"Long sleeve, short sleeve?" was the question they asked you in Sierra Leone. One answer meant they cut your hands off above the wrist. The other meant above the elbows.
The use of terror against civilians as a weapon of political control seems to be the core of modern African wars. In some cases it's the government, in other cases some obscure rebel group. In almost all cases the world looks, sighs, and turns away.
A typical scene from northern Uganda: burning village, bodies lying twisted in the smoking ruins of houses, one or two small children who had hidden in the bush coming back to find their parents, aunts, uncles slaughtered, their brothers and sisters abducted or raped, their lives smashed in a conflict that has no agenda, no overt purpose, no tribal basis, no "natural" source of support...
Behind many of the most intractable civil conflicts and brutal leaders in Africa moves the hand - and money - of Gaddafi, the man who turned his own country into a personal fief and the OAU into the platform for a pan-African empire.
The leaders that Gaddafi supports include some of the most monstrous figures of current times. Men who organize child armies into vehicles of terror. Men who use genocide to clear regions of their peoples so that mineral extraction can proceed unhindered. Men who use war as a business tool, who turn blood and violence into profit margins. Men who are willing to see entire countries turned to dust if it means they can add another zero to their bank accounts.
Gaddafi has refined the art of turning quiet people into murderous armies. He has seen that young boys make the best tools: kill their families, rape their sisters, force them to murder their own uncles, and they will become compliant soldiers who will suffer any indignity without complaining, obey any order without questioning.
He found that a small investment in pure brutality is amply repaid when you apply it the right way. Then he built training camps to teach these skills to his disciples.
This is not just a man content, like the run of the mill absolute dictator, to oppress his own people by violence and terror. No, this is a man who has decided to export his vision of social engineering through blood onto an entire continent.
Here is a small and probably incomplete list of the countries where Libya has sponsored violence against a civilian population in the name of extracting mineral rights, political support, or other concessions: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Congo.
And these are the documented cases. There are others, like the LRA in Uganda, where the links are indirect, via Sudan in this case.
We are used to thinking of Africa as a violent, nasty, dangerous place filled with starving people who are as happy to attack each other with pangas as they are to plant crops.
Having lived for much of my life in Africa, I can testify that this is untrue. Africans like any peoples yearn for peace and stability, but circumstance conspires to throw up dictator after dictator, war after war, disaster after disaster. And too often the hand of external "allies" is evident. War creates chaos, and in chaos much can be stolen.
Africa is like a city that is forever being invaded by rioters so that the inhabitants can be looted and raped.
And one of the biggest organizers of this looting and rape, the man who was inspired by Leopold King of the Belgians, is Gaddafi, who pours oil money into criminal political ventures across the continent.
The USA forced Libya into pariah status after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 in which 270 wealthy western citizens were killed.
But, hey, he's apologised for Lockerbie and promised not to seek nuclear arms. That makes him OK in the eyes of the west, a "courageous" man in the words of UK's Jack Straw. "US companies should prepare to do business with Libya," said Bush. Indeed.
This morning I heard about Libyan-style training camps in Zimbabwe. And indeed, some research shows Gaddafi supporting Robert Mugabe, and eleven-year old girls being kept as sexual slaves in "job training camps" that are producing hundreds of thousands of brainwashed youths to play a part in Zimbabwe's undeclared civil war.
I wonder, when the stories of arms being chopped off start to come out of Zimbabwe, will the world's press make more comments about another horrific civil war in Africa, or will an honest reporter somewhere start to draw the link between the Mad Colonel and the wars for profit that ravage this beautiful and proud continent?