We are obsessed with globalization. Whether we are celebrating it, as we did for most of my adult life, or condemning it, as seems to be becoming the fashion, it’s an omnipresent topic. But we don’t always follow through on that obsession to recognize globalization’s effects. On Saturday morning, as I worked my way through Martin Meredith’s Fate of Africa, a history of the continent since independence, I feel like one of the gaps in my understanding slammed shut. If you’re a current events nerd like me, you’ve probably read dozens of reports over the years, agonizing over how hard it seems to be for many African countries to get it together. But for some reason these potted histories of Africa all leave out the most important factor in those many failures. Today’s video is an attempt to correct those potted histories. I hope you enjoy it!
Comparative history is not an exact science. It can be a fraught business. I’m sure there are a number of ways in which today’s video could be portrayed as condescending or even a bit racist. “What do you mean Ethiopia is 100 years behind Europe!!!”. But comparative history is too useful a tool, to not use. Unfortunately, it’s often used poorly. With this video, and a follow up I’m still drafting, I hope to debunk some of the dumber comparisons that are made. I also want to show that while Ethiopia’s civil war is horrible, it’s not really much of a detour from normal development.
I have meant to do a series on frozen conflicts for a while, and I’m glad that my North Africa focus has finally led me to do a video on one of the oldest and dumbest. The frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union are probably the most famous, including Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Transdneistria, Ossetia and South Abhkazia in Georgia, and now Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. These conflicts are famously a way for the dastardly Putin to keep his border unstable, and maintain a Russian sphere of influence. The conflicts that the US maintains aren’t generally referred to this way, but they serve the same purpose. Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria are also frozen or lukewarm conflicts that the United States maintains for its own (wrongly) perceived strategic interest.
Most of these conflicts are unlikely to be solved, because a regional or world power has an interest in them. That’s not the case for Western Sahara. France definitely has an interest in the continued fight between Morocco and Algeria, but nobody else does really. The fact that this conflict has derailed Moroccan-Algerian relations for almost 50 years is just dumb, as I explain in today’s video.
One of the best things about doing commentary on YouTube is the feedback. Tuesday’s video is the second installment of my series on Algeria. It covers a lot of the same territory as my first video on Algeria, which was mostly just an appreciation of the country’s amazing history. But by posting that first video, I got a ton of comments that helped to guide some reading on my part, that helped me form more confirmed opinions on the country and its history. Tuesday’s video has gotten some very flattering appreciation. A handful of Algerian commentators have pointed out that my coverage is worlds better than any other English language source. This is less a celebration of my work than an indication of how bad US coverage of the country is more generally. I read two books, one of which I don’t find particularly trustworthy, and read about 1,000 YouTube comments, half of which were one sentence critiques of my figures and my neglect of the Berber population. With just that, I was able to do a better job talking about the country than almost any English language journalist. I’m kind of proud of that, but it’s also pretty sad.
All that said, while I’ve gotten a few very positive comments on this video, I’ve gotten many more that are pretty negative. Now that I’m diving deeper into the politics of the country, and making opinions, I’ve triggered a negative reaction. But I take heart from the fact that most of what people are complaining about is my read on the politics of the moment, and what people think of the current president. Nobody is complaining about my take on the history leading up to this year anymore. And with my next video on Algeria, probably a year or so from now, I’ll be able to incorporate criticisms of others. Iterative analysis. I like it.
Watching today’s video, I don’t think I really hammered home the point I was trying to make with the section on Wolf Warrior 2. So let me do that here. The Chinese public is being primed to embrace the idea of “humanitarian” intervention in Africa. Modern China doesn’t have much of a history of international adventuring (other than scoring points on its borders with India and Vietnam), but “Chinese Hollywood” is doing its best to build support for it. The Chinese public apparently has a tremendous appetite for this kind of film. If you look at this list of the biggest Chinese blockbusters you can get a sense of just how dominant Wolf Warrior 2 has been. But following up in second place we have this year’s Operation Red Sea, which is apparently a vastly exaggerated recounting of the Chinese Navy’s extraction of Chinese nationals from the war zone in Yemen.
I actually sat through both of the Wolf Warrior movies, and I have a very long twitter thread to show for it. I’d recommend you read that twitter thread. The first Wolf Warrior film presented a very standard, and very old message. Essentially: “Leave Us Alone!”. The first film provided a bit of weird cognitive dissonance for this American viewer. It was profoundly odd to see all the tropes of large scale US action film making translated into a Chinese context. It was weird fun, but there was little in the message presented to object to.
As you’ll see if you read the twitter thread, Wolf Warrior 2 was not fun. It was downright scary. The messages presented were heavily in favor of intervention, and the whole movie implied that China had a responsibility to help the poor defenseless Africans its with massive military power. This is of course just a mirror image of the messages that Hollywood has been pumping into the US public for decades. It’s profoundly disturbing to see China’s nationalist messaging moving in the same direction. But that’s what is happening. Wolf Warrior 3 is apparently going to be about fighting terrorists. It’s really, really sad to see China adopting the worst parts of US militarist ideology. It’s hard to see how it won’t eventually lead to conflict, as I point out in today’s video.
Oh, and if you want to check out my whole “World War 3” series thus far, which takes a serious look at how this conflict, which I view as being decades off, might take place you can check it out here…