According to Global Witness:
CAR’s trade in timber – the country’s number one official export – has assisted the war effort. Logging companies have paid millions of euros to armed groups to ensure that they can continue operating. Under the cover of conflict they have also been stripping out CAR’s rainforests.
Throughout this period, European companies have continued to offer CAR timber for sale on EU markets, which Global Witness believes violates the EU’s flagship timber law, the EU Timber Regulation. China is another major market for CAR wood, but has no regulations in place that could help halt the import of illegal or conflict timber.[youtube.com/watch?v=QAVhfaX78g4]
At some point in the video an officer in one of the French firms involved says:
“But it’s Africa. It’s so common we don’t pay attention. It’s not really a concern. It’s not a war where they attack white people. It’s not a war we have to avoid.”
This honest assessment of the situation in CAR highlights one of the reasons why wars in places like CAR or Liberia and Sierra Leone in an earlier time tend to be so intractable.
Research shows that sources of finance determine the industrial organization of rebel groups and their propensity to commit atrocities against civilians (see also here). The ready availability of shady firms like Tropica-Bois and Société d’Exploitation Forestière Centrafricaine (SEFCA) make it possible for rebel leaders to raise funds for their war effort in the international commodity market. This in turn makes it possible for them to buy arms and recruit locally, but without maintaining strong ties with the very communities in whose name they raise arms (call it the rebel’s resource curse). The resultant incentive system is one in which CAR warlords can obtain material benefit from the rents on illicit trade without capturing Bangui, as long as their maintain access to the global market of timber.
The Global Witness report adds to complaints about French intervention in the ongoing CAR conflict. In April news broke that more than a dozen French soldiers abused children in Bangui in exchange for food. The six children who came forward with the complaints were aged between eight and 15 and at the time lived in a center for displaced people in Bangui. The centre was under the care of French peacekeepers.
Tropica-Bois must be paying a lot of taxes to the French treasury, or oiling the electoral machines of key French politicians.
According to the UN Comtrade database in 2013 wood comprised 40% of all commodity exports from CAR, second only to diamonds (45.8%).
According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF):
We are talking about up to one million IDPs and refugees, out of a population of 4.6 million. This accounts for 20% of the population, which is outrageous when we take into consideration these communities were already very fragile in a disrupted country, where health services outside Bangui would be practically non-existent if not for the presence of MSF in seven different regions. This past year has pushed the population to the edge of the abyss. The deployment of MSF has been huge, spectacular and swift in order to respond rapidly and provide emergency medical care. However the population is still in dire need of more assistance, including medical care. And above all, the population needs safety and security.
CAR is scheduled to hold elections either later this year or early next to speed up the transition to normalcy (France wants out ASAP). The hope, I presume, is that whoever wins the election will bring political order to the former Central African Empire. Fingers crossed?
On a related note, the US recently announced new military aid to Uganda, including four CV-22 Ospreys and an additional 150 Special Operation troops (to join the 100 deployed in 2011) in an effort to step up the hunt for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony is suspected to be in hiding in the border regions CAR, the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan. Of course this rather bizarre decision (is Kony really that much of a priority right now in the Great Lakes Region?) is motivated by the need to keep the Ugandan military in top shape and ready to fight in places the US doesn’t want to set foot.
What if the US and the EU also had a humanitarian equivalent of Uganda? You know, a country that could be just as well funded with cash and equipment to wade into troubled places like CAR and South Sudan and provide humanitarian assistance backed by credible firepower. What if? It might even help shore up some of the soft power the US (and the West in general) is haemorrhaging fast on account of the developmental interventions from the East in the wider region.
Caution: This is not an apology for President Kagame and his autocratic tendencies that have resulted in carnage and death in the DRC, Rwanda and elsewhere.
At a conference last year a US State Department official told a group of us that Rwanda was so polarizing that even at the Consulate in Nairobi the DRC crowd did not get along well with the Rwanda crowd.
It is not surprising why that might have been the case, or why the present analysis on the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide remains polarized.
If one just looks at the improvements made in advancing human welfare since President Paul Kagame and the RPF took power (see graph, data from the World Bank) it is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that ordinary Rwandese are unambiguously better off. The country is the least corrupt in the region and has also been consistently ranked top in the ease of doing business. But there is also the side of the Kigali government that most reasonable people love to hate: the murderous meddling in the DRC and the oppression and occasional murder of dissidents at home and abroad. Those who admire what President Kagame has done tend to emphasize the former, while his critics tend to emphasize his autocratic tendencies which have made Rwanda the least democratic country in East Africa (see below, data from Polity). Many wonder if the post-1994 achievements are sustainable enough to outlast President Kagame’s rule.
So is Mr. Kagame a state-builder or your run of the mill autocrat whose achievements will vanish as soon as he relinquishes power?
In my view, I think that Rwanda is the best success story of state-building in Africa in the last 20 years. I also think that this (state-building) should be the paramount consideration for those who care about the Rwandese people and want to help them achieve greater freedoms. The fundamental problem in states like CAR, Sierra Leone or Liberia has never been the insufficiency of democracy. Rather, it has been the problem of statelessness. The contrast between Rwanda and Burundi is instructive (see both graphs, the two are neighbors with similar ethno-political histories. Rwanda has historically had a stronger state, though. See here and here). Despite the latter being the second most democratic state in the region, it has consistently performed the worst on nearly all human development indicators. Part of the reason for this is that Burundi remains a classic papier mache state confined to Bujumbura and its environs.
May be I am too risk averse. But I am scared stiff of anything that could lead to a recurrence of the horrors of the early 1990s stretching from the Mano River region to the Horn. As a result I am always skeptical of activism that takes state capacity (including coercive capacity) for granted.
With this in mind, the fight against autocratic rule in Rwanda should not come at the expense of the state-building achievements of the last 20 years. The international community and those who genuinely care about Rwandese people should be careful not to turn Rwanda into “democratic” Burundi in the name of democracy promotion. Interventions will have to be smart enough to push President Kagame and the ruling elite in the right direction, but without gutting the foundations of political order in Rwanda.
Absent a strong state (even after Kagame), the security dilemmas that occasioned the 1994 “problem from hell” would ineluctably resurface.
Lastly, I think the level of discourse in the “Rwanda Debate” could be enhanced by the extension of the privilege of nuance to the case. For example, if all we focused on were drones killing entire families at weddings in Yemen or the horror that is the South Side of Chicago we would probably get mad enough to ask for regime change in Washington. But we don’t. Because people tolerate the “complications and nuance of American politics.” The same applies to less developed countries. Politics is complicated, everywhere. And those who approach it with priors of good-or-bad dichotomies are bound to arrive at the wrong conclusions. One need not be a Kagame apologist to realize the need for a delicate balance in attempts to effect political change in Kigali.
Before you hit the comment button, notice that this is neither an apology nor an endorsement of autocracy in Rwanda. It is a word of caution regarding the choices outsiders make to accelerate political change in Rwanda.
Tyranny is not the panacea to underdevelopment. But neither is stateless democracy.
For background reading on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda see Samantha Power’s Problems From Hell; Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers; and Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.
“Many Westerners I met in West Africa took it as an article of faith that all of the region’s woes were the result of outside malfeasance – someone else’s fault, going back to colonialism and the slave trade. After two years in Freetown I not only cannot agree, but I think such views – promulgating as they do an abdication of responsibility – are bad for Africa. The Western world undoubtedly committed atrocities to the continent. But today it is up to Africans to carve out a brighter future for themselves.”
That is Simon Akam in a piece reviewing his time in Sierra Leone that has sort of gone viral.
It is the kind of thinking that I wish informed all of the West’s engagement with Africa. Most of Africa’s problems are African. Period.
Africa does not need Oxfam to tell the world to forget about its wars and famines and instead focus on its natural beauty or whatever else that is more positive. It is not the responsibility of Oxfam to feed Africans but that of the kleptocratic African ruling elite. The Oxfams of this world only serve to let Africa’s Mobutus off the hook.
When an African head of state appoints his son as defense minister and then cannot beat back a ragtag rebel alliance armed with AKs on jeeps we should not send troops to help him. He should be left to stew in his own soup.
For far too long the predominantly humanitarian approach in dealing with Africa has allowed the absolute triumph of absolute mediocrity in much of the continent. This must change if Africa is to consolidate the political and economic gains made over the last two decades.
“Mauritius’s state building success came on the backs of relentlessly exploited slaves and indentured labourers. Sugar planters compelled the government to ignore mistreatment on sugar estates, implement unreasonable fines and annual passport fees in the name of preventing ‘vagrancy,’ and harass those workers who tried to search for a better life in urban professions. Planters’ actions were expressly designed to subjugate and repress the politically powerless in order to maximise their economic power. Moreover, the fact that class divides coincided with racial difference meant that economic and political contention between elites and labourers on Mauritius became imbued with what was, at times, virulent racism. The worst of these endeavours were related to the planters’ quest to secure an adequate labour supply in the four decades after 1825. Later initiatives, such as railway construction and research and development programmes, were fairly benign. Together, these undertakings transformed the island’s economy and governmental capabilities. In Mauritius, then, one finds something of a developmental paradox: although the long- term consequences of state building have led to a regional ‘miracle’, the way in which the island’s elite and government laid the groundwork for it was normatively reprehensible.”
That is Ryan Saylor writing in the latest edition of Review of African Political Economy.
The paper mostly focuses on the success story that was Mauritian state (capacity) building. But this paragraph is a reminder to those who imagine a whiggish history for much of the developing world to go take a hard, honest look at history.
Throughout most of history, in order to have barons that successfully limited the power of the king or his equivalent (thus creating the roots of post-enlightenment democracy) you needed barons who could extract the life out of peasants. Wars that made states killed lots of young conscripts, confiscated private property and led to the demise of whole peoples’ ways of life (Not all French had French speaking ancestors, for instance). And speaking of the French, they went through lots of republics and dictatorships to become what they are today. Further afield, following its own civil war the institutions of government designed to protect human rights in the US had to look the other way until the 1960s in order to preserve its democracy. In the 20th century, decades of intolerant Kemalist ideological orthodoxy laid the foundation for the Islamic world’s most resilient democracy in Turkey.
Will Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya and the rest escape these patterns if they are ever to become Denmark, the supposed paragon of liberal democracy?
How does one go about state-building in a modern world with sacrosanct borders and a saner human rights regime?
Recent events in the DRC and CAR confirm the urgency with which we ought to address the question of state-building in the developing world in general, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular (see map).
Wars of conquest (which probably would have resulted in Rwanda, Angola and Uganda carving up the DRC) are no longer kosher. Add to that the demands of a tighter and saner human rights regime and you are left with little room to maneuver if you are trying to create an effective state (which occasionally may involve curtailment of political rights). Unless you can somehow insulate yourself from the so called stakeholders, including the International Bleeding Hearts Industrial Complex – like much of east Asia did through the 70s and 80s – you are left with a rather tricky situation of trying to forge a unified state with a million and one centrifugal forces with communal rights backed by threats of donor sanctions. The same system ensures that every rebel group that can cobble together a few guns gets to sit at the table (see Sudan, Mali, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Chad). The UN or some Nordic state pays the hotel bills. Western observers and their sponsoring organizations write reports. Some of them meticulously document human rights abuses by rebels and government troops alike.
Meanwhile censuses are never taken. Taxes are never collected. Little economic activity takes place. And millions of people continue to live just a little bit better than they would in some stateless state of nature.
The present international consensus appears to be one that believes in state-building through democracy and institutions. Lived reality for much of world history appears to contradict this consensus. In most cases democracy and the phantom great institutions appear to lag state-building.
The challenge for those of us interested in state-building is to think of ways to go about the effort in a manner that is sensitive to the present human rights regime and structure of the international system. The present urgency, occasioned by widespread human suffering in the less governed spaces of the globe, requires that all reasonable options (including some uncomfortable ones) be put on the table.
Over at African Arguments Bright Simons tries to debunk the accepted paradox of African poverty in the middle of a natural resource glut. The post is definitely worth reading, and raises some salient questions regarding resource use and development policy in Africa – and by extension, the economic viability of some African states (thinking of Chad, Central African Republic and Niger….)
Of those few minerals that Africa is believed to hold globally significant or dominant reserves, nearly all of them are concentrated in 4 countries: South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea. When one computes the level of inequality of mineral distribution across different continental regions, Africa pulls up strongly, showing a far higher than average level of distribution ‘imbalance’ per capita or square mile. In very simple terms, it means that mineral wealth is more concentrated in a few countries in Africa compared to other continents.
with the exception of bauxite and petroleum, these minerals are not as widely used in industry (or in the same considerable volumes) as a number other minerals, such as tin, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, coal, and lead, that Africa does not produce in sufficient quantities. Indeed, of the top 5 metallic minerals which constitute 62 percent of the total value of global production, Africa is only a significant producer of one of them: gold. Africa has 8 percent of the world’s copper, 4 percent of aluminium, 3 percent of its iron ore, 2 percent of lead, less than 1 percent of zinc, and virtually no tin or nickel. To put these figures into perspective, recall that Africa has about 14.5 percent of the world’s population.
….. Africa’s low production of the ‘hard minerals’ minerals most intensely used in industry compared to the less widely used ‘soft minerals’ reduces its total take from the global mineral trade. But it also makes a nonsense of fashionable policy prescriptions that emphasise import-substitution strategies based on value addition to minerals, rather than export competitiveness through smart trade strategy and the deepening of the financial system to support entrepreneurs.
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.
With due apologies to the eminent economist and journalist.
Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 publicity push is generating some backlash. Here is quoting Under the Banyan:
Critics of the Invisible Children campaign say that while it is well-intentioned and while Kony deserves international condemnation, there are questions about the organisation’s methods, money and support for military action that need to be answered. Others are revulsed (sic) by the idea of foreigners thinking they can solve an entrenched and complex problem with goodwill alone.
I am still learning to block out all the misguided interventions by the members do-gooder industrial complex of our time. Sometimes I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the tenants of State Houses across the Continent to also ignore the prophets of this axis of distraction-from-the-real-problems.
Also, I only discovered Invisible Children after the latest brouhaha but it turns out that Blattman was already in their case three years ago.
H/T A View from the Cave.
Follow the goings on in the DRC (especially this election season) over at Alex Engwete’s blog.
Living under the shadow of Kony and his men in Eastern CAR.
On a related note, the Ugandan army’s dirty war in the Congo and CAR.
Shame on the ANC. But there is still hope for cleaner politics in South Africa. The ANC is an over-size coalition with a high chance of internal breakup in the not so distant future. It might even occur sooner, over the Zuma succession. And this time it might not be a rather benign COPE affair. You can read more on the controversial bill over at the Economist.
Trying God? Churches claim to have cured HIV positive congregants. This goes beyond faith, it is naked exploitation. And a call for government involvement.
And lastly, a very dictator Christmas (via Blattman)[youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=38YWB8iX7OY]