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Alexis Beggs Olsen

An Immensely Rich Cosmos

The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe, and Power in the Heat of Africa
by Bill Berkeley
Basic Books, 2001
304 pp.; $27.50

"This is a book about evil," Bill Berkeley warns the reader at the beginning of The Graves Are Not Yet Full. "Its setting is Africa." Evil, he's reminding us, has no particular address: "These stories are a measure of how much Africans have in common with the rest of mankind, not how much they differ." Berkeley, who spent ten years reporting on Africa for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post, writes with an easy authority. His central argument is that—contra what we've been told repeatedly, especially in the wake of the Hutu massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda—ethnic hatred is not the primary cause of bloodshed in Africa; rather, it is a tool deftly used by "Big Men" to create anarchy, which allows them to stay in power. Instead of focusing on victims, Berkeley meets and describes the tyrants. His aim is to describe how evil people operate and how they gain and stay in power. Most of his subjects are African warlords and political kleptocrats.

In Liberia, Charles Taylor attempts to legitimize his campaign of terror, which left 150,000 dead and half of the nation displaced in a prolonged civil war. One of Taylor's tactics was to recruit drug-addicted war orphans to serve in so-called Small Boy Units, fanatically loyal to Taylor (their "father") and willing to rape and kill without restraint. Yet Taylor blandly presents himself as a statesman dedicated to his people. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Berkeley and his wife are detained for four days by SNIP, Mobutu Sese Seko's secret police, after interviewing victims of state-sponsored ethnic aggression in the south of the country. We listen to General Pieter Hendrik "Tiene" Groenewald, South Africa's chief of military intelligence in the mid-1980s, explain his government's instigation of tribal violence to aid ...

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