Showing posts with label africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label africa. Show all posts

Western Saharan War

The Spanish withdrawal from the Saharan region

Spain ruled the western Saharan region known as Río de Oro as part of its colonial empire. The region was sparsely populated by mostly Sunni Muslim nomadic peoples of mixed Berber and Arab ancestry who were Arabic speaking.

The region contained some of the world’s richest phosphate mines but was otherwise desperately poor. In the early 1970s the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al Hamra and Río de Oro) initiated an armed nationalist struggle for independence from Spain.

After the death of Francisco Franco, a committed imperialist, the new Spanish government granted the territory independence in 1975. Although the United Nations declared that the Sahrawi should have self-determination, Morocco and Mauritania both immediately claimed the territory. King Hassan II of Morocco launched the "Green March" of over 300,000 unarmed Moroccans to march into the territory and incorporate it into Morocco.


Because of its rivalry with Morocco as well as its desire for access to a port on the Atlantic Ocean, Algeria supported the Polisario, supplying it with arms and assistance. The Polisario proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976. Recognized by some 70 nations, SADR became a full-fledged member of the African Union.

The war between the Polisario, Morocco, and Mauritania lasted from 1975 to 1984. The Polisario was able to defeat Mauritania, which withdrew its claims in 1979, but it was largely defeated by Morocco, which obtained arms from the United States.

Moroccan troops moved into the northern sector of the territory and occupied the huge phosphate mines at Bu Craa. The war and Moroccan occupation resulted in the displacement of over 200,000 Sahrawi, who continue to live in refugee camps in surrounding regions to the present day.

Polisaro front

By the early 1980s Morocco controlled the majority of the territory, and SADR administered the remainder as liberated territory. To protect its holdings, Morocco built a 380-mile earth wall studded with electronic sensors and antipersonnel radar provided by the United States. The wall effectively enclosed the Moroccan-held sections of Western Sahara.

The United Nations called for a referendum, for the people to vote for independence or for union with Morocco. The Polisario supported the referendum, but Morocco moved in settlers, who probably now outnumber the indigenous Sahrawis, to the territory it held.

Morocco argued that the settlers, presumably all in favor of union, should be allowed to vote in the proposed referendum. Not surprisingly, SADR and its supporters strongly rejected Morocco’s claim.

Saharan transportation

Both the United Nations and the United States attempted to mediate but failed to break the impasse. It appeared that Morocco would refuse any referendum until it could guarantee a victory in the election.

An estimated 160,000 Moroccan soldiers continued to occupy the territory, which had a population of some 267,000 Sahrawi people. In 1983 King Hassan II negotiated an agreement with Algeria, which then halted its support for the Polisario, although many Sahrawis remained refugees in Algeria and other neighboring countries.

After Hassan’s death in 1999 his son King Muhammad VI announced his desire for a resolution to the problem, but he also opposed holding a referendum on independence.

In 2005 riots by supporters of the referendum in Moroccan-held territory broke out; Moroccan forces quickly quelled the riots and repressed SADR supporters. Hence one of the longest liberation struggles in the contemporary kala continued to be unresolved.

B.J. Vorster

B.J. Vorster

Balthazar Johannes (John) Vorster was South African prime minister from 1966 to 1978. He is perhaps best known for having legislated into power some of apartheid’s most discriminatory and racial policies. Born on December 13, 1915, in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, John Vorster was the 13th child of a wealthy sheep farmer.

After receiving his primary and secondary education in the Eastern Cape, he went on to receive his bachelor of law degree from Stellenbosch University and set up a law practice in Port Elizabeth in the late 1930s. With the onset of World War II, he ardently opposed South Africa’s involvement in support of the Allies by becoming a member of the pro-Nazi Ossewa-Brandwag. His support of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler landed Vorster in jail during much of World War II.

However, this did little to deter his radical ideology, and he maintained that the dictatorial regime in Germany at the time was a more productive and suitable model for South African governance than the parliamentary system already in place. When Vorster was released from jail in 1944, his right-wing political and social views led him to join the growing South African National Party.


Vorster worked his way up the ranks of the party cadre, and in 1953 he was elected to parliament in Cape Town as a National Party representative. After one session in parliament he was appointed deputy minister of education in 1958; he rigidly enforced apartheid’s Bantu education policies.

Under Prime Minister Verwoerd he became minister of justice in 1961. During this time, the government sent South African Defense ForceVorster soldiers to support Ian Smith’s white regime in Rhodesia, with the popular support of most of white South Africa.

Vorster succeeded Prime Minister Verwoerd unopposed after Verwoerd was assassinated in 1966. His brief and uneventful time as a cabinet minister under Verwoerd meant that he knew little about the workings of departments other than his own.

He knew little about the African population and the inner workings of the huge departments that governed their lives. However, during the year he came to succeed Verwoerd, Vorster combined the Justice portfolio with that of Police and Prisons, strengthening the power of the department and the South African Police Service.

Although Vorster continued with the basic tenets of separate development policies, he alienated extremist factions of the National Party early in his prime ministership by pursuing diplomatic relations with African countries and by agreeing to let black African diplomats live in white areas. However, Vorster’s tenure as prime minister was marked mainly by an increase in racial discrimination and violence in all of South Africa, including an increase in detention without trial.

Although Vorster’s government is mainly known for streamlining and harshly enforcing apartheid’s policies, his foreign policy initiatives are generally viewed as moderate and conciliatory.

He began by unofficially supporting Rhodesia, which at the time was struggling to gain independence from British rule under prime minister Ian Smith. Although publicly he espoused the white public opinion in South Africa, he did not wish to alienate potential political allies such as the United States by extending diplomatic recognition to Rhodesia.

He exerted his pressure as a hegemon in the region by persuading Smith to negotiate with Mozambique during the regional civil war that was ongoing in southern Africa. Vorster began cutting off vital supplies to Smith and even went so far as to refuse calls made by the Rhodesian prime minister. International pressure continued to squeeze South Africa for the remainder of apartheid.

Vorster, in an attempt to regain South African public approval, invaded Angola in the 1970s in order to protect South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) against rebel attempts by Angola to invade the country for diamonds. Continuing his conciliatory initiatives in September 1974, Vorster announced in Cape Town his famous Détente with Africa policy. Despite regional efforts in Angola at the time, Vorster promised cooperation with the leaders of neighboring black African nations.

The negotiations over Rhodesia and attempts to make peace with black Africa were predicated on the hopes that such maneuvers would postpone Vorster’s day of reckoning in South Africa. His hope was that emerging Zimbabwean and Mozambican states would feel indebted to South Africa for its role in liberating these countries.

The 1970s were a turbulent time for Vorster. He harshly suppressed the Soweto uprising in 1976, which would draw more international pressure in the form of economic and social sanctions. He granted independence to the Transkei in 1976 and Bophuthatswana in 1977 in accordance with apartheid’s separate development policies, although economic development within them would stagnate.

He maintained the view that Africans could exercise political rights only in their homelands regardless of where they actually lived. On September 12, 1977, Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader, died in horrifying circumstances while in police custody. Vorster’s response was personally to ban 18 organizations. This step helped him to an overwhelming victory in the general election of November 1977.

However, Vorster did take the first, unconscious steps toward a more equal South Africa. Vorster’s minister of sport and recreation, Dr. Piet Koornhof, managed to secure some limited desegregation of sport by invoking the fiction of multinationalism: Each national group had to play sport separately, but they might play against each other in multinational events.

Similarly higher-class hotels and restaurants might acquire multinational status and thereby admit people of all races. An elaborate system of permits for mixed gatherings, events, and venues was initiated. Vorster saw many apartheid policies as unnecessary and began the slow process of weeding them out.

In the late 1970s Vorster was implicated in what became known as Muldergate (so named after Dr. Connie Mulder, the information cabinet minister at the center of the scandal). Although Vorster was certainly a victim of the scandal, in a sense the scandal arose from circumstances that he himself had perpetrated.

Vorster was implicated in the use of a slush fund to buy the loyalty of The Citizen, the only major English-language newspaper favorable to the National Party. The official investigation concluded that Vorster, in conjunction with the head of the South African Police Services, General H. J. van den Bergh, had not only conspired to manipulate The Citizen but also to buy the U.S.-based Washington Star.

It was discovered that in 1973 Vorster had agreed to Mulder’s plan to shift about 64 million rands from the defense budget for a series of propaganda campaigns. In what became a National Party embarrassment, a commission of inquiry finally concluded in 1979 that Vorster had been aware of the fund and had tolerated it. After the scandal, Vorster retired from the position of prime minister in 1978. Vorster died in Cape TownVorster in 1983.



The area known today as Uganda was part of the charter of the British East Africa Company in 1888, and was ruled as a protectorate in 1894. As more territory was added to the British claims, the boundaries of what now form Uganda took shape in 1914. It was ruled as a British protectorate until given autonomy in 1962.

Apollo Milton Obote was prime minister of Uganda from 1962 to 1966 and state president from 1966 to 1971 and again from 1980 to 1985. Although he began his adult life as a schoolteacher, he is best known for leading Uganda to independence on October 9, 1962, in a relatively peaceful revolution. Prior to independence, Obote served on the Ugandan legislative council beginning in 1957, and in 1960 he founded the Ugandan People’s Congress.

Obote created a political coalition with his rival, Sir Edward Mutesa, king of Buganda, in preparation for the peaceful handover of colonial power to indigenous black African rule. Obote used the position of his rival political leader to gain political favor in the region of Buganda. In a practical political move, Mutesa was installed as president with Obote as prime minister.


As prime minister, Obote held formal state power in his hands. His nominally socialist rule after independence made him unpopular with Western states, particularly Britain. While the country was peaceful and economically stable, the period immediately following independence in Uganda was a difficult time for both Mutesa’s presidency and Obote’s prime ministership.

At the time of independence, Uganda was the only peaceful nation in the region and it become a safe haven for refugees from Zaïre, Sudan, and Rwanda. This placed a huge drain on Uganda’s scarce resources and economy.

Sir Edward Mutesa, first president of Uganda

This period also made it clear that Obote was not going to share power with coalition president Mutesa. This made confrontation inevitable. The trigger for confrontation was Obote’s indictment in a gold-smuggling plot with Idi Amin, then deputy of the Ugandan Armed Forces.

Instead of complying with President Mutesa’s investigations, Obote suspended the Ugandan constitution under the power of his prime ministership, abolishing the role of the leaders of Uganda’s five tribal kingdoms, removing power from Mutesa, and giving himself unlimited emergency powers. The corrupt Ugandan judiciary cleared Obote of all charges of gold smuggling.

The incident, however, incited Obote and his supporters to stage a coup against Mutesa in 1966. He then had himself installed as president on March 2. Obote’s first act as president was to have his attorney general, Godfrey Binaisa, rewrite the Ugandan constitution, transfer all powers to Obote’s presidency, and nationalize all foreign assets.

Obote’s first presidency did not last long. In 1971 Obote was disposed by his army chief, Idi Amin, who had assisted him in overthrowing Mutesa fewer than 10 years prior. Obote fled to Tanzania with many of his supporters. After nine years in exile, Obote gathered Ugandan exiles in Tanzania and ousted Amin in 1979.

In an attempt finally to gain Western support for his second presidency, Obote ordered that Uganda be ruled by a presidential commission before democratic elections were to be held in 1980. Although Obote won the 1980 elections, his second rule was marked by civil war, further distancing him from Western approval.

Apollo Milton Obote was prime minister of Uganda from 1962 to 1966
and state president from 1966 to 1971 and again from 1980 to 1985

Believing the 1980 elections to be rigged, the opposition parties staged a guerrilla rebellion under Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army. Obote was deposed in July 1985, again by his own army commander, Bazilio Okello, and General Tito Okello in a military coup. This time Obote fled to Zambia. Obote remained in southern Africa until his death on October 10, 2005, of kidney failure at a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Idi Amin is perhaps best known for ousting his predecessor, Apollo Milton Obote, and for instituting a totalitarian regime that would devastate Uganda both politically and economically. Amin’s rise to power began in January 1971, when President Obote headed off to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings in Singapore.

Suspecting trouble, Obote left his staff with the order to have Idi Amin and his supporters arrested upon his departure. On the morning of January 25, 1971, forces loyal to Idi Amin stormed strategic military targets in Kampala and the airport in Entebbe.

The first shells fired at Entebbe Airport killed two Roman Catholic priests, setting off a wave of violence throughout the country. Despite the initial disorganization on the part of Amin and his troops, they managed to carry out mass executions of pro-Obote troops and supporters. Obote chose exile in Tanzania.

Military Dictatorship

Idi Amin was the third President of Uganda, ruling from 1971 to 1979

After assuming power, Idi Amin repudiated Obote’s soft socialist foreign policy, resulting in Uganda’s recognition by Israel, Britain, and the United States. However, many African nations and organizations, including the Organization of African Unity, refused to recognize Idi Amin and his military government.

Nevertheless, Idi Amin embraced the label "totalitarian" and renamed the government house the Command House, later instituting an advisory defense council composed of military commanders.

In an attempt to place Uganda under his military dictatorship, he extended military rule to his cabinet members, who, if not drawn from the military, were advised that they would be subjected to military discipline. Army commanders, with Amin’s blessing, acted like warlords, representing the coercive arm of the government.

Foreign policy was revised again in 1972 so that the country could obtain financial assistance and technical support from Libya. In doing so, Amin expelled all remaining Israeli advisers and became anti-Israeli in accordance with Libyan policy.

Idi Amin went in search of foreign help in the form of monetary aid from Saudi Arabia. In doing so, Amin rediscovered Uganda’s previously neglected Islamic heritage. In attempts to recoup profits from lost Western foreign aide, Amin went on to expel the Asian minority in Uganda and seize their property.

However, this appropriation proved disastrous for the already failing Ugandan economy, which was fueled by export crops. Yet the money from the sale of export crops was being recycled back into the purchase of imports for the army.

As a result, rural farmers turned to smuggling from neighboring countries. This became an obsession for Idi Amin toward the end of his rule. He went on to appoint his mercenary adviser, British citizen Bob Astles, to take all necessary steps to end the problem.

The end of Amin’s rule also faced another problem—a counterattack from former Ugandan leader Obote. Idi Amin feared this with good reason. Shortly after Idi Amin expelled the Asian minority in 1972, Obote did attempt an attack into southern parts of Uganda.

Although the attack was launched by a small contingent of only 27 army trucks, his ambition was to capture the strategic military post of Masaka near the border. Obote’s troops decided to settle in and wait for a general uprising against Amin, which did not occur.

Map of Uganda

Obote also attempted a seizure of Entebbe Airport by allegedly hijacking an East African Airways flight out of Tanzania. The attempt failed to accomplish much when the pilot blew out the tires on the passenger plane, and the flight remained in Tanzania.

Amin is internationally known for the hostage crisis at Entebbe Airport in June 1976, when Amin offered Palestinian hijackers of an Air France jet from Tel Aviv a protected base from which they could press their demands in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.

The dramatic rescue of the hostages by Israeli commandos was a severe blow to Amin. Amin’s rule is also marked by a number of disappearances of priests and ministers in the 1970s. The matter reached a climax with the formal protest against army terrorism and death squad activity in 1977 by Church of Uganda ministers, led by Archbishop Janani Luwum.

In response to Luwum’s outspoken agenda against Amin’s violent domestic policies, it appears that Idi Amin had Luwum assassinated. Although Luwum’s body was recovered from a clumsily contrived "auto accident", subsequent investigations revealed that Luwum had been shot by Amin himself.

This last in a long line of atrocities was greeted with international condemnation, but apart from the continued trade boycott initiated by the United States in July 1978, lisan condemnation was not accompanied by action.

Idi Amin went on to claim that Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere—his perennial enemy, partially due to Nyerere’s acceptance of Obote after the coup—had been at the root of his troubles. Amin accused Nyerere of waging war against Uganda. Idi Amin invaded Tanzanian territory and formally annexed a section across the Kagera River boundary on November 1, 1978.

Declaring a formal state of war against Uganda, Nyerere mobilized his citizen army reserves and counter-attacked, joined by Ugandan exiles united as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). The Ugandan Army retreated steadily. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi sent 3,000 troops to aid fellow Muslim Idi Amin, but the Libyans soon found themselves on the front line.

Tanzanian troops and the UNLA took Kampala in April 1979, aided by Obote, and Amin fled by air, first to Libya and later into permanent exile in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, where he died on August 16, 2003, after being in a coma for over a month. The current president of Uganda is Yoweri Museveni, who was elected in February 2006.

Scenery around Kibale Forest in Kibale National Park, Uganda


Togo is a small, narrow republic in western Africa. Slightly fewer than 22,000 square miles, with a north south distance of about 340 miles, Togo is situated between Ghana and Benin. The capital and largest city of Lomé is located on the western side of the 56 kilometer coastline on the Gulf of Guinea.

In spite o its small size, Togo’s population is diverse. There are 37 ethnic groups among its nearly 6 million people, who practice traditional religions, Christianity, and Islam. French is the official language although the African languages Ewe and Kabiyé are also taught.

Togo has one of Africa’s highest rates of population growth and highest rates of deforestation. Over two thirds of the population are engaged in agriculture and lives in areas with limited safe drinking water. In addition to other serious health problems, either HIV or AIDS results in about 10,000 deaths per year.

The slave trade was carried on in Togo during and after the 1600s. Germany made the territory the protectorate of Togoland in 1884 and during the next decade determined the permanent boundaries through agreements with France and Britain. The port city of Lomé was built by the Germans for shipment of goods from the interior.

In 1914 Germany surrendered Togoland to British and French troops. After World War I, France received Togoland in exchange for interior land granted to the British. After World War II, the United Nations gave Britain and France joint control of the territory.

In 1956 British Togo became part of the Gold Coast, which later became Ghana, while French Togo moved for independence. Under the leadership of Sylvanus Olympio, the National Union Party gained control of French Togo and refused an overture to unite with Ghana.

The United Nations granted membership to the new country in 1960. Three years later, Premier Olympio was assassinated in a military coup that installed Nicolas Grunitzky as president. A new constitution was drafted and approved by the nation.

When the army staged a second coup in 1967, the new government, headed by Étienne Eyadéma, dismissed the legislature and threw out the constitution. Eyadéma and his party, Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (RPT, or Togolese People’s Assembly), created a new constitution.

In the elections that followed, Eyadéma was almost unanimously reelected president. On the 13th anniversary of his takeover of the government, Eyadéma announced the Third Togolese Republic. Unrest continued to plague Togo, and in 1986 France sent troops to help quell another attempted coup. Eyadéma was reelected to another seven-year term the same year.

Map of Togo

Eyadéma agreed in 1991 to work with a transitional government until general elections could be held. A national referendum in 1992 approved a new constitution. Among the provisions of the constitution were the establishment of multiparty elections and term limits for officials. In the 1993 election Eyadéma was still able to emerge as the victor for another term.

The elections resulted in a new legislature, which demanded concessions. In 1994 he appointed Edem Kodjo prime minister of a new coalition government. Nevertheless Eyadéma was reelected in 1998 and in 2003, after the legislature removed the term limits from the constitution.

When President Eyadéma died in February 2005, he was succeeded by his son Faure Gnassingbe. The succession, supported by the military but not by the constitution, was challenged by popular protest and a threat of sanctions from regional leaders. Gnassingbe easily won the elections he held in April 2005.

Sudanese Civil Wars

Sudanese Civil Wars

The Sudan has been the theater for several major intercommunal conflicts since the 1950s. During the British administration of the Sudan under the Condominium Agreement, North and South Sudan had been administered separately. The north, with historic ties to Egypt, was predominantly Muslim and Arabic speaking.

The population in the south was primarily black and a mixture of Christians and animists, speaking a variety of African languages. The British restricted Sudanese living north of the 10th parallel from traveling farther south, and the Sudanese living below the 8th parallel from traveling north. This helped sow the seeds of future conflicts.

The first Sudanese civil war broke out shortly before Sudanese independence in 1956 and lasted until 1972. The Addis Ababa Agreement was signed in 1972, ending hostilities and giving the southern Sudan considerable self-rule and autonomy.


The peace held until President Jaafar Muhammad Numeiri broke the agreement in 1983 by trying to create a federated Sudan. President Numeiri moved to implement Islamic sharia law over all of the Sudan, including the Christian population.

Newly discovered oil reserves in the southern territory also provided a motive for more northern interference in the region. Led by Colonel John Garang, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) launched an all-out war against northern domination, further weakening Numeiri.

The Numeiri regime was overthrown in a military-led coup in 1985, but the civil war continued as Islamist forces gained power in Khartoum. Negotiations for a cease-fire ended in 1986 when SPLA forces shot down a civilian aircraft.

The National Islamic Front (NIF) then joined the northern forces to ensure that Islamic law was retained. This endangered hopes for future peace talks because one of the primary demands of those in the south had been the repeal of Islamic law.

Southern forces retained control over most of the southern countryside, and in 1989 further negotiations collapsed over the issue of Islamic law. In 1991 the tide changed when the Ethiopian government was deposed, depriving the south of its main ally and arms supplier. Inter-rival fighting among groups in the south further weakened the resistance against the north.

As almost all of the fighting had occurred in southern provinces, the region had experienced massive population dislocation, food shortages, and destruction. Throughout the 1990s, the south was torn apart by inter-tribal warfare as well as numerous offensives from the north.

With substantial international pressure, the 2003 peace talks made progress, and the two sides signed the Naivasha Treaty on January 9, 2005. The treaty guaranteed autonomy for southern Sudan for six years, after which a referendum was to be held regarding complete independence. Monies from oil reserves were to be divided equally between the north and south, and both north and south armies were allowed to remain in place.

The peace treaty was imperiled after John Garang, the new co-vice president, was killed in a helicopter crash. Riots broke out in the south, where many believed the regime in Khartoum had been responsible for Garang’s death. However, a tentative peace held, and Salva Kiir Mayardit became the new SPLA leader and Sudanese vice president.

The United Nations (UN) established the UN Mission to Sudan under UN Security Council Resolution 1590 in March 2005; the mission was to protect and promote human rights in southern Sudan and to help to maintain the peace. However, an uprising in the western Darfur region put the mission and Sudanese unity in danger.

The Darfur region, predominantly Muslim, rebelled in 2003, accusing the government of neglect; it used this as a basis for secessionist claims. The central government launched a brutal campaign of scorched earth against Darfur and aligned itself with Arab militias known as the Janjaweed.

Many in Darfur fled into neighboring Chad, thereby creating an international crisis. By 2006 the government in Khartoum claimed victory and signed the Darfur Peace Agreement supervised by the African Union Mission in Sudan, but this failed to halt hostilities, and the conflict continues.

These ongoing civil wars have decimated large sectors of the Sudanese economy. The fluctuating price of cotton, the primary cash crop, has further weakened Sudan’s economic prospects. The discovery of small oil reserves raised hopes, but with the ongoing violence, it is difficult to gauge the positive effects of this resource.

Severe labor shortages and the emigration of large portions of the educated elite in both the north and south have also had negative impacts on Sudan’s recovery. Therefore it seems likely that the Sudan will remain a volatile and unstable region for the foreseeable future.

Ecological Crisis in Sahel

The Sahel region is the semi-arid part of western and north-central Africa that is located between the Sahara in the north, and the humid savannah of the south — much of it being in what was formerly French West Africa.

It covers the region from the Atlantic Ocean, covering northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), southern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, south-central Chad, and through to the Sudan. Some descriptions have it including a small part of southwestern Morocco (formerly Western Sahara), and going through to Eritrea.

In the second part of the 20th century, with a large increase in the population of the Sahel, there has been massive soil erosion and desertification. Much tree and scrub cover has been removed to allow for the collection of firewood and for the creation of more farmland.


Subsequent rainstorms have taken away much of the topsoil, destroying the fertility of the land and turning much of it into wasteland. Overgrazing has continued to make the situation worse, accentuated by bad land management. This in turn has led to the expansion of the Sahara in spite of a number of attempts to prevent this.

A bad drought in 1968 led to the destruction of many of the crops grown in the Sahel, and, with more years of drought in the early 1970s, the problems became worse. In 1972 the entire Sahel received almost no rain, and in the following year the Sahara started increasing up to 60 miles (100 km) a day in the south.

Some 100,000 people died from starvation and related diseases in 1973, and, although international relief aid managed to help, severe drought and famine hit the Sahel again in the period 1983–85. In recent years, as the situation has become far worse, it has been associated with global warming and greenhouse gases, although direct human activity is certainly to blame.

The situation was so bad that in 1973 the United Nations Sahelian Office (UNSO) was created to try to address the problems facing the Sahel. The International Fund for Agricultural Development was founded in 1977 to deal with this and similar environmental problems; in the 1990s the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was adopted. Although the UNCCD has managed to make progress, the ecological crisis has exacerbated many tribal and other tensions in the region, such as in Darfur.

Rwanda/Burundi Conflict

Rwanda and Burundi were, until World War I, occupied by the Germans, being a part of German East Africa. Captured by the Allied armed forces, they were administered as Ruanda-Urundi by Belgium under League of Nations trusteeship and, from 1945, under United Nations (UN) trusteeship.

The entity was split in 1959 into Burundi and Rwanda, and on July 1, 1962, the two countries became independent with the formation of the Kingdom of Burundi and the Republic of Rwanda. Both faced regular ethnic problems centering on the Tutsi-Hutu rivalry, with the Hutu forming 85 percent of the population of each country and the Tutsi being a much better educated minority.

In the year before Burundi became independent, there was political trouble that followed the UN-supervised elections of September 1961 that saw the Parti de l’Unité et Progrès National winning but their leader, Prince Louis Rwagsore, being assassinated several weeks later.


There was more instability when two prime ministers, Pierre Ngendandumwe and Joseph Bamina, were assassinated before an attempted coup d’état took place in October 1965. Thousands were killed as the government sought to maintain its power. However, it gave too much power to the army, which, in November 1966, overthrew the monarchy and established a republic under President Michel Micombero.

The last former king, Ntare V. Ndizeye, staged a coup attempt in 1972 but was killed in the attempt, which was immediately blamed on the Hutu—the government being drawn from the Tutsi minority.

As the Tutsi government sought revenge on its opponents, some 100,000 Hutu were massacred. In 1976 Micombero was overthrown in a military coup, and the new president, Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, tried to moderate the government and introduce reforms that stopped the oppression of the Hutu.

However, Bagaza was overthrown in 1987 in a coup d’état organized by Major Pierre Buyoya, who suspended the 1981 constitution and dissolved opposition parties. In August 1988 some 20,000 Hutu were massacred by the government, and many Hutu refugees fled to Rwanda.

In Rwanda, the monarchy was removed in 1959, before independence, and at independence, in 1962, the Hutu-led Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation Hutu—led by Grégoire Kayibanda—came to power.

There were massacres of some 20,000 Tutsi, and in 1973 Kayibanda was overthrown by General Juvénal Habyarimana, a former defense minister, who became president. He formed the Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement. It was not until 1978 that the constitution was restored; Habyarimana was relected in 1983 and again in January 1989.

It was the 1988 ethnic tensions in Burundi that sent large numbers of Hutu refugees from Burundi across the Rwanda-Burundi border. Many Tutsis also settled in Uganda, where they became Anglophiles, in contrast with the Rwandan and Burundi governments, which maintained connections with France.

Fighting in both countries came to a brief halt, and in April 1994, when negotiations to end the fighting were starting to make progress, the plane carrying Habyarimana back to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, was shot down with a French missile. All on board, including President Ntaryamira of Burundi, were killed. This was the opportunity that the extreme Rwandan Hutus were eagerly awaiting to try to take over control of Rwanda.

It is not known for certain who shot down the plane, but the Hutu government of Rwanda blamed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)—Tutsi rebels who were based in Uganda—while the RPF blamed the hard-liners in the government who did not want to share power. The killing of the president gave the extreme Hutus an excuse to unleash their Interahamwe militia on the Tutsis and moderate Hutus, killing up to 900,000 of them in horrific massacres.

Several UN solders were killed while protecting moderate politicians in Kigali, and the remainder of the UN forces was evacuated from the country. The UN Security Council—Rwanda was a member at the time—did nothing to try to stop the genocide, which only ended as the RPF forces won the civil war, capturing Kigali soon afterward.

The RPF inherited a devastated country and did their best to arrest the perpetrators of the genocide but hundreds of thousands of Hutus—extremists and their supporters—fled into the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the coming to power of the government of President Paul Kagame in Rwanda, there has been a concerted effort to rebuild the country shattered by ethnic tensions, war, and genocide.

With a large number of the intelligentsia of the country murdered or in exile overseas, Kagame has managed gradually to rebuild the infrastructure of the country and at the same time prosecute those guilty of horrendous atrocities.

The United Nations Security Council did adopt Resolution 977 in February 1995, setting up the International Criminal Tribunal based in Tanzania. The Kagame government has objected to it because it has refused to sanction the death penalty even for the most heinous of crimes.

Some of those caught in Rwanda, in some cases having been found guilty of murdering hundreds of people with machetes, have been tried and executed, with others jailed. In spite of the tensions and hatreds engendered by the war, the civil society is gradually being improved in Rwanda, with conditions also improving in Burundi.

Prior to the recent civil war, many tourists had visited Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas. These numbers had increased following the film Gorillas in the Mist (1988) about Dian Fossey who lived with the gorillas and nurtured many of them, especially one known as "Digit". After the war it was revealed that most of the gorillas survived, and some tourist groups are, once again, visiting Rwanda.

Rhodesia/Zimbabwe Independence Movements

Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia, as it was known until 1980, is a landlocked nation of 13 million people occupying the plateau between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers, bordered by Zambia to the north, Botswana to the west, Mozambique to the east, and South Africa to the south.

While the rest of Britain’s African colonies, including two of Rhodesia’s neighbors—Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi)—gained independence as part of a wave of decolonization, Rhodesia remained a bastion of minority white rule because of its influential European population. Even after the country gained majority rule in 1980, white control of land continued to be a crucial issue in Zimbabwe.

At midcentury, mostly because of the country’s substantial mineral wealth and fertile soil for tobacco cultivation, Rhodesia’s white population enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world.


The country’s black residents, however, who made up over 95 percent of the population, possessed little political power and received just 5 percent of the nation’s income. Having gained control by force roughly a half-century earlier, whites made up one-twentieth of the population but held one-third of the land.

At the end of World War II the political winds began to change. Britain moved to grant independence to many of its colonies in Asia and Africa. Rhodesia, which had been a British-chartered corporate colony at the turn of the century and a self-governing British colony since 1923, took on a new political form in 1953 with the establishment of the Central African Federation. Southern Rhodesia dominated this confederation; it exploited the copper of Northern Rhodesia and the labor of Nyasaland.

The arrival of independent rule in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1964 brought considerable anxiety to the white population of Southern Rhodesia, who believed that Britain favored majority rule.

In response, in November of 1965, Ian Douglas Smith, an unabashed champion of white rule, announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, which cut the country’s ties with Britain and established the independent nation of Rhodesia. In a referendum, overwhelming numbers of the white population supported Smith. Britain responded by imposing diplomatic and economic sanctions.

The cold war struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence around the world, including in the nations of Africa, complicated these developments. U.S. relations with Ian Smith’s white-ruled Rhodesia at the time shows the ambivalent position of the United States.

On the one hand the United States valued the support of Rhodesia, which contained vast reserves of strategic minerals, especially chromium, and adopted a strongly anticommunist stance. Yet, at the same time, the United States worried that support for Smith’s white supremacist government would cost it needed friends in rapidly decolonizing Africa.

In 1965 U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson condemned Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence and, following Britain’s lead, imposed economic sanctions. Although these sanctions could have been even stronger, U.S. trade there declined from $29 million in 1965 to $3.7 million in 1968, a real blow to the Rhodesian economy. At the same time, though, Rhodesia received substantial support from some within the United States.

The Byrd Amendment of 1971, which was enacted with the support of the Richard Nixon administration, punched a significant hole in the sanctions against Rhodesia. According to this law, the United States could not ban the importation from a non-communist nation any material needed for national defense if that same material would otherwise be purchased from a communist nation.

Since chromium, a key resource for many modern weapon systems, was also imported from the Soviet Union, the United States was forced to allow trade with Rhodesia. Imports of chromium grew from $500,000 in 1965, to $13 million in 1972, to $45 million in 1975.

Organized black resistance to white rule in Rhodesia took shape in the late 1950s, and the two main oppositional parties, parties that would dominate Zimbabwean politics well beyond independence, were established in the early 1960s.

In 1957 the African National Congress, based in Bulawayo, and the African National Youth League, based in Salisbury (present-day Harare), combined to form the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress under Joshua Nkomo. Banned in 1959, this group was succeeded by the National Democratic Party, which was itself banned in December 1961.

Shortly thereafter, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) was established. A major split occurred in 1963, resulting in the formation of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). ZAPU was mostly Ndebele and Chinese-leaning; ZANU was mostly Shona and Soviet-leaning.

ZAPU and ZANU adopted different strategies at different times. During the 1960s, as white Rhodesians like Ian Smith grew more extreme, African nationalist methods became more militant and confrontational.

Both ZANU and ZAPU began attacking white farms in 1964, but they quickly realized they were outmatched by the Rhodesian military. A more moderate group, the African National Council—organized by Bishop Abel Muzorewa—sprang up during the early 1970s. None of these groups had much success.

The situation began to shift during the late 1970s. In 1975, after long wars, two Portuguese colonies in southern Africa, Mozambique and Angola, gained their independence. Black-ruled Mozambique became a safe haven for many of the guerrilla groups opposing the white regime in Rhodesia. In 1975 the two most important of these groups—ZANU, under Robert Mugabe, and ZAPU, under Joshua Nkomo—joined forces to become the Patriotic Front.

Jimmy Carter’s victory in the U.S. presidential election of 1976 also played a role in shifting the context of Rhodesian politics. Concerned about the U.S. reputation in other parts of black Africa, the Carter administration began to push for a settlement to the conflict. In general, the United States supported majority rule with protection of white interests.

The British called the Lancaster House Conference in an attempt to broker a lasting solution. The resulting settlement guaranteed majority rule for Zimbabwe, a transitional period for whites, and a multiparty system.

At the center of the settlement was a new constitution, which gave the vote to all Africans 18 years and older, reserved 28 seats in the parliament for whites for 10 years, and guaranteed private property rights. In the election of February 1980, voting mostly followed ethnic lines. ZANU–Popular Front won a clear majority, making its leader, Robert Mugabe, the prime minister.

ZAPU–Popular Front, which had recently split from ZANU-PF, joined the white members of parliament in opposition. Taking its name from the 14th- and 15th-century stone city of Great Zimbabwe, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe on April 18, 1980. The war for majority rule, which had cost over 25,000 lives, most of them black, was over.

Under Robert Mugabe’s rule, Zimbabwe in the 1980s pursued socialist-leaning policies not unlike those of many other countries in Africa. It expanded social programs that had been denied under white rule. And, although it claimed to want to redistribute land, in reality it moved slowly to break up successful white farms.

This cost the regime politically but it enabled Zimbabwe to continue to feed itself. Overall, during the early 1980s many Zimbabweans saw real improvements in the quality of their lives.

As the 1980s unfolded, Mugabe began to show authoritarian tendencies. Even early on he rounded up opponents, censored the press, and gave broad authority to security forces. At first he was able to get away with this because of his wide support, especially in rural areas.

Mugabe won the March 1996 election with 92.7 percent of the vote, but only a very small number of Zimbabweans bothered to vote. The decrease in voter participation revealed the growing discontent of Zimbabweans with Mugabe. On top of this, in the early 1980s a civil war that would last until 1987 broke out in Matabeleland, a stronghold of the ZAPU-PF.

In the late 1990s Mugabe initiated two very controversial programs. In 1997, he began seizing white-owned land without compensation and quietly encouraging landless blacks to move onto white farms. These farms had previously fed the nation and provided work for large numbers of people, mostly black.

In 2002 Mugabe appropriated the remaining white land and ordered white farmers to offer payments to former workers. Because many of the blacks who moved onto the white land had few farming skills, the nation soon faced a food crisis.

Critics, moreover, claimed that Mugabe handed out the best land to his family, friends, and close supporters. In another controversial move, in 1998 Mugabe deployed the military in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help its government fend off an armed rebellion.

The situation in Zimbabwe seems precarious. During the 2002 elections Mugabe rigged the voting and jailed opponents, especially the supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Neighboring nations supported Mugabe but other African nations, such as Kenya and Ghana, condemned his move.

Famine conditions persist in Zimbabwe, and the people struggle with skyrocketing prices and extremely high unemployment. That no system is in place to determine a successor to the aging Mugabe portends a divisive struggle to come.

Mobutu Sese Seko

Mobutu Sese Seko

Mobutu Sese Seko, a member of the Ngbandi ethnic group, was born in Lisala, Belgian Congo, in 1930. After receiving a Catholic education from white missionaries, he began his public life by serving in the Belgian Colonial Army. He was a colonel by 1960 and appointed chief of staff of the Congolese Army by newly independent Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba.

The struggle for Congolese independence left behind ethnic fighting and soon civil war. By September 1961 fighting erupted between Congolese troops and the United Nations (UN) forces sent to quiet the growing civil discontent.

Sensing growing political disarray in the Congo, Mobutu seized power on November 24, 1965, in a successful coup over President Kasavubu following a power struggle between Kasavubu and his prime minister, Möise Tshombe. Mobutu declared himself president for a five-year term, placed Möise Tshombe on trial for treason, and condemned him to death.


Mobutu took full executive powers into his own hands. The coup marked the beginning of the Second Congolese Republic and the reestablishment of minimal law and order. Mobutu appointed Colonel Leonard Mulamba as his prime minister and inaugurated a campaign of national reconstruction.

This was highlighted by the 1966 establishment of the Movement de la Revolution (MPR), with himself as president. Mobutu went on to eliminate all opposition to his control while centralizing all decision making into his own presidency.

Mobutu’s rule was not made official until 1967 when he instituted a new constitution. However, the years between 1967 and 1970 saw substantial clashes with students who had become disillusioned with Mobutu and his authoritarian rule. Nevertheless he was reelected president in 1970.

Like many African leaders who would follow, Mobutu embarked on a campaign of pro-African cultural awareness, renaming the country the Republic of Zaïre in October 1971. He ordered all Africans to drop their Christian names, and priests were warned that they would face five years’ imprisonment if they were caught baptizing a Zaïrois child with a Christian name.

The Shaba Wars of 1977 and 1978 threatened Mobutu’s constitutionally entrenched presidency. Several thousand soldiers of ex–prime minister Tshombe’s former Katanga army exiled in Angola had become suspicious of Mobutu’s offers of amnesty. In 1977 these same soldiers crossed the border into Shaba province.

The continuing economic slump, combined with the attack by the Katanga troops, forced Mobutu to solicit foreign aid to restabilize the country. France, motivated by the opportunity to defeat Communist-backed troops in Africa, airlifted 1,500 elite Moroccan paratroopers into the Shaba region.

The rebel army retreated but advanced again a year later in greater numbers. Mobutu persisted in his requests for international assistance and this time received helped from Belgium and France, with logistical support from the United States.

The rebels were defeated again. In return for their assistance, France and Morocco urged Mobutu to democratize his increasingly hostile regime. Mobutu responded with pseudo-elections with a secret ballot that allowed 2,000 candidates to contest 270 seats in the legislative council and another 167 candidates to contest 18 elective seats in the political bureau. Mobutu was reelected.

The remainder of Mobutu’s presidency would focus on high-profile foreign relations efforts meant to polish the tarnished image of his nation. He restored relations with Israel in 1982 and sent troops into Chad as part of a peacekeeping mission in 1983. Mobutu went on to suspend Zaïre’s membership in the Organization of African Unity in 1984 in support of Morocco’s walkout over the Western Sahara question.

Recognizing the failing economic situation in Zaïre, in 1990 Mobutu called for a dialogue between the state and the people of Zaïre. The resulting dialogue saw 100 demonstrating students massacred by troops at Lubambashi in May of that year.

Mobutu announced his resignation as chair of the MPR in an attempt to rise above the problems within the party. He went on to establish a special commission to draft a new constitution by April 1991 that finally allowed free operation of political parties.

In January 1993 the High Council of the Republic declared Mobutu guilty of treason and threatened impeachment unless he recognized the legitimacy of the transitional parliament set up by the new constitution of 1991. Strikes and disorder followed while Mobutu attempted to reassert his authority.

He reconvened the dormant national assembly as a rival to the High Council of the Republic and created a conclave that appointed Faustin Birindwa as prime minister. He announced the dissolution of the High Council and the dismissal of the Birindwa government in January 1994.

Mobutu was overthrown in the First Congo War by Laurent-Désiré Kabila. When Mobutu’s government issued an order in November 1996 forcing Tutsis to leave Zaïre on penalty of death, they erupted in rebellion. From eastern Zaïre, with the support of presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Meseveni of Uganda, they launched an offensive to overthrow Mobutu.

Ailing with prostate cancer, Mobutu was unable to coordinate the resistance. On May 16, 1997, following failed peace talks, Mobutu went into temporary exile in Togo, but lived mostly in Morocco. Mobutu died on September 7, 1997, in exile in Rabat, Morocco.