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

12.21.2009

peace on earth

Texas in Africa is on hiatus until January 4. I'll leave you with these lyrics from one of my favorite carols. They've always seemed appropriate for those of use whose lives involve too much war and not enough time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. May your holidays be filled with peace and joy.

And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

12.18.2009

just in case it wasn't obvious

The U.S. State Department would like us to be VERY CLEAR that they doesn't support Somalia's pirates. I guess our navy's attempts to hunt down & kill or capture Somalia's pirates wasn't a clear enough signal to our enemies that we don't like pirates. Given that American policy regarding the pirates has never been sympathetic to the "we're just protecting our coastline" argument, maybe we should just chalk up this very official fact sheet to the annals of what happens when it's almost vacation time. That makes me feel better than considering the possibility that the Somalia desk interns were left in charge.
Pirates who prey on international shipping along the Horn of Africa and even more distant waters have claimed that their actions are motivated by illegal fishing in Somali waters. This is a spurious justification for criminal behavior.

· The United States and the international community stand with Somalia in countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing wherever it occurs.

· Pirates continue to conduct violent attacks up to 1,000 miles and more from Somalia’s shores on private yachts, passenger cruise liners, and commercial vessels such as tankers and container ships that are clearly not involved in fishing.

· The pirates are typically armed with military assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and are equipped with sophisticated global positioning devices and satellite phones. Their criminality is financed by individuals hoping to receive millions of dollars in ransom for the crews and ships that are seized successfully.

· Innocent mariners have been killed and wounded during some assaults. Others remain hostage for weeks or months as their pirate captors bargain for their freedom.

· Piracy also harms millions of Somalis others throughout East Africa who rely upon food assistance from the United States and the World Food Program, which is delivered by ships that have been menaced and even seized on occasion by these sea-borne criminals.

· The United States understands that piracy’s roots are on shore, and supports a comprehensive approach to address poverty, governance, and instability in Somalia, conditions that are conducive to piracy.

· This approach should include strategies for economic development, pressuring local governance to take action against known pirate havens, and environmental conservation and fisheries management, including protection of sovereign fishing rights. Ultimately, restoring the rule of law will help the Somali Transitional Federal Government to bring pirates and other armed criminals to justice.

The United States and 44 other nations and seven international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, are working together through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (www.state.gov/t/pm/ppa/piracy/contactgroup/index.htm) to develop and implement anti-piracy measures.
Well, I feel better. How about you?
Thanks to @andrewmjones for the tip.

12.17.2009

at last

Kimia II ends at last. The civilian death toll stands at about 1400.
Alan Doss told the UN Security Council that the campaign in the east of the country had "largely achieved" its goal of weakening the Rwandan Hutu rebels.

The operation was criticised by rights groups, who accuse Congolese government troops of killing and raping civilians.

UN experts had said the campaign failed to dismantle militia infrastructure.

But Mr Doss declared that had not been the objective, as the rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), is deeply entrenched in eastern Congo.

He did acknowledge there was a dilemma at the heart of the peacekeeping mandate to both protect civilians and work with an undisciplined Congolese army.

It's hard to tell if Kimia II will be worth it in the short or long runs. We know that the mission weakened the FDLR to some extent, but the leadership does not appear to be much closer to agreeing to disarm, return to Rwanda, or even simply to stop its campaign of terror against civilians than it was a year ago. I remain skeptical as to whether Kimia II was worth the cost in civilian casualties, displacements, and the contribution it made to general insecurity.

However, one bright note coming out of Kimia II is that the abuses perpetrated by the FARDC are now so clearly documented and obvious that the UN and its member states can no longer ignore the fact that the peacekeeping mission has in some ways - albeit mostly inadvertently - enabled the FARDC's war criminals and human rights abusers. This is forcing a rethinking of the relationship between MONUC and the FARDC. It's long overdue.

12.16.2009

this & that

12.15.2009

disappointing news from Bukavu

Via @congowire, here's a sad tidbit of news from Bukavu regarding the targeting of Catholic priests, monks, and nuns in South Kivu:
"We appeal to you to ask you to ensure our safety and that of the people we minister to" is how the priests and religious men and women of the Archdiocese of Bukavu have addressed the President of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, in a message delivered to the Head of State during his visit to the capital of South Kivu (eastern DRC).

In the letter, a copy of which was sent to Fides, they list the recent violence in which victims were priests and religious working in the territory of the Archdiocese. October 3, 2009 at 8pm: attack and looting of the parish house at Ciherano with the abduction of a priest and a seminarian. Their release occurred the next day, upon payment of a ransom of $5,000. On October 5, 2009: attack and looting of the school of Nyangezi, run by the Marist Brothers. December 6, 2009: at 2 in the morning, attack on the parish house of Kabare and murder of Fr. Daniel Cizimaya. On December 7, 2009, at 7:30: assault on the Monastery in Murhesa with the murder of Sister Denise Kahambu.

"The population of South Kivu is in shock from the targeting of the Catholic Church, whose social role and involvement in the democratization of our country you know," says the message. "Therefore, are church personnel (priests, religious men and women) seen as..witnesses of all the massive human rights violations perpetrated in South Kivu for almost 14 years?"
The Catholic Church is far and away the most stable and enduring social institution in South Kivu. Along with a handful of large Protestant communities, it was basically the only organized institution to survive the region's severe economic decline, the collapse of the state, and the wars. This is the primary reason that the churches are the main instruments of social service provision in the Kivus. Absent their efforts, there would be almost no education or health care available in the region. Most of the region's public hospitals, clinics, and schools are essentially contracted out to the churches. Where international medical NGO's are involved, they are either providing emergency care in field hospitals or, more often, working in conjunction with the churches that run the hospitals. Even when they don't have international support, church-run health facilities and schools continue to do the best they can to serve the region's population.

In Bukavu in particular, the Catholic Church and its leaders played a major role in the push for democratization that occurred prior to the Rwandan genocide and Mobutu's fall. Their leaders are active in the country's civil society movements and in the peace process. They also played a key role in educating parishioners about the electoral process prior to the 2006 elections. (Think about that for a second. The population of a failed state had to be taught how to vote.)

It's hard to tell from the data in this article if there's systematic targeting of the Catholic Church, or if the violence they're experiencing is a function of the Church being perceived to have abundant resources for thieves to steal. Either way, this is disturbing news, and our thoughts are with South Kivu's Catholics as they continue to care for the population in places no one else will. We hope for safety and for peace.

12.14.2009

the reading list

Several weeks ago, I asked for your help in compiling a reading list for my students who want to be well-prepared for graduate school or work in international affairs. And, wow, did you respond! Between this blog's readers and suggestions from colleagues and friends, I think it's safe to say that we have a solid list that should keep them busy through the winter break and beyond. (I didn't include every single suggestion in an effort not to completely overwhelm my students - and because I need to read some of the things you suggested first!)

Thanks to everyone who contributed, and please feel free to add more suggestions in the comments.

(A note about Scribd: If you click on the document below, you can print the list from there. Starred items are those I highly recommend.)
International Affairs Reading List

12.11.2009

continuing with the theme

Dan Fahey, a Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley whose research is about what's happened in Ituri since 2003 and the gold mining trade there, has a nice piece up over at African Arguments criticizing a piece on Congolese gold that 60 Minutes ran last week. It should be noted that Fahey was a consultant on the piece. Here are the key points, emphasis mine:
...This large, terraced pit mine is in fact the Chudja mine, located approximately thirty miles northwest of Bunia, the capital of the Ituri District. There was a bloody war in Ituri from 1999 until 2007, but the good news is that large parts of Ituri—including the rich gold fields in the Chudja area—are at peace. ...Yet 60 Minutes repeatedly shows Chudja when talking about ongoing conflict in Congo, thus creating a false impression about the extent of the connection between gold and current war...

...the problem is the statements made by John Prendergast, Enough’s director. In the segment, Prendergast states: “If you do a conflict analysis you will find that when there are spikes in violence, it has something to do with contestation over the mineral resources, gold and the rest of them.” Prendergast goes on to say that conflict will continue “until we break that cycle and address the root issue here, which is the gold and the other conflict minerals.” Academics and policymakers who have taken more than a passing glance at the Congo wars will scoff at Prendergast’s deeply flawed and simplistic “conflict analysis”, but Prendergast is not talking to people who know something—he’s talking to those who know very little or nothing, who are the target audience of Enough’s self-appointed campaign to “save Congo”. Enough is guilty of vastly understating the role of history, ethnicity, local and regional politics, and other factors in causing and sustaining war in Congo, or more accurately, war in the Kivus, since most of Congo is now in a state of quasi-peace. Prendergast should know better, and likely he does know better, but he has created a campaign that vastly oversimplifies the conflict in the Congo and ignores the fact that most gold produced in Congo is from areas at peace—not at war...

...The third problem is the suggestion that gold can or should be cut off from Congo. ...First, the wars in the Kivus are not simply about competition over gold, so cutting off Congo’s gold is not a practical solution for ending the wars. 60 Minutes and Enough have created the impression that wherever there is gold, there is conflict (and rape), but this is simply not true. Second, cutting off the gold supply from Congo would mean putting approximately 100,000 artisanal miners out of work in the gold mines around Chudja alone, plus untold tens of thousands in other parts of Congo that are not experiencing conflict. Cutting off Congo’s gold would be a social and economic disaster for areas like Ituri that are struggling to emerge from war. Third, cutting off Congo’s gold is completely impractical. Nearly all of Congo’s gold is smuggled out of the country, and short of heavily militarizing Congo’s entire border and strip-searching everyone at the airports, this suggestion is not viable....
Read the full post here.

it's not easy being a green revolutionary

this & that

12.10.2009

show me the data

A couple of months ago, a certain grad student/atrocity humor blogger who shall remain nameless emailed with the following question: "Could you point me towards anyone who's done research on the linkage / lack thereof between the mineral trade and sexual violence?" It seems that in her graduate school endeavors, solid research requires actual evidence to support the "cell phones/minerals cause rape" thesis that's become quite popular due to efforts of various activist groups, most notably the Enough Project.

It just so happened that this particular email arrived just a few days after I gave a talk on the subject of minerals and violence in the Congo, so I had already been searching for such evidence.

Long story short: there isn't any. As far as I can tell, there has as yet been no published report that systematically demonstrates a rigorous causal relationship between the mineral trade and the epidemic of sexual violence in the eastern Congo.

But, wait, you might say. There are lots of reports claiming that the mineral trade causes sexual and other forms of violence.

This is true. I certainly do not want to argue that there's no connection whatsoever. Much of the gender-based violence in the Congo is perpetrated by armed groups that are involved in the mineral trade. We know that just about every armed group in the eastern Congo has engaged in violence, looting, and rape at one time or another, and that many (but not all) of those armed groups also benefit from the trade in minerals. There's a definite correlation between some of the violence and the fact that armed groups profit from the mineral trade. And we know beyond any doubt that armed groups terrorize populations who live near their respective mines.

But the question we need to be asking is whether the majority of gender-based and other forms of violence in the eastern DRC are actually caused by the mineral trade. As long-time readers of this blog know, I am not yet convinced that the mineral trade causes the bulk of violence in the eastern Congo, or that getting the mineral supply chains under control would end the war against Congolese women and girls.

Why don't I believe this? Because there's no data showing that the mineral trade is the primary cause of violence in the eastern Congo. It's just not there. There are anecdotal accounts and reports on the mineral supply chains and reports on the horrific conditions in the mines. There are somewhat bizarre journalistic accounts like last week's 60 Minutes piece, which misled viewers into thinking that a gold pit in the largely peaceful Ituri district is at the epicenter of the current fighting. I sometimes hear that there might be data out there, or that an activist group is about to come out with a report showing a clear causal relationship, but as of yet, as far as I've been able to tell, there's nothing that shows anything that:
  1. that violence happens more frequently or with greater intensity near the mines than it does in non-mining areas of the region,
  2. that violence happens more frequently or with greater intensity along the primary mineral supply routes,
  3. that armed groups engaged in the mineral trade proportionally commit more acts of violence than those not engaged in the mineral trade,
  4. or that those groups that control more mines or make more money from mining engage in proportionally higher levels of violence than those who control fewer mines and make less money.
This is the kind of data we would expect to find if there were a direct causal relationship between the two phenomena. If you know of any systematic arguments that show otherwise, I would love to take a look.

The sad fact is that violence happens everywhere in the Kivu provinces. Armed groups that benefit from the mineral trade buy weapons and rape women. But so do armed groups that don't benefit from the mineral trade. And a significant number of rapes are committed by civilians who see that they will have total impunity for their crimes and take advantage of the situation.

Earlier this week, @alanna_shaikh linked to this map. The creator meshed data from Ushahidi's crisis reporting system onto a map of "coltan mining areas" to make the point that there is a "conspicuous correlation" between the two variables.

While I certainly appreciate the creator's intentions to draw attention to the Congo conflict, this map is horribly misleading. First of all, there aren't coltan mines throughout North Kivu. A more useful mashup would overlap the violence incidents with the actual locations of specific mines. This matters because when you look at the Ushahidi map itself, it's clear that, while violence is high in mining areas, it's also high elsewhere. (There aren't any coltan mines, for example, between Goma and Sake. What's there? IDP camps and a road.) The eastern Congo is an incredibly violent place. Then of course, there's the problem that Ushahidi's data, while a wonderful resource, is far from complete due to the difficulties of reporting and collecting this sort of data. Sexual violence cases are still underreported in the DRC due to victims' concerns about shame and being shunned by their families and communities. We also know that there are mines - even in the Kivus - that are not militarized, despite the fact that there is gender-based violence in those areas as well.

More importantly, however, this map doesn't show us what else is in these regions. For one thing, there are large tracts of extremely fertile, hotly contested land whose status has been disputed by members of competing ethnic groups for decades. The Masisi region's volcanic soil is capable of producing up to three harvests per year, and North Kivu's varied climate is ideal for cattle ranching and dairy farming. There is money to be made in rural North Kivu. People were killing each other over the rights to this land before the wars and before mining was even a concern. Mobutu used North Kivu's land as an instrument of patronage; everyone from the Catholic Church to prominent politicians of whichever ethnic group was in his good graces at the time got a piece of land in exchange for loyalty to the regime. Under the RDC-Goma rebel government, land in Masisi and elsewhere was given to prominent Tutsis as a reward for supporting the regime and a means of securing Tutsi control of the region. When the Tutsis lost power, many also lost their land. Conflicts over land having nothing to do with minerals erupt all the time.

In other words, it's much more complicated than just the mineral trade. Which is why the argument that shutting down the mines will end all of this violence is fundamentally flawed. It is, quite frankly, based on incorrect assumptions and a lack of rigorously-analyzed evidence.

An all-encompassing focus on the mineral trade won't end violence in the eastern DRC. Assuming that it were even possible to track the Congo's minerals from source to market and that it would be possible shut down the militarized mineral trade (and, given the limits of technology and oversight, those are two mighty big assumptions), would the loss of income really force these armed groups to the negotiating table? These forces are already well-accustomed to terrorizing local populations to obtain the necessities of life. Would their behavior really change if they lost this income stream? I'm not sure. And, we must remember, there's the tiny problem of external financing of these armed groups (especially the FDLR) that the international community has until very recently completely ignored.

Then there's the lingering detail of the 1 million+ people who depend on the mineral trade for their livelihoods. Any program to shut down the mines have to take their employment into account. As Harrison Mitchell and Nicholas Garrett continue to point out, legitimizing the mineral trade is a far better idea than shutting it down.

I do not know a single scholar of the Congo who buys into the "cell phones cause rape" thesis. We all understand that the situation there is far too complex to be reduced by the activists to a simple resource war that could be solved if we just pressure Congress to stop the conflict mineral trade (How many of you are willing to give up your mobile phones to stand in solidarity with Congolese women? Keep in mind that there aren't any conflict-free cell phones.).

This doesn't mean that minerals don't matter. But the militarized mineral trade is a symptom of the disease of state failure, not the root cause of violence. Even setting aside all of the logistical issues with certification, controlling supply chains, taking physical control of the mines, developing the technology necessary to track minerals, finding livelihoods for newly unemployed miners, and creating a degree of consumer consciousness that's stronger than the desire for an iPhone, the violence won't end. It won't. There's no entity capable of stopping it.

Treating one symptom rarely cures a disease. We all want the people of the Congo to live productive, peaceful lives that are free from the constant threat of violence. We all agree that the eastern DRC is in many ways the linchpin for regional stability. But until there is serious security-sector reform, the Congolese government can actually control its territory, tax, and pay its soldiers, and the regional dynamics that drive much of the conflict over land, citizenship rights, and Rwanda's role in the region are settled, armed groups and civilians will continue to commit horrific acts of violence, simply because they can. "Doing something" about the mineral trade won't change that fact.

Policymakers would do well to focus less on oversimplified solutions to extraordinarily complex problems, and to instead turn their attention to giving the people of the DRC what they deserve and need: peace, public order, and a chance to make life better. That will require a long-term, sustained effort that doesn't pretend the peacekeepers only need to stay another six months or a year. It will require negotiating with unsavory non-state actors. It will require honest assessments of regional actors' territorial and sphere-of-influence ambitions. It will require the recognition of corruption in all its many varied forms, and of the need to directly target aid to its beneficiaries.

Above all else, it will require policies that are based on facts, not assumptions. The stakes are too high not to pursue policies that are data-driven and have a reasonable chance of success.

Then again, maybe it's easier to oversimplify things.

12.09.2009

this & that

12.08.2009

a little holiday music

One of the perks of my job is getting to regularly hear the men of the world-renowned Morehouse Glee Club sing. This weekend, they, along with the Spelman College Glee Club, presented the 83rd annual Morehouse-Spelman Christmas Carol Concert. The highlight of the evening was one of the choir's signature pieces, a Yoruba Christmas song entitled "Betelehemu." It starts slowly and builds to an electric finish. Enjoy:

12.07.2009

out of the darkness

My computer's down and it's exam time, so my apologies for the lack of substantive post. Via Rob Crilly's fun post about good things in Somalia, here's K'Naan singing the 2010 World Cup theme song:

12.05.2009

this & that

12.04.2009

it's hard out here for a transitional justice expert

Normally, I can't stand journalists who go to Ituri for a week and purport to write a definitive newspaper article on the situation there. These articles tend to be thin, one-sided, misinterpretations of an extraordinarily complex situation. Adam Hochschild's piece on a recent trip to Bunia is different than most for two reasons: 1) Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost, has an excellent understanding of Congolese history and the complexity of its society, politics, and culture, and 2) he had the good sense to go with Anneke van Woudenberg, Human Rights Watch's Congo specialist.

The resulting piece, on local reactions to the ICC's prosecution of warlord Thomas Lubanga, is a brilliant observation on the problems of transitional justice. He attends a meeting with former child soldiers hosted by the ICC's outreach guy for Bunia, who doesn't speak Kiswahili and who uses materials in French. (The average eastern Congolese ex-combatant doesn't speak much French or Lingala.) Despite his best efforts to explain the ICC's processes, it's clear the former child soldiers (and, apparently, some hangers-on who wanted the refreshments provided) aren't satisfied:
Why is Lubanga on trial, one asks, when “others who did the same thing are working within the government?” And indeed this is true, for in a series of half-effective peace accords, many former warlords have been absorbed into the corrupt and inept Congolese national army.

“Lubanga did not conscript forcibly,” another boy says. “We went voluntarily. I myself went voluntarily. It was to defend my community. Why is he being judged for this?” A comrade adds: “I also was not forced to enter [Lubanga’s army]. All our houses were burned. We had nowhere to go—and Lubanga accepted me.”
The latter is a key point that is often ignored by international observers: many Congolese join armed groups (particularly the Mai Mai organizations) in order to defend their homes, villages, or co-ethnics. They are not necessarily fighting for control of gold mines or to take territory. They want to defend their homes. Or they have no other choice. Can most of us honestly say we wouldn't do the same?

Hochschild continues:
I encounter more frustration with the Lubanga trial from others I talk to during a week in Ituri. “The ICC has taken the small fish,” says one critic, Abbé Alfred Buju, who is in charge of peace and social-justice issues for the Catholic Diocese of Bunia, “leaving the big fish because they’re in positions of power.” The big fish would include generals and cabinet ministers from Uganda and Rwanda whose support of the militias here did much to prolong and intensify the fighting, while their countries helped themselves to Ituri gold. (Rwanda supplied Lubanga with mortars, machine guns, ammunition, and trainers; Uganda, at different times, supported him and his opponents.) But both regimes are big favorites of the United States, and in choosing whom to indict, in Congo and elsewhere, the ICC has trod carefully to avoid antagonizing the U.S.
The Congolese are not stupid or naive. Iturians know that "justice" - especially the kind of justice that is dreamed up thousands of miles away - can be just another political tool.

Then there are the disparities between north and south:
...when Kuyaku explains some of the features that to Western eyes seem hallmarks of a humane and enlightened judiciary—such as the court’s provision of funds for Lubanga’s lawyers and for visits by his wife and family—these things surely appear even more extravagant. Africans are so desperate to migrate to Europe that thousands have drowned at sea trying, yet an accused war criminal’s wife and kids get a free trip? What’s more, all three judges who are deciding Lubanga’s fate, from Britain, Bolivia, and Costa Rica, are white. The trial is “justice à l’occidentale,” one of the local officials says, shaking his head at the screen.
As Hochschild points out, the problem with the ICC (and most models of war crimes prosecution) is that it's a way to symbolically prosecute only some of those responsible for war crimes. The ICC can't possibly try every person who committed a war crime in the DRC in the last 15 years. It's also a very Western system of justice. As the author notes, "No international court can ever substitute for a working national justice system. Or for a society at peace."

One quibble: Hochschild fails to mention the fact that the ICC prosecutor's office has bungled the case against Lubanga, and that he is very likely to get off on a technicality. If and when that happens, you can be sure that the Iturians' faith in the international justice system will be further weakened.

12.03.2009

pesky economists

Everything they taught us about Weber is, apparently, wrong:
Davide Cantoni (who by the way is on the job market, from Harvard) reports:

"Many theories, most famously Max Weber's essay on the 'Protestant ethic,' have hypothesized that Protestantism should have favored economic development. With their considerable religious heterogeneity and stability of denominational affiliations until the 19th century, the German Lands of the Holy Roman Empire present an ideal testing ground for this hypothesis. Using population figures in a dataset comprising 276 cities in the years 1300-1900, I find no effects of Protestantism on economic growth. The finding is robust to the inclusion of a variety of controls, and does not appear to depend on data selection or small sample size. In addition, Protestantism has no effect when interacted with other likely determinants of economic development. I also analyze the endogeneity of religious choice; instrumental variables estimates of the effects of Protestantism are similar to the OLS results."

The full paper, and other work by Cantoni, is here. I believe this is the most thorough statistical test of the Weberian hypothesis to date.

That sound you heard was a thousand comparative politics professors sighing over whether it's worth it to rework their lecture notes.

12.02.2009

harardhere blue chips

Some days our pirate paper seems to write itself:
In Somalia's main pirate lair of Haradheere [sic], the sea gangs have set up a cooperative to fund their hijackings offshore, a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate.

...It is a lucrative business that has drawn financiers from the Somali diaspora and other nations -- and now the gangs in Haradheere [sic] have set up an exchange to manage their investments.

One wealthy former pirate named Mohammed took Reuters around the small facility and said it had proved to be an important way for the pirates to win support from the local community for their operations, despite the dangers involved.

"Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," Mohammed said.

"The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."

...Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.

"I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation," she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.

"I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."
If it's true that the opening of the exchange is a basis for more positive community relations between the pirates and their base towns, then that's really interesting. There has been some tension in those relationships. A lot of it concerns their behavior after getting ransom money; when successful pirates come ashore, they tend to engage in a lot of bad behavior that's fairly offensive to conservative, religious communities. Finding a way for piracy to benefit more people is smart on the pirates' part, and yet another reason that a sea-based deterrence strategy to combat piracy won't work.

(HT: @tristanreed)

12.01.2009

what was twitter thinking?

Today is World AIDS Day. In partnership with (Red), Twitter is automatically turning the words of any post with the word "Africa" in it red.

Twitter, this is a fail. It is downright offensive to equate the African continent to HIV/AIDS. It also ignores the fact that 1/3 of HIV/AIDS cases occur elsewhere, and that the likely future spread of this disease will be in China, India, and Russia.

I appreciate the effort at awareness-raising. It's good for more people to be aware that HIV/AIDS is a problem in our world. But ignoring the continent's beauty, diversity, positive steps towards development and prosperity, and - it must be noted - approximately 980 million Africans who do not live with HIV/AIDS is inexcusable.

*Update, Africa's population corrected to 980 million, not 780 million.
**AND that that number isn't 80% of the continental population, but rather closer to, what, 97 or 98%? I'm tired today.

this & that


Today is World AIDS Day. Instead of spending $4 on an overpriced cup of mediocre coffee out of which a paltry 5 cents will be donated to the Global Fund, I encourage you to donate 100% of your $4 (or more!) to an organization working to help people living with HIV/AIDS or those who suffer from its secondary effects.

One of my favorite organizations working on this issue is Global Strategies for HIV/AIDS Prevention. They are mostly volunteer-run, which keeps overhead low, and work with existing in-country health care organizations, which means they get fast results. I've seen their work on the ground in the DRC and have full confidence that they use their resources better than most. It costs Global Strategies less than $1 to provide a dose of nevirapine to an HIV+ mother at delivery of her infant. Getting those medications to pregnant mothers at delivery is effective in preventing transmission of the disease to the child about 50% of the time.

That strikes me as a much better use of $4 than spending it at Starbucks.

We now return to our regularly scheduled links: