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

6.24.2011

guest post: Kate Morris of Falling Whistles

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Kate Morris of Falling Whistles. Kate responds to my critique of her New York Post op-ed from last weekend:

Laura, first let me say that it’s a pleasure to hash this out on your digital turf. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

I believe it’s significant that Sec. Clinton has been committed to funding SGBV treatment and prevention/rights education/legal access programs. Falling Whistles believes long term solutions in Congo will come from the Congolese people. This is why we partner with local leaders in the Kivus who are working toward solutions. But this isn’t enough. At the end of the day, aid money doesn’t fix the root causes of SGBV. This is why we also engage in advocacy and are pushing for more effective diplomacy from the US State Department.

Sec. Clinton may be funding good programs, but she is missing critical opportunities on the diplomacy front. I criticized her Congo policy because she is only using half of the tools in her arsenal. It will take painful reforms of the security sector, justice sector and electoral processes to address the governance problems that create the conditions for rampant SGBV. But governance reforms won’t happen in DRC without assertive external pressure and an empowered civil society. Thus far, the State Department doesn’t seem interested in the type of assertive diplomacy that’s required, especially during this election year.

This year, we’ve seen the State Department choose inaction when confronted with governance-related shenanigans in Kinshasa, precisely when the Great Lakes team should have exercised their budgetary and political leverage. For example, in January, President Kabila’s political party rammed through a sweeping set of constitutional amendments that were highly troubling. Presidential elections were reduced to a one-round vote (with no requirement that a winner secure a simple majority) and the independence of the judiciary and the provinces was curtailed. Under the current constitution, the president can fire governors at will. The State Department’s response to this power grab was muted, to say the least.

In general, the State Department’s work in Congo is characterized by competing agendas and habitual stovepiping. Even the Africa Bureau’s org chart is a mess, as David Sullivan explained recently, leaving Congo on the desks of 3 separate deputy assistant secretaries. An envoy isn't a silver bullet … but a simple rearranging of the deck chairs isn’t likely to fix the problem, either.

What an envoy could do is make substantial steps toward governance reform, and help ensure the legitimacy of this year’s elections. Records of U.S. envoys like Mitchell and Holbrooke suggest that there is plenty they can accomplish that lies beyond the scope of regional ambassadors, whose main function is to preserve good relations with the host country. Even Gration’s role in Sudan suggests that envoys make the difference between stalemate and forward motion. Although Darfur activists were disappointed by his lack of focus on the western region, and Gration’s unorthodox tactics got him into trouble stateside, it’s fair to credit his aggressive shuttle diplomacy with the successful secession referendum in the south earlier this year.

Given what’s at stake this election year, it’s important that Sec. Clinton takes the reigns to deliver a Great Lakes diplomacy team that has the guts to pursue long-overdue governance reforms. If she doesn’t, we’ll likely see shoddy elections in November, followed by unrest and continued state failure.

6.23.2011

guest post: gender and sexual violence in the DRC

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Serena Cruz and Rosan Smits, authors of a new policy brief on sexual violence in the DR Congo for the Clingendael Conflict Research Unit. They argue that effectiveness in the fight against SGBV in the Congo requires a better understanding of the gender dimensions of the problem:

Current efforts of the international community to combat rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are often not critically responsive to the gender needs of men and women in the larger society. As a result, this can put a strain on the effectiveness of internationally supported programs targeting sexual violence. While this provocative claim may ruffle a few feathers, support can be drawn from research in the DRC that spanned almost six months.

Reflecting on this period of research and what we anticipated to find, it is not surprising we came the conclusions we did. Although, the issue of sexual violence has rightly been on the international agenda for several years, this ongoing attention has disproportionately hyped rape as a stand-alone effect from the war in the DRC. Even before getting to the ground, our intuition about ‘hyping’ was front and center. That is, we were conscious that when hyping occurs there is often little room for nuanced responses to overarching issues. Often, the greater the hype the less chances there are to address complicated and frequently hidden or ignored sub-problems. In the case of our research, our assumptions were founded. Yet, documenting this process as well as sharing our frustrations does little to address the problem. Instead, we believe it behooves us to not only put forth our concerns, but to also share recommendations about how to overcome this particular instance of the ‘hype’ effect.

In an effort to create a nuanced understanding of the issues related to sexual violence in the DRC, we developed a policy brief which can be found at the Clingendael Conflict Research Unit website. However, in this space we want to highlight our main findings and recommendations, which we believe offer insights about how to strengthen programmatic responses to the issue of sexual violence in the DRC context.

Our overarching conclusion is that sexual violence in DRC is gendered. Not only is this violence gendered in how it is performed, but also in how it can be fought against. Prevailing over gender related violence means dismantling the ongoing tensions between men and women related to prescribed gender norms, roles, and identities. In doing so, it is possible to achieve a gendered environment whereby women and man are mutually co-empowered. For policies, which support programs on the ground, this means not only providing direct assistance to survivors of rape, but also concurrently supporting the development of beneficial gender norms, roles, and identities of men and women in a (post-)war DRC.

We believe our research shows that in order to improve effectiveness in combating rape, the international community should address gender-related root causes of sexual violence by accounting for the narrative that describes rape in Eastern DRC; programmatic implications that indirectly maintain competition among women and men; and the (lack of) sensitivity in the international debate around the issue of sexual violence in the DRC.

In making these claims it helps to understand that first, gender-based violence is not only war-inspired, but also community-centered. Therefore, it is necessary to advance beyond the ‘rape as a weapon of war’ narrative and promote a more complex understanding of the gender-dimensions of sexual violence. Central to this is the notion that men and women’s sense of power is deeply connected to how gender is understood and enacted. As a result, the primary focus on assisting victims of sexual violence and punishing perpetrators should be complemented with a programmatic goal to transform gender norms through co-empowerment strategies.

Second, this understanding will have programmatic implications. In short, all programmatic pillars for combating sexual violence in DRC need to be urgently reoriented to incorporate opportunities for men and women to address ongoing values underpinning men and women’s roles. This will have consequences for how medical and psycho-social support strategies are designed; how women and men’s empowerment efforts can be further developed; how justice sector reform can be linked to gender-transformative actions on an individual and community level; and finally, how security sector reform strategies can be made more effective in combating sexual violence.

Last but not least, international political and public awareness of the gendered dynamics around rape is woefully limited. As a result, the occurrence of rape in DRC is framed as a consequence of war. Well, the bad news is that, sadly, rape is not only war-related. In order to allow for a more nuanced and comprehensive response to the gender crisis in the DRC we all have homework to do. This means mobilizing critically so as to extend the current understanding of the complexities of violence to those in charge of decision-making at the capital level.

By doing so we are responding to the question of whether or not the problem of sexual violence should be prioritized in the future. Our answer is a resounding “Yes, absolutely!” As for how can this happen? We believe the public must pressure donor governments about how to qualitatively support men and women in the DRC who are actively engaging in transforming oppressive gender norms. While this first step is ripe for moans and groans, it sure beats another overly planned tear jerking visit to a rape center, as well as considering that the public might have seen enough rape survivors (re)victimized by cameras, slogans, and incomplete measures to address the issue of sexual violence in the DRC.

6.22.2011

"where the police, roads, and navy are maintained by rational self-interest"

Hillary Clinton and the limits of US influence in Congo

Kate Morris of Falling Whistles published a very critical opinion piece in the New York Post over the weekend. In it, she argues that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has broken her promises to Congolese women:

In 2009, on her first trip to Africa as the boss at State, Clinton was deeply affected by the severity of gender-based violence. Rape is often employed to humiliate and control populations in eastern Congo, the site of a deadly 16-year war involving armies of up to nine nations and another 30 rebel factions.

She left Congo in 2009 vowing to prioritize the plight of Congolese women -- but has since delivered next to nothing.

Morris goes on to argue that Clinton should show stronger support for the appointment of a special envoy for the DRC, a position she supported as a Senator and co-sponsor (with President Obama) of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act in 2005. She concludes:
Clinton has one of the few positions that allows her to act on that 2005 bill and put someone on the ground capable of doing something for Congo's women. Instead, she has chosen the road of false promises. Now, you'll know whom to thank when violence flares in Congo anew.
Falling Whistles, along with many other Congo advocacy groups, is particularly focused on this question of a special envoy right now. While most acknowledge that it will not solve all the country's problems overnight, there is widespread belief that having a point person to coordinate all US government activities relating to the DRC would be very helpful.

This seems pretty non-controversial to me, but it's also pretty clear from the signals the White House and State Department have sent that there will not be a special envoy appointed to the DRC this year.

What is unclear, however, is whether a special envoy would actually make much of a difference. One of the key points in Rebecca Hamilton's Fighting for Darfur is that activists in that situation spent a great deal of time working to get a special envoy appointed, but that their success in doing so did not translate into the solutions they had hoped to achieve. Ultimately, US influence over Sudan is limited, and the presence of a special envoy was not as influential as most activists had hoped. The earliest special envoys found it particularly difficult to coordinate the various agency initiatives and programs, not to mention the wide variety of opinions about what to prioritize regarding Sudan found within the US government.

I suspect the same is true in the DRC case. While the US has more leverage in Congo than it does in Sudan, and while better coordination among departments and agencies would be wonderful, ultimately, the Congo's problems have to be addressed by the Congolese. We can use pressure - especially as regards the portion of the DRC budget that we fund - but it is unclear whether such a message would be taken any more seriously if delivered by a special envoy than it would if delivered by the ambassador we already have in place. We have learned this lesson since 2005 when the original legislation was passed - and it's possible that both the President and the Secretary have modified their thinking since that time.

As for Morris' other arguments, I am not convinced that attacking Clinton's record on assistance to Congolese women - which is far stronger than that of any of her predecessors - is the most productive way to move this conversation forward. Contrary to Morris's claim, Clinton actually has delivered on almost all of the promises she made on her 2009 (although some of the dumber ideas seem to have been mercifully modified with that money was directed to more productive pursuits). As of April, the US now has a comprehensive strategy for addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV). The State Department and USAID fund a huge range of programs aimed at addressing almost every aspect of the SGBV problem in Congo, from health care to education about women's rights to strengthening the legal system. These monies include the $17 million Secretary Clinton promised on her Goma visit. In a time when foreign aid budgets are being drastically cut across the board, Clinton and Congress did a good job in ensuring that this money stayed allocated to help the Congolese.

Is US policy toward the Congo as good as it could be, and are we giving enough to combat the country's problems? No. But it is unfair to blame Secretary Clinton "when violence flares in Congo anew," or to criticize her for not keeping her promises, particularly when she did what she said she would do. Moreover, the US only has so much influence in a country whose problems are largely driven by local conflict, corruption, and weak governance. Rather than being consumed by the desire for a special envoy to be appointed, advocates might be more productive in pushing for better use of US leverage over the DRC budget, more training and professionalization of the FARDC by AFRICOM, and strengthening the capacity of the Congolese legal system in all sectors, not just legal services for SGBV victims. In doing so, we will have a much better chance of reaching the goal that policy makers, activists, and scholars all share: stabilizing the Congo so that its people can live healthy and prosperous lives.

Kate Morris will be responding to my critique with a guest post here in the upcoming days. Watch this space!

6.21.2011

your tax dollars at work

I'm quoted in this Atlantic story by Armin Rosen, who found that the US government sponsored the visit of a Rwandan military official who is wanted on war crimes charges in Spain.
In late May, a handful of modestly sourced news accounts, few of them in English, reported that a Rwandan military official had been arrested in the United States, possibly even in Washington, DC, for alleged war crimes committed during the 1990s -- only to re-appear in his home country a few days later. The truth of what happened would turn out to be far more complicated and surprising. An investigation by TheAtlantic.com reveals that the Rwandan official, who is currently under international indictment for the suspected killing of Spanish non-government organization (NGO) employees in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, visited a U.S. military facility while on official business for the Rwandan government, and with the specific permission of the U.S. government. Though it's still unclear whether he was actually arrested or just briefly detained while entering the United States, the case exposes the complexity of a U.S.-Rwandan relationship in which human rights and strategic interests are coming into increasing conflict. It also underscores how little reach international law has within U.S. borders, at times compromising the possibility of bringing suspected war criminals to justice.
Rosen pulled off quite a feat of investigative journalism with this one; it's well worth your time to read.

6.20.2011

Sudan past the brink

The situation in Sudan is, to put it mildly, not good. While Khartoum and Juba came to an agreement on temporary status for Abyei earlier today (full text here), increasingly alarming reports from South Kordofan and its Nuba Mountains suggest that the situation will get much, much worse before it improves. UNOCHA's daily reports on the situation there suggest that a targeted campaign against the Nuba is being carried out. It is not an exaggeration to say that what is happening in Sudan today could eclipse the scale of the humanitarian tragedies in Syria, Yemen, and Libya.

Here is some of the best reporting and analysis I've seen on the situation in recent days. Please feel free to add other links and suggestions in the comments.

6.10.2011

AGOA 2011 and the Young Africa Business Trust

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Jessica Achberger. Jessica is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin. She is conducting dissertation field research in Zambia and had the opportunity to attend several events for the AGOA forum this week in Lusaka. Here, she tells us about the Young Africa Business Trust video forum:

Many of you who read this blog are aware that this week in Lusaka, Zambia marked the tenth annual African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, and therefore I will not bore you with the details of AGOA or this forum in particular. Rather, I want to share with you a unique story of a group at the conference that will not be mentioned on BBC or written about in The New York Times, but nonetheless is doing very important work at the forum and beyond the conversations this week.

On Tuesday I had the privilege of attending the pre-AGOA video forum of the Young Africa Business Trust (YafBT) at the World Bank Zambia country offices, which was simultaneously held at offices in Nairobi, Kenya; Abuja, Nigeria, Johannesburg, South Africa; and Washington D.C, as well as being webcast to the rest of the world. The YafBT held this video conference in order to prepare for what was to be the first time that the youth of Africa were given a voice and a platform as a group in AGOA.

The YafBT is a relatively new group, born out of the November 2010 conference Strengthening Responsible Business and Governance in Africa held in Brussels, Belgium. At the conference, the Africa Responsible Business Network (AfRBN), among other international governmental and business associations, founded the YafBT. Both the YafBT and the AfRBN are networking platforms for African business professionals, focusing on the promotion of responsible business and governance, particularly job creation though sustainable economic development.

The meeting on Tuesday was engaging and fruitful, with all countries participating in developing the platform for the larger forum. I encourage you to check out the results of the conversations, and the continuing discussions, on their website. You are also encouraged to participate in the YafBT’s growth and vision, no matter what your age. As the Tanzanian coordinator Modesta Lilian Mahiga put it, “Anyone that says ‘I will’ rather than ‘I wish’ is a young person to us.”

And it is clear that the youth in African business are already hard at work across the continent. I met many young entrepreneurs with innovative business models and already evident success. Yet, as Zambian coordinator Humphrey Mulemba emphasized, one of the key components involves leveling the playing field for young business leaders though initiatives such as mentorship programs and the creation of industry specific support systems.

This year at AGOA the focus has been on the African Women Entrepreneurship Program, and it is clear that women are fully apart of the larger AGOA agenda with very fruitful results. What the YafBT is proving this year, and hopefully further in years to come, is that it is time for youth to get the same recognition in Africa. Over 70% of Africa is under 34 years of age and it is not only crucial but rather essential that this population is developed and given a voice in the international arena.

Thank you again to Texas in Africa for allowing me the chance to post on such a great forum for discussions on Africa.

6.01.2011

elsewhere...

I have a guest post up over on African Arguments' Making Sense of Sudan blog today. Would love to hear your thoughts!