Did A Rohingya-Like “Ethnic Cleansing” Just Happen In Angola?

The large-scale and rapid outflow of 380,000 Congolese from northeastern Angola over the past couple of weeks draws immediate comparisons to last year’s Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar, but a closer examination reveals that both of them didn’t exactly unfold according to the Mainstream Media’s narrative and that they each played into America’s geopolitical hands whether their governments realized it or not.  

This week’s headlines were dominated with coverage about the US’ planned INF Treaty withdrawal, the pipe bomb scare, the Caravan Crisis 2.0, and Khashoggi’s killing, but lost amidst the events of the day was something that the rest of the world should have been paying much more attention to, and that’s the large-scale and rapid outflow of 380,000 Congolese from northeastern Angola. Kinshasa claims that its citizens were forcibly driven out of the safe haven where they’d taken refuge after fleeing from the Kasai Conflict in the southwestern part of their homeland, while Luanda tacitly likened them to “Weapons of Mass Migration” that were illegally mining one of the world’s largest diamond deposits in the northeastern part of the country.

“Weapons of Mass Migration”

Superficially speaking, the optics are very similar to what happened last year in Myanmar with the Rohingya, where over half a million of the country’s partially recognized Muslim minority (considered by Naypyidaw to be ethnic Bengali migrants and their descendants) fled to neighboring Bangladesh after the government commenced a security operation in response to a spate of terrorist attacks there. Angola asserts that it didn’t resort to the threat of force to coerce the Congolese to leave, but a recently published Reuters investigation disputes that and claims that a mix of ethno-tribal tensions and government pressure led to the largest cross-border population movement since the interconnected RwandanCongolese conflicts of the 1990s that are popularly regarded as “Africa’s World War”.

To understand what happened in both cases, the reader needs to accept that the concept of “Weapons of Mass Migration” veritably exists, but that it’s not necessarily what people think or how it’s been popularly portrayed. One should read Ivy League researcher Kelly M. Greenhill’s 2010 masterpiece about “Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement as an Instrument of Coercion” in order to better understand this phenomenon, but in brief, she basically says that population flows within in and across borders can be weaponized for political, economic, military, and ultimately strategic purposes by catalyzing events that spark this process.  To be clear, practically no person is aware that they were manipulated into migrating, but therein lays the “brilliance” of this approach.

Different States, Same Scenario

“Weapons of Mass Migration” are “plausibly deniable” but nevertheless objectively observable as Greenhill argues, and this paradigm perfectly explains the conflicts in Myanmar and Angola. About the first-mentioned, the country inherited a sizeable Muslim minority concentrated in a sensitive border region after independence, which naturally posed a security threat. The military responded to last year’s wave of terrorism by creating the conditions that compelled much of this population to flee to Bangladesh, where they also functioned as a “weapon” because of the destabilizing effect they’ve had on that country’s own border security and political stability. In a sense, it can be said that the Rohingya have been exploited as “Weapons of Mass Migration” against both Myanmar and Bangladesh.

As for Angola, the arbitrary borders imposed during the colonial period and inherited afterwards separated some tribes that had previously interacted with one another for centuries, eventually leading to the partially successful creation of separate composite identities in that country and neighboring Congo (previously Zaire). The artificial divisions manufactured in the region were reinforced by Zaire’s military intervention on the side of the pro-American “rebels” immediately after Angola’s independence, which only fueled animosity towards the victimized nation’s much larger neighbor. The recent Congolese influx from Kasai destabilized northeastern Angola, but so too does the authorities’ expulsion of these people back to their homeland right before its elections in December, thus making these people “Weapons of Mass Migration” in both countries.

The China Connection

It’s probably not coincidental that these “Weapons of Mass Migration” were activated when they were since each crisis encouraged responses that play into the US’ grand strategic interests. In Myanmar, the global controversy that erupted after the Rohingya Crisis became an international issue served to unsuccessfully pressure Suu Kyi to rein in the military, which would have exacerbated Myanmar’s “deep state” war that had only recently seemed to have been resolved, but the country was still destabilized as “punishment” for the civilian government surprisingly “rebalancing” its relations with China. About Angola, the authorities’ security operation destabilizes the Congo two months before its planned first-ever peaceful transition of power and might diminish the odds that the Chinese-friendly incumbent’s chosen successor wins.

The case can convincingly be made that both countries deliberately sought to remove a targeted identity group from their territory, which would technically constitute “ethnic cleansing”, but it can also be argued that there were legitimate law-and-order pretexts for these moves that fell within the state’s sovereign right to secure its borders from what it believed (whether right or wrongly) to be foreign threats against its citizenry and that the consequent refugee flows were unintentional “collateral damage”. Whichever way one wants to spin it, the fact of the matter is that these states undertook decisions on their own prerogative (whether provoked into doing so or not) that advanced America’s aims of initiating self-sustaining cycles of destabilization (Hybrid Wars).

Concluding Thoughts

What just happened in Angola looks an awful lot like what took place last year in Myanmar in the sense that the security operations commenced by both countries’ militaries resulted in the large-scale and rapid outflow of a particular identity group (regarded by both governments as illegal immigrants) that carried with it disturbing signs of “ethnic cleansing”, but immediately jumping to that knee-jerk conclusion overlooks two important factors. Firstly, there were very serious security concerns in these border regions that prompted the state to react, and the second point is that their actions can’t be separated from the larger strategic context of regional geopolitics. Irrespective of their legitimacy, these operations nevertheless played into America’s geopolitical hands, though with varying success.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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