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

8.31.2010

the mapping report

"...no report could adequately describe the horrors experienced by civilian populations in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Every individual has at least one story to tell of suffering and loss. In some cases, victims have turned perpetrators, and perpetrators have in turn been victims of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in a cycle of violence that continues to this day."

It's been several months since I first heard that the long-awaited mapping report of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights contained some serious language about the role of Rwandan troops in committing human rights abuses in Zaire/DRC. The report was finished more than a year ago, but has yet to be officially released. However, the report was leaked to Le Monde, which reported on it last week, and the report quickly spread in the universe of people who closely follow the region.

As Jason Stearns notes, the leaking of the report almost certainly happened in order to ensure that the word "genocide" got out lest someone scrub it from the final version. It happened in late August, when half the UN is on vacation, and just before the final version was supposed to be released.

I have seen the draft report. It is long and it is damning. Those who have followed the region will not find much about which we didn't already know; it wasn't exactly a secret that the RPA forces supporting Laurent Kabila's campaign to take over the territory in 1996-97 were responsible for serious human rights violations. The report deals with many more issues than just those involving Rwanda, however. Just about every armed group that operated in the DRC since 1993 committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity, and a large number of them are discussed in the draft. It's horrifying. A few excerpts:
  • "All parties to the conflict in the DRC recruited and used CAAFAG. Between 1993 and 2003, these and other children were subjected to indescribable violence, including murder, rape, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced displacements and the destruction of their villages, and were deprived of all their rights. This situation continues to this day." (Paragraph 719)
  • "In November 1999, elements of the ANC/APR buried alive 15 women from the villages of Bulinzi, Ilinda, Mungombe and Ngando, near to the town centre of Mwenga, 135 kilometres to the south-west of Bukavu. Before being buried alive in the town centre in Mwenga, the victims were tortured and raped, some with sticks, and subjected to other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments..." (Paragraph 352)
  • "Around 27 August 1998, civilians and members of the popular defence groups burned several people alive in the neighbourhoods of Vundamanenga, Kimbiolongo and Ndjili Brasserie in the village of Mbuku, in the municipality of Mont-Ngafula. Several infiltrators, exhausted, were arrested, burned alive and then buried in the forest by residents of these neighbourhoods." (Paragraph 313)
These things are hard to read. They are harder to have endured. It will take years to sort out the myriad of transitional justice issues outlined in the later sections of the report, and most of those victims who are still alive will probably pass on before a functioning court system can hear their cases.

The big story, of course, is Rwanda and the accusation that Rwandan-controlled forces played a significant role in massacring Hutu refugees who fled into Zaire as a result of the Rwandan genocide. Jason Stearns has covered the relevant sections in detail here, as well as begun to provide an overview of the rest of the report here. The report's authors are careful to note that it should be up to a court to decide whether the crimes constitute "genocide," but clearly they believe that the potential for such a finding is there.

Predictably, Rwanda's government responded by saying that the accusations in the report are "outrageous" and referred to the report as an "amateurish NGO job." They have issued threats to pull out of UN peacekeeping operations if the report is released, which would not be good for the already pitiful operation in Darfur, among other places.

Max Fisher at the Atlantic Wire has a nice write-up of reaction to the leak and the draft report here. A few more thoughts on related issues:
  • The facts are not on the Rwandan government's side. Western reporters, Zairian/Congolese NGO's, and international NGO's were aware of and keeping track of these human rights abuses as they happened. That's not to say it was all cut and dried - there were certainly genocidaires among the Hutu refugees who fled across Zaire in advance of the rebel and RPA forces. But there were also women and children. All of them were massacred. Even Kristof covered it.
  • This report vindicates Howard French, whose masterful reporting from the ground for the New York Times in 1996-97 was what got me interested in the region in the first place. French covered the use of Hutu refugees as human shields and the attacks when they happened. He wasn't allowed access to some of the areas in which these abuses happened, but it was evident to everyone what was going on - when bulldozers head out to fields to bury bodies and the smell of death is heavy in the air, locals know what has happened. French covers this in much more detail in his book, which you should absolutely read if you haven't already. His coverage of the leaked report appeared in the Times this weekend. You won't find a piece that puts the report into better context.
  • Philip Gourevitch covers the leak and the Rwandan government's reaction to the report for the New Yorker. He implies that the methodology for the report, the standards by which it defines "genocide," and the fact that Kofi Annan arranged for the report to be conducted somehow discredits his findings. He implies that Annan was interested in spreading the blame after Annan's failure to stop the 1994 genocide.
  • I disagree. Even if Annan did want to do penance for his errors, that does not change the facts on the ground. Gourevitch is a brilliant writer, but his reporting is rarely critical of Rwanda's regime. He has long taken far too much of what Kagame and other RPF representatives tell him at face value. I think this stems from a fatal error in perception that Gourevitch made while reporting in the immediate aftermath of the genocide. Faced with the incredible horrors around him, he assumed that since the genocidaires were the bad guys, Kagame and his team were the good guys. What Gourevitch failed to understand then - and seems to still be missing now, despite all evidence to the contrary - is that there were never any good guys in this fight. Blood is on almost everyone's hands, and there's plenty of blame to go around.
  • The methodology on this report is about as solid as it could be given the circumstances. A team of local and international human rights workers used a two-witness standard for corroborating witness testimony, interviewed over 1200 witnesses, and is clear about the limitations of their methodology and the applicability of these findings in a court of law. They do not claim to provide definitive evidence that something happened, only that there is "reasonable suspicion that the incident did occur" (Paragraph 7). Given that some of the crimes they detail happened seventeen years ago, it's remarkable that they were able to corroborate as much as they did.
  • This report highlights the importance of seeing violence in Rwanda, the Kivus, and the rest of the eastern DRC as interrelated. You can't understand one without the others. The Rwandan genocide did not happen out of thin air; it was a product of the country's civil war, and decades of historical events before that. The fight for control of Rwanda extended onto Zairian territory and, in one form or another, continued at least until early 2009 and arguably until today. It may well break out in Congo again; there are some worrying signs involving death threats and shootings in North Kivu of late.
  • What court will handle this? It's still an open question as to whether this report will be released in its final form, but whatever happens, someone will probably try to use a mechanism of international justice to hold the perpetrators to account. I'll leave it to friends who know more about transitional justice than I do to explain what could happen. Two important things to note: 1) Rwanda is not party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, and 2) the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda only has a mandate to hear cases concerning acts of violence committed in calendar year 1994. The ICTR does, however, have the authority to hear cases involving related violence that occurred in neighboring countries, but, again, these are limited to acts of violence from 1994. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. In the meantime, I'd suggest that perhaps President Kagame won't want to allow himself to be photographed on the same dais as Omar al-Bashir again any time soon (see photo 3, HT @RachelStrohm).
  • The use of the term "genocide" is intentional and significant. I am not an international lawyer and I do not know whether the crimes committed by these particular forces in Zaire constitute "genocide" or not. The draft report concludes that there were "tens of thousands" of Hutu victims of this violence; that's a far cry from the counter-genocide claims of hundreds of thousands dead that many Hutus in Rwanda's diaspora have made for years. But in the end, it doesn't matter what you call it. Summary executions of women and children refugees who are fleeing violence or forced to serve as human shields is wrong. It doesn't matter how many people were killed, whether they were targeted because of their ethnicity, or who did it. And no one ought to be allowed to get away with it.
The importance of this leaked report cannot be overstated. If released as such, it will disastrous for what's left of Kagame's reputation, and he knows it. Even if it's not released, it's unlikely the donors can now simply ignore what they have long known to be true. What happens as a result of this is anyone's guess. Kagame is already sitting atop a powder keg of resentment and division in his own party. But there are many potential consequences, and no donors want to see instability in Rwanda. As Ari Kohen points out, nobody's thought much about what a post-Kagame Rwanda would look like.

Finally, I am once again moved by the courage of the people of Africa's Great Lakes region. Human language is inadequate to describe the inhuman abuses detailed in the report. The men and women and children who endured them, kept their communities going, treated survivors, buried their dead, provided public services, and continue to live with insecurity to this day are remarkable human beings. We owe them justice.

8.29.2010

five

Today marks five years of blogging at Texas in Africa. To say that I am astonished at how it's developed in that time would be an understatement. What began as a space to record and process thoughts from dissertation fieldwork that no one besides my parents and a few friends read is now a forum for discussion for researchers, aid workers, policy makers, journalists, students, and others from all over the world.

This year, among many other topics, we followed significant changes in the way the international media covers Rwanda, a fascinating collision of the aid blogger & social media worlds over the 1 Million Shirts debacle, and the continuation of the argument over the DRC's conflict minerals. Readership grew significantly in 2009-10, thanks largely to links from Andrew Sullivan, the Africa Monitor team at the Christian Science Monitor, and links and suggestions from people all over the blog and twitter-spheres. Thank-you.

At its best, this blog is a conversation. It would not exist in this form without you. Thanks for reading, commenting, arguing, challenging, linking, and suggesting new ideas, day after day after day. Not every blog has such smart and insightful readers. I am fortunate to count you among mine.

8.13.2010

summer blogging break


It's time for my annual, much-needed break from the blog. I'll be back in two weeks, just in time to look back at five years of blogging at Texas in Africa and to provide a dispatch or two from the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

For those of you who'll be at APSA or who are in DC, several of us have organized a meet-up at Science Club on September 2 from 6pm on. Hope to meet many of you there and/or at the conference!

8.11.2010

wednesday bleg

Well, students are trickling onto campus and the marching band is back to practicing outside of my window, which means it's just about that time of year. I'm looking forward to being a second-year assistant professor, and especially to not having any new courses to prepare this semester. One of my goals for this year is to develop a strong career development program for our international studies majors. I especially want to give the guys a sense of what it takes to succeed in international development, diplomacy, advocacy, and other industries. We're going to have sessions on grad school, writing personal statements, business etiquette, and internships, all with the aim of helping our students prepare for the realities of the job market.

That last one is where you come in. Those of you in the real world have enjoyed (we hope) having students from all over the place in your offices as interns this summer, so I figured this was a good time to hit you up for some feedback while your memories are still fresh. If you were giving advice to a potential intern, what would it be? What makes a good intern? What makes an internship succeed or fail? What qualities does your organization or agency look for when selecting interns? What would make you send an intern home?

I'd love to read your answers to these questions in the comments. Please include anything you think might be relevant -the good, the bad, and/or the ugly. Thanks, everyone!

8.10.2010

enough

Early Friday evening, the Enough Project's David Sullivan and Laura Heaton posted a response to their critics on the conflict minerals issue. They didn't name or link to the "corner of the blogosphere [that] has been subsumed with posts pointing out the merits and the perceived flaws of the new law," but I think we can safely assume that I'm one of the unnamed troublemakers to whom they are referring.

Sullivan and Heaton's key points as I read them are as follows:
  • Enough has not oversimplified the message, and it is inaccurate to say that they've promoted a narrative that suggests that ending the conflict mineral trade will solve the DRC's problems.
  • It's virtually impossible for American legislation to effect change in drivers of conflict like land reform or citizenship rights, so it's better to focus on the consumer electronics angle as that might have an effect on outcomes.
  • Their views are supported by Congolese civil society and government actors.
  • The regulations currently being developed by the SEC will provide a "demand shock" that will eventually unravel the militarized mineral trade.
Chris Blattman formulated an excellent response to several of these arguments. Among his points, he notes that the question of whether a demand shock will actually occur is wide open, especially given the relatively small percentage of the world's supply of these minerals that come from the DRC (As Dan Fahey notes, the DRC produces a very small percentage of the world's supply of all of the 3T minerals - the probability that most of us are carrying around Congolese minerals in our cell phones is actually pretty slim) and the fact that SEC regulations are very unlikely to have much of an effect on sales of these minerals to companies in the BRIC states.

This is really important, and it's an area in which I'd argue that Enough has misled advocates and policy makers by overstating the importance of Congolese minerals in the global economy, as well as the extent to which supply chain regulation in the DRC is possible given current institutional limitations.

It's been interesting to watch Enough backtrack on the claim that minerals are a key driver of the conflict in recent weeks. Unfortunately for them, much of their advocacy material makes clear that this is exactly the message they sold over the course of the last few years. While the reports have gotten more nuanced over time, the central message that stands out to uninformed observers is still very simple, and very wrong. I've seen what I assume is one of their standard presentations given to a group of college students late last year. Along with pictures of the horrible conditions in the mines and of Congolese victims of violence, the presentation featured a diagram of an iPhone. It showed what parts of it contain which minerals, and left students with the clear impression that they are carrying around Congolese minerals in their pockets, and that this was what drives the conflict in the DRC.

Back in December, Enough's David Sullivan ran a post suggesting that I had constructed a straw man with regards to this issue. I forwarded his post to a knowledgeable friend, who replied, "Have they read their own reports?" Indeed, Enough's own advocacy materials belie that claim. Take, for example, John Prendergast's April 2009 "Can You Hear Congo Now?" piece:
The time has come to expose a sinister reality: Our insatiable demand for electronics products such as cell phones and laptops is helping fuel waves of sexual violence in a place that most of us will never go, affecting people most of us will never meet.
Or Prendergast's May 2009 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:
But one of the biggest drivers of the conflict—and on in which most Americans are unknowingly but directly involved—has long been clear: competition over the extraordinary natural resource base.
Or videos like this.

Anyone encountering these materials without prior knowledge of the situation quickly comes to the conclusion that cell phones cause rape. There's no way around it, and for Enough to claim otherwise is disingenuous at best.The fact that only a small percentage of the minerals used in cell phones actually come from the DRC, that the region is largely at peace now, and that the situation defies easy solutions, if mentioned at all, is typically buried in the group's more complex reports, or brushed aside.

I will say that the advocates have gotten better at mentioning this complexity over time, but the bulk of their materials are still very misleading, and give advocates the impression that this small step will make a big difference in the situation. Also, it's not a good sign when even experts who support your position and whom you cite agree that you've oversimplified the message.

Look, I get it. It's not easy to build up an advocacy platform around such a complicated situation. I recognize that a real explanation of the DRC's problems won't fit nicely onto a t-shirt or a bumper sticker - or even in a blog post. Some simplification is necessary in order to reach a broader audience. I get it. But the problem arises when simplification results in distortion, which is exactly what has happened here.

This is probably why, despite being able to claim support at the national level from the country's Catholic bishops and a civil society organization or two, the conflict minerals platform lacks meaningful support from most CSO's in the Kivus.

Why does it matter if Enough focused the debate too narrowly? Blattman closes his analysis with a key point:
You also have to consider unintended consequences. What if victory on a high-profile, sexy, but ultimately limited issue keeps Congress from acting on the important things? If the price of victory is complacency, it is a price too dear.
Bad facts lead to bad policy. My fear is that, as a direct result of Enough's narrowly focused advocacy campaign, Congress will now think it has taken sufficient action to end the conflict in the eastern DRC. That couldn't be further from the truth.

There's also the problem of the likely disillusionment of advocates here. I give Enough a lot of credit for mobilizing grassroots effort around the DRC. But as they've focused on the wrong lever for moving towards peace, what's going to happen to those grassroots actors if and when this legislation doesn't change the situation? Odds are they'll move on to the next sexy advocacy movement, wherever that may be.

Everybody involved in this debate wants the same thing: to end violence in the eastern Congo. I want to believe that Enough's leadership and staff began their campaign with the best of intentions. But by overstating the extent to which American consumers are actually using Congolese conflict minerals - and the extent to which it is actually possible to change the way minerals are traded there - they've given Congress, the Congolese government, and the electronics companies an easy way out. All three groups will come out looking good here, while Congolese government officials will continue to benefit from the mineral trade, electronics companies will source the tiny percentages of Congolese materials they've been using elsewhere, and Congress won't feel obligated to support meaningful security sector reform, help sort out the country's land tenure issues, or significantly fund the hundreds of Congolese civil society organizations that have been working for years to bring about meaningful change in the region.

When it came down to it, Enough decided that the minerals issue made a compelling story that would result in action. The problem is that it's the wrong kind of action. Which, from where I sit, makes it look like an awful waste.

8.09.2010

angels & demons

Rwandans vote today, and by the time many of us in the states are awake, voting will be nearly over. There is little reason to expect that the polls will be anything other than peaceful, orderly, and calm. Nor is there reason to believe that Paul Kagame won't win a resounding victory, giving him another seven-year term in office. According to the country's constitution, this should be his final term in office.

It's been interesting to watch global opinion on Kagame shift over the course of the last year or so. Was it only last year that Time ran a breathless Rick Warren Time 100 tribute to Rwanda's president? That piece demonstrates quite a contrast with the international media's view of Kagame today, where pieces questioning his democratic credentials and authoritarian style, wondering if the RPF had a role in several murders and assassination attempts, and debates on the wisdom of unquestioning Western support for the regime are everywhere.

I'm not sure what prompted this shift. Quite a few observers have claimed that Kagame and the RPF seem to have gone off the rails in the last few months. But that's not really the right way to look at it. Very little has changed in the way Rwanda is ruled. Authoritarianism has been the modus operandi in Rwanda since the genocide. Allegations of human rights abuses were widespread in the years immediately following the genocide. The Congolese have been complaining about Rwanda's extracurricular activities in the Kivus for years.

The difference, it seems, is that the world has taken notice. Whether that's because the UN identified Rwanda's major role in recent conflicts in the Kivus or because a new generation of reporters were less likely to believe everything the RPF told them or because Twitter and the blogosphere make the free and open exchange of information easier, I don't know. But more balanced coverage of Rwanda is a welcome change for those of us who've been watching the region for a long time.

Every time I write about Rwanda, I brace for a barrage of wild comments and hateful emails from various sides of the Rwanda debate. Some of these commenters are in Rwanda; others are in the diaspora, mostly in London, Paris, Brussels, and D.C. They allege all kinds of things - that Kagame is a sociopath, that he's a saint, that I'm shilling for the RPF, that I'm shilling for the FDLR, that Kagame can do no wrong, that Kagame can do no good, that I'm a racist for calling out Kagame, that anyone who thinks anything good about Kagame is delusional. Not all, but many of these comments come off as pretty irrational, based more on feelings than fact.

Here's the thing: Kagame is a politician. He is neither all good nor all bad. He is not an angel, he is not a demon. Like most politicians, he wants to stay in power. In a country with still-weak institutions, a traumatic past, and a dangerous neighborhood, Kagame has taken steps to maintain his power that are well outside the norms of democratic governance. He has restored stability and grown the country's economy at an astonishing rate, while trying to move past a devastating genocide that was primarily directed against members of his own ethnic group. He has also overseen the perpetration of major human rights abuses, both in Rwanda in the years immediately after the genocide, and, to a much greater extent, in Congo/Zaire, during the wars and through support of the RCD-Goma and the CNDP.

Kagame is a brilliant military tactician and is a public relations genius. He is incredibly skilled at telling influential people what they want to hear. He has a serious problem in that he's lost control of the narrative about his country and his person. He has a more serious problem in that the RPF is beginning to fragment over his leadership and degree of control.

To me, these are facts. The specifics (how many people died, where and how exactly they died) are up for debate; we will never know how many people were killed at Tingi-Tingi or Kibeho, just like we'll never know the names of everyone who died in Kibuye. But it's hard to have discussions on these topics in a forum like this, because even facts are up for debate, even among well-educated, well-informed commenters like the ones this blog is fortunate to have.

I think about this a lot. Why do so many debates about Rwanda almost immediately descend into chaos, with two sides talking past one another, not agreeing on a narrative or on the terms of the debate?

I suspect it might have something to do with the trauma so many Rwandans, including those in the diaspora, experienced over the course of the last 20 years. That's not to say that "being Rwandan makes you irrational," but rather to raise an important question about the limits of reconciliation when you've experienced horror beyond what most of us can imagine. If I'd watched members of my family be slaughtered or had to flee my country or lost my savings as a result of genocide or war, I'd probably have a hard time evaluating the situation with a fair eye to both sides of the story, too. And I'm not sure what trade-offs I'd be willing to make in the name of stability.

I don't know how you get past that kind of trauma, or if it's even possible. But I do know that Rwanda desperately needs an open and free arena in which all issues can be peacefully discussed. Labeling dissent as "genocide ideology" won't solve this problem, and many other RPF initiatives don't seem to be convincing most that ethnicity in Rwanda doesn't exist.

Much of the debate over Rwanda's future has been framed in terms of a choice between stability and development or freedom and anarchy. That's exactly the way the RPF wants the discussion to proceed; their claim that freedom will result in another genocide justifies repression in the name of maintaining stability and the regime's impressive economic growth record. It would be mistake to think that many, many Rwandans don't see their choices in the same terms.

But the clock is running out on Kagame's style of authoritarianism. The international community has clued-in to his style, and while I'm sure the lens of attention won't be so sharply focused on Kigali after today, the tensions we've seen bubble up over the course of the last year aren't going to go away. The likelihood of violence there is higher today than it has been at any time in the last decade. It would be an unspeakable tragedy if Kagame's rule ultimately produced just the sort of violence he's worked so hard to prevent.

Rwandans need the right - and the space - to determine their country's destiny. I'm among those who believe that freedom and development are possible, side-by-side, and that allowing the one will make the other stronger. Here's hoping that one day, Rwanda's people are allowed to choose both. I'm just sorry that they weren't allowed to do so today.

8.07.2010

this & that

8.05.2010

more rwanda

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who left the link to Rob Walker's brilliant investigative reporting on the situation in Rwanda for BBC's Assignment. This is a must-listen if you're at all interested in the country's politics.

rwanda, rwanda

The latest in the lead-up to Monday's presidential elections:
  • The Guardian's coverage of Rwanda has been outstanding these last few months. Be sure to read this excellent piece on the Rwandan government's PR firm and its efforts to burnish the country's image. By all accounts, Rwanda's government is very confused as to why the international media has turned against their narrative of peace and prosperity this year. Problem is, the facts don't lie.
  • Also from the Guardian's Observer, here's a useful piece noting the very real support Kagame enjoys in the country, as well as the tension over his rule. It would be a mistake to think that Kagame won't garner votes next week on the basis of his accomplishments - he will.
  • Kigali Wire goes to a Liberal Party election rally, where so-called supporters (wearing the party's shirts) tell him they'll be voting for Kagame. Ahem.
  • Here's a safety alert for reporters covering the election that makes Rwanda sound much more dangerous than it actually is, but is generally helpful. My advice for anyone covering the story? Don't leave your laptop unattended or unprotected by a password. Ever.
  • Rwanda's government blames foreign-based dissidents for the series of what appear to be politically-motivated killings that have happened in recent months.
  • Kagame keeps it classy: "Whoever does not like the Rwanda way of democracy should go and hang."
  • And, finally, the bad news: dissident Patrick Karegeya called for violent uprising against Kagame in an interview with Uganda's Observer. Kagame struck back with yet another of what was perhaps not an ideal quote to come from the mouth of a man who's trying to burnish his international image: "All those who want war, we'll give them war."
  • Victoire Ingabire, who, had she been allowed to run, would be holding actual opposition rallies not staged by the RPF, said she believes that "the country is getting closer to the brink of chaos." While that may be a bit of an overstatement, there's no question that the period after these elections will be tense. Karegeya isn't kidding around; he and Kayumba Nyamwasa have been calling for violence against Kagame for some time now.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: the best way to prevent this kind of violence - which would have devastating consequences and would most likely spill over into North Kivu - is not through a crackdown on dissent, but rather by allowing true political freedom and honest and open dialogue about the many issues simmering under the surface in Kigali. This election isn't doing much to assure Rwanda-watchers that that's going to happen.

8.04.2010

“Conflict Minerals” in Ituri

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Dan Fahey. Dan is a consultant and grad student at UC-Berkeley who researches the mineral trade in North Kivu and Ituri. Here, he focuses on some of the misconceptions about the mineral trade in the region that have dominated the advocacy debate on this issue:

The Ituri District in northeastern Congo is well known for two main reasons: conflict and minerals. The war in Ituri, which lasted more or less from 1999-2007, caused the deaths of approximately 60,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The minerals in Ituri are mainly gold, and during the war various armed groups sustained themselves in part through gold revenues. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the war in Ituri is over. There are still some rebels in the bush in southern Ituri, but most of the district is in a fragile state of peace, including the main gold mining area around Mongbwalu. Many rebels put down their guns, picked up shovels, and now eke out a living producing gold.

The trade in Ituri’s gold has shifted since the war ended. Approximately ten major traders, all of who are Congolese, now dominate the gold trade. Most of these businessmen also have a variety of other commercial interests including hotels, gas stations, and trade in consumer products. Most of these traders also illegally export their gold to Kampala, Uganda, or take it directly to Dubai or China, where they trade gold for consumer goods that they later sell in Congo. But they are investing some of their riches in developing towns like Bunia and Butembo, which is a positive sign.

There has been a lot of talk lately about “conflict minerals” in Congo. Advocacy groups like the Enough Project have raised and spent large sums of money creating the impression that wherever there are mines in Congo, there is war and sexual violence. They have done this through the complicity of naïve journalists (see here), and through their own deceptive work, on display this week.

Yet putting aside concerns about Enough’s spending and motivations, you have to give them credit for getting Congress to pass the “Conflict Minerals Act.” The merits and drawbacks of this legislation have been discussed elsewhere, but my point here is threefold.

First, I want to call attention to the fact that large parts of Congo where minerals are produced are at peace. This includes the Ituri District. The working conditions for miners are extremely difficult and often dangerous, but in most of Congo’s mineral-producing areas, local and international businessmen control the mines and the trade, not armed groups. Enough seems to have mistakenly inferred that the few mines its researchers have visited in the Kivus are representative of the Congo as a whole. They raise money by creating the impression that the entire country is still at war, but it’s just not true.

Second, just as UN sanctions merely shifted and did not stop the flow of minerals from Congo, so too the US legislation is unlikely to have any impact on the ground in Congo. Congo is not a major global producer of “The 3 Ts and Gold” that Enough has focused on. According to the USGS, Congo produces approximately 0.6% of the world’s tungsten, 3.8% of the world’s tin, 0.1% of the world’s niobium (columbium), 8.6% of the world’s tantalum, and 0.4% of the world’s gold. Thus, it is easy for the producers of electronics destined for the USA to obtain their “conflict minerals” from other sources. The conflict minerals will continue to flow out Congo at the same rate as they always have, only their destination may change, e.g. to China or India.

Third, the entire notion that Congo’s wars can be stopped through legislation in Washington, DC is incredibly misguided. Ultimately, the Congolese people are going to save their own country. I know many Congolese who are working tirelessly, with little or no money, to end war in the Kivus and reform the minerals trade in Congo. Their efforts are far more important for the future of Congo than the self-serving efforts of Beltway Bandits like the Enough Project.

kenya votes

Kenya's citizens votes on whether to adopt a new constitution today. I'll be paying particularly close attention to events in the Rift Valley, where longstanding conflicts over land rights that have their roots in colonial resettlement schemes continue to simmer.

I'm also very interested in the role that Ushahidi's Uchaguzi election monitoring platform will play in reporting potential problems. If you're in Kenya and witness any problems at your voting station or in your community, you can report it by SMS to 3081. This is remarkable technology that has huge potential for increasing democratic accountability all over the world.

8.03.2010

Rwanda's elections: what to watch

Rwandans go to the polls on Monday to choose from among four candidates, one of whom is current President Paul Kagame and the other three who were specially selected to pose no threat whatsoever to Kagame's rule. Here are a few things to watch as the day draws near:
  • The government (and its mouthpiece, the New Times) will tout the presence of Commonwealth election observers, who arrive in-country this week, as evidence that the elections are free and fair. There's no reason to believe the Commonwealth won't certify these elections as free and fair, but keep in mind that a serious observation mission would have arrived in the country six months or a year ago. By not allowing the most significant opposition parties to register their candidates for the election, Rwanda's government sealed the deal long before this week.
  • There's no reason to believe that any electoral shenanigans will affect the August 9 polling, although it's likely that the burgomeisters will, ahem, strongly encourage every adult in their municipalities to vote.
  • However, look carefully at the percentage by which Kagame wins the elections. He's likely to garner more than 90% of the vote (really), but some observers believe that his actual total will be tamped down in order to make the election appear more legitimate. If he wins with 75-80% of the vote, that's a likely sign that the numbers were manipulated after the fact, albeit in a direction that won't affect the outcome.
  • The New Times staff will continue to take dictation from various government officials, releasing breathless stories assuring us that the elections are a model of democracy, completely free and fair, open to real debate, etc.
  • What happens after the elections? Rwanda likely returns to its usual, sleepy self. However, the status of Laurent Nkunda will be a top question, both for the international community and Nkunda's supporters within the RPF. Nkunda is supposed to get a hearing in a military court in September. No one - not the RPF, Kagame, the RPF dissenters, Kabila, or Museveni - wants Nkunda to testify in a civilian court. This will be key.
  • Watch for what happens with Kayumba Nyamwasa. Whether there's a new assassination attempt or he attempts to use violence to affect outcomes in Kigali, it's gonna be messy.
  • See also this excellent political risk analysis from Reuters' Hez Holland.