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

1.30.2010

this & that

1.29.2010

is state failure a technical problem?

Thursday our college hosted the Ambassador of Germany to the United States, Dr. Klaus Scharioth, for a talk on German-U.S. relations and global challenges. In his talk, the ambassador identified five major issue areas that are of concern to both our countries: climate change & energy independence, nuclear nonproliferation & disarmament, the economic & financial crisis, terrorism, and failing states.

In his comments on state failure, Ambassador Scharioth focused on the need to train leaders in failing states and to support their efforts to govern because we all face the consequences of state failure through such issues as terrorism, insecurity, and nuclear proliferation. Most of his comments focused on Afghanistan, and at one point, the ambassador stated that it is important to "put people in a position that they are so well-trained, they can help themselves." In other words, state failure is, at least in part, a technical problem. Technical problems have technical solutions, so training officials and bureaucrats should address the problem of governance in weak or failing states.

Here's my question regarding the Ambassador's comments (which, to be fair, I'm sure represented nowhere near the entirety of his thinking on the issue): is state failure really a technical problem? Of course we are all familiar with the technical problems that accompany state failure: roads don't get paved, hospitals are under-equipped and understaffed, borders aren't secure, and policing is almost non-existent. It makes sense that to solve these problems, we would train individuals and supply necessities.

But are the roots of state failure always simply a technical issue that can be solved if enough money is thrown at it in the right way (eg, by not letting corrupt leaders have access to cash)? I am by no means an expert on Afghanistan, but my understanding is that part of the governance issue there is not so much a technical problem as it is a cultural one. It's not entirely clear that everyone in Afghanistan has an interest in being governed according to the norms of modern statehood, especially if that form of governance is to be highly centralized. Particularly in the rural areas, many Afghanis are perfectly content to be governed the same way they've been governed for centuries: by decentralized, traditional authorities and some kind of loose national government whose reach into individuals' private lives is fairly limited.

Again, I am not an expert on Afghanistan and may have completely misunderstood how traditional governance works there. But it seems to me there's a larger question here raised by the idea that a technical solution won't fix culturally-based issues relating to state failure. Government don't work in Afghanistan. Some technical solutions will solve the technical problems associated with state failure.

But will a focus on training people to govern solve that problem if the general population doesn't want or need government to work in the way outsiders think it should? I'm not sure. At any rate, Ambassador Scharioth's point has given me much to consider.

1.28.2010

color me shocked

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has produced a check for $2.5 million, written to the United Nations Development Programme and earmarked for Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito handed it over to UN Special Representative Alan Doss today in Kinshasa.

There's no word yet on whether the check actually cleared.

(Photo: Pirmature RDC, via RadioOkapi.net)

the children

There's been a surge of interest on the issue of child protection in Haiti lately, which is good. Well-intentioned Americans just want to get orphans out of the disaster zone right away. Many can't understand why doing so could ultimately harm innocent children. Estimates are that up to 1 million children may have lost one or both parents or are currently separated from their parents due to the earthquake.

Saundra, who's been doing an amazing job at covering the issues associated with disaster relief, gives these excellent words of caution on the issue:
Imagine that you're at work when whatever natural disaster is most probable in your state strikes....

...your niece and nephew have been taken by foreigners to be cared for in an orphanage. You are so thankful to hear that they survived and are determined to find them and care for them. Unfortunately, the neighbors don't know which organization took the children...

You are frantically searching for the orphanage when word reaches you that foreigners have begun flying plane loads of children out of orphanages to be adopted in other countries. You start to panic for fear that by the time you find this orphanage, it'll be too late....
For now, the best way to help Haiti's children is to give money to reputable organizations. UNICEF, Plan International, and Save the Children are all involved in child protection on the ground.

I know several readers of this blog are working on child protection issues associated with the Haitian earthquake. Keep up the good work, and let us know if you're with an organization that is helping unaccompanied or orphaned children on the ground.

1.27.2010

sensationalism gives me headaches

I generally like Guardian Africa correspondent David Smith's coverage of the continent. It's not just the same-old, same-old; he writes stories about web access in South Africa and getting Nigerian chiefs whose ancestors engaged in the slave trade to apologize. Smith is generally able to avoid the "Africa: Land of Rape and Lions" m.o. For that, I'm grateful.

But this report from Congo, well, um, oh, dear:
Is there anywhere in Africa to rival the mystery and mystique of Congo? Henry Stanley explored there, Joseph Conrad's Mr Kurtz went mad there, and Muhammad Ali fought there.
That's quite a few tropes for one sentence, don't you think?

But that's maybe to be expected from a Congo first-timer. I remember how disconcerting it was to walk across the border for the first time (especially since that resulted in my detention a few minutes later.)

Meanwhile, The Kristof is in South Kivu this week. He posted this bit of needless sensationalism on his blog late last week:
I’m overnighting in Rwanda, heading overland to Congo right now. It’s one of the most important and neglected humanitarian stories in the world, and I hope I can shine a light on it. If you have some issues you’d like me to look into, let me know.

Rwanda is always a lovely stop. Kigali is a clean, lovely city (plastic bags are banned), where you can safely take taxis. ...And now off to the much messier, bloodier world of Congo….
There is so much wrong with these two short paragraphs that it's hard to know where to begin. Oh, wait. I know:
  1. You can safely take a taxi in Bukavu. In fact, a shared taxi system is the way most Bukavans get around. You stand on the side of the street facing the direction you want to go (On the main drag, the Avenue Patrice Lumumba, your choices are "to the border" and "away from the border"), hail a cab, negotiate a price, and ride.
  2. You can say a lot of things about how awful the DRC conflict is. But calling it underreported is just incorrect, especially when your newspaper runs a piece about rape in the Congo on a regular basis. I got 112 stories in the international press from the last month by searching "rape Congo" on Google news. That's not underreporting.
  3. That you can't see the blood doesn't mean that Rwanda isn't messy as well. Or that substantial parts of the mess in Congo aren't directly to related to decisions made in Kigali. Failing to tell the whole story is bad journalism.
Enough with the sensationalism, Kristof. There's a lot more to Congo than the war, and a lot more to the war than rape and minerals.

(Thanks to @alunmcdonald for the tip on the Guardian piece)

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1.26.2010

this & that

1.25.2010

colonialism in children's literature

Judging from the popularity of last week's post on Babar's colonial metaphor, some of you might be interested in another portrayal of the colonial experiment in children's literature: Tintin au Congo. Tintin is a beloved character in Belgium; there's a museum dedicated to his creator in Brussels and it may be the last place on the planet where you can still walk into a store to purchase a copy of Tintin au Congo, a book originally published in 1931 that holds no punches when it comes to portraying the era's ideas about Africa and its relationship to Europe.
There's a good reason that some stores refuse to stock Tintin au Congo. Not only does it uphold the motif of a noble savage being civilized by a white man (or, in this case, a mischievous white boy), but the cartoon Congolese portrayed in the book bear a striking resemblance to gorillas.
What's fascinating about Tintin au Congo is its wholehearted embrace of Belgian policy towards the Congo. Unlike the Babar series, the idea of colonialism here is explicit. This panel, in which Tintin speaks Congolese schoolchildren about "your country: Belgium" is a prime example. Belgian education policy in the Congo was centered around the development of loyalty to the state and obedience to authority. What's laughable here, however, is the idea that any Congolese child could ever hope to grow up to have Belgium as his or her state. While the Belgians did allow some Congolese to become educated evolues (literally, the evolved), they were never afforded the opportunities to assimilate into Belgian culture in the same way that some Senegalese and Ivoirians were. In fact, the vast majority of Congolese were explicitly prohibited from gaining an education past the sixth-grade level. Most primary-level schooling focused on preparing boys to be laborers and girls to be domestic servants.

Another interesting point here is that many Belgians, especially those of the generations that were around during the country's colonization of the Congo, are either unaware of or don't acknowledge the horrors perpetrated by their government in central Africa. You could view Tintin au Congo as part of upholding the myth of the benevolent, civilizing mission in Belgian society. Although the country gives huge sums of money in foreign aid to the DRC each year, there hasn't been a massive mea cupla in Belgium along the lines of Germany's repentance (and reparations) for the Holocaust.

Of course, Congo is not the only place Tintin had adventures in stereotyping.
Tintin au Congo is controversial and offensive, but you can still buy a copy from Amazon if you want to have a look for yourself. And if you happen to find yourself in the eastern Congo, there's a guy in either Bunia or Bukavu who'll paint you an exact replica of the cover that will say "[Your name] au Congo." I'll choose to decline the opportunity.

1.23.2010

taking a break from cynicism



I'm a pretty cynical person (especially on this blog), but sometimes there are good reminders that it is possible to make a difference in someone's life, even if we can't fix the big, structural messes. A friend from Austin, Ben DeLeon, was named Big Brother of the Year for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. This week, Ben and his Little Brother Anthony, whom he's been mentoring for four years, got to go to the White House to meet President & Mrs. Obama. Even better, Anthony got to introduce the president before a speech on the importance of mentoring for National Mentoring Month. (You can watch the video above.)

Can you imagine the thrill of being eleven years old and getting to speak at the White House? Anthony's from a family that's gone through some hard times, but thanks to the commitment of a supportive family and one person who cares enough to spend time with him, he has goals, a positive male role model, and the chance at breaking the cycle of generational poverty and really making it.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters always needs mentors. There's a particular need for men, especially Hispanic and African-American men, to volunteer. It doesn't take a huge commitment (if you're going to play basketball or video games, you just invite the kid along for a total of four hours a month), but it can make an incredible difference in a kid's life.

(Also, a big shout out to Ben's wife Shannon, who got their house clean with 22 minutes' notice that a news crew was coming to film Ben as he packed for the trip. Her house looked great on the Austin news! :)

1.22.2010

this & that

1.21.2010

best possible news

Some early morning tweets were music to my ears. Fred is back!!!

For those of you not familiar with Fred, he used to blog about & from the DRC at Extra! Extra! before leaving the country for fairer climes. Extra! Extra! was a fantastic blog; Fred has a way of capturing the absurdity of Kinshasa with compassion, wit, and an eye for the hilarious. He's also an excellent photographer.

Fred is back in Kinshasa and blogging again. You'll definitely want to follow him at Solo Kinshasa and on Twitter.

And if you need convincing that this blog is worth an add to your already overstocked RSS feed, check out his post on a new Kinois...delicacy.

post-doc opportunity

Some of you may be interested in this post-doc opportunity. Given what a tough year it's been for those on the academic job market, I'd imagine it will be quite competitive.

==============
Postdoctoral Fellowship
Contemporary Politics and Social Forces in Sub-Saharan Africa

Hampshire College invites applications for a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in African Politics. This Mellon-funded position is one of five to be filled in 2009-10 in cooperation with the Five College Consortium (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst). Hampshire College encourages inter-disciplinary teaching and research. While in residence at Hampshire, the Fellow will fully participate in one of the nation?s most vibrant academic collaborations, including the Five College African Studies Council with nearly thirty faculty members having a teaching and research interest in sub-Saharan Africa. There is related support from colleagues and library and research facilities at all five campuses, each located within a twenty-minute drive of the others. Over three years the Fellow will teach six courses, four at Hampshire College, and two at Smith College. The Fellow will be provided research and teaching mentors at Hampshire College, which will host the fellowship.

The candidate should have fieldwork experience in the study of contemporary politics and social forces in sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular interest in broad processes of inclusion and exclusion at the national level. Applicants should have research and teaching interests in one or more of the following themes: how processes of social and political inclusion and exclusion are generated and resources are deployed at national and local levels; the use and limitations of formal democratic frameworks for political and social inclusion; how social class, religious and ethnic identities play out in formal state institutions; the nature and use of major national and local ideologies; social movements, including those of youth, women, religion, ethnicity and the growing middle class; the politics of discrete organizations of civil society; the relationship of civil society organizations to popularly based social movements; and the relationship of political parties to civil society organizations and social movements.

The successful candidate must have completed all requirements for a Ph.D. before assuming the fellowship.

Position begins fall 2010. Review of applications begins late January 2010 and will continue until the position is filled. Hampshire College is committed to building a culturally diverse intellectual community and strongly encourages applications from women and minority candidates.
We offer a competitive salary and comprehensive benefit program, including support for research. Applicants should send a letter of interest, C.V., research prospectus, writing sample, and three letters of reference to:


African Politics Postdoctoral Search Committee School of Social Science Hampshire College Amherst, MA 01002 www.hampshire.edu

Hampshire College is an equal opportunity institution, committed to diversity in education and employment.

safe for civilization

Yesterday I taught African politics for the first time. Ever. I'll be honest; it scared me a little. After all that time in graduate school and dissertation writing and TA-ing for African politics classes and thinking about African politics, the thought of actually importing knowledge on the subject? It was exhilarating and frightening all at once.

I've been debating back and forth for oh, six years or so, as to whether I'd have the nerve to begin my class the way the legendary Bill Foltz began his: with a postcolonial reading of Babar's adventures in becoming civilized by the Old Lady (aka, France). Today we ran out of time, but come colonialism week, I'm absolutely going to do it. Kate was thoughtful enough to remind me of the above picture, and, really, what kind of educator would I be if I didn't include this in their introduction to the study of the continent's politics?

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1.20.2010

aid bloggers make the big time

Way to go, guys!
Nonprofit groups rarely look a gift horse in the mouth, and the relief effort in Haiti is desperate for resources. But the experience of wasteful giving in the past, coupled with the ease of speaking out via blogs, Facebook and Twitter, have led to an unprecedented effort to teach Americans what not to give.

One particularly influential blog is being written by Saundra Schimmelpfennig, an international aid expert who once worked for the Red Cross. Ms. Schimmelpfennig’s blog, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, is attracting more hits in a day than it used to get in a month, as everyone from the State Department to the White House seeks information about giving.

...Another widely circulated blog post, “No One Needs Your Old Shoes: How Not to Help in Haiti,” was written shortly after the earthquake by Alanna Shaikh, an international relief and development expert working in Tajikistan. It suggested giving money, not goods; going to volunteer only if you have medical expertise and are vetted by a reputable organization; and supporting the far less immediate task of rebuilding Haiti.

The comments on Aid Watch, a blog managed by the Development Research Institute at New York University, underscored her point. One person wrote about the bewilderment of survivors of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras upon opening a box of donated high-heeled shoes, while another tells of the arrival in Congo of boxes of used toothbrushes, expired over-the-counter drugs and broken bicycles.

“The Asian tsunami taught everyone a huge lesson because the problems with aid there got so much attention and saturated the media and the Internet and Facebook,” Ms. Shaikh said. “So I do think more people are aware that there is a right way and a wrong way to donate, but at the same time, there’s a certain level where people aren’t stopping to think, they just have an impulse to help.”

africa's response to haiti

A Bombastic Element has an excellent roundup of various African governments' responses to the earthquake crisis in Haiti. In addition to those on that list, Monday we learned that the Democratic Republic of Congo has pledged $2.5 million to relief efforts in the country. From the BBC:
Some Congolese have criticised the offer. After years of conflict, which is still raging in the east, millions of people live in poverty.

The country depends on foreign aid and civil servants frequently go unpaid.

But Information Minister Lambert Mende told the BBC that DR Congo would contribute within its means.

"Congo isn't bankrupt, our own problems shouldn't prevent us from helping a brother country," he said.

But political scientist Ntanda Nkere from the University of Kinshasa told the BBC:

"It's a contradiction to see a country which is facing serious financial problems giving away $2.5m but at the same time, it's a purely diplomatic reaction, the Congolese government wants to appear like any other government."
Political, indeed. I'll add two remarks to Professor Ntanda Nkere's excellent point:
  1. Pledging aid isn't the same as giving aid. Western governments pledge to give money to poor states all the time and very often fail to follow through. (See, for example, money that was pledged, but not fully given to Haiti by donor states before this crisis.) File this one under "things I will believe when I see the cold, hard, steel suitcases full of unmarked, crisp dollar bills."
  2. In the grand scheme of corruption and graft that is the Congolese budget, $2.5 million is just a drop in the bucket. Is it too much to hope that those in the upper echelon of power might convince their wives to skip this month's Parisian shopping excursions in the name of giving that money to Haiti? Probably, but one can dream.
Then there's Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's weekend offer to allow any Haitians to resettle in his country and to give them parcels of land, along with the promise that, if enough Haitians come, they could have their own region of fertile land. After facing some intense criticism for his comments, Wade has since scaled down the original promise, saying that he instead will take the question of African land for Haitians to the African Union.

I'm curious as to what specific land Wade had in mind for the Haitians before politics got in the way of his idea. Surely he wasn't thinking of resettling Haitians in the rice-producing, Creole-speaking, separatist-tending Casamance region. Right?

1.19.2010

this & that

1.18.2010

inescapable mutuality

"Now let me first suggest that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.

"...It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

- Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Christmas sermon (1967)

(Photo: Statue of Dr. King on the campus of Morehouse College, where I teach. Dr. King was a member of the class of 1948.)

1.17.2010

crowdsourced data mapping

Okay, starving students, here's a way to for the cash-strapped to help Haiti. Volunteers are needed to help Ushahidi Haiti's crisis mapping team code incoming texts from Haitians in need of help or trying to find someone/be found. This data then goes to the appropriate relief organization to help.

Once you've read about the program via the above link, you can start entering data here.

There's no formal vetting process, so you can do one, ten, a hundred, whatever. Let's put those social science skills to work!

minustah

1.16.2010

"Haven't you seen Crossroads?"

Best letter to the editor ever:
Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best,
Satan
HT: @robertniles

1.15.2010

this & that

1.14.2010

un hq, port-au-prince

From my friend at MINUSTAH whose office is still standing. She has decided to stay.

giving to help

Many have already written about ways to help in Haiti. The needs there are so desperate that I'm adding my voice to the mix. If you need advice on ways to choose a charity, this, this, & this are helpful guides.

My general rule of thumb could be summarized as the ELE rule:
  1. Is it an Established organization with a longtime in-country presence?
  2. Does the organization employ, empower, and partner with Local individuals and organizations (eg, houses of faith, community groups)?
  3. Does the organization have Experience in disaster relief and/or health care?
If the answer to all three is yes and there are no other red flags (eg, financial shenanigans), it's probably a wise use of your resources. Using those criteria, I recommend donating to any of the following:

banane rising

This is the best thing to happen to the blogosphere in a long, long time.Photos of Chantal Biya's Hair is a must-add to your daily read.

(Photo: Mark Ralston/Getty Images/AFP)

1.12.2010

haiti quake

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy has confirmed that the headquarters of MINUSTAH, the United Nations mission in Haiti, sustained serious damage in today's earthquake. As of this writing, a "large number of personnel remain unaccounted for" (info via UN News Centre on Twitter).

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti, who already suffer far too much, with those in the mission, and with the disaster relief and development workers in the field. My friend A is part of MINUSTAH and I know she'd appreciate your thoughts as well. Our fingers are crossed that she's safe and sound and busy helping out. Texas in Africa will be dark on Wednesday in honor of her and all those affected by this tragedy.

Update: A is okay! Continuing to think of those who are in danger tonight.

this & that

1.11.2010

what is a kenyan?

Over at African Arguments, L. Muthoni Wanyeki has a fantastic post on conceptions of citizenship and identity as they relate to Kenyan constitutional reform.
...Our current Constitution does not recognise the multitude of ways in which belonging to, identification with a state (or several states simultaneously) can and does happen. Our current Constitution does not recognise the multitude of ways in which belonging to, identifying with Kenya can and is denied—on a casually indifferent and routine manner.

Citizenship can be claimed in three primary ways. By birth. By descent. By naturalisation (following, for example, marriage, migration, long term residency for purposes of choice, employment and investment). Our current Constitution, in effect, recognises only citizenship by descent from a Kenyan male—and, in limited circumstances, by naturalisation. It is not enough to be born here. To be Kenyan, you have to be born to a Kenyan father—and, even if you were born elsewhere, as long as your father is Kenyan, you’re in. Although being in is not automatic if you are from the north. And you can, of course, also be in if you chose to naturalise—but doing so means that you have to forfeit any citizenship claims you might hold elsewhere.
The post raises fantastic questions that are applicable everywhere. Is citizenship only a matter of documentation, birth, or residence? How can political institutions account for and accommodate people who live in two or more cultures at once?

Africa's kings

Africa is a Country has a post on a series of really cool photographs of African monarchs.

This reminds me of the time I got sent to visit the Lamido of N'gaoundere, Cameroon as a humble intern. A lamido is a kind of regional king or prince; I know they exist in Nigeria as well (anywhere else readers know of?). They're typically found in predominantly Fulani areas. N'gaoundere is a sleepy, small city in northern Cameroon; it's one of the last big towns between the mountains that divide northern and southern Cameroon and N'djamena.

Along with a colleague, we were official visitors and the N'gaoundere press (by which I mean, a couple of reporters for the national radio station and a teenager with a camera) followed us as we removed our shoes and went into the lamido's inner sanctum in his palace complex.

The throne room was of a decent size with a thatched roof in the arched dome shape that's typical of traditional architecture in that part of Cameroon. (The lamido's thirty or so wives and children were housed behind a wall inside the complex. Their homes involved modern takes on the traditional style of roof, with high, four-sided, pitched aluminum sheeting roofs that came to a point.) We were ushered in and told to sit in two low armchairs, at which point I noticed: the lamdio's throne was a bed.

I definitely didn't deserve an "intern of the year" award for not laughing through that interview, because there are Official Photographs the teenager took that show that I had a very hard time keeping a straight face. The lamido was perfectly gracious and we chatted about this, that, and the other in a very pleasant visit. Suffice it to say I've never experienced anything quite as unique since.

1.09.2010

this & that

1.08.2010

APCG mentoring initiative

Some of you may be interested in the new mentoring program of the African Politics Conference Group, an association of scholars of African politics. The Mentoring Initiative aims to connect graduate students and faculty who share areas of scholarly interest. In particular, it is hoped that the Mentoring Initiative will connect grad students in programs that may not have an Africanist scholar on the faculty, or grad students who are looking for guidance from scholars who study regions different from those of the Africanist scholars on their faculties. From the announcement:
APCG is developing a mentoring program and is seeking both potential
mentors and mentees to sign up. The APCG Mentoring Initiative is a
response to the perceived need for guidance in graduate study,
fieldwork, job search and the early years of teaching. At the same time
it is a way for us to reach out to graduate students and include them in
APCG from their early years in the profession so that they might have
access to the collegiality and vigorous academic discussion that
characterizes the group. The Mentoring Initiative seeks to pair graduate
students with those specializing in their geographic area of interest
within Africa and/or their research topic.
If you are interested in participating in the Mentoring Initiative as a grad student or faculty mentor, please email me and I'll forward you the whole announcement with sign-up information.

If you're an Africanist political scientist and are not yet affiliated with the APCG, please join us at our meetings at the ASA, ISA, and APSA annual meetings. It's a great group of scholars and provides many useful networking opportunities.

1.07.2010

we interrupt our regular coverage...

...to point out that nobody rammer jammers for the Alabama Crimson Tide in utero. Go Texas!!! Hook 'em Horns!!!

this qualifies as a hissy fit

Rwanda's New Times editorial board is not happy with Filip Reyntjens:
A self-styled "expert on Rwanda", Filip Reyntjens is a combination of controversies that embodies every negative thought against Rwanda.

It's a matter of public record that Prof. Reyntjens wielded tremendous influence in Rwanda under the client regimes whose ideology culminated into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

...He is evidently still fixated with the divisive ideologies that are responsible for destruction of the Great Lakes region

Nowhere is this more visible than in the latest publication he co-directed with two of his university colleagues ; L'Afrique de grand lacs.

He manages to duplicate the racist legacy that is informed by the never ending Belgian feud (Wallons vs Flemish conflict) into the Great Lakes context.

He has listed senior government leaders in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC, under the presumed tribal affiliations as assigned by the Belgian Colonialists. Predictably, the list was first mailed to known Genocide revisionists who were all too happy to circulate it on the internet.

Reyntjens and his ilk should learn to lick their wounds and retire in some remote Flemish village they understand best.
Reyntjens, of course is one of the most respected scholars of central Africa, and the Afrique des Grands Lacs series is an outstanding annual volume of new research on the region. Reyntjens is a brilliant scholar with a long and remarkable record of publications. He has done extensive fieldwork throughout the Great Lakes and sends out armies of graduate students to gather more data every year. There are few people who know the region as well as Reyntjens does, and unlike most who study the area, he was studying there prior to the genocide. Because of this expertise, he was able to publish some of the first work on the genocide very quickly thereafter. There is, in short, no reason to assume that Reyntjens doesn't know what he's writing about when it comes to Rwanda.

So why is the New Times so mad at him? Probably because Reyntjens, like every other serious senior scholar of the region, has published material that points out the Kagame administration's role in creating some of the region's chronic instability.

It's important to note that the New Times has no credibility as a journalistic institution. Everyone, including most Rwandans who read it, understands that it is simply a propaganda outlet for the Rwandan government. I will give them that criticism of Reyntjens is entertaining (because clearly the Hutu-Tutsi dynamic of violence could only be a projection of Flemish-Walloon tensions). But Reyntjens is just another target for the frustration of a regime that knows its donors no longer fully buy into the narrative of reconciliation and peace-building it has been selling for the last fifteen years. There's too much evidence that the RPF has engaged in some rather nasty activities itself. Donors are increasingly aware of the problem. Because of truthful analysis of the facts on the ground by scholars like Reyntjens and his students, the jig is up, and the RPF knows it.

I sincerely hope that the new generation of scholars of central Africa will live up to the legacy of seeking to explain and understand the truth about what happens in Rwanda, the DRC, Burundi, and Uganda. We owe Reyntjens and his generation nothing less.

1.06.2010

this & that

It's a post-holiday link dump!

academic blogging

Stephen Walt comes out in favor of academic blogging:
Indeed, given the concerns I've sometimes expressed about the "cult of irrelevance" in academe, I've come to believe that blogging ought to be actively encouraged in the academic world. I'm not saying that all political scientists, historians, or economists ought to start their own blogs, but we shouldn't penalize scholars who do engage in this activity and we might even consider rewarding it, the same way we should reward scholars who care enough about public service to use their talents and training working in the public or NGO sector. It would be good for the IR field if academic scholars were expected to write a few blog posts every now and then, if only for the purpose of self-examination. If the typical academic had to write a blog for two weeks, they might discover they had nothing to say to their fellow citizens, couldn't say it clearly, or that nobody cared. That experience might even lead a few of my fellow academics to scratch their heads and ask if they were investing their research time appropriately, which would be all to the good.
Of course, I agree. Blogging has made me a much sharper thinker, and it's led to all kinds of professional opportunities I might not have otherwise had. I've also met so many interesting people who work on these same issues, as well as built ties with practitioners in the field. This all seems to me to be for the good. Here's hoping the tenure gods agree.

I think there's room to use blogs to engage students as well. I've done so in the past by having them post current events, but this semester I'm trying something new: having the students write their own explanations of political and economic events in a country they're following for the course of the semester. (I'm moving the "short & sweet" current event stuff over to Twitter.)

what to do with puntland?

Jay Bahadur, about whom I know nothing beyond the fact that he's writing a book about Puntland, had an interesting op-ed in Sunday's New York Times:
In any serious attempt to combat piracy, Puntland must play an integral role. Yet it is not recognized as a legitimate actor in the region and has been financially abandoned by the international community, which continues to ignore the reality on the ground in favor of the flimsy transitional federal government, a 550-member parliamentary hodgepodge ruling over a few checkpoints in Mogadishu, hundreds of miles from any real pirate activity. A collection of ex-warlords and self-styled moderate Islamists, this is a government that does not govern; its M.P.’s have no constituents, its ministers no portfolios, and it exercises nothing close to control of the violence within its supposed borders.

...Despite Puntland’s limited capacity, Mr. Farole is committed to taking the fight to the pirates. Indeed, the government of Puntland has been advocating a strict policy of nonnegotiation with pirates since the beginning of the crisis. On those occasions that Puntland’s tiny (and now defunct) coast guard has been given the authority by shipowners to liberate hijacked vessels, the pirates have tended to melt away, content to keep their lives rather than their prize.

Successful land operations in Puntland’s coastal towns have accompanied these marine assaults. One afternoon, while in Bossaso, the president personally led a sudden raid on a gang of pirates preparing to shove off into the Gulf of Aden. These would-be hijackers joined the more than 100 convicted pirates, many with life sentences, being held in Puntland’s lone prison.
I agree with Bahadur that the West should stop pretending that working with the transitional "government" in Mogadishu is the best/only way to secure Somalia. It's not, and continuing with the fiction that the authorities in Mogadishu are in any way capable of controlling or securing their territory does no one* any good.

However, Bahadur's views on the potential of the Puntland government to stop piracy strike me as a bit too rosy. Every observer of the situation I know believes that many, if not most, of Puntland's authorities receive kickbacks from the pirates. It's one of those "facts" that everyone knows and no one can prove.

Why is it reasonable to believe that Puntland's administrators receive payments from the pirate ransoms? It's just about the only plausible explanation as to how the pirates are able to operate with such ease. Yes, they have guns, but so do lots of other residents of the region, so that doesn't fully explain their power. What's missing is an explanation as to the Puntland government's rather selective anti-piracy activity, as well as clear data on the relationship between the pirate bosses (many of whom actually live in Somaliland), members of the "national" government, and local authorities.

As Bahadur points out, when the Puntland government chooses to do so, it can actually be fairly effective at stopping pirate activity. But why does it choose to act in such a limited fashion? It's not as though it would be difficult to capture many of the pirates, especially when they're in the drunken stupors that inevitably follow big ransom payouts. A useful study of this issue would examine the conditions under which Puntland goes after pirates and those under which it does not. If that data were possible to obtain (and I'm under no illusion that it is), I imagine it would be fairly interesting.

Still, Bahadur's central point regarding the need to work with Puntland's administration rather than ignoring it or treating it as troublesome is solid. It's long past time for American policy makers to stop pretending that a country called Somalia exists in any meaningful sense. Puntland's authorities (and, to a much greater extent, their neighbors to the north in Somaliland), have semi-successfully created order out of chaos. Since the only other people in the region who seem to have figured out how to do so are Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda, doesn't it make sense that we'd want to work with the people who've managed it through more peaceful means?


*With the possible exception of defense contractors training what exists of the Somali military.

1.05.2010

prendergasted

People arrive at this blog through all kinds of random Google searches, but without a doubt, one of the most interesting came through yesterday: prendergasted. A few tweets (thanks to @WrongingRights and @ithorpe!) later, I learned that "prendergasted" is a reference to Peter Prendergast, a Jamaican soccer referee who nullified a Belgian goal in a 2002 World Cup match against Brazil despite the fact that nobody else believed Belgium had any faults in scoring the goal. Brazil, of course, won the entire tournament.

So apparently, "prendergasted" is a term synonymous with getting screwed by a referee. But for those of us who are interested in international humanitarian and development aid and advocacy - and who are familiar with the antics of another Prendergast - I'm guessing that "prendergasted" has a whole other set of meanings. What definitions would you use?

Update: Check out comment #4 below for the origin of the search!

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of inmates & asylums

Who's making decisions at the TSA? I understand that when something happens on Christmas Day, it's unlikely that we'll get the creme de la creme of the government's bureaucracy making decisions, but it's been ten days since the underwear bomber incident, and the TSA's policies keep getting crazier. Their latest idea? Requiring U.S.-bound individuals who are citizens of or coming from fourteen countries to undergo full-body pat-downs and carry-on baggage checks. These countries are all shown on the map above, and include Nigeria, Sudan, Algeria, Libya, and Somalia.

It's important to note a couple of facts about this new regulation:
  1. The requirement for extra screening is based primarily on citizenship, not involvement with extremist organizations or time spent overseas. In other words, if you're a Nigerian businessperson who lives more-or-less permanently in London and decides to fly to New York for a holiday, you'll still get the extra screening, even if you haven't been to Nigeria in twenty years.
  2. American citizens, except if they're traveling from or through these countries, aren't subject to the extra screening.
This policy is, in a word, nuts. Absolutely nuts.

Now. I recognize that in some ways this is just a formalization of a form of profiling that already takes place. The U.S. already required citizens of twelve countries to undergo secondary screening at U.S. airports, although this only kicked in if they traveled using their passports rather than another ID document like a driver's license. But we've all stood in TSA lines and noticed that the people picked for so-called "random" secondary screening are more often than not people who look "foreign." There's a huge degree of racism and profiling that goes on in our airports, so maybe this isn't all that significant in that the policy is just now slightly more overt.

I even recognize that there's probably a place for some profiling in airport security these days. Like it or not, most modern terrorists who attempt to blow up airplanes of late have one thing in common: they adhere to a fringe, extremist interpretation of Islam. We should absolutely be tracking people who frequent extremist websites or attend houses of worship at which hateful vitriol is preached (and I don't just mean mosques) or who show a sudden interest in the market price of explosive materials.

But that's precisely why this policy is so insane. It doesn't actually target terrorists. We're now going to waste countless hours of effort and sums of money to screen people about whom there are no indicators whatsoever that they will engage in acts of terror. Instead, we're going to assume that nationality and flight origin automatically makes an individual suspect. That is irrational, impractical, and unlikely to result in making anyone safer doesn't seem to trouble the TSA.

Why is this policy irrational? Let's take Nigeria as an example. Nigeria's population is somewhere around 150 million. I haven't been able to locate data on how many Nigerians travel abroad each year, but I think it's safe to assume that the number is substantial. A very large number of wealthy Nigerians have houses in London or elsewhere abroad, and the middle class often sends its children overseas for education. And a huge number of foreigners travel into and out of Nigeria every year, including the enormous diaspora population that's concentrated in the U.S. and the U.K. (many of whom have citizenship in those countries).

Of the 150 million people in Nigeria, how many are actually likely to be or to become terrorists whose objective is to harm American interests? We'd have to go into far more detail than a blog post allows to fully answer this question, but I think we can safely assume that the vast majority of the 40% of the population who are Christians and the 10% of the country who adhere to traditional beliefs are highly unlikely to engage in terrorism. (MEND's members are an exception to this claim, but their beef is with the multinational oil companies, not the U.S. government.)

Then there's the approximately 50% of the population who are Muslim. Can we safely assume that most of these people are interested in engaging in terrorism, or in supporting those who do? I don't think so. There's no evidence to back that claim. Yes, I'm certain that there are some extremists in Nigeria, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab among them. But let's not forget that Abdulmutallab's father (also Muslim) was so disturbed by his son's radicalization that he reported it directly to American authorities. That's not a sign of an Islamic community that is out to destroy America.

Again, I don't have any systematic, non-anecdotal evidence to prove that most of Nigeria's Muslims aren't dangerous. But the lack of a substantial number of Nigerians involved in international terrorist plots, coupled with the fact that Abdulmutallab became radicalized not in Nigeria but rather in London suggests that this isn't really that big of a problem. As Alex Thurston points out over at the excellent Sahel Blog, Islamic radicalization in the Sahel tends to be more about local grievances and power struggles than about international terrorist aims.

How likely is it that any terrorists will be caught coming from Nigeria under these new rules? I'd say slim to none. In the meantime, we risk angering a key regional ally. Indeed, members of Nigeria's government are already protesting these regulations, as well it should. It's just a matter of time before some third-tier prince on a shopping trip or a Nigerian oil executive headed home to Houston reacts to this unnecessary screening and thereby creates an international diplomatic incident.

Then there's the problem of the complete randomness of picking specific countries and leaving others out. Why would we target citizens of Saudi Arabia but not, say, Egypt? We know for a fact that al Qaeda-affiliated groups have kidnapped expatriates in places like Mali, but Mali isn't on this list. This just makes no sense. Terrorists come from all nationalities (including American and British). Why would we not instead focus our efforts on identifying and screening people whose behavior actually indicates a propensity to engage in this sort of behavior?

(Of course, these decisions aren't random; there are very few close allies of the United States on the list. Nigeria is included for one reason only: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.)

Profiling potential terrorists on the basis of nationality is terrible public policy. Not only does it waste valuable time and resources screening people who don't need to be screened, it also provides an incentive for al-Qaeda and its affiliates to expand their efforts to recruit and train people elsewhere in the world. After all, if Nigerians will be caught with explosives, why not move into Niger or Mauritania? And don't you know the black market passport trade will take off even more than it already has in Lagos and various other places on the listm - not to mention countries in which expatriates of those countries reside?

This policy will also worsen the perception among many in the Islamic world that the U.S. is engaged in a war against Muslims, which could actually weaken us in the fight against global terrorism. As counter-terrorism expert and former naval commander Rick Nelson told the NYT, “We have to be careful not to play into the narrative that Al Qaeda has made up, where it is Islam versus the West. ...We risk alienating the moderate populations that we need to be successful against Al Qaeda.”

Furthermore, these policies won't actually stop terrorism. Along with pumping more resources into intelligence-gathering, as Stephen Walt points out, it would be far more productive to examine the reasons people become terrorists and attempt to respond to those concerns rather than playing these silly cat-and-mouse games ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

As long as the TSA continues to labor under the illusion that airport security is a good way to prevent terrorism, I'm afraid we're going to be stuck with more and more pointless policies like this one. Nigerian friends, I am truly sorry for the increased hassles you'll have to endure at the hands of my government.

(Graphic: AP, via Yahoo! News)

1.04.2010

dna testing comes to congo

I hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable holiday season. A lot happened over the break, from the eruption of North Kivu's other active volcano to growing complications for the situation in LRA-occupied areas of northeast Congo and the launch of another military operation against the FDLR (Saints help us if it's as destructive as Kimia II was.).

I'll have lots of links up tomorrow, but for today, I wanted to report on one bit of good news coming out of Goma. On December 28, Heal Africa program manager Lyn Lusi posted this tweet:
1st DNA test went out today: 14yr old girl from Sake heard us on radio, saved the evidence. 2 suspects also sampled and all sent off to USA.
At last, DNA testing for rape cases has come to the eastern Congo! Used in conjunction with other efforts to build police capacity and get the judicial system to function normally (and in the interest of justice), this is a huge step in working to end impunity for the Congo's rapists.

There are no crime labs with the capacity to operate DNA testing facilities in the eastern Congo, so for now, samples are sent to Washington for analysis. The system is new and limited, but as word gets around (through simple mechanisms like radio announcements), more and more women and girls will be able to prove the identities of their attackers.

You wouldn't know it from most accounts, but a large number of rapes in the Congo are committed not by soldiers running mines but by normal citizens who take advantage of the country's lawlessness to prey on women and girls. (One human rights group reports that more than 3,100 women have been raped in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, and at least 2,700 of those occurred in Kinshasa alone.) These rapes tend to be less violent than those committed by soldiers, but they are no less devastating for the victims, who are often rejected by their families or who become pregnant as a result of the attacks.

I see the DNA testing as being most useful for this latter group of victims, at least in the short run. Although it could conceivably be used against soldiers, it's hard to see how the remnant of Congo's criminal justice system could force many soldiers to appear in court, much less jail them, without the consent of the FARDC's leadership. Above all else, the FARDC needs to be professionalized and put under solid civilian control and chains-of-command.

Still, the advent of DNA testing for rape victims is great news for the women and girls of the DRC. Here's looking forward to the day when every individual who terrorizes them will be held accountable, and to a time when peace will at last prevail in the Congo.



(By the way, I have yet to find a single journalistic account (in French or English) about the DNA testing. If you find any (or decide to write one!), please let me know.)