Excerpt from Chapter 11 - Evil, War, and Violence

How does one mediate peace in the face of evil? This question has perplexed peacemakers, international leaders, and diplomats for millennia. The easy political answer is that there can be no negotiation with evil; it must be met with irresistible force. However, that emotionally satisfying and anxiety-reducing answer is inadequate. Superior military power simply does not eradicate evil, and the expenditure of blood and treasure is often futile against modern forms of violence.

Refusing to negotiate with people who are characterized as evil is no longer a luxury. Where military force is not working (see Afghanistan and the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Congo), engagement through negotiation and mediation is all that is left. That does not mean that mediating evil is easy. It is just the opposite: mediating evil is the most difficult, challenging work a peacemaker will undertake.

The structural problems associated with the development of Africa show us the complexity of the problems associated with evil, war, and violence. Over the decades since independence from European colonial rule in the 1960s, African leaders developed a feeling of entitlement and privilege. While no one has surveyed the past and present African leaders on Kohlberg’s scale of moral development, most of the leaders would probably fall within Stage 1 or Stage 2. As a group, they have demonstrated under-developed moral maturity.

Most of the African political leaders that took power in independent Africa were socialized under the colonial system of governance. In that governance system, African countries existed for the sole economic benefit of the imperial powers. Colonialism was not designed to benefit Africa or Africans. So when it was their turn to lead, African leaders copied the only model they knew. They made the African nation state an instrument of oppression for their personal benefit to guarantee the well-being of their family, clan, and tribal groups at the exclusion of others. After all, this was the European model, was it not? The state was seen as belonging only to those that are in power. This resulted in the “Big Man” syndrome. The most ruthless men became the despotic rulers of their African nations and maintained control through torture, rape, violence, and genocide.

The list is long: Idi Amin of Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor of Liberia, Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, among many others, have been responsible for untold human atrocities in Africa. The European concept of sovereignty coupled with the Cold War kept these men in power as they pandered to the western allies or the Soviet Union. The Organization of African Unity that existed between 1963 and 2002 was widely regarded as a “dictators’” trade union as it was composed of African “Big Men” interested in protecting their personal power, position, and privilege. When the “Big Man” was threatened by Marxist uprisings, he received support from the west. When the “Big Man” leaned left, he was supported by the Soviet Union. The “Big Men” were savvy enough to use sovereignty as an excuse to prevent intervention their internal affairs, even when those internal affairs constituted genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. In addition, they quashed the right of self-determination by large minorities within national boundaries. These minority groups, disempowered by international law to seek independent self-rule for themselves, were also systematically excluded from power-sharing or civic participation in governance.

The leaders resented anyone that challenged their absolute authority. Evil started with a constriction of empathy and compassion towards the disenfranchised dissenters. In each country, as evil grew, it replaced trust with suspicion and confidence with fear. Identifying the opposition group as evil became a justification for violence. By defining “them” as bad, African leaders defined themselves as good. They gave themselves permission to act in ways that would appear evil to outside observers, but seemed self-righteous. Every accusation directed to political opponents established the moral logic required to justify committing evil. Evil therefore became directly connected with the unequal distribution and adversarial exercise of power.

In Sierra Leone, leaders systematically privatized political and economic control to perpetuate their patronage-based networks. In Chad, Déby used the chaos brought about by the Darfur conflict and a domestic insurrection to renege on his promise to spend oil royalties on development. In Sudan, the northern al-Bashir government, which depends on the oil revenues generated in the south, has promoted chaos throughout Sudan to undermine the formal authority and functioning of the state while improving the relative standing of the northern Arabs. In case after case, African leaders have shown no interest other than protecting themselves and their supporters. In the most recent episode, Kenya invited Omar al-Bashir, under indictment for war crimes and genocide, to the inauguration ceremony of Kenya’s new constitution. Under the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court, Kenya was required to arrest him and turn him over to the Office of the Prosecutor. Instead, al-Bashir was treated as an honored guest by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga. The ICC indictment and order for arrest were publicly and flagrantly ignored. Of course, the ICC is investigating Kenya as well, and indictments for war crimes are expected to be issued against a group of Kenyan elites implicated in the massacres following the 2007 election.

The endless wars have been about power. In these violent struggles, the “revolutionary” faction may claim to seek equality and democratic institutions, but the sad tale is that insurrectionist leaders are usually seeking to replace the current leader for personal self-aggrandizement. Charles Taylor replaced Samuel Doe in Liberia and the bloodshed continued. Most insurrectionists are not schooled in constructing and sustaining a civil society based on the rule of law and governed by democratic principles. As a consequence, peace agreements are made, hailed, and almost immediately ignored because they do not deliver the wealth, power, prestige, and status that come with “owning” one’s nation-state.

Nevertheless, within this understanding of evil lie the seeds of peace to be planted by a skilled mediator.