European logging firms are financing rebels in CAR

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.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

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%).

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Spring break reading list

I just finished reading Daniel Branch’s Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya. It is an excellent blend of an academic take on theories of violence and counterinsurgency and a historical narrative of Kenya’s war of independence (as I was taught in primary school) or the “Kikuyu civil war” (which is a lot closer to the truth). The book sheds light on the foundations and dynamics of the Mau Mau rebellion and dispels previous accounts which argue that the cleavages that defined the war (Mau Mau vs. loyalist) was primarily class-based and existed before the onset of the rebellion in 1952. I highly recommend the book for the readers interested in Kenyan history or COIN, or violence and civil war.

I also currently reading William Reno’s Warfare in Independent Africa, an account of the evolution of the nature of civil wars in Africa and the type of leaders that led them. Reno groups Africa’s rebel groups into anti-colonial rebels (e.g. FRELIMO), majority-rule rebels (a southern African animal, e.g. SWAPO), reform rebels (who fight against oppressive regimes, e.g. RPF, EPLF, etc) parochial rebels (who fight for circumscribed community rights e.g. OPC in Nigeria) and warlord rebels (e.g. LURD, NPLF, etc).

The book gives an account of how the socioeconomic origins of rebel leaders and the wider political context in which they operated influenced the trajectories of conflict in African states over time.  It also attempts to tackle the question of why most African rebels (even those from Ruritania) have tended to fight for the capital instead of secession, even in states with limited capacity like the DRC (this is however changing, Sudan, Somalia, and Mali are good examples). If you had lingering questions after reading Jeremy Weinstein’s Inside Rebellion (on the industrial organization of rebel movements) then this is a good book for you to read.

Lastly, I finally took Debt, The First 5000 Years by David Graeber off the shelf. Graeber is an anarchist anthropologist who was one of the brains behind the Occupy movement. I took his last Intro to Cultural Anthropology class at Yale before he got fired. Graeber sometimes goes into the deep end, but his ideas are refreshingly provocative. I look forward to reading it and availing my comments soon.

Also need to get my hands on this book when it comes out.