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


highly recommended

‘My god,’ said Geoff, ‘so it’s true. We hold in our very hands the original draft of the hitherto unknown third treaty of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia signed by the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III himself.’

‘Yes,’ confirmed Sally. ‘Who would have thought when we set off this morning for this remote Swiss village that we would end the day in possession of the very document which marked the birth of modern European statehood?’

‘Certainly not me!’ laughed Geoff.

’Nor me!’ guffawed Sally.

‘And to think,’ Geoff extemporised, ‘the Ratification of the Treaty of Münster occurred exactly three hundred and sixty-one years ago today!’
That's from a post entitled "Present your research in the form of dialogue" on the excellent How to Write Badly Well blog.


the life of an assistant professor

Today I got a letter addressed to the professor of "International Relationships."

I'm not sure there's a syllabus that could cover that topic.


this & that


dream the impossible dream

Just call him Somalia's Don Quixote:
Somalia's prime minister has said his government will eradicate piracy off its coast within the next two years.

On a visit to the UK, Omar Sharmarke told the BBC that his war-torn country lacked enough resources to tackle the problem but was seeking help abroad.

Analysts say to date the government has had minimal influence on the fate of those kidnapped by pirates, who tend to be released unharmed for hefty ransoms.
Oh, Somali government. Always the optimist, never the functioning state. Who is Sharmarke kidding? (Or perhaps the more appropriate question is: from whom does he think he can get more weapons?)

The vast majority of Somali pirate activity is based out of Puntland. Puntland is in no effective sense part of the Somali state anymore; only on the map is it under Mogadishu's control. While it's by no means a strong state, Puntland has its own government, president, and laws. The idea that the government in Mogadishu can do anything there is laughable. But Sharmarke isn't bothered by details like "needing a real army" and "securing the borders" or other nonsense like that:
Mr Sharmarke rejected the suggestion that as his transitional government has limited reach across Somalia, it is powerless to tackle piracy.

He said he would eradicate piracy through a civil affairs and information campaign, backed by military force.

"We're not powerless but the capacity to handle this issue is not all there. And that's why we're seeking assistance and investors.

"We have to understand that the cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of doing something."

Given that the government only controls a few districts of the capital, Mogadishu, it is difficult to imagine how it will deal with the pirates, who operate in areas outside government control, reports the BBC's Mary Harper.




A Taleban suicide squad stormed a United Nations guesthouse in Kabul this morning leaving six international staff — including one American — dead and at least nine injured, in an attack that militants warned marked the start of a bloody countdown to the new Afghan elections.

Fierce fighting erupted shortly after dawn when gunmen attacked the residential compound close to the diplomatic district of the capital, while elsewhere a salvo of rockets hit the Presidential Palace and a nearby hotel.

Around 20 UN staff were asleep in the three storey building when their security guards were overrun by insurgents wearing police uniforms, officials said.

Neighbours said that they heard a series of grenade explosions followed by short bursts of small arms fire. A former British soldier, working as a security adviser in a nearby property, said that it sounded like a "well disciplined" attack.

At least five Westerners were seen jumping off top floor balconies in a bid to escape, as flames engulfed the three storey building. Afghan officials said at least two women ran into the street, semi-clothed, screaming for help.

The New York Times account is even more sickening.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those killed, all of you in Kabul, and those with ties to the city & its people for whom this hits a little too close to home.

finally some good news

Although I doubt we'll see many inquiries into all the other shady deals involving French citizens, businesses, and goodness knows who else in Africa:
The son of ex-French President Francois Mitterrand and an ex-government minister have been convicted for their roles in illegal arms sales to Angola.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand was given a two-year suspended sentence, and ex-Interior Minister Charles Pasqua was jailed for one year by the Paris court.

They were convicted of accepting bribes to facilitate arms deals to Angola in 1993-98, in breach of French law.

Two key figures were sentenced to six years each in their absence.

Prosecutors accused Israeli-Russian billionaire Arkady Gaydamak and French magnate Pierre Falcone of being the key figures in the arms trafficking worth $790m (£485m).

Gaydamak and Falcone were accused of buying tanks, helicopters and artillery pieces and then selling them to Angola during its civil war, through a French-based firm and its subsidiary in Eastern Europe.

Falcone was arrested and imprisoned as soon as the sentence was passed. Gaydamak is living in Russia, Associated Press reported.

Mitterrand, an Africa adviser to his father in the Elysee Palace, was ordered to pay 375,000 euros (£340,000), and Pasqua was fined 100,000 euros, while two years of his prison sentence were suspended.

In total 42 people were on trial.

The scandal was dubbed "Angola-gate" by the French press as details of murky deals involving politicians, businessmen, public figures and weapons were revealed.


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costumes for development geeks

In case you're in need of a Halloween costume for a party with people of like-minded persuasion:
  • Bill Easterly & Jeff Sachs - Wear matching t-shirts that say, "Everything he says is wrong" above arrows pointing to the other. For Sachs, be sure to promote your latest book and drop the term "Millennium Villages" into every other sentence. For Easterly, wear a button that notes that you are the "8th Most Famous Native of Bowling Green, Ohio" and insist on solid statistical proof of everything anyone says to you. even if he or she talking about the quality of the onion dip.
  • Abu Sharati - Hey, if nobody else can find him, why shouldn't you be him?
  • Luis Moreno Ocampo - The nice thing about going as the ICC prosecutor is that the costume itself is fairly easy: a suit should do it. The real trick is the ability to stare plaintively into the distance with clear thoughts of human rights abuses on your mind at all hours of the night.
  • The "Old-timer" - You know. That guy. The logistics expert who's been at the field office for five years, despite the fact that your NGO limits everybody else to two year contracts. He's seen it all and won't let anyone forget it. Wear the same pair of wrinkled khakis you've been wearing every other day for the last eight months and a pair of sandals made from old tires. Respond to every comment with a "been-there, done that" sort of attitude, regardless of whether the subject is kidnappings, giardia, or meeting Angelina Jolie.
  • MIA Laurent Nkunda - What's Nkunda up to these days, besides writing his memoirs? (HT: Intern Chris at Wronging Rights) Who knows? You can make it up. Nkunda poolside? Nkunda plotting his escape? However you play it, just remember: for this costume to be authentic, you're gonna need a goat.
  • Hunger-striking celebrity - This only works if you have a waifish figure and can convincingly pretend that egg whites with lemongrass tea is a satisfying diet on a normal day. It doesn't really matter what you wear, but be prepared to talk about Africans in abstract terms that ignore the continent's diversity while perpetuating stereotypes of poverty, disease, and war.
  • Misguided Advocates - You'll need at least 4-5 people to pull this off. Everyone in the group should wear matching t-shirts with an oversimplified message, preferably one that shows a lack of knowledge about the people on whose behalf they claim to be advocating. "Let's Save the Country of Africa" would be an ideal slogan. A person or two should play the clueless celebrities, making statements about how they hope their art will reflect the struggle of people who speak African.
All in fun, gang, all in fun. Other ideas for Halloween costumes for our particular brand of geek?

(Update: Matt, who has some hilarious ideas in the comments, suggests this t-shirt for the misguided advocates.)


only 289 days to go

Kenyan Law Professor (and the former Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia for the UN Secretary-General) Yash Ghai recently completed a critical report on Rwanda's human rights and political situation for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Kigali is Not Happy about it. From Shyaka Kanuma's response in Kigali's Focus Media, we see why this report was so upsetting:
The Kenyan academic who was in Rwanda at the request of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative to do a report on human rights and democracy has submitted a report he has written on Rwanda's suitability to join the Commonwealth. His conclusions, some of which he publishes in The Standard, look calculated to scuttle the country's chances of joining the grouping, made up mainly of countries that speak English and that have ties in the areas of commerce, education and so on.
I highly recommend reading the whole thing as it's more entertaining than you might expect. The author accuses the professor of engaging in revisionist history (while not actually refuting any of Ghai's claims) and says that we can't believe anything the professor says because all of his sources refused to speak on the record. Because obviously no reputable person with knowledge of how things work in Kigali has any reason not to want to be named, especially when they're talking to someone with such a long and distinguished record in the study of human rights and constitutional law as Professor Ghai. Then there's this little gem:
Rwanda has repeatedly embarrassed UN bodies such as MONUC, the so called peacekeepers in eastern DR Congo by stepping in and solving problems they can't.
In other news, Reporters without Borders released its annual Press Freedom Index this week. Rwanda clocked in at #157 of 175. This puts Rwanda just ahead of Equatorial Guinea (where everything is controlled by the president's family and torture of political enemies is commonplace) and just behind Libya.

Rwanda's presidential elections are just 10 months away.


this & that


did the peace corps overreact?

The Peace Corps has pulled its volunteers out of Guinea:
Peace Corps has suspended its volunteer program in Guinea due to ongoing safety and security concerns related to recent political instability. All 94 Peace Corps/Guinea volunteers are safe and accounted for and are currently participating in a conference in Mali.

...Both Peace Corps and the U.S. Embassy in Conakry will continue to monitor and assess the safety and security situation in Guinea in preparation for a return of Peace Corps Volunteers as soon as possible.
Peace Corps never risks much when it comes to protecting the safety of its volunteers, so this is not a terribly surprising decision. There's also the political consideration; pulling out Peace Corps Volunteers sends a strong signal to non-cooperative governments. But while I don't want to read too much into it, the Peace Corps' decision could be yet another sign that the situation in Guinea may get worse before it gets better.

The UN and the ICC have both announced that they will begin investigations into the September 28 killings of civilian protesters by military forces. The United Nations investigation is already underway, and diplomats are heavily pressuring Captain Camara to step aside. Camara, however, ignored Saturday's African Union-imposed deadline to declare his intentions regarding next year's elections.

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, it's increasingly clear that whatever happened on September 28 - and whatever is happening right now - involves regional security and economic dynamics as well as a domestic power struggle. Evidence that Liberians with ties to the old LURD movement were involved in the massacre is mounting. And there's no telling what the drug lords who use Guinea's unmonitored coast as a handy transit point between Latin American producers and the European market are up to in the midst of this mess.

On the other hand, it's refreshing to see a (relatively) quick international response to an incident that occurred just a few weeks ago. That the United Nations and the ICC have both managed to plan investigations in such a short time frame is a positive development in and of itself. It suggests that there's a stronger global commitment to preventing instability in West Africa in an area that's seen more than its fair share of conflict over the past few decades. It suggests that the ideas behind the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, neo-colonial though they may be, are being taken quite seriously in some quarters. One can only hope that the efforts of those who want to stabilize Guinea will not be in vain.

What do you think? Did the Peace Corps overreact by pulling its volunteers out of Guinea so quickly? Is the situation in Guinea likely to get better or worse in the weeks and months to come?


this & that


eventual salvation

For those of you who get the Sundance Channel, this sounds interesting. From a press release someone sent:
I’m helping the Sundance Channel spread the word about Monday’s U.S. TV premiere of its original documentary Eventual Salvation. Thought you and your readers would be interested.

In this uplifting film, the director Dee Rees follows her 80-year-old grandmother Earnestine Smith, as she returns to her adopted home of Liberia to help rebuild a country emerging from 14 years of civil war. Smith is reunited with old friends and colleagues, who have also resolved to lend their expertise to the hard work of restoring communities and infrastructure. As it chronicles the efforts of Smith and her friends, Eventual Salvation interweaves their thoughts and stories with those of neighboring young men and women, who have resumed their lives and education after losing their childhoods to war.

...This personal story of hope and redemption won the Creative Promise Award for Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

one to watch: darfur

The SSRC's excellent Making Sense of Darfur blog will host a debate regarding recent predictions of possible outcomes as Sudan faces two major events in the coming months. From Alex de Waal's introduction:
Sudan faces two momentous events in the next fifteen months. The first is the general election, intended as the first multi-party nationwide elections in the nation’s history (earlier multiparty elections in the 1960s and 1980s did not include war-affected areas in the south, an exclusion that doomed the resulting governments). The second is the referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan, which if indications of southern opinion are reliable, will lead to a decisive vote for secession. With all the attention on ‘CPA implementation’—which consists of safely getting to the point of the referendum—there has been far too little attention to what happens afterwards.
This will definitely be one to watch.


it's friday morning and OU sucks!

Apologies to all the international readers out there who count on Texas in Africa as a source of information about African politics and development & security issues, but this is a Very Important Weekend for Texas Longhorn football fans. And if this is our competition, I'm confident that everything's going to be okay:

(Thanks, Ben!)

this & that

Here's to a life very well-lived.


this & that


great news

Jason Stearns is blogging at Congo Siasa.* This is excellent news. Most recently of the UN Group of Experts on the Congo, Jason knows more about the eastern DRC than just about any other outsider. We'll all benefit from having regular access to his insights on the region.

If you're at all interested in the Kivus, you should definitely subscribe to the feed or add it to your reader. Here's his description:
Congo Siasa intends to chronicle the complex inner workings of Congo politics, in particular in the restive Kivus region. It should be pithy, brief and analytical. None of us really have much time for anything else. I will also feature guest bloggers, from the Congo and abroad, as long as their views are within the realm of sound reason and relevant.

French, English and any of the Congolese language go (although once we get to Kibangubangu our readership will become seriously limited).
For a taste of the type of analysis he provides, check out this post featuring before & after satellite imagery of Kimia II.

(Thanks to David for the tip.)

*Siasa = politics in Kiswahili.


was it worth it?

Dear MONUC, Washington, Brussels, London, and Kinshasa,

Forgive me for being so abrupt, but I have a question for you that demands an answer. Immediately. My question: Was it worth it?

Really. Was it? Was the disarming of 1,071 FDLR rebels in the Kimia II operation these past few months worth the humanitarian disaster you created in the Kivu provinces? Today we got the numbers on just how bad that humanitarian disaster was from the Congo Advocacy Coalition, a coalition of 84 local and international advocacy groups who are in a position to know. Here are the results of Kimia II:
  • 1,071 FDLR rebels disarmed.
  • Approximately 1,000 civilians killed.
  • Approximately 7,000 people raped.
  • Approximately 900,000 people displaced.
  • Approximately 6,000 houses burned down.
(Nobody disputes these numbers, so don't try to pull a fast one by saying the Congolese can't come up with reliable data. The Congolese are masters at data collection. It's a remnant of the obsessive record-keeping the Belgians did while discriminating against tens of millions of people in health care and education. You can go to Brussels today and find out how many untreated cases of intestinal schistosomiasis led to Congolese deaths in 1948. And today there is a standardized form that doctors fill out when a woman or girl has been violently raped. The data is as solid as it can be under the circumstances.)

Those numbers represent the human cost of Kimia II. But, you might say, there's always collateral damage in war. It goes with the territory. And don't we want to eliminate the threat from the FDLR? Yes, of course. It's unfortunate, but true that some civilians will probably suffer in the effort to get the territory under control. Some of these abuses were certainly committed by the FDLR. But a lot of them were committed by the FARDC.

That said, we have to consider the proportional effects of the effort. And those numbers, dear MONUC and all the Western capitals that supported this operation, are not in your favor. As the above-linked-to article notes, for every FDLR rebel you disarmed:
  • 1 civilian was killed.
  • 7 people were violently raped.
  • 900 people were displaced from their homes.
  • 6 people lost their homes to arson.
Those are raw numbers and maybe they don't mean that much to you, but they mean a lot to those 914,000 or so people whose lives were destroyed as a result of Kimia II. Maybe these words from Immacule Birhaheka of the Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines organization will make clear what you have done:
"We're seeing more cases of mutilation, extreme violence, and torture in sexual violence cases against women and girls, and many more of the victims are children."
Oh, and odds are that you've created plenty of new FDLR rebels through this operation. Surely you're not so naive as to believe that disarming 1,071 people means you can just get rid of rebel after rebel and eventually eliminate the FDLR. That didn't work in Vietnam and it won't work here.

What I don't get is why you insisted on persisting with this operation even when it was clear that Kimia II was causing massive human suffering. We knew within six months of the operation's launch that it was a disaster. And yet you continued. Why? When humanitarian advocates, representatives of international NGO's, scholars, and the Congolese spent the last four months telling you this operation had to stop because the human cost was so high, did you not believe us? What suggested to you that involving the FARDC in an operation would mean that civilians would be protected from all the war criminals within its ranks? How can you look at the Congolese civilians you are ostensibly trying to protect and tell them that this was all in their best interest?

I genuinely want to know. Was it worth it?

(Updated to note that the coalition includes international NGO's & advocates, and to clarify that the math was in the Guardian article.)

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whatcha bet kagame's been reading dambisa moyo?

Funny how Kagame apparently came around to this view after his Western donors clued into his shenanigans in the DRC and threatened to cut foreign aid:
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has praised the way China does business in Africa, criticising the West for basing relations with the continent on aid.

Huge Chinese investment in African companies and infrastructure is helping Africa develop, Mr Kagame said.

...Speaking to a German newspaper, Mr Kagame - seen in the West as one of Africa's more dynamic leaders - was as critical of the West as he was generous in praise of China.

"The Chinese bring what Africa needs: investment and money for governments and companies," he told business newspaper Handelsblatt.

"China is investing in infrastructure and building roads," he said, adding that European and American involvement "has not brought Africa forward".

..."I would prefer the Western world to invest in Africa rather than handing out development aid."
The thing is, Kagame's kindof right. Sure, the Chinese don't care how many human rights violations cooperative African governments have committed, or how many tons of minerals they've stolen from their neighbors, or how many donors they've duped. And the Chinese don't really bring jobs to African states since they mostly bring their own workers along to complete massive infrastructure projects, creating resentment among locals who can't find jobs in the formal sector because there aren't any.

But building roads and hospitals and shiny new parliament buildings is a real service. It makes economic development more possible, it makes the population healthier, and it sure as heck doesn't lead to billions of dollars of aid wasted on poorly conceived projects like providing camcorders for Congolese rape victims and building fish freezing plants to feed people who don't eat fish. It still creates dependency and gives China access to natural resources at prices one suspects are lower than market value, but it does help.

Let's start a pool. How long before there's a direct Kigali-Guangzhou flight to cut down on travel time for all those Chinese tarmac pourers? I'll take 2 years.


only in scandanavia

You know things are a little crazy when I agree with The Kristof [emphasis mine]:
"I think he has the right instincts on these issues and expect him to get engaged, but shouldn’t the Nobel Peace Prize have a higher bar than high expectations? Especially when there are so many people who have worked for years and years on the front lines, often in dangerous situations, to make a difference to the most voiceless people of the world? I think of Dr. Denis Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo, or Jo and Lyn Lusi at the Heal Africa Hospital also in eastern Congo, or Greg Mortenson traipsing all over Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools, or Dr. Catherine Hamlin working for half a century to fight obstetric fistula and maternal mortality in Ethiopia, or so many others. In the light of that competition, it seems to me that it might have made sense to wait and give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in his eighth year in office, after he has actually made peace somewhere."
He had me up until he referred to poor people as "voiceless."

I think we will probably see that President Obama is baffled by the committee's decision as well. Obama is smart enough to recognize that the simple fact of not being George W. Bush does not a global peace maker create. It's yet another distraction at a very important time in domestic politics and will give the people who oppose Obama for the sake of opposing Obama even more ammunition in their pointless war of words.

Oh, but what I would've given to have seen Hillary Clinton's face when she heard about this.

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transitional justice

From the BBC [emphasis mine]:

One of the most wanted suspects in Rwanda's 1994 genocide has been arrested in Uganda.

Idelphonse Nizeyimana was an intelligence chief at the time of the genocide, in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

He has been extradited to Tanzania for trial at a UN-backed tribunal, accused of organising the killing of thousands - including the former Tutsi queen.

Rwanda welcomed the arrest but said he should be tried in his country.

...He was arrested in a modest hotel in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Ugandan police said he had crossed the border from DR Congo last week, and was heading for Kenya with false travel documents.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, said he would appear before the judges in the coming days.

The tribunal, which is due to finish its work by the end of next year, says it is still trying to find 11 fugitives. So far 40 people have been convicted of crimes connected with the genocide.

I'm glad to hear that Nizeyimana has finally been tracked down and arrested. There's a decent chance that he spent part of the last fifteen years wreaking havoc in the eastern Congo, and he deserves to face justice. But does anyone outside of Kigali think that Nizeyimana would get a fair trial in Rwanda? Sure, he probably doesn't deserve it and the ICTR is incredibly inefficient, but that's what separates the people who follow the rule of law from the genocidaires.


strong condemnation

Well, it took a week, but the State Department finally got around to condemning Guinea's government for the horrible atrocities committed against civilians last week in a more significant way than just issuing a press release. Secretary Clinton commented on the situation at a press conference yesterday and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Fitzgerald met with the coup leader currently in charge of Guinea, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, on Monday. Fitzgerald was tasked with delivering the message that what happened on September 28 is not acceptable and that Camara should not attempt to run for president. According to NYT reporter Adam Nossiter, "The response from the captain was noncommittal."

(As Nossiter notes in an earlier piece, the Captain wasn't even at the rally last Monday. Why? "He could not find the keys to his pickup.")

Nossiter also goes on to say that, "Mr. Fitzgerald's meeting with Captain Camara is seen as significant by Africa experts as an example of President Obama’s push for good governance and human rights on the continent — the focus of a speech he gave in Ghana in July that is still widely commented on." (Nossiter doesn't actually name any of these "Africa experts" and nobody I know would say that a weak condemnation issued by a senior-level diplomat in a place where the United States has almost no influence will do much good for anything, but, hey, it's the thought that counts, right?)

What are the experts on the region saying? As usual, the International Crisis Group has formulated the most comprehensive response to the situation. You can read West Africa Program Director Richard Moncrieff's thoughts on the situation here, and listen to a podcast on the issue (available in French and English) here.

As Moncrieff notes, the stability of Guinea isn't just a domestic issue. A destabilized Guinea has dire implications for the rest of the region:
The regional implications are disturbing. Five years after the terrible conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Monday's protests demonstrate that underlying problems are far from solved. Throughout the region, high levels of unemployment and poor governance continue to cause extreme frustration.

In Guinea, the weakness of countervailing powers – political parties, parliaments, media – has opened space for the military, with the disastrous consequences we now see. More worrying, the border area with Liberia, which suffered a spillover from the Liberian civil war in 2001, is the site of increasing ethnic tension.

If you're looking for more background on Guinea, there's an excellent piece on the country's history in the current issue of African Studies Review (not yet available online, but it will be firewalled here) by Elizabeth Schmidt. Schmidt's article is entitled "Anticolonial Nationalism in French West Africa: What Made Guinea Unique?" and is very helpful for understanding the unique political system that drove Guinea to abandon ties to France altogether at independence. It explains Guinea's forms of leadership, the country's tradition of political radicalism, and why the reality of post-independence was so different from what the people had imagined. I highly recommend a read if you can access it.



This is the 4,000th post at Texas in Africa. To say that I am astonished that this blog is still going - and that people actually read it - would be an understatement. TiA started off four years ago as a blog for family & friends about my fieldwork in the DRC (which I semi-jokingly referred to as the "I'm still alive" site). It then became my online filing cabinet for stories and thoughts on African politics as I tried to process all I'd seen and learned in the Congo.

Today, Texas in Africa is part of a great community of people who are writing and thinking about development, public services, and security issues on the African continent and beyond. We've managed to create spaces where aid & development workers, advocates, scholars, public officials and interested observers can discuss and debate important questions together. I really do believe we're coming up with better ideas by challenging one another through these non-traditional fora. And who knows, maybe one day these informal debates will translate into ideas that can be implemented as actual policies. I am humbled to be a small part of it, and honored that you all keep reading.

For the fifth year of Texas in Africa, I'm hoping to focus a bit more on current academic research on African politics by providing reviews here and there of important work that can be translated into language that you don't have to be a political scientist or development economist to understand. (Look for one on Guinea later this week.) The new "What Works" series was really popular, so there will be more from whence that came. I'll also keep up with current events and the ever-popular link posts a couple of times a week. One of these days I will finally get around to a much-needed blog redesign & updating of the links list. And I'm hoping that a few of us academic types can arrange a meetup at ISA in New Orleans this winter. (Anybody? Anybody?)

Thanks again for reading. Here's to year #5.


I can't WAIT for Save Darfur's response to this one

Hoo-boy, there's nothing like losing your umbrella on a rainy morning and a little Darfur-related scandal to get the blood flowing on a Monday morning. The former of these problems, however, has little bearing on anyone's life but mine, and even then, I can live with wet hair and a few damp exams that still need to be graded.

What's the real scandal, you ask? Amanda over at Wronging Rights has been doing some digging to learn more about a refugee named Abu Sharati who always seems to be quoted in stories about Darfur. As it turns out, it seems highly likely that Abu Sharati either 1) doesn't exist or 2) is part of an SLA leader's PR machine. From Part I of her three-part series:
None of my contacts could be sure, but they shared a common theory: that the supposed "refugee spokesperson" was actually part of the PR operation of Abdel Wahid Al Nur, a rebel leader who heads one faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army, or SLA. An activist from a different faction of the SLA, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Sharati was in fact one of Abdel Wahid's men.
Why, then, are reporters from the AP, Reuters, and the New York Times quoting this guy when activists can't find him and there's at least limited evidence that he's not actually a refugee? Leave it to Amanda to call and ask (part II):
The AP's Sarah El Deeb responded that she had personally met with Sharati. According to her, he did not hold any official position that allowed him to speak for two and a half million other people. Rather, she said, he was a "self-proclaimed representative" who "travels in hiding from camp to camp" because he is wanted by the government. And then she dropped -in parentheses, after signing off- this minor piece of information:
"(By the way: Sharati is a Darfur word for a local representative. I think all this needs to be made clear in the next report. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.)"
In other words, she'd published a quote from "Abu Sharati," stating that he was a refugee representative, when in fact he was neither (a) Abu Sharati, or (b) a refugee representative. Another journalist I spoke to, who has traveled to Darfur, confirmed that the name was a pseudonym. And according to Alex de Waal, the word "Sharati" is the plural of "Shartai," which refers to a Fur administrative chief under the Sultanic system. So "Abu Sharati" would mean "chief of chiefs" within the Fur tradition, which I suppose could be translated as "representative."
And the Paper of Record?
[New York Times stringer] Izzadine replied that he knew Sharati personally. His full name was "Husein Abu Sharati," but sometimes he also went by "Abu Shartai." (The singular form of the word, as noted above -I guess maybe he's only plural on special occasions.) Izzedine claimed that Sharati was "heading the heads" of the 54 tribes who make up the displaced in Darfur, and was therefore "a representative of all IDPs and refugees" from those 54 tribes. However, Sharati couldn't speak or meet with me, because "the refugees and IDPs would not allow it."
And Reuters?
Andrew Heavens was not willing to be quoted by name in this blog, so I haven't included his responses here.

But because I am willing to be quoted by name in this blog, let me say for the record that I think it's extremely lame for a reporter to publish a bylined article, but then to refuse to discuss it on the record when legitimate questions about the existence of a named source arise. I hope that Andrew will change his mind, and send a response that I can publish.
Amanda explains why all this matters in Part III of the series.

In my view, this is just one more example of the inexcusably sloppy reporting about Africa that major media outlets do all the time. The NYT's apparent inability to fact check its Africa stories since their fact checkers are so busy figuring out whether the subjects of wedding announcements lied about their prep schools is but one example. That doesn't mean there aren't dedicated reporters working in the continent who take the time to do their homework; there are. But not bothering to look into who your sources are is a fundamental break with the standards of ethical journalism. And news organizations that cut their budgets in an important area while wasting resources on pointless stories about non-issues don't really deserve to have their subscriber numbers go up. They are at least as much to blame for spreading misinformation as are reporters who don't try to find out who they're really interviewing.

The whole series is a doozy of investigative reporting, and I highly recommend reading it. NYT, the ball is in your court.

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this & that

  • What to say about a former coup leader who's just now being reburied after, as one of his relatives put it, "four years in the freezer"? Good-bye, General Guei.
  • The Esteyonage continues his cool series on Liberia's microeconomy with a discussion of the moto-taxi industry. Having been physically assaulted by a police officer while on a moto-taxi that did not stop, I particularly appreciated his discussion of the dangers associated with this kind of work.
  • Kenya's government says it will cooperate with the ICC in investigations into last year's post-election violence.
  • Africa is a Country points us to a nice CNN feature on one of my favorite people in the eastern DRC, Dr. Denis Mukwege, the head of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. When I met Dr. Mukwege in 2007, he asked for prayers for his staff in all they have to deal with. Enduring rape is unimaginably awful; seeing and treating thousands and thousands of women and girls for those rapes wears down your soul after awhile. You might spare a thought or a prayer for them today.
  • On the fortress-like ridiculousness that is the current trend in American embassies. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the American embassy in Kampala is ridiculous. On the other, I saw the bombed-out embassy in Nairobi in 1998, and I never want to see anything like that in the end.
  • Thousands of Guineans arrive at the morgue to identify the bodies of those killed by government troops on Monday while Captain Camara insists he's the one in danger.
  • It's kindof awesome that the Obama administration is calling out Fox News for its blatant disregard for the facts.


this & that