Historian Daniel Magaziner On Paul Kagame’s Visit to Yale

As some of you may know, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was recently invited to speak at Yale. As expected, a lot of people expressed their outrage, citing Kagame’s deplorable human rights record. One of those present at the talk was Daniel Magaziner, an Associate Professor of History at Yale.

….. I’m only interested in relating what I heard when Mr. Kagame came to Yale. But as a historian, I do have to note that Mr. Kagame’s message sounded awfully familiar. Were Mr. Netanyahu to come to campus, I imagine that he would said something quite similar. We have suffered, we have been wronged. #MindYourOwnBusiness. And here’s the thing: that’s the same message Mr. Verwoerd would have brought to Yale, had we invited him. We have suffered, you have not, you have no standing, #MindYourOwnBusiness. I note this not to say that these men are one and the same. That would be ridiculous. But Verwoerd drew from the well of past suffering to foreshorten history to shut down critiques of reprehensible policies. Benjamin Netanyahu has made an art form of doing the same. And today I heard Paul Kagame charmingly remind an audience of privileged Ivy Leaguers and Americans that their ivory towers are glass houses, and thus that we cannot know the truth, and that we should mind our own business.

Paul Kagame came to my campus today. I did not condemn my university for inviting him and I did not boycott him. Instead I shook his hand and I smiled at him and I thanked him for sharing his thoughts with us. Because I needed to hear him to confirm what, as a historian, I have long suspected – we’ve seen his kind before. And, apologies Mr. Kagame, but you know that – because you correctly condemn my country for minding its own business in April, May and June 1994. People like you are our business precisely because people who tell others to mind their own business tend to be the sorts of people who leave bodies in their wake. And bodies and human suffering are the cursed currency of history, as Paul Kagame’s Rwanda has taught and regrettably continues to teach.

For more read the whole thing at Africa is a Country.

Each April the world gets treated to think pieces weighing the prospects of Rwanda’s impressive recovery since the 1994 genocide. On balance, the ratings have generally tended to be positive.

However, ever since Kagame made it clear that he would hang on to power beyond 2017, the balance has tilted towards a more pessimistic view. This is because most Rwanda watchers know that without an enduring and stable political settlement, all the achievements of the last two decades can come tumbling down in a flash.

What most observers fail to fully appreciate (including yours truly) is that a leadership transition in Rwanda, especially if marked by a sharp discontinuity in the top brass, would be severely destabilizing.

The next question then is when is the optimal time to risk it all? Should Rwanda change its leadership now when the losses arising from instability would be relatively smaller; or should it wait for Kagame’s natural life to run its course when the losses may be bigger?

Should we be comforted by the fact that perhaps by then the logic of “too much to lose” may kick in, forcing elites to arrive at a stable political settlement without costly losses of life and property?

Will Kagame turn into Seretse Khama, Leopold Senghor, or Julius Nyerere? Or will he become a Museveni? Or even a Mugabe?

I honestly do not know the answers to these questions.

What I do know, though, is that the contemporary autocratic regimes in Rwanda and Ethiopia are qualitatively different from the incorrigibly ineffectual tin pot dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s.

Of course I am open to the possibility that my views are motivated by a need for model non-democratic governments in a region that is increasingly hostile to open electoral democracy. As the leader of the opposition in Ethiopia once told me, sometimes it is hard to argue against electricity and roads.

Political Developments in the DRC

Podcast: Renowned Africanist historian Crawford Young talks with Jason Stearns about politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It looks like Joseph Kabila may be able to extend his stay in office at least until 2018. The constitution bars him from being in office beyond 2016.

The decision to extend Kabila’s stay in office is likely the beginning of a bloody phase in the DRC’s political saga. Opposition groups claim that at least 50 people have died since Monday in clashes with the army and police.

Kabila now joins his neighbors Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Denis Sassou Ngwesso of the Republic of Congo as the latest in a small but growing list of African presidents who continue to buck the trend by abrogating constitutional presidential term limits.

This should not come as a surprise to students of political development.

Leadership transitions are notoriously difficult to manage. Especially in relatively shaky states like the DRC. In case it is not obvious, there will not be any easy solutions to the current impasse. Kabila clearly has the support of a sufficient number of elites that want him to stay in power — primarily for their own benefit. Enough that they are willing to send in the troops to kill protesting civilians.

This means that moralizing about Kabila’s disrespect for electoral democracy will not work. It is not just Kabila on the hook here. His domestic elite-level allies and foreign business associates who pillage the DRC’s resources are also on the hook. And they can’t simply be wished away. Furthermore, the ghosts of the Two Congo Wars will likely inform any regional intervention to try and resolve the constitutional crisis. Nobody wants to ignite more killings and instability.

Unfortunately for Congolese people, Kabila and his allies know this. And have revealed that they are willing to blackmail everyone into letting him stay in power.

Interesting Somalia fact of the day

This is from the Economist:

Even if elections pass off well, it is unclear that they will deliver much legitimacy. One problem is that the entire process is dominated by diaspora Somalis. Some 55% of MPs have foreign passports, and while Mr Mohamud [the president] himself has never lived abroad, almost all of his advisers are either British or American Somalis. They are not always popular.

Also, here’s a primer on Somalia’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections.

The 2016 elections will have a bigger selectorate (14,025 delegates) than in 2012 (only 135 elders), but is still far from the global norm of universal suffrage. This is probably a good thing, for now.

The EAC: A Model for Boosting Intra-Africa Trade?

The Economist reports:

Since its resurrection in 2000, officials are more often found toasting its success. A regional club of six countries, the EAC is now the most integrated trading bloc on the continent. Its members agreed on a customs union in 2005, and a common market in 2010. The region is richer and more peaceful as a result, argues a new paper* from the International Growth Centre, a research organisation.

Many things boost trade, from growth to international deals. The researchers use some fancy modelling to pick out the effect of the EAC. They find that bilateral trade between member countries was a whopping 213% higher in 2011 than it would otherwise have been. Trade gains from other regional blocs in the continent are smaller: around 110% in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and 80% in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Planned infrastructure links over the next decade should add a positive shine to these figures.

Now if only regional integration had a similarly sanguine implication for democratic consolidation among the member countries of the EAC…

Why isn’t the East African Community doing more on Burundi?

The situation in Burundi is deteriorating, fast.

Armed-forces-in-Burundi-340x230There are strong signs of ethnic violence. More than 300 people have been killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully violated term limits to stay in office for a third term early this year. The ensuing violence has forced over 220,000 to flee the country, while scores remain displaced internally. Over the last week alone more than 80 people have been murdered in what is increasingly looking like a civil war rather than mere civil unrest met with heavy-handed repression. The African union has used the word “genocide” in reference to the Burundian situation.

For a background on the current Burundian crisis see here, here, here and here.

So given the clear evidence that things are falling apart in Burundi, why isn’t the East African Community (EAC) doing more to de-escalate the situation?

The simple answer is intra-EAC politics (which serve to accentuate the body’s resource constraints).

The EAC is a five-member (Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) regional economic community (REC) that is arguably the most differentiated REC in Africa. Based in Arusha, Tanzania, it is a relatively robust institution replete with executive, legislative and judicial arms.

Like is the case for most African RECs, the EAC member states conceded precious little sovereignty to Arusha. For example, the  EAC treaty does not directly empower the REC to intervene in a member country even in cases of gross violations of human rights (like is currently happening in Burundi). So far regional cooperation within the EAC has mainly focused on economic issues that do not pose substantial threats to sovereignty. It is for this reason that the EAC has avoided any kind of direct intervention in Burundi to end what is a singularly political crisis — both within Burundi and at the regional level.

That said, Article 123 of the EAC treaty provides a loophole for intervention.

The Article stipulates that the purpose of political cooperation among EAC member states is to, among other things: (i) strengthen the security of the Community and its Partner States in all ways; and (ii) preserve peace and strengthen international security among the Partner States and within the Community. In my view these clauses mandate the EAC to protect both the internal security of Burundi as well as intra-EAC security.

It is important to note that so far the norm has been to treat vagueness in African REC treaties as a call to inaction. But vagueness also provides willing interveners with a fair amount of latitude over interpretation. Furthermore, since 2000 the trend within African RECs has been to dilute the infamous OAU non-intervention clauses (see the AU treaty, for example) especially with regard to security matters.

It is not hard to see how the conflict in Burundi poses a clear and present danger to both Burundi’s internal security as well as peace and security within the EAC.

We know from history that an all out civil war in Burundi would threaten the security of the region. Burundi’s ethnic make up roughly mirrors that of Rwanda. Ethnic conflict in Burundi would inevitably elicit an intervention from Rwanda, thereby regionalizing the conflict (with an almost guaranteed knock on effect in eastern DRC). In addition, even though Kagame may not be a fan of Nkurunziza, he lacks the moral authority to criticize him given recent moves to scrap term limits in Rwanda.

If Rwanda (overtly) intervenes in Burundi, it is not clear which side Tanzania — a critical player — would take (especially because of the implications for the stability of eastern DRC). Kigali and Dodoma do not always see eye to eye. In addition, the new Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, is not particularly close to his Kenyan counterpart on account of his closeness to Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga. This may limit the possibility of collective action on Burundi by the EAC’s two leading powers.

And then there is Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni is currently the designated mediator in the Burundian negotiation process. But he is currently preoccupied in his bid to win an nth term in office (who’s counting?) His legitimacy as a mediator is seriously in question on account of his political record back home. Recall that the proximate cause of the current crisis in Burundi was Nkurunziza’s decision to violate term limits. Museveni scrapped term limits in 2005 and has systematically squeezed the Ugandan opposition into submission through heavy handed tactics that are direct violations of human rights.

Sadly for Burundians, the current state of inter-state relations within the EAC is strongly biased against any robust intervention to stop the violence that is increasingly becoming routine. Nkurunziza knows this, and will likely try to make an end run on his perceived political opponents before the wider international community begins to pay closer attention.

Lastly, the other possible interveners — the  UN and the EU — are also not likely to intervene in Burundi any time soon, despite the country’s heavy dependence on foreign aid. Europe is hobbled by the ongoing refugee crisis and the war on ISIS. As for the UN, it increasingly launders its interventions through region or sub-regional IOs (see for example AMISOM in Somalia, under the AU). This kind of strategy requires a willing regional partner, something that is lacking in the case of the EAC (or the AU for that matter).

In the next few weeks there will probably be attempts at mediation and calls for a ceasefire. But my hunch is that things are likely to get much worse in Burundi in the short term.

Stanford Biz School Seed Transformation Program is seeking applicants from East Africa

Do you run an SME? Are you interested in training and mentorship? Then apply for Stanford’s STP.

The Stanford Seed Transformation Program addresses the needs of founders/senior leaders in developing economies who lead growing, small to medium sized enterprises.

The STP curriculum is customized to address the needs of founders and senior leaders of small and medium sized companies who are committed to growing their businesses.

Over a period of six months, you will attend four highly interactive sessions—each lasting one week. Sessions cover tools and methodologies that you will use to grow and transform your business.

For example, you will learn about Design Thinking—an innovative problem-solving approach refined by Stanford faculty and its alumni—that is invaluable for identifying new products and services for your customers.

STP topics include leadership training, strategy, organizational design, business model development, operations, accounting, marketing, finance/investing, value chain innovations, governance, business ethics, and product and service innovations. 

You can apply here.

Some Africanist inside baseball

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On the failure of constitutional engineering in Burundi

Burundi’s post-conflict constitution provides a robust array of formal checks to personal rule. Article 164 mandates a 60-40 Hutu-Tutsi split in National Assembly and 50-50 split in the Senate in order to ensure that the majority Hutu (85%) do not violate the rights of the minority Tutsi (14%). The Batwa (1%) are also guaranteed representation in Parliament through special nomination. Burundi also has a proportional representation (PR) system with a closed list that requires political parties to nominate no more than two thirds of candidates from the same ethnic group. Article 257 of the constitution reinforces the principle of ethnic balance by mandating a 50-50 split in the military. Furthermore, according to Article 300 any amendment to the constitution requires an 80% super-majority in the National Assembly and two thirds of the Senate (this is why Nkurunziza failed in an attempt to amend the constitution in early 2014).

So how did Nkurunziza manage to overcome all these formal institutional checks on his power and engineer a technical third term in office? For answers see here.

Hint: elite consensus on acceptable bounds of political behavior matters a great deal. Looking back, the framers of the Burundian constitution probably should have focused on intra-Hutu balance of power as much as they did on the Hutu-Tutsi balance. Nkurunziza succeeded because not enough Hutu elites (within his own divided party) were willing to punish his blatant contravention of term limits on a questionable technicality. Perhaps they will stand up to him if he tries again in 2020.

How did Nkurunziza manage to stay in power even after a coup?

Ronald Rugero offers an insightful take on the dynamics of intra-elite politics in Burundi:

…… the attempted coup pitted two ideological factions against each other within the ruling party. On one side are the “progressives” represented by Niyombare, the leader of the coup and first Hutu chief of staff in the history of the country. Backed by the West, the progressives blame the current crisis on Nkurunziza’s wanting to seek a third term at all costs, contrary to the Peace Accord of Arusha and the Burundian constitution.

On the other side, the “conservatives” rally behind Nshimirimana, for whom the current crisis goes far beyond a simple difference in the reading of the constitution. A central concern of this faction is the progressives’ close ties with Rwanda, which indirectly accuses Nkurunziza’s government of preparing a genocide similar to that of 1994, utilizing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Imbonerakure (the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD). The conservatives, and Nkurunziza, are supported by Russia and China.

Many analysts make the mistake of thinking that the departures of CNDD-FDD personalities like the second vice president Gervais Rufyikiri or the President of the National Assembly Pie Ntavohanyuma (both supported by the “progressive” wing) affect the party. As long as the majority of the military establishment, most of whom are unknown to the media, are behind Nkurunziza, the whole party and the Burundian military will support him. In light of nascent rebellions like the one declared last week on the Burundi-Rwanda border, it is unrealistic to imagine that a swift attack could remove the power of Bujumbura and drive out Nkurunziza.

You can read the whole piece here.