26 June 2011

Capt. Cook, Guugu Yimidhirr, and Kangaroos

From: Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (Picador, 2002), pp. 182-184:
Guns weren't the settlers' only weapons. Aborigines had little resistance to Western disease, or to alcohol. Chinese immigrants introduced opium, which Aborigines consumed by mixing the drug's ash with water and drinking it. The Guugu Yimidhirr, like many Aboriginal clans, appeared headed for extinction—a fate little mourned by white Australians....

In the case of the Guugu Yimidhirr, it was Cook who proved their salvation, albeit indirectly. A German translation of Cook's voyages inspired a young Bavarian, Johann Flierl, to set off in the 1880s "as a missionary to the most distant heathen land with its still quite untouched peoples." He created a Lutheran mission near Cooktown that became a refuge for Aborigines. Flierl named the mission Elim, after an oasis the Israelites found during their exodus from Egypt. As oases went, Queensland's Elim wasn't much: a sandy, infertile patch north of Cooktown. But it grew into a stable community, and its school educated scores of Aborigines, some of whom became nationally prominent.

One such success story was Eric Deeral, who served in the 1970s as the first Aboriginal representative in Queensland's parliament. I tracked him down late one afternoon at his daughter's modest bungalow a few blocks from Cooktown's main street. A small, very dark-skinned man, he met my knock at the door with a wary expression and a curt "May I help you?" When I burbled about my travels, his face widened into a welcoming smile. "Come in, come in, I love talking about Cook!" After several days of conversing about little except "ferals," rooting crocodiles, and rugby league, it was a relief to find someone who shared my passion for the navigator.

Eric showed me into a small office he kept at the front of the bungalow. The bookshelf included several volumes about Cook. Like Johann Flierl, Eric had been fascinated since childhood by the image of first contact between Europeans and native peoples untouched by the West. He'd quizzed Aboriginal elders about stories they'd heard of Cook and his men. "At first, our people thought they were overgrown babies," he said. Aboriginal newborns, Eric explained, are often much paler than adults. But once the Guugu Yimidhirr saw the newcomers' power, particularly the noise and smoke of their guns, they came to believe the strangers were white spirits, or ghosts of deceased Aborigines. "Lucky for Cook, white spirits are viewed as benign," Eric said. "If they'd been seen as dark spirits, my ancestors probably would have speared them."...

Listening to Eric, I felt the giddy thrill of unlocking small mysteries that had been sealed inside the English journals for more than two centuries. Blind Freddy might know the answers, but no books I'd read had provided them. Eric ran his finger down the list of native words Parkinson had collected. "If you read closely, you can almost see these men, groping to understand each other," he said. Yowall, for instance, meant beach, not sand, as Parkinson had written. "One of our men probably pointed across the river at the sandy shore on the other side," Eric said. Similarly, wageegee meant scar, not head—perhaps the man who had told it to the English was pointing to a cut brow when he said the word.

As for kangooroo, this was a fair approximation of the Guugu Yimidhirr word, which Eric rendered gangurru. But Aborigines, unlike Maori and Tahitians, didn't have a shared language; living in small, widely scattered groups, they spoke scores of different tongues. The English failed to recognize this. The result was a comically circular instance of linguistic transmission. Officers of the First Fleet, familiar with the Endeavour's journals, used the words Cook and his men had collected in Queensland to try and communicate with Botany Bay Aborigines eighteen years later.

"Whatever animal is shown them," a frustrated officer on the Fleet reported, "they call kangaroo." Even the sight of English sheep and cattle prompted the Gwyeagal to cheerfully cry out "Kangaroo, kangaroo!" In fact, the Gwyeagal had no such word in their vocabulary (they called the marsupial patagorang). Rather, they'd picked up "kangaroo" from the English and guessed that it referred to all large beasts. So a word that originated with an encounter between Cook and a small clan in north Queensland traveled to England with the Endeavour, then back to Botany Bay with the First Fleet, and eventually became the universal name for Australia's symbol. There was an added twist. The Guugu Yimidhirr had ten different words for the marsupials, depending on their size and color. "Gangurru means a large gray or black kangaroo," Eric said. "If Cook had asked about a small red one, the whole world would be saying nharrgali today."

23 June 2011

Finding Yankee Graves in the South, 1866

From This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (Knopf, 2008), Kindle Loc. 3553-3591 (p. 225):
Locating the many graves scattered beyond actual battlefields—casualties from skirmishes, or wounded men who died on the march, or men who succumbed to disease—required Whitman to seek information from local citizens who might have seen or heard of buried soldiers or even assisted in their interments. “As a rule,” he later remembered, “no residence or person was to be passed without the inquiry. ‘Do you know, or have you heard of any graves of Union soldiers in this neighborhood?’” When he arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, Whitman called upon the town postmaster, a federal employee after all, who might be expected to be both knowledgeable and helpful to a Union official. Whitman received not assistance but a warning. The postmaster declared that he would not dare tell a Yankee soldier about Union graves, even if he knew of them. Since the postmaster had taken the loyalty oath to qualify for his position at the end of the war, all his friends, cultivated during nineteen years of residence in the town, had abandoned him. He had even been asked to cease attending his church. “I am informed,” Whitman wrote his commanding officer, “that a disposition has been shown in this vicinity to obliterate and destroy all traces of the graves union soldiers find scattered in the country.”

Farther south the Union dead seemed to be in even more distressing circumstances. Whitman discovered “immense numbers” of bodies in the area between Vicksburg and Natchez—perhaps, he thought, as many as forty thousand. These corpses were in every imaginable place and condition: buried on river embankments and then wholly or partially washed away (there were even reports of coffins floating like little boats down the Mississippi toward the sea), or abandoned in “ravines and jungles and dense cane brakes” and never buried at all. A farmer named Linn, who wanted to extend his cotton fields, had plowed up about thirty Union skeletons and then delivered the bones “in bulk” to the Vicksburg city cemetery. Not far away a Union graveyard had been leveled entirely to make way for a racecourse.

As Whitman pursued his explorations, three hundred black soldiers at the Stones River National Cemetery continued to collect and rebury Union bodies from the wide surrounding area at the rate of fifty to a hundred a day. Stones River represented a pioneering example of the comprehensive reburial effort that by the summer of 1866 had come to be seen as necessary across the South. It also represented the critical role that African Americans had come to play in honoring the Union dead. Almost invariably units of U.S. Colored Troops were assigned the disagreeable work of burial and reburial, and Whitman’s own exploration party included several soldiers from U.S. Colored regiments. Individual black civilians also proved critical to Whitman’s effort to locate corpses and graves.

“Justice to the race of freedmen,” Whitman reported to headquarters, demands “a tribute of grateful mention.” Rebuffed in his search for information by whites like the Mississippi postmaster, Whitman learned to turn to black southerners for help as he traversed the South in the spring and fall of 1866. “Most all the information gained” at one Georgia location, he reported to his journal, “was from negroes, who, as I was told … pay more attention to such matters than the white people.” There was a good deal more at issue here, Whitman soon recognized, than just attentiveness. Black southerners cared for the Union dead as a gesture of political assertiveness as well as a demonstration of gratitude and respect.

During the war African Americans had risked their lives burying Union soldiers and trying to preserve both their names and their graves. About two miles from Savannah, in a corner of “the Negro Cemetery,” lay seventy-seven “graves of colored soldiers” in four neat rows. All but three were identified, all in “very good condition,” and all marked with “good painted headboards.” This was the last resting place of the dead of a unit of U.S. Colored Troops, carefully buried and tended by the freedpeople of the area. Whitman encountered other sites where former slaves had interred Yankees and still watched over their graves. Behind an African Colored Church near Bowling Green, Kentucky, for example, 1,134 well-tended graves sheltered both black and white Union soldiers. A black carpenter nearby was able to provide the most useful information about the area because he had made coffins and helped to bury many of the Union dead himself.

Freedmen provided Whitman with assistance and information throughout his travels. Moses Coleman, “an intelligent negro,” sought Whitman out to tell him about the graves of nine Union soldiers who had been shot by Confederate cavalry after being taken prisoner: “one of whom he saw shot after being compelled to climb a tree.” A freedman eagerly offered the names and locations of two soldiers he had buried more than a year before; another former slave reported his employer’s desecration of soldiers’ graves and offered to identify thirty on his plantation that still remained undefiled.

The Fourth Battle of Winchester, 1866

From This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (Knopf, 2008), Kindle Loc. 3803-3814, 3829-3836 (pp. 241, 243):
The northern reburial movement was an official, even a professional effort, removed by both geography and bureaucracy from the lives of most northern citizens; it was the work—and expense—of the Quartermaster Corps, the U.S. Army, and the federal government. In the South care for the Confederate dead was of necessity the work of the people, at least the white people; it became a grass-roots undertaking that mobilized the white South in ways that extended well beyond the immediate purposes of bereavement and commemoration.

Winchester, in the northernmost part of Virginia, had been a site of almost unrelieved military activity, including three major Battles of Winchester, one each in 1862, 1863, and 1864; the town was said to have changed hands more than seventy times in the course of the war. The dead surrounded Winchester as they did Richmond, and women organized similarly to honor them. Fanny Downing, who assumed the presidency of the Ladies Association for the Fitting Up of Stonewall Jackson Cemetery, issued an “Address to the Women of the South” that echoed Richmond’s Mrs. William McFarland. “Let us remember,” her broadside cried, “that we belong to that sex which was last at the cross, first at the grave … Let us go now, hand in hand, to the graves of our country’s sons, and as we go let our energies be aroused and our hearts be thrilled by this thought: It is the least thing we can do for our soldiers.
On October 25, 1866, a crowd five thousand strong gathered to dedicate Winchester’s Stonewall Cemetery, graveyard for 2,494 Confederate soldiers who had been collected from a radius of fifteen miles around the town. Eight hundred twenty-nine of these bodies remained unknown and were buried together in a common mound surrounded by 1,679 named graves. General Turner Ashby, a dashing cavalry commander and local hero who had been killed in 1862, served as the ranking officer among the dead, as well as a focus of the day’s ceremonies. His old mammy was recruited to lay a wreath on his grave in a pointed celebration of the world for which the Confederacy had fought. The American flag flying in the adjoining national cemetery, where five thousand Union soldiers had already been interred, provoked a “good deal of rancor” from the crowd, and the members of the U.S. Burial Corps, caring for the Federal dead, were jeered and insulted. Twenty-five hundred Confederates on one side; five thousand Yankees on the other: perhaps this was the Fourth Battle of Winchester, the one in which the soldiers were already dead.
Just over fifty years ago, my family arrived in Winchester (on furlough from Japan) just in time for the Civil War Centennial, which sparked my interest not just in the Civil War, but in history of all kinds everywhere.

22 June 2011

Alien Encounter at Mercury Bay, 1769

From: Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (Picador, 2002), pp. 104-105:
Most scholars believe that sailing canoes set off from the Society Isles, or the nearby Cook Islands, between A.D. 800 and 1200, carrying pioneers as well as plants and animals. They landed on the unpopulated North Island and gradually spread out, making New Zealand the last major landmass on earth to be settled. Then, nothing—until Cook arrived, the first intruder on the North Island since roughly the time of the Crusades.

To me, this was the most extraordinary and enviable facet of Cook's travels: the moment of first contact between the "discoverer" and the "discovered." No matter how far a man traveled today, he couldn't hope to reach a land and society as untouched by the West as the North Island was in 1769. Cook, at least, anticipated first contact; finding new lands and peoples was part of his job description. For those he encountered, the moment of European arrival must have been so strange as to defy modern comprehension. The only experience that might resemble it today would be to find an alien spacecraft touching down in your backyard—except that Hollywood has prepared us even for that. Pacific islanders had no basis for so much as imagining a tall-masted ship, much less one from the other end of the globe carrying white men speaking an unfamiliar tongue.

According to stories told long after Cook's arrival in New Zealand, some natives thought the ship's billowing sails were the wings of a giant bird. Others saw three trees sprouting from the vessel's base and guessed it was a floating island. A much fuller account survives from Mercury Bay, up the coast from Cook's first landfall, where the Endeavour visited a month later. A boy about the same age as Young Nick, named Te Horeta, stood watching the ship's approach from shore and lived long enough to share his memory with colonists, several of whom recorded his words. Te Horeta's vivid and poetic detail, corroborated by the journals of Cook and his men, makes his story one of the most remarkable accounts in the annals of exploration.

"In the days long past," Te Horeta recalled, he went with his clan to gather oysters and cockles beside a calm bay known by the name Gentle as a Young Girl. One day, an apparition appeared on the water, a vessel much larger than any canoe Te Horeta had ever seen. Watching from the beach, the clan's elders wondered if the ship had come from the spirit world. Then pale creatures climbed from the vessel and paddled small craft toward shore, with their backs to the land. At this, the clan's aged men nodded and said, "Yes, it is so: these people are goblins; their eyes are at the back of their heads." Te Horeta fled into the forest with the other children, leaving the clan's warriors on the beach.

At first, the goblins did no harm. They gathered oysters and other food. One collected shells, flowers, and tree blossoms, and knocked on stones, putting them in bags. Curious, the children crept out of the woods. "We stroked their garments," Te Horeta recalled, "and we were pleased by the whiteness of their skin, and the blue eyes of some of them." The goblins offered food from their ship: hard, dry lumps that looked like pumice stones, and fatty meat so salty that even the warriors winced. Was it whale's flesh? A man's? One goblin pointed his walking stick in the air. "Thunder was heard to crash and a flash of lightning was seen," Te Horeta said. Then a bird fell to the ground. "But what had killed it?" Later, a warrior offered to trade with the newcomers, then snatched a goblin's cloth and paddled away without surrendering his own dogskin cloak. A walking stick flashed and the warrior fell with a hole in his back. The clan buried him in the goblin's garment; because the warrior had caused his own death, there was no utu, no revenge. The site of his killing became known by the name A Warm Bad Day.

19 June 2011

Congo's War for Mining or Peace for Mining?

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 5014-5042 (pp. 288-289):
The Congo is often referred to as a geological scandal. This is not an exaggeration. In the late 1980s, it was the world’s largest producer of cobalt, third largest producer of industrial diamonds, and fifth largest producer of copper. It has significant uranium reserves—infamous for having contributed to the Hiroshima bombs—as well as large gold, zinc, tungsten, and tin deposits.

Like so many of the country’s problems, the mismanagement of these assets dates back to colonial times. In 1906 already, the Belgian government gave the Société générale de Belgique, a powerful trust affiliated to the state, a mining tract of 13,000 square miles in Katanga, the size of Belgium. Under the exceedingly favorable terms of the deal, the company would get a ninety-nine-year monopoly over any mineral deposits it could identify in the next six years. It was also granted the management of the state railroad line that would help export the copper and cobalt ore, for which the colonial state would provide local labor. Société générale set about creating the three most powerful companies in the Belgian Congo: the Upper Katanga Mining Union, the Bas-Congo to Katanga Railroad Company, and the International Forest and Mining Company. Mineral and agricultural exports from the Congo fueled the creation of some of the biggest Belgian conglomerates and personal fortunes, developing the Antwerp port and creating a copper smelting industry.

Mobutu nationalized the Upper Katanga Mining Union in 1967 and rebranded it Gécamines, while other mining companies in the Kivus and Katanga were also converted into state-owned enterprises. The government proceeded to use the mining company as a cash cow, systematically milking it for money to fund Mobutu’s patronage network instead of reinvesting earnings in infrastructure and development. In order to carry out this scheme, the autocrat forced all mineral exports to be sold through a state mineral board, which would then hand over its revenues to the state treasury. Nonetheless, thanks to rising world copper prices, Gécamines remained the country’s largest source of employment and income, providing over 37,000 jobs at its peak, running thirteen hospitals and clinics, and contributing to between 20 and 30 percent of state revenues.

A confluence of factors brought about Gécamines’ demise in the 1990s. Copper prices plunged as low-cost producers such as Chile stepped up production and world demand dipped. The army pillages of 1991 and 1993, along with the ethnic purging of Kasaians from Katanga in 1993, drove much of the experienced expatriate staff out of Gécamines and contributed to the cutting of foreign development aid that had helped prop up the ailing mining sector. Finally, the years of mismanagement took their toll. In 1990, the huge underground Kamoto mine collapsed, leading to an abrupt drop in production of 23 percent. Exports declined from a high of 465,000 tons in 1988 to 38,000 tons just before the war, while cobalt production slipped from 10,000 to 4,000 tons in the same period. Similar trends affected all other mineral exports, leading to a vertiginous contraction of the country’s GDP by 40 percent between 1990 and 1994.

Pressured by donors to relinquish the state’s grip on the economy and desperate for revenues, Mobutu allowed his prime minister, Kengo wa Dondo, to begin gradually privatizing the mining sector in 1995. Most of the contracts that were later negotiated with the AFDL, including the American Mineral Fields and Lundin agreements, were amendments to and confirmations of deals that had already been struck with Mobutu’s government in 1996. The notion that the war was fueled by international mining capital eager to get its hands on the Congo’s wealth does not hold water; the war slowed down privatization of the sector by a decade, as insecurity and administrative chaos prevented large corporations from investing. It was not until 2005 that major new contracts in Katanga were approved and investors began to invest significant funds.
I hadn't realized the extent to which Canadian companies have dominated mining in the Congo.

18 June 2011

Trench Warfare in Southeastern Congo, 2000

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 4739-4774 (pp. 273-274):
It was just north of Pweto, in the small village of Mutoto Moya, that, amid the long elephant grass of the savannah, one of the war’s most important battles took place. Located in the middle of gently rolling plains, the village stood at the gateway to Lubumbashi, the capital of the mineral-rich province, just four days away by foot along good roads.

Around 3,000 Rwandan and Burundian troops had been held at a stalemate for months by twice as many Zimbabwean and Hutu soldiers. The two forces stared at each other across 8 miles of twin trenches, separated by a one-mile stretch of empty land.

Mutoto Moya was one of the only instances of trench warfare in the Congo. Both sides had dug man-high trenches that meandered for miles. Inside the muddy walls, one could find kitchens, card games, makeshift bars, and cots laid out for soldiers to sleep. This was one of the few instances when Africa’s Great War resembled its European counterpart eighty years earlier.

For the Rwandan and Burundian soldiers, many of whom had grown up in cooler climates, the conditions were poor. It was hot and humid, and huge, foot-long earthworms and dung beetles shared the space with the soldiers. When it rained, the soldiers could find themselves standing knee-deep in muddy rainwater for hours, developing sores as their skin chafed inside their rubber galoshes.

Many came down with malaria and a strange skin rash they thought was caused by the local water supply. Termites from the towering mounds nearby ate into the wooden ammunition boxes, and jiggers lay eggs under soldiers’ skin. Luckily for the Rwandan staff officers, every couple of months they could go for much-needed R&R on a nearby colonial ranch, where there were dairy cows, electricity, and a good supply of beer.

It was telling that the most important front of the Congo war was being fought almost entirely by foreign troops on both sides. “The Rwandans didn’t trust the RCD with such an important task,” remembered Colonel Maurice Gateretse, the commander of regular Burundian army troops. “They had behaved so badly that we radioed back to their headquarters, saying they should be removed. They would use up a whole clip in thirty minutes and come and ask for more. These guys were more interested in pillaging the villages than fighting.”

A cease-fire negotiated between the two sides held until October 2000, when Laurent Kabila unilaterally launched his offensive. In an effort to prevail by sheer numbers, the Congolese cobbled together a force of over 10,000 soldiers, including many Rwandan and Burundian Hutu soldiers. With the support of armored cars and Hawker fighter aircraft from the Zimbabwean army, the Congolese forces overran the enemy trenches and pushed their rivals back to Pepa, a ranching town in the hills some thirty miles away. There, Laurent Kabila’s troops took control of the strategic heights overlooking the town. Zimbabwean bombers pursued and bombed the retreating troops, forcing them to hide during the day and march at night.

Back in Kigali, President Kagame was furious. He radioed his commander on the ground, an officer nicknamed Commander Zero Zero, who was known for his brutality and his love of cane alcohol. Kagame told him that if he failed to retake Pepa, “don’t even try to come back to Rwanda.” The Burundian commander, Colonel Gateretse, received a similar warning from his commander back home, who told him he would have to walk back to Burundi—three hundred seventy miles through the bush—if he lost.

In order to retake Pepa, they would have to scale a hill with almost no cover and with thick buttresses prickling with heavy machine guns and mortars at the top. “It was like those movies I saw of the Americans at Iwo Jima,” the Burundian commander commented. “We would have to hide behind every hummock and bush we could find.” They received reinforcements over the lake from Burundi: An additional 6,000 Rwandan and Burundian troops arrived on barges for the onslaught.

They launched their challenge early in the morning. Thousands of young soldiers clambered up the steep slopes toward the fortifications above. There was little brush for cover; this was cattle country, and all the trees had been chopped down for pasture. “It was a massacre,” Colonel Gateretse remembered. Kabila’s army “sat at the top with their heavy machine guns and just mowed the kids down. You would hear the mortars thunder, the rat-tat-tat of the machine guns and screams as our boys fell.” One by one, the walkie-talkies of their officers trying to scale the hill went dead.
The Rwandan light infantry eventually outflanked Kabila's forces, attacking from behind, slaughtering many and routing the rest, who were ambushed again and again all the way down to a little fishing village on the Luvua River, where they had to abandon and destroy most of their remaining tanks and military vehicles as they retreated into Zambia.

14 June 2011

Kasika, 1998: Congo's Srebrenica the World Ignored?

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 4335-4367 (pp. 250-251):
So how did Congolese experience the violence? Many Congolese never did; they only heard about it and suffered the economic and political consequences. But for millions of people in the east of the country, an area roughly the size of Texas, daily life was punctuated by confrontations with armed men.

By 2001, fighting along the front line in the middle of the country had come to a standstill as a result of several peace deals. The east of the country, however, had seen an escalation of violence, as local Mai-Mai militias formed in protest of Rwandan occupation. This insurgency was fueled by rampant social grievances and by Laurent Kabila, who supported them with weapons and money. The Mai-Mai were too weak to threaten Rwanda’s control of main towns and roads, but they were able to prompt a violent counterinsurgency campaign that cost Rwanda whatever remaining legitimacy it once had.

It was this proxy war fought between Kigali and Kinshasa’s allies that caused the most suffering for civilians. Without providing any training, Kinshasa dropped tons of weapons and ammunition at various airports in the jungles of the eastern Congo for the Hutu militia as well as for Mai-Mai groups. The countryside became militarized, as discontented and unemployed youth joined militias and set up roadblocks to “tax” the local population. Family and land disputes, which had previously been settled in traditional courts, were now sometimes solved through violence, and communal feuds between rival clans or tribes resulted in skirmishes and targeted killings.

The RCD rebels, Rwanda’s main allies in the east, responded in kind. In both South Kivu and North Kivu, governors created local militias, so-called Local Defense Forces, to impose rebel control at the local level. By 2000, at least half a dozen such forces had been created by various RCD leaders. But instead of improving security, these ramshackle, untrained local militias for the most part just exacerbated the suffering by taxing, abusing, and raping the local population. Local traditional chiefs, who were the de facto administrators in much of the hinterlands, either were forced to collaborate or had to flee. In South Kivu, half of the dozen most important customary chiefs were killed or fled. In some areas, new customary chiefs were created or named by the RCD, usurping positions that had been held for centuries by other families.

The Rwandan, Ugandan, and Congolese proxies eventually ran amok, wreaking havoc. These fractious movements had not been formed organically, did not have to answer to a popular base—after all, they had been given their weapons by an outside power—and often had little interest other than surviving and accumulating resources. The dynamic bore a resemblance to Goethe’s sorcerer’s apprentice: As with the young magician’s broom, the rebel groups split into ever more factions as rebel leaders broke off and created their own fiefdoms, always seeking allegiances with regional powers to undergird their authority. According to one count, by the time belligerents came together to form a transitional government in 2002, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo had over a dozen rebel proxies or allies battling each other.

The massacre in Kasika, a small jungle village a hundred miles west of the Rwandan border, was a prime example of these tactics. Kasika has attained mythical status in the Congo. Politicians have invoked its name in countless speeches when they want to drum up populist support against Rwanda. Children in Kinshasa, who had never been close to the province of South Kivu, are taught about Kasika in classes intended to instill patriotism; Kabila’s government cited it prominently in a case it brought against Rwanda in the International Court of Justice. It was here that the RCD took its first plunge into mass violence just days after its creation in August 1998, massacring over a thousand villagers in reprisal for an attack by a local militia. Kasika is nothing more than clusters of mud huts built around a Catholic parish on a hill overlooking a valley. It was the headquarters of the customary chief of the Nyindu ethnic community, whose house and office sat on a hill opposite the parish, a series of large, red-brick structures with cracked ceramic shingles as roofing, laced with vines.
During the massacre, some of the Kasika villagers with radios nicknamed their village "Kosovo," which was receiving round-the-clock coverage by international media, but no foreign journalist visited Kasika until a decade after the fact (p. 261)—and that journalist may have been Stearns. There is a BBC news report via the Vatican, because priests and nuns were killed, and a later UN investigation. The name "Kasika" doesn't appear anywhere in Wikipedia's coverage of the Congo Wars. This book's chapter on Kasika, based on eyewitness accounts, is horrifying, as well as disgusting and depressing.

11 June 2011

Cook's Endeavour: Victualled, Flogged, & Pickled

From: Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (Picador, 2002), pp. 16-17, 28-29:
ON MY FIRST night aboard the replica Endeavour, I sat down with my watchmates to a dinner advertised on galley blackboard as "gruel." This turned out to be a tasty stew, with pie and fruit to follow It was also a marked improvement on the fare aboard the original Endeavour. Before leaving port. Cook complained to the Navy Board that the cook assigned his ship was "a lame infirm man, and incapable of doing his Duty." The board granted his request for a replacement sending John Thompson, who had lost his right hand. Cook's request for still another man was denied. The Navy gave preference to cripples and maimed persons" in its appointment of cooks, a fair indicator of its regard for sailors' palates.

"Victualled" for twelve months, the Endeavour toted thousands of pounds of ship's biscuit (hardtack), salt beef, and salt pork: the sailors staples. On alternate days, the crew ate oatmeal and cheese instead of meat. Though hearty—a daily ration packed 4,500 calories—the sailors' diet was as foul as it was monotonous. "Our bread indeed is but indifferent," the Endeavour's botanist, Joseph Banks, observed, "occasioned by the quantity of Vermin that are in it. I have often seen hundreds nay thousands shaken out of a single bisket." Banks catalogued five types of insect and noted their mustardy and "very disagreeable" flavor, which he likened to a medicinal tonic made from stags' horns.

On the replica, we also enjoyed a considerable luxury denied Cook's men: marine toilets and showers tucked discreetly in the forward hold. Up on the main deck, Todd showed us what the original sailors used: holed planks extending from the bow, utterly exposed in every sense. These were called heads, or seats of ease. On Cook's second voyage, an unfortunate sailor was last seen using the heads, from which he fell and drowned....

On our first-day tour of the replica, Todd had showed us a canvas bag; inside it was a heavy knotted rope—the cat-o'-nine-tails, so named for the number of its cords and the catlike scratches it left on a man's back. This was also the origin of the phrases "let the cat out of the bag" and "not enough room to swing a cat." The cat came out of the bag with depressing regularity during the Endeavour's long passage to the Pacific. On one day alone, three men were lashed, the last for "not doing his duty in punishing the above two." Before the trip was over. Cook would flog one in four of his crew, about average for eighteenth-century voyages.

If Cook didn't spare the lash, he also didn't stint sailors their most treasured salve: alcohol. The Endeavour sailed with a staggering quantity of booze: 1,200 gallons of beer, 1,600 gallons of spirits (brandy, arrack, rum), and 3,032 gallons of wine that Cook collected at Madeira. The customary ration for a sailor was a gallon of beer a day, or a pint of spirits, diluted with water to make a twice-daily dose of "grog." Sailors also mixed beer with rum or brandy to create the debilitating drink known as flip. Cook's notes on individual crewmen include frequent asides such as "more or less drunk every day."

10 June 2011

Yet Another Personality-cult Liberation Movement

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 3896-3936, 4050-4054 (pp. 225-226, 233):
It was in the midst of this Kigali-Kampala catfight that the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) was born. Bemba, who had been working for several months with friends from the Congolese diaspora on drafting statutes and a political program, quickly called the BBC radio service to announce his new rebellion.

The MLC’s beginnings were shaky. Applying himself to the rebellion with the same tenacity as he did to his business empire, Bemba managed to recruit a hodge-podge of young men and women from the business and political class of Kisangani. Of the founding members of the MLC, there was a journalist for the state radio station, the local manager of Bemba’s phone company, a territorial administrator, two former Mobutu officers, and several businessmen. None of them was over forty years old. For the most part, they were political unknowns.

Slowly, Bemba began to take over control of the military wing of the MLC from the Ugandans. He leveraged his contacts among Mobutu’s former officers to rally some of the most capable around him, making sure to stay away from the most infamous and corrupt. It had not been for lack of experience and knowledge that Mobutu’s army had lost the war, and hundreds of officers, marginalized or in exile, were eager to get back into the fray. Bemba handed the military command over to Colonel Dieudonné Amuli, the former commander of Mobutu’s personal guard and a graduate of several international military academies. Other officers’ résumés included stints at Fort Bragg and Fort Benning (United States), Sandhurst (United Kingdom), Nanjing (China), Kenitra (Morocco), and academies in Egypt and Belgium. Although the Ugandans continued to provide military support, in particular through artillery, training, and logistics, by early 1999 the Congolese were largely the masters of their own rebellion, expanding their rebel force from 150 to around 10,000 troops within two years.

Slowly, on the back of the MLC’s growing reputation, a second wave of political figures began to board flights from Europe to join up. Their pedigree was as impressive as those of the military officers. This time it was the well-heeled diaspora, the members of the Kinshasa elite, educated in Europe and the United States. There were the young and westernized, like Olivier Kamitatu, the son of a founding father of the Congo who had been Bemba’s inseparable friend in business school in Brussels. Then there were the Mobutists-turned-opposition-activists, including former prime minister Lunda Bululu and two other former ministers, and the businessmen, such as the erstwhile heads of the Congolese business federation and the Congo-Belgian chamber of commerce. In groups of two or three, they arrived on Ugandan military planes in Gbadolite [“Versailles of the Jungle”], which by mid-1999 had become command central of the rebellion. They walked around the pillaged town dumbstruck.

Then came the luck, and with it the birth of the Bemba myth. From the early days of rebellion onwards, the portly MLC leader, who had had less than a month of formal military training in his life, was present along the front lines and insisted on participating in military operations. When the Chadians and Kabila’s troops tried to attack the MLC base in Lisala, Bemba flew into town under gunfire and drove around in a pickup truck, rounding up and regrouping his scattered soldiers. “If you have to believe in miracles, that wasn’t the only one,” he later wrote. A day later, a rocket-propelled grenade whistled by him, missing him only by several feet. The day after that, amid a shower of gunfire, a Ugandan transport plane landed, unloaded, and took off again without major damage. “It was incredible,” a friend, who had been in touch with Bemba on a monthly basis by satellite phone, recalled. “It was as if he was blessed with special powers.”

The MLC leaders began constructing a myth around Bemba’s exploits, a panegyric that fit well into the Congolese tradition of praise singing. The youths called him “Baimoto,” a dazzling diamond that blinds the enemy. Radio Liberté, the MLC radio station, began transmitting programs infused with Bemba’s legend. It was supposed to provide the glue to keep the disparate elements of the MLC together: Bemba the soldier, Bemba the liberator, always on the front line, always with the troops. “It did the trick,” a former MLC commander told me and then laughed: “The problem was he began to believe it himself.”

Bemba adopted the title of Chairman of the MLC, in part reference to his business upbringing, in part a wink to Chairman Mao’s cult of personality. Progressively, his ego became more and more bloated, even as he himself put on more weight. “Bemba was the MLC,” said José Endundo, the MLC’s former secretary for the economy. “He was an incredible egomaniac.” His commissioners and counselors couldn’t just go and visit him in his house in Gbadolite; they would have to wait to be called. At the entrance to his house, soldiers would frisk the MLC leaders, even the frail professor Lunda Bululu, Zaire’s former prime minister, who was in his sixties. Inside, officials sprawled on Bemba’s leather couches, but even there, they were obliged to call him Mr. President or Chairman. For some of the leaders, who had boozed and danced with Bemba in high school or had known him when he was still in diapers, this treatment grated.
Nonetheless, during its heyday, the MLC was as good as it gets for a Congolese rebel movement. Although supported by Uganda, it was run by Congolese under a more or less unified command, supported by the local population, and relatively disciplined. But the MLC also shows us the limitations of rebellion in the Congo. Like most rebellions, it was run by an educated elite, while all of its foot soldiers were local peasants. There was little ideology that took hold at the grassroots level other than opposition to the enemy and tribal loyalty.

05 June 2011

Congo War Realignments, 1998

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 3298-3323:
With a mutiny festering in the slums of Kinshasa, and rebels advancing rapidly from the west, Kabila knew that he would not be able to hold out without the support of the region. A regional summit of the South African Development Community was quickly called, and Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe glowered at each other across a table without coming to a conclusion.

It was a decisive moment in the war. In 1996, almost the whole region had jumped on the bandwagon against Mobutu, while world powers looked the other way. It had been a continental war, inspired by security interests but also by ideology. In 1998, the odds were stacked differently. The region split down the middle, with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi on one side and Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Zimbabwe on the other.

This time, the motives for deployed troops were less noble. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, for example, was of the same generation as Laurent Kabila and had provided arms and money for the first war effort; Kabila still owed him somewhere between $40 and $200 million dollars for this first engagement. More importantly, his own besieged government was fraying at the edges after eighteen years in power. A mixture of corruption, poor economic management, and the expropriation of 1,500 white farms had prompted food riots, a fiscal crisis, and international opprobrium. As expensive as the military adventure in the Congo was, it also offered many much-needed business opportunities for Mugabe’s inner cabal. Shortly after toppling Mobutu, his state ammunition factory obtained a $500,000 contract from Kabila’s government, a Zimbabwean businessman extended a loan for $45 million, and businessmen close to Mugabe began negotiating potentially lucrative transport, food, and mining deals with the Congolese. When Rwanda attempted anew to overthrow the regime in Kinshasa, this time without rallying a regional alliance around them, Mugabe saw his investments in jeopardy.

Angola’s interests were much more related to its twenty-three-year-old civil war with UNITA. For decades, the rebels had maintained rear bases in Kinshasa, where Savimbi had frequently met with Mobutu and CIA operatives and had sold tens of millions of dollars of diamonds. In May 1998, Jonas Savimbi’s rebels had scuppered a peace process that they saw as increasingly biased toward the government. They launched attacks throughout northern Angola, close to the border with the Congo. In addition, another Angolan rebel movement, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), appeared to be making inroads in Cabinda, a tiny Angolan enclave just north of the Kitona airbase, where around 60 percent of Angola’s oil is drilled, providing it with about half of all national revenues. According to French government officials, FLEC had been in touch with the Rwandan government before the Kitona airlift.

The diplomatic tug-of-war continued for several days, with South African president Nelson Mandela attempting to mediate between the two sides to prevent a continent-wide war breaking out. His attempt earned him the scorn of Mugabe, who told him to shut up if he didn’t want to help defend the Congo. Kabila’s office was equally blunt, suggesting that “age had taken its toll” on the venerable African leader.