Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Quote of the Day

Egyptians choose their leader for first time in 5,000 years.
                              --headline in today's The Telegraph

At least it's not the Congo Free State Pale Ale

An "exciting" new brew from a Virginia-based beer maker.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Congo, The Plow and the Elephant

I found this on a site that sells posters (, with no accompanying information aside from the caption.
In French Congo, Elephant Trained to Ploughing Giclee Print by French School

I was always of the impression that African elephants couldn't be tamed. So I did a little surfing.

It turns out that there was once an elephant training station in the Garamba Nationa Park in northeastern DRC. I found this write-up about the station on a site offering a recipe for elephant soup:

A much harder beast to domesticate

Between 1900 and 1950, the elephant training station in the Belgian Congo evidently succeeded in training about one hundred African elephants, which were used for transportation and to clear vegetation. The tradition continues: a few trained elephants and elephant trainers can still be found at the African Elephant Domestication Center at Gangala-na-Bodio, near Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Elephants from the Center are used to carry tourists on game-viewing safaris. American filmmaker Paul Hoefler visited the elephant training station in the Belgian Congo and described it in his book, Africa Speaks: A Story of Adventure (The Chronicle of the first Trans-African Journey by Motor Truck from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to Lagos on the Atlantic, through Central Equatorial Africa) (Philadelphia: John Winston Company, 1931):
For many years the Belgian government has maintained a training station for elephants at Wanda [, Belgian Congo]. From the wild herds that roam in the surrounding forests, they capture young animals and these are brought to the post for a course in discipline. They are then sold to plantations or to the missions. The African animal is quite different from the Indian species, a much harder beast to domesticate, never becoming entirely docile. Until the Belgians undertook this work, it was thought impossible to train the African elephant. They have succeeded to a certain extent, but the results obtained are small considering the amount effort and time expended, and it is not likely that this animal will ever become a great aid to mankind, comparable to his Indian cousin.
And here's a little more information about the station, with a grainy black and white video of the elephants.

Two Wonderful Photos

No comments, I just happened to come across these recently and thought I'd pass them on.

Bukavu, March 2012, from Tumbler, Dynamic Africa
But where in Bukavu is there an embankment like this?

From an old National Geographic Photo Shoot

Less Sexy, but More Deadly?

Crops Cultivated on Shores of Lake Kivu, Gisenyi, Rwanda
by Ariadne Van Zandbergen
(In the foreground are cassava plants; behind are banana trees)
The deadliest killers in central Africa right now may not be M23, the FDLR, or Joseph Kony. Instead they might be little-discussed crop diseases that are destroying the livelihood of potentially millions of subsistence farmers. Among them are mosaic and brown streak disease, which ravage cassava crops, and xanthomonas wilt, colloquially known as Banana Aids, which wipes out bananas and plantains. This report by IRIN makes for grim reading.

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of these crops to the people of eastern Congo. Some 70 to 80 percent of the region's population are subsistence farmers. While they grow a variety of other crops, including sweet potato, beans and rice, the two most important crops in the region are cassava and bananas. It is fair to say that they are to eastern Congo what potatoes were to Ireland in the 1840s. (Although the two crops are often seen growing side by side, as in the photo above, most farmers rely primarily on one or the other as their main food crop--there is some specialization depending on the altitude and soil.)

The map shows the prevalence of stunting* among
children 5 and younger; it was 46 percent in South Kivu
in 2008, before the recent outbreak of crop diseases.
Remember that these diseases are proliferating in a region already marked by extensive malnutrition. Various estimates made prior to the spread of these diseases placed the incidence of childhood malnutrition at 40 to 50 percent. The impact of an epidemic of crop diseases on people already living on the thinnest margin of survival is hard to imagine.

The IRIN report on the effects of the banana disease on Idjwi Island is troubling for two reasons. First, it suggests that combating the disease requires bureaucratic and organizational skills beyond the capacity of the Congolese state. Second, it portrays a society in the process of unraveling as a result of the strain imposed by hunger and need. The report quotes one inhabitant, “It's all of social life which deconstructs: we are seeing an increase in theft and conflict in communities, and instances of mob justice are increasing and are particularly violent. ... People are helpless. In addition, false rumours are circulating and we need to combat them.”

Anyone who has lived in an African village for any length of time knows that bonds of reciprocity and obligation enable villagers to survive hard times. (That is not to indulge in the myth of Ye Olde Africa: relationships within villages can be as acrimonious and complicated as those in any Sherwood Anderson story.) But if it is true that those bonds have begun to weaken and break, that bodes ill for the region's internal stability and social capital.

This is yet another reason to be worried about the impact of the DF-1502 inspired embargo on Kivu minerals. I suspect that among their responsibilities, the young men who worked as artisanal miners were expected to support their extended families during lean times. Just as American families distribute their retirement savings among several classes of stocks, bonds, and real estate, some Congolese families probably multiplied their survival strategies by sending some of their young men to the mines. (The classic study of how African families arbitrage their risks is Sara Berry's Fathers Work for their Sons.) The loss of mining income in the context of a food production crisis could be catastrophic in a way that either loss on its own would not be. I warned about this possibility earlier; I want to reiterate my concern here and call, once again, for a thorough impact assessment of DF-1502. Idjwi might be the perfect place to start.

*A child's growth is considered stunted if he or she is minus two standard deviations from median height for age of reference population.

Quote of the Day

The single most successful U.S. agricultural development program in history was the restoration of Afghanistan's heroin industry.
                                    --David Rothkopf, "Obama's Debacle" in Foreign Policy

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Modest Proposal

Over at, Daniel Altman proposes a cheap, sustainable way to give the poor real power in their societies.

And The Onion has finally gotten to the bottom of why Africa lags behind other continents in economic development.

More Confirmation

Here is further confirmation that Dodd-Frank is having unintended consequences, from a reporter who actually traveled to Nyabibwe, one of the mining towns in South Kivu:

In the United States, a new law - section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank legislation - demands that any company that might be using conflict minerals register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In Europe, meanwhile, the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has been meeting to tighten guidelines on dealing with conflict minerals.
The Nyabibwe mine and its community have become a test case - and it is hurting.
Known locally as the Obama law, the Dodd-Frank legislation has prompted big American and European buyers of tin to pull out rather than register and be tainted by the stigma of conflict minerals.
"The price has gone down, and I haven't been paid," says Nambibwe tin trader Kubisibwa Shihi.
"We are having a price imposed on us that has nothing to do with the world price."
The company that owes Mr Shishi money is run by Cirimwami Benjamen, in the regional capital Bukavu.
It is only about 50 miles away, but the roads here are appalling so it is a four-hour drive.
In Mr Benjamen's run-down yard stand lines of blue drums filled with tin, waiting to be sold.
"The Americans just stopped buying," says Mr Benjamen.
"We have debts and we owe money. Now we've found a Chinese company that might buy our stock."

Quote of the Day

House Republican witnesses Dr. Laura Seay, assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College, and Mvemba Dizolele, distinguished visiting fellow of the Hoover Institution and Stanford University, sided with House Tea Party Caucus member and Chairman of the Subcommittee Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), as well as with industry lobby groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers by testifying against 1502.
      -- The Enough Project blog, Profits vs. People: House Subcommittee Debates Costs of 1502

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quote of the Day

Between now and 2050, an additional 2 billion people will join the world population . . .; of these, every second person will be an African.
                                        --Five Reasons Why Africa Should Take Off, by Wolfgang Fengler