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Uploaded:2009-01-11
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In which John discusses war and upheaval and pirates in the African nations of Somalia and Chad. Let's continue the conversation in comments.


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A Bunny
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Intro So today, Hank, we’re going to talk about recent events and a couple of African nations.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is front page news... in the alternate universe where people care more about the health and well-being of others than they care about the narcissistic personality disorders of American actresses. Part One: Chad. No, not Chad, or Chad, or Chad.

Chad. Chad being of course the landlocked nation in central Africa with two traffic lights in the entire country, neither of which work. Chad being the country where an amazingly corrupt dictator and his government are at war with even more corrupt rebel forces.

So, Hank, right now in Chad, there’s no war going on, but once the roads become passable again, the war will restart. Because it restarts every year. And you know how wars have good guys and bad guys and there’s one team you root for and one team you root against, there’s an Allies and an Axis, there’s a Rebel and an Empire.

This isn’t a war like that, and in fact, very few of the wars in Africa are like that, which is part of the reason why they don’t get a lot of news coverage. It’s because it’s not easy to tell a story that makes sense. When we look at why this stuff happens, we can’t say, "Oh, its tribalism; it’s been happening forever," because that's not actually true.

I mean, there is tribalism in Chad, but as anyone who’s ever been to an Alabama-Auburn football game can attest, there’s also tribalism in America. And when we lament wars like this, we have to acknowledge that the people who are fighting them are responsible and need to stop fighting right now. But we’ve also got to acknowledge that colonialism screwed the world up a ton.

Hank, I’d like to share with you a quote from a Wikipedia page about Chad. “The French first penetrated Chad in 1891.” Oh Wikipedia, sometimes you're inaccurate, sometimes you're accurate, and sometimes you're more accurate than even you realize. How did it feel when the French penetrated you? Uh, it was uncomfortable, I didn’t enjoy it.

I was afraid. And then after 1891, did the French ever penetrate you again? Oh my, yes.

They penetrated me repeatedly. Part two: pirates, here played by Willy because I don’t have any pictures of actual pirates. Okay so quick historical background.

Somalia's a country on the east coast of Africa; it gained its independence in 1960. In 1969 it had a military coup because that’s what everyone was doing back in 1969. And the guy from that military coup, General Barre, maintained power until 1991.

At which point there was a coup, and he was removed in favor of… no one. No joke, Hank, nobody took power. So since 1991, in lieu of having a government, Somalia has split up into three, semi-autonomous regions.

In the south, you have the total anarchy of no functioning government; there’s been a 20 year long civil war; in the last few years, there’s been a battle between these Islamist militants who would impose a sort of Taliban-style Islamic law in Somalia, and then on the other side, you have everyone else whose like, "As bad as anarchy is, that sounds worse." The US and Somalia’s neighbors tend to support that second option, which means that for the last few years we’ve put all our weight behind the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia which is ostensibly running the south. Although given that the Transitional Federal Government has been around for nine years, it has a funny way of being transitional. And given that its influence only extends to a third of the country, it has a funny way of being federal.

And given its complete inability to do even the most rudimentary tasks associated with governance, it has a funny way of being a government. Then in the far northwest, bordering Djibouti, which I’m obviously only mentioning so that I can say Djibouti we have Somaliland. Somaliland is actually like a functioning democracy with its own currency and economy and everything.

Then finally on the northeast coast you have Puntland which I’m probably mispronouncing which has become the world capital of piracy. In fact in the last year, it is estimated that Somali pirates form Puntland have made more than $150 million in ransom. Hank, in a country where the average person make a dollar fifty a day, $150 million is a lot of Djibouti.

Sorry. But seriously, Hank, in the context of the larger Somalian tragedy, I would argue that the problem of piracy, while serious, is a little bit marrrrginal. Sorry.

So here’s my question. Who’s at fault for the piracy? Who’s at fault for the wars in Chad?

Is it the combatants themselves, is it France and Italy and Britain for their disastrous colonization's of these countries, is it us for not paying attention to these wars in which tens of thousands of real people are really dying? Those aren’t rhetorical questions; I really want answers. Hank, congratulations on the hugely successful release of your first album - buy Hank's album - I can’t wait for the first song Wednesday.

I’ll see you then if I don’t see you before.