development issues

My promise to write a post on African development is almost becoming like Dr. Dre’s promise to release the Detox album. I promise it will come soon, after I settle on an opinion that is robust enough to withstand more than a few critiques.

For now we should be content listening to much wiser development experts – like Blattman, TN Srinivasan (the man who taught me intermediate microeconomics) and cynic in chief Bill Easterly.

A few years ago I used to conflate economic development with modernization. I thought that all it took to make vibrant economies in the global south was the importation of technology, material goods and ideas of governance from the more developed parts of the globe. But time has taught me that historical lock-in effects matter. The global south’s geography, historical poverty and social structures have created path dependencies that will take a lot of time to undo. This is not to say that we should give up on the idea of accelerated development. What I am suggesting is that as we do this we should have it in mind that certain things take time to change and that short-term failures disappear when you look at the long-term picture.

In other news, the conflict in Darfur has become less sexy and so it is no longer all over the news. But Darfurians are still suffering. The same applies to the Congo. Here is yet another reminder that the madness in the land of Mobutu continues unabated.

Continuing the Darfur Campaign

The Washington Post has a piece on Darfur that I liked. check it out.

The Times too has a piece on Darfur. Also interesting about the piece is the fact that Bashir seems to be betting on the idea that since Sudan is an Islamic country (and a member of the Arab league) the international community will be hesistant to intervene even as he continues in his plans to punish Darfuris by denying them aid. The Arab league and the African Union should be most ashamed for not having come out to condemn Bashir’s actions when he expelled aid workers from most of Darfur.

al-Bashir is crazy, like seriously

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has announced that he wants all foreign aid groups out of the country in one year, adding that the aid agencies can drop off their aid at airports and let the Sudanese distribute it on their own – yeah right.

If we ever doubted the sanity of this man here is the confirmation that he is certifiably insane. It may have been political posturing on his part but he is president and should not be saying such crazy things. Nearly 3 million Sudanese have been displaced thanks to this man’s genocidal rule since he took over power in a coup in 1989. There is no way on earth that he can be trusted with relief food, or any other supplies. His airforce continues to bomb villages, killing innocent civilians. His bands of militia in Darfur, Abyei and other areas continue to run around raping women and terrorizing villages in a sick and twisted genocidal mission to “Arabize” certain regions of the country.

There has to be a way of forcing him to allow aid to reach civilians. The international community ought to invoke the ‘right to protect’ clause and intervene (force him to allow aid in) before this man’s madness leads to even more deaths.

is it worth it?

Omar al-Bashir is a war criminal, no doutbt about that. Because of his genocidal tendencies hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in the East, West and South of the vast African country have lost their lives. Almost two million have been displaced from their homes and live lives not worth living. He deserves nothing but to be locked up in a tiny cell for the rest of his life.

Omar al-Bashir is also still the president of Sudan. He still has access to the security apparatus of Sudan. He can revoke aid licenses. He can bomb villages. He can jail aid workers. He has been doing a few of these things since his arrest warrant was issued by Moreno-Ocampo. He expelled aid workers in Darfur whom he accused of colluding with the ICC in gathering evidence against him. As the aid workers leave or downsize their involvement in Darfur hundreds of thousands of IDPs will be left without hope – the same people that institutions like the ICC are supposed to protect.

Justice is political. It is not some abstraction. It depends on realities on the ground. And for now the situation in Darfur is not conducive to the idea of arresting the commander in chief of the Sudanese Army. Omar al-Bashir is as guilty as charged. But it might do the Sudanese more good to engage him constructively than to demand for his immediate arrest.

ICC issues arrest warrant for Bashir

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir. It is the first time that such a warrant has been issued for the arrest of a sitting head of state. The ICC is accusing Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the genocide in Darfur.

This particular warrant will be a real test. Being a sitting president, it is hard to see how he can be arrest since the warrant itself will be delivered to the government of Sudan. Furthermore, al-Bashir now has every incentive to remain president and to clamp down on the opposition. Some members of the Sudanese civil society have criticized the idea of attempting to arrest al-Bashir, arguing that it will only make him dig in and reverse any progress that they have made in terms of being granted civil liberties and political space.

The government of Sudan is yet to officially respond to the arrest warrant although the BBC quotes a government official as terming the warrant as “neo-colonialist.”

clinton statement is bad news for Darfuris

“Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises.” These were the words of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state on her current visit to China. In an effort to warm up relations with the Asian mammoth (the party preferred to have a Republical White House), the Obama Administration seems to be willing to turn a bling eye to some nagging questions, at least for now.

But I say that this is the wrong approach. Chinese poor record on human rights issues at home and abroad cannot be ignored. China should be embarrassed into stopping its support for the genocidal regime of Mohammed al-Bashir in Sudan. The US  (and the world) cannot afford to put aside human rights issues just because of the world economic crisis. Indeed this might be the only time in the near future when China would feel vulnerable enough to feel threatened by international condemnation. Letting this opportunity pass by will be a big mistake for secretary Clinton and the Obama White House.

reasons for Obiang to be afraid

So the government of Equatorial Guinea is saying that Nigerian rebels were the ones behind the mystery assault weapon attach on the presidential palace yesterday. For now nobody really know who the attackers were. It is not clear what the motive of the Nigerians was in attacking president Obiang’s palace. Whoever they are I think the attack should be a wake up call on Mr. Obiang, the kleptocratic autocrat who has been running the tiny central African state since 1979. His rule has been bad news for most equatorians. The country is Africa’s third biggest producer of oil – after Angola and Nigeria – and should not have the high poverty rates that it has, especially considering that it only has just over 600,000 people.

In other news, it appears that one of the rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement has finally agreed to a deal with the Sudanese government. This  is welcome news. I hope the news will make the ICC slow down in its efforts to try al-Bashir for war crimes. I am not fan of the genocidal buffoon that is Mohammed al-Bashir but at the same time I think that attempts to arrest him will only make him dig in and reverse the progress that the opposition and civil society groups have made in terms of increased political space. Also, the deal does not necessarily mean an end of hostilities since not all the rebel groups in the western Sudanese province have signed on it. The conflict in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced over two million.

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?

al-Bashir accused of war crimes and genocide in Darfur

At last there is some international organisation with some spine. Although the practicality of this accusation is doubtful – nobody even dreams that al-Bashir, the genocidal president of Northern Sudan will ever appear in court for his crimes in Darfur and beyond – the symbolism behind it is powerful. It is powerful because it says it like it is. President al-Bashir’s mission in Darfur is genocidal and utterly criminal. Yes, he is is fighting rebels intent on dislodging him from power (and as I have stated before I am no sympathizer of rebel movements) but the way he is doing it in Darfur is not the right way.

The prosecutor of the international criminal court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, brought the case against al-Bashir on account of the more than 300,000 deaths in Darfur over the last five years.

Again, al-Bashir may never see the inside of a cell in the Hague but it is a triumph for justice, or more appropriately, the quest for justice. Almost half a million have died and millions displaced while the international community ‘dillies and dallies’ about Sudan’s sovereignty. A nation forfeits its sovereignty the moment it starts butchering its own people. Period.

Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir and his kind throughout Africa and the world should be made aware of the fact that there are people out there who are dedicated to bringing them to justice. As usual, I am disappointed by the AU’s reaction to all this. I am kind of curious as to how the more outspoken (radical) presidents on the continent – Senegal’s Wade, Botswana’s Khama and Rwanda’s Kagame – will react to this. I hope that they will continue in their commitment to telling it like it is, unlike their more defensive counterparts.

On a related note. I wish more Darfuri rebels and Janjaweed militia alike could also be brought to book because all three parties (the JEM rebels, janjaweed and the government of Northern Sudan) are causing untold suffering to innocent civilians in this war.

time to do away with weak african governments

Northern Sudan’s government just got its nose bloodied bad. And this by a bunch of rag tag rebels from the dusty deserts out West fighting with machine guns mounted on the back of pick up trucks. These rebels, previously confined to Darfur and other hot spots finally made an attempted march to the seat of power in Khartoum. Sudan’s skirmishes with its rebel movements brought memories of yet another African government that was nearly toppled by a bunch of bandits on pick up trucks – Chad. In Chad’s case France came to the rescue. Sudan seems to have taken care of the rebels using its own helicopter gunships and other weapons bought from the Chinese in exchange for oil.

As I have stated before, I have no sympathies for rebel movements, regardless of what their cause might be. It is in a large part because of these movements that most of Africa has remained underdeveloped because resources were shifted to fighting useless wars instead of focusing on the advancement of African people. Violent uprising will never solve any problem. Somalia, the DRC, Burundi and many others are testaments to this fact.

That said, I also think that certain African governments that are too weak to hold their own against rebels and other armed groups should be allowed to die a Darwinian death. When rebels drive for miles to the capital without being stopped by the existing government, you know there is a problem. Why did Khartoum wait for the rebels to reach Omdurman before doing anything?

Khartoum’s genocidal strongman ought to be embarrassed enough to realise that he cannot stop the insurgency in Darfur by killing the rebels and dropping bombs on innocent women and children. This week’s incident has proven that there cannot be a military solution to the rebel problem. The government of Sudan has been exposed as unable to hold its own against these rebels and therefore they have to negotiate with them and perhaps even meet some of the demands of the JEM led rebels.

stop your genocidal agenda, al-bashir

The man behind the humanitarian catastrophe that is Darfur, one Omar Al-Bashir, is at it again, on another front. It has emerged that his government is backing the Arab Misseriya tribesmen against Southern Sudanese civilians in continuation of Al-Bashir’s genocidal agenda in Africa’s largest country.

The SPLM government of Southern Sudan said in a statement that its forces had killed about 70 armed Arab militias. In an editorial in the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote about a contested town called Abyei that has been surrounded by armed Arab militias ready to attack. The status of the town is in question since both the North and Southern Sudan claim is as part of their autonomous territories. This latest incidence further confirms Al-Bashir’s commitment to using tribal militias as proxies for his continued refusal to honor the comprehensive peace agreement he signed with the late John Garang’ in 2005.

Just like in Darfur, Al-Bashir is using local tribal militias to kill, rape and maim innocent civilians that dare to protest against his autocratic rule that is biased against the South and other regions that are occupied by ethnic non-Arabs.

Al-Bashir’s policies toward the suffering masses in Darfur and elsewhere over the years confirm him to be a card-carrying latter day genocidal racist.

It is sad that the world continues to watch, with half hearted protests, as this murderous despot continues to kill and maim innocent women and children – the very people he is supposed to protect as president of Sudan.

This latest move by Al-Bashir will exert pressure on the delicate agreement that exists between North and Southern Sudan. Al-Bashir knows that consistent with the agreement, the South will definitely secede when they have a referendum in 2011. Before then he wants to gain control over as much potentially-oil-rich land as possible, even if it means killing innocent civilians. This is the case in Abyei and surrounding areas.

Al-Bashir is hiding behind Sudan’s “Islamic Country” status to keep the West at bay. So I think it is up to the rest of Africa to act. This guy needs to be stopped yesterday. If he doesn’t and the war escalates then I think the rest of Africa should consider putting together a joint force to keep him out of Darfur and Southern Sudan. This is the least we can do in honor of the millions that have died over the last three decades due to Northern Sudan’s racist arrogance. Africa owes this not only to the Darfuris and Southern Sudanese but also to itself.

of teddy bears and Bashir’s pardon

So in the last few days there has been uproar in Europe over the ludicrous jailing of a British teacher in Sudan because she let her young students christen a teddy bear Mohamed ……. really Sudan, really? Luckily for the poor well-meaning lady the international attention that was generated by her arrest and the resultant embarrassment to the Sudanese top brass made the Bashir government decide to pardon her and have her taken back to the UK.

This got me thinking, it is apparent – at least after this incident – that Bashir cares about what people outside Northern Sudan (East of Darfur) and China think of him. Just like embarrassment was used to put some sense into his administration about this teddy bear incident may be the international community can embarrass him with different kinds of stories about Darfur. Stories with a human face.

A lot of the stories coming out of Darfur have mostly included blanket reports on atrocities and numbers of those dead and displaced but we have not yet had a well publicised story of a poor woman, named say Aisha, who may have been raped, had a village razed to the ground and then left to die by the Janjaweed but who mysteriously survived. May be after Bashir sees these human stories he might just be persuaded into accepting the fact that Darfur needs more attention than it is getting right now from Khartoum.

As the world continues to call him names and antagonise him, Bashir might be growing even thicker skin and plugging his ears. What he can’t ignore, it seems, is an assault on his pride and his basic human sensibilities.

I have focussed on Bashir but this could apply to all those involved in the atrocities in Darfur, including the men bearing the red flag from the East.

the lion meets the panda: China in Africa

So the Chinese, with their increasing hunger for raw materials, have been scouring the African continent looking for all manner of trade partnerships – all in an attempt to secure the supply of the essentials needed to fuel the East Asian monolith’s fast growth.

A stroll through many an African capital – at least in the East of the continent – will reveal a number of things Chinese. You won’t miss the Chinese workers laying out fiber optic cables or paving roads or even selling food in a Chinese restaurant. After years of living worlds apart, the lion and the panda have decided to become bosom buddies.

But is the relationship symmetrical? Can the panda and the lion cohabit in a sustainable and mutually beneficial manner? Many people have complained that the coming of the Chinese to the African continent will only serve to exacerbate the continent’s position as a mere source of raw materials. I beg to differ. This stance assumes that Africans and their leaders do not know what is good for themselves and are easily fooled – in the past by the Europeans and now by the Chinese.

The Africa that Europe encountered back in the nineteenth century is very different from the one that the Chinese are engaging with today. Furthermore, the Chinese are not here to merely take away things the way Western Europe did, they pay for the stuff they take. They may not pay well enough but the point is that they pay, plus there is no hand-chopping bula matari or a pontificating Smith Hempstone. On top of that the Chinese have created numerous jobs for the local people, be it in manual construction work or in higher level management and consultancy.

As the West continues to shy away from Africa because of the continent’s lack of or perceived lack of democratic institutions, the Chinese are taking advantage of the situation and reaping the benefits. The Africans are benefiting too.

It is high time the rest of the world took the pragmatic approach that China and increasingly India have taken in their relationship with Africa. Democracy and good institutions can only be supported by good economic outcomes and vise versa (Read scholars like Dahl, Moore, Przeworski, etc). The deepening of democratic beliefs and practices necessarily require economic development. Democracy’s proselytizers in Washington and Brussels should be informed that their lectures on liberties and human rights that are not backed by cranes, computers and jobs are akin to playing guitar to a goat.

So overall, I think that the new-found friendship between the lion and the panda is, at the macro level, a good thing. Darfur and other atrocities may tarnish this relationship but down the road we shall someday look back and with hindsight appreciate China’s contribution to Africa’s economic take-off. A word of caution for the panda though, the lion may seem lazy and unconcerned in the heat of the Savannah, but never take him for granted. He can pounce without warning and has the habit of switching lionesses with wanton abandon.