by Austin Bay
December 3, 2002
NEBBI, Uganda -- Physical security precedes economic prosperity,in the United States and, for that matter, in rural Africa.
May 1979, West Nile Province, northern Uganda. If you don't knowthe geography of this African corner wedged between the Democratic Republicof Congo (DRC) and the White Nile, and you don't remember that month andyear, perhaps you remember a vicious name: Idi Amin.
When Amin's military junta ran Uganda, his troops and thugsmurdered at least 200,000 Ugandan Christians. Amin -- a Ugandan Muslim -- isstill alive, under "hotel arrest" in the Saudi Arabian port of Jiddah. Everyso often, Western journalists spot him rambling the streets, where the Saudipolice collar him and escort him back to his plush prison.
Some day, one hopes, Amin will join Serbia's Slobodan Milosevicin the war crimes dock.
That, however, is another column. This column, despite theunfamiliar terrain and obscure events, bears witness to the economic gift ofpeace earned by sacrifice.
As Amin's dictatorship collapsed in the spring of 1979, a gangof his thugs left the north Ugandan town of Arua and marched for the town ofNebbi, 60 kilometers south.
The Nebbi area had escaped the worst of Amin's depredations, inpart because it is relatively isolated and off the usual track. Thoughbitterly poor by Western standards, in the thugs' eyes Nebbi was rich, withplenty of food, women and plunder. Besides, their rogue force waspredominantly Muslim, and Nebbi is a Christian area.
The 200 or so thugs, armed with automatic rifles and grenadelaunchers, didn't expect resistance. However, just north of Nebbi, in thesavannah bush, a hastily organized local force ambushed the gang. SeveralNebbi men had acquired weapons. They fought a steady delaying action,sniping at the gang, then withdrawing along the rutted, red dirt road thatlinks Arua and Nebbi.
"Quite simply," a Nebbi leader told me, "Amin's men quit. Theywould shoot the unarmed, steal and burn, but not if it cost their lives. Weresisted. That's as close as the chaos came. Around us, for 40 years therehas been war. But not here. That was when it brushed us."
It: The evil of murder and anarchy afflicts much of sub-SaharanAfrica. Across the border from Nebbi, in the DRC, war has raged for nearlyfive years, with 2 million dead, most of them dying from the slow bullets ofstarvation, exposure and disease. Two weeks before I arrived in Uganda, abattle erupted in the DRC town of Bunia (about 70 kilometers from Nebbi),creating 10,000 new refugees. Two Congolese tribes had squared off in Bunia,their war based on centuries of local distrust. Now, they feud with mortarsand machine guns. The utter decay of civil society and lack of legitimateauthority in the DRC guarantees years of similar anarchic clashes, andassures poverty.
North of Uganda, in Sudan, a major war has raged since 1983,pitting Muslim northern Sudan against the Christian and animist tribes ofthe south. Within Uganda, on the east side of the White Nile, the Lord'sResistance Army has fought the Ugandan Army for 16 years.
Yet amidst this anarchy, the Nebbi region enjoys comparativepeace. I met with six women's economic cooperatives in the area. "Theseorganizations take time to build. We cannot build them with war," the localleader observed. "We feel blessed."
In May 1979, Nebbi resisted, and deflected the sword. Peace wasbought with courage.
The most crucial issue suggested but never fully engaged in therecent U.S. election is the relationship between physical security andeconomic security. Perhaps that's because, for the sensible, the connectionis obvious. Blast the World Trade Center, demonstrate the ability to strikeAmerica's financial nexus, and Al Qaeda hammers American economic power.
Peace and security breed prosperity. Who are the realpeacemakers, who frame the conditions for prosperity? For America, theyaren't protestors and professors with signs condemning the Pentagon, they'reB-52 pilots and Green Berets. For Nebbi, they are the hundred men whowhipped Amin's thugs one hot day in May.