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

4.28.2011

the unintended consequences of Congo advocacy

When people who study the Congo for a living get together, one of the questions that inevitably arises has to do with how the conflict minerals narrative was created. Nobody disputes that minerals fuel part of the violence perpetrated by some of the armed groups operating in the eastern Congo. But we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how conflict minerals became THE story about the multilayered conflict.

I think it's fair to say that after a couple of UN reports on mining during the wars came out, this narrative was picked up on and strengthened by advocacy groups, in particular, the Enough Project and Global Witness, the latter of which spent most of the last decade researching mineral trafficking in the Congo and the former of which was at the forefront of efforts to get a rider on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed that will eventually require American electronics companies to identify whether they are using DRC-sourced conflict minerals in their products. Enough's leaders believe that this legislation will play a significant role in reducing the use of conflict minerals from the DRC, which in turn will cut off a source of financing for Congolese armed groups, which in turn will lead to less violence in the region. While their latest advocacy materials acknowledge the need for more significant reform in other sectors, there's no question that the bulk of Enough's efforts have been focused on the mineral issue.

Most scholars of the DRC would agree that the mineral trade is one dimension of the conflict, but that it isn't the entire story, and most of us are very perplexed as to from where the idea that minerals are the central story originated. Why is Enough so committed to this one facet of the conflict when few, if any, regional experts believe that addressing the militarized mineral trade will stop the region's violence?

It seems I'm not the only one who is wondering why Enough pursued this path:
“We don’t understand why President Obama would want to cut off Congo’s minerals,” said Idrissa Assani, expressing a sentiment clearly shared by his fellow miners who sat together in the dark office of their mining cooperative. “It is the innocents who are vulnerable” and who will suffer most from “Obama’s law,” he said.

In the simple wooden structure with dirt floors, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight coming through the open door and through spaces in the paneling, Assani pulled out a pristine copy of “Obama’s law,” as the conflict minerals provision of the Dodd-Frank bill is locally known. People are already suffering from the “embargo” imposed by President Obama and expecting conditions to only get worse, he said.

Leafing through the pages of the legislation, Enough analyst Fidel Bafilemba noted to the French and Kiswahili speakers that nowhere in the U.S. bill is there any mention of an embargo or a ban on Congo minerals. Rather, the law calls for companies to conduct due diligence on minerals from Congo to ensure that armed groups and military units do not benefit from these resources. The group of miners was surprised, admitting that it has been difficult to understand the details of Obama’s law since none of them speak English and they’ve never seen a translated version of the bill.

The post goes on to point out that Kabila, not Obama, imposed the mining ban that affected mining operations in the Kivus and Maniema for about six months starting last September. Enough goes on to claim that people who understand the traceability system support it, though of course right now they can only provide a theoretical discussion of what it would be like.

This is an interesting situation. It is true that Enough never called for a ban on Congolese mineral exports. The Dodd-Frank rider contained exactly the provisions the organization wanted; I would not be at all surprised to learn that Enough staff were responsible for writing most of the provisions. These provisions stress the importance of traceability and companies knowing from which mines their minerals are sourced. In that sense, the mining ban is not Enough's fault.

But at the same time, there is no question that the Kabila government's suspension of mining operations was a direct response to Dodd-Frank. Neither is there any question that tens of thousands of miners and traders who make a living off of mining - some of it legitimate and non-militarized - in the Kivus and Maniema suffered horribly as their incomes dwindled to nothing. Nor is there any question that the mining ban actually led to increased militarization of some mines that were previously out of military control.

None of this was intended or foreseen by Enough or any advocates or legislators who pushed for the rider. But they nonetheless bear some responsibility for it having happened. It was their advocacy that led to the legislation's passage and that prompted the ban. There's no way around it. Unintended consequences happen. In this case, we likely haven't seen the end of them. As some knowledgeable observers believe, due to the incredible difficulty of actually verifying mineral supply chains in a place with as many smuggling routes, bribe-able officials, and weak institutions as the Kivus, there is a good chance that the legislation could lead to a de facto ban on Congolese mineral exports.

The keys to improving life in the Democratic Republic of Congo involve creating better governance, real security, stronger institutions, jobs, and a state that acts for the common good rather than the self-interest of its rulers. These are complex, elusive fixes that have little to do with the mineral trade and everything to do with governance. As an excellent new Crisis Group report on mineral supply chain regulation efforts concludes, "The control and regulate approaches are complementary, but face serious feasibility, reliability and security problems related to the more general problem of governance in eastern DRC."

Which brings us back to the question of why advocates pushed so hard for the conflict minerals focus in the first place. It was obvious to almost everyone who knows Congo that the mineral trade was not the place to start. Without the basic institutions of governance and security in place, attempting to regulate minerals is very unlikely to affect significant change. This was as clear five years ago as it is today. While I'm certain that advocates chose this path because of it is relatable (Everybody has a cell phone!) and the idea that consumer pressure can make a difference, it still doesn't make much sense to make it the centerpiece of advocacy efforts. Academic experts on the Congo, Congolese-Americans, and Congolese advocates have watched with frustration for years as Enough-chosen witnesses who have very little experience living and working in the DRC (some of whom don't speak French) testify before Congress that conflict minerals are the issue, and that addressing them will improve the lives of the Congolese. The chances that this is true are slim to none; armed groups in the Congo do not need money or weapons to perpetrate violence, and without access to money earned in the mineral trade, they are highly likely to prey even further on the population.

I was emailing back and forth with a friend about this issue this morning when he noted that it would be really nice to have a discussion involving NGO's and advocacy groups about "the extent to which stopping conflict minerals will stop conflict, and why it is they think so." I think this is a great idea. If Enough is as concerned about the unintended consequences of their advocacy efforts as they should be, it seems to me that they would want to explain why they chose this particular path, as well as discuss their efforts to mitigate suffering for people who are becoming unemployed because of the legislation's consequences. Moreover, it would give clear answers to their critics, and might even open the path to some collaboration in the future.

It's long past time that all the players in the Congo discussion sat down at one table to talk about the core assumptions of the the conflict, the advocacy movement, and what the Congo needs. It seems to me that the Great Lakes Policy Forum would be the ideal place to hold such a discussion, but if some other group wants to step up to host such an event, that would be great.

What do you think? Why did one narrative about the DRC conflict take precedence over the others? Would a dialogue between advocacy groups, Congolese citizens, and experts be useful or productive?

this & that

4.27.2011

real insights

From the Chronicle of Philanthropy:
Mr. Affleck said he wanted to give money to local groups both to help people in the Congo directly but also to back up his advocacy work with real insights.

“We’ve all seen advocates who have a lot to say, but when I really drill down with them, I don’t have any kind of clear sense of where their opinions are coming from,” he said. “I wanted to have the integrity of doing that and I also wanted to make a tangible difference on the ground.”

I've written before about what I think Affleck's Eastern Congo Initiative is getting right. Add to that list the importance of getting beyond advocacy slogans to a perspective of what is actually going on at ground-level. Glad to see that Affleck is trying to learn directly from the Congolese.

4.26.2011

the congo's complexity

I'm not sure how much can be said about Jason Stearns' new book on the Congo wars, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, that hasn't already been said by far more prestigious reviewers than me (see those from The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post). But as someone who has read the bulk of what's been published on the conflict over the course of the last fifteen years, I can unequivocally say that this is the most accessible introduction to the country's multi-layered local conflict, civil war, and international wars out there. In short, if you want to understand the DRC wars, you need to read this book.

Stearns writes not as an academic (though he is currently studying for a PhD in political science), but rather as a journalist and storyteller. The story he tells is framed around real individuals who symbolize the various facets of the conflict - a Rwandan Hutu refugee, a Banyamulenge recruit to the AFDL, a former RCD politician. By weaving together their experiences and perspectives, Stearns manages to present an incredibly complex series of conflicts into a readable, compelling narrative.

It is in capturing the conflict's complexity that Stearns provides a great service to the reader. Longtime readers of this blog know my frustration with oversimplified narratives that reduce the Congo conflict to rape and minerals. Stearns resists the temptation to simplify anything, instead trusting that his readers, with guidance, can absorb complexity. (He doesn't get around to discussing minerals until chapter 19, in part because they had very little to do with the start of the wars.)

Stearns' central claim is that the Congolese wars - like wars everywhere - are at their heart political. He shows time and time again how calculations - Rwanda's decision to invade, Kabila's decision to expel Rwanda and Uganda - are the result of political processes and rational decision making. This provides an important counterweight to so many reductionist journalistic and advocacy accounts of the DRC situation (that almost always include references to the "heart of darkness") that chalk up violence there to ancient hatreds, wars about greed for minerals, and/or total chaos. As Stearns puts it:
All of these stories [about atrocities] are true.... These advocacy efforts have also, however, had unintended effects. They reinforce the impression that the Congo is filled with wanton savages, crazed by power and greed. This view, by focusing on the utter horror of the violence, distracts from the politics that gave rise to the conflict and from the reasons behind the bloodshed. If all we see is black men raping and killing in the most outlandish ways imaginable, we might find it hard to believe that there is any logic to this conflict. ...If we want to change the political dynamics in the country, we have above all to understand the conflict on its own terms.
Taking the Congo and its wars on its own terms is difficult. I think this is the heart of the disconnect - it's a lot easier to fit the conflict into patterns of understanding that make sense in Western terms than it is to deconstruct layer after layer of politics. But as we've watched effort after effort after effort at peace building fail, it's more and more clear that the DRC has to be taken on its own terms, with a clear recognition that incentives and politics matter.

4.21.2011

the war profession

I’ve never even heard of Misrata before, but for your whole life it was there on a map for you to find and ponder and finally go to. All of us in the profession—the war profession, for lack of a better name—know about that town. It’s there waiting for all of us. But you went to yours, and it claimed you.
That's Sebastian Junger in a heartbreaking remembrance of his friend Tim Hetherington.

4.19.2011

this & that

4.11.2011

tournament challenge winner

Things have been a little busy around here and I almost forgot to post the winner of our NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge. Then a package containing some miraculous SWEDOW from Cameron MacDonald showed up in the mail and I remembered. So, without further ado, the winner of the First Possibly Annual Aid Bloggers NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge is University of South Carolina development geographer Ed Carr, who, despite having picked Kentucky to win it all, still beat out the rest of us with 780 points. Ed, you can email me if, I mean, when you want to claim your fabulous SWEDOW prizes, including a book of presidential doodles, some used ping pong balls, and an Ace of Base cassette single.

4.10.2011

magic and war

Reuters' Mark John:
For many of the combatants in Ivory Coast conflict, magic counts just as much as military might.

As rival forces of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara pursued their battle for Abidjan on Sunday, a small group of pro-Ouattara soldiers went to the northern entry point of the port city intent on destroying a roughly cut block of stone on a pedestal.

"This is the stone erected when Laurent Gbagbo came to power, to put Abidjan under his spell," explained Lieutenant Daniel Dodo as soldiers took turn to bash away at the monument with a mallet.

"By knocking it down, we are liberating Abidjan," he said as a final blow of the mallet sent the stone block crashing to the ground.

From inside the pedestal, soldiers pulled out dirty rags of red cloth which Dodo said had been treated with a spell by a fetishist from the tiny Central African island state of Sao Tome.

"Red is symbolic, they say human blood is needed to give power to the amulet," said Dodo, who like many pro-Ouattara troops wear a black tee-shirt with the French words "battalion mystic" -- "mystical battalion" -- on the back.

No official comment was available on the origin or meaning of the stone monument, which had been almost hidden from view in the long grass between two lanes of the urban motorway going to central Abidjan.

This piece no doubt provides "proof" to those who believe that Africa is a monolithic whole full of savages who kill each other over superstition and/or due to atavistic hatreds, but let's try to focus on substance. My next project is about identity in the Congo and its relationship to the wars, the nature of the state, and political behavior, so I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I've also been working on (and by "working on," I mean, "wrote ten pages a year and half ago and haven't looked at it since") an exploratory paper about what conceptions of African identity mean for the way we think about and study war. It touches on a lot of issues - the nature of communal identity as opposed to Western-style individual identity, the way that this matters in thinking about winners and losers in conflicts - including that of belief in supernatural forces as significant actors in politics, conflict, and society in general. What I'm trying to think through is what implications this has for the reasons conflicts start, the ways that they end, and how local and international actors may miss one anothers' points completely as a result of not understanding these differences. If two groups understand causality in completely different terms, what might that mean for getting things done?

What I'm explicitly trying to avoid in this research is the passing of value judgments vis-a-vis the question of scientific rationality vs. belief in supernatural forces. Because I honestly don't think that what is real is what actually matters here. It's all about perception. It doesn't matter whether a stone with a bunch of cursed red cloths inside really affects whatever will happen to Monsieur Gbagbo, whose days seem numbered by any standard. What might matter, however, is whether all or some of Ouattara's troops believe that taking out that stone is key to their victory. It could affect how they fight, their strategy, and what they are willing to sacrifice at the negotiating table. Likewise, the nature of communal identity, in which the "we" is far more important than the "me," means that concessions or defeat may not just be perceived as the defeat of M. Gbagbo - it's the defeat of all who share his identity. That might explain in part why concessions are harder to come by in this situation, as does the point that Gbagbo seems to genuinely believe that God doesn't want him to leave.

It's something to think about, and something I will be working on full time once my book manuscript is finished. Any thoughts or suggestions for reading that might help me along?

4.06.2011

Cote d'Ivoire SMS update

Kudos to the staff at Orange Cote d'Ivoire for this, just posted to their Facebook wall (translated from French):
Gestures of solidarity Orange Ivory Coast and Cote d'Ivoire Telecom
by Je suis Fan de Orange Côte d'Ivoire on Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 2:05pm

Orange Cote d'Ivoire Cote d'Ivoire Telecom offer:

1 / their mobile customers, a bonus of 2,000 francs CFA valid for 1 month for all calls to Orange numbers.

2 / clients fixed, 1 week of free communication for all their national calls to a landline number and another number to an Orange mobile

3 / clients Internet, free Internet access for 1 week.

By these acts of solidarity, Orange Côte d'Ivoire Côte d'Ivoire Telecom provide support to all their customers to help them stay connected with loved ones during this difficult time.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in to Orange and other Ivoirian telecom operators. Here's hoping Orange's competitors at Moov and MTN follow suit!

4.05.2011

Carter Center Human Rights Forum liveblog

a day without dignity:

This post is a contribution to A Day Without Dignity, a counter-campaign to the A Day Without Shoes campaign designed to focus attention on the dignity of those in need and the need to focus our efforts on empowering the poor rather than providing handouts. You can read other posts about it here, and I encourage you to write, tweet, and talk to your Facebook friends about A Day Without Dignity as well.

Instead of focusing on the well-documented problems with donating goods-in-kind, undermining local industry, and disguising marketing as social good, I wanted to use this post to talk about an organization that I think gets most things right: Habitat for Humanity. In looking at this example, there's a lot to learn about acting locally, building relationships and understanding among people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and empowering people who want to volunteer in their own communities around the world. Full disclosure: I have been a Habitat volunteer since 1997, and I currently serve as a committee chair for a local Habitat affiliate. I am, in other words, slightly biased.

Habitat for Humanity is "A nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization building simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need." Habitat builds houses in conjunction with families who could otherwise not afford homes, then sell those houses to the family with a no-interest loan that the families pay off over a standard mortgage term (typically 30 years). Here's why I think the Habitat model is a strong one:
  • It is local. Habitat International is there to provide guidance and support, but fundraising, planning, and construction all happen through local affiliates. This model avoids the "one-size-doesn't-fit-all" problem and allows local affiliates a great deal of flexibility. For example, our affiliate is located in metro Atlanta, where there is a huge foreclosure problem. Thanks to support from the county, we are able to purchase and renovate foreclosed homes. It improves neighborhoods, lessens the problem of empty housing and blight, and gets families into safe, secure, decent homes.
  • It's based on partnership. Once a family is selected for the program, they become partners with their local Habitat affiliate. This means that they have certain rights and responsibilities, one of which is to help build other people's houses and another of which is to help build their own. Habitat houses are not handouts - the families pay for their homes just like any other homeowner. Moreover, there is a lot of pride and dignity that comes from owning and living in a home that you put a lot of sweat into constructing or renovating.
  • It builds relationships. For many Habitat volunteers, building on the home site is the first time they have actually worked alongside poor people, doing exactly the same tasks without any kind of management hierarchy in place. It can be an incredibly eye-opening experience to hear a low-income individual talk about the struggles his family faces, or her desire for her kids to have a better life, and is a great way to bust stereotypes (eg, "Poor people are lazy.") and create real relationships.
  • It supports volunteers helping their own communities worldwide. There are Habitat affiliates all over the world, and affiliates build culturally-appropriate homes from locally-available materials, thus contributing to local economies and improving life for families worldwide. To support these efforts, for every home built in the US and other wealthy countries, the local affiliate donates to an international affiliate, thus ensuring that those affiliates will have adequate resources to continue to construct and sell homes.
  • It provides home ownership opportunities to those who lack access. Habitat families are carefully selected for the program. They have to be able to save money, pay a down payment, and prove that they earn enough in a steady job to afford a mortgage. Where Habitat is different from traditional banks, however, is in the fact that we offer no-interest, lower-cost mortgages. Because of donations and volunteers, families don't pay many labor costs for their homes - the cost is the land, the materials, and some specialized labor costs (electricians and the like). This means that Habitat can provide opportunities to people who are excluded from traditional home ownership paths. It's not just limited to the stereotypical working poor. In our area, we have many refugee families who scrimp and save and are thrilled to own their own homes after years of sacrifice and the suffering they endured in their home countries. Likewise, many of our partner families are practicing Muslims whose religious commitments require them to only take out no-interest loans. Habitat is a Christian organization, but is not a proselytizing one, and access to the program is open to people of all faiths or no faith at all. There aren't many other places around here that working poor Muslim families can get access to a fair, interest-free mortgage.
Is Habitat perfect? Absolutely not. But for the reasons outlined above, I think it's an organization that has developed a model that avoids many of the problems to which TOMS Shoes and other "Whites in Shining Armor" programs lead. By focusing on a partnership model, everyone becomes an equal contributor, giving dignity and pride to homeowners and volunteers alike. By maintaining a local focus with local decision making and promoting the local affiliate model worldwide, the organization avoids messing up local economies by flooding markets with unneeded materials. As the organization grows and learns from its mistakes, Habitat makes adjustments. I'm proud to be a part of it.

4.04.2011

29 seats

Reuters:
A United Nations plane crashed while trying to land at the airport serving Congo's capital, Kinshasa, on Monday, killing 32 people, U.N. officials said. One person aboard survived.
Among those killed:
The International Rescue Committee is profoundly saddened to confirm that Dr. Boubacar Toure, our senior reproductive health advisor in Congo, was among those who died in a United Nations plane crash today in Kinshasa.

Dr. Toure, 63 and a native of Guinea, was an internationally recognized leader in the maternal health field and was deeply committed to reversing high levels of maternal mortality in Congo and other countries where he has worked.
I join the IRC, the UN, and many other organizations in mourning the loss of colleagues, family members, and friends in this unspeakable tragedy. As someone who regularly waits, hopes, prays, and crosses fingers to get one of the precious seats on Congo's safest means of air travel, my thoughts are with all those UN and NGO personnel who, though deeply shaken and saddened, will wake up tomorrow and get on another flight, all for the sake of helping to improve the situation in the Congo.

something we can do for Cote d'Ivoire

Like many of you, I've been feeling very helpless about the situation in Cote d'Ivoire. Then I saw @SenamBeheton's tweet:
This is a fantastic idea, and one where ordinary people around the world can get involved. Many Ivoirians, especially those in Abidjan, have been afraid to leave their homes for a few days now, and most shops in the city are closed, meaning that people can't buy top up cards for their mobile phones. Also, many Ivoirians haven't been able to work for several days, meaning that even if they could find top up cards, they wouldn't be able to afford them. Orange, MTN, and Moov could provide a huge public service (and get lots of positive publicity) by opening up their networks to allow free SMSing during this crisis. I would gladly donate to a fund to help cover the costs of doing so - and I bet I'm not the only one.

Here's information on how to contact the corporate offices of Orange, MTN, and Moov. I'm using corporate offices at the highest level because it may be hard to reach the offices in Cote d'Ivoire right now. If you have any other suggestions, please note them in the comments below.
  • Orange is part of France Telecom. Contact their Corporate Social Responsibility office by filling out the form here.
  • MTN Group is based in South Africa and only provides phone numbers and physical addresses. This is why Skype exists; spend the 20 cents and call them on +27 11 912 3000 or +27 11 912 4123.
  • Moov is based in the UAE and its operations are under the Etisalat trade name. Fill out their online feedback form here.
Here's some possible text for your email or phone conversation. Feel free to copy and paste as needed:
I am writing/calling to ask that [Company Name] provide free SMS services to customers in Cote d'Ivoire during the country's ongoing crisis. Due to violence in Abidjan and in rural areas, customers are unable to top up their mobile phone accounts and have lost touch with family members. They cannot share information about where violence is occurring, or reach out for help from the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. By providing free SMS services, [Company Name] would almost certainly save lives. Please take this opportunity to help the people of Cote d'Ivoire in their time of need.
Let's do this, guys. We can spread the word and bring pressure on these companies to provide this service. It won't stop the Ivoirian crisis, but it will provide a critical service for those who need it most.

UPDATE: A couple of commenters point out that SMS services have been turned off in Cote d'Ivoire for several weeks per Gbagbo's orders. I don't see any reason that the phone companies could not override that order, but perhaps I'm wrong. At any rate, asking for free airtime and for the companies to do all they can to get the SMS networks running is also worth our while.

4.02.2011

Fighting for Darfur winner

The winner of the Fighting for Darfur giveaway, chosen via a random number generator, was comment #8, Akhila. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who entered. Akhila, please shoot me an email with your mailing address and I'll get the book to you asap.

4.01.2011

from abidjan

Notes from a friend in Abidjan, hastily translated from French, so please forgive my errors. I had edited out identifying information for obvious reasons:
I don't know about if this will be technically a genocide, but an aspect that is being missed is that the pro-Gbagbo camp is not in control of anything right now. The armed forces on the street are FRCI and civilians they have armed and they are extracting revenge at an alarming rate. The FDS and Gbagbo forces that are armed are mostly contained and surrounded by ADO forces in one or two tiny parts of the city. The FRCI have been looting our district like mad and banging on our door regularly trying to get inside since this morning. They have a roadblock set up right outside our gate. They completely looted many of our neighbors and are burning houses to the ground in retaliation. Ouattara has no control over many of them anymore at all. There is no central command. A prison was opened yesterday morning and all the 5,000 prisoners freed and armed many who then took revenge on the population.

We saw them rushing into our neighbor's house yesterday, and then heard the wife screaming in agony for some time, their dog barking like mad. Then massive amounts of gunfire for several minutes. Then no other screams or barks since. We have tried to call them since, and there is no answer. We think they are dead. Similar happened at three other neighbors' houses. They are patrolling the streets and exacting revenge on any Bete or Lebanese they can find. We have seen bodies in the streets. Several execution style and can hear them laughing and taunting as they do so. A close friend of ours had to be evacuated from Zone 4 (heavily French area) this afternoon by the French. They were the last family left on their street. They told us yesterday that random thugs were waiting outside watching as the French were evacuating people, and then swooping in to loot the houses right after they left. Taking even floor tiles and wiring and roofing from the buildings and then burning what's left to the ground.

If it is to be a genocide here, I think it will now be from the FRCI side, as Ouattara has no control and many Dioula are angry and wanting revenge. The French and UN are basically saying they can't help a lot of people anymore. Many are dying right now. We have heard sustained gunfire since 5am yesterday morning. There have been obus incendiaries, RPGs and mortars heard as well fairly regularly. We also heard heavy bombing most of the day today from the downtown region, where they are attacking Gbagbo's palace.

Our water has been cut, and our power is intermittent. We have enough supplies for several months and are hiding out in a barricaded room in our house in darkness.

I hope that this insanity ends soon. It is absolute anarchy here right now.
And a few hours later:
Things are escalating rapidly. I think there will be revenge killings for a while. And if any pro-Gbagbo forces are able to muster any strength back -- they will try to return the revenge again. It is absolute slaughter and chaos here right now. I am hoping the worst is over-- at least I thought it would be this morning when I woke up-- but unless Ouattara somehow starts controlling the FRCI and his supporters-- I think it will continue for a while. And the way I see some of the Twittersphere egging the conflict on-- is worrisome. So much propaganda and cheering at the "democratization." SMS has been suspended (or at least ours is) so maybe this will stop some of the calls for violence, but cells are still working most of the time-- and almost everyone here has one-- so they can easily connect and find their opponents.

It is nearly 10:30pm right now, and we are under curfew-- and the firing has quieted down in the last hour or so. Still some sporadic. I just want to get information out there that things are getting real bad. Anyone on the streets is a target now. Anyone with visible lights or movement in their homes are a target. We have blanketed up all our windows and are hiding out in a room away from all outside walls now so no one can see us.
I know all Texas in Africa readers join me in hoping that cooler heads will prevail, that leaders and fighters at every level will exercise restraint, and that Cote d'Ivoire will soon be at peace once more. You can donate to support UNHCR efforts here and to the Red Cross here. If you can't give, spare a thought or say a prayer for peace.

UPDATE: Chris Blattman posts an alternative view, and notes the importance of not taking a single account as being an account of what the entire situation is actually like. I agree completely - from what I can gather, there's considerable variation in the amounts of violence and who is committing acts of violence in Abidjan and across the south and east of Cote d'Ivoire.

That said, the above information comes from a reliable individual, and I have no doubt that this is an accurate reflection of what he/she is aware of, in the place that he/she is sheltering. I'll add that it's also increasingly clear that both sides - the pro-Gbagbo and the pro-Ouattara camps - are and have been committing acts of violence. It's also evident that some perhaps less-political individuals are taking advantage of the situation as an opportunity to loot and otherwise reap chaos.