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.

What Obama’s re-election means for US Africa Policy

On the 14th of June this year President Obama outlined his policy for Sub-Saharan Africa. Included in the policy statement were four key strategic objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.

In my view, of the four aspirational goals the one that will receive the most attention in the near future will be the third (especially security).

US strategic security interests in Africa mainly involve two key concerns: (1) China’s growing economic presence in the region and (2) the spread of Al-Qaeda linked groups in the region, stretching from Somalia to Mauritania (This is why Mali featured more prominently than the EU in the Presidential foreign policy debate). Before talking about China, here are my thoughts on the US campaign against  al-Qaeda in Africa.

While I don’t foresee any success in the creation of an African base for AFRICOM, the US will continue to cooperate with AU member states in fighting Islamist extremism in the region. The “successful” AU mission in Somalia could provide a blueprint for future operations against potential terror groups. The biggest lesson from Somalia is that the US cannot just pick one nation (in this case Ethiopia) to fight its wars in the region, and that a collaborative effort with the blessing of the regional umbrella organization (the AU) and others such as IGAD can deliver results.

Having helped (both directly and indirectly) in the ouster of Al-Shabaab from strategic locations in Somalia, the next big task will be dealing with the mushrooming Islamist extremism in the Sahel (especially in northern Mali but also in Niger and Nigeria).

The problem of extremism in the Sahel is further compounded by the link of some of the groups to the drug trade flowing from Latin America and into Europe. There is significant evidence that drug money has financed the activities of separatist groups in northern Mali. The fight against these groups will necessarily involve dealing with this crucial source of finance. This means that for the operation to succeed the US will have to engage in capacity building and the strengthening (and clean-up) of security institutions (especially the armies) in states like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, South Africa, Kenya, among others, in which officials in the security sector have been implicated in the drug trade.

The Sahelian challenge might yet prove more formidable than Somalia. The latter case had relatively stable neighbors that served to contain the anarchy. The Sahel (Sahelistan, if you will) is much larger and includes some of the least governed spaces on the planet.

On China, the US (and for that matter, the rest of the West) has to change its present approach of total freak-out overt suspicion over Chinese involvement in Africa. Africans need protection from China only as much as they need protection from the West. China is not out to “exploit” Africa any more than the West has. Nobody should expect China to engage Africa more benevolently than the West did for the better part of the last 60 years (Mobutu and Bokassa were not that different from Bashir and Mugabe).

A constructive approach ought to include policies designed to strengthen African states so that they can engage China on their own terms. It is ultimately African leaders who mortgage their resources and sovereignty to China (or the West). Instead of focusing too much on China, a better approach might be one that creates strong regional organizations (like the SADC or the EAC) that can improve the bargaining power of African states.

The other policy objectives outlined by Obama appear to fall in the business-as-usual category. Democracy promotion will not yield much in the face of other more pressing priorities (notice how security has triumphed over democracy in Mali). And unless the US is willing to get involved in massive infrastructure projects like China has (last time I checked they were in 35 African states), I don’t see how it can help spur economic growth in the region (AGOA was great, but Africa needs something better). Plus the US continues to be hampered in its development-promotion efforts by its aversion to state industrial policy. It’s about time Foggy Bottom realized that it is really hard to have a thriving private sector and American-style free enterprise in places with bad roads, very few (and bad) schools, and governments that are run by personalist dictators. In these instances some corruption-laden developmental state policies may be the best way to go.

In which I write about Africa’s emerging drug problem

The globalization of terrorism over the last decade has created a situation in which the number one threat to international security is no longer strong, conquering states, but failing ones that provide safe havens for terrorist organizations. Drug trafficking in Africa reflects the heart of this concern. The illicit trade is both contributing to the deterioration of state institutions – which could result in state collapse – and financing terrorist groups like AQIM and Al-Shabaab. So far the international community has not treated the matter with the urgency it deserves. The consequences of inaction will be dire, as has already been seen in Central America. The region’s misfortune of being an important transit route between South American cocaine production centers and North American consumers has resulted in the highest murder rates in the world, fueled by transnational organized crime and drug trafficking. The statistics are astonishing: Among 20-year old men in some Central American countries, 1 in 50 will be murdered before they are 32Africa, a region already replete with weak states, might be next if drug trafficking on the continent continues to grow.

More on this here.

Elite political instability continues in Guinea-Bissau

The late Pres. Vieira. Source: Wikipedia

UPDATE: The coup leaders have set up a transitional government and dissolved all state institutions.

The BBC reports:

Soldiers have taken control of much of the capital of the Guinea-Bissau in what appears to be a coup attempt.

Heavy gunfire was been heard in the city of Bissau and the residence of outgoing President Carlos Gomes was reportedly attacked.

Troops have also taken control of the national radio station and the ruling party’s headquarters.

I have a strong feeling that this latest coup attempt (just like the murder of President Vieira and Gen. Waie and last December’s coup attempt) is related to the drug trade. Since mid last year the country has witnessed multiple coup attempts, despite a brief flirtation with democratic rule under the late President Sanha.

Guinea-Bissau is among West Africa’s budding narco states which have, in the last decade or so, become a major transit point of drugs from Latin America destined for European markets.

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.

Briefing from Malabo

The club of African autocrats African Union has its biannual summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea this week (This guy is the current AU Chairman, no joke).

The struggling AU has a lot on its plate at the moment (subject of an upcoming blog post). It is in the middle of trying to put out new fires in Sudan and Libya, while ignoring/recovering from the humiliation of its failures in Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe – not to mention the region’s other problems.

All this while insisting on “African Solutions to African Problems,” despite the organization’s infamous reputation for incompetence.

Top on the agenda at the summit has been the ongoing hostilities (Obama might disagree) in Libya. According to the Oman Daily Observer, the AU has come up with a plan that

“envisages a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, a transition period, reforms towards democracy and elections, but the position on the future of Gaddafi has not been made clear.”

In other words the heads of state in Malabo, led by their Chairman Obiang, are hoping to do a Zimbabwe: Have Gaddafi in charge of the same reform process that is supposed to phase out his 42-year rule. I need not elaborate how this story ends.

Africa’s budding narco-states?

UPDATE:

The Kenyan Prime Minister just admitted to the presence of drug money in Kenyan politics. Huge. Also, check the UNODC’s drug trafficking patterns for East Africa.

Also, does anyone out there have a copy of the report on drug trafficking in Kenya? Care to share?

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I have written before about the growing problem of drug-trafficking that is creating new problems for already fragile African states.

Of note is the fact that the problem is not just limited to the usual suspects – weak or failing states – but also extends to countries that most would consider to have it together, like Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.

According to Reuters, “cocaine moves through West Africa” while “heroin transits through the eastern part of the continent.”

The most alarming thing about this new trend is that in most of these African countries drug-trafficking happens with the consent of those in government.

For instance, in Guinea the son of former president Conte was for a long time a leading drug kingpin. In Guinea-Bissau President Vieira’s and Gen. Na Waie’s deaths in March of last year were a result of drug-related feuds. In Ghana President Atta Mills has lamented that the drug lords are too powerful to rein in. In Kenya, a woman (rumored to be) close to the president and other elites have been linked to the drug trade. Indeed on June 1st President Obama listed a sitting Kenyan Member of Parliament (Harun Mwau) as a global drug kingpin.

In South Africa former Chief of Police, Jackie Selebi, was jailed for 10 years in 2010 on drug charges. More recently the wife of the South African Intelligence Minister (Sheryl Cwele) was found guilty of having connections to the illicit trade. In 2009 a Boeing 727 crashed and was later set ablaze by suspected drug traffickers in Mali. The plane is believed to have been a drug cargo plane from Latin America destined for Europe. Other African states whose drug connections have also come to light include The Gambia (where rumors abound that President Jammeh is himself involved in the trade in drugs and arms in collusion with the Bissauian army) and Mozambique (H/T kmmonroe). You can find related news stories here and here.

Clearly, this is a real problem that if not nipped in the bud has the potential of growing to Mexican proportions, especially considering the already low levels of state capacity in most of Africa.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy also addresses this issue in their newly released report:

In just a few years, West Africa has become a major transit and re-packaging hub for cocaine following a strategic shift of Latin American drug syndicates toward the European market. Profiting from weak governance, endemic poverty, instability and ill-equipped police and judicial institutions, and bolstered by the enormous value of the drug trade, criminal networks have infiltrated governments, state institutions and the military. Corruption and money laundering, driven by the drug trade, pervert local politics and skew local economies.

A dangerous scenario is emerging as narco-traffic threatens to metastasize into broader political and security challenges. Initial international responses to support regional and national action have not been able to reverse this trend. New evidence suggests that criminal networks are expanding operations and strengthening their positions through new alliances, notably with armed groups. Current responses need to be urgently scaled up and coordinated under West African leadership, with international financial and technical support. Responses should integrate
law enforcement and judicial approaches with social, development and conflict prevention policies – and they should involve governments and civil society alike.

crucial elections in west africa

The Ivorians have a runoff election tomorrow while the Guineans (Guinea-Conakry) get to find out who will be their president on December 2nd.

The Ivory Coast is still trying to recover from the disastrous turmoil and civil war that visited her following the death of founding president Houphouet Boigny. The civil war split the country in two, with the southerners (actually just nationalist Abidjanites) accusing most northern politicians of being foreigners. Among the said “foreigners” is the challenger in tomorrow’s election, Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Ouattara hopes to unseat Mr. Laurent Gbagbo who has been in power since 2000.

In Guinea the loser in the runoff went to the supreme court to challenge the results. The country is one of the more unstable places on the continent with a military that is lacking in discipline professionalism.

Out of the many trouble spots in West Africa at the turn of the century, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and Niger are the main laggards slowing down the region’s match towards political stability, irrespective of regime type.

The Gambia, Iran, Nigeria and the confusion over arms

Remember the story about the mysterious cache of arms found in Lagos Port, Nigeria? Well, turns out the story goes beyond Nigeria. FP reports that there is reason to believe that the arms from Iran were destined for The Gambia. Authorities in Banjul expelled the Iranian officials in the country, increasing speculation that the arms were meant for rebel groups linked to last year’s coup attempt against President Yahya Jammeh who by the way, cures AIDS on Thursdays.

Just as Libya is retreating from its bad habit of financing and arming rebellions all over the Continent Tehran appears poised to assume this role, especially in Muslim sub-Saharan Africa. There is not a clear strategic reason for this kind of involvement by Iran in The Gambia, although theories abound out there. To add to these, I think it might be that someone within the Iranian government is involved in the global drugs trade and wanted to use The Gambia as a transit to Europe. On November 19th Nigeria discovered US$ 10 million worth of heroine shipped from Iran.

West Africa plays a major role in the global drugs trade. Barely afloat West Africa states, particularly Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, are key transit points for drug shipments from Latin America and Asia into Europe.

failed states index

Foreign Policy, in its July/August issue has 2010’s failed states index. The Continent has 12 of the top 20 worst performers on this index, with Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the DRC being in the top five respectively. Kenya is 13th on this index, performing worse than Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, among other basket cases. The substantive meaning of the rankings aside (I’d rather be in Kenya than in Sierra Leone on any day), the index is a grim reminder of how badly governed the Continent is. The best ranked mainland African state is Ghana, at number 54. Mauritius leads the Continent at number 30, out of 177.

Also in the FP issue is an exposé of Bozize’s Central African Republic. I used to think that he was doing a relatively good job. Turns out he is full of bucket-loads of horse manure:

“Bozizé has fared no better than his predecessors, ruling a territory the size of Texas with a GDP significantly smaller than that of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.”

And don’t miss out on Ayittey’s ranking of the world’s worst dictators. Our good friend Rob is second only to the crazy guy who runs North Korea.

Lastly, I must say something about my favorite punching bag Idriss Deby’s Chad. Idriss Deby is a study in ineffectual leadership and is on the list of Africa’s many ‘wasted dictatorships.’ In 2006 he successfully conned his way out of the World Bank brokered plan to use revenue from the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to reduce poverty among his country’s extremely impoverished 10.3 million souls. He now uses most of Chad’s oil revenue to fund his poorly-run security forces that remain vulnerable to any rebel group that can land its hands on a technical. But with over 1.5 billion barrels in reserves and a world thirsty for oil, it appears that this Zaghawa “warrior” is here to stay, his incompetence notwithstanding.

The HDI numbers tell it all. The literacy rate in Chad is at a dismal 25%. Life expectancy stands at 48 years. 80% of Chadian’s live on less than a dollar a day. The growth rate of the economy, -1% last year, -0.2% in 2008 and 0.6% in 2007, cannot keep up with the population growth rate of more than 2% (despite a rather high infant mortality rate of 97 deaths/1000 live births) – which means that Chadians’ living standards will continue to decline into the foreseeable future.  The bulk of Chadians (more than 80%) make do with subsistence agriculture. Oil, cotton, cattle and gum arabic are the country’s main export commodities.

sources: FP and The CIA World Factbook