Friday, March 29, 2013

Cosmo's Journey Down the Lomami River

Excerpt from Gorillaland (Cutting Edge Press, London 2012) by Greg Cummings

Cosmo had spent the night following a surreptitious path westward across the jungle, down the gradual incline that separates the tributaries of the Lomami from those of the Congo, past innumerable trees bearing baleful warnings, carved into their trunks or hanging from their branches, and through death’s other kingdom. He’d walked for the whole of the night without rest and, as the sun rose above the trees, he was sweating through his beret, and his eyes were like molten lava rocks behind his glasses. Despite the discomfort, he wore his thick camouflage jacket bearing the blood-red mark of Mani Kongo. 
When the bazungu first passed this way a hundred years ago, they believed they were discoving somewhere no civilised person had ever seen before. And yet beneath their boots were the ruins of two great African kingdoms. Over hundreds of years the kingdoms of Kongo and Lunda had flourished, controlling the mineral trade in and out of the Congo, and even sending ambassadors to the Vatican. In time they succumbed to mercenaries, slavers and foreign plundering, and had now all but disappeared. That was centuries before Livingstone and Stanley ever set foot here, yet they called themselves ‘explorers’. Africa was littered with the tombstones of bazungu who never bothered to take the time to learn about the place. Cosmo stopped to behold a watercourse beyond the trees and smiled. At last he had reached the banks of the Lomami River.
The longitudinal Lomami was a very different kind of river than those that usually flowed through the Congo Basin. On first inspection it bore no sign of sentient life whatsoever, yet it had once been a main navigation route, connecting the south of the country to the Congo River. Over the centuries, and right up to the present day, the Lomami had witnessed some of the most horrific acts of inhumanity anywhere. More than any other watercourse, it harboured the tormented souls from Congo’s bloody history, and it had always been the last line of Cosmo’s defence.
His prize possession was exactly where he’d left it six months previously, fully armed and ready to go: a fifty-foot, aluminium-hulled Swift Boat. If there was one good thing about the Left Bank, it was that you could always leave your hardware unattended and no one would dare touch it. He climbed aboard, pulled the fallen branches and vines from the deck, as well as the handful of evil totems he’d scattered across the bow to ward off any brave intruders, and untied the boat from its berth. It was the same iroko tree to which the boat had had always been tied. When Cosmo bought it off General Kiko five years earlier, he found it moored to this tree on the riverbank. A decade before that when Kiko first stumbled across it, he too found the Swift Boat tied up in the same place in the jungle. No one knew its origin, but one thing was for certain, the boat was unfailingly river-ready, and provided the fastest possible way out of the jungle.
A few years back he’d replaced the old engines with twin 580-horsepower Detroit Diesels, and the eighty-one-millimetre gun at the rear with a cupola-mounted MK19 machine gun. What else did he have to spend his money on? He now checked that the grenade ammunition was still in the hold. It was there, along the ammo for the rear machine guns. After turning over the engine a couple of times without ignition, he checked the battery connection, then tried again, and it coughed and sputtered, but eventually started. Cosmo eased the boat away from the bank and headed north down the brown Lomami River in the direction of Opala, which at a speed of twenty knots, with a five-knot current, it would take him the rest of the day to reach. 

As the Swift Boat arced around a bend, the river appeared tranquil and barren. Cosmo knew otherwise and almost instinctively observed every symbol and sign that had been scratched in the trees, or arranged with stones on the riverbanks, left there by those who had preceded him along the deadly Lomami. Some warned of rebels and mercenaries, others of evil spirits, and places to be avoided at all costs. Cosmo did not fear the supernatural, though he respected it. The power of muti was strong and he sought to make use of its forces for his own practical purposes. He rarely consulted witch doctors, believing he already possessed all their talents and more and, though he had marshalled the power of muti often, black magic was just another arrow in Cosmo’s quiver. He had learned how best to administer fear as a means to an end and didn’t let the muti haunt him like it did so many other warriors lurking in the shadows of the Left Bank.

Nudging down against the tree line, the sun was yet stoking the afternoon heat, while the air hung still and sticky on the river. Cosmo slowed the engines right down, as his Swift Boat approached Opala, gradually and silently drifting up to the village dock: a few sticks in the mud on the riverbank, strewn with tattered fishing nets. Except for a single, piercing, monotonous cicada song, there was no sign of life. The village appeared to have been abandoned in haste, with utensils, tools and root vegetables still out on empty stalls. Cosmo was on his guard, knowing he was probably being watched by unseen eyes in the forest. People in this part of the jungle were known to leave their valuables lying around by the riverside, unattended, to lure people ashore, while they lurked in the dark. When a visitor laid a hand on any of it, they were caught, flayed alive, and added to the local food chain.

Cosmo had seen things at the back of Opala’s upright mud and thatch huts to make his steely blood curdle: ghastly instruments of muti that should have been buried long ago. Hidden in wooden boxes in that unholy ground behind the lattice bamboo fencing, amid the grim fetishes and rotting peculiarities, dwelled the horror many had written about but few ever saw. It was back there, locked away, if anyone dared look: a mirror for the dark recesses of the soul. 

An old palm tree bent over the river provided a mooring for the boat, and Cosmo advanced cautiously through the village, trying not to disturb anything. He had his Glock in one hand and, held high in the other, a live grenade with its arm taped down, to let whoever was watching know he meant business. As he approached the shadows behind the village, away from the riverbank, the air became rife with the smell of death and decay, and he began to see evidence of their grotesque carnivorous appetites. Bleached white human skulls ornamented the streets, while a multitude of thighbones and ribs lay piled in a rubbish pit behind the cluster of huts. Scraps of palm nuts, bananas, sugar cane and cassava at least testified to a varied diet. Then from somewhere nearby he heard the sound of a log drum, tapped in slow succession: tuc dun, tuc dun, tuc dun. Cosmo understood it to mean ‘welcome’, so he worked the pin back into his grenade and holstered his pistol, then continued into the forest, guided by the sound of the two-tone drum.

As the gloom of the jungle encircled him, he was compelled to remove his shades to find his way through the thick entanglement of thorns and stinging nettles. Every few metres, planted atop a stake in the ground, was a grinning skull, some human, some ape, with many more in the mud bearing only their remains. Then he came to a passageway some twenty metres long, which he had no choice but to stoop and enter, or else turn back. It was an indestructible edifice, constructed from timbers and twine, and tightly woven into a tunnel, with overhead loopholes through which an unwelcome intruder could be speared. Inside the walls glistened with blood, and his way through was impeded by the stench as much as the confined space. When at last he emerged gagging at the other end he found a group of men in a smoky clearing, around a cache of weapons, and wearing caps of colobus monkey and antelope skin. Their greeting was unspoken, as they preferred to engage in a wordless standoff of cocksure postures and cold stares, enhanced by their weird surroundings as much as their attire.

Behind them stood a lavish shrine, made of a multitude of polished elephant tusks encircling a crude wooden statue, about two metres high, depicting a man with wide brown eyes and long lashes, who had a small, thin-lipped mouth and a straight, narrow nose, and was wearing a pith helmet and khakis. The effigy was similar to the witty carvings he’d often seen in the Congo, typifying the colon, only this one was much larger, with brown rather than pink skin. Despite having the lithe features of a muzungu, Cosmo knew it to be a likeness of the great Congolese soldier, Ngongo Lutete. General Kiko and his Mai Mai rebels believed they could fully resurrect him, and that once restored to life, the legendary cannibal warrior would lead them to victory against any enemy. The ritual required the eating of a muzungu, along with copious quantities of iboga (a highly psychoactive African shaman’s root found only in the jungle) within the confines of the ivory shrine. Although iboga was plentiful in this part of the jungle, bazungu were scarce. 

The drumming ceased as General Kiko stood up from the centre of the clearing. He was a light-skinned, clean-shaven man, in his late thirties (though he looked to be in his twenties), with the letter ‘K’ carved across each cheek, and missing an eye, but he kept a pink, glow-in-the-dark golf ball in its socket. On his lumpy head, he wore a lime green wool cap pierced with countless little shards of human bone, battle souvenirs so dense it looked like chain-mail armour. His outfit was less idiosyncratic: olive gumboots, a pair of baggy, navy Adidas track bottoms, and a brown, long-sleeve T-shirt, boasting a picture of an AK-47 and the slogan, ‘When every motherfucking person in the room has to die’ in yellow. He stepped forward and glowered at Cosmo, who was much taller than him. With all that had passed between them, who knew what this short, capricious warlord might do next. ‘Chipu!’ he rasped, finally throwing a brotherly hug around his old adversary.Welcome back to the Theft Bank, motherfucker.’ 

‘Kiko, you old Crane,’ said Cosmo. ‘Kuma mayo! Vipi?’ 

The generals stood back and regarded each other with mutual admiration. ‘Eh!’ sneered Kiko, strutting and gesticulating like a gangster. ‘But we are just here, somehow waiting, listening to the radio, hearing all about Zomba wa Zomba’s greedy escapades, and wondering when we were going to get our share.’

‘It was not possible to contact you before now.’

‘I see you’ve come empty-handed, Zomba. Where’s your precious livestock?’
‘A day’s walk from here, under guard in the forest.’
‘Mmm-mm!’ slavered Kiko, slapping a hand on Cosmo’s shoulder. ‘OK. I’ll pay you a hundred dollars a kilo for them, my friend.’
‘Why don’t we put aside talk of nyama bazungu for a moment?’
Eh!’ laughed Kiko, sitting back down, and looking incredulously at the soldiers in their animal skins flanking him, who all nodded in accord with their fearsome commander. ‘What else is there?’
Cosmo grabbed a seat, dragging over the bleached skull of a forest elephant and placing it opposite Kiko, then, leaning forward to make sure they all saw the eye-catching crest on his jacket, said, ‘I want to raise a fighting force, powerful enough to take on the UN.’ 
‘You can’t take on all those muhindi,’ laughed General Kiko, and his soldiers agreed.
‘Not alone … That’s why I need you to join forces with me. With your Mai Mai rebels, and my heavy hardware, together with the Balanga warriors Duke’s training, and any other capable soldier who wants to join, we’ll at least have the numbers and firepower to attack the UN base in Kisangani.’
The idea intrigued Kiko, who thought about it for a moment, before shaking his head and folding his arms. ‘Hapana! I prefer to work alone.’
‘Look, this isn’t about raiding villages for food and pleasure, rafiki. I’m talking about a mighty rebel army, the like of which has not been seen since the Simba Rebellion, capable of driving the UN out of the Democratic Republic of Congo.’ He leaned further forward conspiratorially, glaring with eyes the hue of a burning sunset, and whispered, ‘We’ll even raise the great Ngongo Lutete, to lead us into battle.’
General Kiko smiled, looked back at his ivory shrine to the statue of Ngongo Lutete, then began stroking his chin and nodding slowly. ‘A mighty rebel army, you say.’
‘The Kongo Liberation Front,’ said Cosmo, rising from his elephant stool, ‘inspired by the ancient Kingdom of Kongo! I know you can marshal the numbers from the Mai Mai spread around this forest. Can’t you imagine it? A new, terrifying rebel army, storming Kisangani and taking control of the UN base. You could play your fucking bagpipes, Kiko!That always scares the hell out of them ...’
‘My one-of-a-kind bagpipes, yes … But there are many peacekeepers in Congo, my friend.’
‘Who are almost all in the jungle dealing with the Kivu crisis. We need to strike now! We’ll train for a couple of days, then storm the base and take hostages,Ith only one demand: the UN get out of Congo ...’
‘You haven’t you had your fill of hostages by now?’ said Kiko, signalling for one of his men to fetch him his bagpipes.
‘It’s been hell. I made the mistake of taking them through the jungle. We should have held the hostages in the Walikale Hilton, executing them one by one, for every day that passed without a ransom.’ 
‘The UN base is still heavily guarded,’ warned Kiko.
‘I am also heavily armed. Is the howitzer where I left it?’ Kiko nodded and grinned. ‘Good. Tonight I’ll make a brief reconnaissance trip with the Swift Boat. When I get back, we’ll discuss the battle plan.’ 

The soldier returned with what looked like ordinary Scottish pipes, decorated in a green-and-red tartan, and Kiko arranged them under his arm and began to blow into his singular instrument, filling the leather bag with air, then squeezing the wind through the pipes, while fingering the different notes, and the forest resonated with a stirring lament. He was good at it, having spent hours on end practising in the jungle, after learning the basics from a Scotsman he once knew in Kindu. He had fashioned them from the belly of the very same Scot.
‘So do we have a deal?’ asked Cosmo, extending his hand.
‘We do,’ replied Kiko, cutting short his tune to shake it. ‘But I also want my nyama!’
‘No problem. I’ll let Duke know,’ said Cosmo, taking his phone from his jacket pocket.
Hakuna raisaux,’ said a Mai Mai soldier wearing the mane of a bush pig on his head, ‘we have no network here, but you can drum him a message, and it will reach that side now-now. I speak Balanga drums. Tell me what you want to say.’ 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Supernatural Counterinsurgency in the Congo

This unusual document, "Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Other Psychological Phenomena, and Their Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo," was prepared for the U.S. Army in 1964. The report is a treatise on paranormal combat, discussing "counter-magic" tactics to suppress rebels who are backed by witch-doctors, charms, and magic potions.


The American University
5010 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20016

SORO/CINFAC/6-64 8 August 1964


James R. Price
Paul Jureidini



This report has been prepared in response to a query posed by ODCS/OPS, Department of the Army, regarding the purported use of witchcraft, sorcery, and magic by insurgent elements in the Republic of the Congo (Leopoldville). Magical practices are said to be effective in conditioning dissident elements and their followers to do battle with Government troops. Rebel tribesmen are said to have been persuaded that they can be made magically impervious to Congolese army firepower. Their fear of the government has thus been diminished and, conversely, fear of the rebels has grown within army ranks.

The problem, therefore, which CINFAC was asked to explore is the role of supernatural or superstitious concepts in a counterinsurgency in the Congo.

Any reply to this question involves consideration of several factors. It is necessary to examine the nature of general African beliefs about magic, insofar as this may be done on the basis of published studies. It is also necessary to gain some insight as to the roles played my magic in other African revolutionary upheavals. And finally, it is suggested that today's insurgency situation should not be studied in a vacuum, but should be considered as part of a continuum stemming from the pre-independence Belgian administration, the impact of Western culture upon African tribal systems, the circumstances of the birth of the Congo Republic, and the nature of the struggle for power within the Congo since 1960.

A review of the available literature indicates that in Africa, uprisings embodying supernatural practices have tended to occur generally whenever the continued physical safety or internal power structure of a tribe or tribes has been seriously threatened. Manifestations of witchcraft and sorcery in these instances can be said to reflect, in part, a return to traditionalism. A tribe unites more readily when a threat is explainable and solutions are propounded in terms of tribal common denominators of belief. In order to determine the degree to which such a generalization is applicable to the current situation in the Congo, a brief recapitulation of certain aspects of recent Congolese history will serve as a useful point of departure.

Origins of Congolese Political Instability

The tribal uprisings which have erupted in the Republic of the Congo (Leopoldville) since its independence in 1960 can be traced to situations which appeared to threaten the various tribes both in terms of their physical well-being and their position within the structure of Congolese national society. With independence, these tribes found themselves lacking the basic services which the colonial administration had provided -- alimentation, hygiene, medical care, schools, and physical security -- while at the same time the future of the tribe and its organization was being debated by the new government at Leopoldville. By and large, however, it was the disruption in government machinery which forced the younger members of the tribes to seek the urban centers in an effort to improve their situation, and pushed the older members back towards traditionalism and its beliefs in magic and witchcraft.

The actual disintegration of the Congo was caused by two main factors: the absence of associational groups which could replace the departing colonial administration; and the power struggle that took place between those Congolese political parties favoring centralism and those favoring federalism. this conflict prevented any attempts by Congolese governments to restore some semblance of administrative order.

The apparent docility of the Congolese people had led the Belgian colonial administration to believe its regime would endure, and that it could take its time in preparing the country for an eventual peaceful transfer of power. It was not until the bloody riots of January 5, 1959, that the Belgian government realized that it would have to give freedom to the Congo much sooner than it had envisaged. In the ensuing agreements between Congolese representatives and the Belgian Government, provisions were made for the utilization of Belgian colonial civil servants in their former capacities until Congolese replacements could be trained. Such agreements were never implemented. On July 8, 1960, eight days after independence, the Congolese National Army in the capital city of Leopoldville mutinied against its Belgian officers, and in less than three days the mutiny had spread to the rest of the Congo where the position of all Belgian civilians became serious. Kasai province was to follow suit in August. On July 12, Premier Patrice Lumumba called on the United Nations to eject the Belgian troops and help restore order. In the weeks following the arrival of UN forces, Lumumba's followers made repeated attempts to reimpose central government control on Katanga and Kasai. These attempts, and the high number of casualties resulting from them, precipitated a power struggle between the centralist bloc of Lumumba and the federalist bloc of President Joseph Kasavubu which paralyzed all government activity. Although Lumumba was eventually removed from office by the Army Chief of Staff, and a more or less Federal set-up with a strong executive was established, the government remained virtually paralyzed by its effort to regain Katanga province. Anarchy thus set in, providing Lumumba's followers with opportunities to set up their own political organizations. These were cast along tribal lines, and the trappings of tribalism, including manifestations of beliefs in magic and witchcraft, began again to impinge upon politics at the natural level.

Elements of East-West confrontation entered the picture when the situation in the Congo was internationalized. By calling in the United Nations, Lumumba had hoped that it would help him in his efforts to restore central government control over Kasai and Katanga provinces while also helping him train civil service cadres to replace the Belgians who had departed after the July riots. In the UN, Lumumba had received his initial support from the Afro-Asian and Communist Blocs. But when the United Nations refused to accede to all of his demands, he turned against it and accepted the proffered assistance of the Communist Bloc countries, along with that of Ghana, Guinea, and the United Arab Republic. Communist machinations, and subsequent attempts by UN Ghanian troops to disarm the Congolese Army seemed to have prompted General Mobutu to stage the removal of Lumumba. With the overthrow of Lumumba and the ejection of all Communist Bloc missions from the Congo by Mobutu, it appeared that Communist influence in the Congo was reduced to a minimum in spite of the fact that some of Lumumba's left-leaning associates remained active on the scene. The present recurrence of Communist agitation seems, however, to derive its main impetus from the Chinese Communist Mission in Burundi.

The role being played today by tribalism, with its attendant reversion to other aspects of
traditionalism, can be understood fully only in light of the effect on the tribes of the transition from colonialism to full independence. Belgian colonial policy was, in general, paternalistic in tone and indirect in administration. The Belgian administration assumed the role of tutor, and dealt with local populations through local indigenous institutions. It was thought that this process would be less disruptive and would condition local societies to accept foreign rule more readily. With particular reference to the tribes, indirect rule resulted in the incorporation of the tribal chiefs into the administrative system. With minor exceptions, the Belgian administration came to control the tribe through it chief, leaving the internal organization of the tribe intact. In a sense, a chief became the principal agent between his tribe and the colonial authorities.

Thus the Belgians accepted the traditional boundaries of the chiefdoms, reemphasized the hereditary character of tribal chieftancy, and made the chiefs responsible for population registration, public health, tax collection, security, and labor matters within the respective chiefdoms. It was mainly in the field of jurisprudence, and especially punitive actions, that the traditional powers of the chiefs were curtailed. Too, the ability of tribal members to appeal directly to colonial authorities on legal points, and the fact that Europeans could disregard tribal immigration barriers established by the chiefs and recruit labor at will, tended to reduce the overall effectiveness of the chiefs.

Expanding economic opportunities, missionary activity, and the suppression of intertribal warfare contributed in the long-run to the gradual erosion of the role or tribal communities in the social structure of the Congo as a whole. With the establishment of major urban centers, and the close contact between Europeans and Congolese which they afforded, a new class of Congolese began to emerge. The longer they remained in the cities, the weaker became their tribal attachments, until in the post World War II era many were to harbor strongly anti-tribal sentiments. The new class was known as evolues (literally: evolved), and most evolue leaders came to regard the continued existence of a tribal society as typifying backwardness and colonialism.

With independence, most of the evolues, of which Patrice Lumumba was one, became identified with the centralist political bloc, while others, such as Moise Tshombe and Joseph Kasavubu, tribal chieftans in their own right, formed the federalist bloc of political parties. The centralists viewed any federal set-up as an attempt to preserve colonial influences and practices, while the federalists viewed centralism as the attempted elimination of the political opposition and the establishment of a dictatorship similar to that of Ghana and Guinea. The power struggle between these two blocs prevented the drafting of a constitution clearly defining the role and position of the tribes, and it was not until recently that this was resolved in the form of a federalist system with a strong executive. This represented a compromise between centralist and federalist points of view. It recognized tribal structures, but underlines the authority of the central government. Unfortunately, the persistence of political chaos and insurgency has hindered the restoration of effective governmental machinery, and until this machinery is restored no objective evaluation of the compromise system will be possible.

Supernatural Aspects of the Present Insurgency Situation

We began this discussion with an observation that threats to the concept or form of tribal structures in Africa tend to generate uprisings characterized by emphasis upon traditionalist elements in African life. The current uprisings in the Congo, and for that matter elsewhere in black Africa, gain impetus from the insurgent practice of employing magical procedures to convince tribal insurgents that no harm can be done to them by forces of the central government.

These tactics are effective, because in the Congo and elsewhere in black Africa beliefs in witchcraft, sorcery, magic, and other supernatural phenomenon are deeply rooted among the people. Although the manifestations of these beliefs vary widely according to tribal and cultural circumstances, magico-religious causes are usually cited to explain misfortunes of any kind, even those of clearly natural origin. If crops are blighted, if a hut caves in and kills its occupants, if the chief becomes unfriendly, or if sudden illness or death occur, bewitching is usually given as the primary cause. The people may understand that in fact the house fell because termites ate away the foundations, but that it fell at the time it did was a result of witchcraft or sorcery. Witchcraft is also sighted as a factor in personal disputes, especially where the relationship is inherently subject to tensions -- as for example, in the relationship between husband and wife, or between co-wives. In these cases, not only physical or direct remedies, but occult remedies as well are considered necessary to counteract the evil influence.

A distinction is drawn by Evans-Pritchard in his Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande (Oxford University Press, 1937) which is helpful for purposes of study is that between witchcraft and sorcery. Although these two concepts often overlap, especially in application (the same person may be thought to practice sorcery as well as witchcraft)), they do represent two distinct theories of supernatural behavior which are shared by practically all African tribal societies.

A sorcerer is one who is thought to practice evil magic against others. The techniques of sorcery may be learned by anyone, and are usually based upon the use of various organic or vegetable compounds called "medicines" which, when prepared according to stringent ritualistic requirements, are believed to acquire magical properties enabling them to work the will of the sorcerer.

The reciprocal to the concept of sorcery, or the practice of evil magic, is the concept of the use of magical rites or medicines for socially-approved purposes. These include everything from the protection of personal safety, to improvement of soil fertility, to success at the hunt or in battle. In short, "good" magic may be invoked to stimulate good results in any phase of the life cycle. Again, strict and proper ritual must be observed in the preparation of the necessary medicines, and these rituals -- which include taboo observance, verbal formulae, etc. -- are idiosyncratic to particular tribes, and even differing schools of thought within the same tribe or sub-tribe.

Witchcraft, on the other hand, is said to be an inborn trait which enables its possessor to harm other people merely by wishing to do so. "Medicines" play no part in true bewitching operations. Some tribes believe that witchcraft power is activated by feelings of hostility or envy even without conscious decision on the part of the witch -- or even without the witch's knowing that he contains witchcraft power within him. In the Congo, belief that the witchcraft power was embodied as a physical substance in the belly was so widespread that the Belgian authorities had to ban the practice of tribal elders' performing autopsies upon the bodies of suspected witches. In 1924 the colonial administration also banned use of the poison ordeal -- the other universally accepted method of screening suspected witches. (Ritually-prepared poison was administered to suspects in the belief that the innocent would survive and the guilty perish.)

Although Africa's infrastructure of supernatural beliefs and practices has been subjected to concentrated assault by Europeans -- primarily missionaries -- for as many as five hundred years in some areas, few lasting inroads have been made against ingrained traditions. In the Congo, practically all education since 1878 has been in the hands of various Catholic and Protestant missionary groups. Missionary activities have succeeded in establishing rather substantial church organizations and church membership, but closer examination reveals that to the extent that Christian and other European influences have taken root in the Congo, they have also often been modified so as to merge with, not supersede, the traditional foundations of the country and its people. Europeanized Congolese may carry amulets and charms, consult oracles about the advisability of business transactions, and observe other rituals learned in childhood. Others hold both traditional and Christian funeral ceremonies. Institutionally, many syncretic sects -- often pseudo-Christian -- stand between Christianity and tradition, started by prophets who believed they were divinely inspired. Most began as messianic cults but developed nationalistic and anti-European characteristics along the way.

Among the people, there is little evidence that traditional beliefs in witchcraft, sorcery, and magic have been diminished by Western influences. The evidence is rather that the practice of secret magical rites is on the increase. History indicates that beliefs in witches and magic die hard in all societies. And because of Africa's particular cultural setting, it is unlikely that these beliefs will disappear other than as a result of generations of careful and gradual education in the Western mold. Western education is not, however, and immediate solution. In Africa beliefs in magic and witchcraft are used to explain ultimate causations -- the existence and origin of fortune and misfortune. Western secular education does not provide unequivocal answers to questions of such a fundamental nature.

Western institutions have, as a matter of fact, served in some ways to increase tensions and anxieties in African societies, especially as these relate to superstitious beliefs and practices. the control of witches and sorcerers is of paramount importance to people who believe in magic. Yet the imposition of political systems of a Western type upon African tribes has resulted in the elimination of the most efficacious witch-control measure -- the poison ordeal. In addition, the execution of convicted witches and sorcerers is no longer allowed. As a result, many Africans feel that western political systems such as the modern state have aligned themselves on the side of evil because from their standpoint the "civilized" elimination of traditional control measures work to protect witches and sorcerers from retaliation by their innocent victims. The African man-in-the-bush is, therefore, much more at the mercy of those who wish to harm him by supernatural means than ever before. He thus tends to rely more and more upon the witch-doctor* who, in the absence of the poison ordeal and

* The term witch-doctor is used in the popular sense for the convenience of the reader. A more percise [sic] but less familiar term would be majico-religious practitioner, since the practices attributed to witch-doctors neither necessarily include, nor are confined to witchcraft per se, but may include sorcery and other forms of magic as well other drastic sanctions, provides the main source of protection from evil.

Counterinsurgency Analysis

In the context of the current insurgency situations in Kivu and Katanga, where insurgents rely upon "medicines" and ritualistic observances to protect them from firepower, the suggestion to devise and employ magical practices in counterinsurgency operations is obvious and tempting. Before adopting this course of action, however, the U.S. counterinsurgency planner should give serious consideration to several pertinent factors:

A. In the event that the U.S. role, if any, in the Congo will be of an advisory character, the advisors must rely upon the extent of their influence upon Congolese counterparts. U.S. policy recommendations must, therefore, be acceptable to Congolese leaders. The Congolese leadership class is driven almost exclusively from a small elite group who, having obtained Western education under the Belgians, have become "Europeanized" (a concept virtually equivalent to "civilized") to the extent that they are known as evolues. Kasavubu, Lumumba, Kalonji, Adoula, Mobutu, and Tshombe are all evolues and as such are fiercely proud of their "civilized" status and image. These evolues can be expected to resist any association with policies which might reflect endorsement of "uncivilized" behavior, even though they themselves might be to some extent dependent upon secret charms or other superstitious beliefs or practices.

B. Although beliefs in witchcraft, sorcery, and magic are endemic throughout sub-Saharan Africa, these beliefs vary considerably in detail according to tribe or sub-tribe. Literally, one man's charm may be another man's poison, depending upon particular tribal beliefs. It follows that the counterinsurgency planner, should he desire to exploit the psychological potential of superstition, must be able to compile and analyze a large quantity of specific and detailed information embracing the entire spectrum of superstitious beliefs and other values of the specific ethnic group with which he is concerned. This tends to relegate the use of magic to limited tactical objectives rather than broad strategic concepts or solutions to fundamental problems. By the same token, however, the prevalence of superstitious beliefs in Africa suggests that the counterinsurgency planner requires considerable information about these beliefs for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes alone. A sound understanding of magical concepts, practices, and mannerisms is necessary for defensive purposes should they play any role or importance in an insurgency situation. Knowledge of the specific uses of charms, medicines, bodily scarification, and the like, will help to identify membership in a particular cult., or will enable patterns of activity to be defined. Failing complete and detailed information of this type, both operational and counterintelligence planning will be unrealistic. Unfortunately, such information may not be quickly acquired about the more than 200 reported tribes in the Congo, but must be painstakingly gathered and evaluated over a long period of time. Detailed studies of supernatural beliefs of specific tribes are limited. The secrecy inherent in most magical rituals presents a formidable obstacle to the outside investigator, whether he may be a scientist or an intelligence agent.
C. And finally, the tactics employed to counter current insurgencies in various parts of the Congo must be evaluated in terms not only of their immediate effectiveness against the short-term military problem, but in terms also of their positive or negative influence upon the long-range problem of establishing a viable political system.

It cannot be denied that the exploitation of superstitious beliefs by insurgent leaders is a double-edged weapon. Fear of magic and witchcraft can be reversed and used with telling effects against the insurgents. If reliable and detailed operational intelligence can be gathered, counterinsurgency planners will be able to concoct "medicines" and other devices within the superstitious framework of the target group, with which to neutralize and overpower the magic spells cast by insurgent witch-doctors. These procedures could well involve a continuing duel of thrust and parry, because the witch-doctors could also be counted on to devise counter-counter measures, and so forth. But there is little doubt that counter-magic tactics properly conceived and imaginatively executed could be quite effective in achieving short-run victories. A broader question is whether the exploitation of superstition in this fashion is not also a triple-edged weapon, in that superstition itself, rather than the central government, may become, in the long-run, the main beneficiary. Since tribalism and superstition, so closely related to each other, have provided a fertile seedbed for political instability in the Congo, and measures which enhance the divisive and destructive aspects of tribalism simply lay additional obstacles in the already cluttered path toward Congolese nationhood. Should the central government successfully use occult methods to defeat a movement based upon such methods, the very concepts of sorcery and magic which lend impetus to the insurgencies of the moment may gain strength and acquire even greater trouble-making potential for the future. In other words, the more successful the counterinsurgency campaign, if that campaign is based upon a counter-magic approach, the more ominous the outlook for the future. Any thesis that an insurgency inspired or sustained by magical concepts may be defeated more easily and at less cost and trouble by employing counter-magic is therefore questionable on these grounds.

Nor does the current situation in the Congo represent
anything new in the history of insurgency insofar as the use of magical practices is concerned. history is replete with instances wherein uprisings have been reinforced by magic spells. the T'ai P'ing rebellion in China was led by a man who represented himself as the younger brother of Jesus Christ. The Boxer cultists believed that they could cause cannon to fall apart at great distances by psycho-kinetic means. those who took the Mau Mau oaths in Kenya were taught that oath violation would be instantly lethal. African history contains numerous other examples or similar phenomena (the "Maji-Maji" rebellion in Tanganyika, the Makomobe uprising in Portuguese East Africa, etc.). Current problems in the Congo as well as the Lumpa uprising in Northern Rhodesia today exemplify the same superstitious manifestations.

Any study of historical examples of uprisings supported by superstitious practices, however, will reveal that vigorous military counter-measures of a conventional nature have produced optimum results in suppressing the insurgency. If there are substantial political or economic motives behind the uprisings, these naturally must be taken into account. The reference here is to military tactics and their effects against magic.

Despite the ingrained quality of superstition throughout black Africa, there is a certain core of pragmatism immediately applicable to the present problem. The history of messianic movements and especially those movements whose primary function in the detection and/or neutralization of witchcraft and sorcery reveals that Africans easily recognize and accept concrete proof of the ineffectiveness of a particular magical rite or charm. Such recognition and acceptance in no way affect the basic pattern of belief in magic. The opposite is in fact true, as is proven by the continuing succession of short-lived anti-witchcraft cults throughout Africa. Africans are quite prepared to admit that they have been fooled by a particular practitioner or cult. The pattern then is to reject the "false" cult and accept one which, until events prove otherwise, is the "real thing." The same type of mental processes seem to apply to witch-doctors themselves. Informed opinion is that most witch-doctors believe themselves as individuals to be clever charlatans, since they are aware that they really have no magic power. But an individual witch-doctor is also likely to believe that he alone is a charlatan and that his colleagues do indeed have magical abilities.

In the Congo, as elsewhere in black Africa, there is every reason to believe that disciplined troops, proficient in marksmanship, and led by competent officers, can handily dispel most notions of magical invulnerability. It is quite true that the raising of such a force may pose more problems in the Congo than in some other areas, but the problem is by no means insoluble. The elite gendarmerie organized by the Belgians to offset the ill-disciplined Force Publique gendarmerie is an example of what can be done in the Congo. The same concept of the gendarmerie was employed, together with foreign mercenaries, by Moise Tshombe in the Katanga secessionist movement. Tshombe's forces were generally conceded to be highly effective, and were suppressed only with great difficulty by the United Nations.

The immediate military problems related to the Congo's fundamental problems of instability and chaos appear more susceptible to lasting solution by conventional methods than by reliance upon purely psychological or occult phenomena whose values are limited to support functions in tactical situations and whose implementation is fraught with long-run risks. Drawing upon the Belgian experience as well as that of Tshombe in Katanga, it would appear that a more flexible approach to the military problem is to be found in the concept of elite troops: troops which are carefully trained and disciplined, and which are well-commanded. Unit morale and the confidence engendered by good training, knowledge of weaponry, and, above all, dynamic and competent leadership, can go far to counteract superstitious fears.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Am I the Next Big Thing?

This is a trick question. Who wouldn’t be put off by a writer who answers ‘yes’? But then, who’d want to read the work of a self-effacing hack? Writing is about pushing one’s limits toward a fleeting horizon. If you don’t believe you’re the next big thing, then what the hell’s motivating you? 

I'm taking part here in an authors' ‘promotion ring’, devised to spiral out of viral control in an ever-expanding Mandelbrot set of drunken musings, I’m guessing. Lets just see what happens.

I was tagged by author Jonny Gibbings, who is undoubtedly the next big thing. He wrote a very funny book called Malice in Blunderland, demonstrating a talent for describing the most odious subject matter with the most beautiful and compelling detail. He’s also hilarious. His book has caused countless embarrassing moments on public transport this year, and will continue to do so for many years to come.  

I'm honoured to be handed his baton.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

In keeping with my first novel Gorillaland, I wanted this book to be called Puntland, after the semi-autonomous state in northern Somalia where the story is set, but my agent wasn’t keen. “It doesn’t really say anything,” she said, “except flat bottomed boats at posh universities! ...If you are writing about Somali pirates – always in the news, apparently unstoppable – then you need to flag this up in the title. Baddies like this are fascinating, people want to read about them, so give them a chance to realise what your book is about!” 

So I chose Pirates instead.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Two years ago, while I was out deep-sea fishing with a new-found friend off the Kenyan coast, he told me that since the advent of piracy in neighbouring Somali waters, billfish stocks had been steadily rising. The pirate threat had effectively deterred foreign trawlers from fishing illegally. This got me thinking about conspiracies, and to what lengths an avid fisherman might go to ensure he could continue his pelagic pursuits.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Exotic action adventure, though I believe I’m developing a new genre here, wherein the locals don’t just play walk-on parts as colourful extras, but are major characters, integral to the plot, and achieve cultural cross-over for a worldwide readership. This requires empathy with other cultures, which many authors would consider too daunting a research brief. But having lived on four different continents, I can draw from wide-ranging experience. 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Modern heroes are far more corrupt than villains ever were in days of yore. Accordingly, the hero of Pirates should be played by someone with a flair for the eccentric. I’ve always liked Edward Norton, who can turn evil on a switchback. Johnny Depp also comes to mind, though he’s an obvious choice for authors. We invariably show our years by picking a recognized Hollywood veteran to play the role of character who’s half their age. I think I’ll leave this to the casting director.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

He’s the infidel in their midst, an obstacle to their unscrupulous designs, but nothing is what it seems.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book is scheduled to be published by Cutting Edge Press in early summer 2013. My agent is the indefatigable Maggie Phillips, managing director of Ed Victor Ltd. As with my first book, she coached me throughout the process of writing this manuscript. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

461 days. I would have finished it sooner but I took four months off in the middle to try to earn a living at my other job as a gorilla safari guide.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t know. A fusion of two books perhaps, from contrasting genres: how about William Shakespeare’s Tempest and Jeppesen’s Sport Diving Manual

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Meeting and getting to know the real life character on whom I based my protagonist Johnny Oceans. He gave me carte blanche to use his own life story, and briefed me on the appropriate vernacular, attitude and weapons for my hero, which added verisimilitude to the novel. As one would expect, in the end much of Oceans was my own invention, nevertheless the truth is in there, though he and I alone know where the bodies are buried.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Pirates is a roller coaster ride, the action rarely lets up, and there’s a ship-load of surprises. Still, the story doesn’t really deliver what some people buying a book about Somali pirates might expect: a hostage situation, the planning and instigation of the rescue. It’s much more complicated, and more political than that. Being in the eye of an incomprehensible storm, and learning the surprising facts behind issues that have been consistently misreported by the media, I believe will pique the reader’s interest.

The characters are certainly diverse. Fans of my debut novel Gorillaland will be pleased to learn my safari guide antihero Derek Strangely returns in Pirates. This time he’s forced to serve a terrifying apprenticeship. Ali al-Rubaysh, the story's key villain, is a veteran terrorist, tortured by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay. He's now in the Yemen, serving as a commander in al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, and has devised an attack more devastating than 9/11. I had fun researching his back story; he spontaneously breaks into the Sesame Street theme music, which was one of the methods of torture at Gitmo. 

I suppose I’m most proud of my heroine Khadija, a plucky, unorthodox forty-something Somali, modeled on the women of the Arab Spring, who I hope will be an inspiration to readers everywhere, especially on the Horn of Africa. I couldn't have developed her without the knowledge and creative input of my muse, Kigongo, who also suggested some of the more breathtaking plot twists. Thanks baby!

I’m afraid I’ve only found three willing authors to keep the promotion ring going, but oh what a trio:

Douglas Galbraith
I’ve known Doug since the early Eighties when we signed up to the same creative writing class at the University of Victoria, and we’ve been close friends ever since. He's my bro, and a multi-talented artist, adept in music, painting, and writing. While concentrating on the former two disciplines for the past three decades, during which he produced startling pieces of music and beautiful works of art, he has recently returned to writing, and is currently developing a intriguing manuscript. 

Dan Richter
Any one who’s seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey will be familiar with Dan’s work. In the film’s opening sequence, entitled The Dawn of Man, he plays the man-ape that throws the bone tool into space. In November 2000, I had the privilege of taking him and his son Will to meet mountain gorillas in the wild. Tramping up the slopes of a volcano I learned about Dan’s amazing lives - that’s right, he’s lived a few, including a spell as personal assistant to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which is the subject of his latest book, The Dream Is Over.

Ioannis Gatsiounis
I first met Ioannis a couple of years ago after he moved to Kampala from Malaysia, where he’d established himself as an international correspondent, and we immediately hit it off. A collection of his work, Beyond the Veneer, was published in 2008 by Monsoon Books. His fiction debut, Velvet & Cinder Blocks (ZI Publications), features “ten politically-tinged short stories set about Asia and the West.”