Violent Warnings: Before New Kinds of Wickedness Overwhelm Our Continent, There Is an Important Need to Revisit the Limits of Violence and the Norms Governing Its Use

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Last month's column looking ahead to 2010 and the next decade, stressed the importance of the Cup of Nations brand to Africa, and also pleaded for Africans to resolve our differences without violence, since writing that column in mid-December, two wicked uses of violence by Africans have shaken not only Africa, but the wider world, which shows that slowly we are beginning to slide dangerously outside of norms that we take for granted.

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First, the attack by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) on the Togolese national team was despicable and un-African. I don't want to get into the long-running dispute between the Angolan state and the oil-rich secessionist region of Cabinda. This dispute, we know, has been going on since independence, and reflects many of the same tensions we see all over Africa between exploited resource-rich minority communities and the centre. As in all of these cases the minority communities undoubtedly have a great deal of right on their side.

The question is, what tactic successfully rights the wrong? Is it a strategy that broadens your dispute by attacking the whole of Africa? Because that is what the FLEC did--an attack on the Togolese team and the Cup of Nations was an attack on Africa.

You have a beef with your national government, you then decide to right the wrong by ignoring one of the key African values-hospitality to strangers--by visiting violence on innocent guests who are honouring an important Pan-African sporting festival being hosted by your country!

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What does FLEC hope to achieve by this act of violence that goes beyond all of our norms and is inexplicable in rational terms? According to Rodrigues Mingas, a FLEC military spokesman, they wanted to attack the Angolan security forces escorting the Togo bus, presumably to embarrass and humiliate the Angolans on the African and world stage.

But once they have done this-how does this rationally advance their cause in the long term? Are the Togolese (or other Africans who could have been victims) more or less likely now to consider sympathetically their struggle for justice? Are people who adopt terrorist tactics like this against innocents to be trusted with running their own state, and do their supporters at home and abroad endorse such tactics? …