Thomas Callaghy Looks at a Troubled Part of the World
You are the ill and aging dictator of a large nation in central Africa.
The country you have ruled for 30 years is now torn with armed
rebellion, and your soldiers are unable to put it down and restore
order. In fact, they contribute to it. People from neighboring countries
are crossing your borders to get involved in the fighting. The western
industrial powers are unwilling to come openly to your aid. What can you
You might hire a company like Executive Outcomes to help you. It's based
in London and has a proven track record as an effective performer. It
charges high fees but takes on very challenging situations. You'd get
your money's worth. No, Executive Outcomes is not a consulting firm.
It's a private mercenary army organized as a corporation. Such firms,
says political scientist Thomas Callaghy, are a trend of the last
half-decade, and Africa provides a good market for their services.
Callaghy is a long-time student of sub-Saharan Africa and its complex
relations with the developed industrial nations. When we talked with
him, it became clear that those relations have always been troubled. As
the nature of the trouble has changed, Callaghy's research has shifted,
from the formation of new African states out of former European
colonies - he has been especially interested in Zaire, the former Belgian
Congo - and to their fate in the rapidly changing world economy. Despite
their struggles, too many have suffered from tyranny, violent conflict,
and discouraging levels of debt. Has the West contributed to these woes?
Can external help become a new form of exploitation? Once Western powers
went into Africa with guns to carve out colonies and exploit her
abundant wealth. Now they meet quietly in Paris to reschedule her debts.
Callaghy studies the long arc of these changes, moving from the smaller
to the larger international scene. And he notes that some Western-based
enterprises in Africa still require guns.
"Executive Outcomes uses both white and black soldiers, many of whom
were involved in the apartheid military apparatus in South Africa. A
recent and striking intervention of theirs was in Sierra Leone, where
they essentially ended the civil war - in return for mining and other
concessions from the current government. They're a private business
that's trading stability through force for economic profit. They claim
they will only work for 'legitimate' governments."
Would they work for the long-time president of Zaire whose situation
matches that of our hypothetical dictator? Perhaps, says Callaghy. The
government of Zaire is very shaky. The vast country is menaced from
within and without; it's even menaced by its own army, which discovered
a long time ago that looting fellow citizens is easier than fighting
enemies. "A lot of us who study Zaire have been convinced for some time
that it may come apart." Like a number of other African nations, Zaire
gained its independence from European colonizers back in the 1960s. The
democratic, multi-party governments of those early days collapsed with
distressing speed, however, and what emerged next was often
That meant "thirty years of authoritarian rule, most of it economically
unproductive. There's no functional equivalent of a Taiwan or a South
Korea or even an Indonesia where authoritarian rule was used for major
economic transformation." By the late 1970s, a good number of the new
African nations were in decline. The '80s were worse, hitting countries
that were already being quietly "hollowed out" with a general economic
crisis that impaired their capacity to govern. "The major international
financial institutions - the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
World Bank - came in and 'advised' these governments to undertake certain
kinds of economic reforms. They came close to imposing reforms because
they controlled access to help the African countries needed.
"Economic reform is going on worldwide now, but it has had the weakest
effect in Africa. If you begin weak, have long periods of unproductive
dictatorship, and are then hit by a systemic economic crisis, you wind
up the poorest region in the global economy and increasingly
marginalized." Enfeebled governments must contend with local factions
and rebellions that can flare up, burn fiercely, and spread to nearby
countries. Central Africa is seeing such an effect, as the terrible
genocide that took place in Rwanda has repercussions in Burundi,
Tanzania, and Uganda, as well as in Zaire. The spread of ethnic violence
and the flight of a massive number of refugees are two of the worst
consequences of the Rwandan massacres.
Of the affected neighboring countries, Tanzania and Uganda have been
making remarkable efforts to reform their economies and stabilize their
governments. It would be tragic to lose these gains to strife that began
somewhere else. Even in shaky Zaire, the situation could get far worse.
If it succumbed to full-fledged civil war, that could create hundreds of
thousands of new refugees. This possibility characterizes "what has been
referred to as Afro-pessimism. Weak states that have been flailing
quietly for years actually begin to fail," embroiling their neighbors in
the process. "On balance," Callaghy concedes rather grimly, "the general
social and political situation in central Africa is very stark, and it's
not likely to get significantly better anytime soon."
But when the young African countries gained their independence, weren't
they in reasonably good shape? Can colonial powers like France and
Belgium be blamed for Africa's later troubles? To some measure, they
can, according to Callaghy. "The nature of the colonization has
contributed directly to the present situation. The European powers
carved up the continent based on their own strategic "conflicts and
interests. That's why you have a country the size of Zaire, as big as
the U.S. east of the Mississippi. And a country like Gambia, which,
except for a small coastline, is completely inside Senegal and thirty
miles wide at its widest point. Colonization created very uneven units.
"Africa was also the last part of the world to be colonized by European
powers: the formal process didn't really begin in a major way until 1884
or '85. It was the last big part of the world to be decolonized." At
independence, some countries on the crazy quilt map were stronger than
others. From then on, their fate "depended a lot on what kind of
leadership emerged during the 1960s and '70s." It's still true, Callaghy
says, that Africa is like a neighborhood in the world community: some
houses in a neighborhood are bigger, better built, and better maintained
than others. "What's happening in Africa is uneven."
He is unconvinced that much of the strife in Central Africa can simply
be attributed to old tribal enmities, like that between the Hutus and
Tutsis in Rwanda and elsewhere. Although these tribal groups have
identities, "they're not absolutely distinct corporate groups," nor can
they always be recognized by obvious physical differences. In Rwanda
there have been governments with mixed membership. The current
government has highly placed Hutu officials, even though it's dominated
by Tutsis. There have been long periods when the two groups were able to
live together. "But in periods of strife and economic stress, once one
group sees an advantage to use enmity as a political tool, then nasty
things can happen. The genocide came out of a situation like that, from
a group of Hutu who had ethnic cleansing aspirations. They gave it a
good try. As a result, they've set up a dynamic with very negative
consequences inside and outside their own country."
For example, there are many Tutsis living in Zaire. They had Zairian
citizenship, but as the Hutu refugees from Rwanda came into Zaire, armed
Hutu militia came with them. The militia collaborated with local
Zairians who saw a chance to push Tutsis off land they'd held for
decades. "Officials of the Mobutu government assisted this land-grabbing
and moved to strip Tutsis of their Zairian citizenship. So, with some
outside help, the Tutsis created their own armed force and struck back.
They completely changed the strategic balance in Zaire. As the Tutsi
force moves through the country, it often acquires new soldiers from the
local population, which changes the ethnic composition of the movement.
Local villages have to make very difficult, on-the-spot decisions about
what to do. Resist? Collaborate? Try to stay neutral? Now everybody
knows Mobutu's ill, and it's not clear what will happen to the central
government. Will the rebels overthrow the government? Will there be a
military coup d'etat? Will a group of feudal barons just try to carve up
Zaire? Will some parts of the country try to secede? All sorts of things
With the Cold War over, Western powers are more reluctant to intervene
in major ways in Africa. France is a possible exception, but even France
is partly constrained by American unwillingness to spend lives and large
amounts of money on countries no longer seen as allies against
Communism. Some Western commentators have said that if a Zaire
collapses, the western powers should step back and let it happen.
Callaghy maintains that the West could do much to help in such
situations, but in the current political climate it may be all that we
are willing to do.
"There's an economic marginalization that parallels the political and
strategic ones. Much of the liquid and investable capital in the world
is bypassing Africa and going elsewhere. What you have left are outside
companies interested in pockets of primary export resources, mainly
minerals - diamonds, gold, even timber. They make special deals, usually
with weakened regimes. For much of the continent, that's increasingly
becoming the norm in economic activity." The one bright spot is South
Africa. "Relative to the rest of the continent, the economy still looks
quite good. Many people hope that the Mandela government will maintain
democracy and serve as an example to the stronger countries in East and
West Africa. But if Central Africa implodes in a major way, it could
affect many other countries that are doing better."
Meanwhile, Callaghy thinks, it would be useful to help those African
countries that are engaging in serious economic reform. "Provide them
more substantial debt relief, for example, in order to free up foreign
exchange for economic reform and stabilization." His own research into
the politics of debt and economic reform has changed his desire to write
a second book on Zaire. Instead he wants to write about something that
almost no one else has investigated - the Paris Club. "This is a very
powerful but informal and almost unknown international organization.
It's a group of western creditor countries that are owed money by debtor
countries. The Paris Club reschedules those debts. It started with
Argentina in 1956. By 1970, it was dealing mostly with African
countries. More recently it's been moving into eastern Europe and will
eventually deal with countries on the rim of the former Soviet Union."
Over time, the Paris Club has been forced to offer more favorable terms
to the debtor countries, whether the debtors were strategically
important to the West or not. The reasons, Callaghy says, provide
insight into how the international financial and political system has
changed over the last 40 years. "For example, there are more and
different kinds of actors on the international scene now. A striking
instance is the emergence of private voluntary organizations such as
Oxfam, a British-based voluntary organization, and Christian Aid.
There's a lot of these groups now, and they're increasing their ability
to coordinate what they do among themselves. Their influence is based on
local knowledge, mutual cooperation, and sophistication in getting their
views out. In regard to debt, they've mostly focused on the Paris Club,
the World Bank, and the IMF. Criticism and pressure from these new
actors has had a real influence on getting better terms for weak debtor
Examining the Paris Club will allow Callaghy to describe and evaluate
some major trends of the last half-century, including the nature of
decolonization after World War II, the globalization of the world
economy, and the rise in power of the IMF and World Bank. "The Paris
Club is run by a very small administrative staff in the French Treasury.
The IMF and World Bank became pretty direct participants in the
negotiations over Paris Club rescheduling. Private investment banking
firms have acted as advisors for debtor countries. So there is
increasing interaction among all these actors."
But couldn't all this financial activity be seen as a new, more subtle
form of colonialism?
Callaghy nods. "Yes. It certainly could. And many Africans see it
exactly that way."
Thomas M. Callaghy chairs the Department of Political Science,
is a professor of political science, and holds the Max N. and Heidi L.
Berry Term Professorship in the Social Sciences. He has written
extensively on Africa and on the politics of debt and attempted economic
reform in Third World countries. The State-Society Struggle: Zaire
in Comparative Perspective was chosen as one of the ten best books on
Africa published in 1984 by the Herskovits Award Committee of the
African Studies Association. His most recent book is Hemmed In:
Responses to Africa's Economic Decline.