Nigerian Mubarak Muhammad Abdullahi's homemade working helicopter.
In a delightful example of the DIY ethos, and bearing more than a slight resemblance to the John Robb school (not to mention Cory Doctorow), amateur engineers in Kenya, Somaliland, and Nigeria are cobbling together their own aircraft out of spare parts and discarded hulks.
And that includes both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. The above helicopter was crafted from “scrap aluminum and parts of a Honda Civic, a Toyota, and a Boeing 747.” And it actually flies, too – at an altitude of 7 feet.
On behalf of France, La Coloniale and the Armée d’Afrique performed admirably in both combat and occupation duties during World War I.
The French Africans who served in Europe came from all across the empire—Tirailleurs from Senegal, spahis from Tunisia and Algeria, and goums from Morocco, 175,000 in all. Other local regiments of Tirailleurs from equatorial French Africa were in turn deployed to the French colonial possessions in North Africa, and many others (about 160,000 in total) joined the Armée Métropolitaine in France on an ad hoc basis.
Moroccan goums, 1914.
In combat, the colonial troops proved themselves beyond a shadow of a doubt. Many succumbed to the illnesses brought on by the radical change of climate, and for the most part, the harsh European winters meant that the African units would winter in the south of France. To some, this was reason enough to doubt the effectiveness of Africans in combat, but it was always ignored that these ‘deficiencies’ had nothing to do with the fighting skill of men from the tropics.
World War I was more global in scope than is often realized.
World War I belligerents; Allies are green, Central Powers orange, and non-aligned are gray.
The colonial forces of both Britain and France were tried and tested in theaters throughout the globe, perhaps most surprisingly in India itself. Thanks to the Anglo-Japanese Pact of 1902 there was no direct threat across the frontier – as the Japanese would pose in World War II – but the fighting in the Middle Eastern theater often spilled over in the Punjab, and nationalist revolts there and in Bengal threatened to destabilize the Raj. In Mesopotamia, there were three mutinies by Muslim soldiers unwilling to fight their fellow believers, but for the most part native troops remained unwaveringly loyal. Even the horrific casualties in the various African campaigns did not dissuade colonial troops from fighting alongside their occupiers and preserving their own subjugation.
In the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny, whether the Indian Army was exclusively for garrison purposes (at its furthest extent, the invasion of bordering states), or if it could be deployed overseas was a matter of some concern.
The British Expeditionary Force towing artillery across Ethiopia, 1868
Trust in the native infantry regiments reached its nadir in the wake of the Sepoy Rebellion, but when the Emperor Tewodros of Abyssinia began holding British nationals hostage in 1866, they were the nearest available option for the British to deploy. Thanks to the telegraph, a force of 13,000 led by Lieutenant General Robert Napier that included four Native Cavalry regiments and ten Native Infantry regiments (with only a single cavalry squadron and the artillery fully manned by Britons) arrived within two months of receiving Queen Victoria’s orders.
After a brutal three-month, 400-mile trek through mountainous jungle and desert, the expedition reached Tewodros’ stronghold. The brief battle of two hours resulted in 700 Abyssinian deaths and 1,200 more wounded. The British (including native troops) suffered twenty wounded. Not one was killed. The Indian Army had proven itself more than capable of serving outside the provinces from where it was raised.
This is of course not the only suggested explanation for conflict in the developing world. Essentially, all the arguments put forth can be summarized as pertaining to ‘greed’, or monetary and personal gain, and ‘grievance’, i.e., ideological and cultural clashes. Abridging the vast array of motives to these two is oversimplifying the matter to begin with; further choosing one of the two as the sole factor would be downright spurious. Complicating matters is the tendency to use the ‘pre-modern’ character of third world conflicts to build an intellectual bridge back to the very beginning of history. Continue reading →