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

3.31.2010

a local response to a local problem

Now this is dedicated teaching:
Under the shade of a thorny tree in the small Kenyan village of Saka Junction, students sit learning the alphabet - spelled out in the sand using goat droppings.

"Teachers are supposed to be innovative," says Abdi Salat of Garissa district's education office.

"The teacher has to use goat droppings and wild fruits and all these things at his disposal as his teaching aids."

Herding livestock is the daily activity for children in these nomadic pastoralist communities.

...The children operate a shift system - lessons in the early morning are followed by a stint looking after the animals and then they return for another class in the late afternoon.

These children no longer have to make a choice between their nomadic lifestyle and an education - they can do both.
What a great, cost-free, sustainable, local response to a problem.

3.30.2010

this & that

3.29.2010

kibeho

Of all the mysteries surrounding the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the events that led up to and followed it, the alleged massacre of more than 4,000 mostly Hutu civilians in an IDP camp at Kibeho in April 1995 is among the most troublesome. Did the mostly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army exact revenge for the genocide against Hutus, albeit on a more limited scale? Why do we not know the answer to this question when there were international peacekeepers present and a UN investigation into what happened?

Most scholars outside of Rwanda seem to agree that post-genocide killings by the RPA (the armed movement that is now the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the political party that took over after the genocide and controls Rwanda's government) happened. As early as 2001, Alan Kuperman pointed out that the numbers of missing people after the genocide don't add up if we only count people killed in the genocide proper. Most agree that the Hutu extremists who perpetrated the genocide killed about 800,000 people from April-June 1994. Approximately 500,000-600,000 of those were Tutsis; the rest were moderate Hutus who opposed the genocide, gave shelter to Tutsis, or otherwise resisted the Interahamwe's madness.

At least one million, and likely many more, Hutu Rwandans fled the country for refugee camps in Zaire, Uganda, and Tanzania. The conditions in the most crowded camps - those in Zaire - were horrific; thousands of people died of cholera and other diseases. More were killed by the Hutu extremists, who militarized the camps and summarily executed anyone who dared to challenge their authority. Filip Reyntjens, one of the few Western scholars who worked on Rwanda prior to the genocide, estimated 50,000 Hutu deaths in the camps due to health issues. On top of that, there are still displaced Rwandans in refugee camps today; the question of their return is an enduring political issue.

But once we count the genocide, the deaths in the camps, the non-returned refugees, and civilians killed in the RPA's advance on Kigali, as well as the extremist Hutus who fled into Zaire to form what is now known as the FDLR, there are still several thousand missing Hutus. As Kuperman notes, "Statistics comparing Rwandan population figures before and after the genocide indicate that 1.1 million Rwandans appear to have died or gone missing between April 1994 and Spring 1995." What happened to the rest of the Hutus is an enduring mystery, and, arguably, one of the major sources of tension in the region.

Hutus in the region argue that what happened at Kibeho provides a clue as to what happened to at least some of the missing Hutus. While the events at Kibeho in April 1995 are still in dispute, it's certain that some people died there, that they died at the hands of RPA soldiers, and that the official death toll of 338 far under-reports what actually happened. Gerard Prunier estimates that 5,000 Hutu civilians were killed at Kibeho.The best potential source of information, a UNHCR-contracted report into the Kibeho incident and others conducted by Robert Gersony, was never released. As Rene Lemarchand points out, the story of what happened at Kibeho became part of the mythologies of history that form the basis for ethnic grievances in Rwanda. To Hutus, Kibeho is a place at which a great injustice was perpetrated. To Tutsis, in Lemarchand's words, "at no time have RPF troops engaged in cold-blooded executions of civilian populations."

There's one problem with the official narrative of what happened at Kibeho: there were witnesses who reported a starkly different outcome. Some of those witnesses were UN peacekeepers. There have been journalistic accounts of their experiences in the past, but now, fifteen years after Kibeho, one of the soldiers from Australia's contingent has published a book, Pure Massacre, with an account of exactly what he and his compatriots saw. Their accounts are damning:
By early 1995, the displaced persons' camp at Kibeho was the biggest in Rwanda, sprawling for 9sq km and containing 80,000 to 100,000 people.

The 32 Australian soldiers and medical officers arrived there as part of the UN peacekeeping force on April 18, 1995.

There were daily random killings by the Rwandan soldiers, but the slaughter exploded out of control soon after 10am on April 22. The Australians had a grandstand view of the nightmare from the Zambian compound.

The RPA soldiers murdered women and children right up to the UN wire. Bodies were everywhere. For the Diggers behind the wire, the next few hours were agonising.

For the refugees, there was nowhere to run.

As the Australians collected the wounded from among the piles of dead, the crisis began to escalate as panic-stricken Hutus overran the Zambian compound, driven forward by machete-and rifle wielding militia.

Hundreds were killed in the crush and the Australians were forced to repel at bayonet point the terrified victims they were supposed to be protecting, pushing them back into the RPA killing zone.

...The RPA went wild and cut loose with another hail of fire on the panicking crowd.
After the madness stopped, one Australian medic with a hand-held counter counted bodies he passed. He reached more than 4000 clicks about halfway through the killing field before RPA soldiers threatened to kill him if he did not stop.

For two days, the Australians brought out those still alive and helped to fill mass graves with corpses.
It will be interesting to see how Rwanda's government reacts to the publication of the soldiers' accounts. Normally, discussions of Kibeho are dismissed by the government as genocidal ideology perpetrated by Hutus who want to kill Tutsis. Those claims are easily dismissed.

But the claims of former Australian peacekeepers - none of whom can reasonably be denounced as having real biases in this fight - are something else. Here are some key reasons why the RPF cannot simply dismiss the former peacekeepers' points:
  • They represent testimony from impartial, international observers who actually saw the killings and counted bodies. The peacekeepers were on the ground as part of a United Nations-mandated mission that the RPA allowed to be present in the country after the genocide.
  • The peacekeeping contingent abided by their mandated rules of engagement and did not intervene to protect the civilians in the IDP camp.
  • Australia's government did not have any significant ties to Rwanda prior to the genocide, so the RPF cannot denounce them as being biased like the French (who had very close, documented ties to the Habyarimana regime).
  • They can't be written off as Westerners who want to see Rwanda fail; the peacekeeping contingent included 80 Zambian soldiers.
  • It's hard to fathom a motivation on the part of former peacekeepers to outright lie about what they did or did not see.
The timing of this book's release - just before the anniversary of the genocide and in the leadup to the August elections - could not be worse for the RPF. Part of me thinks we'll see a hysterical editorial in the New Times in reaction. The other part thinks that the RPF would be better off just ignoring the book, which, after all, few of its citizens are likely to hear about or read.

(HT: @noodlepie)

3.26.2010

betty watch 2010: a scor decision

From the AP, with a headline you couldn't make up:
Rwanda's supreme court ruled Friday it is not competent to hear a plea seeking the release of Laurent Nkunda, a former rebel chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo, held since January 2009.

"The court ruled it is not competent and sent the case back to a military tribunal," Aime Bokanga, one of Nkunda's lawyers told AFP.

The court's argument is based on the military status of General James Kabarebe, Rwanda's chief of defence staff, designated as the person responsible for Nkunda's detention.
There are lots of lingering rumors about the two grenade attacks that rocked Kigali in the last six weeks. One of the most enduring suggests that the attacks were planned by pro-Nkunda elements of the RPF, with the goal of sending Kagame a message that they will not be ignored.

There's no solid evidence to back up this claim. What we do know is that Nkunda has a lot of allies in Rwanda's leadership and they have no intention of allowing him to stand trial in the DRC or at the ICC.

What does that say about today's ruling? Well, for one thing, the question of what to do with Nkunda won't be settled any time soon. I don't see how they have time to get it settled before Rwanda's election season begins in June, which may be just how everyone involved wants it.

There's still no word on Betty's fate.

i'm sure there's no connection between corruption & $450/night hotel rates

The Economist puzzles over why Ethiopia gets huge amounts of foreign aid despite the solid, documented pattern of very undemocratic behavior by its leader:
Human-rights campaigners think the limpness of America and European Union countries, especially Britain, in the face of Mr Zenawi gives him a free rein to abuse his own people. This week’s report by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby, claims that, after 20 years in power, Mr Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front has “total control of local and district administrations to monitor and intimidate individuals at a household level.” With a general election due on May 23rd, opposition supporters, says the report, are often castigated as subversives by the government, denied the right to assembly, and harassed. The press has been “stifled”. Newspapers avoid writing about opposition parties or people the government says have terrorist links.

Furthermore, says Ben Rawlence, who wrote the report, “Meles is using aid to build a single-party state.” Foreign governments, he says, have colluded in eroding civil liberties and democracy by letting their aid be manipulated by Mr Zenawi. Because of his party’s stranglehold at village level, its members can decide on entitlements such as places for children in school and the distribution of food handouts. Peasants who back the opposition get less. Farmers complain they are denied fertiliser for the same reason.
As the article's author notes, the United States gives about $1 billion a year to President Meles Zenawi's regime, which has been a staunch ally in supporting Somalia's transitional government. Zenawi, for his part, says election observers will be allowed into Ethiopia to witness what will almost certainly be an unfair election.

Anyway, the Sheraton's comfortable.

3.25.2010

this & that

3.24.2010

ingabire arrested

Late yesterday, Agence France Presse reported the following:
A Rwandan opposition leader who has been under police investigation for comments about the 1994 genocide was arrested as she tried to flee the country, state-run radio announced Tuesday.

Victoire Ingabire heads the United Democratic Forces (FDU), a party formed in exile but not registered because of the police investigation. The government accuses her of denying the genocide.

"Security forces arrested Victoire Ingabire as she tried to flee the country," Radio Rwanda announced.

On her return to the country on January 16, Ingabire called for the trial of those responsible for the death of Hutus in the 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were killed.

Ingabire, a Hutu, has since been summoned by the police several times over those comments.

"She was under police investigation about her remarks on genocide ideology and denying the genocide," the state radion radio said.

Last week, she accused authorities of blocking her party's registration in order to lock her out of running in presidential elections set for August.
And there you have it. None of this is surprising; the pattern of intimidation against significant opposition candidates and journalists who write real news has increased in recent months. I hope (but doubt) that the donor governments will have the good sense to call Kagame out on these abuses of his power. The fight over whether any of Ingabire's comments constitute "genocide ideology" or genocide denial will serve as a front for what this is really about: the fact that Kagame doesn't want to allow a significant challenge to his power.

I think this is an irrational stance. The RPF could stand on its record of re-establishing security and rebuilding the economy against an opposition that has no accomplishments to speak of. This strategy might actually overcome the problem of ethnically-based voting in which citizens vote on the basis of ethnicity along. But by continuing to silence dissent and pretend that ethnicity doesn't matter to most Rwandans, Kagame lets resentment of the RPF's rule fester. This may be a good way to hang on to power for another seven years, but it's a losing strategy in the long run.

Why? Because Hutus still vastly outnumber Tutsis, talk of the untrustworthiness of the other group is everywhere, and the RPF ranks are clearly divided over questions like the status of Laurent Nkunda. Unless Kagame is prepared to institute a campaign of extrajudicial killings and other blatant human rights abuses - and I absolutely do not think he is - he can't silence his opposition forever.

Here are some assorted posts & articles on Rwanda from the last week or so:
(As of 11pm EST, no other news outlets seemed to be reporting the story. Rwanda's government daily, the New Times, confirms that the arrest happened.)

UPDATE: Rwandan authorities now say that Ingabire was not arrested and that her movements are not restricted. It appears, however, that this does not include freedom of movement that involves leaving the country.

3.23.2010

will monuc leave?

The idea of MONUC completely withdrawing from the DRC is ludicrous. We all know that the FARDC is one of the primary sources of instability in the east. MONUC's presence there is the only constraint on their propensity for violating human rights and engaging in war crimes. President Kabila continues to promote the idea, but visualizing what Congo - not to mention Rwanda - would look like without a major peacekeeping presence in the east is almost impossible to do. It would certainly lead to even more violence, displacement, and human suffering than already exists in the east's ungoverned spaces. For all its faults, MONUC is the only reason that anything gets done in the eastern DRC. Commerce, education, and health care are only possible because of the security the peacekeepers provide.

Grant Gordon has a nice post summarizing a discussion of what the debate over MONUC withdrawal means, and Jason Stearns provides his usual excellent commentary here.

All of us have the pleasure of commenting on these events from afar. Peter Beaumont, however, managed to capture the essence of the issue from the most important people in this debate - the ones who will suffer from MONUC's absence:
At the mobile clinic run by the group, Madiaro Rukaro is waiting for treatment. He is a farmer and a football player for the village of Kabizo, not the camp. Like the camp residents, he is scared of what would happen if Monuc were withdrawn, as Kabila is demanding.

"The UN helps us," he says. "If they leave there will be problems. It is wrong. If Monuc goes, then I believe things here will turn bad again."
Well-said, M. Rukaro. Well-said.

3.22.2010

death of senior al-Shabaab leader

Big weekend news from Somalia:
A senior commander of the Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab, has been shot dead at close range as he left a mosque in the city of Kismayo.

Unidentified gunmen shot Sheikh Daud Ali Hasan several times, inside an area of Somalia held by his own forces.

...Rival Islamist groups in the vicinity, including Hizbul-Islam, have not said whether they were behind the killing.

...Al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam are fighting against the UN-backed, weak Somali government and the African Union soldiers.

They have fought together in the capital against government forces and the AU peacekeepers, but in the southern Jubba regions the groups continue to fight each other.

The dispute began last year when al-Shabab forcibly took control of Kismayo from Hizbul-Islam.

3.21.2010

sharpeville

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre. A Time magazine article from 1960 explains what happened when some of South Africa's black decided to protest the apartheid regime's oppressive passbook system, which restricted their freedom of movement:
For years the Africans hated and endured the system. Then a new and more militant organization called the Pan-African Congress decided to exploit the passbook grievance. It urged Africans all over the Union to descend last week upon local police stations—without their passbooks, without arms, without violence—and demand to be arrested...

At first, everything was relatively quiet, too, at the Sharpeville police station, 28 miles southwest of Johannesburg—but Sharpeville was soon to become a headline name the world over. Twenty police, nervously eying a growing mob of 20,000 Africans demanding to be arrested, barricaded themselves behind a 4-ft. wire-mesh fence surrounding the police station. The crowd's mood was ugly, and 130 police reinforcements, supported by four Saracen armored cars, were rushed in. Sabre jets and Harvard Trainers zoomed within a hundred feet of the ground, buzzing the crowd in an attempt to scatter it. The Africans responded by hurling stones, which rattled harmlessly off the armored cars and into the police compound, striking three policemen.
The "mob" was likely much smaller, probably fewer than 7,000 people. But the police panicked and fired into the crowd. Sixty-nine black South Africans were killed. 180 were wounded. South Africans - and the world -were shocked by the horrific images that came out of that day.

Sharpeville was the first major turning point in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. The rest of the world started to question the regime's racist policies much more openly; South Africa left the commonwealth a year later.

It also provoked the militarization of the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC's militant wing, MK (Umkhonto wa Sizwe) and Poqo, the military wing of the PAC, both formed soon after the massacre. The next thirty years were marked with horrific acts of violence before - to almost everyone's surprise - the evil of apartheid ended peacefully.

Five years later to the day, American civil rights protesters led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began marching from Selma to Montgomery. The attempt by 600 marchers to do the same thing three weeks earlier culminated in Bloody Sunday, an attack by local and state law enforcement officials. With a protective order from a federal judge, five times as many marchers turned out for the March 21 walk. A few months later, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act, which effectively ended the last vestiges of legal discrimination in the south.

My students (whom, you will remember, are almost all black men) sometimes debate the question: "Are you a Malcolm or a Martin?" What they mean by this is, "Is social change best achieved through peaceful means (as MLK carried out his work) or violent means (as Malcolm X advocated)?"

I cannot even begin to claim to be qualified to answer this question. If we look at political history, it's clear that MLK's nonviolent methods worked to restore voting rights and some degree of social equality for American minorities, and they worked relatively quickly. MK and Poqo's violent methods certainly also had an effect on the apartheid regime, although the struggle was very long and ultimately did not end because of violence but rather because of economic turmoil and Mandela's willingness to negotiate a peaceful settlement with de Klerk. But nothing approaching true equality of economic opportunity has happened for the vast majority of blacks in either country.

What is clear is that violent events like the Sharpeville Massacre provoke a response, especially when the media pick them up. A comparable event in the U.S. was the Emmett Till murder. Till was neither the first nor the last African-American teenage boy to be lynched by Mississippi rednecks, but his mother's decision to leave his casket open and to let the media photograph his mangled body was absolutely essential as a galvanizing factor for the Civil Rights Movement. The site horrified everyone, especially white American families outside of the South. It woke them up to what was going on and slowly built support for the growing movement that effected remarkable change.

So let us remember the 69 victims of the Sharpeville Massacre today. Their deaths were not in vain. South Africa has a long way to go in creating a truly equal society, but had it not been for Sharpeville, the road to freedom might have been much longer. And we continue to hope for a better future.

3.19.2010

on sudan's elections

The Carter Center issues a statement on Sudan's upcoming elections:
In its latest statement on Sudan's electoral process, The Carter Center notes that while much has been achieved in organizing the 2010 elections, the country's first competitive elections since 1986, the process remains at risk on multiple fronts including the ability of candidates to campaign freely and the impact of delayed logistical preparations by the National Elections Commission (NEC).

Sudan's election campaigning has been ongoing across the country since Feb. 13, with some 16,000 candidates contesting 1841 parliamentary and executive seats. Although there have been incidents of violence, the campaign so far has been mostly peaceful. The overall electoral environment continues to suffer though from a legacy of years of repression. Improvement of the freedom of candidates to campaign and disseminate their messages through the state media is necessary. Further, the ability of candidates and supporters to express their views freely is limited by existing laws that contravene Sudan's constitutional protections. Campaigning has been constrained due to an environment of insecurity in many parts of the country, including Darfur and Eastern Sudan. This insecurity may inhibit the success of the electoral process and the Center urges further efforts to improve security for the elections period and beyond.

The Center strongly recommends that the NEC and other Sudanese authorities to take steps to ensure that the campaign period is both peaceful and fair to all candidates and to quickly address any violations that arise. Failure to do so will erode confidence in the election process and put its success at risk.
More updates on the elections are here.

3.18.2010

this & that

3.17.2010

coming attractions

I'm speaking on the keynote panel at the University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Conference on Poverty & Inequality this Friday at 3pm in 4154 LSA. The panel topic is "Poverty and Natural Disasters in the Developing World: Haiti and Beyond." I'll be speaking on what we can learn about disaster response from people who live in poverty. Hope to see some of you there!

oh, boy, oh, boy


Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

3.16.2010

rwanda's democracy

From Daniel Howden at The Independent:
Rwanda's democratic credentials have been questioned amid evidence that authorities are blocking efforts by the country's Green Party to contest this year's elections. The new Greens have been repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to register the party, their meetings have been violently broken up or blocked by police and their leader has had anonymous death threats.

...There are also widespread reports of intimidation and harassment of opposition parties as the country, which has been ruled by the same party for 15 years, gears up for the presidential vote expected in August. Human Rights Watch says all three opposition groups trying to contest the election have faced serious intimidation and bureaucratic blocks.
A democracy that doesn't allow multiple parties to campaign without fear of harassment or intimidation isn't a democracy at all. I teach my comparative politics students that functioning, consolidated democracies have several characteristics in common: respect for civil rights and civil liberties; regular, free& fair elections; an active and independent civil society; and a free press are among them. A leader can't just hold elections and actually be running a democracy (Saddam and Mobutu both held semi-regular elections. Wisconsin political scientist Michael Schatzberg told a fantastic story about being forced to vote for the latter during his fieldwork in Zaire at the ASA a few years back. Apparently everyone, including an American grad student, was expected to vote for Mobutu and his party, so soldiers made sure that everyone did.).

I think most political scientists would classify Rwanda as a semi-authoritarian regime, that is, one that has some democratic institutions and characteristics, but not others. Rwanda has a parliament, but lacks a free press, significant political opposition, and free speech, and has a few other issues.

My understanding is that there's some question as to whether Rwanda's Green Party is actually capable of registering and running a serious campaign for the elections this August. Nonetheless, the party's inability to register - and the fact that there's international awareness of the issue - is yet another dilemma the RPF will have to address in the lead-up to the elections. If the RPF wants Rwanda to be considered a democracy in the global community, its leadership will have to find a way to accommodate peaceful opposition. Recognizing that "opposition" does not equate to "genocidal" would be a good first step.

3.15.2010

update on the last post

UPDATE: Jason has pulled the original post that was the source for this post. Apparently Eve Ensler only joked about purchasing the rape-deterrent devices; she is not seriously considering doing so. That's good to hear. As is the policy around here, when I find out something is inaccurate, I take the post down, so that's what I've done with that post. My apologies for the error.

3.14.2010

this & that

3.13.2010

the lens of our perception

I think my concern is that all too often Sudan and other places in the world are represented through the lens of our perception of them, which is a lack-oriented view, where we see the only the things that people lack, or suffer from. We view things in this way, because we ourselves have those things – perhaps we even take them for granted – and our societies tell us that these are inherent entitlements of all human beings. It is difficult coming from a different cultural position, to see the many things that people in places like Sudan DO have, which we don’t; or the many wonderful ways of doing and being that exist here, that we can learn from. Interaction is always two ways and this is not reflected in this kind of discourse.

Even in difficult situations like conflict or food shortages, there are day to day relations between people that are somewhat normal and/or mundane. There are the ‘normal’ identities of people as fathers, mothers, friends and neighbours, which form an equally important part of who they are, and how they cope in these situations; more importantly there are many beautiful and inspiring things that people do in difficult times, to help themselves and each other. Shouldn’t this be highlighted too?

Another thing that I question in such narratives is what purpose, or rather whose purpose, do they serve? I often feel that we select our representation of people and places based on achieving our own goals as advocacy organisations. Granted this mostly stems from a desire to help, but I cannot see how perpetuating a stereotype of Africans as oppressed, fearful, hungry and poor, is the right way to help Africans.
That's a quote from Neha Erasmus of Justice Africa in a debate on representations in advocacy with the Enough Project's Maggie Flick at Making Sense of Sudan. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

3.12.2010

celebrity humanitarianism

Yesterday, @vijramachandran tweeted the news: "Finally, an actual research paper on 'celebrity humanitarianism.'"

Indeed, Riina Yrjölä of the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) has a paper in the World Political Science Review. Its title is: "The Invisible Violence of Celebrity Humanitarianism: Soft Images and Hard Words in the Making and Unmaking of Africa." From the abstract:
Through their actions to eliminate extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa, Irish musicians Robert (Bob) Geldof and Bono (Paul David Hewson) today form a visible and celebrated centre in the world of humanitarianism as ‘political activists,' ‘celebrity diplomats,' ‘global Samaritans,' men who, to quote former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, ‘rock the establishment' (TIME 13.11.2006). Their contemporary calls to ‘make poverty history' in Africa are so widely repeated and commonsensical that questions about the exceptionality of this humanitarian action itself rarely arise. In fact, despite the increasing visibility of celebrity humanitarianism, no research on their representations and truth-claims has been done among political scientists.

...The article argues that, while Geldof and Bono do push for economic changes for Africa, the spatio-temporality of their imaginaries and interpretations on Africa elaborate a colonial imaginary by (re)producing Africa as a specifically Western project and calling. By repeating and circulating the vocabulary of humanitarianism as a moral duty in combination with the engagement in power politics, these discourses not only serve a purpose in the maintenance of hegemonic Western activity in Africa, but are also instrumental in constructing consensus for the existing world order, where the global South is, and remains, in a subordinate position to the West.
I'll take the liberty of providing a brief paraphrase of the above for those of you who don't speak po-mo. Examining the cases of Geldof and Bono, Yrjölä argues that even though these celebrities have the best of intentions for helping African economic development, the ways that they talk about Africa and their focus on the idea that Westerners need to "save Africa" essentially functions another form of colonialism and reinforces the Western monopoly on power.

(Academic friends, was that fair?)

Yrjölä is correct in her point that there is no political science research on this topic. I'm not a constructivist (at all), but I'm working on an academic article about advocacy and have been thinking quite a bit lately about how the projection of the "save Africa" narrative that is so prevalent in Western advocacy might be affecting the kind of research that gets done and the means by which it is conducted. The way you see the world affects the kinds of facts you gather. Academics are trained to gather data in as non-partial a fashion as possible, but advocates work differently.

Celebrities, meanwhile, don't typically engage in data-gathering at all. Most tend to grab hold of the most readily accessible information available and treat it as gospel truth. So it's no wonder that we come to remarkably different conclusions about appropriate policies to pursue. I'll be posting more on this in the weeks to come, because I think it might explain quite a bit. I'd love your thoughts on any of it.

What do you think about Yrjölä's argument? Does the dominant celebrity narrative about Africa function as neo-colonialism?

3.11.2010

I give up

Is the New York Times trying to exasperate us with its shoddy, stereotypical coverage of the African continent? I mean, I've come to expect Gettleman to make outrageous claims like the one that "corruption is essentially a national pastime" in Kenya and for The Kristof to parade around villages as though only his columns will Save These Poor Starving Africans from a Life of Doom and Despair.

But The Kristof's latest video from the DRC takes it to a new low of stereotyping and exoticization:


Dear land. Let's set aside the fact that Kristof once again presents an incomplete story of what life is really like in the eastern Congo. Plenty of people can and do exercise in the Kivus, where they take advantage of the tennis courts in Goma or the fact that it is perfectly safe to run on a Sunday afternoon in the lakeside neighborhoods where every expat lives. (And the lovely Orchids Safari Club, where Kristof almost certainly stayed while in Bukavu, is conveniently located in just that neighborhood.)

Look, I get the point. Women in the DRC, just like women everywhere else in the developing world, do the bulk of the hard work. I think it's important to draw attention to that fact and to figure out ways to make their lives easier.

But it doesn't have to be done by turning everyday work into a spectacle. Kristof could tell the story of broken backs, hurting feet, and malnutrition without putting himself at the center of a show among people who don't have a choice about doing such work. (He could tell a similar story about poor women in the United States, for that matter.) Or he could have discussed some of the innovations in water carrying techniques (like the South African-developed Hippo Roller) that aim to make women's work easier. Or he could have donated some of his book royalties to one of the many charities that dig wells and collect rainwater so that women and girls don't have to transport water so far. There are a million possibilities.

Then there's this little gem, in which the Kristof suggests creating an international version of Teach for America. This is ridiculous. It would be FAR better for the people of those countries if we instead used resources to improve teacher training & pay in developing countries. We need to be giving educated citizens of developing countries increased and improved incentives to stay in their home countries - and that includes the bright men and women who stand in front of classrooms every day. The last thing African children need is a bunch of inexperienced, culturally illiterate twenty-somethings coming to hang out for temporary adventures in unfamiliar educational systems.

Besides, we already have a program for young Americans who want to teach in exotic locales. It's called the Peace Corps.

This kind of nonsense gives me headaches.

(HT: @talesfromthehood for the video)

Labels:

3.10.2010

this & that

3.09.2010

the data dilemma

Chris Blattman has a good take on Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin's paper that suggests that African poverty might be falling at a faster rate than we previously believed. As he notes:
Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin are doing the best that can be done with bad data: they use the scant surveys to get the shape of the income distribution, but discard what the surveys tell us about income levels. They calculate levels and poverty rates by tying the distribution to national income data.

...never, ever take data from low income countries too seriously. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the World Development Indicators have annual infant mortality data for most countries in Africa for most years? It should. Most of that data is interpolated, and the rest is (as often as not) close to made up.
This is an issue that we who study Africa have to wrestle with all the time: how do we analyze phenomena and trends when the data is so incomplete or unreliable?

The way data is created in the D.R. Congo is particularly problematic, and you should trust almost none of it. As I understand it, the last time anyone took a census was 1982. (The voter registration drive for the 2006 elections helped some, but that only got information on adults of voting age who registered to vote.)

Almost every piece of data that comes out of the DRC - including the most basic population estimates and demographic indicators - is based on the 1982 census. This makes almost all of the data highly suspect, to put it mildly. For example, say you wanted to know how many women in Ituri test seropositive for HIV/AIDS. The number you'd be given would be based on the national HIV/AIDS seropositive rate (which is, if not quite made up, not at all reliable) and the overall female percentage of the population in what's now Ituri as of 1982.

In other words, nobody really has any idea how many women in Ituri are HIV/AIDS seropositive. We might know how many are being treated at clinic X or how many have tested positive at health center Y, but we really cannot answer the question with any kind of certainty.

The recent fuss over a Simon Fraser University Human Security Report study is a good example of how, at the end of the day, we really have no idea what we're dealing with in terms of data in the DRC. The Simon Fraser study concluded that previous International Rescue Committee-commissioned/Lancet-published studies, the latest of which estimated the excess death toll of the Congo wars to be around 5.4 million since 1998. We could argue all night about who's right on this and never come to a valid conclusion. (The Lancet surveys were peer reviewed, and the methodology was solid, but much of the dispute there comes down to what you define as an "excess death" due to war versus a death that occurs from living in abject poverty.)

The only semi-reliable data is that collected by researchers on a very small scale, and even then, it's hard to know what to believe. For example, for my dissertation research, I collected a lot of data on school enrollment figures in the Kivus. The vast majority of this data was stored in files at the offices of church bureaucracies (Houses of faith run most of the Congo's public schools.). So I'd go and sit patiently while a kind secretary would hand-copy the data charts onto sheets of A1 paper, or I'd copy down my own charts according to their preferences for school system after school system after school system.

Is this data reliable? Who knows? How can I be sure that someone didn't mistakenly copy a "5" when it should have been an "8," or that a "0" was added in? What does it mean for a child to be "enrolled?" Does the data I collected represent children who actually finished the school year and took their exams? Does it represent every child who walked through the door at some point in the academic year? Even the guys giving me the data might not be able to answer those questions, and I have to remember that everyone has an incentive to present themselves in the best possible light so as to get access to more funding.

As one panelist at APSA a couple of years back whose name I cannot remember put it, "There is a high correlation between state failure and missing data." This makes much of what we supposedly figure out a little questionable, even after instituting solid methodological controls to ensure that we've gotten it right.

Not very satisfying, I know. But it's good to keep these things in mind as you read reports on the Congo, or on other developing states. We're doing the best we can with what we have, but these explanations are far from perfect.

3.08.2010

what's going on in rwanda?

The United States Embassy in Kigali confirms that two more grenade attacks happened in Kigali Thursday night around 8pm local time:
The first occurred in the Kimironko neighborhood near the Printemps Hotel. The second was in the Kinamba neighborhood near the Gisozi Genocide Memorial. Injuries and/or casualties are unknown at this time.
One attack occurred near the Gisozi Genocide Memorial. This follows three simultaneous attacks that occurred on February 19, killing one and injuring at least thirty. Kigali Wire has a nice round-up of all the reports on these terrible events.

Rwanda is one of the safest places I've ever been. The police and gendarmes have a noticeable presence in Kigali, and I've never felt as though I was in the slightest bit of danger there. Actually, I'd feel perfectly comfortable walking down dark streets alone at midnight while counting up my francs. It's that safe.

Even the most casual visitor to Rwanda notices the security measures the country takes to keep out weapons, drugs, and plastic bags, which are illegal in Rwanda. Visitors flying in through Kigali have to put all of their luggage through x-ray machines before they exit customs. Visitors crossing by land have their baggage subjected to an extremely thorough search by hand. If you cross by bus, as I often do, it can take an hour or more for the authorities to inspect everyone's luggage. Vehicles, especially public transport, are almost always stopped by police or gendarmes for inspection at some point along the country's main routes.

The justification for all of this searching and prodding is that it's necessary to maintain the country's security, particularly with respect to the FDLR rebels who operate in the Congo. Much of the FDLR's leadership was involved in the 1994 genocide, and their stated aim is the overthrow of the RPF regime in Kigali. The FDLR doesn't come close to having the capacity to do such a thing these days, which is why they bide their time terrorizing the people of Congo's Kivu provinces.

Do many FDLR spend time trying to sneak into Rwanda via the buses and border checkpoints? I doubt it, but that's not the point. The point is that Rwanda's government keeps a very close eye on what happens in its territory. They are therefore able to maintain an incredibly high degree of security and stability.

So what on earth has happened in Rwanda to allow five grenade attacks to happen in the country's capital city in just under two weeks? I can think of a few possible explanations:
  • The FDLR or extremist Hutus who tacitly support their efforts have managed to cross into Rwanda, sneak in illegal weapons or bribe officials to look the other way, and infiltrate Kigali, where they are using terrorist techniques to intimidate or harass the population.
  • Another, non-FDLR-affiliated organization has formed to create instability in the country in the lead up to the August 10 presidential elections.
  • The rifts between the RPF's current and former leadership are nastier than we thought.
  • The RPF or someone in it has an interest in seeing Kigali mildly destabilized so as to justify repressing political dissent and is somehow behind these attacks.
Let's consider each of these possibilities in turn. First, the FDLR. The FDLR is naturally suspect in that it is certainly the organization in the world that is most interested in the destruction of the RPF. Indeed, Rwanda's government quickly arrested two suspects after the attacks and said that both suspects are Interahamwe.

Here's one problem with the FDLR thesis. Violent extremists of all stripes tend to behave according to patterns. They're predictable. And launching secretive terrorist attacks on civilian populations in busy places isn't how the FDLR normally operates. Their fighters live in the forest. They tend to loot, burn down villages, rape women, and engage in mass slaughter. Random violence that has a relatively small impact isn't their normal way of wreaking havoc.

It is possible that they have changed tactics or that more sophisticated Hutu extremists are behind these attacks. Although Rwanda has tight control over its official border crossings, it does not and cannot monitor every inch of its borders to ensure that illicit material isn't being brought in. So that might explain it.

The second possibility is that another organization has formed, probably in secret, to oppose the RPF. This is also possible, but it seems unlikely that Rwanda's authorities wouldn't have heard about it and moved to stop its activities. Rwanda's authorities, especially at the local level, keep a very close eye on what the citizens are doing. Villagers are encouraged to report illegal behavior to the government and there are rumors that average citizens can reap financial rewards from turning in anyone whose activities seek to undermine the regime. For that reason, and the simple fact that dissenters in central Africa tend to be very visible (by starting websites, issuing press releases, etc.) I'd categorize this possibility as highly unlikely.

Third, perhaps the rifts in the RPF leadership are nastier than we thought. There's no question that there are tensions in the RPF based on what amounts to a power struggle between those loyal to Kagame and those who were once in the leadership but have since fled the country and who oppose Kagame's regime. Jason Stearns has a good summary of this relating to the RPF's accusation of Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa as one of the people accused of masterminding last month's grenade attacks. Nyamwasa used to be an RPF leader, but is now accused "of complicity with the FDLR." Nyamwasa, for his part, says that the attacks were planned by the government in Kigali.

Could Nyamwasa be right? The final option is almost painful to consider. Is it possible that Kigali is behind these attacks? As Geoffrey York points out in this must-read piece, it's a fact that the RPF suppresses political dissent and free speech in the name of maintaining unity. It views open disagreement with its policies - particularly when so-called "Hutu grievances" are raised - as treasonous behavior that could lead to another genocide. None of this is in dispute by people who are serious observers of the region. Even The Economist - a longtime cheerleader for Kagame's impressive economic record - has finally acknowledged the reality of the lack of press freedom and political freedom in Rwanda.

Does the RPF have an interest in pointing out that their leadership is needed to keep Rwanda stable? Absolutely. But would the RPF resort to violence against its own citizens in order to create a climate of fear by which the repression of competing political candidates could be justified? I sincerely hope not. The RPF has a lot to lose, especially given that it's been on somewhat more shaky terms with some donor states since the latter clued in to Rwanda's role in the Congo conflict. Kagame is well aware that there is a high degree of focused attention on Rwanda's upcoming elections on the part of the West. I just can't see him going so far when so much is at stake.

The third option seems to be the least complicated and most likely explanation for this sudden instability, at least for the moment. And it appears that at least some close observers of the RPF's political machinations agree. For example, the Christian Science Monitor spoke with a Rwandan political analyst (who, for obvious reasons, chose to stay anonymous). He or she views the attacks as "more likely to be expressions of problems within the ruling party, rather than attacks launched against the Rwandan state by rebel groups such as the" FDLR.

The RPF's actions certainly support the idea that they believe former RPF members to be responsible. Despite some rhetoric about the FDLR/Interahamwe being responsible in the immediate aftermath of the first attack, at least two of the three officially suspected masterminds or perpetrators of the grenade attacks are not Hutu extremists, but rather former members of the RPF leadership. In addition to Nyamwasa, Kigali says that Deo Mushayidi, who is now an opposition political party leader, was arrested in Burundi in conjunction with Thursday's attacks.

I can't say with any certainty who is behind these attacks. What I can say is that the attacks are almost certainly - in one way or another - connected to the raw tensions that underlie the surface in just about every Rwandan community and that is at the root of the Congo conflict. What does it mean to be Rwandan? How do Hutus and Tutsis who won't toe the RPF line fit in to life in post-genocide Rwanda? What justifies keeping one's political enemies silent? How does a landlocked country with virtually no valuable natural resources attract investment and develop its economy in order to give its citizens a decent standard of living? How can a minority of a minority continue to rule while maintaining an international image as a haven of good governance and stability in a turbulent region?

As per usual, when it comes to central Africa, there are no easy answers.

3.05.2010

this week in goats

As Fred notes, there other goats of concern in central Africa:
The other tenants have been complaining about the smell in the hallway, so now the goats are tethered outside on the street. (After all, to call someone a billy goat in Lingala – ntaba mobali – is to say that they stink.) Their neighbour, formerly a senior civil servant, has just become a VIP, winning a ministerial appointment in the latest reshuffle.

Instead of sending cards, the new minister’s better off friends and relatives have brought gifts. Some bring whisky or champagne, others bring live chickens and goats (five, to date). A goat (worth $70-120 in Kinshasa depending on its size) is the most prestigious of these, symbolising wealth, and being the essential ingredient for a good feast (to which the giver might hope to be invited).

Clearly, the minister isn’t in desperate need of extra food, and nobody’s getting married, so why the lavish generosity? The message is quite simple, yet a little devious: “Don’t forget about me”.
Ah, patronage politics.

(And extortionate Kinshasa prices - the same goats would go for $25-50 in Goma.)

3.04.2010

meanwhile back in eyl

From Daniel Sekulich:
"Things have again been somewhat quiet off the Horn of Africa, owing to the sea conditions created by monsoon winds. This is a cyclical pattern like the summer monsoon, which makes it a bit safer for mariners transiting the region, though things will soon heat up again.

"...But it appears that while things have been slow on sea for the pirates, the gangs have found another way to keep themselves busy and possibly make some money: hijacking UN World Food Programme trucks carrying aid through areas controlled by warlords. As reported by the BBC, three trucks and their drivers are being held by criminals in the Somali pirate port of Eyl, the first time such an incidence has occurred in that region of the country."
Any approach to piracy that fails to view their activity as the pirates themselves view it - that is, as a criminal syndicate - is bound to fail. Frankly, I'm surprisued it's taken them this long to go after the WFP. Free food is certainly a cheaper way to feed pirates and their hostages, who are often at sea for several months while ransoms are being negotiated. But what are they doing with the rest of that food?

To figure this out, we might think about what incentive the pirates have to steal excess amounts of humanitarian aid. Obviously they can make a profit from it, but why would they take away the primary source of food for the people in whose communities they operate?

It seems to me that there are a couple of possible explanations. Maybe they feel that they can sell the hijacked food to the population for inflated prices. But there are more people in the general population than the pirates, and the pirates are in some ways dependent on the people's support. I'm not sure they would be interested in upsetting the population that way.

The other possible explanation is that the pirates want to be seen as the distributors of food. If the people are dependent on them, or at least feel that they are benefiting from pirate activity, it might help the pirates to gain more legitimacy as community leaders. It also makes them stronger than competing authorities in the region, including the local government and traditional and religious authorities. The pirates need to be able to freely operate out of Eyl, and building up popular support only makes that easier.

All of this is pure speculation on my part; there's really no way for most of us in the west to know what's actually motivating this behavior. Are there any readers out there with better insight?

3.03.2010

this & that

3.02.2010

rwanda, rwanda

This is one of the best news pieces on Rwanda I've seen in a very long time. Geoffrey York covers the nature of Rwandan politics, the fight over the meaning of the genocide, the nature of identity, and contested versions of the truth of what happened sixteen years ago and what happens today:
At the heart of the battle between Ms. Ingabire and Mr. Kagame is a stark disagreement about Rwanda's identity. The President argues that any talk of ethnicity must be suppressed because Rwanda is still in a fragile post-genocide period, where hatred and violence could rise again. His opponent sees this as an excuse for repression, leading only to resentment and bitterness among those who cannot speak out.

It is unclear whether the government will permit Ms. Ingabire to challenge Mr. Kagame in the presidential election in August. The President won the last election with an official margin of 95 per cent, and he has brooked no real opposition since 1994, when he led the Tutsi rebels who defeated the genocidal Hutu regime.

So far, Ms. Ingabire has been denied permission to gather the 200 signatures that she needs to register her political party. She is routinely subjected to fierce attacks in the pages of Rwanda's only daily newspaper, the state-connected New Times, which refuses to publish her responses to the attacks.

“I don't know why the government is so afraid of me,” she says. “They watch me and follow me all the time. I know anything can happen to me – they can arrest me, they can kill me.”
The piece is definitely worth your time.

it's my favorite day!!!!

Happy Texas Independence Day, y'all.

betty watch 2010

The latest from Kigali:
Congolese rebel chief Laurent Nkunda has gone to court seeking to end 14 months of house arrest in Rwanda.

Lawyer Stephane Bourgon told the BBC that Gen Nkunda was being illegally detained by Rwanda.

He said that he would go to the African Court of Human Rights if Rwandan judges declined to hear the case.
Funny that there's no mention of Betty. Speaking of, I recently heard that it's possible to visit Nkunda at the site of his house arrest. Apparently Kagame underestimated the level of support Nkunda had in Kigali (even among the RPF leadership) and had to loosen up the restrictions in response to that support.

Among other issues like the facts that the CNDP's place in the DRC government and Rwanda's role in ongoing conflicts there still aren't really settled, this means that it should be possible to resume Betty Watch. After nearly a year in hiatus, I'm putting out an APB for Nkunda's pet goat. If you or someone you know gets the chance to visit the compound, be sure to ask after her, okay?

3.01.2010

yikes

From the latest newsletter of the American Political Science Association (emphasis mine):
The number of new assistant professor positions is perhaps the best indicator to use for a quick look into current academic job posting conditions. As of December 31, 2009, 360 assistant professor positions have been posted to APSA's eJobs database. This is 64% of the number of listings posted at the same time last year, and 61% of the mean number of listings annually for the past 5 years. By this marker, the market is indeed tight. APSA does not track whether posted positions are filled, and do not have a way to assess how many of the postings--this year or last--are firm. We do know that jobs have been posted later in the recruting season this year than in the past, which may indicate that the ones that have been put forward are firm. ...Overall placement for AY 2008-2009 tracked placement of recent years: 864 new graduates were placed, with 464 in permanent academic positions, 198 in temporary positions, and 151 in positions outside of academia.
By all accounts, this year's political science job market (as with most of the academy) has been brutal. I remain profoundly grateful that I was on the market last year and that I got a tenure-track job. Best of luck to those of you who are out there this year.