2003 July 19 Saturday
Anthony Daniels On Liberia

Anthony Daniels says that the United States was bound to be condemned for either intervening or failing to intervene. (Daily Telegraph, free registration may be required)

After all, as Liberians never ceased to point out to me when I visited Monrovia during a brief lull in the civil war, a detachment of 500 trained troops could have put an end to the violence there in a couple of weeks. A few marines would have saved 200,000 lives.

The trouble is that life is lived forwards, not backwards. If the marines had been dispatched, no one would have known how many lives they saved, and then the very same people who condemn the Americans for not having dispatched them would have blamed the Americans for other reasons. They would have said that the Americans were trying to secure West African diamonds, or its iron and manganese deposits. There is no pleasing some people.

The article is an excellent quick overview of the significant forces and events that led to the current conditions in Liberia. The most notable fact brought out in the article is that only 3% of the Liberians are really from the group of ex-slaves who settled there from America in the 19th century. For many decades until about 1980 people from that small group made up the governing elite of Liberia. Think about that. If they had been white they would have been condemned in many circles as colonial oppressors. Also, their fall from power basically marks the beginning point of the slide of Liberia into mismanagement, lawlessness, and civil war.

The group that replaced the American slave descendants were members of another tribe which were also only 3% of the total Liberian population. To put Liberia back together again and restore it to the state of governance it was in before the decay began would require restoration of the descendants of ex-American slaves back into power. But given the tribal and religious divisions in the country it is not at all clear that a broadly representative government is workable either.

Daniels points out that the United States is far from the only country with a few thousand troops capable of restoring some degree of order. Given that the US military already has too many other things to do why doesn't some other country step up to the plate? Failing that, I'll repeat again: a private military force could do the job very cost-effectively and quickly.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 19 05:01 PM  Chaotic Regions

godlesscapitalist said at July 20, 2003 12:14 AM:

Think about that. If they had been white they would have been condemned in many circles as colonial oppressors.

The really non-PC question is whether they were part white, and whether this helped.

Trent Telenko said at July 20, 2003 10:40 AM:


What this means is that those who damn the USA if it does or doesn't have lost all right to be heard by American decision makers.

Steven Adeff said at July 22, 2003 8:30 AM:

I work with a kid from Africa. He was born there and moved here for high school and now attends college in Michigan and is getting an Engineering degree. He's a very smart kid, with a much better understanding of Africa than I or any American can claim to have. We talked about the Liberia situation, and its relation in context to the rest of Africa's troubles. I could write a really good blog post about what he said. I'll save it though and just mention the comments about Liberia.

The real problem is not that the country was formed, or that the people starting it were ex-slaves from America, or that we could stop the problems they are having but don't. The problem is we let the country form under the conditions it did at all. We should never have let American ex-slaves start a country where they were not ancestraly from, where they were not in the political majority, and where most of the inhabitants were tribes people with the tribe mentality of governance.

THAT is the real problem Africa is having. The Western world screwed them over way worse than just taking some of them as slaves. Until we admit this, we don't have a chance in hell in solving the real root of the problems there.

Randall Parker said at July 22, 2003 9:34 AM:

Steve, I do not find that a convincing explanation. If the ex-slaves were not there then why would Liberia be any better governed than any other African country? Tribalism is causing corruption, violence, and civil war in many African countries. It is doing this without the presence of an ex-slave elite.

Steven said at July 22, 2003 10:48 AM:

Why should it have been a country to begin with?
Why not allow the tribes to go about their business as they had for so long before we imposed on them the idea that they had to form countries?
Europe and Asia were at one point a tribal culture, it took us/them more than 500 years to properly develop a working societal structure tolerant of such large and encompassing governments. Africa was and still is a tribal culture and we imposed the idea of collective government(Countries) upon them when they were not ready for it(and still are not).
I'm not saying the ex-slaves caused the poor governing, I'm just saying it was done at the wrong time by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Randall Parker said at July 22, 2003 12:10 PM:

Colonial borders to African states: Yes, they were very unwisely drawn. We could allow African states to dissolve entirely and perhaps to reconstitute along tribal borders. But consider all the problems this would cause:

1) Smaller tribes would still be dominated (and probably whole scale killed) by larger tribes.

2) The wars the adjustment would cause would be economically devastating and kill lots of people.

3) There is considerable overlap between where members of various tribes live. The purges that would be necessary to make tribally homogeneous territories would not be pretty.

Also, one of the problems with Africa was that the scale of the tribes was in many cases small way back when. Read Thomas Packenham's (sp?) The Scramble For Africa. When Stanley went thru what eventually became the Belgian Congo he hit a new tribe with its own exclusive territory every few miles down the river. The point is that there are not necessarily tribal units large enough to form governments out of.

Tribal culture in Europe: Not for a long time. There were regional languages and identities but they were not tribal in the same sense that people think themselves members of tribes in Africa. One reason for this is Christianity. During the latter Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages the Euros thought themselves members of a larger Christian polity. They were not ruled by tribal leaders. They were ruled by an aristocracy that did not think of its subjects as members of a common tribe. The aristocracy saw itself as apart from the masses and above them and with more in common with each other.

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