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

3.31.2009

this & that

way to go, MONUC

Not much annoys me more than website redesigns that make the site less functional than it used to be (Facebook, I'm looking at you.). MONUC just joined the bandwagon of new platforms for their web presence. While the new site is pretty, it's also completely awful. What happened to the press clippings service? The press clippings were the single most useful service provided by anyone in the entire mission; you could look at one page and see the latest global news on the D.R. Congo without all the clutter of Google News. But now the press clippings have been relegated to a scrolling feed along the top of the page, meaning you have to sit there and wait until the story you want to read comes by. Who has that kind of time?

Grrrr. I'm glad my dissertation is done, and feel sorry for those of you who still need to closely monitor this news.

3.30.2009

typical

You've got to love a New York Times art critic who references the "heart of darkness" in regards to the wrong Congo.

(To be fair, he uses it in a general discussion of colonialism in Africa. But would it have been there had the exhibition not involved de Brazza? I think not.)

3.28.2009

weekend this & that

  • Clowns without Borders?!? I read this last night and nearly choked. Seriously? But upon sober reflection, I think it's a good thing, ridiculous as it seems. The estimated 50,000 or so children in the IDP camps around Goma don't get to have a lot of fun, and bringing in some entertainment is a real service to them. Then again, there's a fantastic acrobatic troop in Goma that could've done the same thing without the need to finance a massive 25-day tour of the seven camps. But, hey, there's room enough for everyone. Right, UNHCR?
  • Contrary to all expectations, Guinea-Bissau's post-presidential assassination situation has gone remarkably smoothly. The army allowed the head of the national assembly to become interim president, and they're moving towards organizing a poll to elect a new president. Unfortunately, they can't afford it. Very few African states can. Elections are often financed by donors. I have a feeling that Portugal or a consortium of donors will eventually finance an election in G-B, but it's highly unlikely that they'll be able to get it done in the next 40 days, which is when the constitution mandates they must have an election. Following all the rules to the letter is very important in new democracies; so getting it done in time is more important than you might imagine.
  • This Jeff Herbst article made me so mad I just about had to spit. Divvying up the Congo would cause militias and rebels to rearm, set off fighting for access to land and resources that would take 10-20 years to end, and generally cause a mess. It also ignores what the people of the eastern Congo want. Anyone who's spent any length of time in the region knows that one of the most interesting aspects of society there is how strongly people identify as "Congolese." They don't want to separate. None of the recent wars were secessionist. (HT to Professor Blattman, on whose blog I left some rather ranting comments along these lines. Sorry about that.)
  • "Under God" is staying in the Texas pledge for now. As if there was any doubt.
  • You can buy your own little piece of DKR next weekend.
  • Barack Obama's teleprompter has a blog. And it's in couples therapy with Rahm Emmanuel. (HT: Andrew Sullivan)
  • The Esteyonage has a fascinating post on the political economy of race in the Liberian Constitution.

3.27.2009

one shining moment

I picked Michigan State and Missouri to go to the Elite Eight.

That almost makes up for the rest of my day, which involved - in order - having no choice but to overhear an inane conversation involving a med student who is learning Swahili to prepare for her trip to Nigeria, getting hailed on at the bus stop, having two insulin pumps freak out and stop working, wondering why anyone felt the need to jackhammer outside of my classroom (which is apparently just a ginormous echo chamber) during an exam, watching my perfectly-formatted dissertation freak out and refuse to behave, learning that the dissertation formatting angel-of-mercy leaves the office at 3:30 on Fridays, missing all the academic talks I'd intended to attend because I was fighting the dissertation formatting, being late to setup for dinner for the Africa Conference, and getting to be the one who had to tell ten happily occupied Nigerians that they had gone to eat in the wrong room. Oh, and a student dropped the course in the middle of the exam. She just handed me her drop form to sign, along with her completed test.

But I picked Michigan State AND Missouri.

on soul power

SXSW wore me out on documentary films for awhile. (Getting to see seven shows but only having to pay for three was a pretty great way to do it, too. Thanks, Steve Not the Lawyer, the global network of political scientists, and the ACLU of Texas!)

I've already mentioned some of the fantastic films I saw, but have yet to blog about one of my favorites, Soul Power. Soul Power is about Zaire 74, the concert festival staged in Kinshasa to accompany the Foreman-Ali fight promoted by Don King as the "Rumble in the Jungle." The entire event - concert and boxing match - was filmed on location in 1974, but copyright disputes over the film stock prevented any of it from making it to the big screen for over twenty years. (Long story short: the Liberian business interest that financed the festival after Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko reneged on his promise to pay for it fell apart right after the event.)

In 1996, we finally got to see some of that footage. Director Leon Gast put together the brilliant When We Were Kings. WWWK is one of my all-time favorite films. It focuses on the boxing match, which was delayed for six weeks when Foreman suffered an eye injury, and follows the growing interest of the Zairoise in Ali's chances as he trained in Kinshasa in the interim.

There are a few scenes from the music festival in WWWK, but the story line there is about the boxing match. Enter Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, who was an editor on the WWWK project. He took the hours and hours of film that didn't make it into the first film and made Soul Power, an absolutely brilliant documentary about Zaire 74. Levy-Hinte tells the story of the planeload of black musicians from all over the world who came to Kinshasa for a three-night festival in the country's biggest stadium. James Brown, B.B. King, Mariam Makeba - everyone who was anyone was there.

Zaire 74 took place at the height of the Black Power movement and just before the African diaspora's dreams of a Pan-African paradise would begin to wane. It also took place in the midst of Mobutu's major nationalization program, Zairianization. Zairianization destroyed the country; it caused severe economic decline, destroyed the public health and education systems, and began the era of massive corruption that marked the rest of Mobutu's days in office.

Soul Power perfectly captures this era of optimism about Africa's future. The shots of Kinshasa show a pristine city with well-paved streets and functioning ... everything. It's surreal for those of us who know Kinshasa today; a shot of the Hotel Memling downtown in la Ville is almost unrecognizable. And the hope expressed by the musicians, many of whom had a sense that they were coming home, is just remarkable.

Levy-Hinte also shows enough scenes of the Kinoise who showed up to watch the spectacle that you get a really good sense of what has been lost. It's hard to overstate the impact of Zaire 74 on the country's population. The eyes of the world were on them, and no young person wanted to miss out. (For example, my taxi guy in Kinshasa, Jean, moved to Kinshasa from Lubumbashi at the age of seventeen for the purpose of seeing the fight and the music. He actually understood (kindof) why I needed to drive by the old stadium to take a picture.) It's beautiful and wonderful and you want to dance, but seeing the show through the lenses of the last thirty-five years makes the film in some ways a memorial to a place that no longer exists.

The best reason to see Soul Power, of course, is the music. The concert was recorded on sixteen tracks, and the quality of the songs is unbelievable. The musicians who went to Kinshasa that year put on the performances of a lifetime. Bill Withers played his guitar solo; B.B. King played the blues like you wouldn't believe. Sister Sledge - at the time, they were teenage girls - sings and dances in the Intercontinental ballroom. And Mariam Makeba turns in a great performance of the "Click Song" in a hairdo that makes Chantal Biya look like an amateur. (Look out also for her ex-husband Stokely Carmichael in a breakfast scene at which King is already downing a beer.) James Brown's set was two hours long, which makes sense considering that we learn in the film that his musical equipment weighed down the plane with an extra (I am not making this up) 35,000 pounds. It's just awesome, especially if you love soul.

Soul Power will be in theatrical release later this year, and a DVD release is also planned. It's definitely worth keeping an eye out for this one. I loved it.

Also, I totally want a Zaire 74 t-shirt. But not enough to pay $40 for it.

3.26.2009

who picked mizzou to take down memphis?

Oh, that'd be me. Mmm-hmm.

This almost makes up for the UCLA debacle. I don't want to talk about it.

this & that

come on and rock me al-Bashir

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir rocks hard, apparently. At least when it comes to travel in the exciting world of states that are not signatories to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Bashir wasn't content with a hop, skip, and a jump to Asmara earlier this week, nor was he happy with simply threatening to defy his country's most senior council of Islamic clerics by trekking to the Arab League summit in Doha next wek. No, no, no. This is a man who has no problem allowing shadowy, state-funded militias to wipe out large segments of his population. Why should he be afraid to go on a full-blown tour of the Middle East and North Africa? If we'd had an advance schedule, we could've printed t-shirts for the merchandise table.

Bashir's latest stop is Cairo, where he was met by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the airport. The perspective of the Egyptian government is an interesting reflection of the view of the ICC held by many in the developing world. As their foreign minister said at a press conference, "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan."

What precisely is that Egyptian/Arab/African position? There's nothing that's well-defined (outside of Khartoum), but the general view seems to be that the ICC is becoming one more form of neocolonialist oppression of poor states by the West. That's a tired old drum to be beating and probably isn't the real truth, but the perception is somewhat fair. Developing countries rarely have much of a say in how international treaties are hammered out, and the ICC's composition and actions certainly reflect Western biases. Even though most developing states are signatories to the Rome Statute, it's pretty difficult to argue that the ICC necessarily reflects the values and norms of their societies.

And that's where things work somewhat to al-Bashir's advantage. There's a widely-held view in Africa (and, to some extent, in the Arab world) that decisions have to be made by top leaders who come to a consensus. And it's very rare to get a consensus on something as contentious as removing a leader from office. That's why we almost never see the African Union's member states pressuring corrupt dictators out of office (Cough-cough! Mugabe! Cough!) What head of state wants to go after corruption or war crimes or general unpleasantness when he's a recipient of corruption's benefits and privileges, etc.? Or even when he or she is simply governing contested land? We're unlikely to see much support for al-Bashir's removal in most of the continent's states he would choose to visit. And so the tour continues...

(BTW, if you want to learn more about the mess that is the ICC (including a great point about how Joseph Kabila and other leaders attempt to use the court for domestic political ends), check out this week's Development Drums podcast, which features the authors of Wronging Rights, one of my favorite blogs about atrocities and war crimes.)

3.25.2009

the real thing

I study state failure. We throw around that phrase all the time, but there's actually a substantial debate as to what precisely makes a state "failed," or whether it's "collapsed" or just "weak."

(Bored yet? You should read the literature review in my dissertation.)

Measuring state failure is difficult. I've read complicated explanations that try to account for institutional activity and political effectiveness. One paper at APSA last year used postal service usage rates as a determinant (which is pretty clever, except that by that measure, Germany becomes a failed state circa 1995 due to the advent of e-mail). But there's one indicator that seems to be agreed on by everyone: if there's no Coca-Cola or beer available, your state is in deep trouble.

I don't know if you've ever been deep in a Congolese jungle or out in the middle of nowhere in southern Kenya, but I've certainly never been anywhere in Africa that didn't have readily available cokes. Sure, the more remote the location, the less likely they are to be cool, but they're always there. Coke is cheap (hate to tell you this, America, but it doesn't cost anywhere near $1.50 to bottle and transport a container full of high fructose corn syrup), highly addictive, relatively easy to move in crates, and the recyclable glass bottles that are still used throughout the developing world mean that a bottling company's intial investment goes a long way. Not to mention that Coca-Cola distributors typically have a monopoly over operations in their territories.

By this measure, Ethiopia is in trouble. They've run out of coke. In Addis Ababa. It's apparently an issue of access to credit and/or foreign currency. And technically, they haven't run out of coke, but rather have run out of metal bottle caps. Enterprising street children are apparently busy collecting the millions of bottle caps that litter the streets of Addis just like they do every African city.

Of course, Ethiopia isn't a failed state. Yet. The government is corrupt, but still strong enough to engage in lots of political repression. And their lack of transparency in governance and problems managing the economy are clearer every day. Too bad none of Ethiopia's leaders will be able to cool off with a nice Coca-Cola to forget.

this & that

  • The Congolese government and the CNDP have made it official: they're in love forever. Or at least until the next falling out. CNDP gets to be a political party, and all their war criminals will get amnesty. Kamazani signed for the CNDP, but there's no word on whether Betty gave it her hoofprint of approval.
  • Speaking of the Congo, M. Sarkozy is headed that way. No word on whether sa femme will also be making the journey.
  • Cheating on papers is now a global sport. The very simple solution to this dilemma is to give the students assignments that can't be duplicated by a Nigerian entrepreneur. That's why I send them to the capitol.
  • Here's a very interesting commentary on the collapse of Culture 11 & the problems conservatives have with understanding the culture they hate.
  • Facebook isn't doing so well. That seems to be what happens when you make your website unusable and refuse to listen to your users' critiques.
  • The pope had some thoughts on evil last week in Angola. He's apparently back in Rome, to the relief of all of us who weren't sure what would come out of his mouth next.
  • Things are a little bit better in Zimbabwe, at least for those who have access to U.S. dollars. Those who don't are suffering even more. At least the cholera epidemic appears to be subsiding.

3.24.2009

khartoum sucks in the summer

Good to see that the ICC's issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is having its intended effect. First, Bashir declared his intention to throw out every foreign aid organization. He already expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur, thus cutting off vital access to food, water, and shelter for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. (Not surprisingly, things there are getting much, much worse very quickly.) Now, our man in Khartoum? He's traveling.

Generally, when the whole world is out to get you and you aren't just paranoid, it's best not to cross international borders. Arrests tend to happen at major international airports. But al-Bashir doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about the possibility of ending up in a tiny concrete room at the Hague. Then again, he's only traveled to Eritrea. In the "enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-former-enemy-but-is-now-my-friend-at-least-until-Ethiopia's-government-changes" world of Horn of Africa politics, getting arrested in Eritrea is among al-Bashir's least likely scenarios. Eritrea is not a signatory to the statues of the ICC, so they have no obligations to the international community to hand him over. (Plus, the Eritreans were so betrayed by so many countries for so long, they don't really feel any obligations to anybody. There's a fantastic book on that subject if you're interested in learning more.)

Will al-Bashir continue to travel abroad in open defiance of the ICC? It seems unlikely to me. His other neighbors mostly hate him, and Sudanese Islamic clerics have issued a fatwa against al-Bahsir's traveling to Qatar for next week's Arab League Summit. al-Bashir previously said that he'd go to Doha (Qatar is also not an ICC signatory), but I seriously doubt he would defy his country's Committee of Islamic Scholars by heading that way.

Poor Omar. It's tough being stuck in Khartoum with nowhere but Asmara to go. I hear the Netherlands are lovely this time of year...

3.23.2009

usisikelele

Well, South Africa's government just denied a visa to - of all people - the Dalai Lama. The president's spokesman was quick to note that, "The South African government does not have a problem with the Dalai Lama." Which is probably true. But the Chinese government has a big problem with the Dalai Lama, and South Africa's decision is just one more indication that Chinese investment in and political influence on African states is growing exponentially.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened here. Even the Chinese embassy's spokesman says that his government had warned the South Africans of negative consequences if Tibet's spiritual leader were allowed into the country. Things have changed since the Dalai Lama's last visit in 2004. South Africa's economy is growing, and their trade relationship with China involves about $10 billion per year. What that means is that China gets to call some of the shots these days, and that South Africa - along with most African states - must consider the consequences of its actions in relationship to strategic interests involving not just the West, but now China as well. And that puts the ANC in the very difficult position of being a movement birthed out of a struggle for freedom that is now denying travel rights to the leader of another struggle for freedom. Being a second-tier power ain't easy.

(nb, "usisikelele" = "bless us" in Xhosa. It's the last line in the first verse of South Africa's national anthem, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika".)

that's our girl

Africa is a Country has an outstanding picture of Chantal Biya's getup for the pope's visit. Wow.

3.22.2009

hey, new yorkers

My friend Steve the Lawyer is speaking on Kosovo's journey since independence in New York this week. Details on his Tuesday afternoon talk are here. It's sure to be wildly entertaining; there's nothing quite like constructing a judicial system from the ground up. Steve also has great stories about his time in Baghdad and his many other adventures in the world of international law. It's definitely worth your time.

For those of you unfortunate enough to be stuck in New Haven, he's also speaking there on Wednesday.

3.21.2009

this & that

  • Here's a great response to the other stupid thing the pope said in Africa this week. The one and only Catholic mass I've ever attended was in a Luhya village in Western Kenya in 1998. I didn't understand a word and the Kenyan nun next to whom I was seated kept glaring at me when I didn't know when to stand or to kneel. But it was still a very moving and remarkable experience; the integration of dance into the liturgy and the presentation of fruits and grains at the offertory made it clear that the Catholics of Western Kenya have made the religion their own. But, hey, if the pope wants to kill something that beautiful, who am I to say otherwise? (HT: Chris Blattman)
  • The more we learn about the Bush administration's activities, the more clear it is that some its members committed crimes. Detention without charge of known innocents is a violation of the most basic principles upon which this country was founded. I don't know what else to say.
  • How 'bout them Baylor Bears?
  • Global disputes at the dry cleaner's.

congo watch

So much for the "successful" rout of the FDLR by Rwandan and Congolese troops last month. An estimated 30,000 people had to flee their homes after attacks by the Hutu extremist militia. As the BBC delicately puts it, UNHCR "says the militia has been retaliating against the civilian population" for the February raids.

Quelle surprise. The monthlong, "joint" Rwandan-Congolese operation was so obviously incapable of completely routing out the FDLR that this isn't particularly shocking. The long list of human rights abuses committed during and in the aftermath of this operation makes its utility questionable at best. But, hey, let's give credit where credit is due: it appears that much of the fighting has shifted north to North Kivu's Lubero territory. This means that the FDLR is terrorizing a whole new population- or at least one that had been semi-stable for bit (and I use the term "stable" in its loosest sense) - in addition to still making things miserable for the people of Masisi and Walikale territories to the south and southwest. Way to go, guys.

3.19.2009

if I'd wanted twitter, I'd've signed up for twitter

Is anyone else being driven crazy by the new layout on Facebook? Like, in the "this used to be easy to use, but now they've hidden everything and I don't have time to figure it out because I'm a grownup with a job and plenty else to do" sense?

On an only tangentially-related point, you'd be amazed at how many people google "Chantal Biya hair" in a given day.

this & that

  • It's Extrajudicial Killings Week over at Wronging Rights. So many choices; so little time!
  • Chris Blattman has a great summary of the H-Africa controversy over the New York Times' Africa coverage, which, as we've noted here many times before, is atrocious. There's really no excuse; the NYT has the best factchecking machine in the business, but apparently they don't make nearly enough cell phone calls to Africa (or do some simple Google searches) to confirm stories. But, hey, if you're okay with Nick Kristof printing things that are demonstrably false, keep on reading.
  • Snap! A professor lets the pope have it. (Dear Catholic readers, I'm not advocating the impeachement of the pope. The piece is interesting because it points out that condom promotion is actually much more pro-life than the Church's current position. Please don't send me hate mail.)
  • Here's a brilliant analysis of the politics of the President's March Madness bracket.
  • Oh, W. Stop talking.
  • One of my students just wrote to say that he'd changed a Wikipedia entry that was out-of-line on what I taught the class about the 2003 Texas redistricting scandal last week. It's still wrong. Sigh.
  • SXSW music started last night. You can practically smell the eau de hipster in the Austin air. It's equal parts arrogance and practiced nonchalance with a slight bouquet of ennui.

going bananas

Well, I'm enjoying an exciting spring break here in Austin. In the mornings, I'm fixing the things the copy editor (aka, "Daddy") found wrong in my dissertation and in the afternoons, I'm seeing my usual run of films about Africa, repressive states, and the prison system. (You should absolutely see Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, family detention is an outrage, and Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love is a beautiful look at Senegal's greatest musician. It was so refreshing to see a movie about Africa without the pity party that I hardly knew what to do.) Oh, and my bracket is set, as is President Obama's. We'll just see who wins that matchup, now, won't we?

I am all about the vacation productivity.

Anyway, the pope is still in Africa, having a high time ticking off the French and whatnot. He met with Paul Biya, the president/dictator of Cameroon, and family; the Holy Father spoke to a country that's 2/3 French in English; the French are taunting his stance on condoms.

I'm sure there's no causal relationship between these events. But there's an important element to this whole storyline that I think is being ignored, namely: Chantal Biya's hair.

Chantal Biya is the First Lady of Cameroon. She's the president's second wife, daughter of a Frenchman and (I am not making this up) a Cameroonian beauty pageant winner (Miss Doume).

(Every Cameroonian I know believes that either Paul or Chantal arranged to have the first wife knocked off so she could marry him and they could still be good Catholics. But that's neither here nor there. I could see the back side of the Presidental Palace from the front gate of my house in Upper Bastos and I never saw any funny business. For what it's worth.)

Other than possibly being implicated in the scandalous death of a dictator's wife and some trendy charity activities, the main thing for which Madame Biya is known is her rather spectacular hair. Her styles are legendary; they're named for her. The most ridiculous, I mean, amazing is called la banane ("the banana"). It is, I think you'll agree, something else:
It's not exaggerating to say that Chantal Biya is a trendsetter. Her hairstyles serve as data in scholarly articles on the topic, for heaven's sake.

Our girl Chantal pulled out all the stops for the Holy Father. Check out her hair in this family photo with Benedict:
(Photo: Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon)

I'm also pretty sure Chantal's hair is taller than the pope's mitre. If, you know, the pope wandered around presidental palaces in central Africa wearing a mitre. I'm pretty sure she hasn't done it this high since having tea with Laura Bush a few years back. But you know what we say here in Texas: the higher the hair, the closer to God.

3.18.2009

figs of doom!

Here's a brilliant flyer handed out by counter protesters at a Westboro Baptist Church demonstration. (HT: Andrew Sullivan)

pontification & pragmatism

Well, his holiness Pope Benedict XVI is on the African continent this week, first in Cameroon and then in Angola. He was in Yaounde on Tuesday, which is unfortunate because that means he missed out on the capitol's bizarre Sunday afternoon phenomenon: multiple Chinese restaurants that host major buffets at which expats while away the humid days, week after week, month after month, on and on and on until it feels like Yaounde is your own private, hot, humid, miserable purgatorio.

But I digress. The pope made headlines upon his arrival into the city on Tuesday for his claims regarding the relationship between the spread of HIV/AIDS and condom use. "You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," he said on the way into town. "On the contrary, it increases the problem." Benedict went on to say that changes in attitudes about morality & sexual activity would do more to fix the problem.

I'll give the pope some credit here. He's certainly right that getting men to stop cheating on their wives en masse - as is the custom in many African ethno-linguistic groups, especially those in which having sex with a nursing mother is a cultural taboo - would certainly abate the spread of HIV. As would ending the practices of polygamy, marrying off twelve-year-old girls, and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

But the pope doesn't know what he's talking about. Only someone who's never set foot in an African hospital would claim that condom use doesn't help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Because it does. It works. When a country increases access to information about and reduces the cost of condoms, its HIV rate goes down. This is not in dispute. It works especially well when you hand out condoms in conjunction with campaigns that encourage teenagers to abstain and husbands to be faithful to their wives. But access to condoms is a key part of the strategy.

Most health workers in Africa - often the most deeply religious ones - are much more pragmatic than their theologians. Unlike the pope, they realize that changing cultural norms is an enormous, sometimes impossible task. The religious health workers I've interviewed believe their job is to care for the population according to Christian ideals of unconditional love. Love in this view means helping people who don't have good choices. That's why the Catholic hospital in Monrovia was rumored to be the only place anyone could get condoms during Liberia's wars. That's why conservative Protestants in the eastern Congo will give a morning-after pill to an eleven-year-old who's been gang raped. The reality of the situation pushes aside ideals and pontifications from on high. It forces an immediate, imperfect response to an impossible situation.

It would be great if the pope's vision of fidelity replaced the need for condom distribution in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The cost-prohibitive nature of all forms of contraception and disease-prevention mean that these programs are almost completely dependent on donor financing. That money won't last forever. There will have to be long-term, local solutions to these problems. But those kinds of cultural changes take a lifetime to implement. Given that there is no evidence that condom distribution increases promiscuity - or the HIV/AIDS seropositive rate - in sub-Saharan Africa, it's ridiculous to claim that these programs do more harm than good. And the at-risk people of Cameroon and Angola and Kenya and the Congo can't wait for norms to shift. I wonder if the pope thought of that.

UPDATE: Here's a post that does a good job of explaining something I should've mentioned before, namely, that the simple presence of condoms doesn't reduce the HIV/AIDS rate. As Bill Easterly points out, the issue is getting people to use condoms when they're available. It's a huge problem for which I didn't adequately account in my claims about the effectiveness of condom distribution above. But the pope is still completely wrong that condoms exacerbate the HIV/AIDS problem.

3.17.2009

just in time



I never get tired of this. Never.

heads-up

I'll be speaking on the situation in the eastern D.R. Congo this Saturday, March 21 at the Whole Woman Festival in Fort Worth. The festival benefits Safe Haven of Tarrant County, the Battered Women's Foundation, and efforts to build a leadership/job training center at the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu.

I'd love to meet any Dallas/Fort Worth-area readers who are able to make it out to the Casa Manana theater in the cultural district. My talk is on the main stage at 3:35 and I'll be at the presenters' signing table for a few minutes after that. Stop by and say hi!

it always comes back to consubstantiation

this & that

good news from Goma

My dad sent over this AP article about rape in the Congo this weekend. It's a little bit of the same story we've all heard a thousand times: violent gang rape of women and girls happens on an unprecedented scale in the eastern Congo.

This article is a little different though, because, almost without realizing it, the author focused in part on local solutions to the problem. She talked to my good friend E (C & E are the friends at whose home I stay when I'm in Goma) about their radio campaign encouraging women to come forward for treatment. The story also quotes a Congolese lawyer who's working on an American Bar Association-funded project to bring perpetrators to justice. (I had a tiny part in getting that set up by helping the ABA connect with reputable local groups and am beyond thrilled that they're having success in prosecuting crimes.)

Why do these programs work? I'd argue it's because they're community-based solutions. Although they involve critical financial partnerships with international donors, the programs are conceived and developed entirely by or in conjunction with local experts. These locals speak the languages, know the culture, know what will work, know what didn't work in the past, and know how to get things done. They also won't leave when the funding dries up or the project duration ends. This is their community, and there are plenty of Congolese who know exactly what needs to be done to end the war against women.

The view that outsiders know best permeates the international devleopment circus and the failure of its solutions is a testament to how wrong-headed such thinking is. Why? Because it ignores the capabilities of the very people those failed "solutions" are intended to help. As Alanna over at Blood and Milk puts it, this approach is based in misguided thinking:
Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before. Even if it’s your old clothes, technology they can’t use, or a school building with no teacher.

But poor people don’t have nothing. They have families, friends – social ties. They have responsibilities. They have possessions, however meager. They have lives, no matter what those lives look like to Westerners.
Poor people don't have nothing. That's for sure. Some of them even have law degrees and MBA's and PhD's in agricultural economics. All they need is a little support and a chance to change things. I'm excited that even the AP reporters are seeing the fruits of community-based solutions to the Congo's problems, and hopeful that we'll see more stories like this.

(HT to Wronging Rights, I think. I read about Alanna's post in several different places.)

3.15.2009

this & that

  • A revolution is happening in Madagascar. The president is trying to offer a compromise, but the opposition has the military on its side. It's unclear who actually has effective control of Antananarivo at the moment; the people are protesting in the streets.
  • Here's a nice explanation of what socialism actually is - and why Barack Obama isn't a socialist.
  • The evidence that the Bush administration authorized the use of torture in interrogations of terrorism detainees mounts. This time from the Red Cross.
  • SXSW film is in full swing here in Austin. As per usual, every film I've seen is about political repression and/or travesties in the Texas criminal justice system. Sunday I saw three films, two of them for free. For the first time ever, being a political scientist had real-world benefits in that it got me on a director's guestlist for Letters to the President, an amazing documentary about Iranian president which is remarkable mostly because you spend the whole film wondering how the heck the filmmaker got permission to follow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad around with a camera. Then, Steve Not the Lawyer's friend charmed some ACLU-ers into giving us passes to American Violet, a narrative loosely based on the racist, trumped-up drug charges in Hearne, Texas that landed a bunch of innocent people in jail a few years back. Finally, I managed to snag the last seat at a screening of Burma VJ, an incredible film about the Burmese journalists who covered the monks' September 2007 uprising against the country's military regime. It's fantastic. I cried. (If you're in Austin, you should try to see it on Wednesday at 11:30 at the Ritz.)
  • Americans are losing confidence in every societal institution.
  • Oh, to hear what Jesse Helms would have to say about this nonsense.
  • Every single SXSW music day party. I don't know about you, but I'm going to the NPR party, 'cause that's how we roll here at the TIA. (NPR also has an awesome free download of music for the festival.)

3.14.2009

this & that: waiting for baylor to disappoint us edition

  • Ah, low-tax, low-service state government.
  • It's SXSW time here in scenic, suddenly freezing cold Austin, Texas. Come hell or high water, I will see Justin Townes Earle at least twice this week. Oh, yes, I will.
  • Speaking of, my friend Rod is blogging the film festival part of South-by.
  • I'm a little annoyed with the Obama administration for throwing out the term "enemy combatant." Not for legal, human rightsey reasons; it's definitely the right thing to do. But this is the last semester I'm teaching American government, and I don't want to rewrite my Gimo lecture.
  • I'm generally opposed to Twitter because it contributes to the atmosphere of oversharing that is ruining our society. Evidence? Here. (My apologies to the good people of Waco, whose jurors did not commit that error as I'd earlier misread the byline.)

3.13.2009

it could be worse

3.12.2009

lame excuses

Things are a little crazy here. My students are super-antsy for spring break, which begins tomorrow. I started on an insulin pump, which will be great in the long run, but for now is very stressful and time-consuming. My computer randomly shuts itself down every three to ten minutes. (Luckily, I know why.) And the pirate paper is really taking off, which is taking up a lot of time what with trying to track down everyone involved in transferring ransoms to Somalia. Turns out getting $5 million parachuted onto an oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden is way more complicated than it seems.

That's all to say, sorry for the lack of substance on the old blog this week. Yeah.

3.11.2009

this & that

3.10.2009

great moments in grading

"I think Obama is strongly against torture because the first thing he did was close Guatamela Bay."

don't cry for me

Well, it's been about a week since the dispute between the army chief-of-staff and the president of Guinea-Bissau ended in a rather Shakespearean manner (namely, by having one another killed). Here's an interesting analysis of the situation in Bissau this week that points out the dirty little secret of African politics: sometimes, assassinations aren't necessarily a bad thing.

Much to my surprise, the army did not take over after killing off President Vieira. They let the speaker of the national assembly become president, following the constitutional order of succession, and someone is organizing new elections. As just about everyone quoted in the article points out, getting rid of a dictator and another "big man" may have been the best thing that could've happened in Guinea-Bissau. Here's hoping their replacements are somewhat more peace-and-stability-minded.

(BTW, I don't buy for a minute the idea that the drug cartels organized the assassinations. They operate in G-B precisely because no one interferes with their activities. Why would they mess with a favorable situation? Especially when increased stability means there's potential for better government control of the coastline?)

In other news, no one seems to have the slightest idea where Congolese Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda is being held, but his wife's (someone married Laurent Nkunda?!?) attorney filed a request for his release in civil court in Kigali. No word on Betty's status.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited Heal Africa hospital in Goma last week. He was shocked - shocked! - to see what the women being treated there have endured. But probably not shocked enough to make a serious push to increase the number of peacekeepers in Congo to a force capacity that could actually secure the territory.

Finally, the United States Navy turned over seven Somali pirates to the Kenyan government for prosecution in Kenyan courts under a bilateral agreement that allows such prosecutions. . I am very unclear as to how precisely it's legal for Somalis accused of committing piracy in the Gulf of Aden can be prosecuted in Kenya (or how the Kenyan criminal justice system will magically have time and resources to prosecute these cases), but, hey, they're all from the country of Africa, right?

this & that

  • Explaining Bush's use of signing statements in a neutral fashion is one of my hardest tasks as a teacher. The students just don't understand how one person can decide that something is unconstitutional based on a crazy interpretation of executive authority and still be within the bounds of the rule of law. Luckily, I don't have to worry about it anymore.
  • At ASA last fall, I heard a fascinating paper about the dating and family behavior of HIV/AIDS patients in Nigeria. There's such a stigma associated with the disease that peopel sneak around and hide their meds from spouses and family. There's also an enormous stigma associated with never marrying, so some people actually hide their status (or refuse to get tested in the first place) from potential marriage partners. Here's a story about an interesting initiative to encourage HIV+ Nigerians to marry one another.
  • What is it with the chimps this week? Now we learn that they stockpile weapons. In Sweden.
  • Not surprisingly, the number of Americans who profess no religious belief is growing. As the researcher in this story points out, though, there's also great confusion over just what constitutes an "evangelical" Christian. I've been meaning to write a guide to the varieties of evangelicals for political scientists for awhile now. Maybe it's time.
  • Homeless children are worse off in Texas than anywhere else. Sigh.

3.09.2009

shameless blegging

Okay, blogland, I need some help. I've mentioned before a project about Somali pirates on which I'm a co-author. We're arguing something ridiculously controversial, but we believe we're right. Problem is, as with all research involving failed states, there are a few data issues. I won't give all the details here, but basically, we need to figure out what happens to the ransom money the pirates receive. And that means tracking down some pirates.

We're already trying to contact the people who negotiate ransom amounts and arrange for transfers. And we know there's a pirate spokesperson who has a sat phone. Does anyone out there have the number? Or, even better, does anyone have a helpful contact on the staff of the BBC's Somali Service at Bush House in London?

You'd have my undying gratitude (and a note of thanks in our article if you'd like) in exchange for this assistance.

3.08.2009

weekend this & that

3.06.2009

in zimbabwe

Susan Tsvangirai died from injuries sustained in today's car wreck. I'm glad to note that it appears that there was no foul play involved in her death. One MDC member says that the driver of the truck that hit the Tsvangirai car had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel.

Our deepest sympathies to the Prime Minister, his family, and the people of Zimbabwe.

Update: MDC wants a full investigation. Nobody trusts Mugabe.

i dream about doing this


But probably shouldn't until I have tenure.

accidents & accusations

Auto transportation in Africa is dangerous. This is an undisputed fact. Roads are often narrow and in bad condition, vehicles are old, and drivers aren't always cautious. Crashes happen all the time, and they often kill dozens of people. So hearing that there was a wreck in Zimbabwe today isn't exactly news.

Given the propensity of some African dictators to use car wrecks as a means to get rid of their political enemies, however, means that we have to take notice when we learn that Zimbabwe's new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife Susan were involved in a car accident south of Harare today. Mrs. Tsvangirai is apparently badly injured.

There don't seem to be many other details about the wreck available thus far. I don't want to make unfounded accusations when it may in fact have just been another car wreck on another bad African road. But the animosity between Tsvangirai and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe makes me think twice while hoping that it was really, truly just an accident. Here's wishing Mrs. Tsvangirai a speedy recovery.

UPDATE: is here.

3.05.2009

this & that

  • Well, it's about darn time. Wednesday, the ICC finally issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al Bashir. The charges are war crimes and crimes against humanity. They did not charge him with genocide, but that doesn't mean that Khartoum isn't having a fit. No, sir. They will not stand for this aggression. And it's hard to argue with the logic that the ICC is, in a sense, "only one mechanism of neo-colonialist policy used by the West against free and independent countries," as al Bashir's aide put it. Thing is, the neo-colonialists have decided to take concrete, symbolic action against the leaders of free and independent countries who abuse and destroy their own civilians. Way to go, ICC.
  • The problem with the ICC warrant is that there's serious potential for retributions against or harm to civilians in Darfur. Actually, it's not technically "potential" anymore. The Sudanese government kicked out Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, Solidarites, Mercy Corps, and up to five other groups that were operating in Darfur. Taking away humanitarian assistance is a super way to show the ICC that you're innocent of war crimes.
  • The Angolan army has been running amok in southwestern Congo for the last week or so. Apparently the Kivus were getting too much attention.
  • The African Union is working to establish a common currency for the continent. Which seems like a decent idea, especially if they peg it to a stable currency. How do I know it's going to fail? Because they're going to put the African Central Bank in Abuja, Nigeria, capital of the one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Anyone want to start a pool on how long it takes Lagos' counterfeiters to get the actual plates from the central bank?
  • Here's the most obvious solution to the Somali pirate problem. The paper that my co-author and I are working on (We have an RA to do the coding now!) has an argument about this. If only we could get data for the independent variable...
  • The Catholic diocese of Modena, Italy is urging its parishoners to give up texting for Lent, in part as a way of recognizing the situation in the eastern Congo and the role that access to coltan (an essential mineral in cell phone batteries) plays in the conflict. I wonder if it will work.
  • Chris Blattman has an outstanding summary of everything that's wrong with the disaster that is Invisible Children.

3.03.2009

a truly important question

We deal with lots of important questions here at Texas in Africa on issues ranging from mass rapes in the Congo to tracking down rebel leaders' goats and wacky presidential campaign slogans. Today I've got a question on what I'm sure you'll consider a Much More Significant Issue, namely, the color of my doctoral robes.

While I don't want to count proverbial my chickens before they pass the defense, it does appear that I just might get to graduate in May. Even if that doesn't happen, I will graduate eventually, and doctoral robes are something a faculty member needs for future graduations and other major university events. They're heavy, involve difficult-to-clean fabrics, and aren't flattering to anyone, so of course I need to get some of my own.

Here at the U, we actually have a choice between ordering traditional black robes (with indicators of the field of study in accent colors on the hood) or of going with the full-on burnt orange. Either one costs a small fortune, so it's not a matter of price, but rather of taste.

Normally, I'm proud to go with burnt orange in wardrobe as in life, but, well, given the location of my future employment, I'm already going to stand out a bit in academic social situations, and I'm not sure that the burnt orange will strike the right look. Then again, if you're going to stand out, why not go all the way?

What say ye, faithful Texas in Africa readers? Shall I go with the burnt orange robes or the black ones? In the end, I'll go with my heart, but I want to know what you think. You can look at the options here and then answer in the poll below and leave any additional comments in the comment section. (Comments referring to the superiority of other colors of robes will be deleted, so no messing around, Aggies et al.) Robes are on sale Wednesday - Friday, so vote early and vote often:



Update: the poll doesn't work and I have no idea why. Thanks for all the feedback!

this & that

3.02.2009

well, that didn't take long.

FDLR rebels have retaken their positions in North Kivu following the departure of the Rwandan army.

I would've given it at least a week. So much for "success."

it's beginning to look a lot like 1976

Who says the era of coups d'etat in Africa is over? Reports today from Guinea-Bissau say that the tiny country's president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, was shot dead by mutinous soldiers, apparently in revenge for the death of an army chief of staff. As an ECOWAS official told Agence France-Presse, "The death of a president, of a chief of staff, is very grave news. It's not only the assassination of a president or a chief of staff, it's the assassination of democracy."

Never mind that you'd have to be illiterate or delusional to consider Guinea-Bissau a democracy.

According to the BBC, "The army denies that there is a coup." It's not often that I get to pull out the beloved first edition of Samuel Decalo's Coups and Army Rule in Africa that I found in the Niantic Book Barn one freezing cold "spring" day in Connecticut, but I'm pretty sure that if I were in my home office writing this, I could look it up and confirm that the definition of a coup hasn't changed. I'm also fairly certain that Guinea-Bissau's recent history of coups hasn't changed either. So maybe we need a new category to cover assassinations of heads of state by angry units of militaries who don't like the guy in power and want a change. Ideas, anyone?

Then again, maybe democratic ideals about the rule of law and constitutional order have taken over in Guinea-Bissau. Maybe the head of the army is telling the truth when he says they're going to track down the renegades and bring them to justice while respecting the constitutional order of succession. And maybe the new government will establish enough authority othat the Latin American drug cartels will have to find a new weak state with a poorly-guarded coastline through which they can ship tonnes of cocaine to Europe.

Somehow I doubt it.

(Where's Guinea-Bissau? It's a tiny, former Portuguese colony on the West African coast, south of Senegal. They had lots of Cuban doctors running the health system when nobody else would. You know, that Guinea-Bissau).

why do birds suddenly appear

Well, while I was enjoying a long week/month/decade working on ridiculously specific dissertation details, stuff did happen in my favorite corner of central Africa. Kate at Wronging Rights has a great summary of the Rwandan army's departure from the Congo at the end of last week. Never mind that it appears the "joint" operation with the FARDC accomplished very little other than exposing lots of villagers to a higher-than-average rate of human rights abuses . What's important (at least in the minds of Kinshasa and Kigali) is that they did something together. Next thing you know, Paul Kagame will be sending mix CD's of Carpenters classics and Boyz II Men ballads to Joseph Kabila for Easter.

To be fair, a few Rwandan Hutu rebels did return home for the first time in fifteen years. That's progress, assuming their time in Rwanda's re-education camps has the intended effect. Here's an interesting photo essay on one of the returnees, a guy named Leonard.

(Leonard and I are the same age; the difference is that the spring I turned sixteen, I was watching the genocide unfold on Channel One and wondering why my government wouldn't do anything about it. The spring Leonard was sixteen, he ran to the Congo to become an extremist with a genocidal ideology. Leonard and I have apparently both been to the place in picture #15, however.)

(As a total aside, does anyone else remember the Anderson Cooper death wish assignments of 1993-94 on Channel One? We all wondered what he'd done to make them send him to every global hellhole that year. And there were a lot of hellholes in 1993-94.)

As longtime readers of this blog know, I'm a cynic about the prospects for peace and stability in the Kivu provinces. It shouldn't suprise you to learn that I don't think much will come of this joint operation. Nobody has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in the eastern D.R. Congo, and until that is established, one rebel group will appear to replace every one that's routed out by the Rwandans. Anytime a government has to outsource the provision of the most basic public good, security, things aren't going to improve for the long term.

It's good to be back.

happy texas independece day



It's my favorite holiday. You know what that means...

3.01.2009

this & that: while we were out