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

2.28.2009

happy day

If you count the M.A., I've been in graduate school for nearly nine years. That's eighteen semesters, plus a couple of summer sessions, not to mention that whole "living in a 'post'-conflict zone" thing to collect data in the name of political science. It's been a long road, and while it isn't over yet, yesterday, I reached a significant milestone.

The dissertation is done.

"Done" isn't exactly "done, done," of course. I get the feeling that will never really happen. I still wake up at four in the morning thinking about little tweaks that need to be made. The committee still has to rip it apart and return it to me for revisions. My daddy, who just happens to be a retired editor, is proofreading the whole thing, including hundreds of footnotes, bless him. And then there are the tiny matters of defending it, turning it into a book, and finding a publisher.

But the hard part is over. This morning I slept in without feeling the tiniest bit guilty for the last nine years. (What they don't tell you about graduate school: all leisure time gives you a guilt complex. There's always something else you could be doing. Always.)

Many of you have asked these past couple of months what I'll be doing next year. I'm pleased to report that I'll be joining the faculty at Morehouse College in Atlanta. I'm excited to have found a tenure-track job in this economy, glad to be landing in a big city with a major international airport and a cultural life, and slightly intimidated to be the assistant professor of African politics at the only historically black men's college in America. Morehouse is the alma mater of everyone from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Spike Lee. It is a place that is very rich in tradition, expectations, and history. The men of Morehouse are outstanding students and I'm really looking forward to teaching courses in my field while helping prepare them to lead.

Assuming everything goes well with my defense in April, I'll head to Atlanta in late July. That's just in time for my parents, who are not only happy that thirteen years of higher education resulted in gainful employment, but are also excited to have a free place to stay in close proximity to Turner Field, the home of their favorite baseball team, the Braves.

Thanks, blog friends and real-life friends, for your friendship and encouragement these last few years. I'm really excited about what's next, and looking forward to catching up on sleep and everything else I neglected while finishing the diss (including a lot of emails I owe many of you). I couldn't have done it without you.

2.23.2009

on hiatus

Gentle readers, my dissertation is due on Friday. It's hard to believe that time has flown so quickly these past, um, seven years, but here we are. The end is near and it appears that The Advisor wants me to graduate. Since I have a million tasks to complete involving things like changing every book and journal title in the footnotes from being underlined to being italicized(and there are a LOT of footnotes), formatting all the headings according to the graduate school's fascist rules about font sizes, and, oh, yeah, finishing chapter four (my nemesis), I'm taking the week off from blogging and just about everything else. We'll see you back here in March.

PS - I have some posts up over at Inspired to Action, where we're finishing up a monthlong focus on the HIV/AIDS crisis.

2.22.2009

this & that

  • Well, it appears that our man in Zimbabwe had a high old time for his 85th birthday while his countrymen continue to starve/choke to death with cholera around him. I am simultaneously speechless, completely horrified, and a little bit in love with the fact that 2Face Idibia, my favorite Nigerian pop star, is scheduled to perform at one of the gala celebrations. (Mugabe parties for a week, people.) Why do I love 2Face so much? There is one and only one reason:

  • I don't know what it says about me that I just listened to another 2Face single and kindof liked it. I'm pretty sure it's the lyrical prowess. You really should listen to the second verse.
  • It is completely awesome to watch Texas beat OU while listening to 2Face.
  • The state is finally going to hold Judge Sharon Keller to account. It's about time. She should be disbarred. There's just no excuse for her behavior that day. And given the number of people who are wrongfully convicted in our state, every precaution should be taken to ensure that our criminal justice system has gotten it right.
  • S&B is in a little bit of trouble. It's going to be wildly entertaining when someone tries to serve papers at the tomb.
  • You'd think this sort of thing would happen in a place like Austin before it happened in Fairfax County. Right?
  • The effects of hyperactive text messaging are not "down the road;" they're here, now. Parents, the best thing you can do is make your child pay for it him or herself. We're raising a generation of morons with the attention spans of two-year-olds. Don't even get me started on the student who answered her phone during my class a couple of weeks ago...

2.20.2009

this & that

2.19.2009

what I would not part with

Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of Wallace Stegner, one of the greatest writers of the American West. Timothy Egan has a nice piece in the NYT about the respect Stegner never seemed to earn from the literati (especially those at the NYT).

I've not managed to finish Stegner's greatest novel, Angle of Repose, although it's been sitting on my nightstand since at least August. But Crossing to Safety, which I read in my first year of PhD work, is one of my favorite books. In Crossing, Stegner perfectly captured the life of a young, brilliant, and somewhat terrified academic who's learning his way in the world and managing complicated family relationships and friendships. He took the title from Frost's poem, "I Could Give All to Time," which makes a fitting reminder of Stegner's life and work:

"I could give all to Time except - except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept."

this & that

  • MSNBC only found 25 things to love about Austin, Texas. They forgot Taco Deli and Sunday afternoons with the chicken at Ginny's. (For the record, Hey Cupcake! is the best cupcake shop, primarily because they operate out of an Airstream and because they sell a cupcake called the Michael Jackson. It's chocolate with cream cheese frosting.)
  • Here's a great photo essay on the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence. (Steve the Lawyer sent me a hilarious text yesterday: "It is WILD here now. [My boss] and I are on Mother Teresa in the crowd." It took me a minute to remember that Mother Teresa is the pedestrian street in the middle of Pristina, and that therefore our diplomats aren't behaving in a wildly irreverant fashion with regard to the most famous Kosovar ever.)
  • Michael Kavanaugh wrote a beautiful tribute to Alison Des Forges in Slate. (HT: Wronging Rights)
  • An historian's reminder that partisanship always wins in Washington, no matter how much hope you pack.
  • Leave it to those crazy Germans to come up with something seriously cool: Wii surfing the Alps.
  • Robert Mugabe is becoming the Fidel Castro of Africa, only without the excellent health care and 99% literacy rate. He turns 85 on Saturday.

2.18.2009

understatements

"Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’"

and

"Attributing the outcome of a failure to someone else is a common problem.”

- James Hogge, Associate Dean, Peabody School of Education, Vanderbilt University

reading for "fun"

The last non-textbook, full-service bookstore on the edge of our campus is going out of business. I'd never been in there until a couple of weeks ago, when I stopped by after class to take advantage of their 50% off clearance sale. We won't get in to a discussion of how heavy my bag was or how much I spent, but let's just say that it was a very productive half hour and leave it at that.

One of the books I scored is Adam Roberts' The Wonga Coup, the story of the failed coup attempt of 2004 that involved (one way or another) Afrikaner mercenaries, the government of Zimbabwe, and Margaret Thatcher's son Mark.

I am ridiculously excited to have a copy of this book, especially for half price. That's because I've been marginally obsessed with Equatorial Guinea for about ten years now, when I had to read Robert Klitgaard's Tropical Gangsters, the only other book of any substance that anyone had written on the tiny African state. To be more accurate, the Klitgaard book was assigned for my African Economic Development class, which was cancelled on the first day after we'd all bought the books because the professor's mother became ill and he went back to Ghana to take care of her. Of course I read it anyway. Who wouldn't?

The summer after that, I interned at the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, which also serves as the U.S. Embassy for Equatorial Guinea. My boss kept promising me a trip there, but I didn't have a visa or orders that allowed it, and time was short, and I'd've had to have traded a trip to Italy at the end of the summer for a week in EG, and on and on and on. It continues to be my dream to get to EG, and I am unspeakably jealous of Steve Not the Lawyer, who got to spend weeks on end being bored to death in Malabo while translating contracts for the oil people. Equatorial Guinea, you see, produces about a barrel of oil per day per each person in the total population. That's some serious oil.

I have seen Equatorial Guinea; Bioko Island, on which the bulk of the population lives, sits in the Gulf of Guinea just offshore from Douala, Cameroon's commercial hub.

But I've never been there, which is too bad, because crazy things are always happening in tiny, oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. We're talking about a place where Exxon/Mobil has built a parallel universe for its American employees. They fly in Dr. Pepper and Fritos into their gated community from Houston each week. It's Sugarland without the fundamentalism.

In the latest crazy news to come from EG, it appears that Tuesday an armed group may or may not have attempted a coup against the country's president when it attacked the presidential palace. EG's ambassador to London says the Nigerian militant group MEND are responsible, but also that there wasn't a coup. MEND usually only operate in southern Nigeria, but they've been harassing ships near Cameroon lately, so who knows? What is for sure is that Equatorial Guinea doesn't stop. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some very exciting reading to do.

2.17.2009

urime dita e pavaresise

It's hard to believe, but today marks the first anniversary of independence for the Republic of Kosova. That means it's been nearly a year since our visit to see Steve the Lawyer in the World's Newest Country. Steve has handled his year in Pristina like a champ, and I've been a one-woman tourist promotion board for Kosovo ever since the trip. (Seriously. You should go. It's cheap, fun, and beautiful. And they LOVE America.)

What lies ahead for the people of the Republic? More international recognition would help their cause, as would getting things settled down in the divided city of Mitrovica. And, you know, establishing control over the north. Details.

Maybe I should teach in my KLA t-shirt today. Then again...

this & that

2.16.2009

the other atx

Bless his heart, Kelso went to my daddy's hometown of Andrews, Texas to explore local opinions on the dump for toxic waste from New York that will soon open there. Who knew there was a Sierra Club member in the greater Andrews metropolitan area? (And by "greater Andrews area," I mean, of course, New Mexico.) Here's the money quote from Bob Stewart: "You know, I don't know if it matters if it's waste from Seminole or New York City."

It's not as though Andrews really needs the money. There's not much in Andrews besides oil, but the county has more oil underneath its ground than any county in the state. When they wear out a school, they don't even bother tearing it down; they just stick up a new junior high next to the old junior high. When my mama graduated from Texas Tech with two education degrees, Andrews ISD paid the highest salaries in the state (Although, as mom delicately pointed out, accepting that salary meant you had to live in Andrews. She opted for Lubbock instead.). As Kelso points out, restaurants keep closing down because they can't find help.

You just can't make these things up. Here's hoping the toxic waste doesn't mess things up too much. And that it doesn't smell worse than the oil.

(Photo: John Kelso, Austin American-Statesman)

Labels: ,

2.15.2009

this & that

2.13.2009

rest in peace, alison des forges


The New York Times reports that Alison des Forges was a passenger on Continental flight 3407, which crashed into a home near Buffalo, New York last night. A tribute to her life can be found at Human Rights Watch, where she served as senior adviser to the Africa division. Des Forges lived in Buffalo, where her husband is a professor of Chinese history.

Alison des Forges has been the acknowledged expert on Rwanda on this side of the Atlantic for the last twenty years. She was one of a very few Americans to be fluent in Kinyarwanda. Any major news story requiring a quote from a knowledgable observer cites her expertise. Des Forges' interest in the country was not just scholarly, but also personal. Having worked in the country for what must be close to 35 years now, the genocide for her was a personal tragedy. She lost friends. She had predicted the tragedy.

She authored one of the definitive accounts of the genocide for Human Rights Watch, where she became Senior Advisor for Africa. Leave None to Tell the Story is a masterful, heartbreaking, 800-page work that painsteakingly detailed the events that lead to the deaths of 800,000 people.

I met des Forges in 2000 in my first year of graduate school at Yale. She was invited by my advisor, Bill Foltz, to speak to a small group of students about the situation in Rwanda and about using scholarship for activism in human rights. I sat right across the conference table from her. She answered my question as to whether genocide would be likely to occur in Rwanda again with a definite yes. I remember her saying something to the effect that if the Tutsi government didn't open more political freedom to Hutus, conflict would be inevitable. She infuriated the government of Rwanda with her insistence that the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which took over the country and ended the genocide, also be held to account for the deaths of 30,000 people that occured during its campaign to take the country. Kagame's government banned her from entering the country she knew so well in 2008.

Des Foges spoke and worked with what might best be termed passionate intensity. Her unrelenting stare showed clearly that she refused to accept excuses from those who were responsible for atrocities and war crimes. When she would speak at conferences, there would be a hush in the room from even the angriest participants. Not everyone agreed with her views, but everyone respected her. She knew that of which she spoke.

The news of des Forges' death is absolutely stunning. The human rights community and the scholarly community - particularly those of us who care about Africa - have lost someone who perfectly modeled what good scholarship can do to make the world a better place. I admired her commitment and looked up to her scholarship, and find the thought of her not being at the annual meetings of the African Studies Association almost impossible to comprehend. It is a heartbreaking, unbelievable loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and colleagues.

Photo: Human Rights Watch

Updates:

this & that

the only ones who could in a place like this

2.12.2009

the last full measure of devotion

I've recently learned from many of my students that public schools no longer require them to memorize things like the preamble to the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address. Aside from the inevitable decline in reasoning skills that can most certainly be directly traced to the lack of reading well-reasoned arguments and learning only to fill in bubbles on standardized tests that plagues this generation, this means that my students have missed out on reading and hearing some of the great, poetic foundational documents of their country.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Here at the Private Christian U at which I adjunct teach, there's a podium set up at one of the places on campus that everybody crosses. At the podium, there's a professor in a stovepipe hat giving periodic recitations of some of Lincoln's great orations. (I can't imagine why they aren't reading from On the Origin of Species.) It takes a nerd like me to believe that that's pretty neat, but there you go. I still know many of the speeches I had to learn in the third grade by heart (and how long it took me to get "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground"in the right order.), and I'd like to think that even if the students won't know those words in the same way, at least they'll get to hear them as they were meant to be heard.

For those of you who can't be here today , here's a bit of my favorite:

the icc gets its groove back

Outside of Khartoum, it's not particularly controversial to say that Sudanese President Omar Bashir is responsible for some horrible human rights abuses. In that sense, it's not surprising that the International Criminal Court finally issued a warrant for Bashir's arrest on Wednesday. Bad guy = consequences in the new world of international criminal prosecutions. At least in theory.

Arresting a sitting head of state for those abuses is another matter entirely, particularly in Africa, where leaders tend to support one anothers' rule regardless of domestic politics. (Can anyone say "Robert Mugabe"?) Africa's leaders were able to get away with murder (quite literally, in many cases) because of this norm, and many ruthless dictators of the Cold War era lived out their days and died with complete impunity. A lot of this ended with the end of the Cold War, but Africa's heads of state have continued to be more than willing to overlook the abusive antics of their peers.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the issuance of the warrant for Bashir's arrest won't improve anything (How likely is it that anyone will actually arrest him?) and that it could actually make things worse for an international community that's trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement/the end of slaughtering innocent people in Darfur.

I am really glad to see that the norms of not just of unchallenged bad governance, but also
of unchallenged rule, seems to be ending at long last. And it's a sign that the ICC, of which I have been a skeptic (to put it mildly), might really be serious about prosecuting the world's worst people. This decision will have far-reaching repercussions throughout the continent. In the long term, that's a good thing.

2.11.2009

improbablilty

Today in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe swore in his archnemesis Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.

In other news, pigs are flying, chickens have lips, and the occupants of the turtle pond are doing Bollywood-style dances on the Main Mall here at the U.

Here's hoping this most unlikely series of events leads to real change in Zimbabwe.

2.10.2009

this & that

pirates, public health, & purgatory

Three unrelated, yet interesting points on Africa from the weekend news:
  • Somalia's new president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, for some reason decided that it would be a good idea to visit the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. Any good Somali leader knows that leaving Nairobi is pretty much asking to die in an unpleasant way. (Just in case you felt that the choice of a new president is cause for hope, Ken Menkhaus' new report for the Enough Project should properly disillusion you.) But, hey, nobody was hurt by the mortars that were fired at the presidential palace after Sheikh Amed's arrival, and his Monday tour de ville seemed to go well. Here's hoping he gets out soon.
  • In other Somali news, the Ukranian ship that was captured by pirates in September was released following the payment of a $3.2 million ransom on Thursday. You may remember this ship as the one that was carrying a huge load of weapons, tanks, and other troublemaking devices to Kenya. Problem is, the ship's manifest makes it pretty clear that the weaponry was actually headed to the Southern Sudan. Which would be okay if the sale or transfer or arms to the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement weren't forbidden by the 2005 peace agreement the Kenyan government hammered out between the SPLM and the government. But the Ukranians are 100% CERTAIN that the arms are for Kenyan use. Right. Because no one ever lies about the arms trade in sub-Saharan Africa, and if there's anything the region needs more of, it's weapons.
  • In sad news, we learned from this weekend's NYT that Dr. William T. Close (perhaps you've heard of his daughter?) passed away on January 15. Dr. Close was Mobutu's personal physician until Mobutu went off his rocker and became the corrupt stereotype we all remember in the mid-1970's. Close ran Mama Yemo, the country's biggest hospital that in the era was a showpiece of modern medicine in sub-Saharan Africa (Today it's a death trap.). More importantly, however, Close used his connection to the regime to halt the spread of the first Ebola outbreak. He was also part of studies about the prevalance of the HIV/AIDS virus in rural areas, which has been present in humans in the Congo since at least the late 1950's. One of the big mysteries in the study of HIV/AIDS is how it suddenly became so prevalent in human populations in the second half of the 20th century; part of the data Dr. Close demonstrated that HIV/AIDS could have been present in humans for quite awhile before that. (Basically, scientists now think that HIV/AIDS was present in rural populations from which the virus did not spread, possibly for decades or longer. Explanations for why the disease suddenly spread so rapidly range from the use of unsterile needles in mass vaccination campaigns to rural-urban migration patterns.) Close's work saved thousands and thousands of lives. His was a life well lived.

2.09.2009

mindless self

“The good news is we’re not selling them anymore.” - Rev. Tom Reese

In a move that will only excite late night comedians, Lutheran seminarians, and graduate students of medieval history, the Catholic Church has decided: indulgences are back.

speaking of frauds

I'm covering campaigns and elections in my intro class this week. After I finish covering electoral fraud (There'd better be a special place in hell for people who undermine our democracy. Also, you shouldn't trust Diebold systems with anything important.), we'll be moving on to campaign commercials. I discovered this spectacularly awesome one recently, from Nixon's 1972 campaign against George McGovern:

meddlesome monday

Well, this weekend we learned that the new United States African Command (you know, the new military command that can't convince any African country (save tiny, not-close-to-the-Gulf-of-Aden Liberia!) to actually house in Africa) is off to a rousing start in its efforts to interfere, I mean, support African militaries in their missions to spread democracy and peace.

Seems seventeen or so American military personnel went out to Kampala to plan and finance the oh-so-professional Ugandan army in its effort to rout out the Lord's Resistance Army, a particularly nasty rebel group that's now hiding out in the Congo. As is wont to happen in central Afrique, things didn't quite go as planned. In fact, they went so poorly that when the LRA did what it always does (run and rape and/or kill everyone in their path), the Ugandan army was not in position to protect Congolese civilians, 900 of whom were killed by the LRA as it fled. Those would be Congolese civilians who have no connection whatsoever to the LRA's beef with Uganda; their families just happen to live in the wrong place in the wrong century.

Oops.

America's post-Cold War military mission in sub-Saharan Africa happens to have been the subject of my master's thesis. What you can learn from that auspicious work is that our focus since we figured out we needed to have a focus has been to build capacity of African militaries to do their own peacekeeping and routing out of troublemakers. Oh, and we want to keep terrorists from hiding out on the continent. Which is why we needed the Africa Command in the first place.

Unfortunately, the number of people in the American military and civilian command structures who really understand African politics and civil-military dynamics is pretty limited. African security policy has never been a priority for the United States government and policy in that area tends to be made without reference to an understanding of regional dynamics (or how mad our actions make the French).

While there are plenty of good people working for AFRICOM, this latest endeavor suggests that the lessons of the past have not been learned. Something as basic as civilian protection should've been considered from the beginning of planning, and no one should have assumed that the Ugandans would take care of that side of the operation without prompting.

But, hey. Third time's a charm, right? Then again, Susan Rice is back in power, which is never a good thing for Africa policy.

2.07.2009

weekend this & that

  • If preservationists in D.C. can run amok landmarking hideous buildings, I don't see why we shouldn't stick up markers in front of the icons of tens of thousands of small towns across America. For once, Mississippi leads the way.
  • It's beyond me why anyone would choose to spend 36 hours in Dallas, but the NYT's got you covered in case you're thusly unfortunate.
  • For the record, I am completely opposed to boys running around in women's fashions. I saw a male student in girls' skinny jeans cavorting on campus the other day. All I can say about that is, "ew."
  • Sounds like Obama will need a magic wand for this one. It's incredibly difficult to significantly reduce abortions if the far right tables all discussion on condoms, birth control pills, and acknowledging the reality that lots of Americans have sex with people to whom they aren't married. Keeping those items off the agenda is the financial lifeblood of most politically engaged pro-life groups these days. But, hey, best of luck to him.
  • A court of inquiry today posthumously exonerated a Texan who was wrongfully convicted of a 1985 Lubbock rape and who died in prison of an asthma attack ten years ago. Donate to the Innocence Project of Texas here to help free other innocent people who've been imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. And call your lawmakers to ask for a better-funded criminal justice system that will convict the people who are actually guilty of crimes - and to provide better restitution, assistance finding employment, and counseling services to exonerated inmates.
  • Things are finally getting going over at the Leg. As usual, our friends at the Texas Observer are maintaining their always-excellent "Bad Bills" watch. It wouldn't be a legislative session if Warren Chisum weren't meddling in the marriage license section of the code without thinking it through regarding abused women. Warren turns 71 on the Fourth of July this year, which probably means his years in the Leg are numbered. We'll miss you, Warren, but we sure won't miss your biennial stacks of unnecessary legislation.
  • While 152 of my 154 students were working on an assignment in class today, I pointed out that the answer to the question was most definitely not to be found on Facebook. You should've seen the look on the face of the offending sweet little girl and her friend. I bet it'll be even nastier when I kick her out next time.

2.06.2009

brave new world

The NYT ran a very interesting piece on the dirty, open secret of last year's ill-fated Kenyan presidential elections last weekend. Long story short, the International Republican Institute (a U.S. government-supported nonprofit, nonpartisan entity that promotes democracy abroad) ran exit polls during the December 2007 elections. The exit poll results remained a secret. You'll remember the rest of the story; the belief that incumbent President Mwai Kibaki (a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group) stole the election from Raila Odinga (who's a Luo, who (along with the Kikuyu) are one of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya) set off a series of riots and murders across the country that had a distinct ethnic tinge.

The best part about it? Everybody knew what the poll said (that Odinga won), and everybody knew that Mbeki almost certainly stole the election.

Election polling in Africa is a brand new field. (Really. If you're an aspiring, young, Africanist political scientist just starting out, you can make a name for yourself and a have really interesting career by focusing on voting behavior. Just appropriate all the questions and techniques the Americanists use, slap a few questions about ethnicity on your surveys, and start running polls in places that normally don't have a lot of election violence/are covered by the Afrobarometer surveys so you'll have some good data with which to cross compare. The papers that are being written on African voting behavior are, as Nick van de Walle pointed out at ASA last fall, going to be the foundational papers in the field. Get in on the racket while you can.)

Since running election polls in Africa is a pretty new thing, Kenya was supposed to be a good test case for those of us who care about these things. And the people running the studies there were doing really cool things. There were polls being taken via text message, a far more effective way to get a cross-sample of the country's growing middle class than internet or face-to-face surveys.

And it was a good test case. There's no reason to believe that the IRI poll isn't as accurate as any poll, given the conditions.

But the controversy over the poll won't go away. There's an argument that releasing it might have prevented some of the deaths by pressuring Kibaki to settle and form a coalition with Odinga sooner. The U.S. government clearly wanted Kibaki to win, so the ambassador probably really wouldn't have wanted the poll released at the time. And that raises questions about the other dirty secret we never talk about: that Western government actors attempt to manipulate elections in Africa all the time.

I don't mean that Western diplomats are stuffing ballot boxes or anything like that. It's just that there's usually a consensus among the Americans and the British and the French and the Swedes and the Norwegians about which candidate they like best. And the diplomats do all they can to push for the result they believe will be favorable for their country. Which I think makes a pretty good argument as to why foreign government-funding polling should be done and released by university or professional polling organizations or individual scholars.

Meddling happens. That's not going to change. But here's hoping that things will improve as the brave new world of political polling in Africa continues to open to scholars who have no vested interest in electoral outcomes. Everyone is better off when the politicians are kept out of it.

2.05.2009

not a country ... yet

"Analysts say the AU is in for an interesting year under Col Gaddafi." - BBC

Bless his heart; Muammar Qaddafi just doesn't quit. Days after assuming the presidency of the African Union, the all-but-self-declared "King of Kings" declared that Africa just isn't cut out for multiparty democracy.

Qaddafi actually makes an interesting point; he argues that multiparty politics in Africa make for parties that are "tribalized," which just leads to conflict. I'm guessing Colonel Qaddafi doesn't read the African studies academic journals. If he did, he'd know that the evidence that that's what happens is actually pretty mixed. Sometimes parties become only tribal; in other areas, they manage to gain support from much broader coalitions than we might expect.

What's the alternative, other than a Kingdom of Africa headed by guess who? Qaddafi apparently hadn't considered the possiblity; the BBC reports that he laid his head down on his desk when he realized that the other African heads of state weren't going to just hand over their power like that. Liberian president Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson was too polite to suggest that Qaddafi cried like a little girl, but we all know what really happens with these things. (You really should listen to Mark Doyle's interview with Sirleaf-Johnson. It's 110% awesome.)

It's easy to see why Colonel/King Qaddafi wants what he believes is the far superior model of allowing no opposition parties. After all, Libya ranks 70th of 111 countries on The Economist Intelligence Unit's Quality-of-Life Index, 52nd on UNDP's Human Development Index, 160th on press freedom (narrowly beating out Saudi Arabia!), and 171st on economic freedom. What African state wouldn't want to get in on that?

this & that

  • For the record, I am firmly opposed to returning DKR to astroturf.
  • People who spend their time worrying about public art in places where thousands of children die of preventable diseases kindof bug me. Not that there shouldn't be beautiful things in the slums, but that money would be much better spent getting those kids out of the slums and into safe and affordable housing. These people don't listen to me.
  • If this isn't a ringing endorsement for why KBH will be a better governor than Goodhair, I don't know what is.
  • A friend who shall remain nameless participated in the Idiotarod last weekend. His team, The Real Housewives of Long Island, finished in 21st place. They wore Snuggies. And bouffants.
  • Things aren't going so well with respect to U.S.-Kyrgyzstani relations in the military relations sphere.

2.04.2009

things related to our research discussed by my office mate & me today

  1. Getting a visa to go to the non-Kurdistan part of Iraq (her)
  2. Getting a visa for a country that doesn't technically exist (me)
  3. Whether it's better to fly through Djibouti or Sa'naa to get to Somaliland (me)
  4. That Iraqi journalists are assassinated at a much higher rate than Iraqi bloggers (her)
  5. Muslim pilgramage routes in Ethiopia (both)
  6. The differences between "luxury" hotels in Damascus and Hargeisa (both)
I love my officemate. And we both love our jobs.

everything politicized

Rwandan visitng professor of French Leopold Munyakazi has been removed from the classroom at Goucher College following accusations from Kigali that he participated in the genocide. This decision was taken even though there is apparently very little evidence either way. As Alison des Forges of Human Rights Watch (who knows more about Rwanda than anyone else in America) points out, though, he worked as a professor in Rwanda and got a passport that let him get out, which would be very unlikely to happen if the Kagame government had any legitimate reason to believe Munyakazi was guilty of war crimes. Des Forges thinks there's insufficient evidence against him, and she knows what she's talking about, having served as an expert witness for a number of trials of those accused of directing the genocide. Then again, he was imprisoned without charge for five years after the genocide.

Perhaps more tellingly, the charges were raised shortly after Munyakazi gave a speech that "questioned the Rwandan government's account of the killings."

I know nothing about the facts of this case beyond what's been reported in the press, but I do know Rwanda and the way the government there operates. Let's not mince words: the government headed by Paul Kagame is an authoritarian regime. There's no real political dissent, no free press, and no toleration of anyone whose view deviates from their narrative of the genocide. The government tracks the movement of foreigners within the territory and pays its citizens to report on the doings of outsiders. They have supported and in some cases directed rebel movements in the Congo for more than ten years.

Kagame and his supporters put on a lovely show for the donors and have a very nice narrative of reconciliation and development going, and they've improved the standard of living in the country. But they've done it largely by stealing minerals from the Congolese, suppressing dissent, and fooling lots of donors into thinking they're a democracy and a good global citizen.

Again, I don't know anything about the facts of this case. But I would hope that Goucher College would not make decisions only on the basis of what the government in Kigali claims. You can't take anything Kigali says at face value.

2.03.2009

this & that

  • Best customer complaint letter EVER. I'm going to start photographing the airline food I don't eat and sending it to airline CEO's with a request for flight vouchers. (Tip for your international travel adventures: never eat dinner on the plane. The food is bad, bad for you, and it just messes up your internal clock even more to eat supper, attempt to sleep, and eat breakfast six hours later. It's MUCH better to eat 1-2 hours before your flight and attempt to go to sleep as soon as the dinner service is over.)
  • Thank-you, Olusegun Obasanjo, for reminding us of the obvious.
  • I'll believe the Rwandans will leave Congo this month when I see it.
  • Racism in Seminole, Texas? Nooooo...
  • I teach my students this every semester: changing demographics mean that Texas is inevitably going to become a Democratic state again. Gallup has an early poll suggesting that it's already happened. I'm skeptical about their results, but there's no question that there has been a significant shift in the political affiliations of my students over the last six years. I do think the shift will happen sooner than we thought; in ten years, nobody's going to care about the Republican primary.
  • Speaking of, the new Texas Monthly cover is one of my favorites ever. That I won't be in Texas for the 2010 race is the saddest thing ever, 'cause it's going to be a doozy.
  • Yep.

king of all of the world

Back in the dark ages when I started graduate school, I was fascinated by what we used to call the Organization of African Unity and its transformation into the African Union. I wrote several papers questioning whether the African Union would become the fulfillment of the Pan-Africanist dream, or if it was just a front for Muammar el-Qaddafi's insidious plot to establish the Great Arab Jamahiriya. These papers usually ended with an ominous, non-specific conclusion along the lines of, "Whether the African Union will fulfill the promises of African unity remains to be seen." (Since most of my professors were either too close to retirement to care or believed that admission to the Yale Graduate School meant you'd already earned Honors (Oh, there aren't normal grades at a place like Yale.), all the non-commital speculation didn't do a thing to hurt my transcript.)

Apparently, it was the latter. Qaddafi, you see, has moved on from child's play like blowing up planes over Scotland. This weekend, he made major progress towards his long time dream of being King of Africa. Seems his extensive use of oil money-patronage and parachuting troops in to defend presidential palaces in central African backwaters / invading neighbors to uphold corrupt regimes finally paid off: Qadaffi has been elected president of the African Union.

Now, normally, the presidencey of the African Union isn't that big of a deal. Sure, there's pomp and circumstance and a nice suite at the Addis Sheraton (Hilton if you're lucky!), but you really don't do that much during your, um, one year tenure.

Qaddafi, though, has bigger plans. He's going to unite them all. Into the United States of Africa. Presumably with him as king.

Luckily, there are enough egos in Africa that he won't be able to get away with it. The South Africans have already organized a group to oppose Qaddafi, who would like to do away with the longstanding tradition of decision-making by consensus. Consensus is one of the pillars of the AU, and those African leaders who haven't been bought off by Qaddafi will be reluctant to give up that standard. Or maybe Qaddafi will airlift Mercedes for every government minister into Pretoria. Stranger things have happened.

2.02.2009

50 years tonight



And you don't get what happened in music next without that kid from Lubbock.

republican par-tay

they must be joking

As if I want to encourage this sort of thing?!?

Introduction to Second Life for Teaching & Learning (Demonstration)

This session presents an overview of teaching and learning in the 3-D
virtual world environment of Second Life and will include interaction with
other educators and experts in Second Life. Virtual worlds like Second Life
are 3-D open social technologies where students and instructors can connect
online and interact simultaneously as "avatars" (virtual representations of
yourselves). It is not a game but rather an inherently social experience
with a strong sense of "place." The over 15 million residents of Second
Life, for example, can explore museums, meet experts from other schools,
collaborate on learning projects, participate in class activities, and
engage in business, art, film, and literature studies. Some 300 universities
and educational institutions already have a virtual presence in Second Life
- conducting classes, creating models of knowledge and data, holding student
team meetings, collaborating with students and teachers at other
universities, expanding the range of partners in learning, and sharing new
learning at virtual conferences and educational forums.

i2a

I have a new post up at Inspired to Action, where we're focusing on HIV/AIDS this month. Check it out and join us in considering ways to help those affected by this global crisis.

2.01.2009

of mice and men

"We would prefer that they just negotiate with the FDLR peacefully," said Gideon Kambale, a farmer. "When they fight, it is us who will suffer."

Here's the sad truth of what passes for "hopeful" in the eastern Congo. Everything has to go well in what the Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen describes this way:

"That entails mixing Rwandan soldiers with the Congolese soldiers who once fought them, with the rebels who were fighting the Congolese, with the ragtag militias that were fighting the rebels -- and the entire operation is targeting a group the Congolese army has collaborated with for years."

Add on top of that the fact that every single one of those command structures involves soldiers and commanders who are either directly responsible for or complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Oh, and that someone has to keep the Tutsi-commanded Rwandan soldiers from slaughtering all the ethnic Hutus in the area who aren't members of the FDLR, or who aren't married to them.

If you're from the Nyamilima area like Mr. Kambale, you have absolutely no reason to believe that this will go badly. Nyamilima is one of those places that's perpetually part of MONUC's Friday briefings at OCHA in Goma. It is not an exaggeration to say that something bad - looting, rapes, slaughter of innocents - happens there almost every week. I had the opportunity to spend three days there with the World Food Programme a couple of years ago. To be honest, I was a little relieved that my schedule made it impossible to go. Nyamilima is a miserable place by all accounts.

We can hope against hope that this will work, that MONUC's presence will keep the Rwandans and Congolese and the militias and the CNDP forces from going too far. But the people of Nyamilima know better than we do the possible consequences of these best-laid plans.