I'm writing this morning in a state of reflection and confusion.
Like all Africa watchers, I try to stay on top of the shifting sands that define our continent's many changes.
But what has made me so confused are the words we use to describe the many opposing forces dotted across our great land.
hear that there are oil militants in the Niger Delta who are marginally
different from rebels in Darfur, and different still from the Islamist
insurgents over in Somalia, while in Uganda there is an army claiming
to represent the Lord, and that is different still from local defence
militia in parts of Central Africa.
They must go back to their country, they are taking our jobs' are words far more frightening than the slogans of a jungle madman
So what exactly is the difference between insurgents, militants and rebels?
Not much, according to the history tomes on my bookshelf, except ideologies.
For once upon a time someone somewhere was once someone else's bandit or terrorist or insurgent or militant or criminal.
Then the war veteran rebel insurgents may even have stepped up to become leaders of countries and presidents of great republics.
those thorny words with which they were once labelled were filed away
neatly in the drawer labelled "For Future Use Against Those Who Will
And sure enough, after a while, that drawer will
be opened, the words picked from their mouldy state and flung with
great purpose at journalists, human rights workers and even bandits.
have come to accept the notion that the great upheavals in governance
and ethnic conflicts that we witness from time to time are really just
names being thrown about by those in power against those seeking it.
The rainbow over?
It's a politician's game for which many of us have no stomach.
far more insidious are those groups of people with no definitive
ideology, whose aims are not so clear, but whose actions can wreck
entire generations by the viciousness of their blood-letting.
This month marks a year since bloody violence against foreigners scarred South African cities.
Rainbow Nation was left bruised by the fires in her shanty towns and
the world watched as a Mozambican man died in front of the news
cameras, his body consumed by flames.
Just who lit those flames
is still an unanswered question, just who led the marauding hordes of
axe-wielding South Africans on their destructive hunt for foreigners is
also largely unknown.
But you can be sure that they were not rebels or militants or insurgents, just poor black folk angry with other poor black folk.
course the politicians were embarrassed by this turn of events; for who
would have thought that the land that gave us Nelson Mandela; whose
successor (Thabo Mbeki) preached the doctrine of African Renaissance;
whose current president (Jacob Zuma) has just married off his daughter
to a neighbouring country's politician; the land indeed whose ruling
party, the ANC, was sheltered by every African country as they sought
to overcome apartheid, could one day kill scores of Africans for being
Local residents watch shacks burning on 25 May 2008 as
firefighters attempt to extinguish it in the Denver squatter camp on
the outskirts of Johannesburg.
And so what we should fear most are
not those rebels born out of the thirst for power, but those militants
fashioned from the depths of all that is negative about human nature.
must go back to their country, they are taking our jobs, they don't
speak our language" – these were the words we heard a year ago.
And they are far more frightening than the slogans of a madman in some jungle.
So I was thinking these thoughts in a Johannesburg bar one year ago when a woman says: "What are you drinking?"
"Whisky, straight no chaser," I replied.
"Where are you from?" she wanted to know.
Given what's going on in the townships around me, I decided to hide my foreignness and said: "Guess."
She looked me up and down and said: "I can't tell, you look internationally black."
"That will do me nicely for now," I thought.