, dictatorships, and incompetent rule, mired Sudan in a series of never-ending wars. This timeline details how by 2013, the oil-rich, fertile nation was falling apart.
COWBOY CAPITALISTS - PART 1
For maverick entrepreneur Ian Cox, Africa is the last frontier of free enterprise. The former small-time hustler has been busting his ass on the continent for years, selling and moving merchandise. In 2011 he nabbed a lucrative United Nations contract to transport equipment from South Africa to South Sudan, a country on many countries’ embargo list. The other problem: the journey north entails passing through countless checkpoints and dealing with bribe-happy officials and their nonsensical paperwork and regulations.
What Was the South African Military Doing in the Central African Republic?
African politics is a weird mixture of ancient tribal mentalities and democratic ideals imported from the West. It’s proven to be a pretty volatile combination on the continent and one that spurs much of its political strife. One country that’s had to deal with the consequences of that unique approach to governance recently is the landlocked Central African Republic (CAR), home to a violent upheaval that’s been going on since late last year.
In January 2013, South Africa’s ruling ANC party sent 400 troops to the CAR. Ostensibly, they were there to help the country’s president, Francois Bozizé, fight Séléka, the coalition of rebel groups revolting against Bozizé and his government (they allege that Bozizé isn’t honoring peace agreements made after the 2004-2007Central African Republic Bush War). The thing is, the Central African Republic had been suspended from the African Union because of the uprising, which—in theory—should have disqualified them from receiving external military aid.
There is much speculation over why South African President Jacob Zuma deployed his forces to support the CAR’s clearly failing and dictatorial government. The theory picking up the most steam is that both the ANC and a number of its individual members have private mineral and natural resource interests in the CARthat they wish to protect. There are many South African companies exploiting the oil the CAR has to offer, with most of them linked to powerful political figures in South Africa and arguably fueling the coffers that drive the ANC’s political machine.
One such company is DIG Oil, a company prospecting in the southeast of the CAR. Zuma’s nephew sits on the board of DIG Oil—something that suggests Zuma might have more than a passing business interest in the company. It also suggests—if you’re a fan of linking pretty blatant points—that Zuma may well be using the South African military as a private security service to protect his and his cronies’ international business interests.
Simon Mann Says He Was Asked to Help Start the Iraq War
Simon Mann is a British mercenary, most famous for his failed 2004 coup attempt against Teodoro Obiang, president of Equatorial Guinea. An ex-Special Forces soldier, Simon cofounded the private military company Executive Outcomes, which at its height in the mid-90s ran two African wars and used oil money to fund a full-on air force and thousands of private soldiers.
In 2004, after pocketing millions fighting rebels in Angola and, he says, protecting a free election in Sierra Leone, Simon’s luck ran out. He’d been hired to fly to Equatorial Guinea with 69 South African heavies, capture the airport, and escort an opposition leader to the presidential palace. During a layover in Zimbabwe to collect guns and refuel, he was busted.
He ended up in Chikurubi Prison, one of Zimbabwe’s nastiest, before being extradited to Equatorial Guinea four years later. There he spent a year and a half in solitary at Black Beach prison, one of Africa’s nastiest, before being pardoned. Simon has written a book about his adventures, there’s a movie in the pipeline, and he’s working on a novel he wrote in jail. Between all that, he spoke to me about coups, spies, and kick-starting the Iraq War.
Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone.
VICE: The world of mercenaries is a pretty murky one. How did you get to the top of it?
Simon Mann: Not on purpose. I left the SAS in 1992 and joined an oil company that had one project in Soyo, Angola. I went into the office one day and they said, “This is it; we’re fucked.” UNITA rebels had gone back to war, against the treaties they’d signed, and had captured Soyo, ending our business. I suggested that we retake the town. Two months later, we did. Then the government asked us to take the whole country back. We said “Yep, but it’s going to cost you.” We eventually had 2,000 men under contract and a turnover of $19.5 million every nine months.
A nice little earner. Then you went to Sierra Leone?
Yeah. The Sierra Leoneans asked us to go diamond mining there, but there was a problem: a really bad war. So we told the president we’d help him if we could get help applying for a legal diamond concession. It cost us millions to keep fighting, but our money was coming from the war in Angola, which is what made us different from other warlords—we were reinvesting in Africa. Just as we were leaving, the president asked us to stay and secure the election, so it was us—not the UN—who protected that election. We kept asking, “What kind of fucking mercenaries are we?” We were the nicest, most well-behaved bunch ever.
Simon in Namibia, 1993.
Weren’t you also asked to help kick start the Iraq War in 2002?
Yes. Someone who said he was friends with the American neocons asked me to come up with ideas to get the war kicked off. The first was to pick an Iraqi city away from Baghdad, go there with a rebel force made up of 6,000 Iraqi émigrés, take the city, then say, “Yah boo” to Saddam. That would have forced him to come get us and be zapped on the road by the UK and US, or let the flag of rebellion spread.
The second was far more criminal. We wanted to buy an old rust-bucket ship, sail it to Karachi, load up secretly with some weapons-grade uranium, or whatever, then sail it into the Gulf with a motley crew, including me. We’d then leak our presence to the Saudis, get the navy to intercept us, sink their ship—hopefully without killing anyone—then sail into Basra. The world would have gone nuts and we’d have had an excuse for war in Iraq.
That’s pretty scandalous.
Well, yes. We actually got feedback saying that they liked the ideas, but not me. I believed them.
Is This the Century of Africa’s Rise?
For decades, the dominant African narrative in the media was of famine, war, and disease. Recently, in light of a perceived economic upturn and a relative reduction in famine and disease across most of the continent, the narrative has changed to one of thrusting progress. The Economist and TIME magazine have both published big articles in the last two years called “Africa Rising,” complete with positive economic statistics and photos of children flying rainbow kites in the shape of the African continent.
We have moved from pictures of starving children with flies crawling across their faces to pictures of young men in big cities talking on mobile phones. Of course, neither narrative is correct. No narrative that attempts to take on something so large and diffuse can ever be correct. But there is something about these conveniently totalizing stories that fires the passions of believers and cynics alike. Believers point to fast-growing economies and fragile but intact democracies, non-believers refer to what the Kenyan writer and investigative journalist Parselelo Kantai told me was an “insidious little fiction manufactured by global corporate finance.”
The idea of Africa’s rise comes from a straightforward interpretation of high growth rates and increased foreign investment in parts of the continent. As The Economist’s piece pointed out, “over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African.” According to McKinsey & Company, real GDP in Africa grew twice as fast in the 00s as it did in the 80s and 90s. Suddenly everyone has a mobile phone and that mobile phone has great reception.
Renaissance Capital’s Charles Robertson, author of The Fastest Billion, drew my attention to annual growth rates of “around six percent across sub-Sahara since 2000. Some say rapid growth is inevitable from a low base. This is nonsense. People got poorer in sub-Saharan Africa from 1980 to 2000.” Recent growth in Africa and rapid increases in Asia-Africa trade and investment have taken place against a backdrop of global austerity. As people struggle desperately in southern Europe, gas and oil resources are enriching a new generation in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and even—if proposed exploration occurs this year—Somalia and Somaliland.
The problem, though, is that most of this wealth is extractive. There is, as Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, told me, a “lack of value added on the African side.” “The energy companies are seeing massive domestic demand from Asia and they are capitalizing on that,” he said.
Parselelo Kantai put it more bluntly: “What is happening on the continent economically is a new era of massive resource extraction, catalyzed mostly by Chinese domestic demands. And because it is almost exclusively extraction without on-site value addition, it’s a process where the continent’s elites, the Chinese and Westerners, are the only people who benefit. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be called by its real name: the Second Scramble for Africa.”
What both Smith and Kantai are referring to is a system in which an elite minority, often not from Africa, benefit extraordinarily from the natural resources the continent has and the world needs. The outsiders may not wear pith helmets and long for a proper cup of tea any more, but it’s colonial business as usual.
Bush League Rebels - Watch our new documentary about Kony, M23, and the real rebels of Congo
Last Stop, Tel Aviv is the story of the 60,000 asylum seekers living in Israel’s capital. Escaping dictatorships and indefinite military conscription, Africans flee their homelands in the hope of a better life, but arrive to find that they are criminalized, vilified, and unrecognized in the Israeli state. We got to know this marginalized population, who have no place in society and no option to return home.
A PERPLEXING SURVEY OF THE CONGO’S MYRIAD RESISTANCE GROUPS
On my first day embedded with the UN stabilization force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I visited a camp in the city of Goma set up to house rebel combatants who had recently surrendered. The facility was split along ethnic and administrative lines, with only a chain-link fence separating Hutu and Tutsi fighters who, out in the bush, have been spilling each other’s blood by the bucket for decades.
Alongside the scarred and lean young fighters at the camp were dozens of women—“bush wives,” we were told—and their children, all born in the jungle. Most of these women had been taken as sex slaves, who pull double duty as domestic servants forced to cook, mend, and serve as porters for their captors. Already warned by my UN minders that they were concerned about the extent of my coverage, I asked the camp’s public information officer, Sam, how close I could get when snapping photos. “Get your pictures,” he replied. “Just, please, avoid the children.”
Goma is the capital city of the North Kivu province of the DRC and is situated in one of the world’s worst geopolitical neighborhoods. To the southeast, there’s the Rwandan border, which largely consists of mountain jungles through which scores of Hutu militants passed in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, fleeing punishment for their role in the massacre of Tutsis there. Over the course of the next decade, this armed migration directly contributed to the escalation of ethnic and factional tensions in the First and Second Congo Wars, in which an estimated 5 million people were murdered. Meanwhile, to the northeast of Goma, the West Nile region of Uganda has served as a transportation corridor for heavily armed Acholi-speaking fanatics like Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—who were made infamous by Invisible Children’s viral KONY 2012 documentary—to cross the border and drive deep into the DRC, where they’ve engaged in all sorts of ruthless behavior, like herding villagers into churches before burning them down to the ground.
FDLR ex-combatants, bush wives, and their children are processed for intake at a UN transit camp in Goma, North Kivu.
While KONY 2012 got a lot of flack for focusing on a rebel faction that had largely dissipated by the time of its release, ethnic conflicts are still erupting throughout the DRC, albeit of different varieties. These ethnic tensions are in turn exacerbating an already raging fight between local groups to control the illicit mining of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan, and other minerals essential to the manufacturing of everything from smartphones to air bags to jet engines. As a result of these tensions, a slew of foreign and native Hutu and Tutsi militias have renewed hostilities against each other.