A Guide by Omar al-Bashir and Mahinda Rajapakse
Given the respective experience of our two countries working around the International Community, we thought we’d share some hot tips for any other consolidating dictators interested in suppressing unwanted ethnic groups without having to deal with all those annoying international human rights types who keep harping on about abuses and tribunals. We hope this is useful for you.
A. The Big Picture
1. Make sure your country isn’t in the Western spotlight. Having a bubbling civil war means you’re less likely to attract lots of tourists who develop emotional attachments to a place, and so long as you don’t have too many valuable trade opportunities or natural resources, the west won’t be as interested.
Omar says: If you DO have resources, expect the west to get involved, but try and keep the slaughter away from the biggest resource fields- that way they’re much less likely to try and invade. Saddam was good enough to share this lesson with us.
2. Wait for a time when the West has its attention and military resources tied up elsewhere. A good war in the middle east or central asia is sure to make sure that western troops and political will are being expended somewhere else. The voting public won’t want to see more troops embroiled in some other little war-zone, and the supporting resources- helicopters, communications equipment and battle-trained coordinating officers- simply won’t be available. They still haven’t forgotten Mogadishu.
3. It helps if you can paint the ethnicity you’re wanting to get rid of in as confusing a light as possible. Call them ‘terrorists’ if you can. If not, then ‘rebels’. Whatever happens, they are not an ethnic minority. They are an uprising. Call it a civil war. Western donors hate getting involved with civil wars.
B. Access- Administration
1. Make sure journalists don’t get in. Western sympathies are fueled by news feed. Keep them in the capital for as long as you can. If you’re planning an offensive, tighten travel restrictions. The longer you can hold them back from the front lines, the more the story will dry up. Westerners have a very short attention-span- too much MTV and Twitter. Three or four days after an event and they’re already bored and moving on to something else. If the story hasn’t materialised, if journalists don’t have pictures, their editors will redeploy them somewhere else.
Mahinda says: Stories will always get out. Even annoying rebel groups have access to the internet. If you can vilify and demonize them enough, however, the west won’t know who to believe. Muddying the waters is a great tactic here.
2. Block expatriates. Make it hard for them to get into your country. This is your legal right under international law! Make them fill out eight different forms in triplicate, sent to four different consulates before being returned with a comment that the background to their visa photo is the wrong shade of grey. This will frustrate them. They may lose interest. Or so much time may pass that without staff on the ground they won’t be able to raise any funds and won’t be able to come in the first place. If you’re really lucky, they’ll mouth off and criticize you, at which point you have every right to ban them from your country altogether- and maybe even kick their organization out.
3. Block expatriates (part B). (Because we think this is an important one: expatriates always cause trouble.) Once they’re in the country, stop them getting to the conflict area. Domestic red tape is a beautiful thing. Ensure they have to get special passes to access the affected areas, and let your administrators know to take their time granting them. Make sure that all your police and soldiers stop westerners and check their paperwork at any given opportunity. If they get caught without their paperwork, get them into trouble. This tactic works great if you’ve got a lot of checkpoints already set up- it can take them HOURS to get anywhere. After a while, they’ll stop trying. And it’ll take so long to get anything done, and be so expensive, that their donors will get tired of giving them money, and they’ll just go home again.
Omar says: When I established the HAC, this battle was pretty much won. We just made sure there were so many hoops to jump through that we exhausted half the agencies’ capacity just getting the right filing done. Then, once they began to understand the system, we went and changed it on them again! I suggest changing your administrative requirements at least once every three to six months, just to keep them on their toes. Nothing annoys an aid worker more than to get all their papers in order, get on a plane, then get sent back to the capital because they missed form 417C.
4. Balance! Don’t overdo this one. You need to make sure that getting administrative permissions takes enough time to frustrate and cost, but is just doable enough to keep them dangling on. If you don’t have the UN and NGOs in your country, you can’t monitor their activities, you can’t infiltrate them with spies, and they just sit outside your borders, barking about how terrible you are and all the horrible things that are happening. This is where you end up with things like sanctions, ICC warrants, and the like. And this is what you don’t want. No, what you want is lots of toothless NGOs in your country, ideally frustrated, ideally wasting donor funding, ideally scared and ideally believing that they are perennially on the cusp of being turfed out of your country. No matter what happens, this is what they really don’t want- it looks bad in the press, it wastes donor money and it really pisses off their constituents. They have this thing called the Humanitarian Imperative and so long as you keep dangling it in front of them, they’ll stick at it.
Omar says: It’s a good idea to pick a couple of particularly troublesome NGOs and kick them out of your country. The others will get the message and fall into line. If you’re lucky they’ll be so excited to get the extra caseload left behind by the departing agency that they won’t want to complain.
Mahinda says: I’ve always found that kicking out the odd UN official reminds everybody who’s in charge.
C. Access- Security
1. This one often takes care of itself, but the good news is, aid workers don’t like to be shot at. They’re pretty soft targets, so if you can get a really nasty little war happening, it’ll automatically keep them at bay. This is tricky, because if you start the war, then you get blamed for it and this makes you look bad. It’s always good if you can make it clear that the rebels started shooting first. After all, you are the government, and you are the ones trying to keep control. Usually the proximate factors contributing to these sorts of conflicts are so convoluted and confusing that it takes NGOs months and months to figure out who’s who and what’s going on. They don’t have time to communicate all this to their donors, so they sell it as a black-and-white issue. Of course, pretty soon facts start contradicting each other and people realise it’s all kinds of muddy, and then donors start losing interest. Don’t worry too much about the media- they only ever work with 30-second sound-bites and can never explain what’s really happening, so people just get confused. Forget about shows like Horizon, Panorama and 60 Minutes which try and take the time to explain what’s happening- nobody of any consequence watches them anyway.
Omar says: If you really don’t want to cop the blame for starting a war, try and get some proxy force to do it. I found that using the Janjawid was a great tactic. Firstly, it confused everybody. Secondly, there was no way to show I was in any way responsible for what they were doing. Thirdly, because they were all released from prison, they were perfectly happy to be violent, which worked great from the perspective of restricting access!
2. Try killing the odd aid-worker. Nothing forces an NGO pull-out like a dead staff member- and they can’t blame it on you, because it’s the conflict’s fault. This obviously works best when they’re killed by the rebels, but you can’t always make that happen. Where it’s your side that does the killing, it’s important to point out it was their fault for being in a dangerous place. If you can claim that they were working with the rebels when they were killed, that probably works best.
Mahinda says: If you’re frightened that killing expatriates might attract too much media attention, kill some national staff. Nobody pays much attention to them.
3. Maintain insecurity over time. The more time and money NGOs have to spend investing in security staff, ballistics vests, convoys and protocols, the more money they waste and the less time they can spend seeing what’s going on in the field, leaving you free rein. Remember this little tip: NGOs hate working with the military- even peacekeepers. This is in your favour. If you can keep the conflict simmering just low enough that NGOs feel they can manage the situation themselves without military support, they’ll be wanting to keep the idea of UN peacekeepers as far from themselves as possible.
Mahinda says: Landmines are a fantastic excuse to keep NGO workers away from an area. I suggest leaving them in place for as long as possible. If you can slow demining efforts down, do it!
D. Consolidate Power
1. Control the media. International media will always tear you apart because that’s how they sell papers- but just wait them out. After a few days they’ll lose interest and start bitching about Hugo or Robert again. Those guys are great for diffusing the heat. Where you really want to focus is on your domestic media. If you can keep them onside, you’ll consolidate your power-base. If they get out of line, shoot the odd editor or bomb a printing press. They’ll fall in.
Mahinda says: Be careful of some of these media types though. They’re tricky buggers. Some of them will even have a go at you from beyond the grave!
2. Develop a national rhetoric. You’re not in a civil war, you’re in a war on terror. The West use this language all the time so they can’t condemn you for it. Remember, you’re liberating your people from the clutches of evil.
3. Condemn NGOs. Let’s face it, they’re always making mistakes, so it should be easy to dig up some dirt on them, show everyone where they did a bad job in the past, and generally undermine their credibility. Nothing makes an aid worker want to go home more than the country they’re risking their lives in telling them they’re not welcome. If you can break their corporate spirit, they’ll get very submissive.
Omar says: I love those Christian NGOs. They’re always distributing Bibles. Don’t these guys ever learn?
Mahinda says: Try setting up a national hotline. Concerned citizens can call in if they hear an expatriate badmouthing the government, and you can then kick them out of the country. It’s a great way to get people to toe the line.
4. Don’t put up with dissention. Remember this is all about holding on to power. You want to crush your military opposition, and any domestic political opposition at the same time. Military victory is obviously going to make you look good, but it can take a while. In the meantime, you need to hold on to power. Providing a little targeted persecution of political rivals will polarize them and make them much easier targets in the eyes of your domestic media. If you’re stuck in a ‘democratic’ country, make sure you ‘invest’ appropriately in the election process.
Omar says: I always find giving my political rivals some high-sounding political post with no real authority is the best way to bring them onside without actually conceding any power.
Mahinda says: If you like, you can always invent some trumped-up charges and throw them in prison. I know it’s been done before, but it works great- especially if they’re about to show up before a war-crimes tribunal. And it’s SO MUCH FUN!
E. Final Tips
1. Divide and Conquer. The UN and NGOs are useless at coordination. They all have their own agendas. They’ll want to work through your ministries because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Make sure you give different information to difference organizations so they can’t coordinate. Ensure that processes to get government staff into their projects are onerous and expensive. Ensure there are hefty reporting requirements to hold them to account.
Mahinda says: If in doubt, just disband the UN Cluster system and set your own up in its place. It throws them into disarray and gives you full control.
2. Handling Peacekeepers. If all else fails and the UN do arrive, it’s a tricky situation but all is not lost. Be very clear that any troops who arrive without your permission will be considered an act of war. Dictate very clearly which countries can send troops and which countries are allowed to support the mission. Negotiate. Break them down and wait them out. Rather than saying ‘no’, say ‘maybe’. Give them a little bit, then wait a while. If they want 20,000 peacekeepers, say yes, but then only let them push through a few thousand at a time. They’ll get bored, and distracted, and soon enough somebody else will do something to get their attention. Keep the red-tape pressure up. Make them get permission from your military for every helicopter-flight they want to launch, and make it a slow process. It comes back to that balancing game- give them just enough to keep them interested, so they don’t push too hard. The last thing you want is for them to come in with a Chapter VII mandate, so don’t give them the excuse!
Omar says: Peacekeepers aren’t really in it for the fighting. In fact, the death rate for peacekeepers is lower than that for NGO workers. That should tell you how much they don’t want to get shot at. If you can arrange to get a few missions shot at, this will help keep them all in their bases and behind barricades, where you want them. Remember, peacekeeping missions are inevitably toothless and underfunded, so play to their weaknesses.
If there’s a take-away lesson for you from all this, it’s that the International Community is mired in its own systems and is therefore both predictable and exploitable. A world organization isn’t a stand-alone force to be reckoned with, but is made up by its constituent states with all their divided opinions and internal politics and systems. If you can get a handle on this, it’s easy to get them to fall into line. Our piece of advice: Tease them. Give them just enough to think they’re going to get their way, then mire them down in paperwork without actually making any real concessions. They’ll stall, and you’ll get to play the game however you want to, sans consequence. Look at us- we’re doing just fine thanks very much. Take our advice, and ethnic slaughter with impunity is yours for the taking.