The Butcher’s Trail. When Justice Wins!

I reprint here the Introduction (21 pages) and, next, Chapter 13 (“The Legacy”, 29 pages) of Julian Borges’ book entitled The Butcher’s Trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world’s most successful manhunt. New York : Other Press, 2016. xxx, 400 pages : illustrations, maps.
That said, I encourage BlogGuinée’s visitors to get and read this work. It is a well-written account of a key episode in the permanent and worldwide struggle against dictatorship, human rights violations, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Readers beware! This book is neither casual nor trivial. It stands out asrather substantial and substantive. And it reads as a well-researched, organized and written contribution. It is, in sum, the fruitful labor of an inquisitive mind and an investigative journalist who (a) has great mastery of his native tongue, and (b) built up a detailed knowledge of his topic. Julian Borge’s admirable talent serves here a noble cause: the defense of truth through the quest for justice.
The author of The Butcher’s Trail remains focused and stays on topic. True, he makes cursory connections to related facts and events. However, he sticks to the former Yugoslavia, from 1995 to today. I thus selected the above mentioned section because they include references to Africa. These are just tidbits. However, the entries convey potent and relevant connotations; one points to Nelson Mandela, the other to the International Criminal Court.

Nelson Mandela
Contrary to Robert Mugabe, —his junior comrade— the late Madiba decided to leave active politics after just one term as the first elected president of post-Apartheid South Africa. Yet, in retirement he cast a shining light on his beloved country, his continent and on the entire planet. He still does so posthumously. For death has not dimmed his star. To the contrary, his name is enshrined in the pantheon of the greatest men and women in History. And his symbol as patriot and statesman lives on.

Julian Borger joins the battle by shedding light on the history of this institution. He writes: “Slobodan Milošević, the Yugoslav president who became the first head of state to stand before an international tribunal for crimes perpetrated in a time of war.
This sentence debunks the claim that Western powers single out African dictators for investigation, indictment, prosecution and trial. It shatters the myth that the ICC targets only African presidents, or that the international community is engaged in a political and judicial witch hunt against African politicians. So, they seek to elude scrutiny and evade justice by plotting an Africa withdrawal from the ICC. In vain!

Read Rev. Desmond Tutu’s In Africa, Seeking a License to Kill.

The fact is that autocrats, presidents-for-life, tyrants, warlords, and potentates have plagued the continent since the independence series of the 1960s. The list of countries and culprits is tedious:  Rwanda (Juvénal Habiyarimana), Zaire/RDC (Mobutu), Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta), Uganda (Idi Amin), Zimbabwe (Robert Mugabe), Somalia (Syad Bare), Sudan (Omar al-Bashir), Egypt (Hosni Mubarak), Tunisia (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), Algeria (Bouteflika), Mali (Moussa Konaté), Burkina Faso (Blaise Compaoré), Chad (Hissène Habré), Togo (Gnassingbé Eyadema), Ethiopia (Mengistu Haile Mariam), Eritrea (Isaias Afwerki), Gabon (Omar Bongo), Nigeria (Sani Abacha), Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Congo), CAR (Bokassa), Cameroon (Paul Biya), Equatorial Guinea (Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo), Liberia (Charles Taylor), Sierra Leone (Fode Sankon and the RUF), Gambia (Yahya Jammeh),  Côte d’Ivoire (Laurent Gbagbo), etc.

In Guinea, since 1958, the country’s five presidents (Sékou Touré, Lansana Conté, Moussa Dadis Camara, Sékouba Konaté, Alpha Condé) sadly belong all in the same category of ruthless predators.

Reconciliation: a code word for impunity
Guinea’s current president, Alpha Condé, wants to sweep under the carpet the September 28, 2009 massacre of hundreds of civilians, followed by mass rapes. He refuses to let the judicial branch handle the trial of  the members of the military junta headed by former Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Holding up the investigation, he plan to delay the court as long as he is president. To cover up his maneuvers he has propped up a puppet and sycophantic national commission of truth and reconciliation. Such extra-judicial efforts are cynical, misguided, wrong, vicious, and malevolent. They disregard totally the grievances and calls for justice by plaintiffs collectives that group survivors and family members of Guinea’s death camps and killing fields: Camp Boiro, Camp Keme Bourema, Mont Kakoulima, Mont Gangan, etc. M. Condé’s reconciliation slogan is simply a code word for impunity.
But The Butcher’s Trail tells us that the commitment for justice is tireless and  permanent. It must go on everywhere, in Guinea and elsewhere around the globe.
Note. I have embedded the audio file of Julian Borger’s interview by Scott Simon on National National Public Radio (Washington, DC), Weekend Edition, dated Saturday March 26, 2016. The conversation focuses on the trial of Bosnian war criminal Radovan Karodzic which ended that week in The Hague. The transcript is appended to the mp3 document.
Tierno S. Bah

The butcher's trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world's most successful manhunt


« The gripping, untold story of The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and how the perpetrators of Balkan war crimes were captured by the most successful manhunt in history. Written with a thrilling narrative pull, The Butcher’s Trail chronicles the pursuit and capture of the Balkan war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Borger recounts how Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić—both now on trial in The Hague—were finally tracked down, and describes the intrigue behind the arrest of Slobodan Milošević, the Yugoslav president who became the first head of state to stand before an international tribunal for crimes perpetrated in a time of war. Based on interviews with former special forces soldiers, intelligence officials, and investigators from a dozen countries–most speaking about their involvement for the first time–this book reconstructs a fourteen-year manhunt carried out almost entirely in secret. Indicting the worst war criminals that Europe had known since the Nazi era, the ICTY ultimately accounted for all 161 suspects on its wanted list, a feat never before achieved in political and military history. »

The Echo of Nuremberg

“The Security Council thought we would never become operational. We had no budget. We had nothing. Zero.”
—Antonio Cassese, first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Julian Borge
Julian Borge

The trail came to a halt in a forest clearing. A man emerged from the trees at the agreed time, but the friend he had come to meet was nowhere to be seen. The man waited, feeling increasingly out of place. It was a burning hot day in late July, and he was flabby and pale from years spent in colder climes.
He regretted having come home, but he had no real choice. By the summer of 2011, the man had spent seven years as a fugitive, most recently in Russia, and was out of money. The only people on earth prepared to help him were here, in Serbia, where he could surely still count on a handful of true believers from the old days of national struggle. But where were they now?
As the appointed hour came and went, the only sounds in the forest were birdsong and the wind in the leaves. But the man was not alone. All along the path as it wound through the trees, he had been watched intently. As he emerged into the clearing, the illusion of solitude lasted just a few more moments before exploding with shouts and a blur of movement. In an instant, there were men all around him in white T-shirts and black knitted masks, pointing guns, gripping him by the wrists and shoulders.
One of the men, a police officer, began a recitation: “Goran Hadžić, we are arresting you …”
It was a name that had scarcely been heard for years. Even its owner had stopped using it, in favor of a string of aliases. But two decades earlier, Goran Hadžić had been a name to reckon with in this corner of the Balkans. He had been a president, albeit of a trumped-up little statelet with jagged edges—a bite taken out of one reborn country, Croatia, to be chewed and swallowed by another, Serbia, its covetous neighbor.
When the exhausted federal experiment that was Yugoslavia collapsed, its constituent republics were left to fight over its corpse. Serbia was the biggest and most predatory, spurred on by the most ruthless leader. Slobodan Milošević truly was a man for all seasons—a Socialist turned banker turned nationalist despot and unflinching war criminal. His preference was for a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, but if he could not have that, he would carve out a Greater Serbia at the expense of his neighbors.
Hadžić was Milošević’s puppet, but the sort of puppet that belongs in a horror film, a bloodied ventriloquist’s dummy. He helped preside over the first large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Europe since the Nazi era. From August to November 1991, the early days of Yugoslavia’s dismemberment, the baroque Croatian town of Vukovar, which had sat comfortably by the Danube for centuries, was razed to the ground by Serb artillery.
Once the town had fallen, some three hundred Croat men and teenage boys, many of them wounded, were taken from a hospital to a nearby farm where they were beaten and tortured by Serb soldiers and paramilitary volunteers serving with the Yugoslav army. They were driven away at night in trucks, ten to twenty at a time, taken to a wooded ravine, and executed. Only a handful escaped. In all, 263 men and boys were killed, the youngest aged sixteen. There was also one woman among the victims. Their bodies were dumped in a mass grave and covered by a bulldozer.

In Western capitals, it seemed beyond comprehension that wholesale slaughter was being committed once more in the heart of Europe. In the early nineties, it was a continent preoccupied with harmonizing food safety standards and the many other intricate chores of building a closer union. The dark past, two generations earlier, was buried under layer upon layer of democracy, diplomacy, and bureaucracy, or so it seemed from Brussels. The return of mass murder was deeply shocking. An entire town was pulverized, and its surviving Croats and minorities driven out with the goal of creating a swath of territory that would be home only to Serbs.
The process was called “ethnic cleansing,” a turn of phrase beyond George Orwell’s darkest satire. Like all the most effective propaganda, it worked by inversion. It took an act that was inherently dirty and gore-spattered and made it sound like a salutary rite of purification. It was a “cleansing” that left a permanent stain on everyone and everything it touched.
The “purified” mini-state was named the Republic of Serbian Krajina (Republika Srpska Krajina, or RSK), and Hadžić became its despot. He was thirty-three years old, a former warehouseman for an agro-industrial company in Vukovar who had been a leading light in the local League of Communists in his youth. He was picked for the role of the RSK’s warlord because he had made the same ideological swerve to nationalism as Milošević. He had plenty of ambition and no evident scruples. He was perfect.

Twenty years on, Hadžić was isolated and abandoned. His realm, the RSK, had been swept away, and Milošević had been dead for more than five years. In an effort to help him make ends meet, one of Hadžić’s childhood friends tried to sell a plundered artwork, but the intended favor only helped corner him. It was a painting attributed to the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, taken as booty during the Croatian war. The art market was awash with such looted treasure, real and fake, but it was also thick with informers and spies. The French external intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, or DGSE), had a particularly strong presence. One of its officers was even given a special award for extended service undercover in the Balkan art world 1. The French alerted Serbian intelligence, who monitored Hadžić’s friend and set a trap. In the wooded hills of Fruška Gora National Park near the Serbian-Croatian border, he was cornered and captured like the last grizzled specimen of a once ferocious breed.

The masked policemen turned him toward a camera to capture the moment. Surprise had given way to realization and resentment on Hadžić’s hangdog face. By now he was fifty-two years old. The warrior’s beard was gone, leaving a graying mustache and sagging jowls. The only familiar features left from his glory days were the angry eyes and the sneer, which once looked at home with his camouflage fatigues but now jarred with the baby-blue T-shirt he had chosen for his meeting.

The pathetic scene at the end of the forest trail marked the culmination of a long and extraordinary history. Hadžić was the last fugitive to be caught in a fifteen-year manhunt, involving the pursuit, arrest, or surrender of all those indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by a special court created by the United Nations in The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The ICTY, or the Hague Tribunal as it came to be popularly known, was established in 1993 as an experiment in international justice. It was the first time in the history of conflict that a truly global court had been created to pursue war criminals. It embodied the conviction that a universal sense of humanity could and should be upheld in the face of mass atrocities, transcending national jurisdiction.

The dramatic landmark trials at The Hague have been the subject of several books and countless articles. But those trials would never have taken place if the defendants had not been tracked down, arrested, and brought to court. That pursuit itself was a historic achievement. It took a very long time, but by 2011 all 161 people on the ICTY list of indictees faced justice one way or another. Former prison camp guards and ex-presidents all stood before the same tribunal. More than half the suspects were tracked down and captured. Others gave themselves up rather than lie awake every night wondering whether masked, armed men were about to storm into their bedroom. Two committed suicide. Others decided they would rather die in a blaze of gunfire and explosives than be taken alive. Two of them got their wish.

The individuals and agencies who pursued the suspects were many and various, but most did their work in the shadows, their successes never acknowledged. This account is based on interviews with more than two hundred of these people—former soldiers, intelligence officials, investigators, data analysts, diplomats, and officials from a dozen nations who were directly involved in the manhunt, most of them speaking about their actions for the first time. A majority agreed to talk only on the promise of anonymity, as the arrest operations are still classified in their home countries. Part of the narrative is also based on a trove of previously secret British government documents, declassified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Special forces from six countries took part in the hunt, the biggest special operations deployment anywhere in the world before 9/11. Polish commandos made history by becoming the first soldiers to carry out an arrest on behalf of the tribunal—to the surprise of many, including their own government. Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), who carried out NATO’s first manhunting missions in Bosnia, brought techniques learned in Northern Ireland. The participation of a newly formed German special forces unit in an arrest operation, at the cost of some serious injuries, marked the first time that country’s soldiers had gone into action since 1945. And the skills acquired in the Balkan manhunt by America’s elite soldiers in Delta Force and SEAL Team Six would soon be applied to the looming war on terror and to another manhunt—for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s leaders.

An alphabet soup of Western spy agencies, including the CIA, NSA, Britain’s MI6 and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), and France’s DGSE, conducted a parallel manhunt in the shadows with varying degrees of success. Despite the millions spent, none proved as effective as a small, secretive tracking unit inside the Hague Tribunal, which hugely enhanced the clout of the once-derided court.

From time to time, this multinational array of soldiers, spies, and sleuths acted in concert, following a trail that led from the Balkans west to the Canary Islands and Buenos Aires, and east as far as St. Petersburg and the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Just as often, they tripped over one another in their pursuit of conflicting national and institutional interests. That helps explain why the manhunt took so long 2. The story of the manhunt’s success contains within it many stories of failure. To survivors and families of victims waiting for justice, it did not feel like a triumph at the time. It is only now, when it is all over, that it stands out. There has been nothing quite like it in history.

The ICTY did not just complete its mission, rare enough for a UN operation and all the more striking in view of the patchy and ambivalent support it received from the major powers. The relentless pursuit of the indictees also made legal history. It led to the arrest and trial of Milošević, the first sitting head of state ever to be charged with war crimes by an international court. At the time of writing, the two men who presided over the worst of the atrocities in Bosnia—Radovan Karadžić, the Bosnian Serbs’ political leader, and his military commander, Ratko Mladić—are on trial for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The trail of blood was followed, not just to the immediate perpetrators of the mass atrocities but all the way to the orchestrators, the master butchers themselves.

Along the way, the ICTY defined mass rape for the first time as a crime against humanity in international law, as a result of atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb forces in the town of Foča. It was a legal breakthrough that would have meant little without the actions of German and French special forces, who tracked down the rapists and brought them to The Hague.

Before the ICTY’s creation, there was no institutional framework for judging war crimes and crimes against humanity. There was an attempt to put Napoleon Bonaparte’s commanders on trial for treason in 1815, but the effort collapsed. More than a century later, the British government sought to prosecute Kaiser Wilhelm for war crimes but failed to persuade Holland, where the Kaiser had taken refuge, to hand him over 3.

After the Second World War, the question loomed once more of what to do with leaders, officials, and soldiers responsible for mass atrocities, and it was by no means inevitable they would be put on trial. Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt initially approved a plan for summary executions of top Nazis, lest their survival help rally their followers 4. The trials in the ruined city of Nuremberg were something of a lastminute decision.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo a parallel tribunal was established for Japanese war crimes suspects, but Emperor Hirohito and members of the imperial family were exempted. Neither Tokyo nor Nuremberg succeeded in drawing a line in human history, despite the hopeful mantra of “never again.” More than forty-five years later, mass murder returned to the modern, industrialized world.

Genocide and other mass atrocities challenge our idea of what it is to be human. The acts perpetrated against innocent victims are so grotesque and disturbing, we recoil from their contemplation. We prefer them to be either far away or long ago. When Yugoslavia began to fall apart, the rest of Europe started to distance itself, like neighbors of a dying household. Shutting their doors, they convinced themselves that if they looked the other way, they would never catch the disease. Western politicians diagnosed “ancient ethnic hatreds” let loose by the fall of Communism as the cause of the bloodshed 5. It was one of a litany of excuses for not getting involved, but it explained nothing.

The history of the ethnic communities that made up Yugoslavia had indeed been marked by sporadic bouts of violence but those eruptions had been interspersed by long periods of peaceful coexistence. The same could be said of most regions in Europe’s diverse and turbulent continent.
Yugoslavia marched into hell because its leaders took it there. When Communist dogma lost its already tenuous hold on people’s minds with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the more ideologically flexible and unscrupulous of the fading Communist elite, led by Milošević, switched to nationalism. The leaders packaged it as a new emotional certainty in the face of the chaos and fear left by the collapse of the old order. The challenges of converting a totalitarian state into a democracy, or turning a command economy into a free market, were waved away with colorful flags, hazy nostalgia, and folk music. Political power at the breakup of Yugoslavia depended on the ability to weave myths, wield arms, and manipulate reality.

No one was better at this than Milošević, but he was not alone. His Croatian counterpart was another rebranded Communist, the former Partisan officer turned nationalist Franjo Tudjman. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (a), Alija Izetbegović, a paler and frailer version of the national strongman, unfurled his party’s green flag and offered his people a sense of Muslim identity. It was a defensive nationalism, however. Bosnia’s Muslims generally did not nurse irredentist ambitions, but they were afraid that the revival of backward-looking nationalism among their neighbors would once more mark them as prey. Izetbegović was playing a dangerous game, waving a green banner with little to defend it.

His neighbors Milošević and Tudjman did not make the same mistake. As Yugoslavia collapsed, they armed their foot soldiers. Milošević had access to a near-bottomless arsenal thanks to Serb domination of the Yugoslav National Army (Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija, or JNA), once one of the largest militaries in Europe. The Croats took a smaller share of the JNA arms stockpile and as war approached they smuggled in weaponry to narrow the gap.

Milošević and Tudjman drew up maps expressing their dreams for a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia, aspirations that left little if any room for Bosnia. Neither of these despots regarded the Muslims—known as Bosniaks (b)—as a distinct ethnic group, viewing them respectively as renegade Serbs or Croats who had converted to Islam.

The new nationalist maps were clear and simple, filled with solid blocks of color. The reality of Yugoslavia on the other hand was uncommonly messy. It was pockmarked and spattered by more than a thousand years of human interaction, mingling Croats and Serbs with Illyrians, Romans, Goths, Asiatic Huns, Iranian Alans, and Avars.
The mix was stirred repeatedly by outside powers and rival empires—Roman, Frankish, Byzantine, Habsburg, and Ottoman—who scattered its constituent parts, occasionally adding new ingredients. Religion and ethnicity were intertwined throughout, creating both harmony and discord. The people of the western Balkans largely converted to Catholicism under the sway of the Franks and Habsburgs. Those in the east followed the Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium. Caught in between, many of the mountain people of central Bosnia converted to Islam after the Ottomans arrived from the east in the fifteenth century.

Mixing, migration, and intermarriage intensified during the two incarnations of Yugoslavia, as a monarchy in between the interwar period and as a Socialist federal republic after the Second World War. The mingling was made all the easier by the fact that the three biggest communities—Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims—shared a common language (c).

The result was a complicated country that looked nothing like the simple ethnic maps being circulated in the death throes of Yugoslavia. Making allowances for ethnic nuance would have robbed the nationalist message of its simplicity and power. Rather than change their maps, the nationalist leaders sought to force change on the flesh and blood of the region, creating ethnically pure territories, by terror when necessary. Whether they were nationalists or not, one community after another was confronted by the brutal violence unleashed by a deceptively simple question: Why should I be a minority in your country, when you could be a minority in mine? 6

Yugoslavia unraveled in a succession of increasingly ferocious wars. The first in Slovenia was little more than a prelude. After ten days of skirmishes with Slovene separatists in the early summer of 1991, the JNA withdrew. There were hardly any Serbs in the renegade republic, and Milošević let it go. He was conserving his strength for the next battle.

Croatia, which had a sizable Serb population (d), had declared independence on the same day as Slovenia. Milošević and Tudjman may have seen eye to eye on the division of Bosnia but they had very different maps of Croatia. Milošević wanted the Serb-inhabited area, the Krajina, for a Greater Serbia, while Tudjman’s map of Croatia was all one color. His independence constitution downgraded the new nation’s Serbs, about one in nine of the population, from a constituent people to one of many minorities. His rhetoric played into Milošević’s hands. Belgrade television had been stoking local Serb fears with reminders of what happened the last time Croatia had been officially independent. It had been a Nazi puppet state, run by the fascist Ustasha movement that committed genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma in Croatia and Bosnia. Memories of the death camps may have faded in Western Europe, but they were kept fresh in the Balkans by the propaganda of resurgent nationalism.

As soon as he was confident he had secured the Serb enclaves in Croatia, Milošević turned his attention to Bosnia. The techniques were the same. Proxies were armed, under the direction of Karadžić, a psychiatrist and poet from Sarajevo. In Bosnia, regular Yugoslav units simply swapped insignia and declared themselves to be the Bosnian Serb army, commanded by Mladić, a veteran JNA officer.

With Milošević’s support, Karadžić and Mladić would go on to oversee the ethnic cleansing of Serb territory, the siege of Sarajevo, and ultimately the massacre of Srebrenica. The embryonic Muslim-led army organized by Izetbegović was no match for Serb forces, and in 1993 it was forced to fight on two fronts when the Bosnian Croats, egged on by Tudjman, turned on their Bosniak neighbors.
An estimated twenty thousand people died in the Croatian war. About a hundred thousand were killed in Bosnia. The much higher death toll in Bosnia reflects its greater ethnic diversity—more territory to be cleansed—and the relative defenselessness of the Bosniak population. More than 80 percent of the civilians killed were Bosniak 7. Overall across the region, two civilians were killed for every three soldiers who died in battle. The whole conflict was characterized by random brutality. Psychopaths were made masters of the life and death of their former neighbors. Their barbarity was invariably sanctified by the nationalist leaders as self-defense against an enemy depicted in grotesque terms, as either Nazi Ustasha, wild-eyed Islamic fundamentalists, or Serb Chetnik  marauders (e).

The genocide of the Nazi era had set a precedent for mass killing that was never erased, only half buried under Tito’s slogan “Brotherhood and Unity.” Half a century later, the ghosts of Yugoslavia’s past arose and nationalism once more cut like a hacksaw through the human bonds that had held diverse communities together, unleashing murder. In the name of the nation, everything would be allowed.

The Serbs were by no means alone in committing mass atrocities. Croatia was also responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from its territory, as well as Muslims from the parts of Bosnia that Croatian nationalists coveted. The Muslim-led Bosnian army carried out serious crimes, running a small but appalling prison camp just southwest of Sarajevo, for example. The Kosovo Liberation Army carried out brutal reprisals against Serb civilians. Members of all these groups were brought before the ICTY for judgment. But Serbs were responsible for most of the mass atrocities and accordingly Serb names made up the majority of The Hague’s wanted list.

Faced with such an enormous moral challenge at a time of volcanic upheaval across the whole of Europe, Western leaders dithered. Neither they nor their armies were equipped doctrinally or intellectually to halt the Balkan atrocities in 1992. A newly united Europe failed its first great test. Its troops had rehearsed fighting as junior members of an alliance against a massed Warsaw Pact offensive on the German plains. They had not been trained to parachute into an ethnic conflict.

Meanwhile, the American military was still recovering from the trauma of Vietnam. Colin Powell, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Yugoslavia collapsed, had gone to fight in Indochina as a young officer and then spent much of his military career trying to ensure his country did not repeat the mistake. His eponymous doctrine stipulated that the United States should only go to war if it could deploy overwhelming force for clearly defined national interests with broad public support. Bosnia ticked between one and zero of those boxes.

On the campaign trail in 1992, Bill Clinton had promised to use American military might to stop the mass killing in Bosnia 8, but once he was in office that promise was quickly forgotten. The young president, who had avoided serving in Vietnam, did not have the confidence to take on the military.

Unwilling to intervene to stop the slaughter, the UN Security Council took two initiatives to try to mitigate it. It sent in peacekeepers to safeguard deliveries of humanitarian aid, and it established the ICTY to prosecute war crimes in the hope of deterring further atrocities.
Blue-helmeted UN troops were sent into the thick of the war, but they arrived shackled with restrictive rules of engagement that allowed them to open fire only to defend themselves, not to protect the civilian victims falling like mown grass around them. By escorting aid convoys, the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) could stop Bosnians from starving, but not from being shot or blown apart. They became passive witnesses to genocide. At times their compliance with Serb intimidation went to the very edges of complicity.

So when the UN Security Council gathered in February 1993 to vote the Hague Tribunal into life,a the global powers already owed a huge debt to the victims of Yugoslavia, and the rhetoric of the occasion made weighty promises of what the new court would achieve.
“There is an echo in this Chamber today,” declared Madeleine Albright, the American envoy to the UN and a former refugee from genocide herself. “The Nuremberg Principles have been reaffirmed … this will be no victors’ tribunal. The only victor that will prevail in this endeavor is the truth.”9

In reality, the court came into being as an exercise in penance and distraction, the unstable product of high ideals and low politics. For the world powers at the UN Security Council it was a gesture toward justice in lieu of military intervention. The mass atrocities would not be prevented, but they would be judged after the victims were dead. This is how the ICTY was born: as a substitute. It represented the promise of justice tomorrow in place of salvation today for the people of Yugoslavia.
Most of the nations who brought this new judicial creature into being had no expectation that it would ever function properly. It was initially so short of money it could not afford to lease a court building, and it took eighteen months to find a chief prosecutor. No one of the right caliber wanted to do the job. The judges found themselves presiding over an empty theater of justice, without prosecutors or anyone to prosecute. Antonio Cassese, an Italian professor of international law appointed as the tribunal’s first president, complained: “The Security Council thought we would never become operational. We had no budget. We had nothing. Zero.”10
Cassese’s judges were paid on an ad hoc basis. The UN granted them just enough money for a handful of computers and two weeks’ rent on a suite of offices in The Hague’s Peace Palace. Looking for more space, Cassese heard that the insurance company Aegon was only using part of its faded Art Deco building on Churchillplein. He decided to rent it, but squeezing money out of the UN was so hard that the tribunal was unable to put down a deposit on a long-term lease before the summer of 1994. Prosecutors and investigators shared a cafeteria with Aegon’s actuaries and account managers, which meant they could never discuss cases at lunch, for security reasons. And they only had enough room for a single court, a converted conference room. But what good was a court anyway, without defendants?
Just at the point when the judges were considering mutiny or resignation, Nelson Mandela kept the tribunal alive by helping to persuade Richard Goldstone, a South African lawyer and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, to take the chief prosecutor’s job in July 1994 11. In the eighteen months it had taken to find someone suitable, thousands of people had died in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And the tribunal was still far from functional. There was no one willing to carry out arrests. Goldstone’s staff scrambled to piece together a string of indictments wherever there was evidence to do so, but the overwhelming majority of the seventy-four indictments issued in the Goldstone era concerned small fry—camp guards who had tortured their former neighbors and who could be readily identified by survivors. The urgency to demonstrate the tribunal was operational left no time to build more sophisticated cases against the master butchers.
The court’s first defendant was a perfect example of this “low-hanging fruit” syndrome. Duško Tadić had been a particularly sadistic guard at two notorious Bosnian Serb prison camps, Omarska and Keraterm. He fled to Germany after the war but was spotted in a benefits office in Munich by camp survivors, who called the local police. In November 1994, Tadić arrived in The Hague to become the world’s first war crimes defendant for two generations. Yet for all the tribunal’s attempts to play up the echoes of Nuremberg, it was clear this brutal turnkey was no Hermann Göring or Joseph Goebbels. Most of the other names on Goldstone’s indictment list were similarly inconsequential. Their pictures were printed on posters distributed among UNPROFOR battalions, who tacked them up on their barracks notice boards and ignored them.
The international community was finally shocked out of its indecision and half measures by the worst single massacre of the Bosnian war, the murder of more than eight thousand men and boys by Serb forces after the fall of the Muslim enclave at Srebrenica in July 1995. A handful survived the mass executions, acting dead and climbing out of mass graves over the bodies of their friends and relatives. It was impossible for the world to ignore their testimony, but the most chilling account of all was to come from one of the killers.
Dražen Erdemović was a Bosnian Croat locksmith married to a Serb. In a country that was falling apart, with its people forced to choose sides according to ethnicity, Erdemović belonged nowhere. At different points in the swirling conflict he had served in the Croat, Bosnian, and Serb armies, trying to survive in noncombat jobs. But in July 1995, when he was twenty-three, he was dragooned into a Serb execution squad at Srebrenica, where he witnessed things he would never be able to forget. The awful scenes were lodged deep in his brain.
Eight months later, Erdemović started looking for someone to confess to. He called the US embassy in Belgrade but was turned away, so he went to the press 12. The police, who tapped journalists’ phones as a matter of course, picked him up but it was too late. His story was all over the world, and the Milošević regime had little choice but to hand him over to The Hague 13.
Erdemović became the first person since Nuremberg to be sentenced by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. But he will be remembered mostly for the excruciating testimony he gave on the events of July 16, 1995, when 1,200 men and boys were killed at a single site.
They would bring out groups of ten people out of the bus and, of course, they were looking into the ground. Their heads were bent downwards and their hands were tied and they were blindfolded … They took them to the meadow. So we started shooting at those people. I do not know exactly. To be honest,… I simply felt sick 14.
NATO intervention and a Croatian ground offensive forced a peace treaty, signed in November 1995 by Milošević, Tudjman, and Izetbegović at an air force base in Dayton, Ohio. But Milošević was not quite done with war. In a brutish epilogue to his decade of misrule, he sent troops into Kosovo in 1998 to crush a fledgling insurgency by the province’s Albanians. Like his earlier adventures, it left a mountain of corpses—more than ten thousand dead—and backfired totally. NATO intervened again in March 1999 with a bombing campaign that forced Milošević to withdraw his troops three months later. Kosovo declared independence in 2008.
Once more, Western intervention only came after the dead were already in their graves 15. Justice arrived even later. The Dayton Accords did indeed stop the killing in Bosnia, but the divisions created by ethnic cleansing were frozen in place. The persistent influence of Karadžić, Mladić, and Milošević meanwhile threatened to render Dayton meaningless and make the Hague Tribunal a colossal farce.
Yet by 2011, the ICTY manhunters had crossed off all the names on their indicted list. As this book goes to press, the last trials are under way. Karadžić and Mladić are in the dock facing the very people they tried to obliterate. Witness testimony is streamed live online. Millions of documents have been analyzed and saved. Transcripts are posted online. The buried crimes of the past are dug up and laid in the open for all those who can bring themselves to look.
It was a more substantial endeavor than the hunt for Nazis after World War II. The US-led investigators at Nuremberg had the advantage that most of their suspects had already been captured or had surrendered. The prosecutors mostly chose defendants according to the prisoners of war they already had in their cells, rather than according to the scale of their crimes. Only one prominent Nazi was tried in absentia because he could not be found—Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, whose remains were identified in 1998 16. The real precursor to the ICTY manhunt was the US Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, established in 1979. Over the next quarter century, OSI “Nazi hunters” tracked down and prosecuted more than a hundred war criminals who had tried to hide in the United States 17.
Whereas the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals never escaped the taint of “victors’ justice,” the ICTY represented the first genuine attempt at an international reckoning for war crimes on all sides in a conflict. The judges and prosecutors were drawn from around the world, and the defendants came from four fledgling nations—Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.18 The effort to bring them to justice was long, uneven, and mired with mistakes, but it ultimately emerged as the most successful manhunt in history and an extraordinary testament to the tenacity of a remarkably small group of people. This book tells their story.

Slobodan Milošević
Slobodan Milošević

Franjo Trudman
Franjo Trudman

Radovan Karadžić
Radovan Karadžić

Ratko Mladić
Ratko Mladić

a. This is the full name of the Socialist Republic and then the independent nation, which will mostly be referred to simply as Bosnia for the rest of the book, for the sake of brevity.
b. Bosnian Muslims formally adopted the term “Bosniaks” to describe themselves in 1993.
c. Known in Yugoslav days as Serbo-Croat, it now known as Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS). Apart from a handful of differences in vocabulary, the only major distinction is that the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet.
d. About 11 percent of Croatia identified as Serb.
e. Chetniks were Serb bands who harried the Turks during the Ottoman era and during the Second World War were revived as a royalist resistance movement that fought first against then for the Nazi-backed regimes in Zagreb and Belgrade.

1. Former DGSE agent Pierre Martinet said that one of his colleagues earned an award for undercover service in the Balkan art world. The possession of high-quality art in the hands of thugs like Hadžić and his circle is not as far-fetched as it might appear on the surface. Art theft was a lucrative sideline of ethnic cleansing. A senior Serbian official told me that in some cases, when looted artifacts fell into the hands of Yugoslav intelligence officials who realized what they were worth, they set out to track down the owners, not to return their property but to kill them, eliminating a potential obstacle to selling the work on the global art market. See Pierre Martinet, DGSE Service action: Un Agent sort de l’ombre (Paris: Editions Privé, 2005).
2. It was literally a manhunt. There was just one woman on the list of indictees, Biljana Plavšić, and she turned herself in.
3. For a comprehensive history of the long quest for international justice, see Gary Jonathan Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).
4. Ibid., 12.
5. Britain’s prime minister at the time, John Major, bizarrely blamed the Bosnian war on “the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the discipline that that exerted over the ancient hatreds in the old Yugoslavia.” As Noel Malcolm pointed out in his book Bosnia: A Short History (London: Macmillan, 1994): “The ‘discipline’ exerted by the Soviet Union on Yugoslavia came to an abrupt and well-publicized end in 1948, when Stalin expelled Tito from the Soviet-run Cominform organization.”
6. A question attributed to Kiro Gligorov, Macedonia’s first president after independence.
7. The figures given in this paragraph are according to Mirsad Tokaca, The Bosnian Book of the Dead (Sarajevo: Research and Documentation Centre and Humanitarian Law Center of Serbia, 2013).
8. David Rieff, Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 27.
9. Julia Preston, “UN Security Council establishes Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal,” Washington Post (February 23, 1993).
10. Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance, 215.
11. Ibid., 220.
12. Louise Branson, “Serbian Killer Turned Away by US Embassy,” The Sunday Times (March 17, 1996).
13. In return for his testimony Erdemović wanted to move his family to the West and be given immunity from prosecution. The tribunal was unwilling to guarantee the latter. On March 2, 1996, perhaps in the hope of forcing events, he and another soldier arranged to meet a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro. They sat down to talk in a small country hotel near the Hungarian border. Erdemović was just twenty-five with a face still pockmarked by acne. He had been drafted into the black-uniformed Tenth Sabotage Detachment, which performed some of the gory labor in executing the eight thousand Muslim men and boys captured at Srebrenica. The Serbian security services stopped the journalist at the airport and confiscated the tapes of her interview with Erdemović. He was arrested half an hour later but prosecutors intervened quickly to ensure he was given up to the Hague Tribunal. Erdemović was flown to The Hague but was not granted immunity.
14. Ultimately, the judges reduced his sentence to five years because they accepted his argument that he had taken part in the executions on threat of death. His commander told him, “If you do not wish to do it, stand in the line with the rest of them and give others your rifle so that they can shoot you.” ICTY transcript, Erdemović trial, November 19, 1996.
15. On July 15, 2014, a civil court in The Hague held the Netherlands accountable for the deaths of the men and boys the Dutch UN battalion handed over to the Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica. “Dutch State Liable for 300 Srebrenica Massacre Deaths,” Associated Press (July 16, 2014).
16. Skeptics still doubt the official story that Bormann committed suicide after a failed attempt to flee Berlin in 1945. The Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal always believed that Bormann and his entourage managed to escape to South America.
17. A 2008 internal Department of Justice history of the OSI, “Striving for Accountability in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” was obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
18. The ICTY also looked into possible violations by NATO in its 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia, which was aimed at forcing Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo, but prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence that civilian casualties were intentional.

Next, The Legacy

The Butcher’s Trail. The Legacy

This is the second excerpt (Chapter 13, “The Legacy”, 27 pages) from Julian Borges’ acclaimed book The Butcher’s Trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world’s most successful manhunt. New York : Other Press, 2016. xxx, 400 pages : illustrations, maps. It follows my own analysis and the author’s  Introduction to his work.
I encourage BlogGuinée’s visitors to purchase and read this work. It is a well-written account of a key episode in the permanent and worldwide struggle against dictatorship, human rights violations, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Tierno S. Bah

The butcher's trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world's most successful manhunt

Chapter 13
The Legacy

After these verdicts, it’s very difficult to speak about justice in the region.
—Nataša Kandić, Serbian human rights activist

Julian Borge
Julian Borge

There were 161 names on the list of indicted war crimes suspects drawn up by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ten died before they ever got to The Hague. Another twenty had their indictments withdrawn. Of the remainder, sixty-five fugitives were tracked down and arrested.
According to the official records, the rest handed themselves in. But the real number taken to the Dutch capital against their will was much higher. Many arrests were dressed up as “voluntary surrenders” so the indictees could salvage some dignity and receive cash benefits offered by their governments for coming out of hiding.
Almost no one would have submitted to justice willingly if the likely alternative had not been apprehension. Without the Balkan manhunt, the cells in Scheveningen prison would still be empty and the Hague Tribunal would have been no more than a hollow gesture in the general direction of international justice.

There were 161 names on the list of indicted war crimes suspects drawn up by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ten died before they ever got to The Hague. Another twenty had their indictments withdrawn. Of the remainder, sixty-five fugitives were tracked down and arrested.
According to the official records, the rest handed themselves in. But the real number taken to the Dutch capital against their will was much higher. Many arrests were dressed up as “voluntary surrenders” so the indictees could salvage some dignity and receive cash benefits offered by their governments for coming out of hiding.
Almost no one would have submitted to justice willingly if the likely alternative had not been apprehension. Without the Balkan manhunt, the cells in Scheveningen prison would still be empty and the Hague Tribunal would have been no more than a hollow gesture in the general direction of international justice.

The three men most responsible for unleashing carnage on the people of the former Yugoslavia, the three master butchers, Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić, and Ratko Mladić, were brought one by one to stand before the Hague Tribunal. But the triumvirate was never reunited there. Milošević—Yugoslavia’s kamikaze pilot who brought his country and its people down in flames—ultimately cheated final legal judgment. In March 2006, four years into his turgidly long trial, he died in his cell of a heart attack, well before Karadžić or Mladić were even caught.

The two Bosnian Serb leaders, both indicted for genocide, did meet again in the tribunal’s Courtroom Number One in a moment of farce in January 2014. Like the revival of an old double act after twenty years in the wilderness, the two pensioners dressed in their Sunday best and struggled to recover their swagger. Karadžić had called Mladić to the stand to testify for him, but proceedings had to be suspended because the old general had left his dentures in his cell. Even with his teeth in, he refused to answer the questions put to him, insisting on reading a prepared statement instead.
When the judges refused to admit the seven-page soliloquy as evidence, Mladić snarled at the bench: “Thanks for preventing me from stating what I wanted to say. You have confirmed to me that the Hague Tribunal is not a court of law but a Satanic court.”

At the height of their power, Karadžić and Mladić could never have been described as friends, but they had complemented each other. Mladić had done the dirty, bloody work that was necessary to make Karadžić’s vision of an ethnically pure Serb republic a reality. Karadžić’s bloviation and clunky poetry provided the gossamer veil of romanticism and deniability for Mladić’s slaughter.

In the glare of global scrutiny in the Hague courtroom, the two men found common cause. Karadžić addressed Mladić respectfully as “General, sir,” and on his way out of the court, Mladić could be heard to tell Karadžić, “Thanks a lot, Radovan. I’m sorry these idiots wouldn’t let me speak. They defend NATO bombs.” 1
In the course of their trials, the two men sought to keep alive the cult of exclusive victimhood they had used first to rationalize, then to obscure the mass killings for which they stood accused. Their strategy was to play the martyr and fill the court with noise, in the hope that the tens of thousands killed at their behest were kept silent, without a compelling voice in the courtroom.

The trials have ground on at a glacial pace in the tribunal’s bid to be comprehensive and fair beyond reproach. The lawyers in court, their billing meters ticking, have little interest in stepping up the tempo. The court has made many of them rich. And meanwhile the defendants bide their time inside the walls of the old Dutch prison in The Hague’s beach suburb of Scheveningen, where the Nazis once locked up members of the Dutch resistance. In 2005, a new state-of-the-art facility was built inside the complex to house prisoners from the ICTY and indictees of the International Criminal Court, all of them so far African.
The prison wardens at Scheveningen witness a daily phenomenon that many of citizens of the former Yugoslavia could have predicted. The warlords, militiamen, and ultranationalists from all sides, who were once ready to kill in the name of ethnic distinctions, have found they get along famously when locked up together. They play in mixed football teams, cook each other meals, and even swap clothes. In this Dutch prison, a thousand miles from the Balkans, Tito’s dream of Brotherhood and Unity has achieved a strange afterlife, providing an esprit de corps among war crimes defendants from Yugoslavia’s constituent nations.

Wry post-Yugoslav jokes often imagined a scene in heaven or hell where the three main nationalist leaders—Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević, Croatia’s strongman Franjo Tudjman, and the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović—meet, chat, and spar. In the tastefully designed Dutch purgatory at Scheveningen, only Milošević turned up to act out the joke for real. The other two nationalist presidents died while under investigation by the ICTY: Tudjman for ethnic cleansing in central Bosnia and the killing of Serb civilians in Croatia’s Krajina region, and Izetbegović for importing Arab mujahideen, who fought and allegedly committed war crimes outside the Bosnian army’s chain of command 2.
In the absence of other erstwhile heads of state, Milošević played the role of the boss of bosses, requiring people to address him as Mr. President, remaining largely aloof from the crowd. He never joined in the football games, just the occasional bit of volleyball, in which he participated in the same condescending manner as an elder statesman on the campaign trail.
“He always acted like he was the boss, with his chin held up in the air,” recalled Naser Orić, a Bosnian army officer. “Someone was bringing him in brandy and whisky in milk or juice cartons. He always smelled of alcohol.”3
Orić was tried, and eventually acquitted on appeal, for alleged war crimes committed in raids mounted from the Srebrenica enclave. I met him in February 2014 in the café of a Sarajevo gas station. He came in a black leather bomber jacket, and chewed on a Cuban cigar as he told me about the security precautions he had to take to avoid abduction by Serbian intelligence. He also explained how his earlier career was intertwined with Milošević in a manner that embodied the complexities of Yugoslavia’s collapse.
By a twist of Balkan fate, Orić had once served in Milošević’s security detail. He stood guard in June 1989 when the then Serbian president unleashed the forces of nationalism with his speech marking the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. As the young Yugoslav policeman stared out at the crowd he could see bands of Serb Chetniks dressed in the same fur hats and death’s-head badges their forefathers had worn when they slaughtered Bosnian Muslims like him in the Second World War.
Orić grew even more uneasy in the run-up to the war in 1991 when he was ordered to take part in the smuggling of arms from Belgrade to Serb separatists in Croatia.
“We were told that if any civilians saw the guns we had to kill them. Not even a chicken can see the weapons. That was another sign of what was going to happen,” Orić recalled. He fled his police post soon after, moving to Bosnia with warnings of the approaching catastrophe that few of his fellow Bosniaks could bring themselves to believe.
Orić was finally reunited with Milošević in Scheveningen, where he witnessed the last days of the leader who had unchained Yugoslavia’s demons. He believes Milošević’s death was the suicidal act of a lonely and broken man. “Milošević was always longing for his wife, Mira. When she went to Moscow, he starting trying to get sent there for treatment for his heart condition. He was taking blood pressure pills and other pills to counter the effect of the blood pressure pills. When he was refused permission to go to Moscow and see Mira, he just stopped taking his pills.” 4
When Karadžić arrived in Scheveningen in July 2008, he also sought a leadership role in the cell block, albeit in a more garrulous, convivial manner than Milošević, playing the gracious host at visiting times, assiduously remembering the names of fellow inmates’ wives and children.
He continued to pursue his obsession with maps, putting up a large city plan of Sarajevo on the wall of his cell, on which he stuck pins marking alleged locations of Bosnian army positions. His defense was that the Bosnian military was using the city as one huge human shield.
Mladić is on a different floor of the facility and hardly sees Karadžić. By all accounts, he cuts a more reclusive and curmudgeonly figure, spending long spells alone in his cell.
The rest of Schveningen’s Balkan population has sorted itself into groups according to shared interests rather than ethnicity. For a while, a five-a-side football club developed around the more athletic of the professional soldiers, including Orić, as well as the Croatian general Ante Gotovina, the Montenegrin colonel Veselin Šljivančanin, and Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister of Kosovo and commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army.
“We mostly played in mixed teams, but on at least one occasion there was a Serbs versus Croats game. Gotovina was marking me, but I have to say, he was very correct,” said Šljivančanin, who was jailed for ten years for his role in the executions of more than 260 Croat prisoners near Vukovar 5.
When he was released in July 2011, Šljivančanin sought out Gotovina to say goodbye and the two officers embraced. The Montenegrin also got on well with Orić.
“He loved sport. He was very proud and very correct. We had no conflict. He just wanted to do sport,” Šljivančanin recalled of Gotovina.
Orić agreed there was a group of inmates who coalesced around a type of military-sporting code. “Gotovina and I always got along, and Šljivančanin and I were on the same team. He played on the right wing. I was on the left wing.”
“All the people there were always very pleasant and they always wanted to help. We looked out for each other. If someone looked from outside at us they would say: These people are friends. Why did they go to war?” said Momčilo Krajišnik 6, Karadžić’s closest associate and one of the architects of Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing. “We had very close relationships. We had friendly relations. Our common problem brought us close together. I had better conversations with some Muslims and Croats than with some Serbs simply because these men were more compatible with me. If you go to trial and you don’t have a suit, someone lends you a suit. If someone makes a nice meal, you wouldn’t say I will give it just to Serbs, you would give it to Croats and Muslims. We all ate together. When we talked we discussed different things, business, sports, and so on. It was civilized.”
The one exception to the prison bonhomie was Vojislav Šešelj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, who had recruited the ultra-nationalist paramilitary groups responsible for atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia. He was at least consistent in his snarling irascibility, showing no signs of mellowing once he was in custody. He swore constantly at the guards. He took no part in team sports and refused to be in the gym at the same time as Orić. He tormented Šljivančanin for having once been Tito’s bodyguard, “Tito’s piglet” Šešelj called him.
Orić told the story of a chess match between Šešelj and Mladen “Tuta” Naletilić, a Bosnian Croat crime boss who commanded a “convicts’ battalion” in the war and was sentenced to twenty years in prison for torture and forced labor. Šešelj was perpetually angry anyway, but the white-haired bewhiskered Croat wound him up further.

“Tuta was saying to Šešelj, ‘Your great-grandfather was a Croat, but was caught stealing an egg and was excommunicated.’ Šešelj got furious and ranted at Tuta, but whenever he lost his focus, Tuta would steal one of his pieces,” Orić said.
It could be a scene from any village square in the Balkans. Two aging men squabbling over a chessboard. But Schveningen is a far more comfortable place to grow old than the war-ruined countries they left behind. It is half prison, half spa. It has yoga classes, top-flight medical care, language-study rooms, a library, classes on pottery and painting, musical instruments, personal trainers, public sculpture and murals in the courtyard. There is an extensive cafeteria, but the prisoners are allowed to order in groceries and do their own cooking, using a €15 weekly stipend. Families can spend seven consecutive days per month with the detainee, and even girlfriends are allowed conjugal visits. According to the prison authorities, quite a number of babies have been conceived at Scheveningen 7.
Haradinaj told an acquaintance: “In Pristina, you could stick three stars on this place and charge money.”
“I honestly expected it was going to be like Guantánamo,” Orić said. “But if our children had been looking for a retirement home for us, they couldn’t have done better. No retirement home has such conditions.”
The dissonance is jarring. Punishment for some of the worst crimes humanity has witnessed is being handled by the Dutch penal system, one of the most liberal on the planet. While most of the inmates tend to mellow in such conditions, few have shown genuine remorse.
Krajišnik, who played a pivotal role in organizing the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia from his comfortable perch in Pale, now claims to be a humanist at heart. “I never made distinctions between people on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. I have always believed that God made all men so I hate none,” he said 8.
Krajišnik is now back in Pale after having served two-thirds of his twenty-year sentence, most of it in British jails. He runs various businesses from a suite of offices above a gas station on the road into town from Sarajevo. Pale itself is as picturesque as ever: serene, alpine, small. At the time Karadžić and Mladić strutted through its streets, it was Bosnia’s Berchtesgaden, a tranquil hideaway from which to plan the ethnic purification of nations.
Krajišnik says he found Zen-like equanimity while in prison, but he does not acknowledge having personally committed any wrong over the course of the Bosnian war. All the bad things were done by other people, whom he will not name. “I don’t know what happened during the war. It was clear that it takes just a few of those pathological murderers to set a whole city on fire.” One man in prison, he recalled, would wake up in the middle of the night sweating, convinced he could see the faces of all his victims at the window in the dark. Not Krajišnik. He sleeps peacefully.
It is probably too much to ask of justice that it drives the guilty to remorse. A spartan prison regime of bread and water and bucket toilets probably would not have made any of the perpetrators any sorrier but rather just fed the cult of victimhood that is the lifeblood of the nationalist cause.
Most of the surviving victims and families of the dead are appalled at the cushy conditions at Scheveningen, but the imbalance between the horror visited on them and the redress offered by any system of justice is unbridgeable anyway. For such crimes there will never be any such thing as closure and it was ever thus. In 1946, after the forty-seven minutes it took to sentence the convicts at Nuremberg, the American journalist Martha Gellhorn observed: “Justice seemed very small suddenly. Of course it had to be, for there was no punishment great enough for such guilt.” 9
The same was true more than sixty years later in the Balkans. A better measure of value of the Hague arrests is to contemplate the awfulness of the alternative, if the perpetrators had been left to walk free, an outcome that would have assigned no value at all to the tens of thousands of lives they took away.
The states that emerged from Yugoslavia are finding it hard enough to escape its debris. The task would be immeasurably harder if the demagogues and their regiment of butchers had been left at liberty after the war. This was probably the greatest contribution of the manhunt. It extracted the likes of Milošević, Karadžić, and Mladić from the Balkan arena and in so doing removed a powerful force for conflict and instability.
The assumption of the NATO generals after the Dayton Accords that peace and justice were alternatives, that the arrest of war criminals would bring an instant return to fighting, was proved wrong. What is striking about the post-Dayton period in Bosnia is an almost total absence of reprisals. Given the gory horrors of the conflict in which the killers were often neighbors well known to the victims’ families, that lack of vengeance is an astounding phenomenon. It is explained, at least in part, by the faith Bosnians put in the Hague Tribunal’s capacity to dispense justice.
The fact that the killing came to a halt so abruptly, as if a switch had been flicked, also demonstrates the decisive role of political leadership in creating the conditions for the mass murders of the 1990s. The nationalist leaders who assumed power at the breakup of Yugoslavia were not struggling to contain the murderous impulses of their people. On the contrary, they created circumstances for psychopaths and sadists to kill with impunity.
Once the leadership was removed and that permissive climate came to an end, the blood stopped flowing. So the manhunt for the architects of ethnic cleansing and their transfer to The Hague was not a trigger for renewed conflict. Quite the reverse. It was vital to prevent a return to bloodshed. The lesson taught by the pursuit of the Yugoslav war criminals is that there can be no sustainable peace without some measure of justice.
The effort to deliver justice was sprawling and complex. It brought together prosecutors from across the globe, led in turn by South African, Canadian, Swiss, and Belgian prosecutors. It was spearheaded by a maverick American diplomat, a handful of Polish commandos, Britain’s SAS, and later the special forces of the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, and France. For a few years at least, the manhunt was the top priority of the CIA, MI6, and the DGSE. Finally it was the work of officials, human rights activists, and journalists in the region who defied the omertà and denial enforced by nationalist propaganda.
Only on occasion was this a concerted international effort. For the most part, the manhunt was driven forward fitfully by the domino effect of separate actions. The perseverance of the ICTY prosecutors ultimately bore fruit with the arrival of sympathetic officials like Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, Jacques Klein, and Robin Cook. Their decision to enforce the tribunal’s indictments ultimately shamed others into following suit. They created a new norm. Fear of capture by armed commandos provoked voluntary surrenders. Once the cells in Scheveningen were being filled and the ICTY’s credibility was beyond doubt, it became easier for prosecutors to demand that Western aid and European Union membership be made conditional on states handing over the wanted men. That in turn emboldened pro-Western and democratic politicians in Serbia and Croatia to make a stand against the nationalist orthodoxy of denial.
The ultimate success of the Hague manhunt was not the outcome of some grand master plan. Nor were its many failures along the way. The eighteen lost months between the Dayton Accords and the first arrests by the international community were not signs of conspiracy but of timidity. NATO governments and their generals judged the peace in the region to be far more fragile than it was in reality. The people of the former Yugoslavia were weary of war and contemptuous of their leaders’ venality. Once Western policy-makers realized that there would be no backlash, and it was clear there would not be reprisals against their soldiers for carrying out detentions, they poured substantial resources into the hunt.
France was an exception. The French military dragged its feet throughout the process. It was the last of the five powers in Operation Amber Star to carry out arrests and was more of a hindrance than a help in tracking down Karadžić. To some extent, this reticence was a product of bitter experience. More French soldiers had been killed during the Bosnian war than peacekeepers from any other nation. Army commanders were not in a hurry to sacrifice more of their troops for an enterprise they believed would jeopardize the peace. But sentimentality about France’s historical ties with Serbia led some French officers to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed in Serbia’s name. As to a secret deal with Karadžić, it may not be hard to imagine President Jacques Chirac purring assurances of immunity to the Bosnian Serb leader, particularly at a time French servicemen were being held hostage. But Karadžić never produced documentary proof to back such claims.
Nor is there any concrete evidence for Bosnian Serb claims of similar guarantees from the US diplomat Richard Holbrooke. America’s hesitancy to commit to the manhunt was a consequence of the Pentagon’s risk-averse culture after the Black Hawk Down disaster in Somalia. But that complex was eventually shrugged off. By the end of the Clinton administration, the pursuit of Karadžić in Bosnia represented the biggest mission deployment of US special forces anywhere in the world. Its failure reflected the fact, to be demonstrated later in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, that finding fugitives in their natural habitat is diabolically hard and strength in numbers is not necessarily an advantage to the pursuers. On the contrary, it can make it easier for the quarry to see them coming. That is why the ICTY’s own tracking team, for all its faults, proved a better value on an arrest-per-dollar basis than the far more formidable spy agencies deployed by the Western powers.
By saving the ICTY from oblivion, the manhunt changed legal history. Throughout the twentieth century, idealists had talked about a permanent international court that would hold accountable those responsible for the worst crimes, including political leaders and heads of state. There was a burst of enthusiasm for such a court in the immediate aftermath of the Nuremberg trials, but it subsided as the Cold War set in and such universalist idealism faded.
The end of the Cold War, however, set in motion a new drive to create institutions dispensing international justice. The examples set by the ICTY and its ad hoc African twin, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, showed such institutions could work and offered at least the hope of deterring future atrocities. The creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, not far from the ICTY’s headquarters in The Hague, marked a historic and significant transfer of legal authority from sovereign states to an international institution. More than 120 states now give the ICC the power to initiate proceedings against high functionaries suspected of serious crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression 10.

As was the case with the ICTY at its inception, few initially gave the ICC much chance of survival. It was designed to operate independently of the great powers in the UN Security Council. Its judges and prosecutor are elected on a one state, one vote principle. Without a dominant say, the major powers have distrusted the new court, fearing it might one day turn its attention to them. They have tried to suffocate it in the cradle. Clinton belatedly decided to sign the Rome Statute establishing the ICC on New Year’s Eve 2000, one of the last days of his presidency. His successor, George W. Bush, spent his first months in office seeking to reverse that decision and “unsign” the document. The bare-knuckle, legally dubious methods the United States and its allies employed in their post-9/11 war on terror only deepened the reluctance to risk scrutiny by a foreign court.
The Bush administration could not stop the ICC from coming into being, however. A rush of ten ratifications of the Rome Statute in April 2002 brought it over the threshold of the sixty member states necessary to bring it to life. It was formally born on July 1, 2002. Nations joined up faster than anyone had expected, in part because the court came to be seen as a counterweight to the Bush administration’s unilateralist leanings. Unlike most international institutions, it was the creation of mostly small and midsize nations* rather than the permanent five Security Council members.

n the long term, however, it is hard to run an international institution without Security Council support. The lack of US endorsement, along with India’s and China’s refusal to join, have hobbled the workings of the ICC, which depends on state contributions to function. It does not have an agency like the tracking team that is empowered and willing to carry out international arrests,11 and it can investigate war crimes against the wishes of the government involved only if it is armed with a referral from the UN Security Council. In practice that means that all eight ICC indictments up to 2014 have been against Africans. Washington, Moscow, and the other competing powers have less at stake in Africa, so have less reason to veto investigations. But the focus on African crimes has inevitably drawn accusations of racism and threats of a boycott from the African Union.
In the face of the slaughter in Syria and Iraq, the ICC has been powerless. With a return to sharp-edged great-power rivalry following the post–Cold War lull, there is a real danger of the ICC stalling. To this day, the ICTY is still the high-water mark of international justice for crimes against humanity.
That is not surprising. The conditions that permitted the pursuit and capture of the Hague indictees were unique. The crime scene was in Europe and was patrolled in the immediate postwar period by a substantial NATO force, which eventually agreed to act as the ICTY’s arresting officer. Furthermore, the governments of the region sorely wanted something that Europe had to offer, EU membership, giving Western capitals the sort of leverage that is hard to reproduce elsewhere.
The ICTY’s great achievement, pushing back the culture of impunity for mass atrocities, was born of a particular set of circumstances. Now, in the absence of those circumstances, its legacy is in danger of unraveling.
It was always going to be a fragile legacy, vulnerable to erosion. The justice on offer in The Hague was destined to be incomplete. More than 130,000 people were killed in the course of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, most of them civilian victims of war crimes. Across large swaths of Bosnia and Kosovo, there were atrocities in almost every town. In the face of murder on this scale, the Hague indictment list of 161 suspects was illustrative rather than comprehensive. Originally intended to net the worst offenders and architects of ethnic cleansing, the Hague list ended up a mixed bag, involving plenty of small-fry prison guards and soldiers simply because they were easy to indict when the court was fighting for survival. Even after all the suspects on the list had been rounded up and transferred to The Hague, or otherwise accounted for, it left a lot of killers at large in the Balkans and many atrocities ignored and forgotten by justice.
In Serb eyes, the justice meted out by the Hague Tribunal was partial in more ways than one. Crimes against Serbs, they say, have largely gone unpunished. They point in particular to the killings of hundreds of mostly elderly Serbs in Croatia in the aftermath of Operation Storm in August 1995, and the murder of Serb civilians at the hands of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas after the 1999 war. There was outrage over the acquittal of Orić, the Bosniak commander in Srebrenica, and of Haradinaj, the former KLA commander. The latter’s trial was marked by the death and disappearance of several of the witnesses.
The Serbs are right to think that crimes against their countrymen have gone unpunished but incorrect to think they are alone in being so wronged. There are too many graves containing the bones of all ethnicities for international justice to cope with, given finite resources. Such inadequacy does not discriminate against Serbs in favor of Bosniaks, Croats, and Kosovars. It discriminates against victims in favor of perpetrators.
Some of the deficit has been made up by national war crimes courts established in the former Yugoslav states—another legacy of the ICTY. The parallel courts in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia have been able to cooperate better than expected and have mounted hundreds of prosecutions. However, they lack political support and have on occasion stumbled spectacularly. In 2013, the court in Sarajevo was forced to release twelve men who had been indicted for war crimes, including six allegedly involved in the Srebrenica massacres, because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled they had been tried under the wrong criminal code 12.

The Serbian Special War Crimes Court in Belgrade, established in 2003, convicted seventy people in its first ten years of existence, but an Amnesty International report in June 2014 found that, largely due to government support that was tepid at best, “the number of completed prosecutions remains low, and the rate at which indictments are brought is too slow.” 13
The record of the Croatian Special War Crimes Chamber is even worse. An Amnesty International report in 2010 found that the system completed on average only eighteen war crimes trials a year, with seven hundred cases awaiting prosecution. Three-quarters of these cases were targeted at ethnic Serbs. War crimes committed by Croats have gone largely unpunished and un-investigated.

The hardest irony to accept for the prosecutors and investigators who led the Hague manhunt has been the ICTY’s own role in undoing their legacy. After all the suspects had been successfully rounded up, the tribunal’s judges reversed a string of convictions of high-ranking defendants on appeal, including the Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač in November 2012, and then the Serbian chief of staff, General Momčilo Perišić.
Even more controversially, at the end of May 2013, the tribunal acquitted Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, two senior state security officials from the Milošević era who had been instrumental in arming, equipping, and training Serb paramilitary groups responsible for wholesale abuses in Croatia and Bosnia.
The series of acquittals represented a sharp about-face for the tribunal, which had hitherto held senior officers and officials accountable for the mass atrocities committed by their underlings on the grounds that they were involved in a “joint criminal enterprise.” Under the leadership of an American judge, Theodor Meron, an eighty-three-year-old Holocaust survivor and former Israeli diplomat, the new judgments significantly raised the threshold of proof needed to convict political leaders. It was no longer enough to demonstrate that senior officers had control over the units who committed mass murder. The prosecution now had to be able to show evidence of specific orders to carry out particular crimes. So although the court had evidence that Stanišić had made reference to mass killings and had declared “we’ll exterminate them completely,” that seemingly damning remark was judged “to be too vague to be construed as support for the allegation that Stanišić shared the intent to further the alleged common criminal purpose.” 14
The decisions caused a rift at the heart of the tribunal. Michèle Picard, a French judge on the panel that acquitted Stanišić and Simatović, delivered her dissenting verdict, arguing, “If we cannot find that the accused aided and abetted those crimes, I would say we have come to a dark place in international law indeed.” 15
A Danish judge on the tribunal, Frederik Harhoff, went further in his dissent, circulating a letter to fifty-six friends and lawyers suggesting Meron had put pressure on his colleagues to acquit the high-profile defendants. Harhoff also questioned whether the tribunal president was himself under the influence of the US and Israeli governments, concerned that the principle of “joint criminal enterprise” could one day put them in the dock for backing armed groups in places like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan. “You would think that the military establishment in leading states (such as USA and Israel) felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders’ responsibilities,” Harhoff wrote. “In other words: The court was heading too far in the direction of commanding officers being held responsible for every crime their subordinates committed. Thus their intention to commit crime had to be specifically proven.” 16

Harhoff was subsequently removed from the tribunal’s bench on the grounds the letter reflected bias, and he was criticized for singling out Meron for his US and Israeli identity. But it was hard to escape the conclusion that some of the tribunal’s judges had taken fright at the consequences of its work for all states waging proxy wars through allied militias. They had wanted to bring some justice to the former Yugoslavia, not change the world. Their strongest critics argued that, in acquitting the generals and the spy chiefs, they had done neither.
The acquittals, wrote Eric Gordy, a lecturer in the politics of Southeast Europe at University College London, marked “a sad end to the story of a court that was founded with little hope, encouraged some, then jettisoned it all.” 17
When Meron went to Sarajevo to mark the tribunal’s twentieth anniversary in May 2013, the mothers of the Srebrenica victims turned their backs to him as he began to speak, while other activists walked out holding aloft a banner declaring “RIP Justice.” Nataša Kandić, a veteran human rights activist from Belgrade, said, “The consequences of these rulings are clear. You cannot expect indictments based on command responsibility. After these verdicts, it’s very difficult to speak about justice in the region.” 18
For Hasan Nuhanović, a Srebrenica survivor, the tribunal’s apparent about-face was the last veil to be lifted on an illusion of justice. Nuhanović’s mother, father, and brother were killed by Bosnian Serb forces. His mother’s burned remains were found on a trash dump. The bodies of his father and brother were buried in a mass grave and then dug up with hundreds of others and reburied in a second pit, where they were finally identified.
“We wanted the reconstruction of our homes. Hundreds of villages just disappeared from the map, and we wanted to be somehow compensated, along with getting the arrest of war criminals. We lived an illusion, thinking that if someone lived through something like that, they would be rewarded,” Nuhanović said. “We realize now that package will never be delivered. And what did we get for living through all that? We got the absence of war.” 19
A short-lived Balkan Spring broke out in February 2014, bringing demonstrators onto the streets of Bosnian towns to protest against the country’s economic and political stagnation. It produced a generational divide between the mostly young activists, who wanted more from life, and their parents, who vividly remembered the war and were still grateful they were no longer under fire and their children were no longer being killed.
Even that single irreducible achievement, the absence of war, seems under threat. The youth of different ethnicities mix less now than at any time in the region’s history, and each is taught a different version of history. Reconciliation has never seemed so far off.
The sense of foreboding has grown every time a protagonist in the Yugoslav carnage has been set free. It is not just the ICTY’s acquittals that have fed this dread. Thanks to the liberal sentencing guidelines under which many of the war criminals were jailed, men convicted of dozens or even hundreds of killings are benefiting from early release, having served two-thirds of their sentences. They are returning home, to be welcomed as heroes by their communities.
Krajišnik was greeted in Pale by thousands of people waving flags and placards bearing nationalist slogans. Always under Karadžić’s shadow during the war, he had never previously received such adulation. A former Bosnian Croat separatist leader, Dario Kordić, who had been convicted of orchestrating the massacres of Muslims in central Bosnia, was released in June 2014 after serving two-thirds of his twenty-five-year sentence. He too was met by cheering crowds, flags, and slogans, as well as a Catholic bishop who conducted a thanksgiving mass. Slavo Kukić, a Bosnian Croat university professor who criticized Kordić’s welcome, was beaten up with a baseball bat 20.

The return of the Hague Tribunal’s convicts has been accompanied by a drive to erase memories of the slaughter. After survivors and bereaved families put up a memorial to the mass murder of Muslims in Višegrad, the response of the local Serb authorities was as unsubtle as it was symbolic. They arrived with an angle grinder and removed the word “genocide” from the stone monument. A group of Višegrad widows tried to restore it in lipstick, only for it to be obscured by municipal white paint a few days later 21.
In Višegrad, and at the sites of other mass killings of Bosniaks, Serb nationalists have not only prevented memorials to the victims; they have made a point of erecting monuments to fallen Serb soldiers instead.
“Those who committed the war crimes against us are still winning. They are killing our truth,” said Bakira Hasečić, a Višegrad survivor who was raped multiple times by Serb paramilitaries at her home and in the local police station in 1992. Her sister was raped and killed. Her eighteen-year-old daughter was raped in front of her and had her head smashed by a rifle butt, yet survived.
In western Bosnia, where the most notorious concentration camps were situated, the story is the same. On the grounds of one of these camps, at Trnopolje, where torture and rape were rife and where hundreds of Bosniaks and Croats were killed, a concrete memorial to fallen Serb soldiers has been placed at the entrance and inscribed with an ode to freedom.
Omarska, an iron ore mine that served as a death camp during the war, is now run by a Luxembourg-based multinational steel corporation, ArcelorMittal. The firm says it is perfectly ready to put up a memorial on the site, just as soon as the local authority in Prijedor gives its consent. That is something the town council, run by Serb nationalists, has declined to do.
When he was thirty, Kasim Pervanić spent a few months in Omarska, along with hundreds of other Bosniak men. Every night, the guards would read out a list of names. The men on the list were taken away and never came back. Most were killed in a large shed known as the White House. The guards called Pervanić’s name one night but he hid and the guards left empty-handed. More than twenty years on, he still wakes up sweating at 2:30 a.m., the same time they came for him.
After failing to settle abroad, in the United Kingdom or Holland, Pervanić returned to Kevljani, his village, which is a mile or so from Omarska and the site of a massacre of its Bosniak residents 22 When he got back in 2003, there was nothing left of the settlement. It had been obliterated and its foundations were submerged in tall grass. He spent nine years building a new house, with a traditional square, double-decked roof—a singular act of determination and defiance. He lives alone but the memories come calling every day. The postman was one of the Omarska guards. The man who sells Pervanić metal wire for his construction work was a camp commandant.
He never talks about the past unless they mention it first. Then he cannot help himself. They dwell on the people they saved, not the people that were killed. “So who killed all these people then?” Pervanić asks. “It looks like no one is responsible.
“As time goes by you become numb. You lose your feelings,” he said. “It is nineteen years since the war and fourteen years since I came back here. No Serb has spent the night in a Muslim village, and no Muslim has ever spent the night in a Serb village … If there was a new war, no one would survive. No one would be spared.”
The war criminals are walking free again. Nationalism is on the rise and the memories of the dreadful past are being physically erased. Victims are being made to cower once more. For those who stood by while the crimes were committed and waved their flags on cue, it is more comfortable to imbibe the familiar nationalist bromides, reassuring themselves they were the true victims. The sound of the slogans blocks out the murmurs of the bones buried under their feet.
So after such an extraordinary achievement—the relentless pursuit of the accused until all 161 names on the Hague list had been checked off and the mission completed —what is there left as a legacy?
Some justice was done. A few score of the guilty stood before the dock and were made to listen while the survivors recounted the bare facts. The convicted were deprived of some years of liberty. It is not justice’s fault that this appears so paltry in face of such atrocious crimes. This is all it has to offer. That and a reasonable stab at the truth.
“Without the tribunal there wouldn’t be a database of seven million documents which very clearly gives the history of the conflict, so that no one can deny that crimes have taken place, and that genocide has been committed,” Serge Brammertz, the ICTY’s last chief prosecutor, said 23.
Resurgent nationalists in the states of the former Yugoslavia are covering over the truth of what happened with a thick layer of revisionism and denial, but the meticulous record of the tribunal, with its seven million documents, cannot be buried forever. Nor can the demand for justice for humanity’s worst crimes. The Yugoslav manhunt showed that the judgments of an international court could be enforced. It showed that, given time, resources, and political will, war criminals could ultimately be tracked down and held to account. It set a benchmark against which all future efforts will be judged.

1.   “Mladić Refuses to Testify for Karadžić at ICTY Trial,” BBC News (January 28, 2014).

2.  According to anonymous sources within the ICTY prosecutors.
3.  Naser Orić, interview with author, February 13, 2014.
4.  A Dutch investigation in April 2006 found Milošević died of natural causes. Although there had been evidence that he had been taking unprescribed, smuggled medicines in the preceding months, there was no evidence of them in his cell when he died.
5. Veselin Šljivančanin, interview with author, October 31, 2013.
6.  Momčilo Krajišnik, interview with author, February 11, 2014.
7.  “Scheveningen—a Far from ‘Normal’ Prison,” Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (November 27, 2013).
8.  Krajišnik, interview with author, February 11, 2014.
9.  James Owen, Nuremberg: Evil on Trial (London: Headline Review, 2006).
10. For an account of the International Criminal Court’s genesis, see David Bosco, Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
11. The former US war crimes envoy David Scheffer suggested a legal framework for the ICC’s own tracking team in 2014 (“Proposal for an International Criminal Court Arrest Procedures Protocol,” Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Vol.12, Issue 3), but it remains very much a theoretical exercise.
12.  “Euro Court Rules Bosnia War Crimes Sentences Unjust,” Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (July 18, 2013).
13. “Serbia: Ending Impunity for Crimes Under International Law,” Amnesty International (June 2014).
14. ICTY document, trial chamber judgment, “Prosecutor v. Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatovic,” vol. II (May 30, 2013).
15. Ibid.
16. “ICTY Judge Frederik Harhoff’s Email to 56 Contacts, June 6, 2013,” published online by Danish newspaper BT
17. Eric Gordy, “What Happened to the Hague Tribunal,” New York Times (June 2, 2013).
18. Nataša Kandić, interview with author, October 29, 2013.
19. Hasan Nuhanović, interview with author, February 10, 2014.
20. “Bosnian Professor Beaten for Criticising War Criminal,” Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (June 24, 2014).
21. Julian Borger, “War Is Over—Now Serbs and Bosniaks Fight to Win Control over a Brutal History,” The Guardian (March 23, 2014).
22. Kasim’s younger brother, Kemal, who he helped keep alive in Omarska, has made a film about Kevljani called Pretty Village.
23. Serge Brammertz, interview with author, October 3, 2011.

Guinea. Plot, Government Against the Entente and France

Victor D. Du Bois
The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré
“Part III: The Plot Against the Government and the Accusations
Against the Council of the Entente and France”
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series
Vol. IX No. 3, (Guinea), March 1966, pp.1-9


Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)
Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)

Throughout the first half of 1965, Conakry was caught up in a maelstrom of rumors. Some of these rumors were to the effect that a conspiracy was actively under way against the regime of President Sékou Touré , while others hinted at the secret formation of a formal opposition to his ruling Parti Démocratique de Guinée (P.D.G.). Credence was lent to these rumors by the fact that the P.D.G.’s much-touted reforms of the loi-cadre of November 8, 1964 1 had produced only negligible results. Meanwhile, the President continued more and more to incur the enmity of his countrymen.

The rumors were verified on October 12, 1965, when a number of foreign embassies in Conakry found, shoved under their doors, documents purportedly written by Mamadou (“Petit”) Touré, a distant cousin of the President and former director of Sonatex, the state trading company for textiles. Among the documents was a letter addressed to the President advising him of the formation of a new political party 2:

Conakry, October 9, 1965
To the President of the Republic of Guinea
c/o The Director-General, Ministry of the Interior

In conformity with Articles Nos. 40 to 41 and 47 of the Constitution, we have the honor of informing you that we have created a [political] party named the Parti de l’Unité Nationale de Guinee (P.U.N.G.).
This decision is due to the sectarianism, inequality, and various anachronistic improvisations which now govern the P.D.G.

It [the P.D.G.] no longer fulfills for us the conditions of a party of national unity for various reasons, even though it is the party that is at present in power.

As you yourself have suggested on various occasions, those who were no longer in agreement with the program of the P.D.G. could create their own party . You even added that you would give [such persons] material aid.

It is for this reason that we feel that you will respect the honesty and legitimacy of this decision and will accord it its full value after reading the statutes [of the party], a copy of which we are enclosing.

For the P.U.N.G.
(signed) Mamadou Touré
B.P. 347, Conakry

The Preamble to the P.U.N.G.’s statutes which accompanied Petit Touré’s letter alluded to the desperate and constantly deteriorating
situation in Guinea and to the unpopularity of the so-called reforms of November 8, 1964, one of which had been to deprive 70 per cent of the people of their membership in the P.D.G. It took the P.D.G. to task for excluding from its ranks the nation’s merchants, even those who had been its loyal militants from the beginning, and it emphasized that in the P.U.N.G. everyone would be welcome. Membership would be open to anyone over the age of seven, irrespective of tribe, region, or profession.

While seconding the P.D.G.’s avowed hostility toward imperialism,
colonialism, and neocolonialism, the Preamble went on to make clear that the P.U.N.G. nevertheless championed private property, free enterprise, economic liberalism, and individual liberties. It stated the party’s unequivocal hostility to what it referred to as dirigisme économique.

Accompanying Petit Touré’s letter to the President and the copy of the new party’s statutes, was a cover letter addressed to the various
embassies in Conakry, requesting that they give maximum diffusion to the news that a new political party had been formed to challenge the P.D.G. Uncertain as to the authenticity of these documents, however, and fearful of jeopardizing their relations with Sékou Touré, none of the embassies complied with this request.

Although Petit Touré addressed his letter to the President on October 9, 1965, and three days later had the P.U.N.G. documents put into the hands of the foreign embassies in Conakry, no mention was made of the incident either in the Guinean press or on the radio for several weeks. At the Fourth Congress of the Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs de Guinée (C.N.T.G.) in mid-October, allusion was made to “the present situation in the interior created by antiparty elements, renegades, and valets of imperialism,” 3 but the union statement did not go into detail. The reticence on the part of Guinea’s leaders to speak about Petit Touré and the P.U.N.G. was in all likelihood due to two things:

  • A wish to maintain as much secrecy as possible about the affair until all the suspected “plotters” had been rounded up
  • A reluctance to make this issue public in view of the impending visit of President Nasser of the United Arab Republic, who was due to arrive on November 1

Thus it was not until November 9, 1965, after Nasser had left, that the news of the so-called “counterrevolutionary plot” was disclosed for the first time in a broadcast over Radio Conakry. Once the party decided to reveal the news of the plot, however, it did so with a maximum of fanfare. On November 15, 1965, Sékou Touré called a special session of the Conseil National de la Révolution (C.N.R.), a group comprising Guinea’s top political and military leaders.

A signboard calling upon Presidents Touré and Houphouët-Boigny to join their efforts to build African unity.
A signboard calling upon Presidents Touré and Houphouët-Boigny to join their efforts to build African unity. (Photo: Information Côte d’Ivoire)

At this meeting, Léon Maka, President of Guinea’s National Assembly, announced that an official of the Ivory Coast named François Kata Kamano had been arrested in connection with the plot. Mr. Maka also accused the Presidents of the Ivory Coast, Niger, and the Upper Volta (Maurice Yaméogo), the Prime Minister of the Congo (Léopoldville) —Moise Tshombé—, and two French ministers of working in collusion with Petit Touré to overthrow the Guinean government:

« It has now been established beyond any doubt that during the month of July 1965, Houphouët-Boigny gathered around him in Paris, on the occasion of the marriage of his son, his henchmen, Hamani Diori, Maurice Yaméogo, Moise Tshombé.…
… It was during the course of this meeting that a plan was drawn up for the third plot against Guinea 4. Contacts were made with Messrs. Triboulet and Jacquinot, both ministers in the French government… 5 An important financial backing was obtained for the execution of this plan… Before this meeting, Houphouët’s spies
had made several trips to our country, during which they studied the reactions of those affected by the loi-cadre of November 8, 1964 and got in touch with numerous traffickers… It was during these trips that contact was made with Petit Touré…

Maka went on to describe who Petit Touré was and what his relationship had been with Houphouët-Boigny and with the people allegedly sent by Houphouët to plan subversion against Guinea:

« Mamadou Touré, so called “Petit” Touré, was born in the Ivory Coast, where he was engaged in commercial activities until 1959. He is known to all of the political leaders of the Ivory Coast and especially to the Ivory Coast’s head of state who used him in 1958 as an agent to procure a “Yes” vote during the Constitutional Referendum of September 28, 1958. He was also sent to Niger to back Hamani Diori against the Sawaba [movement] 6.
Petit Touré arrived in Guinea toward the end of 1959 completely lacking in any financial or material means. He first worked as the manager of a bar at a monthly salary of 35,000 francs ($142), and then was engaged as the head of the merchandise department of the Guinean Office of Internal Commerce before becoming head
of the important national enterprise, Sonatex. He used his position to establish firm contacts with the milieu of commercial traffickers and, by corrupt means, embezzled for his own profit and in record time a colossal fortune amounting to several hundred million francs.
With the application of the laws of November 8, all of his possessions were confiscated and, for a while, he was under arrest. He was at the head of the discontented traffickers whose criminal action had been halted by the loi-cadre.
It is for these various reasons that the Houphouët-Tshombe clique, using the French Embassy in Conakry, chose Petit Touré to head the internal subversion whose aim it was to perpetrate criminal attempts against the leaders of the Republic of Guinea.
By different messages exchanged between Petit Touré and Houphouët, arrangements concerning the execution of the insurrectional subversion were decided upon. Petit Touré received from Houphouët important sums numbering in the hundreds of millions. The main liaison agent between Petit Touré and Houphouët was François Kata Kamano, Director-General of the Social Security Office of the Ivory Coast and a member of the Ivory Coast’s Economic Council. Francyois Kata Kamano is married to a Guinean citizen. He had direct contact with various Guinean groups and an entrée into the palace of the President of the Republic…
… Between January and October 1965, Kamano made four trips to Guinea. According to his own statements, the purpose of these trips was to study the reactions of the commercial milieu to the loi-cadre of November 8, 1964, and to make useful contacts in preparation for the coup d’état.
During a trip made on August 21, 1965, Kamano was carrying the sum of 30,000,000 C.F.A. francs ($120,000) to Petit Touré in a diplomatic valise.
Certain of strong financial and moral backing from abroad, Petit Touré actively began to prepare the execution of his satanic plan.
He began to recruit supporters from different groups and to set in motion the coup d’état. Petit Touré also discussed [with these people] the statutes of a so-called Parti de l’Unité Nationale which was to serve as a legal cover for the operation 7. »

Parade welcoming President Houphouet-Boigny in Conakry, 1962
Parade welcoming President Houphouet-Boigny in Conakry, 1962 (Photo: Information Côte d’Ivoire)

Having leveled these serious charges against the President of the Ivory Coast, Léon Maka then went on to describe how Petit Touré
sought to recruit other conspirators from among discontented elements in Guinea. Because of the several military coups that had shaken Africa over the previous few months, particular attention was to be paid to inciting Guinean soldiers to rebel against their leaders. Maka alleged that a tract to this effect had been distributed in military camps around Conakry which read in part:

« To Members of the Guinean Army: Your sacred role is to defend the interests of the people, of whom you are an integral part, against all that is susceptible to alienating those interests. Unfortunately, today the people have no other enemy than their own leaders… You should immediately acquit yourselves of your responsibilities and put an end to this anarchy, the source of all the tragedies which at present are destroying our country. You should simply [depose] them [Guinea’s leaders] the way Ben Bella was deposed 8. »

The actual coup, according to Maka, was to have taken place at the 28th of September Stadium in Conakry on October 2, 1965, the anniversary of Guinea’s independence. Some four to five hundred commandos were to have been scattered throughout different parts of the stadium, and at a given signal, after the President had mounted the podium to deliver his address to the crowd, these people were to have begun shouting “Resign! Resign!” In the confusion that would have followed, it was supposed that the military would have intervened in order to have “assured the safety” of the chief of state and his entourage. In the event that the President and his ministers resisted, they were to have been shot.

Had this attempt failed, a second was to have taken place on October 9, 1965. This time the President’s car was to have been the target of a grenade attack on its way back to Conakry from Kindia. If this second attempt had also failed, still a third was to have been made. This one was to have taken place on October 17, 1965, and the people of Conakry were to have been incited to riot and lay siege to the President’s palace. Meanwhile, the Army was to have seized power and occupied the capital’s strategic points: Radio Conakry, the airport, the telecommunications center, etc.

After going into this detailed description of the nature of the antigovernment plot, Mr. Maka revealed the results of an inquiry that he said had been made by the Revolutionary Committee set up by the P.D.G.’s National Political Bureau to investigate the conspiracy. A list of fifty-nine names was read of people allegedly implicated in the plot. Heading the list were François Kata Kamano, the Ivoirien official, and Petit Touré. Close behind were the names of:

  • Jean Faraguet Tounkara, former Minister of Youth and one-time member of the National Political Bureau
  • Sory Caba, former Guinean Ambassador to the Soviet Union
  • Bengaly Camara, former Minister of Information

Like Tounkara, Camara also had been a member of the National Political Bureau.

The list also contained the names of doctors, civil servants, teachers, merchants, a battalion commander in the Guinean army, and a host of less prominent people, including tailors, chauffeurs, messenger boys, typists, ordinary laborers, and even housewives.

When Maka had finished speaking, Sékou Touré himself rose to address the council. Touré related the present plot to an earlier conspiracy (1960) in which Houphouët and the French had supposedly also been involved. The President said that in order that the world should know about Houphouët’s evil designs against himself and his government, he was addressing the following open message to all African heads of state 9:

« We have the honor of informing you of the discovery of a vast conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the Guinean government and perpetrating the assassination of my very person—a conspiracy hatched with the active participation of the President of the Ivory Coast: Felix Houphouët-Boigny. We should also like to announce
to you that we have notified the Secretariat of the O.A.U. [Organization for African Unity] of a complaint against Mr. Houphouët.

Warm and fraternal greetings
Ahmed Sékou Touré »

After hearing Léon Maka’s allegations and President Touré’s open message to other African heads of state, the C.N.R. unanimously
passed a resolution establishing a Permanent Revolutionary Committee, “to carry out investigations to permit the Revolutionary Tribunal to unmask and strike down without mercy all of the nation’s enemies.” 10
The C.N.R. also called upon the Political Bureau to undertake immediately all measures necessary to implement the provisions of the loi-cadre. The C.N.R.’s resolutions also called upon all militants of the revolution to rally together in order to deal a final and crushing blow to the “counterrevolution.”

President Touré then announced that all foreign ambassadors accredited to the Guinean government were “invited” to a meeting on November 17, 1965, during which he would reiterate the charges just made by Mr. Maka. The French Ambassador to Guinea, Philippe Koenig, of course refused to attend such a meeting and notified President Touré of this decision. Touré thereupon told Koenig that, unless he reconsidered his decision and attended the projected meeting along with all the other chiefs of mission, he would be obliged to leave Guinea immediately . Ambassador Koenig’s stand was backed by the French Foreign Office, and he notified President Touré to this effect. Consequently, on November 17, the day of Touré’s meeting with the diplomatic chiefs, the French Ambassador left the country. Meanwhile, that same day in Paris, the Guinean Ambassador to France, M. Nanamoudou Diakité, was expelled.

Once again, relations between Guinea and France, and between
Guinea and its African neighbors, had reached a low ebb . Anxiously, the Guineans awaited the next move. It would come from the Ivory Coast and from the other countries of the Entente .

1.  For a fuller discussion of these reforms see, Victor D. Du Bois, The Rise of an Opposition to Sékou Touré, Part I: Reform and Repression by the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (VDB-1-’66), American Universities Field Staff Reports, West Africa Series, Volume IX, No. 1, March 1966 .
2.  “Le Crime de Petit Touré,” Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan), November 23, 1965 (author’s translation).
3.  Horoya, Organe Quotidien du Parti Démocratique de Guinée, No. 745 (Conakry), October 20, 1965, p. 1.
4.  Allegedly, there had been two previous antigovernment plots, one in 1960 and the other in 1961. The Guineans accused the French and Houphouet of being the principal instigators of the first, and the Soviets of being involved in the second.
5.  Raymond Triboulet was the Minister Delegate in charge of Co-operation, and Louis Jacquinot the Minister of State in charge of Overseas Departments and Territories.
6. The Sawaba Movement was formerly a legal political party in what was French Niger. Its leader, Djibo Bakary, was Prime Minister of the territory. During the Constitutional Referendum of September 28, 1958, Bakary, like Sékou Touré, campaigned for a “No” vote. Niger nevertheless approved the charter. When Hamani Diori became President of independent Niger in 1960, the Sawaba Group was outlawed. Djibo Bakary fled the country and thereafter, operating from secret bases in Ghana, carried on subversive activities against the government in power.
7. Horoya (Conakry), November 17, 1965 (author’s translation) .
8. Ibid.
9. Horoya (Conakry), November 18, 1965 (author’s translation).
10. Ibid.

Next, Part IV: The Entente’s Reactions to the Guinean Accusations

Hautes terres d’élevage… Introduction

Jean Boutrais. Hautes terres d'élevage au Cameroun. Volume I
Jean Boutrais. Hautes terres d’élevage au Cameroun. Volume I
En synchronisation avec webPulaaku, BlogGuinée commence ici la livraison de la version Web de Hautes terres d’élevage au Cameroun, une contribution majeure de Jean Boutrais, chercheur et professeur d’université, à la connaissance de “l’archipel Peul” — l’expression provient Groupe d’Etudes Comparatives Peules, auquel l’auteur appartient. La publication compte 1302 pages, trois Livres organisés en sections et en chapitres, des notes abondantes, des illustrations, in et hors-texte, hors-pair. En cette ère de globalisation, Jean Boutrais dégage les défis, les contradictions et les mouvements migratoires liés à l’économie pastorale fulɓe. L’oeuvre décrit l’évolution et l’adaptation des éleveurs Fulɓe à la pression coloniale européenne, à la dégradation de l’environnement et aux déficits de la gouvernance post-coloniale.
Le Kumen d’Amadou Hampâté Bâ et Germaine Dieterlen contient cet avertissement ésotérique et frappant : “La force du Pullo est dans le bovidé, le jour où il n’en aura plus, ce sera la détresse.
Hautes terres d’élevage au Cameroun allie avec souplesse et bonheur le travail descriptif et l’effort analytique. Académique et scientifique, le contenu de la trilogie — car c’en est une — est original. Et l’auteur le délivre dans un style pédagogique, démonstratif et instructif. L’ouvrage se penche notamment sur l’expansion méridionale des pasteurs Fulɓe et leur bétail, c’est-à-dire en dehors et au delà du Sahel et de la Savane traditionnels. Une telle dynamique suggère, à mon avis, (a) la conscience — diffuse et pérenne, héritée et acquise — parmi les éleveurs, de l’importance primordiale et de la valeur cardinale du message biblique ci-dessus et (b) la résilience du peuple et le dynamisme de la civilisation fulɓe.
Tierno S. Bah
Adamawa in the 19th century. Source: Martin Z. Njeuma. <a href="">Fulani Hegemony in Yola (Old Adamawa) 1809-1902</a>. Langaa Research &amp; Publishing Common Initiative Group. Mankon, Bamenda. Cameroon. 2012
Adamawa in the 19th century. Source: Martin Z. Njeuma. Fulani Hegemony in Yola (Old Adamawa) 1809-1902. Langaa Research & Publishing Common Initiative Group. Mankon, Bamenda. Cameroon. 2012
Adamawa main ethnic groups in the 19th century. Source: Martin Z. Njeuma
Adamawa main ethnic groups in the 19th century. Source: Martin Z. Njeuma

Le caɓɓal, milieu pastoral d’altitude

L‘élevage bovin en Afrique tropicale privilégie quelques milieux géographiques : vastes étendues herbeuses, grandes vallées alluviales, dépressions retenant des mares ou, au contraire, hautes terres salubres. Les reliefs élevés renforcent les pluies et introduisent un étagement de la végétation. Ces particularités bio-climatiques procurent des avantages aux activités agricoles comme à l’élevage en zones sèches et arides. Elles contribuent par exemple à fixer des sociétés à économie variée sur les
massifs sahariens de l’Ahaggar et de l’Aïr 1. Les montagnes soudaniennes sont surtout peuplées de cultivateurs qui ont mis à profit les pentes comme sites de refuge.

Mais les plateaux qui offrent de larges surfaces planes ont attiré des sociétés pastorales, aussi bien au Fouta-Djalon et en Adamawa qu’en Afrique de l’Est. En zones pluvieuses, l’altitude introduit également des changements bio-climatiques favorables à l’élevage bovin : abaissement des températures, réduction des parasites, végétation plus graminéenne. Les caɓɓal de la Dorsale Camerounaise fournissent le meilleur exemple, dans cette partie du continent, de hautes terres éminemment propices à l’élevage.

Le caɓɓal, haut-plateau pastoral

Vocable de la langue fulfulde, caɓɓal* est pourtant spécifique aux dialectes orientaux et, en particulier, à l’Adamawa 2. Le dictionnaire de F.W. Taylor le traduit simplement par plateau 3, de même que le lexique d’H. Labouret 4. TI est surprenant que le terme ne soit pas usité au Fouta-Djalon, autre ensemble de hauts reliefs peuplé par les Fulɓe. L’équivalent serait le boowal : lieu découvert et pierreux, sans arbres et situé en altitude. Mais boowal est entré dans le vocabulaire géographique et géologique pour désigner un affleurement de cuirasse latéritique. Caɓɓal n’a pas connu la même fortune scientifique.

*La forme au pluriel est caɓɓe. Pour simplifier, les termes transcrits en fulfulde ne seront employés qu’au singulier, sauf pour les noms de lignages. Le ɓ/Ɓ et le ɗ/Ɗ correspondent à des consonnes implosives qui n’existentpas en français. Les répétitions de voyelles expriment un son allongé. Quant au c, il se dit “tch”; la prononciation approchée en français est donc “tchabbal”. Les lieux géographiques sont transcrits en accord avec les cartes topographiques, selon une orthographe anglaise en zone anglophone et française en zone francophone. (Au sujet de l’orthographie lire ma notice dans L’archipel Fulɓe — T.S. Bah)

Le dictionnaire récent de D. Noye 5 tente de préciser la signification de caɓɓal : « plateau (sur une montage) mais, également, sommet d’une montagne (même si ce n’est pas un plateau)… » Bien que les notions de plateau et de montagne soient employées de façon curieuse, la définition met déjà en évidence l’idée d’une grand étendue 6 et d’une altitude élevée.

En clair et simplement, il s’agit d’un plateau : une surface située à haute altitude et à topographie relativement plane mais entaillée de vallées profondes. L’aspect tabulaire du caɓɓal se différencie des versants raides et à coupures en arrêtes de hooseere : la montange, autant de de faibles pentes de towndiire : la colline. Mais le relief qui s’oppose radicalemeent au caɓɓal, c’est luggere : la plaine, la dépression qui devient naɗɗere lorsqu’elle retient un bas-fond marécageux. Les Fulɓe de l’Adamawa opposent également lesɗiwol à caɓɓal . Dans un relief étagé, lesɗiwol désigne la partie basse, quelle que soit, par ailleurs, son altitude absolue. Ainsi, par rapport aux caɓɓal qui la dominent, la surface principale de l’Adamawa peut être qualifée lesɗiwol, alors qu’elle atteint déjà plus de 1 000 mètres d’altitude.

Bloc-diagramme d'un caɓɓal typique: le Caɓɓal Wadé (adapté de P. Tuley et J.K. Jackson, 1971).
Bloc-diagramme d’un caɓɓal typique: le Caɓɓal Wadé (adapté de P. Tuley et J.K. Jackson, 1971).

Si le caɓɓal n’était qu’un haut-plateau, il correspondrait, par exemple, au profil des monts Mandara au nord du Cameroun: au-dessus de pentes abruptes une grande surface se déploie, presque plane, aux environs et au sud de Mokolo.

Pourtant, les Fulɓe ne disent pas que c’est un caɓɓal. De même que le vrai boowal du Fouta-Djalon, le caɓɓal est dénué d’arbres et de cultures. C’est une étendue rocheuse ou couverte d’herbes. Au Cameroun, les hauts plateaux rocheux sont rares.

Seul, le Caɓɓal Haleo (le Mauvais Haut Plateau) en fournit un exemple spectaculaire, au centre de l’Adamawa : c’est un grand affleurement tabulaire de cuirasse ferrugineuse et bauxitique, parsemée en saison des pluies d’herbes frêles qui laissent à nu une dalle pierreuse en saison sèche 7. Le plus souvent, les caɓɓal portent une vigoureuse strate herbacée. Ces savanes ouvertes s’étendent à perte de vue, balayées par le vent et la pluie. En ce sens, le caɓɓal au Cameroun ressemble peut-être au heneere du Fouta-Djalon: «un espace découvert, sans abri, sans rien pour se cacher » 8. Mais J. Richard-Molard emploie plutôt le terme donŋol pour désigner l’une des unités naturelles qui composent le plateau central du Fouta-Djalon ; c’est, précisément, le plateau ou même le haut plateau, où les troupeaux paissent en hivernage 9. Quant aux Fulɓe de l’Adamawa, ils disent qu’un véritable caɓɓal est un espace perongal : ouvert, dégagé, sans arbres.

Pas plus que les monts Mandara, la table principale du plateau de l’Adamawa ne correspond pas à un caɓɓal. A 1 000 ou 1 200 mètres d’altitude, la végétation est encore trop boisée 10. Le paysage du plateau ne ressemble à celui de caɓɓal qu’aux environs de Gounjel, lorsque l’altitude atteint 1 400 et 1 500 mètres. Pourtant, ce secteur n’est pas encore considéré comme un vrai caɓɓal : il se situe en continuité topographique avec la table de l’Adamawa, alors qu’un caɓɓal surplombe ses environs par de fortes déclivités. Une surface sommitale, ondulée en bombements et ensellements, se termine par des abrupts que des ravins cisèlent en multiples facettes. Ce profil de surface perchée ressort du bloc-diagramme d’un petit caɓɓal, situé à la frontière entre Cameroun et Nigeria (voir fig.1 ci-dessu).

La rupture de pente est soulignée par le contraste entre des prairies sommitales et des forêts plaquées sur les escarpements.

Les Fulɓe de l’Adamawa élargissent parfois le sens de caɓɓal à tout relief tabulaire qui domine les contrées voisines par des versants raides. Par exemple, ils désignent couramment ainsi la surface cuirassée de Kognoli, au sud de l’Adamawa, qui pourtant ne présente guère un paysage typique de caɓɓal (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 :Bloc-diagramme d'un "faux" caBHBHal: la table de Kognoli (Adamawa)
Fig. 2 :Bloc-diagramme d’un “faux” caBHBHal: la table de Kognoli (Adamawa)

A 1 150-1 200 mètres, elle s’étend à une centaine de mètres au-dessus des glacis du bassin du Djérem. Certes, des glissements de terrain et des entonnoirs en tête de vallons raidissent la corniche de la table sommitale. Pour les éleveurs de Kognoli, cet abrupt différencie de bas (luggere) et de hauts pâturages (caɓɓal) . Mais, à part quelques effleurements de cuirasse, la végétation est aussi boisée sur les deux reliefs. Pressés de justifier leur vocabulaire, les Fulɓe reconnaissent volontiers que la surface de Kognoli n’est pas un véritable caɓɓal. Haute terre sans arbres, le vrai caɓɓal est perçu comme pellel hendu : « un endroit venteux. » Par l’adjonction d’un suffixe diminutif, caɓɓoy désigne souvent un pâturage d’altitude mais encore encombré d’arbustes. Ce type de pâturage ne libère pas complètement les animaux des insectes piqueurs : tiques, taons et mouches. Il convient moins à l’élevage que les hautes étendues herbeuses et venteuses de caɓɓal.

L’arrivée en haut d’un caɓɓal surprend toujours : l’horizon s’élargit soudain à de vastes moutonnements herbeux qui ondulent sous les sautes de vent. Dans un récit plein d’humour qui narre les tribulations d’un zoologiste au Bamenda, l’écrivain anglais G. Durrell a décrit la grandeur de ces paysages : « the peace and silence of these heights was remarkable; nearly all sounds were created by the wind. It combed the grass and brought forth a soft, lisping rustle » 11. Alors que les forêts bruissent de vie, surtout à la tombée du jour et au lever du soleil, le silence règne sur les haut de caɓɓal. Seuls l’interrompent, le soir, les meuglements des troupeaux qui regagnent les campements.

Repartition géographique de la langue pular-fulfulde
Repartition géographique de la langue pular-fulfulde

Les « caɓɓal » du Cameroun

Longtemps désertés par les cultivateurs, les caɓɓal ont offert des pâturages exceptionnels aux Fulɓe. Eventés à longueur d’année et souvent soumis au froid, ils sont parfaitement salubres pour le bétail. Parcourus par des troupeaux dont les couleur de robe tranchent sur les dominantes des prairies et piquetés de campements, les caɓɓal représentent des paysages pastoraux typiques. Au Cameroun, ils ne partagent cette particularité qu’avec les yaere (12) du Logone et les rives du lac Tchad. J. Richard-Molard invitait à comparer l’Adamawa et le Fouta-Djalon, deux ensembles de hauts reliefs en climats subhumides et, correspondance significatives, deux bastions fulɓe avancés au milieu d’autres populations. L’auteur attribuait la présence fulɓe au Fouta-Djalon aux formations anthropiques de prairies, notamment sur les boowal : « c’est à coup sûr parce que sur les trois quarts de la superficie du Fouta-Djalon ils ont trouvé le boowal que les Fulɓe sont venus » (13). Un raisonnement analogue est valable pour les caɓɓal du Cameroun.

Peu de prairies d’altitude restent vides de bétail, sauf celles du mont Cameroun. Les hauts plateaux herbeux ont longtemps attiré et canalisé les migrations fulɓe. Cependant, tous les Fulɓe n’ont pas consenti à s’installer en haut de ces reliefs. Milieux bénéfiques aux animaux, ils se révèlent difficiles à vivre pour les hommes. A plus de 1 500 mètres d’altitude, il faut endurer le froid, l’isolement et parfois, la rareté des vivres. En secteurs isolés, des animaux sauvages attaquent encore le bétail.
Le témoignage d’un Mororo du Mambila pourrait être confirmé par tous les Fulɓe qui habitent en haut d’un caɓɓal :

« he told me about his hard life, about the cold mountain rain, the mud, cowdung, and the constant difficulty in finding fresh grazing for the cattle » 14.

Les pasteurs séjournent en haut des caɓɓal par nécessité et par devouement aux animaux. Pour le bétail, ils sont devenus des montagnards, alors que leurs ancêtres nomadisaient dans les plaines sahélo-soudaniennes. Exemple de changement extrême d’écologie et d’adaptation humaine aux convenances du bétail.

Au fur et à mesure qu’ils s’avancent en savanes à basses altitudes, les Mbororo ont tendance à elargir la notion de caɓɓal à tous les plateaux peu boisés. Pour ceux qui ont migré en Centrafrique, les surfaces de l’Adamawa et de ses prolongements (Bouar-Bocaranga) deviennent des caɓɓal, comme a posteriori. Les Fulɓe nomades aventurés en savanes guinéennes attribuent aux caɓɓal le prestige de pâturages qui “tiennent” le bétail en parfait état :

dow caɓɓal, na’i nyaama huɗo pamaro, ngi’a nagge e wooɗi
« en hauts plateaux, les vaches ne broutent que l’herbe courte et pourtant elles sont belles. »

Pour les Fulɓe, le caɓɓal est un milieu pastoral par excellence. Il s’oppose aux basses savanes sous climats humides, à production herbacée plantureuse mais de médiocre qualité : les animaux s’y rassasient sans jamais être en bon état. Plus ils se trouvent éloignés des hauts plateaux, plus la notion de caɓɓal sert de référence au pays idéal dans l’imagination pastorale des Fulɓe.

L’inventaire des caɓɓal se réfère à la toponymie fulɓe, davantage qu’à un modèle géomorphologique rigoureux. Tous les caɓɓal ne couvrent pas des étendues comparables et ne se trouvent pas à la même altitude. Leur végétation, à dominante herbeuse, s’étend sur des reliefs tabulaires qui surplombent les contrées voisines. Les caɓɓal introduisent toujours un contraste frappant de paysage avec les contrées voisines.

Contrairement à l’architecture du Fouta-Djalon, bâti autour d’un axe central de hauts plateaux, les caɓɓal ne constituent pas l’ossature médiane des plateaux camerounais. Ils s’alignent à l’ouest, le long de la Dorsale Camerounaise et ils frangent les bordures de l’Adamawa. Ce plateau ressemble à une grande table gauchie vers le sud. La lèvre saillante au nord, couramment appelée “falaise”, est renforcée par de hauts reliefs discontinus.

Avant de dévaler vers les plaines de la Bénoué, la grande route de Ngaoundéré à Garoua gravit d’abord ce que les gens du plateau appellent simplement le Caɓɓal. Précédé de nombreux cônes volcaniques, le Caɓɓal Mounguel s’élève à 1400 mètres, en dominant d’un côté la table principale de l’Adamawa (1100 mètres) et, de l’autre, le bassin de la Bénoué (550 mètres). C’est une langue étroite de hautes terres qui s’étire sur une quarantaine de kilomètres, de Margol à Saltaka. Bien que la différence d’altitude soit faible avec le plateau, elle suffit pour entraîner un changement dans les paysages. L’horizon s’élargit, les arbustes deviennent rabougris ou disparaissent sous les herbes ; c’est le domaine du vent et du froid. Autrefois dispersées, les habitations furent regroupées par l’administration coloniale en villages plantés de manguiers. A l’est, un plateau large d’une vingtaine de kilomètres s’y rattache par un étroit pédoncule. Les Fulɓe le désignent par le nom évocateur de Perongal. Pourtant, ce n’est plus un véritable caɓɓal. De 1 400 mètres, l’altitude s’abaisse à 1 300 puis à 1 200 mètres. Sur ce bastion entouré de plaines, une savane boisée dense compose une végétation qui ne correspond pas à l’archétype du caɓɓal.

Pas plus que la montagne de Djinga près de Tignère, celle de Nganha à l’est de Ngaoundéré n’est un caɓɓal. Demi-caldeira éventrée vers le nord, elle offre quelques belles prairies au sud. Mais ses panneaux trachytiques sont trop pentus et trop cisaillés d’abrupts pour retenir des troupeaux en permanence. Les Fulɓe y envoient du bétail seulement en début de saison sèche, afin de paître les repousses d’herbes tendres.

A plus de 1 400 mètres d’altitude, les environs de Gounjel ressemblent davantage au paysage de caɓɓal. L’horizon embrasse de vastes étendues herbeuses, seulement piquetées d’arbustes par endroits. Accaparées en partie par une ancienne entreprise française d’élevage, c’est la zone d’élevage par excellence de l’Adamawa.
Ici, l’activité pastorale domine toutes les préoccupations. Elle est à l’origine d’une population presqu’uniquement Fulɓe, souvent originaire du Nord-Cameroun. En fait, les Fulɓe réservent l’appellation de caɓɓal aux reliefs qui dominent la surface de Gounjel : Caɓɓal Djilougou sur le socle granitique à l’est (1 700 mètres) et Caɓɓal Bakari Bata sur des basaltes au sud (1 500 mètres), avec ses prolongements vers Wassandé et Galdi. Le premier est dit également Caɓɓal Hakoundérou :« le haut plateau au milieu » En effet, il s’intercale entre la surface de Gounjel et celle de Mbang, un épandage de basaltes qui forme la réplique de Gounjel. Au nord, le Caɓɓal Silé, à plus de 1 700 mètres, surplombe les plaines soudaniennes de presque 1 000 mètres. C’est encore une petite unité de relief mais son profil tabulaire et sa prairie sommmitale en font un véritable caɓɓal.

Les Mbororo, surtout ceux de Centrafrique, font souvent allusion au Caɓɓal Ngou, du nom de la rivière qui draîne le plateau à l’est de Djohong. Il se prolonge en R.C.A. par le Caɓɓal Talam. A 1 200-1 250 mètres d’altitude, l’Adamawa se redresse par un panneau cristallin qui domine le fossé de la Mbéré avec 500 mètres de dénivelée. Ce fut une grande aire d’élevage mbororo, avant que les mouches tsétse provoquent beaucoup de départs. Bien que l’altitude reste inférieure à la plupart des caɓɓal, le paysage se dégage en de multiples vallonnements herbeux, cloisonnés de galeries forestières. Ce n’est pas franchement un caɓɓal. Peut-être l’était-il autrefois mais une pâture intense a provoqué des recrûs arbustifs, aux dépens des herbes.

La table principale de l’Adamawa s’incline vers la “surface intérieure” du Centre-Cameroun. Le passage s’opère graduellement, sauf lorsque des décrochements isolent des reliefs élevés. Le Caɓɓal Haléo fait partie d’un ensemble de hauteurs basaltiques armées d’une cuirasse bauxitique, dénommé “surface de Minim-Martap”. Le réseau hydrographique s’est encastré sur place par surimposition, en découpant de multiples lanières escarpées. Elles dominent le plateau par une marche d’une centaine de mètres au nord mais d’environ 300 mètres au-dessus du bassin du Djérem. Au-delà de ce grand cours d’eau, la table isolée de Ngaoundal figure comme une butte-témoin de la surface de Minim-Martap. Lorsque la cuirasse n’affleure pas en dalles dénudées, un cortège d’arbustes soudaniens parsème les entablements sommitaux. La surface de Minim-Martap relève du faux caɓɓal, comme la table de Kognoli.

Au sud de Tibati, l’Adamawa se maintient à une altitude de 900 à 1 000 mètres sur une centaine de kilomètres. Ce prolongement du plateau s’achève par une corniche rectiligne qui, de Yoko à Linté, surplombe la pénéplaine du Centre-Cameroun par 4 à 500 mètres de dénivellation. Aux environs de Yoko, une forêt dense recouvre l’abrupt et déborde de plusieurs kilomètres sur le gradin supérieur. Vers Linté, la forêt se réduit à l’escarpement. Le niveau supérieur s’ouvre alors sur de vastes interfluves herbeux, séparés de forêts galeries. De 1 150 mètres au front de l’escarpement, ils s’abaissent lentement vers le nord. C’est le Caɓɓal Ngouté : de hauts pâturages isolés en savanes humides qui ont toujours exercé un attrait auprès des Mbororo de l’Adamawa.

Tous ces hauts reliefs, bien que prisés par les éleveurs, ne représentent que de petites unités dispersées au-dessus de la table de l’Adamawa. C’est seulement à l’ouest des plateaux que les caɓɓal prennent de l’ampleur.

Au nord de Tignère, un alignement de reliefs que les cartes à petite échelle mentionnent Caɓɓal Gandaba, s’étire sur une cinquantaine de kilomètres. En fait, l’appellation se réfère à une hauteur parmi d’autres qui séparent le bassin du Faro de la plaine Koutine, une alvéole des plaines de la Bénoué. Une véritable chaîne montagneuse lancée vers le nord s’élargit, à plusieurs reprises, en petites tables perchées à 1 500 mètres, Caɓɓal Gandaba. Prairies sur d’amples vallonnements cloisonnés de lignes d’arbres et dominés par des chicots rocheux : le paysage de Gandaba est spectaculaire.

L’extrémité nord de l’alignement montagneux se redresse par une chaussée portée à 2 000 mètres. Le Caɓɓal Lambang est un véritable bastion avancé au-dessus des plaines de la Bénoué, affaissées à 500 mètres d’altitude. Au-delà, des pitons volcaniques ponctuent l’échine montagneuse qui prolonge le caɓɓal. Une piste acrobatique serpente en suivant la ligne de crête. Les troupeaux l’empruntent en saison sèche, à la recherche d’herbe sur les flancs raides du caɓɓal.

Les caɓɓal au nord de Tignère sont de petit isolats pastoraux. Spectaculaires par leur allure de belvédères au-dessus des plaines, ils ne sont pas assez étendus pour retenir de grandes communautés pastorales. Les pâturages sont chèrement disputés. Autrefois, ils étaient l’enjeu de discordes répétées entre Tignère et Poli.


De toutes les hauteurs qui bordent l’Adamawa en une frange discontinue, le Caɓɓal Mbabo constitue l’ensemble le plus vaste et le plus élevé. A Tondé Wandou, endroit culminant, le paysage est impressionnant : l’énorme extrusion volcanique de Yangaré domine un relief montagneux d’un côté et tabulaire de l’autre. Comme beaucoup d’édifices volcaniques, le profil du Caɓɓal Mbabo est dissymétrique. A de longues planèzes qui s’étirent vers le sud sur 15 à 30 km, s’oppose une retombée vertigineuse au nord : plus de 1 000 mètres de dénivelée en quelques kilomètres de distance. Les abrupts du haut plateau et les alignements montagneux qui le prolongent au nord encerclent presque complètement la petite plaine de Dodéo, selon une architecture de relief qui rappelle une demi-caldeira.

A l’époque pré-coloniale, une grande piste reliant Banyo à Yola empruntait un passage à l’ouest du Caɓɓal Mbabo. Depuis cette époque, la descente vers Dodéo s’appelle Gendeeru: « le costaud, » allusion probable à la peine des porteurs pour gravir cette dure montée. A l’époque allemande, la piste était encore parcourue à cheval et équipée de relais. Les difficultés du relief ont empêché, par la suite, d’y aménager une route.

Un faisceau de vallées divergentes entaille les pentes externes du Caɓɓal Mbabo, en prenant parfois l’allure de véritables canyons, par exemple celle du Mayo Koui. En aval, les vallées s’élargissent, avec un plancher alluvial étagé en plusieurs terrasses. Les savanes arbustives qui ponctuent les versants raides des vallées s’effacent sur les hauteurs tabulaires. C’est le domaine de la prairie, entrecoupée de galeries forestières. Partout, des troupeaux de différentes races se dispersent et paissent librement. Les animaux mbororo de race rouge-acajou sont les plus nombreux, ce qui ne manque pas d’étonner l’observateur, habitué à d’autres races bovines sur l’Adamawa. Des campements s’égrènent en dos de terrain. Presque pas de cultures : c’est un paysage purement pastoral.

L’une des curiosités du Caɓɓal Mbabo tient aux bandes de phacochères qui déambulent tranquillement, parfois en compagnie des zébus. Ailleurs, ils seraient exterminés par les non-musulmans. Haut plateau pastoral, le Caɓɓal Mbabo n’est habité que par des Fulɓe, alors qu’en Adamawa ils coexistent presque toujours avec des populations “anciennes”.

Au nord, une forêt dense montagnarde masque les pentes sommitales de l’abrupt au-dessus de Dodéo. De façon curieuse, elle se tient face aux vents desséchants de l’harmattan, alors que les pentes exposées aux souffles humides sont couvertes d’herbe. La forêt ne se serait maintenue qu’à la faveur d’escarpements difficilement accessibles. Les étendues herbeuses, si typiques du Caɓɓal Mbabo, ne représentent-elles qu’une végétation anthropique ?

A l’ouest de la grande vallée méridienne du Mbamti, la frontière entre Cameroun et Nigeria suit une ligne montagneuse quis ‘élargit au Mambila. Mais ce haut plateau s’étend presqu’entièrement au Nigeria. Seuls, quelques hauts reliefs se situent à l’est de la ligne de partage des eaux, adoptée comme tracé de la frontière.

L’alignement de hauts plateaux, au voisinage du Nigeria, commence par le Caɓɓal Dalang, au-dessus de Sambo-labbo, puis celui de Nianyiri, à plus de 2 000 mètres d’altitude. La table sommitale, large de quelques kilomètres, tombe du côté nigerian par une corniche sub-verticale de plusieurs centaines de mètres. La dissymétrie de végétation entre les versants nigerians et camerounais devient très nette, reflétant l’opposition entre climats humide à l’ouest et d’abri à l’est. La grande faune reste abondante : phacochères mais aussi buffles, lions et léopards. En se tenant sur la corniche du caɓɓal, on aperçoit souvent, en contrebas, des troupes de buffles et de phacochères noirs qui paissent dans les clairières puis se réfugient en forêt, par crainte des lions. Côté nigerian, ce secteur fait maintenant partie d’une immense réserve de faune, la “Gashaka Came Reserve”.
A quelques kilomètres de là, le Caɓɓal Wadé (« Haut Plateau de la Mort ») est également dénommé Caɓɓal Gangirwal 15. Avec une altitude de plus de 2 400 mètres, c’est le point culminant des hauteurs frontalières. Deux niveaux tabulaires s’allongent sur une dizaine de kilomètres et seulement 3 de large, partagés entre Cameroun et Nigeria. C’est un véritable belvédère, entouré de grandes parois, sauf du côté sud (voir fig. 1 ci-dessus).

Des forêts montagnardes denses, plaquées dans les creux
du flanc occidental, montent jusqu’au rebord des tables sommitales. Celles-ci ne portent qu’une strate herbacée et des arbustes rabougris ; les herbes elles-mêmes deviennent éparses sur les dômes rocheux couverts de lichens. Le Caɓɓal Wadé est l’un des secteurs d’altitude les plus isolés et les plus grandioses de la Dorsale Camerounaise.

Au sud, les altitudes se raccordent au plan du haut plateau Mambila, à 1 500 et 1 600 mètres. Cette haute surface domine le plateau de Banyo (1 200 mètres) par un escarpement festonné que longe la frontière. Avant la Première Guerre Mondiale, le Caɓɓal Mambila dépendait de Banyo. Depuis lors, au grand regret des sultans de Banyo, seuls d’étroits prolongements du haut plateau se trouvent du côté camerounais.

Le Caɓɓal Hoore Taram est un haut bassin, d’une dizaine de km2, perché à 1 600 mètres. Ensuite, les caɓɓal se réduisent à des rebords tabulaires de quelques kilomètres de large, en tête des cours d’eau qui dévalent vers le plateau de Banyo (Caɓɓal Benke à 1600 mètres, Caɓɓal Mourba de 1600 à 1 800 mètres, Caɓɓal Djansé à 1 600-1 700 mètres).

Le paysage de haut plateau pastoral retrouve quelque ampleur au Cameroun avec le Caɓɓal Guesimi, au-dessus de Maayo Darle (1 700 mètres). Le peuplement peul s’impose sur les interfluves herbeux mais de nombreux Mambila cultivateurs occupent les vallons. Ils déboisent les galeries forestières pour semer du maïs, si bien que le caɓɓal perd ses derniers lambeaux de forêt. Le bois devient rare. En prévision de la longue saison des pluies et du froid, chacun fait provision de bois sec, entassé sous les avancées des toits. A 6°30 de latitude, le climat se fait plus humide.

Enfin, le Caɓɓal Haynaare, à 1 650 mètres d’altitude, marque la limite de Banyo au sud. La ligne de partage des eaux et la frontière isolent de façon artificielle ce secteur du haut plateau Mambila. La topographie se prolonge selon le même plan de chaque côté de la frontière et les populations sont identiques. Par contre, le Caɓɓal Haynaare plonge directement vers la plaine Tikar par un abrupt de presque 1 000 mètres de dénivelée. La véritable discontinuité géographique se trouve à la bordure du caɓɓal.

La frontière entre Cameroun français et anglais a privé Banyo de l’essentiel de ses hauts pâturages du siècle dernier. Les éleveurs de cette partie de l’Adamawa ont souvent contesté une délimitation qui ne tenait pas compte de leurs droits historiques, ni de leurs intérêts pastoraux. Cependant, le référendum de 1961 a confirmé
cette portion de la frontière coloniale. Le paysage de caɓɓal resterait secondaire au Cameroun d’aujourd’hui, sans le rattachement de l’ancien Cameroun Occidental.


Après un étranglement entre la plaine Tikar et la vallée de la Donga, les hauts plateaux s’élargissent à presqu’une centaine de kilomètres d’est en ouest, au Bamenda. Les prairies d’altitude s’étendent à tel point qu’elles ont donné leur nom à la région : “Grassfields” ou “Grasslands”. Des auteurs englobent tous les plateaux de l’ouest dans cette appellation, y compris ceux des Bamiléké. Pourtant, elle convient peu à ce plateau agricole, aux paysages bornés, cultivés, plantés, où les étendues herbeuses ont presqu’entièrement disparu. Dans la province du Nord-Ouest, les paysages d’altitude sont plus ouverts, terroirs et arbres utiles couvrant surtout les fonds de vallées et les versants, en contrebas de hautes surfaces herbeuses. C’est là que les caɓɓal prennent leur plus grande extension. Bien que le relief compartimente les hauteurs en plusieurs unités naturelles, l’ensemble constitue, pour les Fulɓe, le Caɓɓal Bamenda.

Le poste administratif de Nkambe fut créé, dans les années cinquante, au milieu des prairies, à 1 700 mètres d’altitude. D’un dos de terrain à l’autre, les bâtiments administratifs avoisinaient les campements de Mbororo. Quant à la haute table de Nso, elle dépasse les 2 000 mètres sur de grandes étendues. Le dôme du Mont Oku, culminant à 3 011 mètres, réserve peu de pâturages mais, à quelques kilomètres de là, Tchabbel (le petit caɓɓal) se tient à 2 450 mètres. Au sud de Bamenda, les Monts Bambouto offrent les “alpages” les plus élevés après ceux d ‘Oku (2 700 mètres). Les hauts plateaux Meta (2 000 mètres) se prolongent jusqu’au Nigeria, par le promontoire d’Obudu qui atteint encore 1 700 mètres. La fin des hauts plateaux vers l’ouest ressemble aux reliefs du Bamenda: « the topography is one of rolling to steeply hilly grassland intersected by wooded valleys, often with sheer sides and swift streams in the bottoms » 16.

Les hautes terres du Bamenda ne sont pas seulement couvertes d’herbe et propices à l’élevage. Elles portent surtout des paysanneries de plus en plus nombreuses. Des extensions agricoles, des boisements en eucalyptus surtout chez les Nso prennent le pas sur les prairies. Les Mbororo les plus âgés racontent qu’à leur arrivée, des buffles et des lions sillonnaient les grandes herbes des caɓɓal. Il y a longtemps que cette grande faune a disparu, devant l’afflux des bovins et l’emprise des cultures. Dans quelle mesure la région de Bamenda mérite-t-elle encore l’appellation de “Grassfields” ?

Au sud des Monts Bambouto, la Dorsale Camerounaise se réduit à une crête méridienne dont les altitudes oscillent de 1 000 à 1 500 mètres, sous un manteau forestier continu. Elle est ponctuée par le grand édifice volcanique du Massif du Manengouba, qui culmine à plus de 2 400 mètres. Avec l’altitude, la forêt et les cultures cèdent le pas à une prairie qui tapisse les hautes pentes et la cuvette de la caldeira sommitale. A seulement 5° de latitude Nord, c’est le caɓɓal le plus méridional où les Fulɓe se soient aventurés. Ils n’ignorent pas les prairies du Mont Cameroun (Caɓɓal Buea) mais ils n’ont jamais réussi à s’y installer avec des troupeaux.

Les Mbororo du Manengouba connaissent également le Caɓɓal Mbonge, appellation fulɓe des Rumpi Hills, d’après le nom d’un territoire coutumier. Mais la forêt dense dresse un tel obstacle qu’aucun éleveur n’a pu s’y rendre avec du bétail. Bien que les Rumpi Hills culminent à plus de 1 700 mètres, la carte topographique les présente entièrement couvertes de forêts. En fait, des cartes récentes de végétation mettent en évidence plusieurs clairières de dégradation de la forêt montagnarde. Prospecteurs efficaces des milieux à potentiel pastoral, les Mbororo savent que des troupeaux pourraient prospérer sur les monts Rumpi. Dans leur quête continuelle de nouveaux pâturages, ils finiront probablement par y conduire du bétail. A ce moment-là, moins de 100 km les sépareront du mont Cameroun et de Teeku : l’Océan Atlantique.


A l’ouest du Cameroun, à cheval sur l’ancienne frontière entre Cameroun français et anglais, les secteurs pastoraux se caractérisent par référence à la notion de caɓɓal. C’est l’une des rares régions de cette partie du continent où les composantes du pastoralisme s’ordonnent selon la verticalité, en termes d’altitudes, d’étagements, de “jeux” de descente et de montée du bétail. L’analyse du système pastoral de caɓɓal portera essentiellement sur les plateaux à l’ouest du Cameroun. D’autres hautes terres pastorales seront brièvement présentées, à la fin, par rapport aux Grassfields.

Alors qu’au début du siècle, presque tous les caɓɓal faisaient partie du Cameroun, le partage des territoires placés sous mandats français et anglais puis la frontière issue du référendum de 1961 ont écartelé les hauts plateaux entre Cameroun et Nigeria. L’unité géographique et humaine des Grassfields et du Mambila, pourtant indéniable, ne s’inscrit plus dans un cadre politique commun. Aujourd’hui, au terme des vicissitudes de frontière qui ont affecté cette partie de l’Afrique, les caɓɓal s’étendent surtout du côté camerounais.

L’exception la plus notable concerne le haut plateau Mambila qui couvre environ 3 000 km2. Au nord, d’autres caB Bal restreints se trouvent du côté nigerian de la Dorsale Camerounaise: Caɓɓal Filinga et Hendu (le Haut Plateau Venteux). Au-delà de la vallée de Taraba, les cartes à petite échelle signalent un autre ensemble de reliefs au Nigeria : les Shebshi Mountains. En fait, les populations locales ignorent, encore une fois, cette appellation. Bien que le point culminant, dit Vogel Peak, excède les 2 000 mètres, les plateaux se tiennent surtout entre 900 et 1 500 mètres. Les Fulɓe y distinguent plusieurs unités pastorales. Le Caɓɓal Tiba, au nord, est un haut plateau étroit. Le Caɓɓal Kiri, au sud, correspond à de hautes tables gréseuses plus étendues mais dépourvues de point d’eau en saison sèche. De plus, des arbustes parsèment les savanes sommitales qui n’offrent pas les paysages uniquement herbeux des véritables caɓɓal. Beaucoup de Mbororo ont séjourné sur le Monts Shebshi avant de s’installer en haut de Mbabo ou de Gandaba. Pour eux,

caɓɓal Kiri, naa ɗum caɓɓal sosey, guube ɗon :« le Caɓɓal Kiri n’est pas un vrai tchabbal, il y a des fourrés arbustifs ».

Les Fulɓe pasteurs avouent qu’à part le Mambila, les “bons” caɓɓe se trouvent au Cameroun.

Isolés avec leurs animaux à de hautes altitudes, les éleveurs en caɓɓal vivent un peu en dehors du monde. Les autres Fulɓe les considèrent comme des gens à part, habitués au froid et à la pluie qui enveloppent les hautes prairies une grande partie de l’année. A l’écart, sur des pâturages difficiles d’accès, les Fulɓe de caɓɓal sont également réputés pour leur richesse en bétail. Il n’est pas exagéré d’avancer que le communautés fulɓe sur les grands caɓɓal ont développé une véritable “civilisation pastorale”.

De nombreux exemples africains montrent qu’une économie pastorale se maintient presque toujours grâce à des ressources extérieures. Les produits de l’élevage ne suffisent pas à couvrir tous les besoins familiaux. L’accumulation de richesses par le recours aux razzias, à l’extorsion des cultivateurs ou aux profits du commerce
caravanier complétaient autrefois l’économie des pasteurs sahéliens. Aujourd’hui, les difficultés du pastoralisme en zones sèches accentuent la diversification des activités : cultures, commerce et contrebande …
Les Fulɓe pasteurs seraient les plus spécialisés dans une économie fondée sur le bétail dont ils tirent la base de leurs ressources et les produits qu’ils échangent. Les Fulɓe de caɓɓal affirment souvent qu’ils ne “connaissent” que le travail auprès des animaux. Ils s’avouent incapables de toute autre activité : agriculture, artisanat ou commerce.
Comment ont-ils pu développer une telle spécialisation pastorale ?

1. E. Bernus, 1989, “Montagnes du désert ; de l’évolution comparée de d euxmassifs sahariens : Ahaggar et Aïr” in Tropiques ; lieux et liens, pp. 545-553
2. Le mot fulfulde “caɓɓal” dérive-t-il de l’arabe “djebel”, c’est-à-dire la montagne ? Les dictionnaires ne mentionnent pas cette origine.
3. F.W. Taylor, 1932, “A Fulani-English dictionary”, p. 23.
4. H. Labouret, 1955, “La langue des Fulɓe ou Foulbé ; lexique français-peul”, p. 153 .
5. D. Noye, 1989. Dictionnaire foulfoulde-français ; dialecte peul du Diamaré, Nord-Cameroun, p. 294.
6. La racine du mot est “saBHBH-” : étendre, allonger sur le sol (A. Dauzats, 1952. Lexique Français-Peul et Peul-Français, p. 410)
7. R. Letouzey, 1968, “”Etude phytogéographique du Cameroun”, photo. 44.
8. H. Labouret, 1955, p. 152.
9. J. Richard-Molard, 1953, “Les traits d’ensemble du Fouta-Djalon”. in Hommage à Jacques Richard-Molard, p. 148 et 151.
10. De nombreux témoignages attestent que la végétation boisée n’était pas aussi fournie, au début du siècle.
11. G. Durrell. 1964. “The Bafut beagles”. Penguin Books. p. 39.
12. Vastes plaines submergées par les eaux en saison des pluies et exondées en saison sèche, les yaere concentrent alors de grands effectifs de bétail.
13. J. Richard-Molard, 1953, p. 146
14. J. Peal. “Local leave on Mambula Plateau”
15. Le gangirwal est le poteau central qui soutient la charpente d’une case ronde. Ce haut plateau est parfois désigné “Gotel Mountains” sur les cartes, toponymie étendue également à tout le haut plateau Mambila. L’appellation (qui apparaît en caractères gras sur la carte “Arctique-Europe-Afrique” de l’IGN au 1/5 000 000) n’est jamais employée par les habitants… Apparue pour la première fois sur la carte allemande Moisel, depuis lors elle est recopiée fidèlement par les cartographes.
16. P. Tuley, 1966, “The Obudu Plateau ; utilization of high altitude, tropical grassland”.

Guinée : port du voile et menace terroriste

Président Alpha Condé a lancé, Samedi 25 courant, une alerte à la menace terroriste islamique contre la Guinée. Son homologue sénégalais, Macky Sall, l’a précédé dans ce sens en mars dernier.
Lire Macky Sall. Discours Pulaar à Madina Gounas
Le Sénégal pourra-t-il se préserver du militantisme destructeur des soi-disant fous d’Allah.

Au Mali, l’accalmie n’est qu’apparente. En réalité, la situation semble se détériorer. Lire Mali : Etat fragile et Abus de la population

Au Nigeria, le mandat duPrésident Muhammadu Buhari repose de moitié sur la question de savoir si le nouvel élu saura éliminer Boko Haram, qui étend ses tentacules dans les pays voisins : Niger, Cameroun, Tchad, etc.
Lire What lessons can Buhari learn from Obama?

Indolence gouvernementale et éveil électoraliste

La récente déclaration d’Alpha Condé est, à ma connaissance, la première intervention de l’actuel président concernant l’épée de Damoclès islamiste et la sécurité intérieure du pays. Et pourtant, l’opération Serval au Mali aurait dû depuis solliciter l’attention soutenue du gouvernement. Hélas, j’ai l’impression que les autorités guinéennes se sont complu dans l’indolence, croyant naivement peut-être que le malheur n’arrive qu’aux voisions. Une telle attitude est étonnante. Car le gouvernement aurait dû puiser dans l’expérience acquise contre les incursions militaires des troupes de Charles Taylor (Liberia) et du RUF (Sierra Leone) et leurs frappes dévastatrices aux frontières guinéennes à Guéckedou, Kissidougou, Forécariah … entre 2000 et 2001.

Pourquoi M. Condé agite-t-il aujourd’ui l’épouvantail du fanatisme musulman ? Est-ce une impulsion politicienne correspondant à une autre manoeuvre électoraliste ? Je n’en sais rien. Mais une réponse affirmative aux questions ci-dessus n’augure rien de bon.
Car contrairement à la nature localisée des guerres de Sierra Leone et du Libéria, le terrorisme “jihadiste” est d’envergure mondiale. Il frappe partout : Chine, Russie, Grande Bretagne, France, USA, Moyen Orient (bien sûr), Afrique du Nord, de l’Ouest, et de l’Est, etc.

Cet ennemi de soi-même —il prêt à l’autosacrifice— et du genre humain brandit les griefs et ressentiments contre l’hégémonie passée et présente de l’Occident, d’une part, et contre les conséquences négatives de la mondialisation. Celle-ci exploite les anciens pays colonisés d’Asie et d’Afrique tout en les marginalisant.

Le fanatisme musulman dénonce les conditions de vie dégradantes (pauvreté, maladies, analphabétisme, ignorance) de vastes régions du monde. Et il y opère à l’intérieur comme de l’extérieur. D’où la mention de “cellules dormantes”.
Le paradoxe est que l’extrémisme islamiste prétend libérer des populations de jougs historiques et des inégalités profondes de la mondialisation, d’une part, mais il ne recule devant rien pour imposer sa domination : brutale, obscurantiste et réactionnaire.

Quelles perspectives pour la Guinée ?

M. Alpha Condé propose un dialogue, un débat “national”. Mais il fait avec une approche légère, simplificatrice et égocentrique . En effet il s’interroge et se lamente par anticipation en ces termes :

« Si les gens disent que le président a interdit le voile, c’est de la manipulation politique. Je suis le président d’un Etat laïque. Je n’ai pas de différence entre les religions ; mais je dois assurer la sécurité de la Guinée. J’ai dit que le port du voile pose problème, Boko Haram au Nigeria (…). Et vous savez ce qui se passe au Mali. Ces islamistes sont en train de s’installer. Laisser l’islamisme s’installé en Guinée, c’est mettre en cause la sécurité de la Guinée. J’ai entendu que j’ai interdit le port du voile en Guinée, je n’ai pas interdit. J’ai dit il faut un débat national, moi je suis responsable de la sécurité en Guinée. Si demain quelqu’un qui est voilé rentre ici et commence à tirer sur les étudiants, qui serait responsable ? C’est moi »

L’insistance de M. Condé sur le “Moi” dénote l’obssession pour sa personne et, accessoirement, son bilan en tant que président. Il me rappelle la bravade de Lansana Condé, qui aimait proclamer : “L’Etat, c’est moi”.
En fait, contrairement à cette vision bornée de la société et de l’histoire, le danger, en l’occurrence, dépasse de loin l’individu Alpha Condé et son mandat présidentiel finissant. La confrontation en question est plus vaste. Et elle est plus existentielle pour la Guinée et d’autres Etats à travers le monde.
La préoccupation sécuritaire du président Condé est certes fondée. Mais le “Professeur” aurait dû prendre le recul nécessaire afin d’explorer les relations complexes entre l’Islam et les sociétés guinéennes et africaines. Cela d’autant plus qu’il s’adressait à une audience d’étudiants.
Car la tension actuelle découle est, il va sans dire, enracinée dans le passé. Or, “celui qui ignore son passé est condamné à le répéter !”
Quels sont donc les racines historiques, culturelles, théologiques intellectuelles de ce conflit à la fois latent et ouvert ? Je résume ici en quelques points un tableau diablement plus complexe. Chacun des arguments ci-desssous peut être développé en chapitres ou en volumes entiers.

L’habit ne fait pas le moine

Le port du voile est une tradition orientale. On le trouve ancré aussi bien chez les Arabes (Arabie Saoudite, Egypte, Maroc, Jordanie, Irak, Syrie, Algérie, Tunisie, Lybie, etc.) que parmi les peuples non-Arabes (Iran, Pakistan, Indonésie, Malaysie, etc. )
Par contre, Seules les jeunes femmes, les mères et grand-mères portaient un voile, qui cachait certes la tête et le visage. Mais il ne recouvrait pas les seins, par exemple, pour la simple raison que les sociétés africaines n’attribuaient ni sensualité ni sexualité dans ces organes. Les seins avaient —ont— fondamentalement une fonction biologique : reproduction de l’espèce humaine par allaitement du nourrisson.…
Il découle dès lors que la coutume vestimentaire et religieuse du voile intégrale, est récente, importée et isolée en Afrique sub-Saharienne.

Islam, orientalisme, colonisation, indépendance, africanisme

Le colonialisme européen déploya une énergie extraordinaire pour contrôler et dominer l’Islam, tant en Afrique qu’ailleurs.
En ce qui concerne la France, lire Cheick Hamahoullah, homme de foi et résistant

Sékou Touré fit pareil en ordonnant la subordination et la vassalisation de l’Islam aux organismes de son parti politique, le Parti démocratique de Guinée (PDG) et à sa “révolution”. Dédaignant le fait que la Guinée est un pays multi-confessionnel, il créa un ministère des Affaires islamiques, qui devint par la suite ministères des affaires religieuses, en double violation du principe constitutionnel de la laïcité et de non-immixion de l’Etat dans le domaine spirituel.…

Antériorité de l’esclavagisme oriental

L’invasion arabo-orientale est antérieure à l’impérialisme occidental, qui lui-même précéda la dictature guinéenne dans l’instrumentalisation de l’Islam à des fins politiques.
Dans son ouvrage intitulé Histoire synthétique de l’Afrique résistante. Les réactions des peuples africains face aux influences extérieures, Nazi Boni — homme politique et historien voltaïque (Burkina Faso) — indique qu’entre le 9e et 12e siècles, “le monde arabe captura 24 millions de Noirs” qui furent vendus et traités comme esclaves.

Théologiens et auteurs musulmans sub-sahariens

Les théologiens et auteurs musulmans de l’Afrique sub-saharienne ont apporté une contribution magistrale à la foi et à la culture islamique. Ils n’ont rien à envier à l’apport de leurs collègues Arabes et Orientaux. Mais cela ne réduit pas la persistance du racisme Arabe et islamique, qui continue de se manifester, hier comme aujourd’hui, par exemple au Soudan, en Mauritanie, etc.

S’agissant du passé, Amadou Hampâté Bâ et Jacques Daget révèlent, dans L’empire peul du Macina cet échange entre Elhadj Oumar Tall et ses détracteurs du Caire vers 1845.

Le passage d’El Hadj Oumar en pays arabe ne pouvait passer inaperçu pour trois raisons. L’abnégation avec laquelle il avait donné toutes ses richesses à son maître Mohammad el Ghali, faisait du bruit partout. Sa grande érudition musulmane lui valait d’être cité, malgré sa couleur, comme un docteur remarquable et un génie sur lequel pouvait compter l’Islam en Afrique noire occidentale. Enfin son titre de moqqadem de l’ordre Tidjaniya, cet ordre qui, bien que presque le dernier en date, gagne du terrain sur les plus anciens et tend à les supplanter aussi bien en Orient qu’en Occident. Si des savants impartiaux accueillaient et assistaient gracieusement El Hadj Oumar, moqqadem de l’ordre Tidjaniya, il en était tout autrement des docteurs et maîtres des congrégations ; les plus acharnés furent les dirigeants des sectes Qadriya et Taïbya. Pendant sept mois, El Hadj Oumar eut à faire face aux attaques dirigées contre la Tidjaniya à travers sa propre personne. N’ayant pu le vaincre dans le domaine de la science, ses adversaires essayèrent de tabler sur la couleur de sa peau pour le ridiculiser.
C’est ainsi qu’au cours d’une discussion scientifique, un de ses détracteurs malicieux déclara à son adresse :
— O science, toute splendide que tu sois, mon âme se dégoûtera de toi quand tu t’envelopperas de noir ; tu pues quand c’est un abyssin qui t’enseigne.
La foule éclata de rire. El Hadj Oumar attendit que l’hilarité générale se fut calmée pour répliquer :
— L’enveloppe n’a jamais amoindri la valeur du trésor qui s’y trouve enfermé. O poète inconséquent, ne tourne donc plus autour de la Kaaba, maison sacrée d’Allah, car elle est enveloppée de noir. O poète inattentif, ne lis donc plus le Coran car ses versets sont écrits en noir. Ne réponds donc plus à l’appel de la prière, car le premier ton fut donné, et sur l’ordre de Mohammed notre Modèle, par l’abyssin Bilal. Hâte-toi de renoncer à ta tête couverte de cheveux noirs. O poète qui attend chaque jour de la nuit noire le repos réparateur de tes forces épuisées par la blancheur du jour, que les hommes blancs de bon sens m’excusent, je ne m’adresse qu’à toi. Puisque tu as recours à des satires pour essayer de me ridiculiser, je refuse la compétition. Chez moi, dans le Tekrour, tout noir que nous soyons, l’art de la grossièreté n’est cultivé que par les esclaves et les bouffons.

On retrouve la mêm confiance dans la foi musulmane profonde du Bilad al-Sudan (pays des Noirs, en arabe) sous la plume de Framoi Bérété, Président du Conseil Territorial de la Guinée Française, dans son article “Kankan, centre commercial et capitale de l’Islam noir

Fuuta-Jalon : terre de foi et pôle de la culture islamiques

En Afrique comme ailleurs, le débat n’est pas nouveau, qui consiste dans la tension entre orientalisme et africanisme, le choix entre imitation de l’Orient et la promotion de l’expression locale et originale de la croyance dans la religion du Prophète.
L’article d’AfricaGuinée contient ce passage :

“A Labé, préfecture située à près de 500 km de la capitale Conakry, les autorités avaient récemment décidé d’interdire le port du voile. Certaines associations religieuses avaient vigoureusement condamné cette décision des autorités préfectorales de Labé.”

Le désaccord sur des aspects fondamentaux de la pratique de l’Islam (langue, habillement, hygiène) ne date pas d’aujourd’hui. Au 19è siècle, il opposa les tendances intégristes au nationalisme culturel de l’époque, précisément Elhadj Oumar Tall contre Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya.

En 1921, dans L’Islam en Guinée : Fouta-Dialon, Paul Marty fournit mille et une preuves de la profondeur et de la brillance de la culture islamique au Fuuta-Jalon.
Des décennies plus tard, en 1981, dans La guerre sainte d’ al-Hajj Umar : le Soudan occidental au milieu du XIXe siècle, David Robinson confirmait ce qui suit :

« Le Fuuta-Jalon était plus beaucoup plus qu’un Almamat dominé par une aristocratie Fulɓe. C’était un pôle de savoir qui attirait des étudiants de Kankan à la Gambie, et qui s’appuyait sur le clergé Jakhanke de Touba et les maîtres Fulɓe. Il servait de relais central pour les caravanes commerciales de tous horizons. Les familles les plus entreprenantes, toutes ethnies confondues, s’établissaient sur les collines fuutanke et le long des routes principales. Il allait de leurs intérêts d’inscrire leurs fils aux écoles fuutaniennes, de soutenir les diplômés qui en sortaient pour enseigner, et, en général, d’étendre le vaste modèle d’influence qui irradiait du Fuuta-Jalon.

Et Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow dégage l’originalité et la force du génie islamique fuutanien dans son Introduction de Oogirde Malal. Il écrit :

« Si le Filon du bonheur éternel continue, cent cinquante ans après sa rédaction, à émouvoir les lecteurs de notre pays, c’est surtout à cause de la vocation littéraire qu’il assure au pular-fulfulde, à cause de sa versification juste, sûre et élégante, de sa langue saine, savante et subtile, de la volonté nationale d’affirmation culturelle qu’il incarne et du désir d’autonomie et de dignité linguistiques qu’il exprime. »

L’universalité de l’Islam n’est pas en contradiction avec son adaptation aux différents cadres culturels et sociaux qui le pratiquent, vice versa.

La guerre religieuse réinventée par Ben Laden continue de faire rage et des ravages. Nul ne peut prédire la durée ou la solution durable de ce conflit planétaire, qui expose la faiblesse de l’Etat postcolonial africain dans toute sa gravité.

Que faire ?

Président Alpha Condé ne devrait pas se limiter et se contenter de faire des déclarations aux accents de campagne électorale. Son gouvernement devrait enquêter, fouiller sonder, rédiger et publier un Rapport détaillé, une sorte de Livre blanc sur la situation de l’Islam en Guinée. Tout comme le fit Paul Marty.
C’est un tel —sérieux— ouvrage qui pourrait donner à M. Condé l’occasion d’inviter à la réflexion critique et au débat national qu’il prône. Seule une telle contribution positive du gouvernement pourrait amener les parties intéressées et qualifiées à réagir de façon substantielle, à faire des suggestions valables, et à proposer des solutions adéquates.
A suivre.

Tierno S. Bah