RIP Tabu Ley (1937-2013)

The Rhumba legend Tabu Ley has passed on. For Kenyans of my generation his songs are a reminder of a childhood marked by our parents’ great love of Congolese music (dominated by Tabu Ley and Franco Luambo Makiadi). Back then Kinshasa seemed like the most fun place on the planet (and probably is/was, as I have never been) and a bustling centre of cultural production. We didn’t know what the songs were about, but we knew the lyrics (or what we imagined them to be). I particularly grew to love “Muzina.”

 

Capital flight continues to plague poor nations

According to the Center for International Policy:

“Exactly 10 times the $100bn spent on aid and debt write-offs by rich countries is siphoned out of developing countries, with corporations responsible for 60 per cent of that figure through a web of trusts, nominee accounts and the flagrant mispricing of goods to escape tax………

Cracking down on tax havens and the evasion of taxes by some of the world’s biggest companies is seen as the ‘missing link’ in the poverty alleviation agenda.”

This got me thinking, perhaps naively, why it is that rulers (i.e. presidents and their entourage, most of whom fuel capital flight) in the Global South cannot secure their own property rights.

It makes sense that Mobutu and Co. (perhaps the worst pilferers ever) did not invest in Zaire (presently the moribund DRC) and so siphoned (or allowed allied firms to do so) billions abroad because the country lacked attractive investment options, mostly because of weak property rights. But it is also true that throughout his over three decades in power he and his buddies were perhaps the best placed Zaireans to secure their own property rights. Why didn’t they do it?

The quick answer might be that they had a very limited subjective time horizon and lived in constant fear of coups.

Most of the arguments out there stop here. Time horizon is king. Limited time horizons are bad for long-term investment. Yada yada yada.

But shouldn’t we also expect that after say 10 years in power a leader or elite group updates and realizes that may be they are there to stay, and start laying the foundation for local use of stolen wealth? Some certainly have – Kenya’s Moi and his henchmen come to mind.

The reasons for these leaders to invest locally are legion. The state of the roads, hospitals (think of say Ugandan elites who have to fly to Kenya or South Africa for medical care), insecurity (in Kenya MPs have been attacked by armed robbers), schools, etc etc in these places make it such that an average person in say Palo Alto enjoys a much higher standard of living than some of the wealthier people in the Global South.

What is the point of living in Kinshasa with billions in Europe, and with only one life to live? At what point does it make sense to use some of the money to improve the living standards (even in the most selfish way) in the place where one actually lives?

At the very least, don’t these guys mind the very dusty roads to their residences?

PS: The local use of wealth is, of course, relative. Even Chinese leaders, despite their massive domestic investments, still stash money abroad where property rights are more secure.

Is this the beginning of the Third Congo War?

Yesterday Goma fell to the M23, a rebel group in eastern DRC with alleged links to both Rwanda and Uganda. The fall of Goma increases the likelihood of an all out war in eastern Congo that might quickly degenerate into a regional war – just like the Second Congo War was (for more on why peace failed see this ICG report).

I am on record as lacking any sympathies for the Kinshasa regime under Joseph Kabila (see here, here, and here). The horrendous situation in eastern DRC is as much his fault as it is of the alleged meddlers from Kampala and Kigali. The fact that the international community has taken to viewing the conflict as primarily regional is a mistake as it masks Kabila’s own failings in improving governance in the eastern DRC . It also gives him a chance to continue free riding on MONUSCO’s presence in the region.

Sadly, the international community appears set to waste this latest crisis by issuing statements and imposing sanctions which will only tackle the symptoms rather than the real problems behind the conflict. As the ICG argues:

If international donors and African mediators persist in managing the crisis rather than solving it, it will be impossible to avoid such repetitive cycles of rebellions in the Kivus and the risk of large-scale violence will remain. Instead, to finally resolve this conflict, it is essential that Rwanda ends its involvement in Congolese affairs and that the reconstruction plan and the political agreements signed in the Kivus are properly implemented.
For these things to happen Western donors should maintain aid suspension against Rwanda until the release of the next report of the UN group of experts, in addition to issuing a clear warning to the Congolese authorities that they will not provide funding for stabilisation and institutional support until the government improves political dialogue and governance in both the administration and in the army in the east, as recommended by Crisis Group on several previous occasions.
Over at Congo Siasa, the DRC expert Jason Stearns offers some preliminary thoughts on M23′s endgame:
In the past, I have speculated that it will be difficult for the M23 to conquer and hold territory, mostly due to their lack of manpower, which started off at around 400-700 and is probably around 1,500-2,500 now. They have been able to rely on Rwandan (and, to a lesser degree, Ugandan) firepower for operations close to the border (in particular Bunagana and Rutshuru, allegedly also this recent offensive), the farther into the interior they get, they harder it will be to mask outside involvement.
Alliances with other groups­­––Sheka, Raia Mutomboki, FDC, etc.––have acted as force multipliers, but have been very fickle, as the surrender of Col Albert Kahasha last week proved. From this perspective, the M23 strategy could well be more to nettle the government, underscore its ineptitude, and hope that it will collapse from within.
However, the recent offensive on Goma has made me consider another, bolder alternative. If the rebels take Goma, thereby humiliating the UN and the Congolese army, they will present the international community with a fait accompli. Yes, it will shine a sharp light on Rwandan involvement, but Kigali has been undeterred by donor pressure thus far, and has been emboldened by its seat on the Security Council. Also, as the looting by the Congolese army and their distribution of weapons to youths in Goma has shown, the battle for Goma is as much of a PR disaster for Kinshasa as for Kigali.

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.

The dangers of simplistic single narratives

As Stearns argues in this excellent book, the causes of the conflicts in eastern DRC are multiple and complex. Yet simple narratives in the media and among aid workers and advocacy groups have tried hard to reduce these causes to a fight over minerals; and similarly the consequences as mass rape of women and young girls (remember the video cameras fiasco??). In reality the story is more complex than this.

Here is a quote from a good paper on the international community’s responses to the Congo (DRC) conflicts by Severine Autesserre in the latest edition of African Affairs:

“These narratives focus on a primary cause of violence, illegal exploitation of mineral resources; a main consequence, sexual abuse of women and girls; and a central solution, extending state authority. I elucidate why simple narratives are necessary for policy makers, journalists, advocacy groups, and practitioners on the ground, especially those involved in the Congo. I then consider each narrative in turn and explain how they achieved prominence: they provided straightforward explanations for the violence, suggested feasible solutions to it, and resonated with foreign audiences. I demonstrate that the focus on these narratives and on the solutions they recommended has led to results that clash with their intended purposes, notably an increase in human rights violations.

The international actors’ concentration on trafficking of mineral resources as a source of violence has led them to overlook the myriad other causes, such as land conflict, poverty, corruption, local political and social antagonisms, and hostile relationships between state officials, including security forces, and the general population. Interveners have singled out for support one category of victims, sexually injured women and girls, at the expense of others, notably those tortured in a non-sexual manner, child soldiers, and the families of those killed.”

The paper is a grim reminder that “fixing the Congo”  – whatever that means – will take a long time. More on this here.

Quick hits

1. If you don’t have a summer reading list already, Blattman has one for you. The list is obviously not exhaustive, but two pressing titles I might add are Avner Greif’s Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy and Gerschenkron’s Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective.

2. In yet another not so nice chapter in the relationship between the Angolans and Congolese, Angola has deported thousands of Congolese. According to IRIN:

The expulsions are symptomatic of the tense relations between Luanda and Kinshasa, rooted in disputes over border demarcation and natural resources. Angola’s alleged loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to the unauthorized artisanal exploitation of diamonds is a particular bone of contention.

3. Michelle Obama is in Africa on one of those first lady gigs. Many Africa watchers have complained that the visit does not have any real policy agenda beyond the usual talking points.

I agree.

But I would also like to point out that the failure of Africa to reap an Obama dividend is not just because of the State Dept.’s indifference to Africa but also because Africa lacks a coherent voice in Washington. Is there an Africa lobby? What does it do?

Instead of a calculated strategic response to the election of the first US president of African descent the Continent has swung from euphoria to disappointment over the fact that manna did not fall from heaven.

4. Lastly, the fortunes of the AU force in Somalia appear to be on an upswing. Now if only Somali politicians can get their act together and form a stable government.

from the annals of history

One insurgent movement within the country lingers from the 1964-65 wave of rebellions. Localized in the Fizi-Baraka area by Lake Tanganyika, this group – known in recent years as the Parti de la Revolution (PRP) – achieved notoriety in 1975 by kidnapping four Stanford students from a zoological research station in Tanzania. Its composition is ethnically restricted to Bembe, though its leader, Laurent Kabila, is a Shaba Luba. The movement now has only a few hundred followers, and has no possibility of enlarging its base of operations.

That was Crawford Young writing in Foreign Affairs in 1978.

In 1997 Laurent Kabila, backed by Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, was in charge of a much stronger force and marched from the east of the DRC (then Zaire) into Kinshasa. After the overthrow of Mobutu Laurent Kabila was sworn in as president, only to be assassinated in 2002 and succeeded by his adopted son, Joseph Kabila. The younger Kabila continues to face a simmering insurgency in the east of the country.

Karl Marx once noted that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. President Kabila’s continued ineptitude may be watering the seeds of his own ouster by rebels from the east in a farcical repeat of history.

remembering lumumba

Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, has an editorial in the Times in honor of Patrice Lumumba, the firebrand Congolese independence leader who was assassinated 50 years ago. His death, amid the chaos of the Katanga secession, marked the beginning of the hellish catastrophe that was the land of Mobutu Sese Seko, and latterly the Kabilas.

Throughout Africa, Lumumba remains a celebrated hero. The many Lumumbas across Eastern Africa are a testament to this fact.

Whether the same would be true had he actually lived to run the vast Central African state is another question altogether. As noted by Adam Hochschild in his piece:

“Patrice Lumumba had only a few short months in office and we have no way of knowing what would have happened had he lived. Would he have stuck to his ideals or, like too many African independence leaders, abandoned them for the temptations of wealth and power? In any event, leading his nation to the full economic autonomy he dreamed of would have been an almost impossible task. The Western governments and corporations arrayed against him were too powerful, and the resources in his control too weak: at independence his new country had fewer than three dozen university graduates among a black population of more than 15 million, and only three of some 5,000 senior positions in the civil service were filled by Congolese.”

bemba’s case begins at the icc

Jean-Pierre Bemba is the ICC’s highest profile defendant yet (The other big names from the Continent’s conflicts have been tried under the UN special tribunals for Rwanda and Sierra Leone). The former Vice President of the DRC is on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, murder and pillage, in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Typical of most African conflicts which are labeled “civil” but are in actual sense international wars,  the DRC’s civil war extended beyond its borders. Bemba’s militia – The Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) – was used by its backers in the Central African Republic to put down a rebellion in the south of CAR.

The ICC has many failings. But its deterrent effect is beginning to take hold. Justice is political, no illusions about that. However, the court’s activities provide a guarantee that in some cases, once in a while, the voice of the voiceless men, women and children who bear the brunt of the Continent’s conflicts will be heard.

The BBC has more on this.

reality check

Recently I have been reminded over and over again of the fact that in the sixties South Korea, Ghana, Kenya, the Congo etc had roughly similar per capita GDP (I just started reading economic gangsters and have attended two very interesting lectures by Francis Fukuyama). Assertions of this nature are usually accompanied by accounts of what happened post-60s that made South Korea several times richer than its African counterparts in the present day. But an equally important question to ask is how different pre-60s Korea was from the African countries? (Korea’s long history with some form of organized polity, the nature of Japanese colonization, geographic location near the economic giants Japan and the US, relative importance in cold war politics, etc etc).

These are real issues with real consequences. Briefly stated, the differences between say the Congo and Singapore extend beyond those between Lee Kwan Yew and Mobutu Sese Seko. Pre-independence history and realities (including culture and forms of socio-economic organization) played a significant role in determining the respective trajectories of the  post-independence states of Asia and Africa.

While I am not a believer in historical institutional determinism, I find the reality of findings such as this hard to ignore. The short of it all is that everything is endogenously determined – institutions, quality of leaders, rates of capital accumulation, savings etc etc.