Saturday, April 25, 2009

Collapse: Why the World Must Not Ignore Eastern Africa

One of the most difficult, almost counterintuitive things for most people to do is to anticipate sudden change or Collapse in the words of Jared Diamond. For most of us alive today, the idea that civilization could disintegrate is simply inconceivable.

What evidence could make us sit up, listen up and heed a warning so dreadful? We are so confident in our ability to conquer and triumph over catastrophe that we most certainly will dismiss any evidence with a wave of the hand or a snooty chuckle.

I have followed regional and global population, economic, food supply, water, land degradation trends and their feedbacks. The singular and interactive effects and feedback of these trends coupled with the ramifications they portend point to a perilous collapse of ecosystems, political sovereignty and societal order. We can no longer dismiss the possibility that localized or global shortages of fertile topsoil, water, food and obviously financial credit, could bring down the global civilization.

My sense is that rapid population growth, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, persistent poverty, depletion of topsoils, water shortages, rising temperatures, food scarcity constitute irrefutable vital signals of a planet in peril and imminent collapse of global civilization. A precursor to collapse is the increasing spectre of “failed states”, especially in poor countries of the South.

States fail when the sovereign authority can no longer provide food security, personal safety and security, basic social services, fundamental rights and freedoms for its citizens. Failed states often cede, involuntarily, their monopoly of territory, power, law and order to bandits and militias.

From a global security perspective, failed states pose a singular threat to global sustainability and survival. Failed states can serve as deadly epicenters of terrorism, disease, illicit drugs, weapons, refugees and more recently piracy. Somalia has become a haven for pirates. Afghanistan is a leading source of terrorists and narcotics. Pakistan and Somalia are becoming an active cell for Al-Qaeda and a frontier for Islamic fundamentalism.

The influx of Somali refugees into neighboring Kenya, the Islands of Pemba, Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam will most certainly turn the Eastern Coast of Africa into the most virulent axis of illicit drugs, money laundering and weapons proliferation. The drought in the Horn of Africa, the collapse of the livestock economy, piracy, famine, the political impasse and weakening state authority in Kenya will have serious implications for political and social stability of the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region.

A formidable risk factor for social anarchy and possible collapse is the youth bulge. When 15 to 29-year-olds make up 20 per cent or more of the population, a society shows a "youth bulge," in the words of Gary Fuller, director of population studies at the University of Hawaii.

Political scientist Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations, has argued that this huge reservoir of young men aged 15-30 provides a natural pool of instability and violence directed both internally.

A society with an overflow of young men simply can't reward such a large number of "sons" with enough respectability, goes the theory. So they find ways to earn a standing. They wage war to earn war heroism. Or they simply use an “ideology” that turns arson, violence and even death into an achievement - into “honour.”

The vast majority of recruits in civil strife are young men, most of them out of school and out of work. It is a formula that hardly varies, whether in the scattered hideouts of Al Qaeda in the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, on the Kenya-Uganda railway line or in the killing fields of Kirinyaga and Nyeri or the pirates on board the Maersk Alabama or the marching armies of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

As a preacher from Atlanta said “injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere”. The survival of global civilization relies on a functional network of ecologically, economically, politically healthy and collaborative societies and nation-states.

This is a pre-requisite to dealing with Al-Qaeda, sorting out Kenya and Somalia, containing the deadly swine flu in Mexico, resolving the global economic crisis and reaching consensus on dealing with global climate change.

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