He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath, ‘The horror! The horror!’”
— Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Last Monday (18th August) Channel Four’s “Dispatches” screened a documentary by the independent film maker Evan Williams titled Nigeria’s Hidden War. Broadcast as it was, at 11 p.m. on a weekday night, it probably only attracted about six viewers. I recorded it.
It was truly horrific. Those of us who are familiar with Africa’s long history of agony would not have been too surprised by the content of Mr Williams’ film. Although the ruthless, heartless barbarism of the rich and powerful against the poor and weak can be seen in many (perhaps most) parts of the world there can be few places that exceed the evil extremism of the rich and powerful attained in Africa – an evil extremism magnified many times over by the perpetual darkness in which their activities are routinely kept.
The thing that made this programme so important was not so much the information it provided about the all-but-unknown horrors of life in one of Africa’s richest countries; the particular importance of Mr Williams’ film was the hard evidence it provided of the deep institutional cynicism of the foreign policies of western governments – especially the US and UK governments.
The facts of the background to Mr Williams’ film, as they appear to be, are:
1. On or about the 14th April 2014 over 200 school girls were kidnapped from a government school in Chibok, a remote town in North East Nigeria.
2. The girls appear to have been kidnapped by a group of Islamic extremists active in the area called Boko Haram.
Within a day or so of the kidnapping Associated Press had somehow managed to obtain details of the incident and issue a report. The story then appears to have emerged within a couple of days in mainstream American media and then around the world. This might not be very remarkable if the kidnapping had happened in a western country, but the fact that it happened in a remote part of Nigeria where, as Mr Williams’ film went on to show in considerable detail, massive unreported savagery is a routine part of daily life, the apparent concern shown by western newsrooms for the fate of a mere two hundred girls, together with the sudden concerted efficiency of the world’s media to bring the story to our attention seems really quite extraordinary.
A month after the kidnapping (14th May), Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that Britain is sending military assistance “in terms of surveillance aircraft, a military team to embed with the Nigerian army in their HQ, and a team to work with US experts to analyse information on the girls’ location”.
A week later (21st May) President Obama says the US is sending troops to Chad to help find the girls
A little relevant background.
I recently read Jane Bussman’s excellent book The Worst Date Ever. It’s a remarkable read, a bizarre sort of combination of Bridget Jones and John Pilger, if you can get your head around that. In the book Bussman reveals how the kidnapping of school children in remote parts of Central Africa appears to have become a routine method of attracting western “aid” – so much so that’s it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that military and government facilitators must be actively complicit in helping to arrange the kidnappings.
Chapters 40 and 41 of Bussman’s book are very relevant to the recent events in Nigeria, because we learn how, on 10th October 1996, 139 girls were kidnapped from St Mary’s College Aboke, a town in Uganda, supposedly by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.1
Furthermore we learn that the Ugandan army had prior warning that the LRA were going to attack the school… and did nothing. Not only did the army do nothing to protect the school from the raid, they quite possibly helped it. According to Bussman, this was not the first time the school had been attacked for the purpose of kidnapping girls, but the third; and because of that a “home guard” was posted there but, “ten days before the 1996 attack , the home guard was withdrawn, without any prior notice”.2 Having been tipped-off that Kony’s men were going to attack it, and now defenceless too, the nuns asked if they should close the school but were told by the army to keep it open.
Bussman cautiously credits the army with rescuing one girl, “Sylvia”; I say cautiously because she also writes that in previous raids “The St Mary’s pupils who got away from Kony weren’t rescued; they escaped”.3
So, given this background, it’s not too surprising that in the 1996 raid the deputy head of the school, an Italian nun called Sister Rachele Fassera, decided not to wait for the army to come to the rescue, but to do it herself – just as she had done after the two previous raids. So together with a geography teacher, John Bosco Ocen, the tiny rescue party followed the considerable tracks left by the group of about 300 kidnappers and their victims deep into the Ugandan bush. Eventually she caught up with the raiders and persuaded them to release 109 of the girls back into the care of Sister Rachele.
Bussman beautifully concludes this part of her book with the damning indictment: “Out of the 139 girls, the government army rescued Sylvia. Nun 109, Army 1.” 4)
Over two years ago most of the world learnt about Joseph Kony and the LRA when a You Tube video “Stop Kony” went viral. “Aid”, in the shape of weapons of war and western military “advisers”, have been pouring into the region for years. News.com, which calls itself Australia’s number one news site, recently reported that although Kony has effectively disappeared from the face of the Earth, “aid” is still pouring into Uganda. A photograph shows what appears to be a US Special Forces officer with Ugandan soldiers, and the accompanying article says that the US “ramped up its anti-Kony efforts in March”.
There can be few things more cynical in the deeply cynical world of western foreign policy than the manipulation of “aid” to desperately weak and disadvantaged people. Jane Bussman’s book is not a heavyweight account of this cynicism; but it is extremely effective at providing a very readable glimpse into one example of this murky, murky business – enough to suggest that something is very, very wrong.
She describes a conversation she has with a Colonel Charles Otema, the senior Ugandan army officer in Gulu, the part of Uganda where much of her story is located:
I asked him the real question: ‘Colonel, are you winning the war [against Kony]?’
He said, ‘Of course. Kony can’t get the manpower. He can’t kidnap anymore.’
I told him about the seven girls kidnapped in Kitgum [yet another account of kidnapped schoolgirls]. I told him that even the United Nations security briefing said Kony was still kidnapping. And the colonel said, quote: ‘Ah, well, you know, these UN officials lie. Because if the war is over, they are out of a job.’5
But it’s not just UN officials who might be protecting their positions; because in the very next part of her story Bussman mentions that the Acholi Inn in Gulu, where she had been staying, the hotel of choice for most western “aid” workers and journalists visiting the area for their Kony stories, was owned by Colonel Otema; and towards the end of her book Bussman suggests a far, far bigger scam.
The whole point of Bussman’s book is to point out that kidnapping schoolchildren in remote African towns has been almost routine for at least twenty years; and then to point out a curious relationship between kidnappers, resident armies, “aid” workers, arms dealers and government officials:
Kony built a whole city of children in the desert, where anyone could have found them but only a nun did.
[President] Museveni said he was sending the army to catch Kony – 40,000 troops. But Kony is still alive, because 40,000 troops weren’t looking for Kony. ‘Where were the soldiers?’ They were next door in the Congo, full of gold and diamonds, in a feeding frenzy. Never mind a hotel, Otema’s colleagues in the UPDF [Uganda Peoples Defence Force] ran their own mining operations in the Congo, mines scraping up coltan for mobile phones, laptops and computer games… we paid Museveni’s grocery bills – 43 percent of his budget comes from foreign aid – and with the money he saved he bought Mambas and attack helicopters and rocket-propelled grenades. His army fire-bombed a few of Kony’s kids to justify them, then nipped over the border for some duty-free shopping. The cash kept coming.
Ten years ago, when Kony was kidnapping at his fastest, Uganda managed to export over $100 million dollars more gold than it actually, as it were, had….In 2000 the International Court of Justice found Uganda guilty of war crimes in the Congo. But the cash kept coming. Uganda’s government had the war under control, but not in the way you’d think.6
Jane Bussman’s book is perhaps not intended for the serious student of international affairs, but it’s still a good and important read. It does more to reveal the deep cynicism, and horrific tragedy of daily African life, than the BBC and a thousand other reputable “news” providers have ever done.
Kony’s whereabouts are still unknown. If they ever become known, it’s my guess the world has about as much chance of hearing his story from his lips as it had of learning the stories of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or Muammar Gaddafi from their lips.
As the whole planet has been in a slowly worsening death-spiral ever since the days of the Thatcher/Reagan alliance, life in Africa, just like the rest of the world, has not been improving. Mr Williams’ superb film shone a bright but all-too-temporary light on the ongoing apocalypse that is Africa. “Nigeria’s Hidden War” appears to be little more than an updated re-working of the days when Kony and his LRA were occupying the leading stories of the corporate media. But what makes the thing especially cynical is the apparent concern of the great western leaders and their media lackeys in the fate of 200 schoolgirls. It’s a concern that’s not at all interested in the fact that at least 4,000 Nigerians have been butchered in the same area over the last couple of years – most likely by the west’s “partners”. It’s exactly the same lack of concern they show at the thousands of victims of so many of the evil foreign policies of the west who are perishing every week in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Pakistan, Honduras, Yemen, Occupied Palestine…
Shortly after Obama and his London-based poodle announced their righteous commitment to increasing “aid” to Nigeria, that country announced that the search for the missing girls was to be “wrapped up”. Mission accomplished. There was no information about whether the British and American forces have also “wrapped up” their presence in Nigeria and Chad.
About three weeks later (14th July), in spite of the fact that the girls have still not been found, and in spite of the fact that Nigeria has “wrapped up “ its search for them, Nigerian president Goodluck Johnson allegedly “promised” the made-in-the-UK Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai that the girls will soon be home. If true, the man either knows something that no one else appears to know, or there’s simply no depth to his cynicism.
The relationship revealed in Mr Williams’ film between Nigeria’s army and the savage murderous gangs of thugs that do much of their dirty work for them is convincing. And the fact that the Nigerian High Commission in London denied and refuted every aspect of the documentary somehow does more to establish the film’s credibility, and suggests the corruption goes all the way to the top. I mean, if the government really had nothing to hide, it could have done the safe and sensible thing and simply said they would investigate the matter or, even better, invite an independent UN team to do so.
If Jane Bussman’s experience is anything to go on, and it probably is, if any western politicians really wanted to do something useful to find and rescue the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, they should simply ensure their “aid” takes the form of a few nuns; the evidence suggests that’s far more cost-effective and efficient in rescuing defenceless children than billions of dollars-worth of high-tech weaponry and steely-eyed military types.
Whilst the white-skinned monsters that control Africa’s fate with the same ruthless efficiency as their colonial predecessors of yesteryear, together with their black-skinned “partners”, while they’re all allowed to continue their exploitation of a wonderful, beautiful continent, there can be no end to the horrors there. Although Africans, like all the rest of us, need to free themselves of rulers of all kinds, their need to do so is far more desperate.
- The Worst Date Ever by Jane Bussman (p. 211-224). [↩]
- Ibid (p. 218). [↩]
- Ibid. (p. 223). [↩]
- Ibid. (p. 224). [↩]
- Ibid. (p. 339). [↩]
- Ibid (p. 344/5). [↩]