New York Times East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman has a harrowing piece up at Foreign Policy on Africa’s current conflicts. The bottom line: many of the continent’s conflicts have very little to do with policy, injustice, or even interest. Instead, he argues, “most of today’s African fighters are not rebels with a cause; they’re predators.”
Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don’t want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they’ve already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?
For the International Criminal Court, the nature of these combatants creates a slightly different dilemma: how do you deter them? The expectation that prosecutions will deter perpetrators–and thus prevent future crimes–is critical to optimistic visions of the court. But Gettleman’s account provides little grounds for hope; the rebels and militia leaders that he describes are not likely to be swayed by the threat of a trial in the Hague. That’s not an argument against doing justice, but it is a reason to temper our expectations.
Update: Commenter S.K. sees Gettleman’s take as little more than a warmed-over version of the greed vs. grievance debate–with Gettleman emphasizing greed–and argues that my conclusions on deterrence are wrong:
[I]t seems easier to deter violence motivated by greed than by grievance, but possible to reach both — they are both acts of a ‘rational actor’, not in the sense that we would agree with them, but in the sense that they are calculating risk and reward.
I think Gettleman’s piece suggests something beyond, or at least distinct from greed. He’s arguing that there is a culture of violence in some areas that has created a generation of combatants who have no goal other than violence. It’s hard to see how the ICC could effectively deter these individuals.