quick hits

1. Our Man in Africa: A great article on former president of Chad Hissene Habre. Also, is current Chadian president Idris Deby a clandestine state-builder in the Sahel or is all this just empty waste of oil money? Whatever the answer, I think the Chadian state might have reached a point where it can’t be threatened by a bunch of bandits on technicals.

2. On the hunt for human uniqueness: If you dropped a dozen human toddlers on a beautiful Polynesian island with shelter and enough to eat, but no computers, no cell phones, and no metal tools, would they grow up to be like humans we recognize or like other primates? Would they invent language? Without the magic sauce of culture and technology, would humans be that different from chimpanzees? More here.

3. Will e-cigarettes re-normalize smoking? E-cigarettes are already allowed in jails where traditional cigarettes are banned.

4. The Unruled World: Global disorder is here to stay, so the challenge is to make it work as well as possible.

5. and How China is ruled.

Reason for African Petro-Rulers to be Worried

Africa’s petrorulers (heads of state of Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Sudan) may be headed for tough times later this year. According to a piece by (Steve Levine) over at FP, Saudi Arabia – the world’s leading oil producer – is considering flooding the global oil markets with the aim of sticking it to the Russians and Iranians. Saudi action of this nature could lower prices to as low as US $40 a barrel from the current $83.27.

With the exception of Ghana and Cameroon, such a drop in oil prices would almost certainly lead to political unrest in the rest of Africa’s oil producers. Sudan and South Sudan are already facing huge revenue shortfalls due to a dispute over the sharing of oil revenue.

More on “The Coming Oil Crash” here.

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.

the political economy of violence

The Economist reports:

YESTERDAY it was Afghanistan and Congo. Today it is Côte d’Ivoire and Libya. Violence, it seems, is always with us, like poverty. And that might seem all there is to be said: violence is bad, it is worse in poor countries and it makes them poorer.

But this year’s World Development Report, the flagship publication of the World Bank, suggests there is a lot more to say. Violence, the authors argue, is not just one cause of poverty among many: it is becoming the primary cause. Countries that are prey to violence are often trapped in it. Those that are not are escaping poverty. This has profound implications both for poor countries trying to pull themselves together and for rich ones trying to help.

Many think that development is mainly hampered by what is known as a “poverty trap”. Farmers do not buy fertiliser even though they know it will produce a better harvest. If there is no road, they reason, their bumper crop will just rot in the field. The way out of such a trap is to build a road. And if poor countries cannot build it themselves, rich donors should step in.

Yet the World Development Report suggests that the main constraint on development these days may not be a poverty trap but a violence trap. Peaceful countries are managing to escape poverty—which is becoming concentrated in countries riven by civil war, ethnic conflict and organised crime. Violence and bad government prevent them from escaping the trap.

Interesting piece. It is particularly important to note that violence affects everyone’s investment decisions, whether rich or poor.

The thing about poor places is that everyone is poor, elite or not.

No matter that Theodore Obiang’s son is buying the second most expensive boat in the world. If he has to hop on a plane to LA to have fun – instead of say, creating Africa’s Dubai in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea – he and his father remain tin pot dictators. The same applies for Idris Deby of Chad, Biya of Cameroon and many others. These dictators may have property abroad but the fact that they cannot accumulate property at home because of structural insecurity of their property rights (a coup is always a crazy junior officer away) continues to confine their countries to penury.

What do you do when even the dictator does not have stable property rights? How can you develop when no one is secure enough to invest in factories?

sovereign hypocrisy and the icc: exposing african impunity

UPDATE:

Keating at FP reacts to the UN resolution against Gaddafi.

In 2000 Stephen Krasner, a renowned academic and member of my department, published a book that outed the “organized hypocrisy” that is state sovereignty. The book noted that leaders of states want to stay in power and have violated or allowed their own sovereignty to be violated numerous times as long it suited them. We should therefore be wary of any leaders that go nationalistic and invoke sovereignty. The Chinese and Russians have done it to protect domestic human rights abuses. The US has done it to protect its leadership and generals from prosecutions for crimes committed during foreign military campaigns. The genocidal president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has done it. The mullahs of Iran keep crowing about it.

Presently, the Kenyan government is doing the same to protect members of the political class that are suspected of having organized the murder of over 1300 and displacement of hundreds of thousands in 2007-08. Six prominent Kenyans, including two of the president’s closest allies, are expected to stand trial for crimes against humanity at the ICC. The African Union, a bastion of kleptocracy, impunity and ineptitude, has come out in strong support of Kenya’s efforts to have the trial of the six deferred, or even dismissed by the UN Security Council.

A section of the African media, including prominent academics and people of repute, have also come out against the ICC. They contend that it has mainly concentrated on trying African strongmen. Some say it is a racist and neo-colonial institution. Many have demanded that the ICC stay out of Africa’s business.

I say this is all horse manure.

The ICC is not perfect. Some of the drudge that has been thrown at it sticks. But that said, it represents a voice for the hundreds of millions of voiceless Africans who for half a century have been virtual serfs to their political elite. Charles Taylor, Idris Deby, Daniel Moi, Mobutu Sese Seko, Emperor Bokassa, Robert Mugabe, Francois Bozize, among many others, have for far too long used “sovereignty” to loot, rape and pillage. They have used their own people as pawns in a dangerous game of sovereign rent extraction. They have over-taxed farmers through marketing boards. They have siphoned away foreign aid intended to build schools and hospitals into Swiss banks. Worst of all, whenever it suited them, they have started wars that killed millions.

Robert Mugabe is starving, jailing, exiling and killing Zimbabweans. Kenya’s Moi engineered “ethnic clashes” in 1992 and 1997 that killed thousands. Charles Taylor fanned the flames of a brutal war in Sierra Leone. Omar al-Bashir continues to kill Sudanese, in the north, in Darfur and in border areas with the south. Mobutu destabilized the east and south east of his country, leading to the 1997 Congo civil war, the deadliest conflict since WWII. Over 5 million died.

If this is what it means for African states to be sovereign, then count me out. To be frank, 50 years of African independence has left Africans with not much to be proud of. Disease, abject poverty, conflict, and all sorts of maladies continue to define the region. This while most of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, other regions that have been comparably poor, have sped off toward economic development and political stability.

Before 1945 war made states. States fought to best each other in classical Darwinian fashion. The UN has since taken that off the table. In most parts of the world peaceful competition has replaced war. Brazil competes for jobs, markets and resources with other BRICs. But in Africa, competition is still lacking. What you have instead is collusion among inept dictators. The African Union exists to protect the likes of Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir.

In my view, the ICC represents a much needed international threat to an inept and murderous African leadership.

I reiterate. The ICC is not perfect. But I am perfectly willing to hold my nose and support it in its attempts to end impunity on the African continent. Idris Deby, Theodore Obiang’, Paul Biya, and their ilk should know that it is no longer acceptable that they live like gods while deliberately confining millions of their own citizens to 16th century levels of poverty and incessant conflict.

is france messing up africa?

Elizabeth Dickinson at FP asks. Whatever the answer might be one thing is clear: France still has commercial and geopolitical interests in French-speaking Africa and would love to maintain close ties with the region, even if it means propping up misguided dictators who buy homes in the French Riviera while their own people starve.

The BBC adds that “a human rights group has said that some of the troops and leaders should instead be facing trial for war crimes.”

The images of French president Nicholas Sarkozy sitting next to Blaise Compraore, the murderous Burkinabe autocrat who came to power in 1987 after dispatching his predecessor Thomas Sankara to his maker, captured it all.

comparative child mortality stats, and other news

The Continent still lags the rest of the world in the effort to reduce child mortality. Malaria and GI related illnesses (due to unclean water and what not) are still the number one killers of children in Africa.

For more on the child mortality stats see Aidwatch.

In other news, IRIN reports that “Humanitarian officials will look to the Chad government to protect civilians and secure aid operations after the UN Security Council decided on 25 May to withdraw some 3,000 UN peacekeepers from the country’s volatile east.” Yeah right. The rather incompetent and grossly corrupt President Idris Deby of Chad has so far failed in his quest to eliminate the Union of Forces for Resistance (UFR) based in the East of the country and in Darfur, Sudan. In 2008 the rebels managed to stage a massive offensive in the Capital N’Djamena. Mr. Deby barely managed to repel them, possibly with French assistance. Government incapacity in Deby’s Chad, Francois Bozize’s Central African Republic and Joseph Kabila’s Democratic Republic of Congo continues to provide safe havens for rebel groups in the great lakes region. I am beginning to think that allowing countries with extra-territorial ambitions like Rwanda and Uganda to run AU-controlled mandates in segments of such countries might not be such a crazy idea.

on american involvement in Kenya

Macharia Gaitho, one of my favorite columnists at The Daily Nation captured my exact sentiments in his column today. I hope the American ambassador in Nairobi, and whoever it is that briefs Washington on matters Kenyan took note of this piece.

And in other news, Guinea has serious problems. The junior army officer who took over  in a coup last year to “establish peace and democracy” has decided that he wants to hang on to power, inviting protests from Guineans not into such ideas. We’ve heard this story before, and we know how it ends.The Guineans should start reading on Samuel Doe, Jerry Rawlings, Idris Deby, Obiang, Museveni, Yahya Jammeh and the many others. Coups are the strongest predictor of future coups. A history of civil violence is also a strong predictor of future violence. Endemic poverty, an economy’s reliance on the export of commodities and weak to poor trade ties with the international community compound matters even more. The odds are stacked against the poor Guineans. They are in this for the long haul. And it sucks that the international community (including Sarkozy’s France) does not care about Guinea, as long as the generals keep exporting Bauxite.

Fun fact about Guinea: Guinea is a leading bauxite exporter, but most of its people live on less than $1 a day (courtesy of the BBC).

chadian ban on charcoal ludicrous

charcoal1

On January 16th the government of Chad banned the use of charcoal in the country – without providing any sensible alternatives. Worried about desertification in the arid Central African state, the government announced that it was banning all charcoal making from freshly cut trees. Chadians can still make charcoal from dead wood.

While I appreciate the need to stop the southward spread of the Sahara, I think the government went too far on this one. It is ridiculous that the governmnet of Chad (of all countries) can suddenly wake up and decide that it is time to stop using charcoal fuel and switch to propane – or whatever other alternative for that matter. Banning charcoal use will not stem desertification. Planting trees, having a decent irrigation plan and being serious about population control and smart ways of using scarce water resources will. Merely banning people from using charcoal or firewood will not cut it. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of Africans still depend on woodfuel for their daily energy needs. Switching to more environment-friendly fuel sources will take time.

I know that the Chadians and the other countries in the Sahel are especially on heightened alert with regard to desertification but this was surely not the way to go. How many Chadians can afford propane? How many Chadians have gas burners? How many Chadians have viable alternatives to charcoal? These are the questions the men in N’djamena should have asked before unilaterally banning the use of charcoal in the country.