"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


the pity party

In my last post, I asked, "If you took all the stories about African countries in American newspapers and removed those about poverty, disease, and war, I wonder what would be left?"

Ryan Briggs has an answer for the New York Times. I think it shows that the vast majority of their coverage is the story of general misery. Why? Some of it is valid. There is a lot of poverty, disease, and, unfortunately, war on the continent.

But the pity party is only part of the thousands of stories on the continent. It's unfortunate that a journalist can't get a headline in the NYT when he or she writes about women's cooperative associations or churches that take over the management of schools in order to keep them open or what it's like to dance under the Congolese stars until all hours of the night.

There are aspects of African states that are beautiful and peaceful and wonderful. There are people who make extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of others. But they don't usually make headlines.


we're all gonna die someday

And now there's a new, extra-nasty, related-to-Ebola virus that could kill you next.

Sigh. If you took all the stories about African countries in American newspapers and removed those about poverty, disease, and war, I wonder what would be left? A few travel articles about luxury safari camps, for sure. And maybe something about environmental degradation. But not much else.

this & that returns

  • Ryan Briggs made a really cool map of NYT coverage of African countries in the last three decades. Not surprisingly, there seems to be a very clear preference for English-speaking countries and place with nasty wars.
  • The day I have this cheating student is the day I break down and cry.
  • The Atlantic looks at Zuma.
  • Via Africa is a Country, a piece on Congo's empty lakes. The reporter is painfully overdramatic, but she gets the story told. And it's one that needs to be heard.
  • The pressure is on the UN to stop the planned MONUC/FARDC Kimia II offensive in South Kivu - or at least to ensure that civilians are protected in the process. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and predict that the offensive will rout out a few rebels, lead to massive human suffering, and do little to resolve any of the region's problems. Just a guess.
  • Grant at Mo'dernity, Mo'Problems proposes a unique metric by which to measure governance.
  • Oh, I hope my flight won't be like this. Please, please don't let my flight be like this. (HT: Chris Blattman)
  • In a tiny bit of good news, the swine flu is not in Kinshasa. Yet.
  • Here's a BBC article that's basically on the topic of our pirate paper.
  • Via @bloodandmilk, this is even worse than the Belgian clowns.
  • People BET on the spelling bee? I just get emotionally involved. And admittedly amused that "caliche" was a word that killed some poor kid's dreams of spelling bee glory. Apparently America's best young spellers don't hail from West Texas.


meanwhile, back at the ranch

Well, things are heating up on this side of the Atlantic with Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The conservatives (who were pretty obviously geared up to bash any and every nominee regardless of personal heritage and/or judicial temperament) and the liberals (who were pretty obviously ready to defend the same) are at each other's throats already, and the distinguished members of the United States Senate seem to mostly be keeping their mouths shut.

One story you may or may not have seen in the past couple of days has to do with Sotomayor's Compelling Personal Story. Not only is she a Latina woman who grew up in public housing in the Bronx and lost her father at age nine, etc., but Judge Sotomayor also lives with Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed at age eight.

Which is awesome, if you, like me, happen to also live with Type 1 diabetes.

You have to understand that kids, especially young ones, who have Type 1 are constantly told they can't do things. We "can't play certain sports," or "can't go on crazy trips around the world." It might offset the delicate balance between insulin, carbohydrates, exercise, and stress that we spend our days calculating. I've written before about how wonderful my parents were to not put those limits on me, but for a lot of kids with Type 1, it happens.

There have already been rumblings on some of the blogs and even in legitimate news sources as to whether Sotomayor's diabetes means that she is a risky pick for the bench. As a number of leading endocrinologists have told the press, it should be a "non-issue" that is completely irrelevant in determining whether she is fit to hold the federal bench.

That doesn't mean that there isn't a truckload of misinformation going around out there. The people who care a lot about diabetes are urging those of us who live with Type 1 to make this a teachable moment for America. So here's my attempt to contribute to that moment. There is no reason to worry at all about Sotomayor's status as a Type 1 diabetic. As a Type 1 blogger at Diabetes Mine points out, "Being a judge is a desk job ... all she needs is can of regular Coke handy, just in case. And btw, Sotomayor’s been performing the judge job for over 15 years already."

Exhibit A: Time's pitiful explanation of Type 1 which conflates statistics on complications in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics and gets the explanation of the mysterious workings of insulin pumps completely wrong (there's nothing permanent about it).

Why is this a problem? Because the disease takes different forms and is treated differently. Although they are both diabetes, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease with trigger causes that we don't fully understand. Type 1 strikes seemingly randomly; patients are at all levels of health and may or may not have a family history of the disease. Since almost all Type 1 diabetics are diagnosed in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, Type 1's tend to be very attuned to how our bodies work. Since using insulin is the only way to treat type 1, we have to learn how to manage the disease at an early age. (I walk around all day calculating carbohydrates and thinking about exercise times. It's second nature.)

By contrast, we know how Type 2 works. People who are diagnosed with Type 2 are generally not taking very good care of their bodies to begin with. Since many are diagnosed in middle and older age (although there's a frightening spike in the number of children being diagnosed with Type 2), it can be more difficult to learn treatment regimes and to adjust eating and exercise habits appropriately.

That distinction is why you have to separate out the statistics on the secondary complications of diabetes in Type 1's and Type 2's. Someone who was ill enough to be diagnosed with Type 2 is going to be more likely to have a heart attack for fairly obvious reasons. It's like comparing apples to kumquats, and it's downright irresponsible of Time to not be more careful.

Exhibit B: Jeffrey Toobin's moronic comments that reflect a complete lack of understanding of the fact that diabetes is a manageable disease. Need I say more?

Setting aside the unsurprising fact that Toobin clearly doesn't know a darn thing about the treatment and management of Type 1 diabetes, this is a pretty amazing event. You have no idea what the presence of a prominent woman in a prestigious career does for little girls living with this disease. (And much as I love Mary Tyler Moore, I'm so glad that for once, those girls have a role model outside of the entertainment industry.) For once, the President of the United States will join the chorus of voices saying that the inconvenience of Type 1 diabetes doesn't have to limit any kid from doing anything.

If the Republicans really want to risk the wrath of America's diabetics by stirring up opposition to Sotomayor's nomination on health grounds, bring it on. I think they'll be surprised to see the strange bedfellows such an attempt would make. Bring it.


but they make nice planters

There's a fun contest going on over at the Good Intentions Are Not Enough blog: what's the most inappropriate in-kind donation out there? So far, the leading contender is a donation of used brassieres to Haiti. I've entered my all-time favorite, the Soviet donation of snowplows to Guinea circa 1958. (Really. My master's thesis adviser saw them with his own eyes.) They also have a great post about the reasons that in-kind donations to developing countries aren't always/usually a good idea.

If you're looking for useful critiques on making foreign aid effective by, say, not sending snowplows to West Africa, here's a very thoughtful piece.

if at first you don't succeed...

...you can always behave like a petulant child. That's what Niger's President Mamadou Tandja is doing Since his country's constitutional court won't let him run for a third term, he dissolved Parliament. Because if the judicial system says you can't do something, the best course of action is attacking the legislature. Clearly.

The best part of the article in what is otherwise just another account of one of the last gasps of the era of open disregard for democracy and the rule of law in West Africa? The reference to Niger as "uranium-rich," a distinction that never would've made it into this story were it not for the sordid Valerie Plame/Scooter Libbey/we all know it was Dick Cheney affair. And they say nothing new ever happens in Niamey.


the reality of reverse migration

It does happen. The growth of the middle class (and accompanying amenities like internet access, mortgage loans, and cheap automobiles) in places like Nairobi and Accra means that returning to some African countries from the west isn't as unthinkable as it used to be:
"While that may seem counterintuitive to Americans accustomed to bleaker images of Africa, recent studies have documented the flight of immigrant professionals from the United States to their home countries. Chinese and Indian workers increasingly say they see better opportunities and lifestyles at home. And diaspora associations of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans and other Africans say their members -- mostly from middle-class backgrounds -- are joining the exodus, choosing life in the land of slow Internet connections and power outages over the pressures of recession-era America.

"...In a broad sense, the return migration to Africa is in line with studies suggesting that despite persistent poverty and civil unrest in places such as Congo, Somalia and Sudan, much of the continent has been buoyed in recent years by a sense of optimism driven by economic growth. Pew Research Center studies tracking global attitudes have found that people's level of satisfaction with their quality of life is rising across much of Africa, while it has stayed level or decreased in the United States."
Note that while the author frames this phenomenon as a direct response to the current recession, the subject of her story mostly cites issues that have little to do with the downturn. He and his wife returned to Kenya because of fears about the values their children were learning in America, their health, and the safety of their family, as well as the hectic nature and expense of life in the United States. Seems a healthy life on the shores of Lake Victoria won out over worry in the Dallas suburbs.


this aggression will not stand

My jaw dropped when I read Jeffrey Sachs' attack on foreign aid expert and NYU professor Bill Easterly in the Huffington Post. Sachs, a prominent figure in the world of rich white people who convene in fancy hotels to talk about ways to help poor brown people, lumps in Easterly with Dambisa Moyo (whose recent book argues that foreign aid only hurts Africa) as an "opponent of foreign aid" with complete disregard for nuance, civility, and the facts.

This is ludicrous and Sachs knows it. Easterly does not denounce all foreign aid programs. Anyone who has actually read his work knows so. He simply asks, as the subtitle of his excellent Aid Watch blog proclaims, that aid actually benefit the poor. Easterly doesn't believe that programs planned in European and American capitals generally do so, and he contends that trusting locals and the free market to solve their own economic development problems is usually more effective.

He has a point. The long record of failed aid programs in the developing world that wasted billions of dollars and the failure of a long list of countries to develop in any meaningful sense in the last fifty years makes it clear that something is horribly wrong in our current system of foreign aid. Sachs does nothing to give a fair presentation of Easterly's actual views. It's not that Easterly opposes all forms of aid; it's that he opposes stupid aid that disregards the needs, preferences, and lifestyles of the recipients. An undergraduate reading one of Easterly's articles would understand the distinction. I am quite certain that Sachs does as well.

It's unfortunate that Sachs chose to include this sort of personal attack in what was otherwise a decent post on the ways that some foreign aid does help the world's poor through the provision of lifesaving medicines and access to clean drinking water. Sachs also points out the disingenuousness of those who denounce all aid programs but are themselves the recipients of foreign assistance. But he destroyed a lot credibility by digressing into an entirely unnecessary attack.

It's fine to disagree with the views of any given scholar; after all, that's mostly what graduate school trains us to do. I certainly don't agree with everything Easterly writes, but that doesn't give me license to blatantly misrepresent his claims. A person of Sachs' prominence should know better.

UPDATE: Easterly responds to Sachs here. Thanks to reader Lauren for the tip.


precious moments

It's graduation and Memorial Day weekend, so I'm taking a couple of days off from the blog. Have a great weekend, whatever you're celebrating!

(Photo: via the always-fabulous Cake Wrecks blog)


covering south kivu

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great interview with Franchou Namegabe Nabintu, one of the founding members of AFEM, a South Kivu organization dedicated to assisting and training women journalists. AFEM's members broadcast stories on Radio Maendeleo and other outlets throughout the region. They have a particular focus on issues affecting women.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:
"It was not seen as a good thing at first. Women are not supposed to talk in front of men; it was difficult to get started. Any female journalist talking to different personalities and in contact with many people, they were accused of being prostitutes, etc. ...Many people didn't accept the idea that a young lady could speak to a larger audience. It was certainly a challenge to get people to understand that Congolese women had a right to free speech. Due to our experience, other young ladies started to join us."
The last time I was in the offices of Radio Maendeleo, a group of thirty or so women from Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda were just finishing up a two-week training stint sponsored by AFEM. Their passion and intensity is just incredible; even the most casual observer in that room knew that these women are not to be trifled with and that they would get to the truth no matter what else happened. Hats off to Namegabe Nabintu and her colleagues for the fantastic work they do in very difficult circumstances.


what causes badvocacy?

I've gotten a fair amount of criticism for some posts on problems with various advocacy groups of late, both in comments and in the inbox. On Tuesday, an anonymous commenter asked the following excellent question:
"Do you think this current round of advocacy focusing on the conflict in Congo as a resource driven war is worse than no advocacy at all?"
Here's part of my answer:
"...as many others before me have pointed out, advocacy needs to be intelligent. When you present information that isn't accurately descriptive of the dynamics of the situation, advocacy groups can sometimes do more harm than good (See: Save Darfur, Invisible Children).

"Well-intentioned but off-base advocacy tends to lead to bad policy (and to celebrities traipsing around regions pontificating on issues they don't really understand). If advocacy doesn't help to solve crises and if it does little or nothing to improve the lives of those who are suffering, then, no, I don't think it's better than nothing."
Why is so much Africa-focused advocacy in the United States so off-base? What leads to bad advocacy, or badvocacy? ("Badvocacy" is a good catch-all term to describe advocacy that begins with great intentions to help those who are suffering, but that at best accomplishes nothing or at worst actually makes the problem even more difficult to solve.) I can think of a few reasons:
  • Oversimplification of the issue. Oversimplifying conflicts is probably the most common mistake American advocacy groups make. As George Kennan noted long ago, Americans tend to seek a single external source of evil for all of the world's problems. It makes sense that most of us would instinctively try to narrow complex conflicts down to make them understandable to normal people. After all, it's a lot easier to call the war in Congo a "resource war" than to explain that what's going on there now is actually a series of ongoing local conflicts over land, ethnicity, resources, and governance with local, national, regional, and international dimensions (some of which have to do with the civil and international wars of 1996 and 1998-2003 and others that do not) in which dozens of local defense militias, national armies, and rebel groups fight over various objectives that tend to change and alliances and loyalties that constantly shift. That doesn't really fit on a t-shirt.
  • Western-conceived solutions. The vast majority of peacekeeping missions, peacebuilding efforts, and conflict resolution plans are conceived in New York, Washington, and Brussels, often by people who have never or rarely visited the countries they purport to help. Perhaps you've noticed that these so-called solutions rarely work. That's why I'm a big believer in looking to local leaders to find answers whenever possible. As Suraj Sudhakar points out in a great post, that people are poor and live in a conflict zone does not mean they are stupid. Civil society leaders are well aware of their communities' problems. And they usually have ideas as to how to solve those problems, or at the very least to mitigate the effects of violent conflict on civilian populations. They speak the languages, know the cultures, and can mediate among the key players in local socio-political dynamics. This doesn't mean that there's no room for Western assistance. It does mean, however, that advocates on this side of the Atlantic should be asking intelligent victims of war what they think would help rather than insisting that the experts know best. We should listen to Somalis when they tell us that the development of a functioning coast guard would help to combat piracy better than ridiculous efforts to patrol half of the Indian Ocean. They know that of which they speak!
  • Focus on celebrities and trendiness rather than intelligent analysis. This is Save Darfur's problem. Everybody opposes genocide, of course, and the suffering of innocents is something we should all be committed to ending wherever it happens in the world. The problem, however, is that when people who are trained as actors and musicians start traipsing around war zones without having done any homework independent of the organization supporting their visits, we tend to get a narrative that isn't exactly representative of the facts. So Darfur in the popular imagination becomes not a civil war over changing land usability and land tenure rights with people doing horrible things on both sides, but rather becomes the nasty Arab government going after innocent black Darfuris. The reality, of course, is closer to the former description than the latter, but I don't expect Mia Farrow to know that. Because Mia Farrow is an actress.
  • Focus on the advocates rather than those they purport to help. Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Invisible Children's work, which is apparently a cardinal sin these days. (If Oprah likes them, clearly I'm in a first-class seat on the slow train to hell.) There are many reasons I think IC is not worth supporting, but among the most paramount is the fact that most of their advocacy isn't actually focused on Ugandan children, but rather on how their supporters feel about Ugandan children and the problem of the use of child soldiers. Hence a series of films that do more to tell us about the filmmakers than to explain the conflict, events that focus on protesters spending the night waiting to be "rescued" from their campouts, and a merchandise line that would appal any well-mannered Ugandan. As we've discussed before, for all their movies and talk show appearances, IC has done very little to actually help many Ugandan children, and they are very poorly regarded by Ugandans in the reason. Good advocacy isn't about the advocates; it's about the people who need others to stand up on their behalf.
  • The insistence that "we have to do something." Amanda at Wronging Rights has a fantastic post on this issue. (Also, anyone else jealous that Bill Easterly reads their blog?!?) The human impulse to protect others is a generally a good one. But insisting that WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING OR PEOPLE WILL KEEP DYING doesn't always mean that the "something" in question should be done. Too often, Westerners get involved in conflicts we don't really understand. And not surprisingly, bad things tend to ensue (cf Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc.). That we don't know exactly what would solve the problem in a place like Somalia is not a good enough reason to take action for its own sake. The risk of doing more harm than good is too high. In many cases, it might be better to step back, make efforts to support local political solutions, and to focus on purely humanitarian assistance and civilian protection for awhile.
  • The white man's/woman's burden. Related to the problem of Western-conceived solutions to African problems, this is probably the most grating aspect of many Africa-focused adovcacy programs. Young people get excited about truly appalling situations, and, like generations of missionaries and colonists before them, they decide they're going to "Save Africa." This generally leads to discussions of being "a voice for the voiceless." Here's the problem with that: Africans aren't voiceless. In eleven years of experience on the continent, I've never met a citizen of an African state who didn't have opinions on his or her country and its state of affairs. It's true that many don't have access to platforms through which to speak to those in power, although the explosive growth of the African blogosphere suggests that cheap internet access is rapidly changing this state of affairs. There's a big difference between claiming to speak for someone and standing alongside those who want to change their own communities. Africa-focused advocacy could use a lot more of the latter.
What would you add to this list?

Update: Bill Easterly has a nice discussion of the "doing nothing" vs. "doing something" debate going on over at Aid Watch today.



had enough

Oh, my word.

I heard that Keith Olbermann sang "Plastic Jesus" on Countdown last night, so I clicked over to YouTube. And this is what I saw.

Sweet land. How on earth does having the kids make YouTube videos about "the link between our cell phones and the violence in Congo" in hopes of winning a trip to Los Angeles help anyone?

I've already written about my view that the war in Congo is not primarily a resource war, but is rather a complex conflict that at this point is driven primarily by longstanding conflicts over land tenure rights and citizenship issues. While access to the minerals is one problem, it is but one among many, and it is certainly not the engine driving violence there.

Clearly the folks at Enough disagree with my assessment. That's fine. We all recognize that the situation in Congo is multifacted and requires a response on multiple levels.

What's not fine, however, is oversimplifying the nature of the situation to advocates, as this campaign is now doing. The act of buying a cell phone does not cause war in the Congo, and it's downright misleading to suggest otherwise. Why? Because it implies that if we could just stop the conflict mineral trade, the situation would markedly improve.

That could not be further from the truth. Ending the conflict mineral trade will do nothing to address the complete breakdown in governance that makes it possible for armed militias to terrorize local populations. Ending the conflict mineral trade will not end the culture of corruption and debrouillez-vous that defines Congolese life from top to bottom. Nor will it rebuild the justice system, reform the security sector, or rebuild the border security regime. Ending the conflict mineral trade will not settle any questions regarding the citizenship status of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese civilians. Nor will it settle the fights over who owns the plantations and smaller plots of land in Masisi.

Most of these problems predate the 1996-2003 wars, which is when the fights to control the mines began. These old issues are not going to go away just because some kid in Peoria makes a spiffy video about coltan.

I respect what Raise Hope for Congo and the Enough Project are trying to do by drawing attention to the Congo conflict. There should be a concerted effort among people of good will to pressure the United States government to take the Congo conflict seriously.

But simplifying a very complex situation by calling it a consumer-driven resource war does a great disservice to those they are trying to help. And I fear it will have very little impact.


missed opportunity

Over the weekend the Obama administration announced that the President's first visit to a sub-Saharan African country will be to Ghana. Some eyebrows were raised due to the fact that he's not going to Kenya, but come on. POTUS visits to Africa are doled out like candy to well-behaved children. Sitting American presidents never visit places where there is the slightest hint of tension. Instead, they visit countries as a way of rewarding progress towards good governance and not being explicitly involved in regional conflicts. (Hence the high number of presidential visits to Mali under the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations.)

In this sense, Ghana's a pretty good choice. It's super-stable, the economy is growing, and there will be an opportunity for a poignant photo-op at the Cape Coast Castle, a former slave transit site. Nothing particularly interesting will come of it, but it will be a nice feel-good moment.

Obama's decision not to go to Kenya, his father's homeland, is significant but unsurprising. Tensions in Kenya are still high over last year's election debacle. The Mungiki gang's activities continue and the government's response to both situations has been somewhat less than ideal, what with all the death squads and whatnot.

It's interesting, though, that American presidents actively avoid conflict when traveling to Africa. This can't all be attributed to security issues; presidents regularly travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, and any number of other places where they're much more likely to be assassinated. Why do they do this? Part of it has to do with a general fear of "Africa" on the part of the Secret Service, etc. But the postcolonial legacy also plays a role. African countries are generally viewed by American policymakers as immature basket cases, not as functional states. In some cases this is a fair assessment; in others, it is not.

More importantly, however, is the impact that a presidential visit could have on a less-than-perfect situation in a place like Kenya or Uganda, or, dare I say it, the Congo. If anything could force disputing parties to the table in most African countries, it's a visit from Barack Obama. His presence alone would attract such a degree of attention and respect that serious, high-level negotations could occur. Here's hoping the president will choose to take a risk on his next visit to the continent.

because MDG-awareness is at least as important as basic public order

Looking for a job in international development? Has UNDP got a job for you!


we interrupt our regularly scheduled coverage...

... of war, corruption, and misery because today is the date of a Very Important Annual Event: the Eurovision Song Contest finals, this year coming to us on a time-delay from Moscow. Longtime readers of Texas in Africa know that I absolutely adore Eurovision. I wait all year for the nonsensical lyrics, bad lip-synching, and out-of-nowhere props.

What's so great about Eurovision? It's partly that the ludicrous definition of "Europe" used to determine who participates includes everything from Iceland to Azerbaijan. It's also one of the few times when you can see jingoistic nationalism play out in real time. The Turks never vote for the Greeeks and vice-versa. And then there's the flat out nuttiness of some of the acts. And the trying to figure out whether the Swedes entered a woman or a drag queen.

Basically, it's totally awesome.

Given Our Tough Economic Times, most of the acts this year are unfortunately fairly low key. Most of the truly wacky, can't miss ones are from Greece, Romania, Bosnia & Hercegovina, and Albania. Apparently wasting money on over-the-top crazy never goes out of style in the Balkans. Especially when it involves break-dancing mimes and an alien stalker-lover:

Then there's Ukraine, which, as per usual, defies explanation:

I hope no children were watching.

Oh, and Norway has a fiddler surrounded by acrobats. But Finland totally topped that with the flaming baton twirlers.


hobbes in the congo

Here's one of the great mysteries of our age: why, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on peacekeeping, peace deal negotiations, democracy promotion, humanitarian aid, development assistance, and celebrity awareness-raising, is the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo still an anarchic war zone? Why don't any of these efforts result in the creation of a peaceful, stable Kivu region?

My friend Severine Autesserre has a fantastic article in the new issue of International Organization that tackles part of this question. The piece, entitled, "Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention," is well worth your time. (You'll need access to Cambridge Journals to read it in full.) In it, Autesserre attempts to explain why diplomats and others engaged in peacebuilding processes "neglect to address the local causes of peace process failures, particularly when they threaten the macro-level settlements."

It's a question well worth answering, and the article beautifully summarizes the main arguments in Autesserre's forthcoming book. Using a constructivist approach that focuses on how international actors framed events and norms, she identifies four key reasons that international actors failed (and continue to fail) to focus on the local-level conflicts that are at the root of the DRC's troubles:
  1. The situation was labelled as a "post-conflict" despite the reality of continuing warfare on the ground.
  2. International actors believe that a certain minimal level of violence is "normal" and therefore acceptable for the eastern Congo.
  3. International actors believed that international action was not appropriate at the subnational level.
  4. International norms prioritize the holding of democratic elections over local conflict resolution as the best way to build the state and to create peace.
Autessere masterfully explains how these four erroneous frames doomed peacebuilding efforts in the Congo almost from the start. Again and again, diplomats, peacekeepers, NGO officials, and UN personnel oversimplified situations, ignored key crises, and very rarely attempted to intervene in local-level conflicts - despite the fact that "most violence was driven by micro-level conflict." Moreover, defining local conflicts as outside the realm of international involvment meant that diplomats couldn't even talk to the leaders of rebel movements and militias that wreaked (and continue to wreak) so much havoc in the east. Bad framing also led to the overemphasis on mineral looting as a governance problem, despite the fact that "the few NGO's that worked on local conflict resolution in the eastern provinces contested" that understanding.

The diplomatic world of the Congo - especially in the east - is an echo chamber. World Bank experts or Kinshasa-based diplomats fly in for a few days (on a MONUC plane), check into the Hotel Ihusi, and talk to the same limited number of Francophone Congolese sources that their MONUC escorts always cite in their reports. One narrative tends to dominate their accounts. It's repeated by almost every white person in the region until it becomes gospel truth. The problem is, this narrative is usually wrong. As Autesserre notes, short-term visits tend to "provide participants with only basic snapshots of the local situations," further narrowing their focus away from the region's most serious problems.

Finally, Autesserre discusses the ridiculous overemphasis on holding elections that permeated the international community's response to the conflict. This, she argues, resulted from post-Cold War norms. Elections were the "obvious" or "natural" choice for statebuilding and the way to guarantee international peace. While the elections went mostly smoothly (except, you know, for the battle between Bemba's private army and Kabila's government forces in the streets of Kinshasa six months later), the advent of so-called democracy has done little to improve the lives of anyone in the east. In fact, the situation has gotten worse since 2006, leading to much disillusionment with the idea of democracy.

Autesserre makes a convincing argument that "a transition process carefully planned over ten years to build a lasting peace at all levels, reconstruct the administrative and economic capacity of the country, minimize visible international interference, develop the preconditions for free and fair elections, and explain the advantages of this strategy to the population would probably have been received well" by the Congolese.

It also might have worked.


on the watershed

Thanks to reader Sarah K, who noted this fantastic political cartoon about new South African president Jacob Zuma in a comment.


I just got off a flight full of screaming babies, most of whose parents were not as clever as the dad in the row behind me. He convinced his toddlers that the seatbelt light is the "no crying light." And it almost worked given the bumpy nightmare that was air travel through middle America today.

How's that for an excuse for not having a good blog post today? Instead, here are a few newish blogs you really should be reading:
  • Rachel Strohm's Development Dailyis a great look at humanitarian and development work from someone on the ground in central Africa. I was going to link to her post entitled "A comparative taxonomy of African cliches" before everyone else did. (Really.) Thank goodness I'm not an Africanus impecunius polisci. Yet.
  • Intelligent Advocacy is brand spankin' new and looks very promising thus far. The goal of the site's author is "to make the point that, while the problems facing the poor both in the United States and the global South are jarringly obvious, the solutions to those problems are pretty complicated." We here at Texas in Africa totally support that.
  • I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again until you're all regular readers: Mo'dernity, Mo'problems is a trip.
  • This blog obviously isn't new, but Professor Blattman has an excellent post/summary of Popper on theory building. One day, those of us who haven't given up on inductive reasoning are going to win. The data is on our side. Oh, yes it is.

By the way, now that I'm finished with graduate school and theoretically have some time on my hands, I've been trying to update the old blogroll. If you're linking to Texas in Africa and I'm not linking to your blog and you'd like me to link to your blog, leave a comment or shoot me an email and I'll be glad to return the favor.


it's no lubbock

Via Mark Perry's blog, here's a fascinating map of world alcohol consumption per capita. Check out Africa. I'm trying to figure out what (if anything) explains the variation:
  • The countries with the highest levels of consumption are Nigeria and Burundi. Is there something about massive corruption (Nigeria) or long conflicts (Burundi) that would explain it? If so, why don't we see super-high levels of consumption in places like the Congo?
  • Religion doesn't seem to play a surprising role. Alcohol consumption is low in predominantly Islamic countries and high in places that are mostly Christian or divided in terms of religious tradition.
  • Could it be tourism levels? Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana all have great tourist infrastructures. Each has somewhat elevated or mid-range alcohol consumption levels as well. Then again, so do Angola and Zimbabwe, and no package tourist in his right mind goes on vacation in those places.
  • Maybe it's the presence of international aid workers and other expats. That might explain Burundi; the population is relatively small with a high number of expats relative to that population. (Lakeside Bujumbura is a nice place to be posted, except for the occasional rocket attack.)
  • Price? Is beer cheaper in Nigeria than elsewhere in West Africa? I know that in many places in Eastern and Central Africa, beer is often less expensive than bottled water.
  • Other economic factors might matter. Poverty is so widespread on the continent, but there are real differences between countries in relation to GDP and economic growth. I don't see a pattern here at all.
  • Might colonial heritage have something to do with it? Among those with elevated consumption levels are lots of former British colonies - Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. An even clearer pattern emerges when you look at former German colonies (Germany lost all its colonies after World War I. They were divided up and other colonial powers took control of the territories as protectorates. Just before World War II, one of the more moronic parts of Nevile Chamberlain's appeasement plan was to return the African colonies to Hitler. Hitler declined the offer.): Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Namibia, and Cameroon all fit the description.
  • Of course, there's some correlation with being a post-conflict situation, which probably means that the presence of international humanitarian aid and development workers skews the results. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, and Angola all have elevated consumption levels. DR Congo does not, but it's not really post anything as of yet.
I really have no idea what explains the variation here, but it's interesting to ponder the possibilities. If nothing else, this proves that graduate school has ruined me for good. I can't even look at a simple map of where the drunks are without trying to find an independent variable. Anyone else have any ideas?


museveni, um, tuesdays

"Uganda is not my property; I am just here as one of the players." (2003)

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congo watch

Crisis Group has a new Congo report out this week. They point out the obvious: that the "joint" Rwanda-Congo operation to rout out the FDLR basically accomplished nothing. Beyond disarming the FDLR, most of the rest of their ideas for improving the situation focus on strengthening institutions in the judicial, governance, economic, political, and human security sectors.

Overall, it's a pretty good view of the problems on the ground and ideas for addressing them. I don't like that their judicial reform suggestions focus mostly on combating sexual violence. Judicial reform and capacity-building is needed in every sector, not just the ones that have Eve Ensler's attention.* Crisis Group knows this, but the idea of creating commissions to deal with land issues and reconciliation strike me as a bit too weak to ensure that justice is done.

The report is definitely worth reading, however. Here's one particularly prescient observation:
"During the October-November 2008 crisis in North Kivu, when a humanitarian catastrophe threatened in and around Goma, robust political engagement with national and regional actors did more than troops on the ground to protect civilians. That kind of political engagement needs to be sustained at the highest levels in Kinshasa and the region for peacebuilding in the Kivus to succeed. Putting all efforts into the Kivus without keeping up pressure in Kinshasa for the reforms needed to improve political and economic governance throughout the country would be counterproductive."
Exactly. This is a really nice way of saying that when the West forced Rwanda's hand, Kagame and company had to behave themselves, as did the gang of criminals who run the government in Kinshasa.

In other depressing news from the region, we have this, this, and this.

*Props to Amanda over at Wronging Rights for bringing to my attention to the fact that most judicial reform efforts in the Kivus focus only on justice for victims of sexual violence rather than attempting to truly fix the justice system as a whole.


who doesn't?!?

The new U.S. envoy to the Sudan is Scott Gration. According to The Economist, Mr. Gration was born in the Congo to missionary parents and speaks Swahili. While I certainly think that some degree of familiarity with the region is a useful skill for an envoy, the fact that Gration speaks Swahili is almost completely irrelevant given that almost no one in the Sudan speaks Swahili.

Sometimes I get tired.

(HT: @andrewmjones)

the unthinkable

The unthinkable happened this weekend: the city of my birth, Lubbock County, Texas voted to go wet. By a nearly 2-1 margin. With more than 40,000 people showing up to vote early.

Those of you not from God's Country cannot possibly understand the significance of this vote. Lubbock is one of the most conservative cities in America. Its preachers and community leaders did all they could for the last 82 years to keep most liquor sales restricted to a classy place known as the Strip. As Texas Monthly reporter Katy Vine notes, George W. Bush lost his 1978 Congressional race in part because he had a keg party in the district. Lubbock going wet is so bizarre it's almost impossible to contemplate

That sound you just heard? It's the city's former leaders rolling in their graves. My great-grandfather, who decades ago was pastor of the largest Church of Christ west of the Mississippi, probably wouldn't believe it, but you'd better believe he would've preached against it. (I'm not so sure what his wife would've thought - or how she would've voted. The first thing my grandma did upon learning of her mother's death was book it to Lubbock in order to get the bourbon out of the pantry before the good ladies of the Church of Christ got to the house.)

I have a feeling that the legalization of package liquor sales in Lubbock won't change the culture that much, although it will certainly shut down the Strip. As a TABC official told KCBD television, state law prohibits alcohol sales within 1,000 feet of schools and daycares and within 300 feet of churches. There aren't many commercially-zoned places in Lubbock that meet those criteria.

Still, if I were in Lubbock, I'd be keeping an eye out for four horsemen and flying pigs. Next thing you know, they'll let the Dixie Chicks back into town.

UPDATE: Daddy informs me that my great-grandmother actually kept the bourbon hidden in her closet. She used it in her boiled custard recipe, but he can't figure out how she got it. Neither of us can see her trekking out to The Strip, that's for sure!


Zuma picks his gal

Well, eager South African presidency-watchers: the Jacob Zuma era officially began today with his swearing-in ceremony in Pretoria. I've found no reports that anyone actually brought Zuma his machine gun, but in other exciting news, it looks like wife #1 won the "Who Gets to Be First Lady" battle in that polygamous marriage. All three women came to the ceremony, but Sizakele Khumalo got to go on stage with her husband and was introduced to the crowd afterwards. Plus she went to the big Zulu party at which many animals were slaughtered in Zuma's honor.

I think this was the right way for Zuma to go on what is obviously an important matter of state. Clearly you can't take some thirty-two-year-old dancing girl to state dinners in Paris and Beijing. Better to go with the voice of reason and experience. Khumalo is apparently quite reserved and uncomfortable in the spotlight, so she won't steal Zuma's thunder. Which is exactly how Zuma like it.

As for the presidency, well, among the dignitaries present at the ceremony were Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qadaffi. (Mugabe got a standing ovation. Way to keep it classy, ANC.) Here's hoping their presence isn't a foretaste of bad governance to come.

(By the way, in researching links for this post, I came across a FOX News piece that says Zuma is possibly "the most controversial figure in African politics" due to his "skirt-chasing" and corruption. Puh-leeze. First, there's no such thing as "African politics" per se because AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY. But in terms of continental politics, Zuma isn't even close to being "the most controversial." You've got to do more than marrying five women, being acquitted of rape charges, and getting corruption charges against you dropped at a very convenient time to claim that title. Try starving your population to death, invading a neighboring country, or forever plotting to crown yourself king of Africa. Then you're controversial.)



I used to be a member of a Facebook group called "Save Darfur after you finish your latte." (Motto: It's cool. You're empowered.)

(I would link to it except that Facebook has changed their platform so much that I can't find groups anymore. Thanks, Zuckerberg.)

This kindof reminds me of that.

(HT: Africa is a Country)


more congo misery

There's a lot going on in Congo this week, none of it good:
  • Today the Congolese parliament voted to give amnesty to rebels in the eastern D.R. Congo. This is one of those impossible dilemmas. Amnesty is a condition for getting many rebel groups to stop fighting and may be the only way to move forward. But it's horribly problematic in that amnesty means that victims of their war crimes and crimes against humanity will be denied justice, which has a tendency to not work out so well. It's telling that many of the votes against the bill came from legislators from the eastern Congo. This law won't play well in Masisi. Legitimating the total impunity that exists there already is a real problem. So is figuring out how to reconstruct the security sector.
  • Derek Catsam has an interesting argument that amnesty may be the "least worst" option given the situation.
  • Nkunda's still sitting in house arrest somewhere in Rwanda, but the Rwandans and Congolese may be moving towards an agreement to transfer him to a third country for trial. Let's see: they need a semi-neutral state that won't ship Nkunda to The Hague at first opportunity. My money's on the Central African Republic.
  • Taking a page from their new friends in Kigali, the Congolese government shut down one of Radio France International's frequencies in Kinshasa.
  • And, last but not least, mother nature's wrath against the Congolese continues. The volcanic observatory in Goma predicts a major eruption in the next two months. These scientists are never wrong. If they say it's going to blow, it's going to blow. Luckily, the more likely candidate for serious destruction by lava is Mt. Nyamulagira, which sits further from urban centers than Mt. Nyiragongo, which sits about 20 kilometers from Goma and currently has low levels of lava built up in its crater. Still, they'll both erupt, and the villagers around Nyamulagira will likely lose their homes and livelihoods. And then there's the whole methane problem...

a resource war by any other name...

In the past six months or so, there's been a concerted push by the Congo activist community (it does exist, believe it or not) to focus on the exploitation of natural resources by the various armed groups and foreign governments operating in the region. Roughly modeled on the campaign to end the use of "conflict diamonds," the idea is that it's possible to end (or at least slow) the conflict in the Congo by cutting demand for minerals like tin, cassetterite, and coltan in the global market. Because many of the armed groups rely on access to the mines to earn money with which they buy weapons, the reasoning goes, getting consumers in the West to push electronics manufacturers to stop sourcing these minerals for their products will choke off the money flow to the armed groups, which presumably will convince the soldiers/rebels/bandits to go to UN demobilization camps, turn in their weapons, and return to life as peasant farmers. Et voila! Peace.

The worst of these efforts suggest that shutting down the conflict mineral trade will more-or-less immediately end the use of rape as a weapon of war. Others take a more nuanced approach, recognizing that shutting down the mines or transferring control will create all kinds of livelihood problems for the families who depend on salaries from the mines, among the host of other challenges. What all of these efforts have in common is a view that the resource dimension is a central engine of the Congo conflicts.

I disagree. I don't view the wars in the eastern Congo as resource wars in the academic sense. Violence over access to resources is one dimension of the fighting there, but the roots of the conflict are much more about land tenure and citizenship questions than they are about who gets access to minerals like tin, caseterite, coltan, and gold. The fight over the minerals is an effect of these underlying crises; not the primary, or even tertiary cause of most of the fighting.

Compounding the fight over who gets to be a legal citizen and what extremely fertile and therefore valuable land belongs to whom is the total lack of state capacity in the east, especially in highly contested territories like Masisi and Rutshuru. It's not a coincidence that population density is highest in these areas. The land produces harvests up to three times per year and, when the situation is calm, serves as the regional breadbasket. Ranching operations also supply the region with meat, coffee plantations grow the distinctive central African aribica Bourbon coffee bean that should be a hot commodity on the world market because it's freaking delicious, and the dairy farms produce the best cheese on the continent, hands down.

There's no question that the mineral trade finances the operations of some of the armed groups in the region and that some people are getting very, very rich as a result of their involvement with the mines.

But fighting would continue even if the mines were empty. Cheap weapons will still flow freely through the region's porous borders. Women will still be raped. That's because the fundamental problem in the eastern D.R. Congo is the total breakdown of law and order. Soldiers from every militant group rape and loot and burn down villages because they can. It's a way of terrorizing innocent civilians. Sometimes the motive is access to minerals, but more often, it's about land ownership disputes. Or ethnicity. Or the fact that when you give drunk teenage boys weapons and don't feed them regularly, they're likely to behave badly.

Nicholas Garrett and Harrison Mitchell explain the problem that develops when there's too much of a focus on the resource conflict in the Congo quite nicely in this piece. As they write, "the fundamental problem in Congo is governance failure." Little things like the fact that soldiers in the national army aren't regularly paid tend to complicate matters.

All of the people involved in Congo advocacy are rightfully horrified at what happens to women and girls in the east. But presenting the solution in stark terms ("If we just end the resource trade, the rapes will end.") is misleading, inaccurate, and dangerous. It suggests that the Congo's problems are simple. It suggests that there's a remote possibility of slowing down worldwide demand for the superconductors that power our mobile phones and LCD screens, a prospect I find highly unlikely. And it makes it easier for policy makers and those in positions of influence to continue to ignore the land conflicts and citizenship issues that started the conflicts to begin with. The international community has tried that approach for ten years now, and it hasn't worked.

Maybe these efforts will help. Belgian mineral merchant Traxys announced earlier this week that they will avoid buying minerals from the D.R. Congo. But there are a myriad of problems. How Traxys will manage to actually avoid buying Congolese minerals is unclear. Congolese minerals have a way of acquiring new states of origin en route to the international markets in Dubai and Hong Kong. That's why you probably own something that was cut using Congolese industrial diamonds, despite the fact that those "conflict diamonds" are supposed to be off the market.

What will happen to families who lose their jobs because of Traxys' move is another question. Enough says that there have to be alternative livelihoods programs, but it's not at all clear what these would be. As Garrett and Mitchell note, the international community can't tell poor Congolese people that they just need to change jobs. There aren't any other jobs. Then there's the issue of what happens to the mines. Enough proposes having MONUC secure them until the governance and security situations improve. But given MONUC's track record on issues involving peacekeepers and corruption, I'm not convinced that's a good idea.

At its heart, the focus on conflict minerals is a Western effort, not a Congolese one. Is another internationally-proposed solution that ignores the ideas of the very people advocates purport to help really what the Congolese people want and need? I have discussed security issues with hundreds of Congolese individuals over the years. Not one - not ONE - has ever said, "You know, the best way to solve our problems would be to shut down the mines." No one ever mentions the mines. (Even when I lived next door to a casseterite processing plant, no one ever mentioned the mines.) Instead, they talk about the need to develop effective policing and security forces. Or the fact that trying to secure the World's Worst Spot with 17,000 peacekeepers when 300,000 troops weren't enough to subdue Iraq is just insane.

Why is it so hard for the international community to listen to these well-informed, local voices?

(Image via: Africa is a Country)

UPDATE: David Sullivan, one of the authors of the Enough report, informs me that I misunderstood their call to have MONUC secure the mines. They're actually calling for joint security that would involve MONUC but that would also include the FARDC. My apologies for the error.


no silver bullets

Scarlett Lion is running a great new blog series called Context: Africa in which the goal is to give journalists a chance to discuss their areas of expertise in more depth than the typical news story allows. This week's interview is with reporter Rob Crilly. Rob is one of the best expat reporters working in east Africa right now. His work on Darfur is outstanding, and he's working on a book on the topic now.

In the interview, Crilly does an excellent job in explaining some of the problems and controversies over the way journalists have covered Darfur. He also offers a prescient critique of what's really needed to stabilize the region (emphasis mine):
"A lot of the pressure for change is coming from outside, from a Save Darfur movement that has polarized the debate. The first step has to be taking some of the heat out of that debate to make it easier to engage with Sudan and also the Arab world, which has largely kept quiet so far. Then the next step is looking for solutions from inside Sudan, in building bridges between the tribes which have become caught up in the conflict. Some of this work is already happening but gets overshadowed in the rush to vilify Khartoum. Then the top tier is to improve relations between Chad and Sudan, another key driver of conflict.

"There are no silver bullets. And many of the right processes are in place. The problem is that pressure is too often focused in the wrong places - getting peacekeepers in, the ICC - so that the international community expends all its energy, and political capital at the Security Council, on things that won’t end the conflict."
Click here to read the full interview.

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a few missing details

I'm really enjoying the relatively new Mo'dernity, Mo'problems blog. It's written by Grant, a specialist in humanitarian policy. His analysis is always insightful and usually pretty funny as well.

Grant has a great post up today on Philip Gourevitch's New Yorker article on Rwanda, which, as he points out, is full of errors. (Start with the fact that there are no mines in Rwanda and move on from there. Rwanda's mineral exports come almost entirely from the DRC.) Gourevitch is an outstanding writer, but missed a lot on this one. I'll add to Grant's list:
  • "Soldiers are nowhere to be found." Well, I've seen them out and about in Kigali right before the major military action that occurred in Congo in August 2007, but the average visitor to the city probably wouldn't. If you leave the city and head northwest, however, you'll see plenty of gendarmes, soldiers, and police manning checkpoints on the road to Gisenyi. Rwandan authorities routinely stop and search buses along the route. They're ostensibly looking for interahamwe, although very few actual genocidaires would dare to cross the border these days.
  • "Kagame did not want to be perceived as the Tutsi president; he wanted to be perceived as the Rwandan president." I think this is true. But that begs the question as to why almost all top-level officials in Rwanda are Tutsis. (And they're not just Tutsis - most of them are Tutsis who were in exile in Uganda.) It doesn't explain why all the gendarmes searching the buses are Tutsis. Kagame's aide is right. There's no good reason that a Tutsi can't be president over a country that is majority Hutu. But when the majority Hutus don't have a real political voice in the country's future, that Tutsi-led government is setting itself up for future disaster.
  • "...the vast majority of Hutu civilians who returned [from refugee camps in Congo-Zaire] were reintegrated into their communities." Kindof. But it's important to remember that the Rwandan government did everything it could to block the return of those refugees. Most were in Congo for 2-4 years. And a large percentage arrived back home to find that their homes and farms had been expropriated by Tutsis returning from their 35-year exiles in Uganda and Tanzania.
  • It's unclear from the article whether Gourevitch believes Kagame's claims that the Rwandan government never supported the CNDP. Those claims are blatantly false. One need only look at how well-equipped Nkunda's forces were in the fighting last fall. They had new uniforms, more than sufficient weaponry, and were well-trained. It is highly unlikely that the CNDP's degree of discipline, training, and equipment resulted from Nkunda's efforts in a mountain hideout. Highly unlikely.
That said, Gourevitch's description of one killer's account of his experience and those of survivors is fascinating and an example of great reporting. One of the survivors makes a very subtle point that Kagame's authoritarianism is somewhat necessary to keep her safe. But they also make the point that the gacaca court system and the official program of reconciliation is only surface-deep. You don't have to spend ten minutes in Rwanda to realize that real reconciliation is a long way off.

Gourevitch is a brilliant and talented writer. The New Yorker piece is interesting. You should read it. As Grant puts it, however, "[Gourevitch] falls prey to the all too common logic that post-genocidal reconstruction justifies any and all social, political, and military agenda; even if that agenda is dangerous and has proven violent in the past."

my hope in the international justice system is (remporarily) restored

What brought about this unpredictable turn of events?

Monday, the justices of the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague refused to acquit former Liberian president/dictator/warlord/all-around nasty guy Charles Taylor on war crimes charges, that's what.

Not that they've shown they'll be able to convict him, either, which is why my faith in the international justice system is only temporarily restored to fragile hope. The next stage of the trial begins on June 29. Any readers care to share the view from Liberia on this one?


museveni mondays

"You cannot fight for wrong causes and expect to win." (1986)


the truth sets you free

Rick Warren's defense of Paul Kagame as one of Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world is difficult to stomach. Aside from reading Stephen Kinzer's hagiography of Kagame, Warren appears to have done almost no research on the activities of a man he considers to be a "model of the transition from soldier to statesman." In fact, most of the entry is comprised of statements that are demonstrably false, or at least up for serious debate.

Let's take it point-by-point, shall we? Warren's words from the Time piece are in quotation marks; mine follow.
  • "During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the world watched in horror but did nothing. Kagame was responsible for ending the slaughter." Um, not exactly. As Romeo Dallaire (the Canadian general in charge of the UN peacekeeping mission that was present in Rwanda during the genocide but was not allowed by UN member states to actually do anything to stop the slaughter) points out in his haunting autobiography, Kagame's primary goal was not to end the genocide. It was to take absolute power in the country. Kagame did not take the most direct route to places where Tutsis were being slaughtered. His sights were set on Kigali, which he flanked around to choke off the national army. As Gerard Prunier puts it, "[the RPF] never planned their military operations so as to try saving as many as possible." And the genocide did not end until after Kagame had achieved his primary objective.
  • "After the genocide, the nation was in shambles. Kagame and others began the slow process of rebuilding." This is true, to some extent. But the RPF government initially focused most of its energy on exacting revenge rather than on reconstruction. There's also increasingly clear evidence that Kagame's forces began slaughtering innocent Hutus en masse shortly after taking power. The most reliable estimate is that about 30,000 people were killed by the RPF during and after the genocide for no reason other than their ethnicity. The massacre of approximately 5,000 displaced Hutus at Kabeho camp in April 1995 is but one example.
  • "Kagame's leadership has a number of uncommon characteristics. One is his willingness to listen to and learn from those who oppose him. When journalist Stephen Kinzer was writing a biography of Kagame, the President gave him a list of his critics and suggested that Kinzer could discover what he was really like by interviewing them. Only a humble yet confident leader would do that." Well, that's one interpretation. Another is that Kagame has silenced or forced into exile most of his serious critics. Does Rick Warren genuinely believe that a man who allows no political opposition to contest elections "listens to and learns from those who oppose him?" Some, like former government minister Seth Sendashonga, are dead because they dared to oppose the RPF leadership. Others are banned from entering the country because they've dared to criticize Kagame's rule in public. This happened just last year to the late Alison Des Forges, America's foremost expert on Rwanda.
  • "Then there is Kagame's zero tolerance for corruption. Rwanda is one of the few countries where I've never been asked for a bribe. Any government worker caught engaging in corruption is publicly exposed and dealt with. That is a model for the entire country — and the rest of the world too." This is true. There's very little corruption in Rwanda, at least in the sense of being asked for bribes at every turn. Kigali is one of the safest cities in the world; I feel perfectly safe walking through its streets alone at night. However, that lack of corruption comes at a high price. Rwanda is one of the most authoritarian states in Africa. The government spies on its own citizens and on foreigners. Civilians are to report suspicious or behavior that is not consistent with the reconciliation narrative to their local authorities. Those transiting through the country to Congo are advised to have a consistent story for everyone about where they are going and what they are doing because discrepencies will be noticed. Human rights observers in the Congo whose entries into the country are tracked by the Rwandans, and not just like they track every entry and exit from the country. Put it this way: one would not normally expect a border guard to immediately identify an international human rights observer who works in another country just by seeing his or her name on a passport.
  • Also on corruption, there is incontrovertible evidence that Kagame's regime has been stealing mineral wealth from and fueling in the Congo for more than a decade. The invasions of 1996 and 1998, the backing of the RCD-Goma rebel government during the war, and the funding and supplying of Laurend Nkunda's CNDP forces directly contributed to the deaths of 5 million Congolese.
Warren's praise of Kagame is disingenuous and largely unmerited. I have no doubt that Warren believes Kagame is a benevolent leader because he has seen the good side of the things that Kagame has done in Kigali and in the countryside.

But Rick Warren has also been to Goma. Surely he saw the results of the last fifteen years' worth of war in his visit to a hospital that treats rape victims and in the community's houses of worship. How could he not make the connection that Kagame is responsible for much of that suffering?

Instead of attempting to learn more about Kagame's character, Warren has chosen to take the man at his word. My hope is that the pastor would learn a little more of the truth about Kagame's character and actions before he puts so much trust in the man. If Paul Kagame is a model for African leadership, the continent is doomed.