THE BATTLE OF BANGUI – THE INSIDE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICA’S WORST MILITARY SCANDAL SINCE APARTHEID (Book Review)

Sydney

THE BATTLE OF BANGUI – THE INSIDE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICA’S WORST MILITARY SCANDAL SINCE APARTHEID (Book Review)

The Battle of Bangui will be adapted to screen, I predict because the drama in this book will not escape producers of this world and will also not be lost to the viewers who might not read the book version.  The first chapter plunges you into the battle, in which the outnumbered SANDF elite forces are optimising their hardware against advancing Seleka armed group who appear mythical in the book as they suffer heavy losses yet still march on Bangui.  There are layers of politics in this book that are fascinating.  There is a manifestation of bad domestic South African politics plus the dysfunction of the Central African Republic (CAR) as a polity run at the top by President Francois Bozize, who presided over perpetual volatility.  Then there is the geopolitical dimension at play, which interests this author more.  South Africa’s unilateral involvement in the CAR, culminating in the Battle of Bangui remains inexplicable if Pretoria’s espousal of multilateralism in the geopolitical context can be relied upon as being in line with her foreign policy.  But realists hold that the international political system is anarchic and spate players can act in self-interest. Is there any discernible grounds for Pretoria to claim self-interest in the CAR?  The involvement in the CAR does not even show altruism on Pretoria’s part and the authors of The Battle of Bangui demonstrate this well.  Aggression is however more discernible.  Interesting things happen in the build-up to the battle itself.  The Libreville accord is violated by President Bozize, emboldened by Pretoria’s unilateral backing, anchored on a bilateral treaty smilingly only existing at a high level.  A brigade-size peacekeeping force, FOMAC, melts away, allowing the Seleka armed group to advance beyond Damara and reach Bangui.  The Central African Armed Forces (FACA), who are the regular CAR army defects in some cases but largely also melts away, leaving the SANDF as the main force fighting to protect the capital.  We know the outcome. My reference of diamond fuelled wars is a number of research findings on the Sierra Leone and Angolan wars in which the element of diamond involvement found expression in the rebel desire to fight on endlessly, as the RAF and UNITA did respectively.

My analysis, therefore, is that while diamonds were clearly the fuel for the Seleka to fight on, as we know they pressed on and toppled Bozize within days, their actions were divergent from classical diamond wars where rebels keep government forces at bay while controlling lucrative diamond-rich regions indefinitely.  Here the Seleka armed group fought for political power, which they obtained.  Only for more problems to mount perpetually.  The Battle of Bangui is written with a journalistic flair and tone, very readable.  It is a great expose allowing the reader to make up their mind about apparent corrupt activities and greed that may easily lead the reader to infer that certain political players were to benefit from South Africa’s involvement.  Another strength of The Battle of Bangui is the authors’ ability to contextualise their story using geography.  It fascinates me to no end when writers are able to correctly place you in a place you did not know, and make you know the place in a way that it will not change even if you muted people.  Ubangi River is a great point of reference and the more wooded South, changing into a Savanna biome as you head North (to the desert and also heading out of the tropical belt away from the equator).  

My narrow academic interest in the book was oil and to that score, the book was duly useful.  Central African Republic was the lesser-known country to me in a region about which I love reading.  Most literature of the region leaves the CAR out, which makes The Battle of Bangui an important contribution, not only to read about South African military activities beyond the republic’s borders but also to complete the regional puzzle.  Ubangi is the main tributary of the great Congo River.  It is easy to see how Ubangi would have also been the colonial time highway for raw material to reach the Atlantic and off the continent.  Purchase your own copy and relish this dramatic read. It is beautiful.   

The Development Team

Content Writer: Sydney Seshibedi

Sub-editor: Lunga Dweba         

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