Saturday, January 10, 2009

Do we have a name for the part of Africa convulsed by violence?

Source of map: Africa Dawn Gallery

Look at the map and think of the places that have been most convulsed by violence in the past few decades: southern Sudan, Darfur in western Sudan spilling over into Chad, the Lords Resistance Army in northern Uganda and over the borders into surrounding countries, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. With the exception of Somalia there are all contiguous in a region centered on the Equator in the center of Africa. The region is larger than most Americans would recognize because our maps use a projection that makes the equatorial region appear small with respect to northern and southern regions. Is this "central Africa"?

I think we may need a term to help us think of this region as one representing a common problem. The divisions into rather artificial post colonial nation states doesn't do that, much less the complex maps of individual tribal groups.

Consider the map below, which suggests that the region of conflict may be that of relatively high population density (the highlands) where the Nilotic peoples come into contact with the Bantu peoples.

Map source: Cape Coloured DNA Project

I have just read Commonwealth of Thieves by Thomas Kineally and am now reading Justinian's Flea by William Rosen. Both have brought to mind the problem with my culturally centered perception of other cultures and people. The terms that we use don't necessarily represent the way people in other cultures and times think of themselves, nor are they necessarily the most useful ways to think about the big issues of history.


Anonymous said...

This map is beautiful but where is Botswana?

John Daly said...

You are right. One of the problems when you get maps off of the Internet.

John Daly said...

George Mason University faculty have a project called RiftLand intended to conduct analyses of scenarios of complex crises, leading to possible improvements in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief in the Rift Valley and related areas. "Riftland" might be a good name for the region, and the Riftland model might help to explain the level of conflict.