Travel back in time with Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times


South Sudan is in the middle of a political crisis that has a high risk of degenerating into genocide. Millions of lives are at stake. And the world needs to know (and do something) about it.

But this is not an excuse to use dehumanizing language in describing South Sudanese. Why did Jeffrey Gettleman choose, in this tweet, to lead with the trifecta of cannibalism, gang rape, and civil war? It is important to note that this is not what the piece was about. In the piece, actual acts of cannibalism and gang rape only get a single line each in this short paragraph.

Women were raped. Children were burned to death. Some people were even forced at gunpoint to eat the flesh of their dead relatives. The horror has been meticulously documented. Still, it goes on.

Gettleman’s gratuitous tweet may have been meant as clickbait. But seen in the context of his other pieces from the region, it fits a pattern. It was a dog whistle, meant to take us back to a time when callous dehumanization of Africans was commonplace, including in the most highbrow of outlets. From the DRC, to Kenya, to Uganda, Gettleman’s writings read like the works of a careless journalist who, for whatever reason, does not think that dehumanizing the subjects of his pieces is wrong.

It’s almost as if he intentionally wants to beat Joseph Conrad in producing piles and piles of horse manure on his imagined idea of what Africa and Africans are about.

It is a shame that, in 2017, the Times continues to feed this stuff to its readers.


What are the (feasible) options for stabilizing South Sudan?

If you are following the farcical saga of the return of Riek Machar to Juba (the BBC reports that he finally landed!), here is an excellent backgrounder on the options available for stabilizing South Sudan (by Alex de Waaal).

Briefly stated:

South Sudan today is a collapsed political marketplace. The country’s political market was structured by competitive militarized clientelism for access to oil rents. Those oil rents have almost disappeared but the structure of competition is unchanged and the price of loyalty has not reduced to a level commensurate with the available political funding. The result is that political loyalty and services are rewarded with license to plunder. This is inherently self-destructive. South Sudan’s political economy is being consumed to feed its political-military elite.

How can the collapsed political marketplace be fixed?

The short term crisis could be resolved only by one of three means:

1. Buy-in: a power-sharing deal among the contenders. This was the strategy of the CPA. It was possible in 2005 because the budget was increasing by more than 25% per year. It is not possible under current conditions of austerity.

2. Victory and repression: one contender secures military domination and uses an efficient security apparatus to enforce loyalty. This is not possible because the civil war became an ethnic war, making outright victory impossible, and the army is unreformed.

3. Skilled management of the political market: the CEO negotiates a pact with the political financiers to obtain more funds and to regulate the marketplace, providing enough leeway to stabilize the situation. This remains an option but it requires skills and coordination that have been in short supply.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.38.29 AMThe Saudis and OPEC aren’t helping with Option 1. And for the longest time I had faith in the international community’s ability to engineer and enforce Option 3. But the older I get more I think about it, the more I am convinced that autonomous recovery, i.e. Option 2 might be the best long-run solution (with important lessons from Idris Deby’s Chad noted).

Too bad there is not a single warlord in South Sudan (including President Salva Kiir) who is strong enough to become the main stationary bandit in Juba.

So Option 3 it is. But for how long?