Who is the M23?

Jason Stearns over at Congo Siasa provides a link to a backgrounder worth reading on the rebel group.

Also with regard to the M23, Onyango-Obbo of the East African has some advice for Kabila:

In the past 15 years, the Banyamulenge have fought the same fight in the DRC [ "the persecution of the Congolese Tutsis"]. Kabila can be smart, offer them a political deal and save DRC, or choose the destructive path preferred by successive Congolese governments of recent years and lose eastern DRC — or even power in Kinshasa.

Criticisms and ultimatums to the eastern DRC rebels like that issued at last week’s Kampala emergency summit, and international condemnation and sanctions, will not change that fact.

I share Onyango-Obbo’s view on this matter.

The international community’s singular focus on the humanitarian disaster in eastern DRC (caused by Rwanda’s and Uganda’s meddling) is giving Kabila a chance to kick the can down the road one more time – until the next time that a group of a few hundred men with guns chase his troops out of town and kill and rape and loot and cause all manner of harm to innocent civilians while they are at it. Then the same dance will be orchestrated – condemnations from the UNSC and bloggers, regional summits, a few resolutions that never get implemented, etc.

The present hue and cry in the media about the M23 misses the fact that you can’t simply wish away the de facto power imbalances in eastern Congo by appealing to humanitarian concerns. The woefully incompetent FARDC and the Kinshasa government cannot tackle the better organized rebels backed by more savvy armies in Uganda and Rwanda.

To end the conflict in eastern Congo Kabila must give a lot of concessions to the rebels. Without concrete concessions the conflict will merely have been postponed to a later date.

The alternative is for Kabila and his Kinshasa cronies to wake up one day and decide to lead a competent government and national armed force that will deter Rwanda, a country that is 88 times smaller with almost 7 times fewer people, from meddling within their country’s territory. That is, if they can.

southern adventurism?

Charles Onyango-Obbo, in Africa Review, has a piece documenting the cases of infidelity in Southern Africa involving the wives of heads of state. From Swaziland to South Africa to Zambia heads of state have had to manage spouses with “restless skirts.” Mr. Onyango-Obbo argues that part of the reason is that “Southern Africa as a region tends to have a more liberal take on sexual matters” adding that

“It is a mining region, and for over two generations men have left their families behind to go and work in the mines in a neighbouring. Some never returned, others did infrequently – often with second wives they had married. Just like lonely miners sought out newscompanionships in the new areas they worked and lived in, the wives they left at home eventually also filled the void left by their long-absent husbands.”

Although I don’t quite agree with Onyango-Obbo’s assertion that Southern Africans are more liberal when it comes to sexual matters, I do think that labor migration necessitated by the mining sector in the sub-region has had a profound impact not only on the institution of marriage but also on health outcomes. As a result the sub-region has the highest HIV infection rates in the world. I must also add that governments in the region have realized this and are trying to deal with the problem. Botswana, for instance, has an elaborate and fairly well run programme of providing HIV positive individuals with ARVs. South Africa, emerging from years of denial under Mbeki, is also trying to catch up.

links that I liked

The East African, my favorited regional weekly, this week has a few interesting pieces. Of course there are the regulars – Wanyeki and Charles Onyango-Obbo.  There was also this one that mentioned in passing Kenya’s insouciant approach to threats to its territorial integrity.

Wronging rights has a thing on some crazy Chechen and a tiger.

And please read AfricanLoft, if you haven’t yet today.

some practice in bad statistics

I just read a piece in the technology section of the Times which made me wish I had taken more statistics classes in college  (beyond the requirements for my econ degree). I think it is a good thing that the field is gaining prominence and I hope that it will spur an interest among governments the world over in scientific governance – a deliberate effort by governments to know the wants and needs of their populace and to respond to the same, of course toned with the occasional nudge in the right direction (I am a believer in soft paternalism, just fyi).

I also read a piece by my favorite Thursday columnist, Onyango-Obbo, of the Daily Nation. One of the points raised in the piece is that more urbanite and educated Kenyans are more likely to be “tribal” than rural folk. This is based on a study done some years back that showed that educated Kenyans in the towns and cities were more likely to be conscious of their ethnic identities than poor farmers and fishermen. Mr. Onyango-Obbo’s conclusion was therefore that education and exposure to other cultural communities does not help the anti-tribalism fight on the Continent.

I beg to differ. Educated people, and those exposed to other ethnic groups, are obviously more aware of their ethnicity. I became more aware of my being African when I arrived in New Haven, CT than when growing up in Kenya. Being exposed to “others” gets you thinking about your own identity. The question should be whether this emergent tribalism among educated Kenyan urbanites was negative or benign (like the kind of drive that made me read Ogot’s History of the Southern Luo for the first time in college). On this score my gut instinct tells me that the more exposed and well educated Kenyans are less likely to kill their neighbors simply because they speaks a different language. On the contrary, it is the rural folk who still imagine people from other parts of the country to be evil barbarians and intruders. Just look back to Kenya’s post-election violence of early 2008. Bloodshed occurred most prominently among the less educated and provincial Kenyans while well to do middle class Nairobians watched it all in shock on the BBC.