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


what's going on in uganda?

Sean at Africa is a Country notes a good summary from the Committee to Protect Journalists as to why the above political cartoon is apparently illegal in Uganda. Uganda, you'll remember, is ostensibly a democracy:
"A Ugandan newspaper’s critical caricature of President Yoweri Museveni led police to interrogate three journalists today on allegations of sedition, according to a defense attorney and local journalists.

"For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists."
The Independent's blog, Uganda Talks, has an update here and I'm sure they will continue to keep us posted as events develop.

Uganda's status as a "democracy" is paradoxical. On the one hand, it's a place with regular elections that are somewhat fair and free. On the other, it's a place with only limited political competition. And then there's the press freedom issue. The CPJ further notes:
"Criminal prosecutions of independent journalists--particularly those working for Uganda's largest independent newspaper, Monitor--are on the rise against the backdrop of mounting national tensions and hostile presidential rhetoric toward the press, CPJ research shows."
I am eagerly awaiting the release of Aili Mari Tripp's new book, Museveni's Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime. According to the summary, she points out that Uganda is really a semi-authoritarian regime, and that Museveni simultaneously pursues liberalization and centralizes his control.

We would all do well to remember that becoming a democracy is a process. Democratization doesn't happen overnight, especially when a country doesn't see regular transitions of power from one party to another. Nobody expects a country with Uganda's unique history and challenges to get there overnight.

But that doesn't give anyone license to limit the freedom of the press, or to intimidate journalists (or cartoonists). I for one, want to make sure that as many people as possible know about the challenges these journalists face. They do good work, and their voices are too important to be silenced. Uganda's government should be hearing about how unacceptable this behavior is from diplomats and aid organizations. If you have a blog or a Twitter account or whatever, please consider giving this situation a mention this week.


this & that: drowning in links edition

I hope you're good & rested up:


Aid Thoughts has a really nice post on the "Did MSF-UK go too far with its "Boy" ad?" controversy. I'm not going to wade into that debate because there's not much more to say about the issue. It's kindof like being Catholic. Either you think it works or you don't. Or you're disgusted that "poverty porn" often seems to be the only way to raise awareness of these issues.

In his post, Matt included this fantastic reading of Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How Not to Write about Africa" by Djimon Honsou. I hope it makes its way to some of our foreign correspondents and op-ed columnists (especially those at the - cough - Paper of Record) who traffic in stereotypes and print things that are demonstrably false and clearly not fact-checked on an alarmingly regular basis. Soon.

people of wal-mart

This is my new favorite blog.


this & that


development in fiction

Philip Blue has a great list of development-related works of fiction. I've certainly experienced and observed the effects of including a novel in a social science syllabus firsthand; students always respond well to a book that puts a development-related issue into context.

What would you add to his list?

kennedy in south africa

As most of you surely know by now, United States Senator Ted Kennedy passed away late Tuesday evening. Kennedy was one of what I fear is a dying breed of politicians: those who could hold strongly to their beliefs while still taking a pragmatic approach to crafting laws. That he garnered such respect from friends on both sides of the aisle is clear evidence of his effectiveness as a lawmaker.

The Senator was involved in all sorts of major pieces of legislation in his nearly five decades in the Senate. He was best known for his advocacy on behalf of the our country's most discriminated against and most dispossessed people, from pushing for landmark civil rights legislation to his as-yet-unrealized dream of reforming the health care system.

Kennedy was a leader in the movement to divest from and impose sanctions on South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980's. Kennedy visited South Africa in 1985 (on a trip some criticized as being "stage-managed" by the authorities in Pretoria, as most trips by foreign dignitaries were at the time). The trip, however, was an opportunity for Kennedy to make a statement, and to the extent that it could be done, he did. As Adam Clymer notes:
"He visited that country in 1985, after Archbishop Desmond Tutu persuaded him that his presence would draw attention to apartheid through the American television crews that followed him. He visited slums and resettlement areas. His trip was denounced by the South African government and by the United States ambassador, Herman Nickel. Kennedy staged an illegal protest outside Pollsmoor Prison, where Nelson Mandela was being held. He said, 'Behind these walls are men that are deeply committed to the cause of freedom in this land.' Years later, Mandela said he knew Kennedy had been at the gate of the prison and that 'gave us a lot of strength and hope, and the feeling that we had millions behind us both in our struggle against apartheid but in our special situation in prison.'”
The next year, Kennedy helped push through Congress at long last the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Passed partly in response to the wave of anti-apartheid student protests that swept the country at the time, this legislation (and subsequent action taken by Congress and American allies) imposed sanctions, ended most financial support, and banned direct flights to and from South Africa. President Reagan vetoed the act as it would hurt a staunch anti-Communist African state. He preferred a policy of "constructive engagement," which Archbishop Desmond Tutu described as:
"an abomination, an unmitigated disaster. ...In my view, the Reagan administration’s support and collaboration with it is equally immoral, evil, and totally un-Christian. . . . You are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric. You are either in favor of evil or you are in favor of good. You are either on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor. You can't be neutral."
Even many of Reagan's Congressional allies were shamed into action by Tutu's irrefutable argument. Recognizing a moral imperative to do the right thing even if it wasn't in the national interest, the members overrode Reagan's veto by huge majorities in both houses.

Whether the divestment movement and the Act were directly responsible for the end of the apartheid era in South Africa is debated. Reagan did not make the sanctions as strong as they could have been, but as support for South Africa's government became increasingly problematic for states and corporations, the country began to lose foreign investment. There is no question that the loss of so much foreign capital took the country's economy into severe decline. The recession (along with the end of the Cold War) made it clear that apartheid could not continue. By the early 1990's, negotiations to end apartheid were well underway.

Nelson and Winnie Mandela visited the United States after his release from prison in 1990. One of their stops was Boston, where they had lunch with Senator Kennedy and members of his family. Their visit to Boston was not a mistake; it was an opportunity to thank one of their strongest supporters in the long struggle for freedom.

Like all of us, Kennedy had his faults. But he was a consistent champion for those in his own society and throughout global community who lacked freedom, equal rights, and basic human dignity, time and time again. And for that, he will be missed.


when counting isn't just counting

Kenya's census is finally underway, but that doesn't mean that anyone outside of the National Bureau of Statistics is happy about it. What could possibly be contentious about counting the population, you wonder? After all, Kenya doesn't have a certifiably insane politician like Michelle Bachmann arguing that people shouldn't answer census questions for some concocted yahoo reason I can't begin to explain. Nor a bunch of Republicans who are (correctly) afraid that getting an accurate count of our country's poor citizens will cause them to lose Congressional seats in Tejas and California such that they oppose the use of statistical sampling.

We've got plenty of crazy to go around, gang.

What's upsetting many Kenyans is not the simple, straightforward, entirely rational task of actually counting all the country's citizens. Rather, it's the fact that the census asks for the ethnicity of each citizen.

Last year's post-election violence still reverberates with Kenya's citizens, especially in the middle class, which before late 2007 had at long last begun to grow and to see the country as a modern place that had passed beyond the ethnic rivalries that plague many of its neighbors. Watching the country divide along purely ethnic lines - and then watching Kenyans slaughter one another - was almost incomprehensible. And to have that question asked as part of the census seems to many to be a way of ripping open these still very fresh wounds.

Why is it so important to count people according to their ethnic affiliation? I suppose that theoretically it could be used to show that some groups are relatively disadvantaged, much in the same way that asking for a respondent's race in the United States is one of the ways we are able to show that people of color are disproportionately poor in our country.

But given Kenya's recent history, and given its politicians' abiding willingness to blatantly use ethnicity as the ultimate wedge issue, I think fears that the census data could be misused are well-founded, at least to some extent. The point that this issue is far too sensitive to push at the moment is also important.

On the other hand, that data will be very necessary for aid groups that want to target their work among the most-neglected regions and people of the country. And like it or not, outside of Nairobi, Kenyan territory today is more divided along ethnic lines than it has been since the pre-colonial period.

When I lived in Kenya in 1998, the professors whom I spent most of my time were extraordinarily proud that their country had never fallen into a civil war. Sure, there had been some government-orchestrated ethnic clashes in the 1992 and 1997 electoral periods, but it had never spread throughout the country and evolved into full-scale war. Kenya was not like Somalia or Uganda or Rwanda.

At the time, these friends also spent quite a bit of time pondering how to get their fellow citizens to move beyond making a "tribal" identity their primary identity. "How," they would wonder aloud, "do we get people to say, 'I'm Kenyan' before they say, 'I'm Gikuyu' or 'I'm Luo'?" What has to happen to cause a major identity shift, one that each one believed was necessary if the country were ever to progress politically?

Ironically, it may have taken teetering to the brink of civil war to bring about that shift. The BBC reports that some Kenyans intend to reply "I am a Kenyan" when asked their ethnicity. In the long run, that's the best thing that could happen for Kenya and her people.


this & that

Whew. A lot has been going on while I've been sitting through all-day faculty meetings, learning just how little sleep I'll really get while trying to publish enough to have a shot at tenure, and begging the IT department to please, please give me an email address. Here are some highlights:
  • DDR is officially over in Burundi. Which, as Grant points out, hasn't exactly solved the country's problem with targeted violence. Could it be that DDR doesn't work unless you take the time to build governing institutions and establish the rule of law?
  • Nairobi's drought-driven water/power crisis worsens.
  • So, we sent several million dollars' worth of light weapons into Somalia and...things are getting worse. During Ramadan. Awesome.
  • I'd Blame Canada, too, if this happened to me.
  • Elisabeth Wood asks a great question. Instead of looking at why rape happens in war, she asks why it doesn't happen in an outlying case. (HT: Chris Blattman)
  • Via Africa is a Country, here's an interesting piece on Nigerians who served in World War II.
  • This is a fascinating article on the difficulty of figuring out whether an athlete is of one gender or the other.
  • Easterly looks at Charles Kenny's point that, in the developing world, things have actually improved substantially in the last 50 years and concludes that it's not all bad. Point well taken. But the problem is that that progress is incredibly uneven. If you're comparing places that were more-or-less equally underdeveloped in 1960, you're comparing South Korea to Ghana. If most of the improvement in well-being comes from one set of countries and not the other, well, that's great for the Koreans, but not so much for the Ghanaians.
  • National hero Jon Stewart dismantles a very bad argument in the ongoing health care debate debacle. I remain at a loss to explain how so many Americans are apparently under the impression that our system works as it is.
  • Star of the New York Times Magazine @scarlettlion linked to these amazing shots made to look like vintage photos of Senaglese people.
  • There are a few facutal errors in this piece, but, um, it's entitleod "Oh, Shut Up, Mrs. Clinton," and it explores the neo-colonial overtones of her visit to the continent in great detail. This would be a very helpful piece for American policy makers to read if they really wanted to get a sense of how African elites in many countries view the U.S. If, that is, they could manage to read it without being defensive. I hope some will.
  • Riding bears: always a bad idea.
  • Textbook battles once resulted in bombings??? Seriously?!?
  • I don't really think that American taxpayers should have to pay an extra $100 in order to get through immigration in a timely fashion. The government should pony up and hire sufficient staff at our borders so that none of us have to stand in line for an hour just to get back into our own country. But will I pony up to avoid those mile-long lines? Probably. Inefficiency on top of jetlag makes me grumpy.


i am so going to enter

Over the weekend, The Kristof declared a contest to identify people worldwide who are Making a Difference for Women. Which is great. Really. I think it's wonderful that he wants to draw attention to people who work on the ground to make life better for women and girls. So if you write in about someone who is doing something good, you have a chance at winning the contest.

But the prize? A much-needed check to those organizations that work among the poorest of the poor? A personal donation from Kristof's big-time reporter salary, or a percentage of his royalties?

Wrong and wrong. Four winners will each receive ... a copy of Kristof's book.


thinking it over

Professor Blattman has an interesting post about using incentives to get data on unique phenomena. In a manner of speaking:
"In Liberia, the guys at our local partner and survey organization swear that the best hunters have the power to change themselves to animals.

"Perhaps this is culturally insensitive of me, but I have a standing offer of $1000 cash to any of them if they can find one of these guys, bring him to me, and demonstrate. $2000 if I can film it."

While I've never been in a part of the developing world in which locals believe that people turn into animals (or, to be more precise, where anyone was willing to tell me that he or she believes that people turn into animals), I have heard something similar. About a decade ago, I briefly lived with a family in village near Kakamega, in western Kenya. My hosts were pretty well off for the area; both spouses had completed secondary school and the husband had employment in the formal sector. He had been a soccer star as a teenager, and the nuns at the nearby Catholic school had taken an interest in his success. They were still poor by any measure, but certainly well-educated and in many ways better off than their neighbors.

While I was learning to do things like carting polluted water up a very, very steep hill to the house and taking a chicken from the coop to the dinner table, we had plenty of time to discuss our respective cultures. One night, my host asked, "Do you have night-runners in America?" He went on to explain that there were people, normal people, who walked about during the day like the rest of us, but who at night ran through the villages as madmen. I'm not sure I ever fully understood what it was about, but it was clear that night-runners were something to be feared - and something not entirely of this world.

One of the best lessons I ever learned came from my undergraduate Greek history professor on the first day of class. "Do not," he admonished us, "assume that the ancient Greeks thought like you do." He went on to point out that the Greeks had a different understanding of the way the universe operates, ate a different diet, and lived in an entirely different context than that in which we post-modern Gen X-ers operated.

That professor was right, and not just about the Greeks. I learned from him that when studying phenomena in other cultures, it's never a good idea to assume that people operating in those contexts see the world in the same way that I do. That lesson has certainly informed my thinking about central Africa, where I've had to digest the fact that most of my interview subjects have entirely different ideas about the nature of individual identity, the laws of physics, and an unseen realm in which good and evil forces are constantly battling one another. (There's a reason that Western Pentecostal and charismatic religions are doing booming business in Africa these days. Their ideas about the spirit world fit in very well with the pre-existing cosmologies of many African cultures.)

Unfortunately, the idea that people in different cultures have different conceptions of the way the universe works often becomes an excuse for exoticizing people as "the other." That leads to stereotyped stories about those crazy ideas that Africans have. I mean, really. How can someone with a solid education and upbringing actually believe that his dead ancestors control the success of his business ventures or the amount of rain that falls in a year?

Even more unfortunately, this line of thinking often spills over into the policy sphere, where it takes on a nasty paternalistic tinge. Policy makers (and, more importantly, donors) assume that if the people they want to "help" have different understandings about the way the world works, that they can't necessarily be trusted to come up with solutions to their own problems. So we send in the experts to develop expensive programs that will circumvent this problem. After all, good development work can only be done by people who accept modern science and who understand that good hunting has very little to do with magic and everything to do with skill. Right?

Maybe. I mean, I don't believe that there's actually such a thing as a mysterious night-runner or a person who turns into an animal. And I'm not super-comfortable with the idea of handing over hundreds of thousands of grant dollars to someone who does.

But it's a mistake to assume that everyone thinks like I do. Our immediate inclination to dismiss foreign ideas makes some of our policy makers all too apt to dismiss the individual saying them as well, even when that individual has a far greater understanding of local contexts and what will work that an outsider can ever hope to attain. Ignoring people and communities who have that understanding almost always leads to bad policies and programs that don't work.


oh, snap

The New York Times has really outdone itself lately in printing stories that are complete stereotypes of the African continent. The latest to print something inaccurate and/or semi-offensive is Tom Friedman, who usually ignores everything south of Egypt. G. Pascal Zachary at Africa Works is on it:
"Thomas Friedman, the uber-columnist and senior globalization writer at the New York Times, jetted into Botswana last week, then flew to the remote Okavango Delta, rich in wildlife and terribly expensive for foreign visitors. Friedman quickly realized his many wireless devices were useless and cleverly dubbed this pristine and nearly depopulated northern part of B0tswana to be the “Land of No Service.” He then went on to extrapolate from his summer vacation that 'much of Africa' is a Land of No Service.

"Once more, another bigtime American finds Africa a convenient prop to push a larger message about life and the world. In this case, Friedman wants to inform us that being disconnected from the global web has some benefits. But why must he lie about Africa — demonizing it once more as a place of darkness — in order to drive home his point?

"His 'no service' mainly refers to his cell phone and even sat phone. Yet in reality, cell phone in Africa is today fantastic."
This reminds me of Kristof's trip to Goma in which he acted like it was actually necessary for him to drag along a portable satellite uplink to get internet access and a sat phone to communicate. (Apparently he managed to miss the internet cafes down the street which offer much better satellite internet connections than anything he could've picked up in the Ihusi courtyard. And he could've saved the Times quite a bit of cash by just using the extensive local cell phone networks. But I digress, mostly because I'm still bitter about all the misinformation that got printed in his columns on that trip.)

Reporters who aren't based in Africa tend to exaggerate the "Africanness" of Africa all the time. It's not just reporters for a newspaper that slacks off on its factchecking who are at fault. It sounds impressive to spend a week in rural Botswana (in the land of luxury safaris most of us can't afford) just like it sounds impressive to say, "I lived in the Congo." But Zachary is right. And using old stereotypes to explain complicated places in oversimplified terms just won't cut it anymore, Friedman.


this & that


change in which i don't believe

Details of the plans for U.S. foreign aid announced last week in Goma during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit are slowly beginning to emerge. Of the $17 million the secretary announced, about $3 million is to go towards training police on responding to gender-based violence. As I noted last week, that's not much, and the police need training on a whole host of issues, but $3 million is better than nothing. USAID will learn the hard way that they're going to have to start way on basic professionalization (and salary payment) before most of the Congolese police force will be able to do anything about tracking down and arresting rapists.

What of the rest of the money? Part of it will go to Camcorders for Congo, of course, and the State Department has been fairly quiet on this as far as I can tell, but activist Desiree Zwanck, who works at Heal Africa hospital in Goma, gives us some details in her post on the secretary's visit (emphasis mine):

"Much needed and appreciated funds - but wait a minute. HEAL Africa, the local organization that was hosting the event, has a hospital with 7 years of experience in treating survivors of sexual violence. However, we learned only through the speech of our honored visitor that USAID is planning to construct a hospital to do the same work, in the same city. And even though Clinton claimed that funds would be distributed to local NGOs, we found out shortly afterwards that the lion’s share would go to the International Rescue Committee.

"I don’t believe Clinton had been well-informed on the dynamics of aid in Eastern DRC, though it is certainly no secret that aid is a cut-throat business. Competition for funding, attention and prestige is huge. As a result, cooperation between GOs and NGOs is lacking or poorly coordinated. Communication needs to be improved, and new initiatives need to be matched with what is already being done. What we saw happen yesterday was the opposite."
As Zwanck notes, what USAID is planning to do in Goma is almost incomprehensible. Let me get this straight:
  • They looked at the city - which is home to a hospital that is a model of community engagement - and decided that it would be better to build a different hospital altogether?
  • That was apparently decided on without consulting those who are already experts on treating rape victims in the region?
  • And that will lack the extensive network of community-based counselors who live in the villages and are trained to identify and assist rape victims?
  • And the Secretary of State told a roomfull of Congolese activists that the money would go to local organizations when in fact it's mostly going to an American NGO that bases most of its work in the eastern Congo out of Bukavu?

Some of you are ready to jump on me about "well, aren't there more victims than existing hospitals can treat?" and similar questions. Yes. It's true. More facilities to treat rape victims are desperately needed. That's why Heal Africa is fund raising for a new hospital building, and why Panzi's facilities continue to expand in Bukavu.

But it doesn't make sense to reinvent the wheel in the eastern Congo. Did USAID bother to talk to any Congolese people while developing this plan? Drs. Mukwege and Lusi and their staffs already know how to treat victims of sexual violence. They have developed hospitals and programs that are models of how to address gender-based violence in impossibly difficult situations with limited resources. They don't just treat case after case after case; Heal Africa trains medical residents to go out into the field and run clinics and hospitals on their own, and both hospitals do all they can to give women and girls who survive these attacks a chance at having a life, an income, and some hope after they leave. It makes a lot more sense to partner with the people who already do these things - and who have integrated the communities they serve into their approach - than it does to start from scratch.

There's also the issue that the International Rescue Committee is poorly perceived by a large segment of the Congolese population. That's not to discount their work - they do a lot of good & support both Panzi and Heal Africa's work - but issues relating to the 1994 genocide (There's a view common among many Congolese that the American government supported the Rwandan government after the genocide (a government that, it must be remembered, has caused a lot of suffering in the Kivus), so therefore the American IRC which gets money from the U.S. government is an ally of/spy for Rwanda.) mean that they have a huge perception problem. It's an issue. (Dennis Dijkzeul has done some very interesting research in South Kivu in this regard.) It's really unclear what the IRC money will be used for, but if most of it is going to them, presumably they will have a significant role in the hospital's construction. If this new hospital is to specifically be an "IRC hospital," I'm not sure that's such a good idea.

I am sorely disappointed in my government's failure to truly take local concerns into account, and even more disappointed that it's the Obama administration that failed to do so. This plan looks for all the world like something that was conceived in Washington, not the Kivus. It represents some of the worst habits of Africa-related policy making in American foreign aid and could not be further from representing real change. Like Zwanck, I'm forced to conclude that the secretary's visit to Goma was not the beginning of the end of the war, but rather a sign that the same old, same old will prevail in American policy towards Africa.


a bit repetitive

Do you ever get that feeling that American politicians and diplomats say pretty much the same thing every time they go to Africa, regardless of whether they're representing Democratic or Republican administrations or whether it's 2009 or 1993? Yeah, me, too.

Apparently it's not just us:

That awesome graphic was compiled by contributors over at the Christian Science Monitor to accompanyTracey Samuelson's excellent summary of Hillary Clinton's trip around the continent. What we learn from her comparison is that yes, American politicos only have a few things to say about Africa and they feel compelled to say them over and over and over and over and over and over again.

As you can see above, popular themes in HRC's trip included security, America, and corruption. Angola almost hit the ... neufecta of themes, except for not being an example of good governance or playing a leadership role in Africa, but it's amazing how U.S. policy makers are willing to overlook those sorts of thing in particularly oil-rich states. (Never mind that the place was such a mess just a few short years ago that the American embassy had to be located on the beach so as to allow for easy evacuations.)

Also, either somebody at the State Department had a really nice vacation in Cape Verde last summer or they know something about offshore oil exploration that the rest of us don't, because, really, what was the point?

Secretary Clinton focused in on just a few issues in Congo, which I think was a good decision. Agricultural development, HIV/AIDS policy, and trade relations with the U.S. are all issues in the DRC, but they are secondary to the country's absolutely crucial security and governance sector needs. Still, I wish we'd gotten more from the trip than the same old broken record American policy makers have been playing in Africa since the end of the Cold War.



Via Africa is a Country, style a la Eastern Congo.

this & that

bad taste isn't a crime

Longtime readers of this blog know that each spring, I temporarily suspend coverage of African politics for a couple of nights to focus on a very important international issue: the Eurovision Song Contest.

(I can't help it. I love Eurovision. It's my semi-secret shame. Well, that and the fact that since my social life moved to Atlanta to die, I've been watching seasons 1 & 2 of the ABC Family dramady Greek.)

Eurovision always has a few political overtones - the Turks never vote for the (actual) Greeks and vice-versa - but this year, things have taken a turn for the even more bizarre than the typical Eurovision over-the-top-ness. Azerbaijani citizen Rovshan Nasirli, who was among the 43 Azerbaijanis to vote for the Armenian entry in this year's contest, was interrogated by his nation's security forces about his text-messaged vote. Some observers think the country's authorities are concerned that those 43 votes might affect the status of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Now. Whether the outcome in voting for the third-place finisher in the Eurovision contest really has security implications for ethnic politics in an Armenian-dominated, semi-autonomous enclave or if this means that perhaps the U.S. should withdraw foreign aid from a country whose security forces have gone off the deep end are questions that should be left up to those who know more about the "'European' countries that aren't really in Europe" than me. It isn't Mr. Nasirli's relationship to his country's increasingly authoritarian regime that interests me, per se, although I certainly hope he doesn't face any dire consequences for any other of his text messaging activities. Rather, it's his questionable taste in music. I mean, really, would you have voted for this, even in protest that your country entered an act that isn't really Azeri?

I think not. Clearly Mr. Nasirli's only crime is his terrible taste. Or his lack of recognition of something that is truly scary.

Speaking of bad taste in post-Soviet states, back in June, I took a little mini-vacation to eastern Europe at the end of my post-dissertation research trip. Part of that trip involved visiting Budapest where it was rainy and cold pretty much the whole time I was there. (Don't get mad. It's a lovely city. B
udapest has the best Mexican food I've ever encountered in Europe. Go fig. But let's just say that the beautiful...gray Danube is a little more difficult to appreciate when you can't feel your toes and leave it at that.)

Anyway, in an effort to escape the mind-numbing June cold, one afternoon I found myself inside the wonderland that is an Hungarian shopping mall. All I can say about that experience is, "wow." And may I add, "wow." Three floors of stores, almost all of which carry exactly the kind of clothes you'd expect to see on a Russian mail-order bride. There wasn't a natural fiber in sight, the shoe stores had entire displays of the sort of footwear one normally only sees on women who collect most of their salaries in $1 bills, and I seemed to be the only person in the packed mall who didn't approve of neon yellow lyrca leggings as a fashion statement.

That experience plus this whole Eurovision incident has me thinking: shouldn't the U.S. be doing something about the whole issue of bad taste in the rest of the world? Being rich and powerful means that we have a moral duty to help out countries less hegemonistic. There's just no way around it. And since my government is apparently in the mood to fund foreign aid projects of low priority and questionable utility, I've got an idea. How about a new USAID program to sponsor Taste Police for emerging democracies? They wouldn't have to be involved in harsh interrogations ("You voted for Ukraine?!? Have you no decency or regard for the innocence of children, sir?") but could instead make friendly suggestions to taste offenders and, in really extreme situations, hand out citations. Think what the world would be like if Eurovision were dominated by more eco-friendly woodland-inspired acts like Norway. Or if I never had to share a train compartment from Bratislava to Brno with three girls in black polyester workout pants with the word "sexy" bedazzled across their butts?

I think such a program could really Make A Difference. Let's start calling our Congresspersons and asking them to support the creation of a task force to study the Taste Police issue. Those of you living elsewhere could ask your bureaucrats to ask the European Union and the UN to do something about this Critical Issue. Who knows? If the root causes of bad taste were addressed, we might even see solutions to some of the world's most intractable problems. Peace in
Nagorno-Karabakh could potentially be a real possibility within our lifetimes. Or at least those of our great-grandchildren.

Who's with me?



studying the congo does not make one an optimist

Well, this week was a downer, no? Posts about mass rape ("the world's most depressing story!") and American foreign policy missteps get me down. Plus the CEO of Whole Foods opposes health care reform and, for those of you not in the U.S. of A. at the moment, what should be a national debate over health care has mostly degenerated into an immature hissy fit thrown by irrational people who not only don't understand health care, but many of whom also appear to be unrepentant racists.

On a happier note, the EU has confirmed that war crimes are happening in the eastern Congo, Congolese soldiers arrested a wanted Rwandan genocidaire, Hillary's next stop on her eternal tour d'Afrique is um, Cape Verde, and the State Department's Inspector General figured out what everyone who's worked there knew all along: the Africa Bureau is an underfunded disaster. (And by State Department standards, that's saying something.)

I am so ready for the weekend.


local solutions

On her Tuesday visit to Goma, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a round table discussion with several humanitarian and human rights workers. The round table was chaired by Dr. Jo Lusi, the head of Heal Africa hospital, and the State Department has since posted a transcript of the meeting on its website. At the meeting, Congolese leaders - people who live there and do some of the most difficult work in the world to make life better for their fellow citizens - gave their ideas for ways the United States could help the region. Here are some of their wonderful suggestions:
  • Create courts involving local and international officials to help end impunity. "So these mixed chambers, or joint chambers, would be credible, because the personnel would be made of foreigners and Congolese. They are independent, and they do not suffer from interference and corruption. And they bring those who should be judged closer to justice."
  • Increase psycho-social assistance for rape victims, who need not only medical care, but also financial assistance (proposed by CARE International's representative)
  • Fund education. "Most of kids or young persons recruited in army -- I mean in armed groups -- have not been at school. And those people will be in the army and police."
  • Pressure neighboring governments. "The military operations are -- continue to be carried out. But these military operations are not a solution to the problem. That's why, when it comes to security, we would like that you -- the leaders of the countries of the Great Lakes -- Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda -- so that -- will take on their responsibility to protect their citizens."
  • Create a new army, "united, with no roots."
  • Push for press freedoms. "Many media outlets have been banned here, in the DRC. And even a radio station, Radio Mudanga, was banned. Therefore, we ask you to please plead in favor of freedom of expression."
  • Address rising prices that result from the high number of expats in the region. "...many UN staff and international NGOs. Their presence has caused the cost of life to go very high all over the country, and specifically here, in Eastern Congo. We are having problem -- local people having problem -- to even find comfortable housing, affordable housing, because ex-pat have the cash and locals don't have the cash."
  • Take real action. From Christine Schuler-DeSchryver: "We have received many, many visitors, each more important than the one before. We have received many, many celebrities, too. At the end, we have the impression that people only came to consume human poverty, human misery. And, in the end, all that we got was a pile of business cards."
  • Protect Congolese lives. "So, coming back to the responsibility to protect, in 2004, when we -- the (inaudible) was attacked, we saw the UN take care of the expatriates, rather than the Congolese, for whom they had come to the Congo for, so we were really vexed by that." [This is almost certainly a reference to the May 2004 takeover of Bukavu.]
Then Dr. Denis Mukwege, chief of medicine at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, summarized the round table noting that,
"...there is a problem of a lack of commitment, political commitment of regional leaders in the Great Lakes region that do not want to stop the situation that has been going on for the last 15 years. There is also an army in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is not well trained. And with all these resources, mineral resources, there is a real problem when the army is not trained and well paid.
"What we have also understood is that all the citizens, based on the international law, have the right to be protected. And the United Nations, through MONUC, are here. But the way the United Nations operate is a serious issue, because the local population are not protected as they should be.

"...and we suggest that the very first thing to do would be to tell regional leaders to be conscious and responsible of the populations. And it is important that we help the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because as long as there will be weakness and turmoil, soft belly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there will always be a problem in this region."

As Dr. Mukwege's remarks make clear, the situation in the DRC is incredibly complex. That's why an overarching focus on one aspect of the crisis won't lead to peace. (And it's worth noting that not one of the individuals present at the roundtable mentioned needing camcorders.) The concerns of these community leaders focus on the key security and governance issues that must be solved in order to end the conflict.

I believe that the people of the Congo know better than anyone else what must be done to ensure a lasting peace that will make development and democracy possible. Here's hoping the State Department and all those involved in U.S. policy towards the Congo will take their comments to heart.


get ready to rumble

Oh, you knew Gettleman would get a reference to the Rumble in the Jungle in there before this was over.

All I want to know is when the New York Times will start running articles about male politicians' feelings and emotions on their plane rides around the world.

continuing congo coverage

Anneke Van Woudenberg is the Senior Researcher for Congo for Human Rights Watch. For my money, she knows more about what goes on in the country than any other Westerner (and than most Congolese citizens). Van Woudenberg gave an interview to NPR yesterday in which she very eloquently explained the rape crisis and how U.S. support for the misguided Kimia II military operation has led to a doubling or tripling of incidents of rape this year:
"Well, one of the things that have worried us at Human Rights Watch is that there is increasing amounts of aid money going into helping the victims of sexual violence. That's good, and these are people who definitely need assistance. But we also think a lot more money needs to go into stopping rape.

"You know, I was really struck by this, my last visit to eastern Congo, that not only has rape continued, the fact is that rape has doubled or tripled since January. And I think much more of the money needs to go to stopping rape. That means ensuring that there's justice. It means better protection mechanisms for women and girls. We shouldn't just be helping the victims. We need to ensure that there are less victims in the future."

If you're at all interested in these issues, you don't want to miss her comments.

Mrs. Clinton is in Nigeria today after clearly being shocked by what she saw in Goma. AllAfrica.com has the transcript of her remarks to reporters on the plane to Nigeria:
"It is almost impossible to describe the level of suffering and despair, in the camp, particularly. I've been in camps, (inaudible). It is just tragic, to see 10,000 people in that space. And still, you know, children are still, you know, dying of malnutrition, they're dying of diarrhea, they're dying of malaria, the women are getting raped, they (inaudible) the confines of the camp. It's just horrific."
Jezebel.com's Anna N. notes the irony regarding the fact that while all this human suffering continues unabated, media reports on the trip have mostly focused on Clinton's comments about her husband's opinion and her hair (as if anyone has a good hair day in Kinshasa's humidity):
"It's Clinton's responsibility to be an effective voice for the Congolese people, not just a purveyor of empty American outrage. But the press could help her, by focusing on the actuall issues at hand."
Finally, McClatchy Newspapers correspondant Shashank Bengali takes issue with my reaction to the Camcorders for Congo program announced by Clinton during her visit yesterday. He makes some excellent points - and I definitely agree it's far from the worst idea the U.S. has ever had about ways to assist Africa - but I still think that most Congolese rape victims would rather have food for their malnourished children and mattresses to sleep on than video cameras containing coltan. If anyone can find details about this program, please let me know.

your tax dollars at work

"I told you so" is such an ugly thing to say, but, well, U.S. policy makers should've seen this one coming from a mile away:
"The weapons that the US government donated to the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government is [sic] being sold in the market, according to a trader who asked Garowe Online to be quoted anonymously."
Granted, reliable information about anything that happens in Somalia is hard to come by, all the more so given that this involves what happens in a Mogadishu market. But Garowe Online is a fairly slick operation, so much so that AllAfrica.com picks up its stories, and the fact that the source required anonymity suggests that there just might be something to it.

Moreover, anyone who's been to a failed state knows that the trade in light arms is always vigorous and that items intended for humanitarian and/or official military purposes are very frequently available for sale in markets, restaurants, and upmarket hotels. Thanks to some very poor decision making on somebody's part, the United States government may now be indirectly supplying weapons to an al Qaeda affiliate.

What I can't figure out is who is calling the shots on this. There are people in the Obama administration with enough experience in Africa to know that the law of unintended consequences almost always takes over when it comes to the Horn. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that sending 40 tons of weapons to an army that can't wrest control its own capitol city from an Islamist insurgency might not work out the way we planned. What were they thinking?


this & that

Hillary Clinton's trip to the eastern Congo is all over the news.

camcorders for the congo

I'll be honest. Gettleman's report on Hillary Clinton's visit to Goma was so predictable that I really only planned to skim it. Then I got to this sentence and had to do a double-take:

"Speaking during an unprecedented visit by an American secretary of state to Goma, in the epicenter of Congo’s war-torn east, she said the American government would help train gynecologists, supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence and dispatch military engineers to help train Congolese police officers to crack down on rapists."

Are they kidding? Let's review:
  • $17 million to help rape victims in the eastern Congo: good.
  • Training more gynocologists to perform fistula surgery and to treat victims of gender-based violence: good.
  • Training Congolese police officers to identify, arrest, and hand over for prosecution rapists: good.
  • Clinton actually meeting with local human rights workers & visiting an IDP camp: good.
  • Giving rape victims video cameras so they can "document violence": WHAT?!?
Look. I'm all for doing whatever is necessary to help Congolese rape victims recover. These women and girls need life-skills training, they need medical and psychological assistance, and they need help rebuilding their lives from the ground up. Many of them need to tell their stories, although I doubt most want to do so on YouTube. $17 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to treat the tens of thousands of victims who need immediate help, but the staffs at Heal Africa and Panzi hospitals know how to stretch a dollar. They'll make it work. That money is nowhere near enough to whip the police force into shape (and they need training on more issues than just gender-based violence), but it will certainly help.

But video cameras?!? VIDEO CAMERAS?!? We looked at all the immediate and pressing needs of the people of the eastern Congo - 1200 of whom die every day - and someone at USAID decided that VIDEO CAMERAS are one of the things on which those precious resources should be spent?

I don't even know what to say.

perhaps i've gotten a bit cynical

Assuming things went okay with her MONUC flight (always a dicey prospect, given the whole "lack of radar" and "the non-lava-covered part of the runway leads into the market" state of affairs at Goma International Airport), by the time you're reading this, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should be in Goma. Clinton is scheduled to visit the Heal Africa hospital and to meet with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, probably at either MONUC headquarters or the governor's office (aka, "la musee" ("the museum," Mobutu's old villa)) because those are the only places in Goma that can be secured for these sorts of things. For Clinton's sake, I hope it's the latter. The view is much more pleasant at the musee.

(If her time in Goma consists of a run between the airport, MONUC HQ (across the street from the airport), and Heal Africa, she'll see about 1/20 of the city without ever leaving the comfort of a MONUC Land Cruiser. Which, to be fair, is more than a lot of World Bank types see on their tightly-controlled five day consultancy stints in the city.)

I've already written about what Mrs. Clinton should focus on in her brief time there, but given that her entire Africa trip thus far has consisted of predictable statements about democracy and awkward dancing, my hopes are not high.

That we are unlikely to hear anything new out of Goma means that we are very likely to see a redux of the same stale article the New York Times has been running for several years now. And of what exactly will that article consist? I'll wager a guess:

Things New York Times East Africa Correspondant Jeffrey Gettleman* Will Report about the Clinton Visit to Goma
  • Goma is dangerous, Clinton's staff didn't want her to go, and the scenery under the smoking volcano is spectacular.
  • 5 million people have died in this under-reported, forgotten tragedy that's on the front page of the NYT at least once every eight weeks and where the largest peacekeeping force in the world spends lots of money and 17,000 troops struggle to control the vast territory, which is [either] the size of Western Europe [or] the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi.
  • Lots of women have been raped in the Congo.
  • Now they're raping men, too!**
  • It's the Heart of Darkness.
  • Kabila should behave himself.
  • Boo corruption! Yay democracy!
  • Women get raped because of cell phones and PlayStations.
  • And because of the FDLR.
  • It would all be better without the minerals and the FDLR.
  • Clinton bonded with one young woman whose body is broken but whose spirit is strong.
We learned yesterday that the United Nations has records of 200,000 cases of sexual violence in the eastern DR Congo since the beginning of the 1996 war. We've known for awhile now that the Kimia II mission - publicly supported by U.S. officials - has actually made life more dangerous for the women and girls of South Kivu who just want to live without fear of attack by soldiers from the national army.

None of those victims - not one - deserves the same old empty platitudes, the focus on the wrong solutions to misidentified problems, or a foreign policy approach that will do little to reestablish security and governance in the region.

Come on, Hillary. Prove me wrong.

*I pick on Gettleman a lot, because he and the Times get a lot of things wrong and regularly traffic in blatant stereotyping. (It is beyond me why the NYT's infamous fact-checking standards aren't applied to stories involving Africa.) I don't think it's entirely his fault; Gettleman has the unenviable task of covering half of sub-Saharan Africa in great detail. But the paper of record could do a much better job of ensuring that the stories they print are factual. And Gettleman is far from alone in his journalistic crimes when it comes to coverage of Africa.

**They've been raping men for years now. It's just that people are finally talking about it, and men and boys are reporting the crimes at the hospitals and clinics at which they seek treatment.


hillary goes to the congo: day one

American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in Kinshasa today, the first stop on a two-day tour of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She spoke at a town hall meeting this afternoon, of which @congogirl has provided excellent coverage on Twitter.

In her discussions about the DRC, Clinton's focus is on democracy promotion, violence against women, and the role of minerals as a "root cause" of the conflict in the east. She's expounding on these themes in Kinshasa today, despite the fact that most Kinois lack the slightest idea as to how bad things really are in their country's east. A few thoughts on each:
  • Democracy is good and of course we all want to see the DR Congo live up to that part of its name. But Secretary Clinton needs to be reminded that democracy doesn't develop overnight. It takes decades - and sometimes wars - to fully consolidate democratic governance. One of the biggest mistakes in American policy towards the DRC was an overemphasis on democracy and holding national elections in the post-peace settlement period from 2002-06. The U.S. directed most of its energy and attention towards formalizing one democratic institution (elections) while ignoring the massive governance problems and institutional collapse that make the idea of representative democracy all but a joke in the DRC. The result? Congolese "democracy" is but a shadow of the real thing. The people of the Congo are not really represented by their leaders. There aren't any institutions through which the will of the people can be expressed, and their leaders are barely accountable to the populations they serve (most of whom, it should be noted, have very little access to information about what those representatives are up to. Instead of worrying so much about whether the DRC is a democracy yet, let's focus on getting those institutions rebuilt so that the people will truly be able to express their will in the future.
  • We all agree that violence against women is bad. What would help to end this violence? I'd argue that it is NOT an overarching focus on the mineral trade, but rather taking the same steps that will lead to democratic development. If the Congo had a functioning, well-equipped, taxpayer-funded, professional police force that was engaged in protecting the population, the culture in which a soldier assumes he can get away with rape would end. If the FARDC were disciplined under the direct control of civilian leaders and its soldiers were regularly paid fair salaries, it could become a unit capable of eliminating threats to stability and of promoting peace. If the court system were functional, women and girls who were so viciously attacked would have legal recourse, and the culture of impunity surrounding the rape issue would end.
  • It is a huge mistake for Secretary Clinton to view the mineral trade as a root cause of the conflict. The fight for minerals is a symptom of the larger breakdown in governance, not a cause. Rape in the Congo happens because there's nothing to stop it from happening, and shutting down the mines won't stem the tide of violence against women. I have yet to see any empirical evidence that rapes happen more frequently or systematically in areas around mines. Rape in the eastern Congo happens everywhere, near mines, in forests, in the Goma slums. Rapes are committed by soldiers, but also by normal citizens. Rape in the Congo occurs because the region's rural areas are a free-for-all. Stopping the trade in minerals in the eastern Congo will unfortunately not end the violence against women and girls, nor will it help the 1 million+ people whose livelihoods depend on mining. Yes, the mineral trade needs to be brought under control. (If you're looking for more on this issue, Harrison Mitchell and Nicholas Garrett present some far better ideas for addressing the mineral question than the current advocacy calls to shut it down.) But doing so will not create the institutions necessary to secure the eastern Congo. And until regional security exists, gender-based violence will continue.
U.S. policy towards the DR Congo needs to get back to basics. Rebuilding basic institutions of government - courts (for every issue, not just gender-based violence), security forces (especially the police), and border controls - will do more to end violence against women and help to develop the country's democracy than will empty rhetoric and another go at the same old failed policies.

admit it

You're completely jealous of my awesome new totebag that arrived in the mail last week, right? Thanks to my good friend Melissa, who took time out from her 18-month fieldwork stint in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to send it my way.
("Love and Peace")

(If you want one of your own, email the wonderful women of Nairobi's Amani ya Juu. I am sure that they would be more than happy to send you one - and they now have a DC shop!)


lest we forget...

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. These acts of terrorism killed 212 Kenyans, eleven Tanzanians, and twelve Americans, as well as injuring thousands of innocent bystanders.

I studied abroad in Nairobi in the fall of 1998. The aftermath of the attack - the bombed-out buildings, the tall shell of the Cooperative Bank tower next door, and the huge pile of rubble in the train station yard across the street - remains among the worst things I have ever seen. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and with those who still struggle to recover from that awful day.

an open letter

Dear Secretary Clinton,

So you're in Africa. From what I've seen, you did your best to prepare for what was clearly a trip undertaken on short notice. Meeting with several academics for dinner beforehand was a good move (although it would be nice if next time more than one were actually African), and I have no doubt that you're doing your best to handle the mind-boggling array of issues in places as diverse as Nigeria and Cape Verde.

I've been fairly disappointed with the current administration's Africa policy thus far; most of the pronouncements and speeches are more of the same old thing, and giving more weapons to a Somali government that cannot govern is a terrible idea. Making public promises to Sheikh Sharif is essentially the kiss of death for his administration; his association with the United States makes him a target and I fear that he will almost certainly be assassinated in Mogadishu one of these days. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing anything at all. Did you know, for example, that Somalia wasn't really a hotbed for groups associated with al Qaeda until the Bush administration suggested it might be?

What should change in the policy? Harsh words used at an appropriate time can be helpful, but you've got to take it a step farther if we are to see real change in the region. Kenya's leaders need more than a slap on the wrist. They need to see their aid budget cut. They need to have to explain to the people why the government can't fund programs because of their theft from the public coffers. Taking action won't necessarily hurt the Kenyan people; aid can be redirected to programs that are administered by NGO's (and the more local NGO's involved, the better), religious groups, and civic associations.

What I really want to talk about, however, about is your upcoming visit to Goma. I think it's great that you're headed there. You have to get out of Kinshasa to understand the country and its governance problems, and you will not understand the conflict in full - or how pitiful and inadequate the international response to it is - without going to the east and meeting some of the victims. On your visit to Heal Africa's incredible hospital, you will see things that will shock your system and make it difficult for you to give that speech. You will meet little girls who've been gang raped by soldiers and who can no longer talk or feed themselves. You'll see mothers and their children who live in a kind of poverty that does not compare with what you see in Kenya or South Africa or Ghana or any of the places you've previously visited on the continent. Remind yourself that this is the norm in eastern Congo. What has happened to the few few people you'll meet on a quick tour are not exceptions, indeed, the only difference between them and the 5 million Congolese who've died since 1998 is that someone is helping them. These are people who have seen the worst things that human beings can do to one another. You will not be the same after hearing their stories.

But the people of the Congo don't need you to see and be shocked by their situation. They need you to do something. They need you to go beyond the rhetoric. So I am begging you: please make this trip different. The world doesn't need another predictable Jeffrey Gettleman story about rape in the Congo and how yet another politician or celebrity is shocked by what she saw in Goma on a MONUC-accompanied trip through the hospital. Jendayi Fraser, Ben Affleck, Anderson Cooper, Nick Kristof, Lucy Liu - they've all been there and done that. And almost nothing has resulted from their efforts to publicize the situation.

What could you do instead? You can use this trip as an opportunity to commit the United States to providing serious help for the eastern Congo. Yes, you can. Really. It would not be that expensive beyond what we're already donating to the country. (For one thing, redirecting some of the resources that we waste by sending them through Kinshasa, where they're plundered by national officials, could make the use of aid dollars far more effective.) Here are some changes you could push for - or even announce - while in the Congo:
  • A U.S.-backed effort to send adequate numbers of peacekeeping forces into the territory. MONUC force strength is beyond pitiful right now; that territory cannot be secured with 18,000 men, no matter how well-trained they are. If the world is serious about ending the conflict and the suffering in the DRC, there need to be 100,000 peacekeepers deployed throughout the country. Those peacekeepers should have the authority to work independently of the FARDC against rebel forces. Otherwise, you'll end up with operations like Kimia II, which only hurt the population.
  • Taking a harder-line stance against Rwanda's extracurricular adventures in the DRC and authoritarian tendencies at home. That you are not visiting Kigali on this trip is huge, and don't think the Rwandans haven't noticed that they've been snubbed by the wife of a former president who visits their country every summer for his foundation's work. They are trying to figure this out. The best thing you could do is to force the Uganda-raised Tutsis running Kigali to get the message that they cannot continue to govern by cabal and that stealing minerals from their neighbors is not acceptable behavior for a country that wants to be taken seriously on the world stage. Kigali also needs to be reminded of the importance of a free press and the development of a political opposition, and that countries that don't allow such things generally don't get to be called "democracies."
  • Commit more American resources to fighting HIV/AIDS in the Congo. If you have HIV in Rwanda or Uganda, it's fairly easy to get access to ARV's and other forms of treatment. If, however, you're a resident of North Kivu, there are hardly any ARV's there. The people of the Congo are painfully aware of these facts. We know that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate for the DRC is vastly underreported; incomplete population data and the inability to conduct comprehensive epidemiological surveys mean that there are probably far more HIV+ individuals in the region than those currently counted as infected. Did you know that as of 2007, only 65 HIV+ children in Goma could be treated with ARV's - using Clinton Foundation funds? That's shameful, and given that the U.S. government has found a way to work with Congolese health officials in the PNMLS program in other provinces (including neighboring South Kivu) there's really no excuse not to do more. Commit serious PEPFAR funds to North Kivu.
  • Focus on what already works. The basic problem in the eastern Congo is one of governance, not mineral access or even the violence. Because Kinshasa does not control what happens in the Kivus, the door is opened for the whole host of other problems, the effects of which you'll see in your time in Goma. That said, life for most Congolese is not entirely chaos. There are hospitals and schools and community development programs run by and for locals that are far more effective and sustainable than the multimillion dollar international aid projects to which so many U.S. resources are directed. While you're in Goma, you should visit the Catholic procurate. They will tell you about the tens of thousands of Congolese children their Church educates on behalf of the state, typically with extremely limited resources. Or go off the beaten path and visit the CBCA Virunga Hospital, which - despite having almost no international support beyond that provided by the American Baptist Churches - serves as the general hospital for more than half of Goma's population. These institutions are already doing the work we want to see being done in the eastern Congo. It's far better to support their efforts than to fund yet another misguided, "expert"-driven project that won't help anybody in the long run.
I know you have a lot to accomplish and very little time to spend in the DRC. But this is an opportunity to go beyond the usual rhetoric, to surprise us, and to give the Congolese people some much-needed hope. By and large, our current policies towards Africa do not work. What have we got to lose?



this time i mean it

I had every intention of getting back to regular blogging today, what with the whole finally having internet at home again situation getting fixed this morning. But my contractor died overnight. His tools are still in my house. So I think it's going to be tomorrow before I get to posting on HRC's visit to the continent. Thanks for understanding.


and we're back

..kindof. Honestly,I'm so tired from the whole "saying-good-bye-to-dear-friends, driving-across-the-country, unpacking, finding-things-wrong-with-the-house" thing, that I can barely think straight, much less say everything that needs to be said about the various shenanigans in African politics and stupid stunts by advocacy organizations that occurred in the last fortnight. Luckily, Wronging Rights has a post that pretty much sums it up.

After you've enjoyed that, any thoughts on future posts? I'm planning posts on the following:
  • Rwanda's efforts to join the Commonwealth
  • Enough's action plan for the Congo war
  • The Deadly Ethnic Riots currently happening in Nigeria
  • Thoughts on a decade of fighting terrorism in east Africa
Anything else you'd like to see here in the near future?