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Why the cannibals will win the war in the Congo 2006-01-16
Hans Pienaar

When the war junkies pit themselves against the cannibals, expectations are the former will always win. War junkies play video games or scenarios, and cannibals are usually troll-like figures on the other side of the stockade, serving to exercise the former’s hand and eye coordination.

 The problems arise when reality intrudes, when the reality shows at the end of the video spectrum in their pursuit of authenticity come up against real cannibals. In the paradigm of all videogames and war college scenarios called pomo wars it is far from guaranteed that they won’t get the upper hand in the end (pun intended). Post-modern warfare was one of the concepts discussed at a recent seminar on peacekeeping and European and African contributions to it. This happened at the brand new chancery of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Queen Wilhelmina Drive, Pretoria. Fund-hunters from NGOs dressed in suits like Mr Smith from the movie The Matrix, listened to European Commission ambassador, Lodewijk Biët, who happens to be from the Netherlands, give an entertainingly Dutch introduction. Dutch widows, Dutch uncles and Dutch courage were also joked about, inevitably, by other participants in the seminar. One couldn’t help think making fun of Dutch courage was a pre-emptive strike against potential references to European peacekeeping, and specifically the Dutch contribution at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war in 1995. There they were accused of cowardice as they passively stood by, watching and in some accounts helping Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers to round up civilians and lead them to their eventual deaths.

 Trying to distinguish modern wars from post-modern ones can be an exercise in double Dutch. Indeed, one could say pomo is signaled when the powerpoint organograms grow into each other to resemble the giant lilies in a Congo jungle swamp. It becomes slightly easier when one isolates certain key concepts: Relativism, virtuality, simulation, networking. Image is king, and the king is a cartoon figure on an anti-virus (Aids or cyberspace) pamphlet. Professor Rob de Wijk from the Royal Netherlands War Academy took up this strand: “We live in a zero casualty culture, and a post-heroic age. The populace no longer accepts the cruelties of war. One explanation is the impact of television. The management of television images is now part of war management.


“... societies in industrialised liberal democracies put humanity

first and consider this the result of civilisation. If wars must be

fought, they must be relatively bloodless.”


In Afghanistan, De Wijk explained, the US invaders’s success was measured, apart from their destruction of the Taliban, by a casualty figure of 30. Only special operations forces did any fighting, and only 500 were “boots-on-the ground”. Even these fighters’ main weapon was the “ground-target laser designator” connected to a laptop - whereas in a modernist war it would have been the atom bomb. Africa features in the European scenarios because peacekeeping has become an artificial leg for new strategies to stand on. As Africa is part of an Arc of Instability as identified in the Americans’ War on Terror, much pre-emptive, non-fighting warring is destined to take place on this continent. And ipso facto, much” management of television images...”

 One would have thought any European force would always have the upper hand, simply because EuroTV, or its simulated version of YankTV, is so much better than your ordinary African governmental propaganda. The Dutch have conquered Uganda, for instance, through a fluke of what one might call Ducth contracting - the populace eagerly watch Dutch soccer and Mister Bean movies subtitled in Dutch. But it is perhaps precisely because the Western technology and its distribution channels are so highly advanced that the peacekeepers might yet lose the “non-fighting war”. This is the case already in the Democratic Republic of Congo, scene of the world’s largest peacekeeping operation under the UN force Monuc.

 On a recent visit to the DRC I found myself twiddling my thumbs in a Monuc mess, waiting for an appointment. I was chased away from the Internet cafe in the grass boma by an Indian officer, who cited security concerns. Fair enough.

 But then some Uruguyan soldiers started talking to him animatedly. This was difficult as no one could speak a mutual language, but they managed to persuade him to allow me have a seat behind a monitor, which I took merely not to offend the Uruguyans, who were calling me “Che”.

 One of them sat down next to me and logged on to what must have been his personal website. He called up pictures of a palm-fronted beach, and a glowing sunset. Then some of his colleagues drinking .... I was squinting from the corner of my eye, pretending not to look. Then, without warning, the most horrific photographs began to appear, dozens and dozens of them. The soldiers looked straight ahead, pretending to ignore me.

 They were of civilians who had been killed and their bodies cut up, to be devoured elsewhere. These were not just random mutilations with that fearsome enough weapon, the machete. Limbs were neatly severed, and slivers of flesh dislodged showing the same methodicality of a butcher preparing for the rush-hour sale. I could not help noticing that the protruding bones looked exactly like the ones drawn in old fashioned cartoons of cannibals boiling missionaries.

 It gradually became clear they wanted me surreptitiously to see these pictures, which had most probably been circulated throughout the Monuc staff complements, where every second soldier has a PC monitor in his airconditioned tent, often for playing war-like videogames. Stories of cannibalism are rife in the DRC. Elsewhere I had seen a photograph of a local leader loyal to former president Laurent-Desiré Kabila. His order to eat the enemy, in this case rebel soldiers supported by Rwanda, was taken in a non post-modern way, that is, literally. The leader was eating the flesh of a roasted captive in front of the latter’s brother. There have been reports of a militia leader carrying around the dried penises of his enemies in the pockets of his military jacket. Enemy captives have been used as carriers of their comrades’ flesh.

 It’s easy to cry “barbarism” about such incidents and practices. But, as writer Stephen Smith points out, cannibalism was also a well-recorded feature of the Thirty Years War in historical Europe. Only when wars got modernised, which was quite recently, did cannibalism become punishable by firing squad. The difference is that in post-modern campaigns such as the one in the DRC it has become a hi-tech weapon of war, perhaps in the same class as suicide bombers flying jumbos into skyscrapers.

 From the point of view of the DRC belligerents, the under-staffed Monuc can never be a “fighting-war” threat, no matter how advanced its equipment or how well-run it may be (which it appears to be). But they can curtail the flower beds of their belligerence, in which their legitimation among the local populace grows. Monuc’s most formidable component are the MilObs, or Military Observers, an independent copy-and-paste sector recruited individually for their superior skills from all over the world. Their job is to penetrate the most isolated areas to speak to the leaders of armed and militant groups. In many cases, simple exchange of views and clearing up of misunderstandings have pacified the population after conflicts. So effective are they, that the belligerents have to resort to ever more extreme measures to keep the initiative.

 So they sometimes kill villagers at random, knowing Monuc won’t retalialate, and calculating Monuc could even leave them be because Monuc has standing orders not to eradicate fighting forces but at worstpersuade them to demobilise. Beyond killing villagers lies eating them. All sorts of beliefs in magic and the use of voodoo and muti comes into play. But the belligerents also know that the simple idea of it, with images acting as “force-multipliers” - another pomo war concept - will scare the fat out of Monuc soldiers.

 So half-naked tribesmen have been reported mocking them whenever their hi-tech armoured cars pass by, pretending to nibble on their fingers.

 What makes this weapon so potent is that the images are unmanageable. The horrific sights on that Uruguyan monitor turned my stomach. I had to rely on Dutch courage, aka a stiff brandy and post-modern Coke from the canteen to get over it. I did not even try to get copies - no newspaper editor in his right mind could publish such pictures. Spin, that post-modern war weapon applied so well by the Anglo-American fabricators of Weapons of Mass Destruction, cannot be applied to cannibals. They can only be censored, and confined to the preserves of perversion or fear, which can be the only motivation to collect and spread such images. And as such, they could only serve to drastically and fatally reduce morale.

 De Wijk declared that security in pomo Europe was provided by “constant interference in each other’s affairs”. Transparency and universal access to information and infrastructure ensures that conflict between its still modernist national armies cannot arise among European nations. Male adrenalin is sublimated in the shadow hooligan wars outside the soccer pitches. But cannibalism allows belligerent groups to create no-go zones, both in the virtual pomo world and the material wannabe modern world.

 This in turn expands the secret African world where much economic and political activity takes place, as described by other participants in the seminar. They and the diamond and col-tan smugglers, sometimes indistinguishable from each other, will rule large parts of Africa for a long time to come.


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