wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Paul Collier

The Bottom Billion

Overwhelmingly, the people who die are not killed in active combat but succumb to disease. Wars create refugees, and mass movements of the population in the context of collapsing public health systems create epidemics. A young Spanish researcher, Marta Reynol-Querol, analyzed civil war, migration movements, and the incidence of malaria and came up with a startling result: the migration triggered by civil war sharply increases the incidence of disease among the population in the havens to which refugees run. The increase is too large Simply to be accounted for by the refugees themselves; what seems to happen is that in their trek across country, refugees are exposed to disease vectors to which they have little resistance, and the diseases they pick up then move with them to their place of refuge, also infecting the people already living in that area.

Both economic losses and disease are highly persistent: they do not stop once the fighting stops. Most of the costs of civil war. perhaps as much as half, accrue after the war is over. Of course, sometimes the rebellion is worth it. with rebel victory ushering in an age of social justice, but this does not happen often. Usually the political legacy is about as bad as the economic legacy—a deterioration in political rights. A rebellion is an extremely unreliable way of bringing about positive change. Rebel leaders who claim to have launched a civil war for the good of their country are usually deceiving themselves, others, or both. By the early 1990s, for example. Jonas Savimbi had amassed a fortune estimated at around $4 billion trom UNITA's control of Angolan diamonds. After losing the presidential election he spent it selflessly on relaunching the civil war rather than on a billionaire lifestyle.

Their followers, the foot soldiers of rebellion, often do not have much choice about joining the rebel movement. I have previously noted Foday Sankoh's preference for recruiting teenage drug addicts. In Uganda the Lord's Resistance Army, whose stated goal is to establish government according to the Ten Commandments, recruits members by surrounding a remote school with troops and setting fire to the school. The boys who manage to run out are given the choice of being shot or joining up. Those who join are then required to commit an atrocity in their home district, such as raping an old woman, which makes it harder for the boys to go back home. This style of recruitment is less exceptional than you might think. When the Maoist rebel group in Nepal moves into a district the young men run away rather than join up: apparently, they fear the same sort of forced recruitment. And, looking back, it now turns out that recruitment for the Long March of the Chinese revolution, the stuff of revolutionary legend for two generations of Western romantics, was at the point of a gun. The soldiers were not ideologically committed revolutionaries but scared farmers. And during the Russian Revolution the government rapidly collapsed, effectively leaving both the Red Army and the White Army as rebels living off the land; four million men deserted, despite harsh treatment of any who were caught in the attempt. Interestingly, the desertion rate varied: it was much higher in summer, despite the harsh Russian winter. Why? The recruits were peasant farmers, and in the summer, when they had crops to attend to, fighting was just too costly for them, whereas in the winter it didn't matter so much. Economic opportunities really do shape the ease with which a rebel army can maintain its forces.

Scholars are now starling to study the rebel recruitment process more rigorously, through fieldwork among rebels. Jeremy Weinsiein, a young professor at Stanford, has been working on a former rebel group, the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a particularly violent group in Sierra Leone. One of Jeremy's results is both important and depressing: it concerns the gradual erosion of initial motivations among a rebel group. Imagine that you are a rebel leader who has decided to build a movement to fight ior social justice. You have bought some guns, or been given them by a friendly foreign government that wants to cause trouble, and now you need recruits. Young men turn up at your bush headquarters and volunteer. Should you accept them? Some of these volunteers are like you, potential warriors for social justice, but others are, unfortunately, just attracted by the opportunity to strut around with a gun. Too, according to psychologists, on average about 3 percent of any population have psychopathic tendencies, so you can be sure that some of those in the recruitment line will be psychopaths. Others will be attracted by the prospect of power and riches, however unlikely; if the reality of daily existence is otherwise awful, the chances of success do not have to be very high to be alluring. Even a small chance of the good life as a successful rebel becomes worth taking, despite the high risk of death, because the prospect of death is not so much worse than the prospect of life in poverty. The key point of Weinstein's research is that in the presence of natural resource wealth—oil, diamonds, or perhaps drugs—there are credible prospects of riches, so that some of the young men in the queue to join will be motivated by these prospects rather than by the mission to deliver social justice. The idealistic rebel leader will find it very difficult to screen these people out. He can try rejecting those who fail to come up with the right slogans. But soon everyone will learn to parrot them. Gradually the composition of the rebel group will shift from idealists to opportunists and sadists.