Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to take over a country

Since "how to take over the world" seems too lofty an ambition for any single supervillain at this time, let's talk about how to take over a country. My dog-eared copy of "The Prince" is a great book, but Machiavelli's writing style can be purple, so let me condense the important lessons down, and add a few of my own from observing people like Faduma.

Conquest of a state requires some mixture of ability, fortune, and opportunity. If this sounds like the standard of "means, motive, and opportunity" in United States criminal law, that's not accidental. Taking over power in a state is inherently an extralegal sort of thing, and it's how things got done in the United States, Israel, and the Soviet Union.

Ability here means far more than a strong super-power. It means having the skills necessary to lead large groups of people; coordinating complex plans and devise plans with sufficient contingency to cover most outcomes; successfully predicting the results of your most likely actions; and understanding the numerous perspectives that are present in any big group. If you are the sort of person who can do these things, you probably already realize it.

Fortune, these days called "luck", is just being in the right place at the right time. You can't just say "well I'll take over a country today". Circumstances have to be such that you are the best choice for that job, and that a good candidate country, with favorable political conditions, actually exists.

Opportunity means that some country exists where your particular combination of skills, powers, background, and motivation make it possible for you to step into a leadership role. Machiavelli illustrates this by saying "it was necessary to Moses that he should find the people of Israel in Egypt enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians". You don't take over a prosperous and contented group of people. You take over a group of people who are being hard done by, and promise to fix their shitty situation. Of course, this also applies to people like Adolf Hitler - the Weimar Republic was practically begging for a man like him, and Europe collectively reaped what they had sown through the Treaty of Versailles.

So what are the ingredients for conquest?
  1. You need a country where times are tough.
  2. You need people who are ready and willing to listen to someone - possibly an outsider, if you aren't a native of the region.
  3. You need a message - something more detailed than "I will lift you up out of bondage". Find out what their biggest problems are and find something that sounds like a solution.
  4. You need a way to communicate your message to them in a way that doesn't get the existing authorities to come crush your movement.
  5. You need to distribute this message and build your support to a critical mass.
  6. You need a tipping point - a disaster, an assassination, something - that will force people on the fence to come down on one side or another, preferably your side.
  7. You need a core group of loyal followers to pick up the pieces from your tipping point and carry forward the momentum of your new order.
Let's look at Faduma and what she's doing in Somalia. Basically, the vampire queen is repeating this process in successively larger and larger circles. First her village, then her region, and eventually the whole country. She got her family together, organized them into a paramilitary squad, and ran off bandits and thieves. She fed and sheltered anyone who came to her village for aid, turned them into lesser vampires, and used them to build a base of support. She took that program to the larger region. Today she's helping deal with larger issues like qat addiction and land degradation due to poor agricultural practices.

Her people are her family, friends, and fellow Somalians, so she's got an advantage there. Her message is one of loyalty and independence. She's used targeted assassinations and vampiric conversion to great effect when dealing with the opposition. While some think that she's crazy for attacking UN troops instead of making nice to receive UN humanitarian benefits, rejecting outside aid actually raises her esteem in the locals' eyes (for complex cultural reasons). While it does mean some extra suffering, it basically solidifies her control over her people.

She is very strict on thieves - no matter who stole from who. That said, she is perfectly fine with claiming the spoils of war from anyone who attacks her, and has amassed a decent fortune in doing so. She's been using this to buy arms on the international black market. Rather than enriching herself, she's treating such income more like a long-term investment, so clearly she has a bigger vision than just making herself feel good.

Ultimately, whether Faduma becomes Somalia's ruler or not, she's got what it takes to do the job. Her example is one that I'd recommend to any aspiring super-conqueror.