Category Archives: Africa

Review of “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962,” by Alistair Horne

A Savage War of Peace is one of the best books I ever read.

It is the story of three separate wars, all of which concerned the future of the city of Algiers, which is now in Algeria, and used to be in France.

The First War: The Fourth Republic Against the FLN, 1954-1958

The first war is the three-way fight for the future of Algeria between the FLN, the Pied Noir population, and the Fourth Republic. This war, occupying the first half of the book, in many ways resembles the American experience in Iraq.

The FLN was a terrorist organization that was anti-Western, anti-Communist, anti-Liberal, and anti-Semitic, and initially counted in its supporters many Muslim opponents of French rule and a small but dangerous coiterie of deluded western fellow travelers.

The Pied Noir, generally white (but not ethnically French) settlers, composed a minority of the overall Algerian population but the vast majority of its “European” residents. Analogous to the (relatively) educated and (relatively) affluent Sunni community in Iraq, it was situated half-way between the French metropole and the Algerian bled. As beneficiaries of the welfare state, the Pied Noir were politically affiliated with Petain’s collaborationist government and hostile to liberal democracy.

The Fourth Republic, the democratic French state, inherited from its pre-war predecessors a dicey situation in Algeria. The millet system, inherited from the Ottoman Empire upon France’s conquest of Algeria in 1830, let the initial Muslim community live under Sharia Law while the European community lived under French law, voted in French elections, and so on. The increasing power of the French state, however, made this situation decidedly unequalal. The Fourth Republic’s mission was to essentially reestablish the status quo before the rise of the French state, to allow the Pied Noir to be full citizens of the Republic while also allowing the Algerians to effectively government themselves.

Each of these three factions had specific challenges. The FLN, paranoid, fratricidalal, uneducated, and given to a degree of sexualized hyperviolence that would make al Qaeda in Iraq blush. The Pied Noir, demographically the weakest faction, were (barely) an over-class in Algeria while suffering the lowest living standards of any group of French citizens. The Fourth Republic, established after Petain’s collaborationist military dictatorship, attempted to avoid a return to tyranny by creating a weak executive.

The first four years of the war would be extremely familiar to all Americans, because of the analogous first four years of the Iraq War (2003-2007). The FLN began a campaign of murderous terrorism while (in the early days) enjoying the tolerance of the local population. Counter-insurgency operations included torture, which worked in some cases and not in others, but alienated those French intellectuals who believe that war is a gentleman’s pursuit. The Pied Noir often exasperated their military protectors through their fear of what any political change might entail. The organized combatants — the FLN and the Fourth Republic — both experienced stress as the the FLN’s military capacity was destroyed in proportion to the Fourth Republic’s political standing.

In the United States, a stable constitutional liberal republic, what happened next was the following: our party system allowed millions to funnel their frustration in a candidate of “hope” and “change” who, of course, changed nothing. Simultaneously, in Iraq, the Sunni minority accepted the lost of their political hegemony while securing for itself security and self-government. The military policy of the American government was continued, and the war is perhaps as “won” as any counter-insurgency operation can be. With body-count now sufficiently low, the issue simply fades away as other issues of the day (the economy, jobs, cultureal issues) dominates politics in both the United States and Iraq.

France, unlike the United States, was not stable. Remember that the German occupation was made possible only the collaboration of Marshall Petain, the war hero who had previously saved France from German in World War I.France had the weakest resistance of all “occupied” countries, and was the most energetic in its economic collaboration with Germany. This led to two disastrous consequences for France

  1. The natural modernization of the political culture of Algeria was profoundly harmed. The War experience both artificially accelerated expectations among Muslims for their political ascendancy while also teaching the Pied Noir that their political stresses were the result of democracy, which might not always be the French form of government
  2. The “Vichy” and “Free” French regimes were both led by military men, which led to a belief that neither civilian leaders nor higher officers should be entrusted with the war effort. It was up to each officer to decide what is “right.

While the FLN collapsed on schedule, France would not be so lucky.

In France, unlike America, democracy itself collapsed.

The Fourth Republic’s plans of abolishing Sharia and integrating the Muslim population into Algeria ran into violent opposition from the Pied Noir, who feared the loss of their ability to control Algeria at some future date to be more frightful than the barely standing FLN enemy. The military, angered by actions by the Fourth Republic that in retrospect only trivially effected the war effort (granting independence to Morocco and Tunisia, etc.) had taken to disobeying orders. And in the background, refusing to condemn violence as a method of seizing power within France, stood the man who would end democracy in the country: Charles DeGaulle.

The military, egged on the Pied Noir, began seizing government offices and replacing Governors with its own appointment. As the machine of the coup churned, DeGaulle made it clear his support was contingent on the end of the Republic and the granting, to him, of dictatoral powers. The French experiment in democracy ended in 1958, with the military and Pied Noir factions successfully ending the Fourth Republic which had slowed down the efficiency of their victory over the FLN, and the enthronement of DeGaulle. DeGaulle prompted gave the French Assembly a “Vacation” as he ruled by decree for months on end.

The Second War: DeGaulle Against the Pied Noir, 1958-1962

There is no mystery about DeGaulle’s personality, aims, or ruling style. Anyone familiar with Chiang Kaishek or Mao Zedong instantly recognizes the type. DeGaulle’s method of management was “working towards the chairman,” in which he vaguely states operational objectives and allowed underlings to carrry them out. DeGaulle identified himself with the nation though not with any specific ideology, and so viewed personal enemies as enemies of the state. Also like Chiang and Mao DeGaulle was a profoundly cold man, whether concerned with the fate of individuals or groups.

As DeGaulle identified himself with France, his two greatest strategic interests were (a) preventing Germany from emerging as a competitor as (b) liquidating any remaining supporters of Marshall Petain. The first led him to support close economic integration with Germany. The instrument of that campaign (barely mentioned in A Savage War of Peace) are the institutions that would eventually form the European Union. The second led him on a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Pied Noir population. The instrument of that campaign were the scattered and defeated remnants of the FLN, who so many had died in vain to defeat.

Just as Chiang and Mao coolly maneuvered others into liquidating their enemies, DeGaulle began setting the stage for the resurrection of the FLN and the ethnic cleansing of the Pied Noir. DeGaulle’s efforts occurred in several stages

1. Ceasing offensive operations against FLN remnants
2. Turning in leaders of the Algerian Awakening to the FLN
3. De Facto Recognizing the FLN as the sole legitimate representative of the Algerian people
4. Imposing a “unilateral truce” on French forces
5. Directing French negotiators not to hold out for guarantees of the safety of the Pied Noir
6. Instructing the French army not to intervene even when Pied Noir are murdered before their eyes
7. Disarming Pied Noir and Pied Noir allies to facilitate FLN massacres

During this DeGaulle responded to protest by having tanks bombard civilian buildings at close range, ban opposition political groups, ban demonstrations, use torture against French citizens, and all other techniques which today we would associate with Gadafi’s Libya.

The Third War: The OAS Against French Algeria, 1960-1962

Of course, the people who had overthrown the Fourth Republic and installed ad DeGaulle were shocked and outraged by his policies (but not, it is important to remember, his abolition of democracy). After peaceful protests, boycotts, and even military coups did not work, elements of the French military and the Pied Noir population formed the OAS (Secret Army Organization), which had both a primary and a fall-back goal

The primary goal was to attempt to prevent the DeGaulle/FLN victory by establishing itself as a terrorist organization along FLN lines, and establish itself as a “third force” in the reality of any peace process. The hope here was to force the hand of the French government.

Once the primary goal was seen to fail, terrorism as such was abandoned as tactic. Dictatorships such as DeGaulle’s France (or Franco’s Spain, or Chiang’s Taiwan) are of course immune to terrorism as a tactic. Therefore, the OAS moved onto splitting DeGaulle and the FLN by manipulating events to attempt to force a FLN-OAS united front.

The FLN, composed largely of violent and uneducated hicks, did not have the manpower to actually run a government. They were not more adept to governing a modern Algeria than, say, the Taliban could effectively govern Alabama. Some of the FLN (particularly leaders of other factions which had been absorbed early by the FLN) were aware of this, and exacerbating this situation could possibly lead to a cold detente. The OAS thus began systematically executing all non-Pied Noir government functionaries. In one outrage (intended both to highlight their destruction of the machinery of government while also emphasizing their basically pragmatic purpose), they executed 2 white postmen, 2 Muslim postmen, and 1 Jewish postman in one night.

DeGaulle responded by strengthening the position of the least educated factions of the FLN, to close this last attempt to the Pied Noir to save themselves. Eventually, in 1962, DeGaulle won the war, as the Pied Noir were scattered and the last internal threat to his rule.

The ethnic cleansing of an entire people would buy DeGaulle seven more years in power. A trade that Mao, Chiang, or Gadafi would have accepted as eagerly as did DeGaulle.

In Retrospect

A Savage War of Peace is a history of tragedies and ironies.

DeGaulle. DeGaulle ended democracy in France, and brutally suppressed those who fought for their rights and livelihoods. Vain, arrogant, and machiavellian, he successfully oversaw the ethnic cleansing of a community he viewed as antagonistic to his political future. But his self-confidence was stronger than his paranoid, so like Chiang (but not Mao) he laid the groundwork for the return of democracy. Just as Chiang’s “White Terror” eventually gave way to free & fair elections in Taiwan, DeGaulle allowed himself to be defeated by the vote (and old age) in 1969. At the same time, DeGaulle’s fear of a German revival lead him to energetically push forward the multilateralal institutions that now form the European Union.

The Communists. The dog that never barked was the Communists. Concerned with the poor Pied Noir early in the war, the French Communist Party ended up having the most reasonable policies of all factions during the war against the FLN. Later, after DeGaulle’s coup, the Communists continued to be a force of order as they accurately saw DeGaulle simultaneously alienated the United States while constraining Germany. In French, as in Chinese, history, pro-Moscow communists tend to be sympathetic characters.

General Salan. The most interesting human in the entire book is General Raoul Salan, Légion d’honneur (Knight, Officer,Commander, Grand Officer, Grand Cross), Médaille militaire, Croix de guerre, Croix de guerre, Croix de guerre des Théatres d’Opérations Exterieures, Croix de la Valeur Militaire, Médaille Interalliée de la Victoire, Médaille Commémorative de la Grande Guerre, Distinguished Service Cross (US), Commander of the Order of British Empire (CBE) (UK), and the only person to lead operations in all three phases of the war.

  • Salan was an early leader of the French military in its counter-insurgency against the FLN, and was nearly assassinated by a bazooka by enraged Pied Noirs.
  • In the second war, Salan organized resistance to DeGaulle’s authoritarian government and attempted to organize a second military coup.
  • In the third war, Salan was a leader in the OAS and ordered the general mobilization of the Pied Noir population, and the extermination of the Muslim intellectuals.

Given the history of French military leaders, one imagines if he had ever gained executive power he would have been as bad as Petain or DeGaulle. As it was, however, he strikes the reader as a romantic figure, fighting for a lost cause against impossible odds.

Context. If most Americans are aware of the Algerian War at all, they know it from The Battle of Algiers. But that movie, showing a terrorist campaign by the FLN and its defeat, only accurately captures the first of the three wars described in A Savage War of Peace. DeGaulle’s coup and the OAS campaign are the most important phases of the “war,” but all occur after the end of the film.

A Savage War of Peace is a disturbing book, and a must read for anyone who cares about history, democracy, or the Arab world.

The Unpopular Apartheid Governments

FiveThirtyEight has a really fascinating post of how Apartheid was an unpopular policy among the whites of South Africa. Some excerpts:

Compared to this, the National Party offered the promise of ending English dominance of the civil service and the economy as well ending the competition that African laborers moving to the urban areas posed to poor Afrikaner workers. When the votes were counted the United Party had won a large popular vote victory, 547,437 (50.9%) for the United Party to 443,278 (41.2%) for the National Party. But when the seats were declared, the National party and its allies had won 79, compared to 71 for the United Party and its allies.

Secondly, the National Party had the advantage of being an ethnic party in a country in which the ethnic balance favored them. Afrikaners, to whom they focused their appeal, made up 57% of the population, and were furthermore, better distributed for electoral purposes, making up the majority in 98 out of 150 seats. The redistricting that followed the Nationalist victory in 1948 only increased this discrepancy by adding six seats for Namibia, which was annexed in violation of UN resolutions calling for its independence.

Therefore, the results in the next two elections were even more disproportionate. In 1953, the opposition had united into the United Front, and had high hopes of victory, and with the unified support the South African business community and economic elite, they outspent the National party by nearly 4-1. Nevertheless, when the votes were counted the pattern of 1948 was repeated, only to an even greater extent than in 1948. In Cape Town the United Front won 73%; in Cape Elizabeth 65%. But in the rest of Cape Province, the National Party won 57% of the vote, and 29 out of 33 seats. The pattern was repeated nationwide. By 1958, the Opposition had all but given up serious hope of winning despite the fact that the results indicated that they still held the support of a majority of the electorate.

The greatest threat to the system was always naked demographics, and by giving no option to young whites for political change, it drove many of South Africa’s best and brightest towards emigration. By the 1970s it was not just English speakers who were leaving the country, but also young Afrikaners who wanted an opportunity to escape an Afrikaans-only educational system that the National party seemed determined to force them into.

By the end of the 1970s, the white population was actually falling by nearly 20,000 a year, a pace that would more than double by the beginnings of the 1980s. While the electoral system may have made it increasingly difficult for South Africans to oust the National government with their votes, it in many cases led them to vote against its system of Apartheid with their feet.

Like the Republic of South Africa, the United States of America also imposes unpopular, racially discriminatory laws which harm its competitiveness.

The Chinese Systems Administration Force

Very good news. The end of colonialism was a disaster around the world. Growing East and South Asian interest in Africa promise to return SysAdmin work to the farthest reaches of the globe:

Chinese Boots on African Soil – Online Africa Policy Forum
BUKAVU – Holed up behind barbed wire and sandbags, two soldiers gaze over the green landscape of Congo’s Kivu Province. The forested hills around them are silent, but they are guarding a hub of activity. Meticulously stationed military vehicles surround a few dozen troops marching around a flag planted in the middle of a dusty parade ground – a Chinese flag. “We are here to maintain order and regional stability,” explains a young lieutenant in impeccable French. Deployed in the resource-rich heart of Africa, this army unit forms only a small part of the Chinese troops that have been sent to six different African states.

Perhaps in 2014 we will finally be back up to the level we were at in 1914, when things went sour.

Of course, this promising article includes its fair bit of stupid. In typical eurospeak, “unilateral” means “not being governed by the United Nations.”

All of China’s troops in Africa are participants in United Nations peacekeeping operations under UN mandates – in contrast to the 1,400 or so U.S. troops deployed unilaterally in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), part of the Bush Administration’s Global War on Terror.

These are good first steps for China.

But I’ll be happier when China’s operating in Africa with the same “unilateralism” as the United States.

(Hat-tip to Nykrindc for sharing this article on Google Reader.)

Globalization, and our wise decisions, can help China give more to her citizens and the world

This much is true: China is a large country is well on her way to being fully integrated within the Core of functioning, global states.

Flag of China

The week started with news that the US was removing China from the list of the worst human rights abuses (from DU). This is good. The most fundamental of all rights is market freedom, which most of the Chinese economy has in spades. And likewise the week ends with Tom Barnett criticizing the Pentagon’s special watch report on China. Likewise, this is wise. While of course China must be “hedged” against, this must be done in a way that doesn’t place a wedge between Chinese and American interests.

Now, to the bigger news. Tibetans are rioting in Lhasa (from Soob), while Chinese are colonizing Africa. These are both symptoms of failure, but failure, after all, is nothing more than the difference between where you want to be and where you are. The Chinese Communist Party runs an oppresive state, especially for those who live in China who haven’t been Sinicized. Likewise, most African governments run incompetent states, from the perspective of supplying their citizens with a minimum of healthcare, police, and education.

The “people powered” unrest in Tibet won’t remove the Communists from that country, but it will demonstrate to the Party that their form of rule leads to international embarrassment and problems that are more typical of a Burma than a Great Power. Likewise, the “people powered” colonization in Africa won’t completely strip the sovereignty of those countries, but will do more to rollback the disaster of the 20th century.

Improved living standards for Chinese by economic growth, and improved living standards for Africans by recolonization, both look likely. These improvements will be partially caused by the mechanics for globalization. But also importantly, these improvements will be made more or less likely by our wise decisions, our not placing a wedge between ourselves and China, and our allowing criticisms of Chinese human rights to come from individuals and NGOs, and not states.

Race Wars

Robert Paterson reports on the horror-show violence in Kenya. Among other problems, Kenya is undergoing a ethnic/race-war between the Kikuyu, the Luo, and their affiliates.

The Master Race?

Racial violence is relatively rare in the Core, but occurs in microgaps, such as parts of Los Angeles and federal prisons.

Racial/ethnic violence is a form of insurgency, attempting to replace the State with “primary loyalties.” Race warriors should therefore be classified as insurgents, and (except for those who wear racial/gang insignia) unlawful combatants, as well.

Hate crime laws are probably a good idea, but msinamed, as they fight not crime, but war.

The Eaten and the Enslaved

Who will survive? And what will be left of them?

Associated Press:

Pygmy activists from Congo have demanded the United Nations set up a tribunal to try government and rebel fighters accused of slaughtering and eating Pygmies who are caught in the country’s civil war.

Army, rebel and tribal fighters – some believing the Pygmies are less than human or that eating the flesh would give them magic power – have been pursuing the Pygmies in the dense jungles, killing them and eating their flesh, the activists said at a news conference yesterday.

There have been reports of markets for Pygmy flesh, the representatives alleged.

“In living memory, we have seen cruelty, massacres, genocide, but we have never seen human beings hunted and eaten literally as though they were game animals, as has recently happened,” said Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti Pygmies in Congo.


The other part of the argument is that all observed pygmy populations have a short life expectancy. Indeed, this, according to Dr Migliano’s hypothesis, is the crucial evolutionary pressure. Of the six groups of pygmies for whom data exist, two have a life expectancy of 24 years and the other four about 16 years.


Deep in the jungles of northern Congo, it’s still easy to find slave owners. Davila Djemba, the teenage niece of the country’s minister of forestry, is eager to show off some of the 100 Pygmies her family owns.

She laughs and chatters as she makes her way along a footpath toward her family’s estate in this growing logging village. She’s eager to play hostess, since she doesn’t get many foreign visitors.

Djemba walks past typical scenes of African peasant life. But the bucolic setting masks an ugly truth, one that surfaces as Djemba considers how to entertain her guest that night. As she nears her family’s home, surrounded by half a dozen Pygmy huts, Djemba gets an idea. “We can make them sing and dance for you, if you want,” she offers.

(Hat-tip to Half-Sigma.)

How Iowa farmers are helping African development

Economist has a good article about the rise of ethanol (plus better diets,and other factors) increasing the price of corn and other food throughout the world. Of course, this is a good thing.

Africa needs one thing: infrastructure. Africa needs a system of roads to transport, police to prevent crime, courts to adjudicate disputes, machinery to amplify the productivity of labor, and rules to guide economic development.

Unfortunately, Africa does not have infrastructure. And the greatest infrastructure-building effort of all time ended in failure, following the bankruptcy of the European states caused by the World Wars.

Fortunately, the increasing cost of food will naturally shift production to Africa, and interested parties will begin to provide the infrastructure Africa needs. Of course the reasons will be largely selfish: the Core needs the roads to transport the food, the police to ensure production of food, the courts to ensure the delivery of food, the machinery to harvest and perhaps mill the food, and the larger rules to make sure all these steps happen smoothly.

But unlike oil, diamonds, or other goods that impact only a small part of a country’s land and workforce, food production is a job for the whole country. The benefits — not just increased income, but increased infrastructure — are felt by half or more of the country’s population, and throughout all arable land.

Mark in Texas points out that corn will give way to other crops as a source for ethanol. Indeed, corn isn’t an end in itself. But the rise of corn-based ethanol in the United States develops the infrastructure to use ethanol: it develops the infrastructure to develop the infrastructure for Africa.

And that’s a good thing.

Africa and Taiwan (Hedge it, don’t wedge it)

China’s growing stake in Africa changes the calculation of our relationship with Taiwan, and our Big War force in general.

“Hedging” against Chinese aggression to Taiwan by maintaining, and publicly emphasizing, our naval deterrent is important. China invading Taiwan would be a disaster similar to Germany invading Belgium in 1914: whether there is a response or not, a stable world system ends.

That said, China’s investment in Africa essentially means that Beijing is opening up a “second front” against the Gap: not only is globalization not Americanization, the globalization of the gap will not primarily be because of Americans: it will be because of new Core powers like China.

Clearly, the worst thing that could happen would be if Chinese and American influence in Africa turn against each other, and lead to the destruction of governments in the way that American influence took down the Soviet, British, French and French colonial and neocolonial regimes. Thus, we need to be careful that our “hedge” around Taiwan doesn’t become a “wedge” in the shrinking of the Gap.

Diplomatically engaging China over absurd or wrong policies is good, but the military should not be part of the toolkit. Pressing Beijing over its persecution of political dissidents, religious minorities, and others is good: pushing China in a way that alters her posture in Africa is not.

All talk of a “hedge” against a rising China must be balanced against the concern of putting a “wedge” in our efforts to shrink the Gap.

Standing against the tide of years, sometimes we drown

The Economist has an obituary for Ian Smith, the leader of the fourteenth colony to declare independence from the United Kingdom. Smith’s rise a product of Britain’s fall: the bankruptcy of Her Majesty’s System Administration Force, necessitated by Britain’s disasterous entry into two disasterous World Wars. Pressured by the majority of the population below him, the Parliament above him, and anti-British Boers to his side, and his own mistakes, Smith’s Southern Rhodesia would fall. Because of his failure, Zimbabwe is now the nightmare it is today.

In a better world, that great war would not have been fought, the Core would have been able to afford a century of capital investment throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and men like Smith would have lived very different lives. But we don’t live in that better world.

At least, not yet.