News about wars attracts wide readership or big audiences for the media. In his autobiography titled My Early Life, Winston Churchill tells us that some generals welcome the outbreak of a war because it gives them chance to obtain promotion. They get the promotions of course if they win battles not when they get defeated.
The other people who welcome news or rumours about wars are manufacturers of ammunition. Their businesses suddenly get big orders. They employ more people and pile up the profits. If enemy forces invade their country and destroy their factories, the ammunition business collapses.
Wars these days tend to last much longer than was anticipated because both sides easily access weapons. The United Sates and its allies have not conquered the Talibans more than 10 years after they invaded Afghanistan largely because the Talibans have sympathisers who supply them with weapons. The revolts in Syria continue because rebels and government forces are equally supplied with weapons from abroad. Meanwhile colossal human lives are being lost.
War is one thing when you only read about it, and it is another when you are a member of the victim community. What are the common causes of war. A cursory glance at the two world wars reveals that national avarice and megalomania are the main causes of major wars. Large countries which already have the wealth, the power and the glory yet invade smaller countries to seize what the smaller countries have. When another power moves in to defend the little victim, then two or more major powers face each other. The first world war started after the Sarajevo incident. Germany’s Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in order to annex the Polish corridor, yet Germany was already much bigger than Poland.
During my diplomatic service in Germany in the 1960’s, two words I used to read or hear again and again from the lips of young Germans were Nie Wieder (never again). The Second World War started with German forces inflicting heavy casualties on the countries they invaded. But when fortune with its Machiavellian casualty’s fickleness deserted Hitler, enemies descended on Germany.
By and large, the people of Europe learned a long-lasting lesson from World War II in which 50 million people lost their lives. Leading statesmen in France and Germany advocated cooperation rather than conquest. The cooperation was built up by degrees until it blossomed into the European Union that we know. More than 60 years have passed without the Europeans going to war against one another. Such duration of peace has been rare in European history since the Renaissance.
Yet, part of the world has not quite learned lessons from world wars. Wars started with disputes over small patches of the earth. Japan is locked with South Korea and China over tiny uninhabited islands. Their verbal exchanges sound frightful. Spokespersons of Iran have not hidden the reason they are building up weapons of mass destruction. They want to obliterate Israel. They do not mind if their action leads to a third world war. From our knowledge of kings, Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes of Persia we must take the Iranians seriously, for Iran is the new name of Persia.
If the dispute between Tanzania and Malawi over the northern waters of Lake Malawi ends in Tanzania taking that part by force, a Pandora’s box will have been opened in Africa. Other countries that do not accept boundaries made between African former colonies will also try to impose their own unilateral boundaries on weaker neighbours, with the assistance from al Qaeda, the dissidents of Somalia will continue to seize portions of Kenya and Ethiopia where ethnic Somalis live. It could be the beginning of a conflagration in severing parts of the continent.
Wars of today end with pyrrhic victories. Idi Amin, the dictator of Uganda, was one of those presidents in Africa who did not accept colonial boundaries as binding. He invaded Tanzania’s Lake Victoria region supported by Muamar Gaddafi of Libya. President Julius Nyerere, with the support of Uganda’s anti-Amin dissidents took the war to Kampala and drove out Amin.
Hitherto, Tanzania was prosperous and was vying with Nigeria for the leadership of Africa. After the war with Amin’s Uganda, Tanzania experienced an economic tailspin, resulting in the discrediting of the ujamaa ideology.
Over the lake dispute, Malawi and Tanzania should be talking the language of compromise. Tanzania should respect colonial boundaries without reservation. It did not like it when Amin tried to seize the Lake Victoria region, Malawi should remember that the British licensed a German vessel the Von Wissman to ply on the waters of Lake Nyasa. Tanzania could make use of that precedent. Just as Malawi’s vehicles use Tanzania’s roads to bring cargo from Dar es salaam to Malawi according to Tanzania regulations, so Tanzania would ply its boat on the lake according to Malawi’s regulations.