The World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program

The Bank has an exciting fellowship for PhD students from the Continent.

[youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=enZmGIMgOno#t=172]

According to the Bank’s website:

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, Fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

More on this here.

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subsidiary of british firm suspends ore imports from congo

It is not a secret that the war in eastern DRC is more than anything else economic. The trade in charcoal and a litany of minerals has forever been blamed for the conflict that has killed, maimed or displaced millions of Congolese. It is therefore encouraging to learn that Thailand Smelting and Refining Co. (Thaisarco), a subsidiary of British metals giant Amalgamated Metals Corporation (AMC), has suspended the import of tin ore (cassiterite) from the Congo because it believes that the trade in the mineral might be financing the Congolese civil conflict.

The move has however been criticised by Global Witness, an advocacy group.Global Witness argues that if AMC is indeed concerned about the financing of the conflict then instead of cutting and running it should contribute in the setting up of a proper industry-wide system of checks on all sources of metals. The cessation of imports, argues Global Witness, does nothing for artisanal miners in the Congo who depend on trade in metal ore for their livelihood. It also does nothing to stop the trade in ‘blood’ metals in general from the Congo.

Citing a 2002 UN Report that accused AMC and its subsidiary (among other firms) of breaching OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Global Witness said that AMC and Thaisarco had always known that their activities in the Congo were funding the conflict there.

AMC and Thaisarco cited “the threat of misleading and bad publicity” as their main reason for halting their trading operations in the DRC. Kudos to Global Witness for their campaign against militarized exploitation of minerals in the DRC. I hope this sets a precedent for the many foreign firms that continue to profit by trafficking in minerals from the Congo – at the expense of millions of innocent women and children… and men.

Blood Coltan: a documentary

Coltan is one of the minerals at the centre of the conflict in eastern DRC. I just came across a documentary on the mining and trading in coltan and its effects on the war in eastern Congo.

The documentary provides a good introduction to the situation in the Kivus, including an interview with Gen. Laurent Nkunda (btw, I just found out that this guy is an ordained minister! my word?!? In the interview he refers to his soldiers as rebels for Christ. Reeks of the LRA, if you ask me).

Shame on Traxys and all the other companies named in the 2002 UN report but that are still exploiting Congolese minerals with the full knowledge that they are indirectly funding the war that has so far killed about 5 million people. Shame on them.

who is funding this war?

The BBC is reporting that the FDLR, a group suspected to include genocidaires from Rwanda’s 1994 disaster, has retaken positions it ceded a month ago to Rwandan troops. Earlier this year Rwandan troops had moved into Eastern DRC with a mission to take out FDLR positions. However, it is now emerging that as soon as Rwanda left, the FDLR moved back and retook their old bases.

congo-mine1These new developments just serve to illustrate how intractable the mess in Eastern Congo is. For years now Uganda, Rwanda and the weak Kinshasa governments of Kabila I and II have tried to restore order in this part of the vast central African country without success. It seems like the more the government tries to end the war the more rebel movements emerge. Which begs the question, exactly who is funding this war?

That foreign companies are accomplices in the Congo war is not a secret. The control of mines and trading centres (for tax purposes) seem to be the main motivations for the emergence of the numerous rebel groups. Someone is buying the minerals that come from these mines and someone is supplying the rag tag bandits with guns and ammunition. I am sure it is within the means of the UN and the many involved parties – if they mean well in their involvement – to expose the companies that are involved in this messy war, either as arms dealers or purchasers of minerals.

Just like it was in Sierra Leone with blood diamonds, the international community can shame the companies involved in this war to come clean and end the economic incentives for the proliferation of rebel groups and gangs in eastern Congo.

The following are some American-owned companies that were implicated in a 2002 UN report on the Congo war profiteers: Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, Trinitech International, Kemet Electronics Corporation, OM Group and Visgay Sprague …… and there are others.

The Congo war is a resource war and the sooner those trying to stop it acknowledge this fact and deal with it, the easier it is going to be to come up with modalities of how to end it.

revisiting the conflict in Darfur

Today I sat in at a conference on Darfur at my school. The conference was well attended, the keynote speaker being Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  There were the usual talking heads from the UN and a myriad NGOs that are involved in one way or the other with the effort to stop the barbarous madness that is going on in Darfur. I was impressed by the fact that even though the global powers that be do not seem interested in providing any meaningful solutions to the conflict there still are people out there who are determined to do the little that they can to try and make a difference.

But I was also disappointed. Nearly all the panelists were foreigners, let’s say non-AU citizens. Now I do not mean to discriminate here. Darfur is a major problem and I know that Darfuris will be the first to tell you that all they want is an end to their hell-on-earth, regardless of where help to that end comes from. But even after fully appreciating this fact, I was still a bit unsettled by the fact that what I was seeing there is what is prevalent throughout the continent, not just with cases of armed conflict, but in other areas as well – poverty reduction, HIV and AIDS, malaria and what not. It is always the foreigners who seem to care more about the plight of the poor Africans than the Africans themselves (and their leaders of course). Why was there only one panelist from Sudan? Aren’t there Sudanese experts on Darfur, people who oppose al-Bashir’s genocidal policies and who can articulate their concerns at such conferences?

darfur_aerialForgive my digression. Anyway, the fact is that more than two million human beings have been displaced from their homes and their lives disrupted in unimaginable ways. More than 200,000 are dead. And nobody in Khartoum seems to give a rat’s behind.

Meanwhile the AU (the regional body that should be having Darfur, Somali and the DRC at the top of the agenda) just elected that clown, Muamar Gaddafi, as its president. The rather colourful Libyan dictator followed his election with a quick reminder of the true nature of African leaders – by saying that democracy was to blame for the crises in Africa. He is so full of horse manure. How is it not clear to people like this man that self-determination is the way of the future? How does he not get the fact that the days for rulers like him (and Mugabe, Al-Bashir, Obiang, and the whole brood of failures) on the continent of Africa are numbered?

some unwelcome radicalism

I am not a radical, or at least I don’t think of myself as one. But after reading this story about pastoralists in Eastern Kenyan, a rather radical idea came to my mind. You see, ever since man began living a sedentary life, history has proven that it is the best way to live. It offers security, provides opportunity for the development of a strong government, enables easy provision of essential services like education, healthcare and social care, among others. There are a few exceptions to the rule. The Mongols were a nomadic bunch that terrorized the life out of sedentary city states. But they were the exception that proves the rule. Civilization and human society flourishes in a sedentary setting, period.

So knowing this, I wonder if it would be a bad idea to make it government policy that nomadic pastoralist communities (in East Africa, the Sahel and Southern Africa) be offered incentives to settle down. Not forced, but given the right incentives. They move around not because they love to, but in search of pasture and water. The government could dig wells and start grass farms for these communities. It sounds naive and outlandish but think of the difference such an initiative would make in two or three generations.

Now before you anthropologists come for my neck I challenge you to be honest with yourselves. Why do you believe that it is OK for the such communities to live the way they do, with their short life spans and limited options while the rest of humanity does infinitely better? And don’t tell me that they are happy with their lives. I doubt that they would be if they had the options that other people have. I hearken to Amartya Sen’s arguments here. We need to expand these communities’ options if we are going to develop a single united country. They are not samples of past human existence for our study and amusements. They are people who are ends in themselves.

This reminds me of a post that I have been working on forever (still coming) on the approach to development in Africa. The prevailing mentality is that the African is developed when he is not dying of aids, malaria, hunger, civil war and the like. The current development efforts all across the continent aim at keeping people alive and comfortable at a very low station in life. I think this should change. Sustainable developmetn in Africa will only be achieved through real transformation of African societies. China is doing it. India is doing it. Africa can, and will, do it.  I know that some will argue that we should stop the civil conflict, eradicate HIV prevalence and do all other kinds of things before we think of putting refrigerators in people’s homes and housing them in modern houses. I say this is a heap of horse manure. Botswana, although with a high HIV prevalence rate, is doing fine. And the civil wars are not everywhere. Somalia, Darfur and Eastern Congo, compared to the rest of the vast continent of Africa can qualify as “isolated incidents” (yes, I can push the envelope on this one).

africa continues to be myopic and ready for the picking

So I keep reading stories about foreign governments like China, the Gulf States and South Korea that are planning on buying millions of acres of Africa’s arable land in order to provide food security for their citizens. From what I gather, most African governments are eager to sell 100 year leases in order to make a quick buck and then for 100 years condemn their countrymen and women to being near-slaves to foreigners in their own countries. How more stupid can our leaders get?

As a continent, Africa is the most food insecure place on the planet. Millions depend on food aid, even in supposedly more developed countries like Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. Some countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and nearly all of the Francophone Sahel have never known food security for decades. They have been permanent recipients of aid from the US and the World Food Program. It makes you wonder why it is not these governments making deals with their fellow African countries to guarantee the continent some food security.

Food production is what propelled human civilization. Mesopotamia, the Indus-Gangetic Valley, the Nile Valley, were all organised with an aim of improving food production so as to free up talent for other more meaningful human endeavors. Africa, nearly 12,000 years later, still cannot afford to feed its own people. It is not a question of land or water. The great lakes regions can feed the entire continent and still have a surplus. With the exception of the South West African countries and the Sahelian states, all of Sub-Saharan African countries ought to be food-secure. The fact that they are not is simply and squarely because of poor leadership.

And now these same inadequate leaders want to sell the land to foreigners. I am assuming that when foreign governments buy land they’ll treat it like they do with their embassies – provide their own security and run the show by their own rules. I wonder how different this will be from an outright recolonization of the African continent by more developed and better run countries.

We are still in the woods. And we are screwed for the foreseeable future. Like it is not even funny anymore. Our Mugabes, Obiangs and Zenawis continue to fail us big time. How hard can it be to run a country? Like seriously.

chadian rebels finally routed

Chad, like most of central Africa, is a sad story. After days of fighting, reports indicate that the government of Idriss Deby – possibly with some help from the French – has managed to to repel rebels from the capital and gain “total control.” The question is, for how long? This was the second time in a few years that the rebels had marched into the capital and threatened to topple Deby. This was also a confirmation that the government of Chad remains weak and unable to provide security, let alone development programmes, for its own people.

The story of Chad is a story that is repeated many times on the continent of Africa. You always have very weak governments that are unable to provide the most basic of public goods to their people but that are propped up by the West- the French being the number one culprits here. The French were friends with Bokassa and Mobutu, among other francophone-African dictators who brought much suffering to their own people while maintaining strong ties to Paris and having frequent state visits to the Elysee. The opposition to these weak governments is also just as weak. The many rebels movements fighting silly wars of greed devoid of any ideological significance are too weak to win. Instead they put their countrymen through wars of attrition that keep them forever stagnant in pre-modern subsistence existence. The same applies for Political opposition parties. Think of Zimbabwe. Everyone wants Mugabe out, except Tsvangirai and Mutambara – the two men who have refused to join forces within the MDC in order to unseat Bob.

More than two decades after Achebe wrote about it in Nigeria, the trouble with Africa still remains simply and squarely a problem of leadership. There is nothing inherently wrong with Africa or the African people. The only strange thing about Africa is its ability to keep churning out more Mobutus, Bokassas and Amins and very few Mandelas.

Going back to Chad…… may be it is a good thing that Deby is still president. However, deep down I think that that Africans should think hard about their many weak and unviable states. The DRC, Somalia and many states in the Sahel some to mind. If these countries cannot get their act together they should be left to the mercy of “evolution of states” so that in the end we can have states that are viable and able to provide for their people and not kleptocracies that only benefit their leaders’ kinsmen and a few multinational corporations.

when will africa get it right?

A few months ago, after the Nigerian election, I read a piece in a leading international newspaper that said that Africa had yet again failed at democracy. The article infuriated me because it was a blanket write off of the entire continent as being undemocratic. I thought about Kenya, Senegal and Botswana as viable democracies that were capable of holding free and fair elections and which had freedom of the press.

But then Kenya happened. A country that was largely peaceful and with prospects of becoming a middle income country in the next decade and a half suddenly imploded and descended into never-before seen chaos. An election was stolen by a man who was viewed as one of the better behaved presidents on a continent infested with autocrats and dictators.

How, after all this, can we convince the world that Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the CAF, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, the DCR and all the others are isolated incidents? How are we going to convince ourselves that we are capable of running peaceful and prosperous countries when all that exist around us are chaos and murderous wars? Total failure?

It is true that countries like Botswana and Senegal still remain stable and democratic and also headed towards economic prosperity. South Africa is also doing quite well, although I am holding my breath to see what a Zuma presidency has in store for us. But the rest of the countries either have wars, or some form of instability and those that are peaceful have poverty rates that are utterly inhuman, to put it mildly.

It is extremely vital for the continent not to let a working model like Kenya sink into the same pit that has the Somalias of the continent. This is because many countries in East Africa depend on Kenya for their own economic success. A failed Kenya would mean no hope for Somalia and serious problems for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan, Eastern DCR and Northern Tanzania. A failed Kenya will also mean a serious blow to the spread of democracy on the continent and especially East Africa. Besides Tanzania, Kenya was the only other democracy in the region. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all have autocrats who would happily use Kenya as an excuse for them to stay in power.

Uganda’s tenuous peace process

It is almost certain that Vincent Otti, the second in command in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is dead. Those in the know say that Otti was executed by Kony’s lieutenants in a place called Garamba some time in October. For those in the dark, the LRA is a rebel movement in Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony. The movement has been waging a bloody rebellion against the Kampala government for over two decades now without much success. In the process it has emerged as one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world – Kony’s army is an unprofessional brood of thuggish child soldiers whose training process included numbing done by forcing them to rape and/or kill their own relatives. Over the years, Kony and his soldiers developed a habit of cutting off the lips of civilians that refused to be part of the rebellion thus sending tens of thousands of Ugandans to internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps.

It therefore came as a relief when Kampala decided to talk to the rebels after realizing that an outright military victory was not possible because of the extent to which the war has been civilianized. President Museveni even set a deadline, 31st January 2008, as the date by which the talks should be concluded. But things might actually turn for the worse in light of the new developments within the LRA.

Although Kampala has not acknowledged it, the death of Otti may slow down the talks. It is no secret that Otti was the brain behind the rebellion. Kony, the leader, is a rather superstitious man who sees himself as a spiritual medium and thinks that Uganda should be ruled according to the Ten Commandments of the Bible. He is more at ease around his illiterate and equally superstitious child soldiers and 60 odd wives than at the negotiating table. Otti on the other hand was a less creepy (but equally murderous) fellow who from the early stages of the talks emerged as the chief spokesman for the LRA – this may be the reason why Kony decided to liquidate him since it became clear who the more rational commander between the two was.

All in all, the people of Acholi, and indeed the whole of Uganda want this peace process to go on as planned. Museveni should not let this war drag on any further. Northern Ugandans have suffered enough. And just for good measure, Kony should be tried for war crimes, even if the Acholi forgive him – as they claim to be ready to do under their customary practices. He chose this path himself when he decided to cut off peoples’ lips, rape women, burn down villages and use children as soldiers, and all this to the same Acholi people whose rights he claims to be fighting for.