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

11.30.2009

since China doesn't have one...

Score one for Tony Blair:
The Commonwealth has admitted Rwanda as its 54th member.

The African country was admitted at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, a statement from the group said.
The benefits of Commonwealth membership for Rwanda are obvious: increased legitimacy, possible economic opportunities, and one more way to tell France to go suck an egg.

(Although interestingly, what was the first thing Rwanda did after finding out the Commonwealth wanted them? They restored diplomatic ties with France. Mmm-hmm.)

What I can't figure out is how this benefits the Commonwealth. What do they gain by admitting yet another country that does not allow its citizens basic political freedoms? There's an argument that Commonwealth membership might better position its members to pressure Rwanda over things like, oh, say, allowing opposition presidential candidates into the country to campaign for next year's elections, establishing free speech and press freedom, stopping the theft of Congolese mineral wealth, or ceasing the funding of armed groups that wreak chaos in the Kivus. (Or to explain to the RPF in very clear terms that no one still believes that opposition to the RPF equates to support for the genocidaires.)

But that argument rings hollow when we consider how ineffective other Commonwealth efforts to pressure member states into behaving have been. (Zimbabwe, anyone?) Somehow I don't think much of anything will change with Rwanda's entry into the Commonwealth.

11.25.2009

this & that: links to tide you over

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in the U.S. of A. We'll be back to the regular posting schedule on Monday.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Two Ituri warlords went on trial at the ICC this week. From the BBC story:
Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are accused of directing an attack on the village of Bogoro in 2003 in which more than 200 people were killed.

They face charges of ordering attacks on civilians, sexual slavery, rape, and enlisting child soldiers.

Both deny the allegations and have expressed sympathy for the victims.

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo opened the case against them saying they had tried to wipe out the village of Bogoro.

"Some [villagers] were shot dead in their sleep, some cut up by machetes to save bullets," he said.

"Others were burned alive after their houses were set on fire by the attackers."

He described the two defendants as "the top commanders of the troops that killed, raped and pillaged".

"They used children as soldiers, they killed more than 200 civilians in a few hours, they raped women; girls and the elderly, they looted the entire village and they transformed women into sex slaves," he said.

...Mr Katanga and Mr Ngudjolo are accused of leading ethnic Lendu and Ngiti fighters against the UPC.

Prosecutors says their goal was to "erase" the village, mainly populated by ethnic Hema, in the mineral-rich Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Here's hoping justice will finally be served for the people of Ituri, and that Ocampo's prosecution team can manage to avoid the problems that have plagued the Lubanga trial.

11.24.2009

this & that

  • al-Shabab took control of the southern town of Afmadow over the weekend.
  • Two French aid workers with Triangle have been kidnapped in the Central African Republic.
  • Owen Barder has a post on the Great Ethiopian Run of 2009.
  • Fourteen Americans have been charged with involvement in al-Shabab in Somalia.
  • We now have great data on voter turnout in 2008.
  • Yale-Harvard was a travesty this year. That's all I have to say about that.
  • Not telling kids "no" is a parenting trend? Seriously?!?
  • If the statement, "A linux cluster is safe in entropy-reducing decision boundaries, but that's not what linux clusters are for" is funny to you, then you should be following @FakeGaryKing on Twitter (HT to the real Gary King and Chris Albon).
  • 11.23.2009

    report from the ASA

    I spent the weekend in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association. Some political scientists skip ASA, but I really enjoy it. It's a chance to hear research not only in my field, but also from other disciplines like history and anthropology from which I don't normally get to keep up with all the latest research. It's also nice to have people from other disciplines in the audience when you're presenting a paper; we got great feedback and suggestions on the pirate paper precisely because of this factor.

    Given the huge turnout at Saturday's 7am meeting of the African Politics Conference Group, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who sees benefits from involvement in the ASA. Here are a few highlights of research that I heard, as well as some other news:
    • Cyril Obi of the Nordic Africa Institute gave a wonderful (and hilarious) paper on weak democratic consolidation in West Africa. He argued that what looks like backsliding to non-democratic behavior is actually just an indication that most West African states never truly consolidated their democracies. My favorite quote was to the effect that expecting democracy from above in West Africa is akin to expecting "wolves [to give] birth to lambs." I can't wait for the publication of this one.
    • UC Berkeley grad student Dan Fahy gave a great paper on Uganda's role in the eastern Congo since 2003. There's been so much work on what Uganda did in Ituri, etc. during the war, but very little on recent developments, so this is much-welcomed research.
    • UT Austin professor Alan Kuperman presented a provocative paper on Rwanda in which he contended that the 1994 genocide was essentially a counterinsurgency move in response to the perceived presence of a 5th column of disloyal Tutsis in the country. It's part of a larger project that seeks to explain why regimes do or do not attack civilians during civil war. Keep an eye out for this one.
    • Grad students, the APCG voted to establish a graduate student paper prize of $100. One will be awarded annually to the best paper on African politics presented at the ASA, ISA, or APSA. Be sure to nominate the best papers you hear on the topic!
    • In non-ASA news, a grad school colleague forwarded a late-season job announcement my way last week. If you're on the job market as an Africanist political scientist and would be interested in teaching at a liberal arts college on the east coast, shoot me an email and I'll forward you the details.
    I also enjoyed meeting a few Texas in Africa readers at the conference. Some of us are talking about having a blogger/blog reader meetup at the ISA in February. Email me if you're interested in participating, and I'll post details as we get closer to the time.

    11.20.2009

    this & that

    11.19.2009

    arrrrghn't you glad it's thursday

    It's been a big week in Somali piracy. A few of the latest events:
    • Wednesday, the Maersk Alabama was attacked again. This time, private security guards repelled the attack. As Roger Middleton of Chatham House notes in the article, private security is really the only sensible way for shipping companies to assure the safety of their cargo and crews these days.
    • Tuesday, 36 crew members of the Alakrana, a Spanish tuna boat, were set free, apparently on the payment of a three million dollar-plus ransom. It sounds from news reports as though the Spanish government paid the ransom. Daniel Sekulich has some thoughts on the implications of that decision.
    • The captain of a ship seized near the Seychelles died on Tuesday, apparently from wounds suffered during the takeover of his ship. Hostage deaths are highly unusual for the pirates for a very simple reason: dead hostages aren't worth as much ransom money as living ones. That gives us good reason to believe that the pirates didn't simply execute him and that their claim that he was wounded in the attack is probably correct.
    I'll be giving our paper on Somali pirate organizations and their relationship to local governance structures at the African Studies Association meeting this weekend. It's still in very rough form, but we're hoping to get good feedback as we move this paper forward. If any of you will be there, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    11.18.2009

    this & that

    11.17.2009

    hypocrisy & EG

    Kudos to the New York Times' Ian Urbina for pointing out the State Department's blatant hypocrisy on Equatorial Guinean affairs (emphasis mine):

    Several times every year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.

    The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its ruler, even though federal law enforcement officials believe “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption related to the extensive oil and gas reserves discovered more than a decade and a half ago off the coast of his tiny West African country, according to internal Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents.

    And they are open despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving an American visa. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it.

    Theoretically, U.S. policy towards all of the African continent involves support for democratization, human rights, and good governance. That policy has long been ignored with respect to oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, where one family has been in power since 1979. The Obiang family and the regime (which are one and the same) suppress dissent, torture and murder their political opponents, and fail to distribute the benefits of the country's oil wealth to its population.

    It is an horrific situation, and while I expect this sort of blind-eye-turning from ExxonMobil and the politicians they support, the Obama administration has a responsibility to do better. Keeping the Obiang family out of the United States is just one of many, many necessary steps that should be taken to ensure a peaceful and stable future for Equatorial Guinea and its people.

    For more information on the human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea, I highly recommend Well Oiled, a report from Human Rights Watch. Anything written by Tutu Alicante, an Equatorial Guinean activist in exile who heads up EG Justice is also useful. Nicholas Shaxon also has a good chapter on the country's oil industry in his book, Poisoned Wells.

    11.16.2009

    shameless blegging

    Some of my students have asked for a list of books that a well-read, internationally-focused political science major should have covered by the end of undergrad. (I know. It's almost like they want to learn or something.) I'm compiling a list of books in all areas, but especially with a focus on international relations, comparative politics, humanitarian aid, development, genocide, state failure, African politics, and the Cold War, because these are the things I know a little about.

    But what about the rest of the wide world? This, dear readers, is where you come in. What books would you recommend on any of the above topics, as well as Afghanistan, Iraq, civil-military relations, China, political theory, or anything else that is:
    • 1) accessible to smart, capable undergraduates, and
    • 2) something they need to have read before they head out to graduate school or careers in diplomacy, aid work, consulting, or any other of a myriad of international careers?
    I'll post the list here when it's fully compiled so you can feel free to use it for yourself or (if you have them) students.

    what would end piracy?

    The BBC's Africa Have Your Say program recently hosted a discussion on the following topic:
    Piracy off the coast of Somalia cost $30m in ransoms last year and at least seven vessels and about 179 crew members remain in pirate hands. But has the international response been tough enough?

    The high-seas hijackings continue despite an international armada of 40 warships using modern technology such as laser rays capable of dazzling attacking pirates up to a kilometre away.

    Yet piracy persists, with 130 attempted hijackings in the first six months of 2009.

    Does the world need to take a much tougher stance to stop the pirates? Should countries and owners of captured vessels stop paying ransoms? What would you do to stop the Somali pirates? Are there vested interests standing in the way of permanent solutions?
    You can check out responses to this question from people all over the continent here.

    I'd argue that the reason the response to the pirates has largely been effective is that piracy isn't really the problem here. Young Somali men only become pirates because they don't have other employment options. Why don't they have other options? Because basic security is not guaranteed, nobody's going to start a serious business there. And why isn't basic security guaranteed? Because the state is non-functional.

    Treating symptoms like freely operating organized crime won't cure the disease of state failure. Tightening security may make piracy more difficult for its perpetrators. The refusal to pay ransoms isn't a realistic option; those ships and their cargo are worth millions, and the pirates (and the shipping companies and the K&R insurance industry) all know it. And so it goes.

    11.13.2009

    miss fort lamy runs for office

    The U.S. isn't the only place in which a scandal featuring beauty queens is big news:
    On the wall of her small apartment, above the striped sofa, a single black and white photo is testament to her success in 1966 when she was picked as the most beautiful woman in the Chadian capital.

    But 40 years later, her success was soured by the appearance of a rival. Helene Adda, who is apparently Fatime’s friend, claimed at the launch of the modern version of the competition in 2007 that in fact she was the winner from 1966. The two women went on to have a very public row about who won, and by extension perhaps, who is the more beautiful.

    “I know that a coup was launched, and I’ve done everything I can to make it clear what happened, because I was Miss Fort Lamy 1966!” says Fatime, and she has indeed done everything - taking the matter to court last year. In the end she was proclaimed the real Miss Fort Lamy 1966, reclaiming her crown and seeing to it that Helene was demoted to the less glamorous Miss Sport 1966.

    But still she does not feel completely vindicated – she’s now complaining that the £3000 awarded to her as compensation from the Chadian state has yet to be paid.

    “The only value of the five thousand dollars for me is the respect of men. Because I’m a woman, and for us women the most important thing is our honour” she concludes, adding that she intends to stand for parliament next year.
    That's from Celeste Hicks' wonderful blog on Chad.

    this & that

    11.12.2009

    air crash in Kigali

    From the excellent reporting team at Uganda Talks:
    There are reports coming in that a JetLink flight has crashed at the Kigali Airport shortly after takeoff. The plane was bound for Nairobi. The plane reported mechanical problems shortly after takeoff, turned around and crash landed, hitting the VIP lounge causing damage both to the lounge and the plane.

    Unknown number of casualties. Ambulances are on site.

    Update 1:

    The plane was a 50-seater Canadian jet, model 100crj, leased by JetLink to Rwanda Air. After some conflicting reports we have verified that the plane was heading for Entebbe.

    According to Ephraim Kamonjo, a representative from Jetlink, the plane crashed, nose-first, into the pavilion of the VIP lounge, while taxiing to the runway.

    The pilot and co-pilot, and some people in the VIP lounge have been reportedly injured.
    I've taken that flight. More than once. If you're not an aid worker (which means you can't fly with the Red Cross or the humanitarian airlines) and can't fly MONUC because of an inflexible, heartless bureaucrat who refuses to give scholars MOP's even though MONUC in Kinshasa says it's FINE, RwandAir Express is one of the only ways to get to Entebbe from the region. (The alternative is TMK's commercial service, which puddle jumps through a series of radar-lacking airports in foggy mountains and valleys up the eastern edge of the DRC.)

    RwandAir Express always provided excellent service when I flew with them. Their staff are courteous and super-professional, and, unlike the vast majority of flights in the region, they generally depart and arrive on time. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this situation.

    UPDATE: Uganda's New Vision has a detailed story on the crash. I'm sure there will be more information come morning in central Africa.

    11.11.2009

    an intervention that worked


    If you're in the United States, you no doubt noticed that Tuesday marked the fortieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Sesame Street. Memories of watching this public broadcast program as children is something that almost all Americans have in common. We all watched. It's how many of us learned to count, recognize the letters of the alphabet, and speak some rudimentary Spanish. It was often funny, sometimes sad, and always educational.

    What you might not know about Sesame Street is that it was deliberately conceived as an educational intervention to help low-income, minority children. I read the history of Sesame Street yesterday and found it to have some very interesting characteristics:
    • It was highly targeted. While Sesame Street was and continues to be widely viewed by Americans of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, the program was very specifically developed to teach minority preschoolers. In the era in which integration of the public schools was an ongoing process, many children whose parents and grandparents had been excluded from higher education (and, in many cases, full and adequate primary and secondary schooling), the show aimed to fill the gaps by specifically targeting low-income, minority children. Thus, the show's creators set it not in an idyllic suburb, but on an urban street. Its characters did not live in mansions or fancy high-rises, but in basic apartments. Sesame Street was conceived as an intervention that would help poor and minority children who might not have the opportunity to attend preschools the chance to be on par with their peers on the first day of elementary school.
    • It challenged norms. Sesame Street was one of the first programs on television - and the first program aimed at children - to feature a multiracial cast. Its introduction was one of the first times that minority children got to see characters who looked like themselves on television - and it was definitely the first time that those children were interacting with white characters. The state of Mississippi initially tried to ban its broadcast because of this integration. There were also protests that the show featured strong, independent single women who found personal and career fulfillment outside of family and household management.
    • It was data-driven. From the beginning, the lessons taught on Sesame Street and the way in which they were taught was overseen by a team of academic experts. They consistently looked at minority achievement gaps and targeted the lessons accordingly. The show was developed over the course of more than a year, and its methods were tested on children in laboratories
    • Effects of the program were monitored over the long-term. Sesame Street's education experts knew when their program was effective and when it was not. Outside studies found empirical evidence that children who watched the program consistently learned more than those who did not.
    • Adjustments were made over time & across cultures. The world has changed since 1969, and so has Sesame Street. The program responded to changes in technology and to new research that showed that younger viewers were watching, meaning a narrative approach to its story lines was necessary. The show is also broadcast in multiple languages all over the world, and its creators responded accordingly. Sesame Street did not take a "one size fits all" approach. The most famous example of this cultural sensitivity was the 2002 introduction of Kami, an HIV+ muppet on South Africa's Takalani Sesame. Kami is relevant to South African culture and is a wonderful way to explain a difficult subject to young children, hundreds of thousands of whom have to deal with the effects of her disease on their families themselves. Even before Kami's introduction, Takalani Sesame was an important part of the effort to make South Africa a truly multicultural society. Its episodes teach children to cooperate, to value diversity, and to be kind to everyone.
    • It worked. Are there still disparities in our education system, especially between low-income and minority children and high-income, white children? Yes. Of course. But how much worse would the situation be were so many young children not exposed to basic lessons about the world around them? Sesame Street has served a purpose by using proven research to target a specific problem in a specific population.
    Hmmm. A highly targeted, norm-challenging, data-driven, culturally relevant intervention to help a specific population that worked? Dare I say that those of us who care about development and humanitarian assistance could learn something from Sesame Street, even as adults?

    (Picture: via The Mirror)

    11.10.2009

    this & that

    11.09.2009

    Alex de Waal has a fascinating post on the way technology is making the Darfur war more efficient. Much in the way that the development of the Gatling gun and the development of nuclear weapons completely changed the nature of warfare, new technology is making it easier for commanders in the field to coordinate actions, negotiate, and transfer resources, while simultaneously impeding the ability of those at the top to control what their subordinates do.

    In the Darfur case, the culprit is the Thuraya satellite phone:
    Desert warfare, as practiced by the Chadians and Darfurians, is based on mobility and surprise. The Landcruiser is the basic unit of military force. The possession of a Thuraya elevates a commander into a potential leader.

    Tactical coordination is key to a successful operation. Before the Thuraya phone, guerrilla operations needed tight discipline and extremely careful planning. More often, the commanders gambled on surprise and the momentum of battle, relying on their prowess in combat to carry the day. Today, with the Thuraya phone, commanders in distant theatres can coordinate their actions. Or they can assemble forces from different places at very short order. They only need to agree on that day’s operation—tomorrow’s can be planned tomorrow.

    A commander with a handful of Landcruisers and a Thuraya is essentially autonomous at a tactical level. It is possible for commanders who formally belong to different factions to coordinate a joint operation at very short notice. Their superiors can do little about it. And it happens.

    Airtime is a precious commodity and can be transmitted from one Thuraya to another. Money can be sent too. Instant communication can be backed up by instant resources. Hierarchical command and control over a dispersed force becomes difficult.

    Warfare in these places is also a livelihood and a means for political bargaining. Before telecommunications, political bargains had to be negotiated face to face. And once a bargain was made, say between a tribal leader and a provincial governor, it was difficult for the chief to renegotiate or to seek out another patron. The pace of political renegotiation was slow. The Thuraya has revolutionalized the bargaining process, and allowed the chief, or rebel commander, to conduct several negotiations in parallel. He can monitor the marketplace, weigh up his options, and renegotiate his deals rapidly.
    If only the advantages of better communications and coordination could be used for more productive tasks.

    11.06.2009

    the 11/3 project

    The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
    The 11/3 Project
    www.thedailyshow.com
    Daily Show
    Full Episodes
    Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

    this & that

    11.05.2009

    Now, just imagine you're weightless, in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by tiny little seahorses

    Uncredited photo of Joseph Kabila from the Congolese Ministry of Finance website, which I reached via this entertaining analysis of the country's 2009 first trimester budget.

    know-nothings

    Oh, you knew this was coming:
    The UN was wrong to withdraw backing from government troops fighting rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo, the country's information minister says.

    Lambert Mende Omalanga told the BBC he knew nothing about the alleged killing of 62 civilians by the army - the reason the UN gave for its move.
    Of course His Excellency M. Omalanga doesn't know anything about the alleged killing of sixty-two innocent people by soldiers in his government's army. That's because nobody in his government actually controls what those particular units of the army do. You can't control a force you don't control.

    I'm nearing the end of my rope when it comes to the continued implementation of failed security sector reform policies in the D.R. Congo. DDR, Kimia II, buying camcorders - all these ideas clearly won't work, but since nobody's had any better ideas, MONUC and the donor states keep pursuing them. Meanwhile civilian suffering continues to mount to an almost inconceivable degree.

    But I am encouraged that lately there have been some better ideas for addressing the Kivu security crisis floating around out there. Jason Stearns proposes a few in this blog post, including the getting MONUC troops directly involved in planning and carrying out FARDC operations so MONUC can keep an eye on things, arresting FDLR supporters living outside of the region (many of whom finance the group's operations), and offering those FDLR officers who were not involved in the Rwandan genocide a peaceful way to leave the movement.

    These are sensible ideas that could actually be implemented without much trouble, and they should be taken quite seriously by those of you who get to make these decisions. In the short term, suspending Kimia II and withdrawing logistical and other forms of support from Congolese army units are the best things MONUC could do to ensure that the civilian population is protected.

    11.04.2009

    magical twilight?

    Louisa Lombard has some interesting thoughts from the field on the nature of the state in the Central African Republic:
    "...the CAR state appears absent, too. It does nothing for long-distance trade and travel besides impose roadblocks and fees (arguably impeding these processes more than anything else). It has an impressive capacity to demand rents, but it does not collect taxes in any kind of standardized or all-encompassing way. (There is a tax code, and the tax collector here does seem to follow it to the extent he can. But that covers only the more-formalized sector of the economy.)

    "Still, describing the state here as weak, or describing it in terms of the things it does not do, is not very useful. For despite its apparent “lacks” the state here is pretty powerful. But its power lies less in the rational-bureaucratic mode of operating that Weber believed the state to incarnate, but rather leans more heavily on a “magical” mode of operating...

    "I'm not satisfied with this word “magical,” but I'm having trouble replacing it. I would like to somehow encompass how the state here can be both the source of so many problems and yet simultaneously held out as the great hope and problem-solver by many people. People's orientation to the state has more of what a secular Western observer such as myself would label a religious character than anything else."
    Lombard's thoughts made me think of two things. First was Christian Lund's work on what he terms "twilight institutions." The "twilight institution" as he defines it refers to the trappings of a state that remain even in the state's essential absence. It's a useful way to think about why, for example, there's still a guy who issues drivers' licenses in Goma even though whether or not one has a driver's license is largely irrelevant for almost any of the realities of negotiating traffic there (Unless one stops when the police wave one over. Then the lack of a driver's license becomes the excuse for a bribe that would have been paid anyway.).

    What Lombard describes also reflects the general view of the state in the eastern Congo. Despite Jeff Herbst and Gregory Mills' suggestions to the contrary, people in the eastern DRC really want the state to work, and believe that one day it will. They don't want to secede or to become a semi-autonomous region. They want the state to do the things a state is supposed to do. Part of that may be a reaction to the perceived expansionist tendencies of some of their neighbors; it's entirely possible that the strong support for the Congolese state derives from an assumption that the alternative is to live under Rwandan rule.

    But I think there's something else going on there, something having to do with a deep-seated, psychological attachment to the state. I've mentioned before that when asking the eastern Congolese as to why they have such a strong national identity, most reply that it's the one good legacy Mobutu left them. Historical precedent could explain it, but we're well into a period in which the vast majority Congolese adults today weren't around in the era when Mobutu's rule was beneficial.

    What do you think? Have you seen this phenomenon of an almost religious or mystical attachment to the idea of a non-functioning state elsewhere in the world?

    11.03.2009

    this & that

    taking a stand

    Oh, MONUC, your unique system of logic never ceases to amaze and appall me:

    The UN has withdrawn its support for an army unit in Democratic Republic of Congo, accusing soldiers of killing 62 civilians, a top UN official says.

    UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said he had information that the army had "clearly targeted" the civilians.

    That's right. MONUC will suspend its involvement with ONE UNIT of the FARDC because its soldiers apparently killed 62 civilians in Lukweti.

    Never mind the abundant evidence that most of the FARDC units operating in the east have killed, raped, and looted from countless civilians all over the eastern Congo in the last five years, or that the rate of atrocities skyrocked due to the ten-month (so far!), UN-backed Kimia II operation. Civilians have suffered far more direct harm from the FARDC than have any of the region's rebels, insurgents, or troublemakers.

    The sad part of this is that the Congolese government, the Rwandan government, MONUC, the DPKO, and the Security Council are all well aware that the FARDC is the east's main problem at the moment. Everybody knows that getting this settled will require the action of an independent peacekeeping force that has a broad mandate for civilian protection and that can conduct operations without (and even, if necessary, against) the national army. Pretending that cutting ties to one unit will substantially improve the situation is ridiculous.

    11.02.2009

    Big news this weekend from what remains the single most pro-American place I've ever been:
    Thousands of ethnic Albanians braved low temperatures and a cold wind in Kosovo's capital Pristina to welcome former President Bill Clinton on Sunday as he attended the unveiling of an 11-foot (3.5-meter) statue of himself on a key boulevard that also bears his name.

    Clinton is celebrated as a hero by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority for launching NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 that stopped the brutal Serb forces' crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians...

    ''I never expected that anywhere, someone would make such a big statue of me,'' Clinton said of the gold-sprayed statue weighing a ton (900 kilograms).
    In other tourism news, I will apparently (possibly?) be able to spend yet another "spring break in a post-conflict zone" in East Timor. Just as soon as they build a few more hotel rooms.