2008 May 26 Monday
Robert Kaplan: The Coming Anarchy

Robert Kaplan has a new article in The Atlantic called The Coming Anarchy about "How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet". I would say these factors are ripping the social fabric in some parts of the world but not others. The extent to which these factors hit America depends on whether we let the rest of the world migrate into our nation or not.

The Minister's eyes were like egg yolks, an aftereffect of some of the many illnesses, malaria especially, endemic in his country. There was also an irrefutable sadness in his eyes. He spoke in a slow and creaking voice, the voice of hope about to expire. Flame trees, coconut palms, and a ballpoint-blue Atlantic composed the background. None of it seemed beautiful, though. "In forty-five years I have never seen things so bad. We did not manage ourselves well after the British departed. But what we have now is something worse—the revenge of the poor, of the social failures, of the people least able to bring up children in a modern society." Then he referred to the recent coup in the West African country Sierra Leone. "The boys who took power in Sierra Leone come from houses like this." The Minister jabbed his finger at a corrugated metal shack teeming with children. "In three months these boys confiscated all the official Mercedes, Volvos, and BMWs and willfully wrecked them on the road." The Minister mentioned one of the coup's leaders, Solomon Anthony Joseph Musa, who shot the people who had paid for his schooling, "in order to erase the humiliation and mitigate the power his middle-class sponsors held over him."

Tyranny is nothing new in Sierra Leone or in the rest of West Africa. But it is now part and parcel of an increasing lawlessness that is far more significant than any coup, rebel incursion, or episodic experiment in democracy. Crime was what my friend—a top-ranking African official whose life would be threatened were I to identify him more precisely—really wanted to talk about. Crime is what makes West Africa a natural point of departure for my report on what the political character of our planet is likely to be in the twenty-first century.

Africa certainly is a basket case. Parts are becoming a slightly more affluent basket case due to high commodity prices. Other parts are becoming more of a basket case again because of high commodity prices (the exporters versus the importers).

Don't go to West Africa. Okay?

The cities of West Africa at night are some of the unsafest places in the world. Streets are unlit; the police often lack gasoline for their vehicles; armed burglars, carjackers, and muggers proliferate. "The government in Sierra Leone has no writ after dark," says a foreign resident, shrugging. When I was in the capital, Freetown, last September, eight men armed with AK-47s broke into the house of an American man. They tied him up and stole everything of value. Forget Miami: direct flights between the United States and the Murtala Muhammed Airport, in neighboring Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, have been suspended by order of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation because of ineffective security at the terminal and its environs. A State Department report cited the airport for "extortion by law-enforcement and immigration officials." This is one of the few times that the U.S. government has embargoed a foreign airport for reasons that are linked purely to crime.

This reminds me of a Canadian cellular equipment installer I once met in an airport. He told me he flew around the world for a Canadian cellular equipment company installing cellular phone networks. The worst place he'd never been was Nigeria. His team would install cell phone towers, line up relay microwave equipment, and then go back to the hotel for the night. The next day they'd find the equipment had been misaligned, probably by their own workers trying to make the jobs last longer. He never saw so much corruption. But the worst for him came in the Lagos airport. A guy walked up to him and hit his arm with a tire iron, breaking a bone in his arm. The guy was trying to steal his carry-on luggage. This Canadian shifted his luggage into his other arm and took off running. His assailant pursued him. No security officials rushed to his aid. So he ran out the door onto the tarmac. The assailant went onto the tarmac too. So the Canadian looked for an airplane that looked like his and shouted to grounds workers about a London flight and he got directed toward his plane. His assailant didn't stop chasing him until he got onto the on ramp of his airplane. He had to fly to London with an untreated broken arm.

I'm still reading this pretty long article. It serves as a useful reminder that not all the world is developing and some parts of the world are getting worse. Some of those latter parts have fertility rates of 5, 6, 7, 8 babies per woman. We should care about this and want to reduce those fertility rates. But you'll scarcely hear about this in the intellectually bankrupt mainstream media.

Update: Oops, this article is from 2000.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 May 26 11:33 PM  Chaotic Regions

HellKaiserRyo said at May 27, 2008 1:00 AM:

Why does it say 1994?

Kevin said at May 27, 2008 1:25 AM:

A new article? That's from a 1994 issue of The Atlantic; Kaplan's book "The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War" was published in 2000.

Ned said at May 27, 2008 5:57 AM:

I just finished reading Paul Theroux's "Dark Star Safari" - about the author's recent journey through back country East Africa, from Cairo to Capetown. Africa is truly a hopeless mess, with corruption, disease, endless tribal warfare. Aid only makes things worse. Millions of Africans will die from these causes in the upcoming years, and there's probably nothing to be done about it.

Rick Darby said at May 27, 2008 8:18 AM:


It is an old article — I remember reading it (with a shudder) at the time it was published — but it's still relevant and ought to be required reading for everyone who has anything to do with foreign policy.

Endlessly sending aid to Africa to try to cope with its perpetual crises is not a solution — it just enables the overpopulation that is one of the basic causes of the Africa's misery and its need to export its human surplus to the rest of the world. Besides that, most of the aid just becomes a coin of the realm that corrupt politicians can use to prop up their power by distributing it to supporters, withholding it from opponents, or selling it.

Africa and other dysfunctional parts of the world need tough love. All the "loans" that will never be paid back and the "development" assistance in the world can't overcome low IQs, tribalism, and irresponsible behavior coupled with blaming all their troubles on colonialism.

I have no simple solution for the problems of the so-called developing world, and the last thing we need is to get involved in some kind of neo-colonialism. Perhaps we could identify a few intelligent, non-corrupt local leaders who don't hold a grudge against the West and help them come to power.

Anonymous said at May 27, 2008 8:25 AM:

I read that article when it came out. What he describes sounds much like Detroit, Newark, Atlanta or any other urban area with a concentration of blacks who like to rob, rape and kill the people(whites) "who paid for their school" and housing, food, cell phones, rims, sneakers and other toys. Zimbabwe is a hell, and SA isn't far behind. I have a feeling that nasty, hard, unpleasant times are coming and that most in the US are not prepared, especially mentally. When the money and free goodies stop flowing to minorities, be prepared for some very unpleasant stuff. Africans, whether in Africa or anywhere are simply incapable of running functional societies.

kurt9 said at May 27, 2008 11:35 AM:

I recently read "Coming Anarchy" and was rather underwhelmed by it. It was indeed published in 2000 and the original "Coming Anarchy" essay that makes up part of the book was published in the Atlantic Magazine in 1994. So, this is not really new information.

The reason why I am not impressed with Robert Kaplan is that everything he says is no different than what Ralph Peters has said in many of his recent non-fiction books. The difference is that Ralph Peters has much more to say and says it better than Robert Kaplan.

It is true that Robert Kaplan has visited many of the places that he writes about. However Ralph Peters has spent FAR more time in these kinds of places than Kaplan has and is, therefor, more knowledgeable about these places and peoples.

I recommend "Beyond Terror", "Beyond Baghdad", "New Glory", and "Wars of Blood and Faith".

z said at May 27, 2008 2:59 PM:

As I have said before.................


Nobody fed Europe in 2000 B.C., and it was barbaric, but overlords emerged, the Greeks and Romans had their day (and somewhat civilizing influence) and OVER TIME it became a civilized place ON ITS OWN. Africa is being fed and subsidized from the outside, but the children are being allowed to remain children all their lives. Its Lord of the Flies writ large. Like a 30 year old still living at home, it needs to be kicked out on its own. Will their be deaths? yup millions. Will it get better in our lifetimes? Maybe, but maybe not. Will it get better over the next 100 years? Almost certainly. Those who dont civilize will simply die of starvation, warfare, and disease.............period.

Anything you subsidize (feed, clothe, immunize) you can expect more of, PERIOD.

Currently we are subsidizing Arabia and its loony religion because they have oil (so do we, but we are using theirs first), and Africa because of our own generous stupidity and some vague sense of guilt for a speck of colonialism (which gives them the few nice railroads and infrastructure that they actually do have). We need to stop subsidizing both.

China will be a better benefactor towards Africa than we are because they have no guilt and will line the guilty against a wall and shoot them. The Rule of Law, hopefully by caning and beatings, will have to be brought to bear upon thugs in Africa before you could get anywhere with them, and American and the West have no stomach for that. Let the Chinese handle the place-----they'd kick the necessary ass and knock out the necessary teeth and gouge the necessary eyes, and break the necessary legs and forearms to make it acculturate and civilize. If not that, back away and let war, disease, and starvation make it civilize in the SAME ORGANIC WAY THAT THE WEST WAS MADE TO. We dont OWE them jack shit.

icr said at May 27, 2008 3:46 PM:

Ralph Peters? Below is a link to a rather stupid article by Peters that predicts that a new wave of fascism(this time anti-Muslim) is about to sweep Europe and render impotent the threat of Eurabia. As if nothing in Europe has really changed since 1945!

kurt9 said at May 27, 2008 5:48 PM:


I read the same piece by Peters. He got a lot of flak over it. However, I think he has a valid argument. The holier than thou pacifism and pontification we hear from the Europeans today is quite similar to that of the years before 1914. During that time as well, the Europeans claimed to have "outgrown" and to have become "too civilized" to ever go to war again.

Peter North said at May 28, 2008 3:49 AM:

Talking of pontification I notice that Ralph Peters is very silent on the bestial treatment meted out on indigenous Palestinian Arabs by Zionist colonizers.
And, whilst on the subject the submerged racial terror (witness Katrina, Los Angeles 1992), that is ever liable to flare up in the good ol' USA if the circumstances are right.
And the disgusting abuses at Guantanmo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
Not forgetting the genocide that was inflicted on Native Americans when there were disspossessed of their birthright land.
So much you yours and Peters' pompous, shitty pontifications - if the Read Indians weren't done to death by the Anglo-Saxon conquerors neither you or Peters would be here today stealing our precious oxygen - perhaps that's the best argument of all for preserving 'minority' rights.

Audacious Epigone said at May 28, 2008 10:54 AM:

Anyone want to hazard a guess as to which country sends us the most immigrants of all via the Diversity Visa Lottery program?


Dated, but still relevant.

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