Meanwhile in the Central African Republic

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF):

We are talking about up to one million IDPs and refugees, out of a population of 4.6 million. This accounts for 20% of the population, which is outrageous when we take into consideration these communities were already very fragile in a disrupted country, where health services outside Bangui would be practically non-existent if not for the presence of MSF in seven different regions. This past year has pushed the population to the edge of the abyss. The deployment of MSF has been huge, spectacular and swift in order to respond rapidly and provide emergency medical care. However the population is still in dire need of more assistance, including medical care. And above all, the population needs safety and security.

CAR is scheduled to hold elections either later this year or early next to speed up the transition to normalcy (France wants out ASAP). The hope, I presume, is that whoever wins the election will bring political order to the former Central African Empire. Fingers crossed?

On a related note, the US recently announced new military aid to Uganda, including four CV-22 Ospreys and an additional 150 Special Operation troops (to join the 100 deployed in 2011) in an effort to step up the hunt for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony is suspected to be in hiding in the border regions CAR, the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan. Of course this rather bizarre decision (is Kony really that much of a priority right now in the Great Lakes Region?) is motivated by the need to keep the Ugandan military in top shape and ready to fight in places the US doesn’t want to set foot

What if the US and the EU also had a humanitarian equivalent of Uganda? You know, a country that could be just as well funded with cash and equipment to wade into troubled places like CAR and South Sudan and provide humanitarian assistance backed by credible firepower. What if? It might even help shore up some of the soft power the US (and the West in general) is haemorrhaging fast on account of the developmental interventions from the East in the wider region. 

Thoughts from Sierra Leone

“Many Westerners I met in West Africa took it as an article of faith that all of the region’s woes were the result of outside malfeasance – someone else’s fault, going back to colonialism and the slave trade. After two years in Freetown I not only cannot agree, but I think such views – promulgating as they do an abdication of responsibility – are bad for Africa. The Western world undoubtedly committed atrocities to the continent. But today it is up to Africans to carve out a brighter future for themselves.”

That is Simon Akam in a piece reviewing his time in Sierra Leone that has sort of gone viral.

It is the kind of thinking that I wish informed all of the West’s engagement with Africa. Most of Africa’s problems are African. Period.

Africa does not need Oxfam to tell the world to forget about its wars and famines and instead focus on its natural beauty or whatever else that is more positive. It is not the responsibility of Oxfam to feed Africans but that of the kleptocratic African ruling elite. The Oxfams of this world only serve to let Africa’s Mobutus off the hook.

When an African head of state appoints his son as defense minister and then cannot beat back a ragtag rebel alliance armed with AKs on jeeps we should not send troops to help him. He should be left to stew in his own soup.

For far too long the predominantly humanitarian approach in dealing with Africa has allowed the absolute triumph of absolute mediocrity in much of the continent. This must change if Africa is to consolidate the political and economic gains made over the last two decades.

State-building is not a walk in the park

 “Mauritius’s state building success came on the backs of relentlessly exploited slaves and indentured labourers. Sugar planters compelled the government to ignore mistreatment on sugar estates, implement unreasonable fines and annual passport fees in the name of preventing ‘vagrancy,’ and harass those workers who tried to search for a better life in urban professions. Planters’ actions were expressly designed to subjugate and repress the politically powerless in order to maximise their economic power. Moreover, the fact that class divides coincided with racial difference meant that economic and political contention between elites and labourers on Mauritius became imbued with what was, at times, virulent racism. The worst of these endeavours were related to the planters’ quest to secure an adequate labour supply in the four decades after 1825. Later initiatives, such as railway construction and research and development programmes, were fairly benign. Together, these undertakings transformed the island’s economy and governmental capabilities. In Mauritius, then, one finds something of a developmental paradox: although the long- term consequences of state building have led to a regional ‘miracle’, the way in which the island’s elite and government laid the groundwork for it was normatively reprehensible.”

That is Ryan Saylor writing in the latest edition of Review of African Political Economy.

The paper mostly focuses on the success story that was Mauritian state (capacity) building. But this paragraph is a reminder to those who imagine a whiggish history for much of the developing world to go take a hard, honest look at history.

Throughout most of history, in order to have barons that successfully limited the power of the king or his equivalent (thus creating the roots of post-enlightenment democracy) you needed barons who could extract the life out of peasants. Wars that made states killed lots of young conscripts, confiscated private property and led to the demise of whole peoples’ ways of life (Not all French had French speaking ancestors, for instance). And speaking of the French, they went through lots of republics and dictatorships to become what they are today. Further afield, following its own civil war the institutions of government designed to protect human rights in the US had to look the other way until the 1960s in order to preserve its democracy. In the 20th century, decades of intolerant Kemalist ideological orthodoxy laid the foundation for the Islamic world’s most resilient democracy in Turkey.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure in 2011.

Will Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya and the rest escape these patterns if they are ever to become Denmark, the supposed paragon of liberal democracy?

How does one go about state-building in a modern world with sacrosanct borders and a saner human rights regime?

Recent events in the DRC and CAR confirm the urgency with which we ought to address the question of state-building in the developing world in general, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular (see map).

Wars of conquest (which probably would have resulted in Rwanda, Angola and Uganda carving up the DRC) are no longer kosher. Add to that the demands of a tighter and saner human rights regime and you are left with little room to maneuver if you are trying to create an effective state (which occasionally may involve curtailment of political rights). Unless you can somehow insulate yourself from the so called stakeholders, including the International Bleeding Hearts Industrial Complex – like much of east Asia did through the 70s and 80s – you are left with a rather tricky situation of trying to forge a unified state with a million and one centrifugal forces with communal rights backed by threats of donor sanctions. The same system ensures that every rebel group that can cobble together a few guns gets to sit at the table (see Sudan, Mali, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Chad). The UN or some Nordic state pays the hotel bills. Western observers and their sponsoring organizations write reports. Some of them meticulously document human rights abuses by rebels and government troops alike.

Meanwhile censuses are never taken. Taxes are never collected. Little economic activity takes place. And millions of people continue to live just a little bit better than they would in some stateless state of nature.

The present international consensus appears to be one that believes in state-building through democracy and institutions. Lived reality for much of world history appears to contradict this consensus. In most cases democracy and the phantom great institutions appear to lag state-building.

The challenge for those of us interested in state-building is to think of ways to go about the effort in a manner that is sensitive to the present human rights regime and structure of the international system. The present urgency, occasioned by widespread human suffering in the less governed spaces of the globe, requires that all reasonable options (including some uncomfortable ones) be put on the table.

US Africa Policy, A Response

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Matthew Kustenbauder responding to a previous post.

On the question of human rights guiding America’s foreign policy in Africa, I agree with you; it shouldn’t be the first priority. The US needs a more pragmatic development diplomacy strategy, which would help African countries develop just as it would help American businesses thrive.

But I disagree with your characterization of Hillary’s position in this respect. Here’s Secretary Clinton’s own words:
“Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we’ve accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbours, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it’s imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.” 
“Africa is home to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran’s nuclear program. And we’re stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field – level the playing field for our businesses. And we’re building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.” 

One of the problems, however, is that the pragmatic approach articulated by the Secretary doesn’t trickle down through the bureaucracy. This is especially true, ironically, of the State Department’s primary development diplomacy arm, USAID, which has a deeply entrenched culture of being anti-business. It’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why American foreign policy in Africa has been so slow to adjust to new economic realities.

Security drives US Africa Policy

Security drives US Africa Policy

Academics schooled in all the latest development orthodoxies but lacking the most basic understanding of economic or business history have flocked to USAID, so that the suggestion that American economic interests should guide development policy – making it a win-win for Africa and America – is anathema. It’s also why the Chinese are running all over the US in Africa.

As a prominent economic historian recently remarked in the Telegraph, “While we [Western governments] indulge our Victorian urge to give alms to the Africans, Beijing is pumping black gold.” And this is just it. As long as the US approaches Africa as a beggar needing to be saved and not as a business partner worthy of attention, both sides will continue to lose out.

In this respect, what Africa does not need is another “old Africa hand” steeped in conventional development ideas and old dogmas about what’s wrong with Africa and why the US must atone for the West’s sins. For this reason alone, John Kerry – not Susan Rice – probably stands a better chance, as the next Secretary of State, at putting American foreign policy toward Africa on a more solid footing.

- Matthew Kustenbauder is a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University.

Why are African Presidents so Popular?

Gallup recently (April 25) released a new report showing approval ratings of African leaders. Many of them are inexplicably popular (a case of respondent preference falsification?). The polls were conducted in 2011.

Top of the list are the likes of Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi) and Francois Bozize (CAF). Even the unapologetic, unreconstructed autocrats  Paul Biya (Cameroon) and Blaise Compraore (Burkina Faso) poll above 70%.

The whole report is here.

The least popular African leader is Eduardo dos Santos of Angola who polled at a dismal 16%. Angola is Sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest oil producer and China’s largest trade partner on the continent – China imports upwards of 43% of Angola’s oil. The likely denouement of the dos Santos succession is still unclear but one cannot rule out the possibility of turmoil when Angola gets to cross that bridge, especially in light of the fact that Angola’s appear to blame both dos Santos and the country’s leadership.

A Ugandan journalist and a politician respond to Kony 2012

Angelo Izama, Ugandan journalist (and a good friend of yours truly) has a thoughtful op-ed piece in the Times. He makes the case that:

Campaigns like “Kony 2012” aspire to frame the debate about these criminals and inspire action to stop them. Instead, they simply conscript our outrage to advance a specific political agenda — in this case, increased military action.

African leaders, after all, are adept at pursuing their own agendas by using the resources that foreign players inject and the narratives that they prefer — whether the post-9/11 war on terror or the anti-Kony crusade. And these campaigns succeed by abducting our anger and holding it hostage. Often they replace the fanaticism of evil men with our own arrogance, and, worse, ignorance. Moreover, they blind us by focusing on the agents of evil and not their principals.

At the same time over at FP Nobert Mao, politician from northern Uganda and former presidential candidate, has the following to say:

It’s clear that the aim of the video [Kony 2012] was never intellectual stimulation. I don’t think the founders of Invisible Children are the foremost analysts of the complicated political, historical and security dynamics in our troubled part of Africa. They certainly wouldn’t earn high marks in African Studies. But I will go to my grave convinced that they have the most beautiful trait on earth — compassion.

Such sentiments matter, even today.  There are those who say the war is over in Northern Uganda. I say the guns are silent but the war is not over. The sky is overcast with an explosive mix of dubious oil deals, land grabs, arms proliferation, neglected ex-combatants, and a volatile neighborhood full of regimes determined to fish in troubled waters. What we have is a tentative peace. Our region is pregnant with the seeds of conflict. The military action in the jungles of Congo may capture Kony, but we need to do more to plant the seeds of peace founded on democracy, equitable development, and justice. Like peace, war too has its mothers, fathers, midwives, babysitters, and patrons. Perhaps Kony 2012 will help sort out the actors. The video has certainly shaken the fence, making fence-sitting very uncomfortable, indeed.

The two may disagree on the usefulness of tactics such as those that made the now famous video, but they certainly agree on the need to acknowledge agency of local actors in all these problems that require outside intervention.

My two cents on this is that there is definitely room for Africans to shape the narrative and tactics of advocacy in Western capitals (or elsewhere). Emotionally charged  mobilization tactics, like Kony 2012, are definitely a distraction from the real issues. But they also present an opportunity for African actors to leverage international attention and support against their own leaders who refuse to deal with problems that affect their daily lives. I am glad that in the case of Kony 2012 Ugandans have stepped in to provide perspective on the narrative and, hopefully, influence the eventual response by the relevant policymakers in DC.

Quick hits

Follow the goings on in the DRC (especially this election season) over at Alex Engwete’s blog.

Living under the shadow of Kony and his men in Eastern CAR.

On a related note, the Ugandan army’s dirty war in the Congo and CAR.

Shame on the ANC. But there is still hope for cleaner politics in South Africa. The ANC is an over-size coalition with a high chance of internal breakup in the not so distant future. It might even occur sooner, over the Zuma succession. And this time it might not be a rather benign COPE affair. You can read more on the controversial bill over at the Economist.

Trying God? Churches claim to have cured HIV positive congregants. This goes beyond faith, it is naked exploitation. And a call for government involvement.

And lastly, a very dictator Christmas (via Blattman)

Bozize’s son is not into authoritarianism, seriously

As we navigated a roundabout at the edge of town he turned to me and asked, “Have you been following the news?” I hadn’t heard anything since the day before. “About Ivory Coast? Gbagbo held his own inauguration today! Mais ca, c’est vraiment trop!”

Bozize’s son then launched into a diatribe about the failings of African executives. He and his friend, in the back seat, agreed that Ouattara would have been the better choice. “Ouattara is open. He’s for the West. Gbagbo is too much of a nationalist. You see what I’m trying to say?” Then he shifted fully into lecture mode: “We Africans, we have a problem. We like power too much. There are people who, once they grab power, stay there for thirty years! Est-ce que c’est normal? Non! Do you think you could see such a thing in America, or in Europe? No way! The problem here is the nepotism and the corruption.”

…… the conversation had turned to President Biya in neighboring Cameroon, now in power for more than thirty years. “C’est pas normal,” the president’s son clucked, shaking his head.

Bozize is the son of the guy who runs this place.

For more on this and other stories from CAR read this blog (HT Rachel).

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.

Emperor Bokassa’s madness immortalized at the UN Plaza in San Francisco

Emperor Bokassa (of the Central African Republic/”Empire”) ranks high among Africa’s worst dictators. For his coronation as emperor of the Central African Empire he spent half the national budget (with the assistance of the French, of course).

This afternoon I once more encountered his colossal error which remains immortalized at the UN Plaza in San Francisco.