Monday, March 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

We all know the end of the story as it's now being written with an overpriced rescue of the banks. When it comes time for health care reform, education funding, infrastructure rebuilding, and (heaven forbid) help for the world's poor and dying people, there will be no fiscal space. Budgets will be tight. Spending that helps make rich guys richer while leaving the poor to die of hunger and disease seems to be par for the course in our Wall-Street-besotted public policy.
--Jeff Sachs

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mining Companies Cheating Africa out of $ Millions

A new study by SARWatch says that African governments are bribing African officials to get easy access to the minerals. Or as they write:
Our analysis, drawn from research conducted in Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Malawi, DRC and South Africa, shows that African governments are foregoing millions of dollars in tax revenue from the mining industry. This is largely because of overly generous tax concessions, usually granted discretionarily in secret mining contracts, as well as tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion practices by multinational mining companies. Fuelling these losses is a lack of transparency and oversight of the financial remittances from mining companies to government institutions, coupled with the inability of government institutionsto audit the complicated accounts of multinational mining companies.
In other news, teenage boys like looking at cute girls.

NYT: China Quitting Africa

The New York Times says that China is backing out of Africa, but goes on to give as an example the DRC:
In 2007 China announced a $9 billion deal with Congo for access to its giant trove of copper, cobalt, tin and gold in exchange for developing roads, schools, dams and railways needed to rebuild a country roughly the size of Western Europe and shattered by more than a decade of war.

But that deal is now in doubt as falling prices have left Congo in a much weaker negotiating position.
Query: Didn't Congo signal that it was about to sign that deal with China on Monday?

Tullow Oil Likely to Win Congolese Bid

From Dow Jones:
U.K.-based Tullow Oil PLC, which operates two blocks on the Ugandan side of the oil-rich Albertine Rift, is close to acquiring rights on two more blocks on the Congolese side of the rift, the company's vice president in charge of African business told Dow Jones Newswires Wednesday.
This deal will enable Tullow to develop the oil reserves from both sides of Lake Albert.

Sarkozy to Visit Congo, Irritate Congolese

From the Financial Times:
Mr Sarkozy will hold talks with Joseph Kabila, the DRC president, in Kinshasa to persuade him to back a controversial plan to put mines in the east of the vast country under some form of supranational authority, with resources shared with neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.
T'es pas serieux? On what conceivable grounds should the Congo "share" its resources? Their resources belong to them. Maybe they should sell rights to exploit those resources to companies of neighboring countries; maybe they should establish some mechanism to pay for transhipment fees. But on no basis should they simply share them. The idea would be too ridiculous to be insulting, were it not for the fact that Rwanda is establishing just such an arrangement right now. Sakorzy's simply give them cover.

The annexation of the Grand Sud of North Kivu continues apace.

Global Downturn Shutters Zambian Copper Belt

Excellent story in the Washington Post about how the global downturn is affecting Zambia's copper belt:
A plunge in global trade has slashed demand for the copper used to construct electronics and houses in the United States and Asia. That is prompting mines here to slow and shut, limiting tens of thousands of Zambians' access to schooling, health care and regular meals.
Obviously, the downturn will hit the DRC even harder, since the infrastructure to develop and transport copper is that much more underdeveloped.

Photo Caption: The Indian-owned Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia employs more than 12,000 people, but it plans to lay off nearly 1,100 to cut costs. The mining industry employs 10 percent of Zambia's workforce. (By Karin Brulliard -- The Washington Post)

Kamerhe Resigns

The Belgian news agency RTBF confirms that Vital Kamerhe has resigned as president of the national assembly.

"I ask you to accept my resignation without a debate or a vote," he declared, to the applause of the parliament.

Kamerhe had earlier insisted on holding a debate in full session about his resignation; there is no word on why he may have changed his mind.

Kamerhe had been under severe pressure to resign after criticizing the deal allowing Rwanda to enter Congolese territory on Radio Okapi in late January. Kamerhe represents Bukavu, one of the towns affected by the Rwandan incursion. His resignation is a sharp reversal of fortunes for Kamerhe, who as an ally of Kabila was once hailed as one of the country's leading promoters of peace.

It may also represent a serious curtailment of political space in the DRC. Yesterday, a coalition of 200 NGOs deplored the effort to dismiss Kamerhe, saying it represented a setback for democracy and human rights.

Has Kamerhe Resigned?

Rumors are beginning to come in that Vital Kamerhe has just resigned as president of the lower house of parliament.

Desperately Seeking . . . the Accord de Ihussi

Anyone know where I can find a copy of the Accord de Ihussi, the peace agreement signed by the government and the CNDP?

NGOs Defend Kamerhe

A group of local NGOs defends Vital Kamerhe and says that his dismissal as head of parliament would be a setback for democracy and human rights.
Along with our fellow citizens and international observers, we are monitoring with great apprehension the current political crisis engendered by the efforts of the AMP to force the resignation or dismissal of the president of the National Assembly. ...
This conflict has already given rise to human rights abuses by the government, such as the arbitrary arrest, on Sunday, March 15, of human rights defenders who were planning a demonstration to denounce the destabilizing actions against the parliament. ...
Contrary to the usual practice, representatives of the judiciary joined members of the government and deputies of the AMP in their decision to not attend the official opening ceremony of the parliamentary session. This absence calls into question the independence of the judiciary. The national broadcaster, RTNC, was also prevented from broadcasting the opening speeches. These incidents seem to indicate that if the AMP's efforts to force Mr. Vital Kamerhe to resign are not immediately stopped, they could create a climate conducive to the use of repression by the security forces and police. ...
In the two years of its operation, the legislative output of the current parliament has been quite remarkable. Parliament has voted for an impressive number of laws that are essential in creating an environment conducive to respect for human rights, as well as an independent judiciary and the promotion of good governance.... None of these accomplishments, however minimal they may be, would have been possible without a measure of institutional independence for parliament and without the individual freedom granted to each of its members, regardless of their political ties. Yet this very independence and freedom were directly threatened by the political action of members of the AMP against the president of the National Assembly and the parliamentary institution. ...
Several deputies have reported receiving individual threats in recent weeks, including death threats, if they do not follow the instructions given by political leaders of the AMP. Such tactics are in clear violation of the law and threaten democracy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two New Web Sites & Two New Books

If you like social history, like learning about what life was like there, then or now, these two sites provide an interesting contrast. One is a nostalgic look back at colonial life pre-1960 by a number of ex-colonials; the second provides interesting "slice of life" stories about the DRC now, and is written by a collective of Congolese journalists under the direction of Cédric Kalonji.

What life was like in the Congo Then.

What life is like in the Congo Now.

A short history of the DRC from 1998 to 2006 by Gauthier de Villers, a French sociologist, is available here.

And here is a book of photographs of the Congo. A little National Geographic-y for my taste, but some might like it. Order here.

CNDP Agreement Calls for Partitioning North Kivu

Le Potentiel reports that the peace agreement with the CNDP calls for the partition of North Kivu into two distinct provinces: the Grand Nord, incorporating Beni and Butembo, and the Grand Sud, which would encompass Masisis, Rutshuru, and Walikale.

Sounds like a strategy to divide and conquer to me.

This would put the Nande in charge of the north, and leave the Hunde to negotiate with the majority Banyarwanda over the southern section, where most of the mineral wealth is located.

Quote of the Day

"I don't know Laurent Nkunda, I never met him, I never saw him except on TV, and I never spoke to him on the phone. Is that clear?"
--Paul Kagame, in Jeune Afrique

« Je ne connais pas Laurent Nkunda, je ne l’ai jamais rencontré, je ne l’ai jamais vu ailleurs qu’à la Télévision, et je ne lui jamais parlé au téléphone. Est-ce clair ? »

Monday, March 23, 2009

China Deal Greenlighted

From Reuters:
The Congo will push ahead with a $9 billion Chinese mining and infrastructure package despite pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which believes the deal will add to Congo's debt mountain, a top government official said on Monday.

About that Documentary on the Kinshasa Orchestra

I just spoke to Philipe Pascot regarding the documentary about the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra. He says he's been working with the orchestra for the past five years. The documentary itself will be coming out in June. There will be a 90 minute version for cinema, and a 52 minute version for TV. No definite distributor in the US yet, but it will be appearing in Belgium, Holland, and Germany. It's his first film, but the filmmakers themselves have made many other films.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"A Redistribution of the Mining Resources"

Gerard Prunier talks about what Rwanda's recent incursion into Congo accomplished. He says the Rwandans wanted direct control over the mines of the Kivus. That's what I thought too, but I'm not hearing detailed accounts about who's controlling what mines and how the incursion may have changed that. And I wonder whether Kagame would take that risk--of claiming a direct military control over the mines--so soon after the UN report condemning him for doing so indirectly. Right now my best guess is that Rwanda wanted to establish control over the Lake Kivu perimeter, in order to secure their investment from Contour Global.

Deputies Paid $1500 Each for Kamerhe's Head

Le Phare reports that deputies in the Congolese parliament are being paid $1500 a piece to sign a statement of no-confidence in Vital Kamerhe, the president of the national assembly.

Friday, March 20, 2009

KNOW HOPE: The Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra

Will Obama Disappoint Africa?

Article in National Journal, hidden behind a subscription wall, says quite possibly yes.

Chibeya Released

From Democracy Digest:
Police have released democracy activists Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, Dolly Ibefo Mbunga and Donat Tshikaya following international protests at their detention. Eyewitnesses said the three men were beaten, handcuffed and “thrown” into police vehicles when they were arrested on 15 March in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More Mission Accomplished

Joe Bavier reports that the LRA have killed 12 and kidnapped 40 in the far northeast.

The UN refugee commission says that the FDLR have displaced 30,000 in North Kivu.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mission Accomplished?

From Reuters News Alerts:
Whole villages are being abandoned as civilians flee attacks by Rwandan Hutu militia and Ugandan rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, just weeks after joint army operations to oust the militias ended.
The only thing the recent Rwandan and Ugandan military operations in DRC accomplished was to push the LRA and FDLR deeper into Congolese territory.

Is Obama Backing away from Calling What Happened to the Armenians a Genocide?

The LA Times says Obama is wavering on his campaign pledge to declare what happened to the Armenians a genocide. Bloggers Matt Welch and Alex Massie react. Massie:
If you think you've heard this tune before it's because you have. It's become a ritual: all Presidential candidates decry the Armenian genocide on the campaign trail and the successful ones always welsh on calling it that once they are in power. George W Bush was no exception. Realpolitik you say? Just the usual campaign stuff you have to say? Well, perhaps. But if politicians want to be taken seriously perhaps they should cease being quite so cynical.

Walch has a video of Samantha Power taken during the campaign promising the Armenian community he wouldn't back away from this pledge. If he does, will Power resign? I would find it difficult to imagine how she wouldn't. Her entire credibility as a scholar and activist is bound up in this issue.

This matters. The Armenia issue is a test case in presidential character. Obama's decision on this issue will reveal a great deal about what we can expect of him on a host of other issues regarding ongoing genocides and mass killings.

Obama is to visit Turkey in early April. The Armenians want him to make a statement on April 26, their remembrance day. So we'll know soon enough where he stands.

[Update: Re-listening to Power's video statement, she doesn't explicitly promise that a President Obama will recognize the Armenian genocide. The closest she comes is when she says that "he's someone who can be trusted." The statement leaves room for a lawyerly, not to say Clintonian, backtracking on the issue. Whether it was her intention or not to leave that loophole I can't honestly say. Still, I find it hard to imagine how she could stay on if he does backtrack.]

(h/t: Sullivan)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Know Hope: Women Marching against Rape in Bukavu

On International Women's Day. From the blog Standing on Grace.

This is good. This is how social attitudes change. Slowly, imperceptibly, the aggregate human effort moves forward.

"The Congo Doesn't Exist"

Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills say it's time to stop pretending the Congo exists. Instead, they say, foreign governments and aid agencies should deal with whoever exerts control on the ground--even if they constitute a confusing array of governors, traditional leaders, warlords, and others.

The problem is that all of the above are at each other's throats. The Congo's geography provides endless opportunities for plunder; without a hegemon of some sort the fighting will go on forever. At the moment, there are only two plausible candidates for the role of hegemon: MONUC and the Congolese state. If we are serious about ending the chaos that has characterized eastern Congo, the only solution is to amp up MONUC and enable it to act as the de facto state while we help the actual Congolese state gets its act together. The fact that this isn't in the cards right now doesn't mean this isn't the solution; it just means that the chaos of eastern Congo will continue.

"It Must Be Known what Happened"

HRW Congo researcher Anneke Van Woundenberg is interviewed on American Public Media.

What Happens in 2011?

My best guess on what happens with the next presidential election: Obviously, Kabila can't pull a Kagame, and jury rig an election winning 97 percent of the vote. The Congo is just too vast, too disorganized, and too undisciplined to impose those kind of results. Kenya, and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, provide the more obvious parallel. In this scenario, Kabila will delay the vote, create all sorts of logistical glitches, steal the election with last-minute chicanery, and then hold out the promise of negotiating a power-sharing agreement with elements of the opposition. This will be easier to do if the opposition isn't united, which it probably won't be. But even if it is, political figures in Congo are under such pressure to secure positions for themselves and their clients that Kabila is likely to be able to coopt enough of his adversaries to remain president. I doubt the Congolese people would revolt: they're not, politically or materially, where the Filipinos were when Marcos attempted a similar maneuver in 1986. Nor will the donor nations object too much; with China emerging as the dominant outside power in the region, they're far less influential than they once were, and they know it.

On the other hand, unlike Mugabe and Kibaki, Kabila doesn't have a very strong ethno-political base to rely on for a significant share of the votes. Were he to hold an election and lose in a landslide, and were the opposition and donors to be steadfast in insisting on observing the results, it's possible he could be forced out.

Obviously, a million things can happen between now and then, so all this is just speculation. But an exercise in straight-line projection can help to clarify the logic of a situation, as long as you don't rely on it to plot the future.

Kamerhe's Speech

Complete text of his speech opening parliament here.
Quick and dirty analysis: Sounds like he's positioning himself for a run at the presidency in 2011. We'll see if he gets the chance.

Link Dump

Stephen Sackur interviews Kagame on BBC's HardTalk. He doesn't let the president off easily.

The bulk of the LRA, including its notorious leader Joseph Kony, are hiding somewhere in northeast Congo, where they continue to attack civilians in the Ueles, bas and haut. More than 100,000 people have fled from the LRA into southern Sudan. Nevertheless, Uganda announced it is terminating its military operation Lightning Thunder, which was designed to capture Kony, and is withdrawing all its troops from the DRC.

The LRA is not the only stirred-up militia the people of eastern Congo have to worry about. Refugees International says that "The attempted military solution to the FDLR appears far from having succeeded in crippling the rebel group, despite the recent disarmament of over 400 combatants by MONUC. Instead, the operations led to serious consequences for the Congolese in North and South Kivu, including significant new displacements." It recommends that UN agencies and NGOs increase their activities to assist and protect vulnerable populations in North Kivu and South Kivu.

A coalition of NGOs has put out a statement on Congolese women, well worth reading in its entirety:
Women live under the dual cloak of politically-imposed silence, as well as silence due to their gender. Eastern Congo, a region twice the size of Uganda, has borne the brunt of brutal military campaigns since 1998. Tens of thousands of women have been raped by multiple armies from Congo and neighboring countries, often as part of a strategy to humiliate communities and destroy social structures and norms. Many of these women are still in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, still recovering from this trauma and particularly struggling with their sexual and reproductive health. In IDP camps their protection is still not fully guaranteed and some continue to suffer further violence by those who are supposed to protect them. The region has seen massive population displacement, disruption of agricultural activities, and acute poverty. As a result, the standard of living has drastically lowered, with food security becoming a daily struggle, primarily for women and girls whose rights to land and livelihoods have always been tenuous. Overall, across the country, women face social marginalisation and reap very few benefits from their labor.

The UN's Special Rapporteur for the Congo, Walter Kahlin, says that the human rights situation in the Congo has significantly deteriorated in the past year and that human rights violations in the country are now massive and systematic.

The DRC's foreign minister says that he expects the Obasanjo-Mpaka mediation effort to wrap up, now that the rebel threat has been removed. In a reminder of why the Obasanjo pick was never a good one to begin with, students at the London School of Economics are protesting Obasanjo's speech today at the LSE on his work in the Congo. The protesters say that that the former Nigerian president's administration was blemished by a poor human rights record and corrupt economic policies that made poverty worse.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Human Rights Leader Arrested

Floribert Chibeya, one of the Congo's most important and durable human rights activists, founder and executive director of La Voix des Sans Voix, was arrested on 15 March in Kinshasa by officers of the Police Nationale Congolaise, the national police force. From Amnesty:
According to eyewitnesses, Chibeya and two of his colleagues were beaten, handcuffed and “thrown” into police vehicles and then taken to the Kin-Mazière detention centre in central Kinshasa, the headquarters of the Special Services police.

They have been held incommunicado since then, and are considered to be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

The men were arrested just after they had held a press conference calling for a peaceful protest march and sit-in in of front the National Assembly, to protest against what they regard as unconstitutional attempts by the ruling AMP political coalition of President Joseph Kabila to force the removal from office of the President of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe, and other members of the National Assembly’s Secretariat.

What Sparked Rwanda's Incursion?

HUGE NEWS from Stop the War in North Kivu:
On March 2nd, the US based company Contour Global announced the investment of 325 million U$ to develop a gas extraction and electricity generation facility which “will provide 100 MW of natural gas fired electricity to Rwanda and the East African Region”. According to Contour Global, this is the biggest investment in the history of Rwanda (you can download the press release here).

The Rwandan army finished the joint military operation and left Congolese soil on February 27th.

Of course, both news have no link to each other.
All those questions we had... Why, after years of fighting, did Rwanda and Congo suddenly reach an agreement this year? Why did Rwanda claim to be pre-occupied with the FDLR--when they haven't done squat about the FDLR in years? Why did they proclaim Mission Accomplished when it was self-evident that they hadn't begun to round up a significant number of FDLR forces? Suddenly it all makes sense. This had nothing to do with Peace. The Rwandans needed to establish a safe perimeter around Lake Kivu to reassure the investors. The Congo was no doubt promised a portion of the money and the electricity that the facility will generate in return for its cooperation. Or more accurately: Kabila no doubt received a kickback for signing off on this arrangement. It's a win-win for everyone but the people of Kivu.

Is Congo Experiencing a Renaissance?

Colette Braeckman is optimistic. Her new book, Vers la deuxième indépendance du Congo, argues that Joseph Kabila has been seriously underestimated, and that like an elephant in the process of standing up, the Congo will soon emerge as a giant of Africa.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Glimpses of eastern Congo

Reuters photographer Finbarr O'Reilly has been traveling through the area, capturing some amazing photographs of the people caught in the middle of all the fighting:

(h/t: Africa Unchained.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Global Economic Downturn "Catastrophic" for the DRC

From Reuters:
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - The collapse in commodity prices has been catastrophic for Congo, still trying to recover from years of war. High metals prices brought a scramble for mining concessions in recent years, including many smaller firms, but now only the biggest miners in Congo are well placed to weather the troubles. Congo has almost no foreign reserves to help withstand the impact -- they fell to just $36 million in early February. Its franc has lost well over 20 percent of its value since late last year, and the country is seeking more than $420 million in grants and loans from international donors to help shore up its finances.

Monday, March 9, 2009

UNHCR: Security Rapidly Deteriorating in eastern Congo

From AFP:
The UN refugee agency on Friday warned that the security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was "rapidly deteriorating," as Hutu rebels stepped up attacks after a government operation against them came to an end.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Economic Collapse Could Lead to 200,000 more Babies Dying

World Bank Economist Jorge Arbache has revised his earlier estimate of the number of infants in Africa who may die as a result of the global recession downwards from 700,000. See full article here.
“I know these days it seems economists are blaming everything on the recession,” said Arbache. “But there is historical proof that sustained periods of deceleration [economic slump] have a direct impact on governance, small conflicts, life spans and, also, mortality.”

Quote of the Day

From France 24:
In Macampagne [Matonge? La Gombe?], a leafy area of Kinshasa, guards at the gates of sprawling villas followed the match glued to their radios. “I am completely enchanted,” said Didier Kisila. “We were humiliated, we had lost hope. But now peace is back in DRC, the cup is ours, the reconstruction programme is underway... What a day!"

Congratulations to the Leopards!

They just defeated the Ghana Black Stars 2-0 at the African Nations Championship final in Abidjan!

Does Democracy Promote Good Governance?

Opponents of MONUC have sometimes argued that its focus on elections was premature, and that the $400 million the international community spent on holding elections was an exercise in formality that merely ratified Kabila's position as the incumbent. (In some of the darker interpretations--what Prunier calls the Leninist readings--the elections merely served to provide ideological cover for the continued exploitation of Congolese resources.) I've defended MONUC on this score. The advantages of incumbency typical in young African democracies don't explain why Kabila lost the vote of the western half of the country. Second, I'm not sure how you nurture African democracies without simultaneously working on the formal structures of governance as well as on its infrastructure and ideological struts: the political parties, the rule of law, a free press, etc. Third, in the long run, democracy is still the best hope for national self-correction: if Kabila disappoints the Congolese, there is a decent chance he could be voted out of power in 2011. Fourth, the possibility of being thrown out of office ought to give him some incentive to try to improve the lives of his people.

But until now, a lot of my reasoning was just conjecture. I hadn't known of any analysis establishing a relationship between holding elections and good governance. A new paper from AfroBarometer suggest that there is a connection:
The results show an elective affinity between free elections and improved governance. But any democracy advantage is more apparent in relation to some dimensions governance than others. For example, while elections apparently boost the rule of law and control of corruption, they also seem to undercut the transparency of government procedures and the responsiveness of elected officials. To address the debate on causality, the paper compares governance performance before and after electoral alternations, both across countries and in one particular country (Mali). It concludes that, as a rule of thumb for policy sequencing, democracy promotion need not await the prior establishment of a rule of law.
It will be interesting to see what 2011 brings. I don't know which country might serve as a guide post for the DRC. Obviously, Kabila can't pull a Kagame, and jury rig an election with 97 percent of the vote. Would he attempt a Marcos, and reschedule the vote, undermine it, and then pull out a fraudulent victory by a few percentage points? If so, would the Congolese revolt? (Depends, I suppose, on how badly he lost. I don't think he can steal an election if he gets trounced--even if the Congolese acquiesce, the donors wouldn't allow it.) The obvious African scenario is Kenya, and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, where Kabila delays the vote, steals the election with last-minute chicanery, then holds out the promise of negotiating a power-sharing agreement with elements of the opposition. This will be easier to do if the opposition isn't united, but even if it were, political figures are under such pressure to secure positions for themselves and their clients that Kabila is likely to be able to coopt enough of his adversaries to remain president.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why Kamerhe Shouldn't Quit: He's the First Wife

Justin Bitakwira, an MP from South Kivu, gave an interview with Le Potentiel earlier today. Asked about Kabila's hope that President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe quit his post before the opening of parliament on March 15, Bitakwira said:
I compare this pressure to a traditional marriage in Africa. In Africa, a naturally polygamous place, a man can have three, five, ten, twenty wives. And if he take one drink too many, he can go home and get rid of one or another of them as he wishes. But the first wife, the one the family has invested in, to get rid of her you need to hold ceremonies and the wife's family must give the final word. We consider in that manner that Kamerhe is like the first, legitimate wife: to get him to leave requires the approval of the family. And the family, in this case, is parliament.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sigh [Embarrassing Update Below]

So Abu Dabi's world famous newspaper The National features a review of Prunier's treatise on the Congo wars by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, said to be an editor at Foreign Affairs in New York. I checked--yes, that Foreign Affairs. His bottom line: Prunier's book is manifestly biased because he gave financial support to an armed rebel movement led by Seth Sendashonga. Polakow-Suransky knows this because he read the footnotes:
Prunier’s scathing attacks on Kagame and his western patrons are undermined, however, by his apparent admission – buried in a footnote – that he was directly involved in raising funds for a new armed group led by Seth Sendashonga, a Hutu RPF minister who fled into exile after clashing with Kagame. “I have in my possession a letter from Seth addressed to me from Nairobi on 4 May 1998,” writes Prunier. The letter reads: “With very limited means we carry on our fight...I hope that you keep up with your search for funds and that you can get us some small support. I beg you not to neglect any effort because we are so hard up. It has reached such a point that we have barely enough money to send our mail.”
Perhaps he was thrown off by Seth's use of the word "fight." This is the kind of mistake one might have forgiven in the pre-internet age, even though it completely undermines his argument. But google Sendashonga, and the first hit you come up with is a statement from HRW:
Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) deplore the assassination on May 16 in Nairobi of the outstanding Rwandan political leader Seth Sendashonga.

A man of principle and courage, Sendashonga was widely hailed as a leader of moderation. A second person, an unidentified driver, was slain at the same time.
Hello? Sasha? Foreign Affairs? Post Editors? Sendashonga was a leader of the non-violent kind and a hero to many. Try using the Internets!

Which reminds me that I should be finishing my review of Prunier soon.

[Update 3/7: In an earlier version, I referred to Sasha as a female. In fact, Sasha is a male, which I would have known had I used the Internets! It shows you how easily mistakes can creep into copy. Fortunately, in my case, the mistake only required me to update the pronouns--whereas Sasha's entire argument rests on a false assumption.]

Dissent on the ICC Warrant

Harper's has a perceptive article on Alex de Waal, SSRC program director and America's most visible opponent of the ICC's decision--and of Sudan action groups more generally. De Waal's own commentary on the ICC decision is here. The New Republic is hosting a debate with him and Eric Reeves, among others, here. But the clearest, most pugnacious statement against the ICC's decision belongs to the lasses at Wronging Rights. Money quote:
In short, there is an extremely strong likelihood that the ICC warrant could be do all of the following: destabilize a fragile set of not-yet-peace-talks, undermine the almost-but-not-really-implemented peace agreement, support the presidential ambitions of Bashir's genocidal henchpersons, and leave millions of civilians vulnerable to starvation, disease, and violence. (But that's okay, because they all agree that it's totes worth dying of cholera for the possibility of Bashir's arrest, right?)

All that to put one dude on trial in Europe? Really? This is worth it?

Two New Reports on Sexual Violence in the DRC

This one from Medecins du Monde about the exploitation of street children in Kinshasa. This one from MSF on lessons learned about treating sexual violence in various regions of the world.

Did Obama just End the War in the Congo?

That's what Colette Braeckman argues, in this astounding new entry. In July 2008, she says, a delegation of Congolese civil society members met with high officials in the Obama campaign, including Rahm Emmanuel, and with Clinton-era Africa officials, including John Swain and Howard Wolpe. These individuals persuaded the delegation of their serious concern about the FDLR and the LRA, and urged that Congo and Rwanda reconcile in order to eliminate the militia threat. The delegation duly brought this message home to officials in Kinshasa.

As war broke out again in August, the Americans and Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development, launched a diplomatic initiative to facilitate the reconciliation between Kabila and Kagame. In late October, when Nkunda's forces threatened Goma, it was the Americans who pressured Kagame to put a stop to his proxy's advance. And it was Michel who finally brought the two leaders together, at an African Union meeting in Kenya on November 7.

As tensions in the region mounted, and the Europeans finally decided not to send a stabilizing force, the Americans became ever more convinced that the key was to convince the Congolese to allow the Rwandans to do what they needed to remove the FDLR from Eastern Congo. The day after his election, Obama put a call in to the two men. It was time to end the FDLR and FLA's reigns of terror, he told them.

Kabila appointed John Numbi, the former head of DRC armed forces, to lead a delegation comprised mostly of Katangais to Kigali to see if an agreement could be reached. James Kabarebe, a senior Rwandan general, headed the Kigali contingent. Surprisingly, Numbi began the talks by outlining how many problems Nkunda was causing Kagame, before suggesting that they could make common cause. Kabarebe then went to the CNDP and said, in effect, you take orders from me now or the next time you see me you'll be dead.

On 19 January, just days before the American ultimatum expired [editors note: I don't know what ultimatum Braeckman is talking about here], Kabila gave the signal allowing Rwandan troops to enter the Congo. Their official mission: to round up the FDLR. Their real mission: to round up the three battalions that remained loyal to Nkunda. They immediately surrendered and joined in the operation.

Braeckman presents the rest of the story as a denouement. A ceasefire is signed, the government retakes territory formerly controlled by the FDLR. Third party diplomacy with Obasanjo and Mpaka gives way to direct talks between the two governments. Kabila, to defuse the anxiety over Rwanda's re-entry into Congo, gives long interviews on radio and television to explain his decision.

Before long, the CNDP is successfully integrated into FARDC, the other armed groups decide to rejoin the peace process, and the Rwandan forces stage a parade to enthusiastic crowds on their return to Rwanda. Kabila then meets Museveni in Kassindi, and Rwanda and Congo exchange ambassadors. To top it off, the US announces it has budgeted $700 million for Congolese development, far more than the Europeans have offered. One can only imagine, she concludes, what sort of reception President Obama would receive if he were to visit Kinshasa.

What can I say? Wow. Stunning if true. But it just isn't what I'm hearing from my sources. I hope Braeckman's right. I hope everyone can go home happy now and Obama gets treated to the best party of his life on his next trip to Kinshasa. But that's just not what I'm hearing. If you're keeping score, it's my gloom and doom against the sunny Braeckman, NYT, and Economist. Even I don't like those odds.

Breaking: Tsvangirai in Car Accident, Wife Killed

From Reuters: Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's wife was killed and he was injured in a car accident on Friday, a source in his party said.

Don't Worry, Be Happy

On the heels of this generally hopeful account in the New York Times, The Economist makes the best case yet for the Umoja Wetu operation. My response is here:
I wish I were as optimistic. In return for eliminating a potential rival, Kabila has in effect handed the Kivus over to the tender mercies of Rwanda. What Rwanda plans to do with them is anyone's guess. The people of Kivu fear the worst: that they have been placed under the control of a foreign power with a long history of coveting their land and exploiting their resources. The mood in Kivu is one of frustration and anger. So is it in Kinshasa, where Kabila stands accused by most of the political class of unilaterally relinquishing a portion of the country’s patrimony.

The dangers are many. Few of the FDRL militia have been repatriated. The CNDP militia, now under the control of a man wanted by the ICC, Jean Bosco Ntaganda, aka The Terminator, are supposed to be integrating into Congo’s army. That process is going poorly. Indigenous Congolese militia such as the Mai Mai are reacting unfavorably to the new dispensation and are ready to take up arms against their new “overlords.” The US-sponsored joint Congo-Uganda attack on the LRA resulted in the deaths of 1,000 Congolese civilians and continuing confusion in Ituri. Last week Angolan troops occupied portions of Bas Congo. With neighbors nibbling at the edges of his kingdom, Kabila’s throne is less stable than ever. It is often said that Mobutu’s one gift to the Congolese people was a sense of nationhood. That is a weak glue to rely on if a power vacuum opens up in Kinshasa.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crisis in Kenya?

NYT story a few days ago says 10,000,000 are at risk of starvation.

Yesterday, two prominent human rights leaders were executed.

If Kenya goes the way of Ivory Coast, Africa's two successful, middle-income, ex-colonial welcoming, reasonably stable countries will have gone up in smoke. And with them, a lot of whatever hope can still be mustered for the continent.

Tasteless Activists Strike Again

So Chris Blattman and the gals at Wronging Rights are in a lather over Invisible Children, an NGO devoted to helping children abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army. They have a number of specific concerns--Blattman is worried, for example, about the implications of showing the children's faces on camera. But what really seems to irk them--and the many correspondents who wrote in to agree with them--is the self-indulgent, aren't-we-cool, "let's save Africa," tone struck by the founders of the organization.

I don't know IC at all. They seem to have a development wing as well as an activist wing, and I have no idea whether either is effective. But charity is about making water run up hill. Adam Smith noted more than two hundred years ago that the prospect of having to cut a wart off your finger focuses your attention in a way that the prospect of a million starving people in China never will. So I'm prone to be tolerant of any effort that aims to harness people's capricious attention to a broader humanitarian project. It ain't easy to coax that trickle upstream.

Nor is IC the first to indulge in a little sentimentality. Uncle Tom's Cabin has rarely been described as Chekhovian. And am I the only one old enough to remember "We Are the World"? For that matter, what, really, could be in poorer taste than Nick Kristof's opening sentence in today's op-ed: "When the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for Sudan’s president on Wednesday, an 8-year-old boy named Bakit Musa would have clapped — if only he still had hands." (This complete with a large headshot of the poor darling waving his stumps in our face. Blattman take note.)

IC's critics are particularly vexed about the group's forthcoming consciousness-raising event, in which high school and college students in dozens of US cities will "abduct themselves" and camp out overnight in public parks. Well, sure, it's a gimmick, but so is the Holocaust Museum giving you a ticket with the identity of a holocaust victim and telling you at the end of your visit whether "you" died or not. And so is Oxfam's Hunger Fast, where a group of students gather for dinner--some of them to dine on lavish cuisine while the majority subsist on beans and rice. Centuries ago, when I was in college, I helped organize one of those events. A black South African friend--this was in the days before apartheid was dismantled--happened to pass by, and I rather awkwardly apologized to him for the crassness of the spectacle. "No," he said, wryly observing the gathering, "they are learning." And indeed they were: the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

If anything, my problem with most activist organizations is that they aren't tasteless enough. We need more Act Up outfits disrupting meetings, more GreenPeace types piloting their inflatable rafts between the whalers and their prey. The polite petitions, the congressional testimony of a Hollywood star you've chaperoned around Africa on a two-week visit--these aren't enough. In "The Invisible People" Greg Behrman describes how in 2000 a few determined activists embarrassed Candidate Al Gore into reversing his position on intellectual property rights for AIDS drugs in Africa. They followed him around New Hampshire, disrupting his rallies and throwing "blood money" into the crowd. Crass, yes--but it worked.

The truth is that the number of people in Western countries who can be mobilized to care about far-off tragedies will always be relatively small and their influence slight--far less than we might like to believe. Even in domestic affairs, people who have a material stake in the matter are usually more influential than reformers who come to the table armed only with their ideas and aspirations. In foreign policy, where the elite tend to view human rights as a distraction from the real business of transacting international relations, the triumph of national interests over humanitarian concerns is almost an iron law. Witness Hillary Clinton's recent remark about not letting human rights "interfere with" our relationship with China.

Case in point: Madeleine Albright and William Cohen recently chaired a genocide prevention task force, underwritten by the Holocaust Museum, the US Institute of Peace, and one or two other Washington institutions. At its debut, an Armenian reporter rose to ask why the two chairs had recently signed a letter advising Congress to not pass a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. "This is basically about the future," said Albright, who had spoken minutes earlier about the need to learn from the past. "There are no absolutes in this," chimed in Cohen, whose consulting firm, it would later emerge, enjoyed a profitable alliance with a lobbying group hired by Turkey to deny the Armenian genocide. In any case, Cohen assured the reporter, they too "were concerned about the human suffering that took place between 1915 and 1923." This was a dog whistle--meant to sound one way to the uninformed, but in fact a circumlocution that nicely toes the Turkish line: that the alleged genocide was in fact merely an unfortunate series of reciprocal killings during a time of war. Read this note from the Southern Poverty Law Center if you don't understand just how much of an historical obscenity that claim is. Were they saying similar sorts of things about the holocaust, Albright and Cohen would be consigned to the far margins of American discourse--to the place where the David Dukes and Ramsey Clarks reside.

To the extent that we can ever hope to change this state of affairs, we need people who aren't afraid of transgressing the boundaries of good taste, of contradicting the complacent accounts of our grandees, of disrupting the rituals by which they affirm their status. We need groups like Invisible Children to agitate more, not less, to engage in even more visible demonstrations, to not only call out but mock the emperor for his nakedness. Tasteful people don't change history.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quote of the Day

Somewhere The Onion (a satirical news magazine) has a headline that says something like, "Area Asshole Gets his own Blog."

And sometimes, I feel like I'm that asshole. If only I weren't so pessimistic about the latest developments in the Great Lakes! If only I weren't so skeptical of the region's leaders, and believed they actually had their own people's best interests at heart! If only I felt that the new administration was really going to make a difference! If only it weren't staffed by so many former Clintonites! If only I didn't feel the Clintonites had made such a hash of it the first time around! If only I believed in the power of Hollywood stars to change the calculus of nation states! If only I believed that a few, inexpensive measures would make all the difference!

Instead, I'm always carping about this or that, worrying about the-other-thing, questioning motives, remembering some awkward bit of history, and generally sulking around like the skunk at the picnic.

So it's nice, every once in a while, to remember I'm not alone.* Howard French, former NYT bureau chief in Africa, chronicled the rise of Kabila and the disastrous Clinton policy of those years. He has an editorial in the Huffington Post about what Obama may mean for Africa, and like me, he retains a bad taste in his mouth from the last Democratic administration:

There is a powerful argument to be made that this disaster [the wars in the Congo], along with the Rwandan genocide that preceded it, is Bill Clinton's most important foreign policy legacy, and an Obama policy toward Africa run by many of the same people and carrying forward Clinton era thinking would be a sign of disdain for the continent and its problems.
The Congo's apocalyptic dissolution began in earnest when Washington gave Rwanda the green light to invade the country, setting off a free for all that sucked in many of the Congo's neighbors.

*And of course, I'm not. While the policy debate in Washington is being led by cheerleaders, the real scholars of the region--and you know who you are--are much less doe-eyed, much more weighed down by the deep intractability of the problems, and much less hopeful about Obama's capacity or political will to bring change to the region.