Mediocre leadership is the biggest crime against humanity

The saying goes that when the tide runs out you get to know who has been skinny dipping. In the same vein, it is when disaster strikes that you get to know who has mediocre leadership.

The ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa, the worst in 60 years, has exposed eastern African leaders for who they are. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments for a while even refused to acknowledge the humanitarian catastrophe in their hands. The Kenyan government spokesman would not admit that any Kenyan has died from the famine. Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, is a lesson in the dangers of mediocre leadership: Meteorological warnings from two years ago were ignored; Money for food aid ended up in private bank accounts; and The government lacks any coherent agricultural and food security policies.

And because of it all, this is happening [please pardon the famine porn, but we need to see how REALLY bad things are]. 3.5 million Kenyans face starvation. 11 million in the wider region are affected.

In the last two days I have followed news stories on the situation in northern Kenya. I can only imagine how things are in the epicenter of the famine in Somalia and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

A lot of blame has been flying around. According to Jeff Sachs:

“The warning is also clear. The Horn of Africa is the world’s most vulnerable region, beset by extreme poverty, hunger and global climate change, notably a drying and warming of the climate during the past quarter century.”

adding that

“The west has contributed to the region’s crisis through global climate change that victimises the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region.”

In my view, however, the blame squarely lies with the region’s leadership. It is the leaders who have consistently refused to plan ahead, opting instead for palliative measures like food relief with lots of opportunity for graft. Blaming western colonialism, neocolonialism, climate change, etc are nothing but distractions. This problem and many other African problems are for the most part just that, African problems.

That millions of shillings in aid money was stolen, thus endangering millions of lives in northern Kenya, is a moral travesty. To add insult to injury, no one has yet been arrested or charged with the crime. It is Kenyan officials who have sat by and in some instances (in the past and now) even contributed to the endangerment of the lives of 3.5 million citizens of Kenya.

The usual perpetrators of crimes against humanity – warlords and their militia – kill with guns. But corrupt and mediocre civilian leadership continues to decimate millions more through both inaction and well calculated mis-allocation of resources.

Because of the famine 800,000 children in the wider region could die from malnutrition.

Food aid is definitely not a long term solution. But here is how you can chip in to help those affected by the famine.

Explaining academia’s liberal bias

According to the New York Times it is more than just self-selection. There is also screening:

“The tendency of liberals to pursue advanced education isn’t a result of higher I.Q. or less materialism or any such indirect factor,” Dr. Gross told me. He pointed instead to a direct factor: the liberal reputation of the profession since it came of age in the Progressive Era. “The liberalism of professors is explained mostly by self-selection,” Dr. Gross said, arguing that conservatives avoid fields with reputations that don’t fit their self-identity.

But many conservatives insist that a liberal reputation wouldn’t dissuade them from taking a gig with tenure and summers off. The self-selection theory doesn’t satisfy Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, a group critical of what it calls liberal bias in academia. Dr. Wood, a political conservative, is a former professor of anthropology and associate provost at Boston University.

….. Dr. Wood wrote. “If it comes down to it, entry can still be impeded through other techniques, the feminist and the multiculturalist vetoes on the faculty search committee being the deadliest as far as conservatives go, although there are others.”

…….. If you were a conservative undergraduate, would you risk spending at least four years in graduate school in the hope of getting a job offer from a committee dominated by people who don’t share your views?

More on this here.

Securing Peace in South Sudan

UPDATE:

The ICG has a good report on the simmering conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan:

The loss of South Sudan has had a profound effect on the NCP, and senior generals led a soft-coup within the party. They have outflanked more pragmatic elements in the NCP who seek a negotiated strategy. Encouraging progress in the post-separation arrangements between North and South was blocked. More importantly, hardliners in Khartoum — including SAF generals — immediately rejected a 28 June framework agreement, which includes a political and a security agreement for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and signed by Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, Co-deputy NCP chairman and a presidential adviser. A few days later, President Omar al-Bashir publicly disavowed the agreement.

Check out the rest of the report here.

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Texas in Africa makes a compelling argument against arming South Sudan (against potential aggression from Khartoum). She basically outlines three reasons against arming Juba:

  1. Such a move would implicitly side with the SPLM against other domestic armed/opposition groups. The point of concern here is that having just won independence South Susan needs to have a negotiated settlement among all interested groups. The Dinka-dominated SPLM, in particular, ought to credibly share power and resources with the other ethnic/interest groups.
  2. Arming South Sudan would spark an arms race against Khartoum and might lead to a war sooner rather than later.
  3. The West can’t be sure of Juba’s future geopolitical leanings. The same weapons might be used in the future against say America and its allies – AfPak style.

For the most part I agree with Laura. And like her, I am on record as having concerns over the alarmist celebrity diplomacy/mediation effort that has been orchestrated in South Sudan, Darfur and eastern DRC by Prendergast and his buddy Clooney.

In addition, I think that the debate over whether or not to arm Juba forecloses on other options that might also help secure South Sudan. Make no mistake, South Sudan has real domestic and international security challenges that occasionally will require the use of military force. Addressing these security challenges will necessarily require some form of military aid to South Sudan.

Here’s my take:

  1. If South Sudan is to avoid the fate of Zaire/DRC, the pacification of the whole country must happen ASAP. While negotiating with rebel leaders is the best approach, the truth is that in some cases military force might be needed. To that end providing SPLM with the necessary capacity to win the fight against fringe groups that do not want to sit at the negotiating table may be a necessary evil. Yes, we should be cognizant of the fact that there are legitimate internal differences within South Sudan. But we should not legitimize any groups that might want to air those differences using the force of arms. Real democratic competition can only take place in a peaceful environment. Armed challengers to SPLA (the legitimate army of South Sudan) must bear the burden of proving the legitimacy of their grievances. South Sudan’s Savimbis must be deterred. Also, the international community must not be under any illusion that democracy will come soon to South Sudan. It will take a long time.
  2. The arms race between Khartoum and Juba is already underway. The question is not if it will happen but what it will lead to. Furthermore, after “losing” the South and its oil Bashir will be hard pressed for distractions from his domestic woes, especially if the economy of Sudan experiences a sharp decline. Starting a border war with South Sudan would be a welcome distraction. Although arming the SPLA is not the best way to deal with this possibility, an alternative would be to bring in the EAC through a regional defense pact. Uganda, in particular, would be interested in such a deal since it would help reduce its own defense budget. The involvement of Eritrea in South Sudan’s internal conflicts makes the need for a regional security arrangement even more urgent. Most recently the UN accused Eritrea of plotting to bomb an AU meeting in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
  3. Concerns over Juba’s future geopolitical leanings can be allayed through continued military aid and professionalization. This can be achieved by getting the generals out of politics following the Kenyan model – a combination of awesome perks and professional training – and through greater political and economic integration of South Sudan into the East African Community.

War is nasty and should be the last option. That said, there is a need for genuine debate over how to achieve the twin goals of state monopoly of violence within South Sudan and the deterrence of a trigger-happy Khartoum.

If it were left to me I would quickly move to decouple the SPLM and SPLA as a condition for any military assistance. The last thing the region needs is yet another regime with a fused political and military leadership as is the case in Rwanda and Uganda.

More good news on the fight against AIDS

AIDS researchers, many of whom have been meeting this week in Rome under the auspices of the International AIDS Society, are rightly pleased with the progress they have made. In particular, the use of antiretroviral drugs has not only revolutionised treatment of HIV infection, but also offers the prospect of stopping the spread of the virus. In a matter of weeks, these drugs reduce the number of viruses per millilitre of infected blood from millions to less than 50. That deals with both symptoms and infectivity. Unless a patient stops taking the drugs, or goes on to develop resistance to them, he can expect to live almost as long as an uninfected individual.

……. there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. To deal with dormant viruses several researchers are taking what sounds like a counterintuitive approach. They are trying to wake the viruses up and so boost, rather than reduce, the amount of active HIV in a patient’s body. Their reasoning is that the now-active viruses will either kill the cells they are in (and thus themselves) or encourage the immune system to attack those cells.

That is the Economist in its latest issue. For more on the details of the state of AIDS research go here.

The Economist’s optimism is supported by empirical data. According to the Vancouver Sun:

HIV patients in Uganda who are receiving regular treatment can expect to live a near-normal lifespan, Canadian researchers have suggested in the world’s first large-scale study to examine HIV patients’ life expectancy in Africa.

After studying 22,315 patients who were using combined antiretroviral therapy (cART), scientists from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS along with experts at the Universities of British Columbia and Ottawa found that with early initiation and access to regular treatment, those infected with HIV were living about two-thirds of a normal lifespan.

More on this here.

 

quick hits

Mau Mau veterans allowed to sue the UK government for atrocities committed during Kenya’s independence rebellion. The court might have just opened a pandora’s box for a whole lot of lawsuits.

Kim on the ongoing protests in Malawi. Kenya’s Daily Nation reports that at least 12 people have died in the protests over the last two days.

Pardhan on the limits of the NGO movement in global development.

Some cool graphics showing the cellular connection map of the US.

The US will, after all, be sending humanitarian aid to Al-Shabab controlled areas suffering the ongoing famine in Somalia. I hope this does not turn into a farcical repeat of Ethiopia in the 1980s. Back then food aid was used as a weapon of war by both government and Meles Zenawi’s rebel forces.

Lastly, remember Glencore? The firm that has been involved in not so clean mineral deals in the DRC? Well, they are now in South Sudan. I hope Juba doesn’t go this route. You can’t stay clean while playing with someone covered in mud.

Talking real development

It is an upper-middle-class, industrialized-country fiction to romanticize life on a small farm. Economic development and food security lie in industrialized agriculture, and this is why I continue being interested in agricultural value chains. My thinking on this has also been reinforced by my recent reading of Jane Jacobs’ The Economy of Cities, in which she posits that agricultural development came as a consequence of urbanization, and not the other way around.

That is Marc on his blog here.

Reading Marc’s post reminded me of my beef with anti-poverty development as it is currently practiced. For instance, the humanitarian instincts behind giving poor slum dwellers loans to start businesses may be noble, but the impact of these projects are ambiguous (Not forgetting the recent trends in Venture Capital firms making money from high interest rates on the poor).

Such projects, for the most part, serve little more than giving the poor comfort in their poverty. Yes, there are a few success stories, but for the vast majority life remains precariously close to abject destitution. Self-employment is a risk that should not be forced on those at the very bottom of the economic ladder in developing countries.

Such palliative measures should never distract from the main task of long-term job creation.

The growing disillusionment with the long-term developmental effects of micro-finance should force development experts to think of creative alternatives.

What could be an alternative?

Well, for starters it might be more beneficial to boost the capacity of banks to give loans to mid-size businesses that have the technical and managerial capacity to scale up their operations and thus create more jobs. Corporate finance in most of the developing world has no “middle class.” Nearly all the players are big firms. Mid-size firms simply cannot keep up with the high interest rates and collateral requirements. Yet these are the firms that have the potential to grow and create more jobs.

This move smells of trickle down economics, but it is not. Poverty alleviation requires massive amounts of job creation. Making the poor self-employed distracts from the bigger problems of non-industrialization and lack of formal-sector jobs.

It is also bad for political development because it provides Hirschman’s exit option for millions of economically disaffected citizens of the developing world.

Check out Blattman’s blog on a related post on NGO activism in the developing world.

Guinea’s Alpha Conde attacked

President Alpha Conde, Guinea’s first elected president since independence, appears to have survived a coup attempt in the early hours of Tuesday. Mr. Conde’s residence was hit by rocket fire in what appears to have been a coup attempt.

The latest turn of events makes one wonder if Paul Collier’s rather crazy unorthodox proposals might be worth a shot. [Collier, among other recommendations, proposes an international guarantee of sorts that democratically-elected governments that remain true to proper governance will be protected from the army and other armed thugs that might want to overthrow them.]

I believe that local horse-trading should always be given a chance before the internationals fly in to impose agreements on feuding factions. But when local factions have fought each other to a stalemate – as is the case in Chad, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia – it might be time for the international community to provide a helping hand. Millions of civilians should not be left to suffer simply because a few men cannot strike a stable deal. The interventions will be nuanced and complicated and messy – so I can’t spell out the terms here – but simply sitting back and watching is not an option.

Simply stated, the men with guns in Guinea are irresponsible.

Guinea is also a budding narco-state. I would not be surprised if the latest attack on the president is linked to the emerging drug problem in west Africa. It is common knowledge that the son of the immediate former president of Guinea, Ousmane Conte, has/had ties with the drug trade. President Joao Vieira of Guinea-Bissau and the country’s top military officer were killed in 2009 in what was rumored to be a drug-related feud.

Mr. Conde was elected in a run off with 52% of the vote. Two years earlier in 2008 the army carried out a coup following the death of the country’s second president, the late Lansana Conte. Mr. Conte himself came to power in a coup following the death of Guinea’s firebrand founding president Sekou Toure. Many hailed the generals’ decision to return to the barracks in 2010 as a new turn in Guinean politics. They were wrong.

The BBC reports that a former army chief, Nouhou Thiam, has been arrested in relation to the Tuesday morning attack.

African Writing

Every summer when I travel back home I make sure to peruse the latest issue of Kwani? – the literary magazine co-founded by Binyavanga Wainaina.

That is why I was a little disappointed and challenged by the caustic review the Economist gave his latest book One Day I Will Write About This Place. I have ordered the book and I hope it gets here before I leave for Nairobi next month.

The Economist review, in part, says:

Mr Wainaina should not have been encouraged to write in the form of a memoir. He is not the only one to suffer from this. Too many African writers are co-opted by the American creative-writing scene only to be reduced by prevailing navel-gazing. Separately, much of the African writing culture that remains on the continent, including Kwani?, is propped up with cash from the Western donors that African writers purport to excoriate.

Beyond Wainaina’s latest book, the review raises important questions about African writing and intellectual production in general. Half a century of mediocre leadership and almost universal failure across the continent has left many an African writer with little else to write about but poverty, disease, civil war or the blissful survival of these maladies.

But as the Economist review dares to ask: Is it about time African writers and intellectuals began to look ahead? Is it time everyone stopped looking at the past and current problems and focused on the future and how to get there? Is the culture and mentality of merely “staying afloat” a disease that only affects the African political class or is it widespread among the general populace?

Check out the comments on the Economist’s review for further takes on Binyavanga’s book.

You can also read a more favorable review here.