the democratic republic of congo, what a mess

The Democratic Republic of Congo is in a deep hole. And it is not just because its president, the younger Kabila, wants to extend presidential terms by 2 years and then may be abolish term limits, at least according to the Economist.  It is primarily because almost everyone in the country seems to have incentives to keep the war in the east raging on – well, everyone except the civilians on the ground. The New York Times reports that an upcoming UN Report will implicate bigwigs in the Congolese army of colluding with rebels in the east to profit from illegal mineral exports, among other commodities. FDLR, the rebel outfit which has among its ranks remnants of the genocidal Intarahamwe from Rwanda, is among the chief beneficiaries.

Quoting the Times:

There is ….. creeping warlordism. Local army commanders are taxing timber, charcoal, tomatoes, anything that passes through their roadblocks, making $250,000 a month, the report said. Commanders are even conscripting civilians to haul wood through the forest, reminiscent of the Belgian colonial days when pith-helmeted officers whipped Congolese porters with hippopotamus hide.”

The Congo conflict is more than anything else an economic conflict. It will only stop when those profiting from it come to their senses (I don’t know what will prompt this if 5 million deaths and counting can’t do the trick). And the web of war-profiteers  is huge.

Meanwhile in Zambia, it’s everything goes like it is still 1991. A section of donors have suspended aid to the health ministry because $ 2.1 million went missing (“more than 100,000 Zambians die every year from malaria and HIV/AIDS”– Economist). The government is reluctant to fight corruption. Mr. Rupiah Banda, the current president, seems bent on becoming the new Frederick Chiluba – the kleptocrat who ruled Zambia for ten years. Things never change.

climate change madness, and bad research

Climate change is real, no doubt about that. But making inferences like this one from observed climatic patterns does not make any sense. It is almost offensive.

quoting the piece….

“Climate change is likely to increase the number of civil wars raging in Africa, according to Stanford researchers. Historical records show that in warmer-than-average years, the number of conflicts rises. The researchers predict that by 2030, Africa could see a greater than 50 percent increase in civil wars, which could mean an additional 390,000 deaths just from fighting alone.”

There are several things that are wrong with this inference. From the start, attempting to predict future patterns of conflict based on past experiences is highly problematic. Unless we presume that Africans are irrational in their violence, there is no reason to infer that they will naturally fight because of the predicted adverse effects of climate change. Past wars had a myriad causes – chief among them state failure. Most of these causes no longer obtain and may not obtain in 2030.

I have not read the actual paper but will sure do so as soon as I can get it and then comment some more about it. For now all I can make of it is: we should save the environment or else the Africans will kill themselves. This is what I call a heap of horse manure.

mbeki’s legacy

Partial results of Thabo Mbeki’s beetroot response to the South African AIDS epidemic are out. Life expectancy in South Africa declined between 1990-2007 (from 62 to 50). It is expected to decline even further over the next few years. Read more about this here.

It is worth noting that the new South African administration took an about-turn from Mbeki’s bizarre AIDS policy, as was articulated by his health minister. The South African Ministry of Health has on its website an HIV and AIDS and STI strategic plan designed to tackle the HIV problem. Over 5 million South Africans, out of a total population of 49.3 million, are infected.

keeping them honest, Aid Watch style

For those into famines and famine politics, here’s one for you…

And more of the same

And here is more news on Ethiopia’s second insurgency waged by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The Oromo Liberation Front in the southern parts of the country is the other major thorn in Addis Ababa’s flesh. For a man into military victories and invasion of other states I must say I am disappointed in how Zenawi has handled both so far.

football hooligans and diplomacy

Both Egyptian and Algerian officials could have been classier in handling the mess that has resulted from their rivalry on the field. The two national football teams were competing for the last African slot in next year’s world cup in South Africa. Egypt won the second leg in Cairo, resulting in a deadlock in the group, which then necessitated a playoff in a neutral country. Sudan was chosen and Algeria won.

The fans of either team did not find it in their interest to keep things this simple though. From Khartoum to Cairo to Algiers to Marseilles they expressed their anger by rioting and setting business and boats on fire. FIFA is considering disciplinary action on Egypt because Egyptian fans pelted the Algerian football team’s bus with stones. In Algiers Egyptian businesses were raided by angry mobs. The running battles extended to France, where Algerian and Egyptian immigrants clashed in Marseilles. Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria.

There is pride in making it to the world cup, but there is also sanity and diplomatic decency. This should not have gone this far.

my two cents on the new constitution

What I liked:

  • The bicameral parliament. It is expensive but will serve to give the regions a voice.
  • The regional governments. Great idea, but how are they going to be funded? I would have loved it if there was a provision that each region should generate enough revenue to fund a fixed percentage of its budget. This way the regional governments can have incentives to promote economic activity in their regions. Better yet the central government should have been mandated to only issue matching grants to these regions – to spur competition among them for funds for such sectors as education, healthcare, infrastructure development, etc
  • Retention of the Kadhis courts. I am glad that sanity prevailed on this one. Kenyan Christians were being absolutely crazy in their opposition to this.

What I did not like:

  • The judiciary. Judges of the Supreme Court should have had life tenure. They should have created regional court systems. And they should have done away with the “traditional” court systems – whatever they are?
  • Traditional marriages should have been trashed. Marriage should be between two people. Polygamy is an affront on women’s rights. Period.
  • And about gay marriage, I don’t think it was necessary to spell out that marriage is between a man and a woman. These guys should have been open minded enough to allow for the possibility of Kenyans being more liberal than they currently are.
  • Vote share for Nairobi in the Senate. Nairobi should have had one of the biggest shares of Senate votes – by virtue of it being the economic hub. Instead the Rift Valley, with its many underdeveloped counties, has the largest share. Call it urban bias, but I don’t like the idea of rural non-tax-payers always having the biggest say on who gets to steal the money paid in taxes by Nairobians and other city dwellers.
  • The lack for autonomy of towns and cities. The counties idea is great, but we should have designated cities and towns that were autonomous  – with their own police forces and stuff. Security and Justice are political and should have been devolved too.

And in other news, Kenya is still among the most corrupt countries in the world. The new TI corruption perception index ranks Kenya at 146 out of 180 states. This is one more reason to fire Amos Wako, Kenya’s Attorney general since forever. And while we are at it we should also get rid of the Chief Justice. Mr. Gicheru has not lived up to expectations. He was appointed to clean up the judiciary but ended up in the pockets of the powers that be.

obscene, utterly obscene

Stories like this drive me crazy.

Quoting the Guardian Newspaper:

“Little Teodoro, as President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s son is known at home, appears to spend as little time as possible fulfilling his duties as the minister of agriculture and forestry in the west African state. Instead he flits between South Africa, France and the US, pursuing business ventures such as a failed rap label while acquiring property and a fleet of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys – all made possible by the discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea’s waters a decade ago.”

further ahead…..

“President Obiang, who has ruled since seizing power in 1979, has decreed that the management of his country’s $3bn a year in oil revenues is a state secret.”

According to the CIA factbook:

Per capita GDP of Equatorial Guinea (PPP) is 37,300. Obiang (the elder) spends a paltry 0.6% of his country’s GDP on education. Almost two thirds of the country’s 633,400 people live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, Obiang – whose kleptocratic leadership has plagued Equatorians since he staged a coup against his own uncle (and then executed him) in 1979 – managed to win a seven year term in 2002 with over 97% of the vote. The next elections will be held in 2010.


kenya’s new constitution, who will pay for it?

The document is here...

290 members of parliament. 100 Senators. Several regions and more than 70 counties. These are among the new burdens that will be added onto the load currently weighing down the Kenyan taxpayer. The draft constitution released today also proposes an executive Premier and dual citizenship.

390 elected legislators is a bit too much, if you ask me. Kenya is a country of 40 million in which only a small fraction engages in taxable economic activities. The rest are rural subsistence farmers who don’t earn taxable income and engage in the formal economy only through sales taxes. Because of this I find it too much of a burden to ask the average Kenyan worker to foot the bill for an unnecessarily bloated legislature. Kenyan MPs are among the highest paid in the world. Indeed they earn more in a year than US senators. And they don’t pay any tax!

I still haven’t read the document yet, after which I look forward to commenting on the devolution structure and the hybrid system of government it supposedly proposes.

Despite its weaknesses, I think this is a step in the right direction. Better this than being stuck with the “home guard” constitution that we currently have.

stop the blame game and move on

I am no apologist for colonialism. I am also not a fan of blaming everything on colonialism. Arbitrary borders, neocolonialism, assassination of presidents, unfair farm subsidies etc etc are the usual things we hear as explanations to why most of Africa remains economically backward. I say it has been more than 50 years and its about time we moved on. Colonialism had its evils, no doubt about that. However, it’s enduring legacy on the Continent has been the fault of Africans and their leaders. There are numerous other countries that have managed to take off even though they were also colonized and for some time were heavily dependent on the industrialised West.

Mobutu, Amin, Bokassa, Moi, Mugabe, Nimeiry, Gaddafi, Doe etc etc were all Africans who deliberately chose to mess up their countries. Nobody held guns to their heads to force them to do what they did. Guinea – at independence – is a clear case that it was quite possible to break free from the former colonizers. All the above mentioned men presided over wasted dictatorships. They killed and maimed and jailed thousands of their citizens but never attempted to do what Pinochet did for Chile or the dictators of the Asian tigers did for their countries. Instead they stole everything they could from their treasuries.

The reason I bring this up is because I just attended a talk on the legacy of colonialism in Africa where the general consensus seems to have been that European colonizers were to blame for most ills on the continent. I find this track of thought wanting. African failure should squarely be blamed on inept African leadership.

what can ocampo do?

Chief prosecutor of the ICC – Moreno-Ocampo – jets into Kenya on Thursday in his efforts to bring to justice those who planned and financed the murder of over 1300 Kenyans in last year’s post-election violence. It is not clear exactly what Ocampo will demand of the president and his premier. Both men have close associates in the cabinet implicated in the murder of Kenyans. It is highly doubtful that the ICC will get anything out of the current Kenyan government – I can’t imagine the Kenyan police arresting any of the powerful ethnic chiefs in the cabinet. Wanjiku may have to wait a little longer for justice to be served.

And in other news, Kenya’s demographic transition is here!! I have nothing against babies. But I was delighted to learn that Kenyan women are having less children – a drop of .3 children per woman – and that 9 out 10 consulted a health officer at some point during their pregnancy. The survey that generated these results is done every five years and included over 10,000 Kenyan households. Other positives include the fact that vaccination rates had gone up and that up to 90% of rural women received some form of ante-natal care while pregnant (urban figure was 96%).

This sort of demographic transition has positives in many ways. Women having less children means that they are freed to do more to increase the GDP bottom line. It also means that GDP growth will not be gobbled up by an increase in population size.And perhaps most importantly, it means that women are becoming more and more empowered – the fact that they are able to control their fertility is an indicator of this (kudos to women from Central Kenya, 67% of them are in charge of their own fertility).