the good news from africa, and their implications

The photo in the flyer says it all:

John Prendergast with two anonymous African children

John Prendergast is Jesus the bearer of good news and presumably a savior, through his tireless advocacy work, of the many African victims of fate, their governments and endless conflicts. It must feel good being the anonymous kids being used to massage a humanitarian worker’s ego in flyers like this one.

Mr. Prendergast, co-founder of the enough project, gave a talk this afternoon (I only attended the first part of the talk because of TA duty) at Stanford on the positive developments on the Continent and the state of the conflicts in central Africa. For more of what he does see Texas in Africa.

africa’s endless conflicts

The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman has a thought-provoking piece in Foreign Policy. I don’t particularly buy his doomsday analysis (most of the Continent will definitely not head the Somalia way) but his characterization of the modern day African rebel movement is spot on. The typical rebel leader on the Continent is nothing but a roving bandit with huge amounts of ideology deficit.

addressing the political economy of conflicts

It is no secret that the war in eastern Congo is a resource war. Indeed most wars the world over have economic dimensions to them. Even rag tag Somalia must have people who are accruing economic benefits from the war. The pirates are certainly among this group. Global Witness, the British watchdog, has a report out on this subject that can be found on the IRIN website. The report puts on paper some of the truths that the international community has been conveniently ignoring in their quest to stop civil conflicts in the various hot spots across the globe.

people don’t go to war because they are poor

So as promised, I read the piece by Burke et al. They claim to have found a correlation between temperature increases and the onset of civil conflict in most of Africa. The mechanism is that hot weather messes up crop yields and therefore increases the likelihood of conflict (especially in places where people depend on rain-fed agriculture). This conclusion is based on the findings of a tight correlation between economic underdevelopment and civil wars. Nice and dandy, if you believe that people fight because they are poor. Sure, the opportunity costs are much lower for the poor aggrieved who oftentimes than not choose the conflict route to settling disputes. But state capacity, in my view, has a much greater influence on whether people choose to fight or not.

The paper’s policy prescriptions are even dodgier. The authors recommend that foreign aid be conditioned on projected adverse effects of climate change. Firstly, this “solution” is based on the premise that greater proportions of Africans will continue to depend on agriculture into the foreseeable future. This might be true, but shouldn’t we be trying to expand African economies and reducing dependence on agriculture (which necessarily forces us to deal with issues of governance)? Secondly, the idea that foreign aid should be conditioned on climate change is just, well, silly. Many a failed development initiative on the Continent can be blamed on the erratic nature of foreign aid. Adding more variance by pegging aid flows to climate changes will only make things worse.

For a more refined critique see Chris Blattman’s Blog.