"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

7.20.2009

this is the end


We here at Texas in Africa are up to our knees in boxes, bubble wrap, and the cumulative weight of the unbelievable number of books I acquired in graduate school, so this seems like a good time as any for my annual summer blogging break. I'll be back to regular posting on August 4 after enjoying one last week in Austin, relocating TIA HQ to a city that is in neither Texas nor Africa, and simultaneously entering the worlds of home ownership and assistant professorship. See y'all then!

7.18.2009

the way it was

He was just another Texan who grew up to announce the Kennedy assassination, follow the moon landing, and become the most trusted man in America. He could also silence 95,000 screaming football fans with that incomparable voice.


Rest in peace, Mr. Cronkite.

7.17.2009

split the difference

Two French citizens kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Somalia this week have apparently been separated, with one hostage going to another extremist organization in order to keep everyone happy.

If you've been reading this blog for the last few months, you know that I'm knee-deep in a collaborative project on Somali pirates and their relationship to local governance structures in Puntland. One of the most striking aspects of these pirates' activity is their high degree of rationality and organization. They are by no means controlled by a central organization, but each pirate group has strict codes of behavior and reward systems. It's almost a perfect rational actor model.

While we don't believe that Somali pirates are terrorists or Islamic extremists and think that in fact , the nature of their criminal activity has a lot in common with the way the al-Shabaab extremists operate in the failed state. Both are highly rational, and both are willing to compromise small objectives in order to meet larger goals. For the pirates, this means they might skip boarding a ship from which they expect not to gain a large ransom. For the Islamic extremists, this apparently means that handing off one valuable hostage to another organization is worth the price of not having to fight them as well.

What lessons can we learn from pirates that might be applied to thinking about how to deal with extremists? For one thing, the failure to consider their rational behavior leads to very bad policy decisions. Most Western policy regarding Somali pirates is focused on deterrence through the threat of death or imprisonment. But this ignores the fact that for your average unemployed Puntland male, the chances of being shot by a member of the U.S. Navy are slimmer than those of being shot at home, and the risk is worth the opportunity for a reward that far outweighs all other available alternatives.

For another, we can consider that even though we abhor their violent activities, if Somalia's extremist organizations are rational actors, they have a price. The fact that they are willing to hand over a hostage (who is presumably very well-insured by the kidnapping & ransom insurance industry) means that they will bargain under certain circumstances. We would do well to delve more into what those circumstances might be, with special attention to profit motives. Doing so might not help, but in a situation in which all of our ill-defined policies have thus far failed, it certainly wouldn't hurt.

UPDATE: I misunderstood where the hostages were in the first place before. Sorry about that. They were actually captured and first handed over to Hizbul-Islam, which angered al-Shabaab, to whom Hizbul-Islam then handed over one hostage in order to keep the peace. They have since given al-Shabaab the other French hostage. I still think the point about assuming logic and rationality applies, but it's admittedly much more complicated with al-Shabaab in control of the hostages.

7.16.2009

this & that

7.15.2009

into the sunset

I was okay until that wide-angle shot of Luis Moreno-Ocampo walking down the beach, all alone, lost in his thoughts of justice at all costs.

Did anyone else watch The Reckoning last night on PBS? While I wouldn't exactly characterize it as "epic," it was at least not a total hagiography along the lines of Luis Moreno-Ocampo: Crusader for Human Rights, and it avoided many of the expected cliches. The film struck me as a good introduction to the court and its work for someone with little prior knowledge of the subject. I'll probably show it to my International Organizations class this fall. But I'll show it while still assigning a lot of supplementary reading, because goodness knows the film fell far short of telling the whole story. What was missing?
  • A fuller accounting of how badly the Office of the Prosecutor bungled the Lubanga case, which should've been open-and-shut. There's videotape of his child soldiers being trained, for goodness sakes. But when your prosecuting attorney opens with the line, "This case is about the children," things can only go downhill.
  • An explanation as to why the ICC can afford ridiculously fancy software to pinpoint the locations of crimes against humanity, but cannot get a warrant issued for war criminals against whom there is abundant evidence in less than 13 months.
  • Perspectives from international legal experts who are not 1) John "creepy mustache" Bolton or 2) members of the prosecution at the ICC on the court's strengths and weaknesses.
One thing I liked about the film was the inclusion of perspectives from the people the ICC purports to be helping. To hear former child soldiers in the Congo speak of their experiences and to show clearly that there's no such thing as a single "Acholi opinion" on how to balance justice and peace in northern Uganda was refreshing. Perspectives from local civil society leaders are normally absent from films of this sort, so I'm glad the filmmaker chose to include them in The Reckoning.

That said, the film's opening scene in a field in Ituri, obligatory human skull and all, was really sad. I think it made me feel that way not just because of the horrible crimes that were committed there, but also because the notion of "international justice" is so very, very remote for someone who lives in Bunia or in an IDP camp in Uganda. The prosecution and conviction of someone like Thomas Lubanga has great symbolic significance, but it doesn't do much to improve day-to-day life for those who have lived through unimaginable horrors. The insistence of many Acholi participants in Uganda's peace process that justice should be handled locally, according to traditional norms is touted by ICC employees as a success in building the rule of law, but is it really necessary to spend millions of dollars on beautiful offices in The Hague to revitalize village-level institutions of justice?

One wonders whether the international community ought not have spent more of its time and effort rebuilding local justice institutions in war-weakened countries and putting more traditional diplomatic pressure on states that commit crimes against their citizens.

7.14.2009

fun, fun

For those of you who are stateside, tonight PBS airs The Reckoning as part of its POV series. The Reckoning is a film about the International Criminal Court. What could be a more exciting way to celebrate Bastille Day than a documentary on international law, war criminals, and poorly constructed trials?

7.13.2009

surprise, surprise

Alan Doss, the head of the MONUC peacekeeping mission to the DR Congo, told reporters a couple of interesting things last week:
  • First, the integration of CNDP forces formerly under the command of Laurent Nkunda into the national army (FARDC) has caused a rise in the number of human rights violations committed by FARDC troops.
  • Second, even though the UN's own reports suggest that new CNDP commander/accused war criminal Bosco Ntaganda is commanding FARDC troops who are working with MONUC forces in the Kivus, that can't possibly be the case because "'commanders on the ground are under strict orders' not to get involved with him."
Mr. Doss has one of the worst jobs in the world. Sure, he gets to live in a lovely villa and dine at Kinshasa's finest French restaurants. But can you imagine what it must be liked to be tasked not only with solving impossible security dilemmas in a non-functioning state with about 1/6 of necessary troop strength, but also to have to regularly pretend that the DR Congo is on a path to democratic good governance? I don't envy him.

However, none of what has happened in the Kivus since the integration of CNDP forces into the FARDC is the least bit surprising. It should have been more than obvious to MONUC when the CNDP surrendered that they were integrating yet another bunch of accused war criminals into the FARDC's already-infested ranks. Almost all of the armed groups in the eastern Congo commit war crimes on a regular basis. The only difference with the CNDP is their competence; Nkunda's men are well-trained, disciplined human rights violators, which makes their presence in the FARDC all the worse for the Congolese.

As for Monsieur Ntaganda, it doesn't matter that MONUC commanders aren't supposed to get involved with him. MONUC commanders don't have control over what the FARDC does or who they allow to lead their units. (If they did, things wouldn't be such a mess in many places.) It is utterly inconceivable that Ntaganda would have agreed to the integration without ensuring that he would have a leadership role that makes it easy to access resources for his personal benefit, and, presumably, some guarantee of FARDC protection if and when MONUC ever decides to arrest and hand him over to the ICC.

Thus it is entirely likely that Ntaganda is busily directing troops to do goodness knows what under direct orders from Kigali or simply of his own volition - and there's not a darn thing MONUC can do about it. As Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in the DR Congo, points out:
"The UN is operating within some contradictions," said Stoessel. "On the one hand, MONUC has the prime mandate to protect civilians. On the other hand, MONUC is supposed to support the Congolese army, which is by itself abusing human rights."
That's putting it mildly. The idea that MONUC should support an army full of war criminals while ensuring the safety of civilians was madness to begin with, and it didn't take the CNDP integration to prove it. A Congo-based human rights researcher told me in 2006 that it was possible to trace a rise in the number of human rights violations based on the integration of new rebel movements into the FARDC alongside a concurrent decline in the number of violations committed by other armed groups. It turns out that the only change effected by giving uniforms to people who were doing horrible things to other people is that now the horrible things are being committed by the same people in uniform. Why anyone thought the case would be different with the CNDP is beyond me.

The integration aspect of the DDR process was always a bad idea. Problem is, it's a bad idea that has a direct, negative impact on civilian welfare. The best thing Doss and the Congolese government could do is stop the DDR integration insanity. Instead, they should focus on much-needed security reforms like soldier pay and prosecution of members of the FARDC who have committed war crimes. Doss should also make a more forceful argument that it's going to take a lot more than 3,000 new peacekeepers to fix this mess.

7.12.2009

this & that

7.11.2009

yesterday's vision

The full text of Barack Obama's speech to Ghana's Parliament can be found here. You can read a sample of opinions on the speech (mostly from Africans and other observers abroad) at the BBC.

Briefly, I'll just say that the speech was not surprising and not particularly interesting in that it contained nothing new beyond the reflections of an American president who has a Kenyan father. Obama's speech presented the same line that American leaders have been delivering to African states since the end of the Cold War: be democratic, stop being corrupt, embrace market capitalism, stop fighting with one another, and we'll help you deal with disease. It was in no way on par with his masterful speech to the Muslim world in Cairo a few weeks ago, nor was it especially inspiring.

There was a slight shift in tone in some of Obama's remarks to the effect that the purpose of international aid programs should have the aim of becoming unnecessary as local leaders take responsibility for their own communities' development trajectories, as well as a discussion of African entrepreneurship and the continent's potential to contribute to green energy use throughout the world. These are welcome. But overall, the speech was just one more iteration of yesterday's American vision for Africa. It iterated the standard problems (HIV/AIDS, Congo, Darfur, and Zimbabwe - with the notable absence of any mention of northern Uganda, unless the oblique reference to "forc[ing] children to kill in wars") and included the oft-repeated point that "Africa’s future is up to Africans." It did not, however, represent much in the way of novel thinking about America's relationship to the continent's country and people.

What are your thoughts on the speech?

7.10.2009

obama goes to ghana


If you're an Africa-watcher, you're already well aware that this weekend marks Barack Obama's first trip south of the Sahara in his official capacity as President. Obama makes a brief stop in Ghana this weekend. We've already discussed why he's going to Ghana rather than Kenya or another African powerhouse: Ghana is fairly well-governed, peaceful, and pretty much does what the U.S. tells it to do.

There are lots of intersting places to get African perspectives on Obama's visit to Ghana. The BBC's excellent Africa Have Your Say program has been collecting responses from people all over the continent all week; you can read and listen to some of those here. The One Campaign also produced a slick video featuring Ghanaians who are particularly enthusiastic about the president's trip. Likewise, policy organizations are full of suggestions for what Obama should say (and do) in Africa. Writing at Foreign Policy in Focus, Ghanaian economist Charles Abugre suggests that the president should break with his predecessors' paternalistic attitude towards the continent, while Human Rights Watch wants the president to push for (wait for it) better respect for human rights continent-wide.

What will Obama say in his speech (scheduled for 6am Saturday east coast time for you early weekend risers and at a more reasonable hour for those of you in Africa and Europe)? We got a small hint of what might be to come in a speech Obama gave to several African leaders earlier this week. Not surprisingly for an American president, Obama spoke about governance issues and the need for stronger leadership across the continent. He also denounced those who blame the West for all of Africa's problems:
"I think part of what's hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we've made excuses about corruption or poor governance, that this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism – I'm not a big – I'm not a believer in excuses."
This part of the speech was clearly aimed at Zimbabwe, which may rival Iran for being the place in the world in which the British and Americans are blamed for every problem. Any rational observer knows that the reason Zimbabwe's economy is in shambles can be summed up in two words: Robert Mugabe. There's no question that better leadership and sensible policies would help many African states and excuses are no substitute for good governance.

But Obama needs to walk a fine line in his Saturday speech, because a dispassionate analysis makes it virtually indisputable to claim that Western policies don't hurt African economies. His speech earlier this week came at the summit of the G-8, an organization whose trade policies have done far more to hurt African economies than to help them. Through the G-8, the WTO, and the Bretton Woods institutions, the United States and other Western countries engage in horribly unfair trade practices against most African states. My government's subsidies to American farmers makes it virtually impossible for African farmers to compete in American markets; the insistence by World Bank that African states not subsidize domestic industry is a double standard of the worst kind.

What's more, African states often have no say in the economic policies they are forced to adapt - and they are almost never treated as equal, credible participants in international trade negotiations. There are countless examples of African states being left out of closed-door WTO discussions that directly affect their ability to prosper. Economic neo-colonialism is alive and well.

Does it matter? In short, yes. As Joseph Stiglitz points out in a brilliant Vanity Fair piece, elites in developing countries are well aware of the double standards to which they are subjected, and watching the U.S. refuse to use the same sorts of measures it forces on other countries during their economic crises on itself may push some of those elites towards other economic systems that will lead to human suffering. Obama would do a much greater service to the continent's people by acknowledging how deeply unfair my country's trade practices are and by committing to moving toward negotiations that treat African states not as children to be disciplined, but as mature countries with educated elites who know how to run an economy.

Obama claimed in his speech earlier this week that he probably knows as much about Africa than any previous president. That's true, but it's also not saying much. American policy makers have a long tradition of almost willful ignorance about what really happens on the continent and how the U.S. should - or should not - be involved there. I am not hopeful about this administration's policies towards the continent; sending weapons to Somalia and suggesting that noticing the effects of neo-colonial and paternalistic policies amounts to excuse-making suggests that Obama is headed in the same direction as his predecessors. Here's hoping he proves me wrong on Saturday.

(Photo: Obama kanga from Tanzania, available for purchase from Simply Tanzanian. If anyone has a picture or link of Ghanaian fabric depicting Obama, I'd love to know about it!)

7.09.2009

rape in the FARDC: a catch-22

I have a Congolese friend who has spent the better part of the last two years speaking with Congolese soldiers and rebels in an attempt to get them to stop raping women and girls in the Kivu provinces. It's an impossible job, but my friend handles it with humility and the knowledge that right is on his side. He is a man of extraordinary courage.

My friend's efforts are focused largely on individual change, on convincing soldiers that the women and children they rape are just like their own mothers and sisters and daughters. He sometimes gets permission from the military authorities to do his work and has certainly pressured them to act on the situation, but mostly he just talks to groups of armed men, one by one by one.

I don't know if his efforts have anything to do with the announcement from Congolese military spokesman Col. Leon Richard Kasonga that the Congolese military will no longer tolerate the thousands of rapists within its ranks. The problem, of course, is that Kasonga and the army administration he represents don't have effective control over all the soldiers under their command. When the military hierarchy issues an order, sometimes it is followed by the rank and file and sometimes it is not. The FARDC has virtually no capacity to do much of anything in an organized fashion. Is the FARDC's military courts be capable of providing fair trials to any of its members accused of rape? I sincerely doubt it. Is the civilian justice system? Absolutely not. It's much more likely that those accused of rape will either face a form of mob justice or that they'll be sent home, set free, or kept in the ranks to continue destroying women's lives.

So it's very unclear whether Kasonga's promise to take legal action against guilty members of the FARDC will result in actual punishment for their crimes. It's also unclear what would happen to the FARDC. If they remove all the rapists from their ranks - as they absolutely should - there won't be enough soldiers to establish order throughout the region. Enforcement of the policy will also throw a wrench into the DDR system. You can't integrate former rebels (most of whom are also guilty of rape and numerous other war crimes) into the ranks if unrepentant rapists aren't welcome. It seems that by taking a necessary and important - if unenforcable - step, the Congolese military is backing itself into a horrible Catch-22 situation.

But even if this week's announcement is only symbolic, it is a tiny victory in the fight to protect the women and girls of the eastern Congo. At least the FARDC is finally acknowledging what has been clear for a very long time: that their soldiers are just as guilty as the rest in this war against women. The announcement will encourage one of the bravest people I know. And maybe, just maybe, it will give some small solace to the hundreds of thousands of women and girls he tries so desparately to help.

7.08.2009

living well is the best revenge

Having endured a morning of absolutely atrocious customer service from my price-gouging bank, I really appreciated this little bit of revenge for bad customer service from a passenger who was wronged by United Airlines. Thanks to my friend Jeff (a United employee) for sending it along. Ladies and Gentlement, I present to you a catchy new tune entitled "United Breaks Guitars":


The WSJ is right; United just lost way more than $3500 in bad publicity.

just another word for nothing left to lose

Does anybody really care who attended/sang at/wept outside Michael Jackson's funeral? Yeah, me neither. But from the coverage of every single news outlet over here, you'd think it was the only story out there at the moment. NPR, you have betrayed us. And that's all I have to say about that.

Speaking of betrayal, hype, and people who should probably be in jail, by all accounts, things are a little crazy in Monrovia this week. Not only is the long term political future of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at least theoretically in question (Surprise, surprise - the opposition is calling for her resignation), we're also seeing some very strange bedfellows come together in their mutual opposition to the report's findings and suggestions. Here are two reads from journalists on the ground that are both worth your time:
  • The Esteyonage has a fascinating report about a press conference Monday at which eight competing players in the civil war who were all fingered for prosecution by the TRC have agreed on one thing: they don't recognize the legitimacy of the TRC report and they don't deserve prosecution. Will this turn into an "enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend" type scenario? In my experience looking at how accused war criminals behave once they're being prosecuted, most of them spend opt to cover their own butts rather than worrying about anyone else's. But who knows? That, as Estey notes, the men had some legitimate points about the TRC's failures is a sure sign that this path to reconciliation is anything but normal.
  • Glenna Gordon knocks another one out of the park in an outstanding interview with current Senator/TRC target #1 Prince Johnson, who was late to the aforementioned press conference. Johnson not only provides a rather creative take on Liberian history and an account of his sleeping habits (he snores), but we also learn that he's found Jesus, and that Jesus never looked back, so neither should Johnson. (Of course, Jesus never sat around drinking beer while watching a sitting president get his ear cut off before his execution was filmed, but perhaps that's just a detail in the cosmology of Prince Johnson.) More importantly to war criminal-watchers everywhere, Johnson enlightens us regarding Charles Taylor's recent conversion to Judaism. According to Johnson, Taylor is under the impression that going Jewish will help him "be free" because he thinks that most of the Americans in power are Jews which will somehow help him to gain freedom. Looks like Taylor and Johnson are both in for a tough lesson on the nature of freedom.
I would love to hear from any other readers who are in Liberia and can give us a perspective on the TRC report from the streets of Monrovia or elsewhere. What are normal Liberians saying about it? Leave a comment or shoot me an email and I'll be glad to post interesting observations from the region.

7.07.2009

this & that

  • Kate managed to collect some happy news about the Congo. (I'm not going to be the one to tell her that there have been on-again, off-again plans to build a bridge between Brazzaville and Kinshasa for quite awhile, but maybe it will actually happen. It might actually be a really bad idea, seeing as bridges make it easier for mischief-makers, smugglers, and rebel leaders to ply their trades.)
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf responds to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report that may ban her from future participation in politics.
  • Aggressive, comprehensive, community-based approaches to combating HIV/AIDS in Haiti worked.
  • Surfers, Liberia may just be your spot.
  • Nigeria's MEND takes hostage a ship's crew. They're being called "militants" rather than "pirates." Why? Because a pirate is only in it for private gain, and they usually stay onboard a ship while holding their hostages.
  • Oh, mercy me, this is a brilliant profile of Sarah Palin's own private crazytown.
  • Sarah Vowell makes the case for keeping the "and Providence Plantations" part of Rhode Island's name.
  • Well, you don't see this headline every day.
  • A thirteen-year-old reviews the original Walkman, now 30 years old.

7.06.2009

the liberia question

The few American Africa-watchers who hadn't already left their posts for the 4th of July holiday on Friday were all abuzz over the news that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had apparently been banned from holding public office for thirty years by the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC organization was tasked with exposing crimes committed during the country's 2+ decades of on-again, off-again civil war. Johnson Sirleaf, who supported Charles Taylor against Samuel Doe in the 1980's, and then the LURD against Taylor in the 1990's, was apparently therefore considered to have committed war crimes because of her support for Taylor. Not expressing regret over those actions was apparently enough to land her on the list of politicians banned from holding future office in Liberia.

Or that's how it was initially. Since the report's release last Tuesday (and the firestorm of criticism that followed), the TRC retracted its report. What will happen next seems by all accounts to be completely unclear.

What does all this mean? As Chris Blattman points out, for one thing, it serves as a good lesson for Westerners that there are very few angels or demons in politics everywhere, including African countries. (As he also notes, how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would purport to enforce the ban is far from clear.) It is almost always more complicated than it seems.

Glenna Gordon at Scarlett Lion has a great piece that explains what happened and why in much greater detail. Can any readers with Liberia expertise enlighten us further?

7.04.2009

hey, baby



Unfortunately, this is the best quality audio I could find for this song. Happy 4th, everybody.

7.03.2009

outstanding

From The Guardian via Chris Blattman, possibly the best Africa policy blunder ever:
"It probably seemed a good idea at the time. But Russia's attempt to create a joint gas venture with Nigeria is set to become one of the classic branding disasters of all time ‑ after the new company was named Nigaz."

really helpful

Here's a great list of resources on the rape crisis in the Congo, including this one on locally-driven responses to the situation. Thanks to Michael Kleinman over at Humanitarian Relief for compiling it.

7.02.2009

this & that

  • My friend Melissa is running an institute called the Global Feminist Theologies Project in Kenya at the moment. The project involves feminist theologians and theology students from Kenya and the U.S. They are defying every stereotype out there about Christianity in Africa and the role of women in African societies. Check out their blog here.
  • Bet Kibaki & Odinga didn't plan for this: here's evidence that the experience of political violence makes women sex workers more likely to engage in high-risk behavior. And higher risk behavior will likely translate to an increase in the HIV seropositive rate down the line. (HT: Chris Blattman)
  • My friend Jonny has some really interesting thoughts on the Israeli settlements issue. He argues that they should not be an obstacle to negotiations.
  • Here's an interesting reflection on measuring state failure from someone who clearly doesn't know much about academic definitions of state failure. He makes a good point, however, in noting that North Korea shouldn't be ranked on a "state failure" metric. The problem in North Korea is that the state is too strong. I prefer to stick with the "Are they still bottling Coca-Cola and beer?" metric. It's parsimonious and generally accurate.
  • Les sapeurs put on a fashion show in Joburg.

7.01.2009

what to do in the congo

The 49th anniversary of Congo's independence passed largely without incident, unless of course you consider the deaths of the 1200 men, women, and children who died yesterday (as 1200 people do every day) to be an "incident." We still don't know where Nkunda is (beyond that he's certainly living in luxury somewhere in Rwanda), nor do we know whether the Rwandans will ever admit that they have no intentions of returning him to the Congo or sending him to the Hague to face prosecution for his crimes.

Rape in the Congo is back in the news. A focus group survey of 236 women and girls in IDP camps in the Kivus revealed that almost 50% of them either had been raped or had a close friend or relative who had been raped. (The fact that they are in IDP camps certainly skews the results a bit, but the truth is that the insecurity in the camps and that in the countryside isn't terribly different.) We also have even more depressing news about rapes that occurred during an attempted prison break in Goma. And Eve Ensler is pitching a fit in the WaPo about the world not paying attention to UN Security Council Resolution 1820 with respect to Congolese women.

Bless her heart. Ensler seems to be under the impression that Security Council resolutions are normally worth more than the paper on which they're printed. Resolution 1820 specifically calls for the UN and its member states to respond to the use of rape as a weapon of war. A year after its passage, the rape crisis in the DRC is still as bad as ever. What's Ensler's solution?
"Resolution 1820 must be enforced with seriousness by the Security Council and the secretary general. Arrests need to be made immediately of known rapists and war criminals at the highest levels. The United Nations must stop supporting military actions, because they are doomed in Congo. And the root economic causes of the war need to be addressed with the leaders of countries in Africa's Great Lakes region who commit violence to reap benefits from Congo's minerals, as well as their Western corporate partners. They, too, are liable for these atrocities."
All of these things sound good on the surface. But none of them will solve the problem. That's because the root of the rape crisis isn't an economic problem, nor is it a crisis of leadership. And it has very little to do with what the UN is or isn't doing. The basic problem in the eastern Congo is a crisis of governance and the failure of any government or rebel force to take full control of territory. All of the warring parties (and the peacekeeping force) are too weak to do so. Therefore the territory languishes in a semi-anarchic state, with some areas under the firm control of local authorities and others under none.

The unfortunate truth is much harder to digest. Rape happens in the eastern Congo because it can. It turns out that when all mechanisms of social control break down and there are no consequences beyond a guilty consciece, young men with weapons and the promise of impunity will behave like animals. Cutting the supply chains to the coltan mines or convincing American consumers to stop buying iPhones will not change this fact. Nor will arresting and convicting people like Bosco Ntaganda, who certainly deserves it. There will always be another Nkunda, another Ntaganda to take their places. Nor will the enforcement of vaguely worded UN resolutions.

The only way to end the crisis in the DR Congo - and to allow its women and girls to live in peace and health - is to settle the governance problem once and for all. As we discuss regularly on this blog, doing so is an almost impossible task. But here are a few steps that would be more realistic and might even be more likely to lead to lasting change:
  • I actually agree with Ensler that MONUC should stop "supporting" the FARDC's missions. In reality, MONUC does most of the work on these operations anyway, but legitimating the band of uniformed war criminals that is the DRC's national army typically causes massive civilian suffering. Forget all this nonsense about capacity-building. The FARDC has more than proved that it is incapable of being a functional army that protects civilians. Until a real force of professional soldiers can be trained by experts and paid by the states, they shouldn't have a functioning role.
  • Instead, the UN should commit to making MONUC as large as it needs to be to secure the territory on its own, or another peacekeeping organization should partner with MONUC to do the same. That means finding, at a bare minimum, 100,000 well-trained and equipped troops. (The odds of that actually happening are slim to none. But I am convinced that nothing else will work in the short to medium run.)
  • MONUC's forces should have a mandate to independently hunt down and destroy destabilizing rebel movements. They should also actively provide policing services in cities and towns that are not able to do so independently. (Is it neo-colonial to suggest this? Probably. But the FARDC is a disaster. Does anyone have a better idea that would actually work?)
  • The FARDC should be trained, professionalized, and purged of war criminals. Efforts should be made to recruit outstanding high school and university graduates who otherwise face chronic unemployment into the ranks to provide real leadership. Anti-rape education must become a critical - and repeated - part of the training process.
  • The methods of paying FARDC soldiers should be radically changed. The international community already donates money to pay soldiers' salaries, but soldiers in the field rarely receive their pay. This is because Kinshasa insists that all funds come through Kinshasa first. The only reason Kinshasa does so is to allow everyone in the leadership chain to have the chance to skim a little off the top. Those disbursing the funds should stop pretending that Kinshasa is a credible partner and directly transfer the money for soldiers to the provincial capitals, where a team of non-Congolese African military experts should be responsible for distributing salaries directly to soldiers posted in each province.
  • If this all works (and that's a huge "if"), at some point it should become possible to begin joint operations between MONUC and the FARDC that will actually serve the public interest, with the goal of handing over military control to the FARDC at some point in the future.
  • Meanwhile, the root causes of the conflict - land disputes and citizenship rights - need to be sorted out. This means getting the courts functioning and creating an enforcement mechanism for implementing court decisions about land claims. It also means guaranteeing the citizenship rights of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese, which should involve a massive public education campaign. This won't solve all of the problems, but it would be a start.
  • In the provision of public goods other than security, the international community needs to work with local organizations who are already providing efficient, quality services rather than pretending that government institutions are the best entities with which to cooperate. Most government health and education institutions are already being run by third parties (in particular, churches and mosques). International donors should work with these communities to implement positive, locally conceived solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
  • Local solutions, proposed by community leaders and the victims of violence, should be privileged in conversations about what needs to be done on almost every issue. Goodness knows the army of international experts (myself included) who pontificate on the DRC have proven that we don't know how to solve the country's problems. Let's give people who might a chance, and let's take their suggestions seriously for once.
By no means will any of these suggestions solve the crisis in the eastern Congo. But recognizing that the situation there is fundamentally a problem of the breakdown of government and governance helps us to think about far more realistic solutions that might have a chance of working.