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

4.30.2009

some moments are priceless

Seems Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently met with Libyan national security adviser Mutassim Qadhafi. This is part of the continuing thaw in U.S.-Libyan relations that's been going on for a few years now. But who's kidding who? Oil, terrorism, and the domination of Africa were clearly not the real issue at this meeting. And I think we all know who won the battle for the sassier-looking pantsuit.

(Photo: State Department via The Economist's blog. Thanks to The Bad Historian, who sent this over earlier this week. )

the ddr disaster

Oh, for goodness sakes.

I know keeping up with Congolese warlords is complicated, but we all remember Bosco Ntanganda, right? He's Laurent Nkunda's frenemy. When Rwanda decided that their support for Nkunda's CNDP forces was going to hurt their foreign aid-based system of revenue generation, Ntanganda was right there to take over the CNDP, cut a deal with the Congolese army, and turn his troops over to be integrated into the national army, despite the fact that there's an ICC arrest warrant out for him for war crimes involving forcing children to become soldiers?

Right. That Bosco Ntanganda.

Bosco is nowhere near The Hague, of course. There just aren't enough wide open spaces, and it gets cold there. So what's he up to instead? The BBC has at least one piece of evidence that says he's working for the Congolese army. With UN forces.

What could possibly go wrong there?

MONUC denies it, of course, but let's be honest. What MONUC's spokesperson in Kinshasa knows isn't always a 100% accurate reflection of the reality on the ground in the east. It's entirely possible that Ntaganda's directly involved and MONUC hasn't figured it out yet.

Human Rights Watch is pretty sure he is involved in joint operations with MONUC. Local human rights observers definitely believe he is. Even if he's not, as HRW points out, making an accused war criminal like Ntaganda a general in the national army (as happened in January) isn't exactly a great way to take a firm stance against human rights abuses.

The Ntaganda situation is one more symptom of the terrible flaws in the Congo's DDR process by which combatants are demobilized. Many are given incentives to return to civilian life, but other soldiers have the opportunity to integrate into the FARDC, the Congo's national army. The original idea was that DDR would allow competing armies to all have a stake in the national army, and it might've worked if the army had even the slightest capacity to maintain a unified, civilian-controlled command structure. But the FARDC lacks all of those characteristics. They can't even pay their soldiers, much less ensure that captains in the field, or even the generals, will follow orders from Kinshasa.

The primary effect of DDR has been one of legitimating soldiers who have committed horrible crimes by giving them uniforms. Not surprisingly, the FARDC (which wasn't exactly a paradigm of virtue to begin with) has been increasingly responsible for human rights violations in recent years. Funny how that happens when you integrate war criminals into the ranks.

Meanwhile, things in the DRC get worse and worse. Human Rights Watch warned this week that 100,000 civilians in the Lubero territory of North Kivu are at risk of attack by the FDLR Hutu militants and - you guessed it - the FARDC, the very institution that is supposed to protect Congolese civilians.

Solving the security crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a complicated task. No one really knows what to do to professionalize the military, get the FARDC to follow orders, get the rest of the region's armed groups under control, and restore some semblence of order. But it's quite clear that the integration aspect of the DDR program is a failure. There's no question that the Congolese would be much better off without people like Bosco Ntaganda in command.

4.29.2009

it worked in lysistrata

Well, here's one way to get Kenya's politicians to behave.

Seriously. Those men are in trouble. The organizers of the ban have Maendeleo ya Wanawake on their side, which means they've got something like 2 million Kenyan woman on board. And the Women's Development Organization coalition is trying to pay commercial sex workers to go along.

This is going to be fun to watch.

a return to sensibility

I'm glad to see that President Obama has named Eric Goosby as global AIDS coordinator and head of PEPFAR. Observers are hopeful that this means a return to an HIV/AIDS policy that focuses on treatment and prevention - with realistic approaches to prevention of transmission of the disease. The Bush administration-created PEPFAR program has done a lot to help treat those who are infected with HIV, and they deserve credit for helping millions of people get access to anti-retrovirals.

But that success has to be tempered with an understanding of the effects of an ineffective policy on the prevention side. There's no telling how many people contracted HIV because of the Bush administration's policies on abstinence-based programs and their reluctance to fund substantial condom distribution and education programs. Here's hoping the Obama administration will use a comprehensive ABC-style approach, and that infection rates will finally start to go down.

4.28.2009

congo watch

From MSF, here's a video tour of an internally displaced woman's hut in one of the camps in Masisi, northwest of Goma. The woman (whose name, Confiance, means "confidence" or "trust") does a great job of articulating the problems faced by IDP's. IDP's, remember, don't get all the protections that refugees (who cross borders) are supposed to get.

Some CongoleseIDP's live in even worse conditions than those faced by Confiance and her family. The situation in the eastern DRC is untenable.

You can help Congolese IDP's by donating to the MSF (Doctors without Borders) United Kingdom section's Congo Appeal here.

in the pink

Poor, poor Laurent Nkunda. The Congolese Tutsi formerly known as the dissident general leading the CNDP just can't catch a break. First, Rwanda's government realized that its donors were finally on to its machinations in the eastern Congo, so they arranged to have Nkunda's rival throw him under the bus by ousting him from leadership of the organization Nkunda built. Oh, and the Rwandans arrested Nkunda in Gisenyi.

Since then, Nkunda's whereabouts have remained semi-unknown, as have those of his pet goat, Betty. Since no one has reported seeing him march out of Gisenyi's prison on a work crew while wearing the stylish pink pajamas that are the uniforms for Rwandan prisoners, it seems that Kigali's former Man in Masisi is getting some special treatment. He's apparently under some kind of house/luxury hotel arrest, probably in Gisenyi.

Nkunda recently sued the Rwandans for wrongful arrest, but his case was thrown out by a Gisenyi court last week. Apparently there's a tiny issue in that Nkunda isn't aware the charges against him, and his wife Elisee (Again, who knew?!?) insists he's being held illegally. Human Rights Watch's Annika von Woodenberg beautifully shuts that argument down in a quote for this article, noting that, "He is well represented, more than any of his victim has ever been."

To be fair, we seem to be having a hard time understanding the nuanced meaning of certain types of "war crimes" here in the U.S. of A., and I haven't actually seen any news as to the specific charges under which the Rwandans are holding him. They keep promising to extradite Nkunda to the Congo, where he's wanted for a whole litany of crimes against humanity, etc., but that may not happen because under Rwandan law, a prisoner in Rwanda can't be extradited to a country that applies the death penalty. And guess which country applies the death penalty in an even less progressive fashion than that of Texas?

This whole situation is so clearly headed to one of a very few outcomes. Either Kagame allows Nkunda to escape in the name of ensuring continued chaos in the region (from which Rwanda directly benefits. It's a lot easier to steal land and resources when things are chaotic.), the Congolese get their hands on Nkunda, or Nkunda ends up sitting in a cell in The Hague. Or he dies under mysterious circumstances; maybe his plane to Kinshasa crashes on takeoff at Kigali or his bodyguard assassinates him.

None of these options are particularly favorable for Kagame and the regime in Kigali. Western states are finally having to acknowledge facts about Kigali's corruption and propensity for violating human rights that most of them have willfully ignored for years. Giving the West free reign over Nkunda is their nightmare scenario. As one diplomat told Times reporter Catherine Philp, "The last thing Rwanda wants is Nkunda spilling the beans in The Hague."

Still, my money's there. Kigali's got to do something with Nkunda, and they won't be able to delay the inevitable forever. They can't off him in an "accident" or let Nkunda sneak away over the lake late one night; that would raise too many suspicions. Rwanda is too committed to law and order to extradite Nkunda to Congo when doing so would violate a law. So letting the international community handle the prisoner becomes the only option, even if the prospect of Nkunda's testimony could be damning. They can't hold him indefinitely. Besides, pink's not really Laurent Nkunda's color.

4.27.2009

museveni mondays

"Unless your purpose is to steal public funds, leadership is nothing but an endless sacrifice."

Labels:

rwanda, rwanda


I'm somewhat hopeful that Rwandan President Paul Kagame's decision to ban local BBC broadcasts in the Kinyarwanda language will finally wake up those in the United States and elsewhere who still believe that he's a benevolent ruler who has the interests of all Rwanda's people at heart. Kagame contends that the BBC is giving airtime to "genocide deniers," by which he usually means "political enemies of his regime." The accusation is laughable. It's not as though we're dealing with the equivalent of FOX News here; the BBC does a better job of reporting unbiased news from central Africa than just about anybody.

This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, during which a well-organized group of Hutu extremists, backed by the Rwandan army, carried out a detailed plan to murder as many Tutsis and moderate Hutus as possible. They succeeded in killing 800,000, and would have gotten further had it not been for the push of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF was a rebel army led by Tutsis whose families had lived in exile in Uganda since ethnic cleansings that occured around the time of independence from Belgian rule. The genocide ended when the RPF took control of Kigali and began to consolidate its rule outside of the capital. The Hutu extremists, meanwhile, pushed the civilian Hutu population out into refugee camps in Tanzania, Burundi, and, most importantly, Zaire, where between 1 and 2 million of them ended up. The refugee camps in Zaire were constructed close to the Rwandan border in direct violation of international law, and they were immediately militarized by those who committed the genocide. The camps were then used by extremist Hutus as bases for launching raids back into Rwanda.

The above facts are by and large not in dispute. What is in dispute, however, is the intentions of the Uganda-raised Tutsis who took over the government in Kigali and who are still in power today. They quickly consolidated power after making some symbolic overtures to moderate Hutus that rapidly fell apart. They also oversaw and allowed the murder of tens of thousands of completely innocent Hutus as revenge. Eventually, the government came to be led by Paul Kagame, who had been the general in charge of the RPF invasion.

Trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Kagame understood the tactics of modern war, and by all independent accounts, his takeover of Rwanda was not designed to stop the genocide but rather to take and hold on to power. The new RPF-led government used the Rwandan base of power to launch an invasion into Zaire, at first for the purpose of dealing with the security threat from the militarized refugee camps. Soon, Rwanda was stealing Congo-Zaire's resources, propping up the rebel who started Zaire's civil war, propping up another rebel who kept the fighting going aftr the "wars" were over, and directly contributing to the deaths of 5 million Congolese. As Jocelyn Kelley so eloquently puts it, what happened in the Congo was not "spillover" from the genocide. It is not accidental.

Anybody who says these things in print automatically becomes an enemy of the Rwandan government. Alison Des Forges, the most knowledgable American expert on Rwanda before her untimely death in February, said them. She was banned from travel to the country. Gerard Prunier, one of the greatest Francophone experts on the region, says them in his new book. I have little doubt that Kagame is furious with him right now.

More than anything, I felt a great sense of relief in reading the first few chapters of Prunier's work. Finally, someone reputable has says these things that everyone who studies the region knows to be true: the Rwandan government is not benificent. Its members allowed terrible war crimes to happen in the wake of the genocide, crimes that were just as bad as what was done to the Tutsis. Moreover, the government does not treat all Tutsis as though they are equal. It is an authoritarian regime. There is no political freedom, no free press, and no room for dissent in today's Rwanda.

All of this is dressed up in the language of reconciliation and the need for a strong central government to rebuild the country. Kagame is a masterful politician and tactician; he manipulates everyone from Bill Clinton to Rick Warren into believing that he has the best interests of the region at heart. That, plus a whole lot of Western guilt over the genocide, means that Kigali has seen considerable economic development and foreign direct investment in the past few years.

But that progress comes at a terrible cost. An army that stopped a genocide after it killed 800,000 turned around and killed between 20-40,000 more innocent people. They are in very large part responsible for the massive suffering that continues to this day in the eastern Congo, where the situation continues to worsen. And shutting down a newscast will only draw attention to the very thing Kagame wants to hide most. He is sitting on a time bomb. Rule by a minority of a minority without any space for dissent won't work forever, and Kagame is smart enough that he should know that his jig will eventually be up.

We can and should have sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of innocent Rwandans who died fifteen years ago this spring. The Hutu extremists took the lives of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and cousins, rich and poor, educated and not.

But their deaths do not mean that the people who took the place of those killers are automatically worthy of our trust. Or our foreign aid.

Of course, Kagame's plan to teach every Rwandan English may cause this particular tactic to backfire. It's still very easy to pick up the BBC World Service broadcasts the government can do nothing about - in English - with a $5 shortwave radio. Here's hoping the West is listening.

4.26.2009

make yourself invisible

Oh, the kids are out in Austin this weekend, and this time, they're protesting. Inasmuch as lounging under the live oaks in an "LRA camp" on the lawn of the state capitol can be called "protesting." Or "suffering" for that matter.


Sigh. Invisible Children is a fantastic example of exactly the worst kind of advocacy on behalf of victims of armed conflict. It's ethnocentric, culturally insensitive, and apparently driven by the idea that having American college kids pull stunts like this weekend's "Rescue" will somehow make the lives of children in Northern Uganda better.

(Ways they have actually helped children in Northern Uganda after 5+ years of ridiculous t-shirts and mediocre films that don't really explain the situation: Support for ten schools.

Which is a good thing. But it took how many millions of dollars and wasted years to do it?)

The problem with IC, as Professor Blattman pointed out a couple of months ago, isn't that they're raising awareness about a serious situation. It's that they're doing it in an entirely self-centered, White Man's burden, rich kids off to "save Africa" way. "Abducting yourself" is just ridiculous; there's no way that a night or two out under the stars downtown comes remotely close to helping students empathize with the Ugandan children who face the fear of abduction every night. And it's not really an "abduction" when you know that at any time you can go home.

By all accounts, the IC organization is seen as a bit of a joke in northern Uganda. This isn't suprising seeing as there's no evidence that IC's ideas for helping with the situation appear to actually come from Ugandans themselves. In that sense, IC falls prey to the same problems as do many, many other advocacy organizations. They waste time, effort, and money while taking years to do the very minimum to change the situation they want to help improve. I have no doubt that IC's intentions are good. But their approach is deeply misguided, and the effect they have isn't that far removed from holding a concert to wish the world's poor good luck.

The fact that it's Sunday night and the kids here in Austin have still yet to be "rescued" by any of our local celebrities (and I have it on good authority that Lance Armstrong was at the Hula Hut tonight) is perhaps the most telling thing of all. Turns out that mediocre advocacy in the form of stunts don't accomplish much.

4.25.2009

tourism somalia

(HT: @ChrisAlbon)

4.24.2009

what to do?

Well, we're still waiting for results to confirm that South Africa has a new president. But who's kidding anyone? ANC leader Jacob Zuma will be the winner, quite clearly.

As soon as it's all official, the future Mr. President Zuma will face an unenviable task that no man would enjoy: deciding which of his wives gets to be First Lady.

Will it be Zuma's youngest wife, the glamorous 34-year-old Nompumelelo Ntuli, shown dancing with the new President at their wedding, above? Or perhaps he should bestow the honorific to the experienced, older Sizakele Khumalo, who knows how to handle foreign heads of state and state dinners? Oh, the dilemmas of modern life!

(Photo: Daily Mail)

4.23.2009

deep thoughts from museveni

One of the disadvantages to finishing my PhD is that I now have to clean out seven years' worth of books, files, articles, journals, notebooks and other assorted stuff from my office. But in the process, I'm finding some very amusing relics from fieldwork and graduate school in general. Take, for example, a little book I picked up in Kampala a few years back, Yoweri Museveni in His Own Words (1986-2005). This gem is a compilation of 86 of the Ugandan president's thoughts on politics, society, religion, and Rwanda.

It's pretty much priceless.

I can't possibly keep these precious words of wisdom to myself, so I thought it would be fun to share in a regular feature. Without further ado, here's the first in what will be a very long series:
"Those who say that Museveni is engaged in telling lies have not studied the history of Uganda." (2000)

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waiting is the hardest part

We still don't have election results from South Africa, but it's clear from the 1/3 or so of the votes counted thus far that the ANC stomped the competition. Right now they're leading by 65%. That said, there are almost no results from the crucial Gautang province, home to 23% of the country's registered voters. Turnout was huge in Gautang yesterday, so much so that the Independent Electoral Commission had to print an extra 1 million ballots just for the province.

Without Gautang's results, it would be irresponsible to call this race one way or the other. And in a consolidating democracy like South Africa, you don't want to have pollsters calling results based on 1% of the vote. It's very important that the public believes that every vote was counted before someone is delcared the winner.

(Photo: Oupa Nkosi, Mail & Guardian. Check out the rest of the M&G's fantastic photos of the election and the count.)

quite la banane

The Telegraph has the most amazing slideshow of Cameroonian First Lady Chantal Biya's hair. It defies description. Check out Chantal with Paris Hilton.

(HT: @ScarlettLion)

4.22.2009

an apt description

Now that my dissertation is finished and defended and the all-important signature page is being overnighted around the country (Thank goodness Committee Member #4 made it back from Afghanistan alive!), I actually have time to read books. On any topic I want. Without guilt.

So of course I'm halfway through a book on the European exploration of Timbuktu, just starting Mahmood Mamdani's Darfur book, and am in the middle of Gerard Prunier's fantastic new book on the Congo wars. Prunier's work was released too late to cite in my dissertation, but so far, this is the best book on Congo I've read. Period. It's dense and full of insightful analysis about regional dynamics, the culture of violence, and the importance of particular personalities in driving events.

It's also hilarious. (If you're a central Africanist, anyway.) Check out Prunier's description of professional Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi's PR problem:
"...he had concentrated in his persona a near-perfect cornucopia of all the contradictory evils of postmodern demonology: Maoism, Salazar's fascism, South Africa's apartheid, Ronald Reagan, the CIA, and antiwhite racism, and, last but not least, he had dared to threaten U.S. oil companies in 1992. Short of being a Nazi child molester, it is hard to do worse in terms of political image."
I'll post a full review of the book's substance in a few days.

in which i secumb

Extra-alert Texas in Africa readers may have noticed that over the weekend I did the one thing I swore I'd never do. I signed up for Twitter.

I've railed against Twitter in the past, mostly because I think it contributes to the culture of oversharing that leads my students to write about what they had for breakfast and what they think about French poodles in their papers on criminal justice hearings at the Texas capitol.

But.

Here's the thing. The community of people who blog and think and write (hopefully not in that order) about African states, foreign policy, humanitarian issues, state failure, and a lot of other stuff I care about are mostly on Twitter. And it's impossible to keep up with everything without signing up.

So there you have it. I'm on Twitter in order to save time. And so far, it's not bad.

I also think it's going to make this blog a little more focused, which is a goal I've been pursuing for awhile. For now, I'm going to try putting things that used to go into the biweekly "this and that" feature on my Twitter feed instead. Conveniently enough, you can read my Twitter feed right there on the right side of the page without joining Twitter, so if you're a fan of that feature, it's as easy as ever to click through to amusing links. You can look at my Twitter page at any time without signing up as well, so if you've missed a few links, that'll be the place to catch up. I promise that under no circumstances will I use Twitter to report on my trips to the library, grocery store, or Target. That's just a little too much sharing for me.

If you are a Twitter person and like the Texas in Africa take on these issues, you can follow me here. Thanks to those of you who already are. As soon as I figure it out, I'll do my best to follow you.

It's a brave new world.

dancing for votes

It's election day in South Africa, and while the ANC is expected to win the presidency, dissatisfaction with the party's 15 years of uninterrupted rule is high in many communities. That said, many voters will vote for the party anyway, but it's far from clear that the ANC will be able to enjoy an easy path to victory in the next few electoral cycles.

The BBC's Peter Biles has an excellent piece on whether this election will be remembered as the birth of a true opposition to the ANC. While it's clear that the ANC won't lose, internal corruption and the sense that outsiders don't have a true voice is going to lead to the development of a serious opposition. It may not be Cope, but it seems almost inevitable that some party will post a challenge to the ANC in 2014.

(This may also be the only election since the 19th century USA in which competing politicians have song-and-dance routines to promote their campaigns. Zuma and his machine gun ain't the only game in town, it seems.)

If you're interested in learning information about Jacob Zuma beyond his preference for small weaponry, South Africa's soon-to-be new president, there was a fascinating interview with Alex Russell on last night's edition of The World. Russell is the author of -what else? - Bring Me My Machine Gun. Listening to the piece will give you a great perspective on Zuma and the issues at stake in today's election.

UPDATES:

4.21.2009

fieldwork bound?

Chris Blattman has a great packing list for graduate students and scholars headed to the field for research purposes. If you're headed to an African country or anywhere else in the developing world, between it and the comments, you'll be set for any situation.

The list is a little depressing given that I'm not headed to "the field" per se this summer. (Given the level of insecurity in the Kivus last fall, applying for funding to go there would have been an exercise in futility.) Instead, I'll be in a cushy European capital or two to do some archival work and interview a few people who know about piracy. Guess I probably don't need to take Cipro or anti-malarials for that.

local solutions

While there's some hope in the eastern DRC this week as a number of local defense militias are disarming, insecurity in North Kivu continues. FDLR (the Hutu extremist rebels whose leaders are in part responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide) troops are currently amusing themselves by terrorizing the population in Luofu, a town about 110 miles north of Goma. More than 250 houses were burned and eight people were killed in the town over the weekend, including five children who died in their burning house.

It should be clear to even the most optimistic observers that the January-February "joint" operation by the Rwandan and Congolese armies to flush out the FDLR was a failure. While a few soldiers disarmed and went back to Rwandan, the core of the FDLR quickly regrouped. The only real change that appears to have occurred is that the FDLR is now concentrating its efforts farther north, meaning they're terrorizing a whole new segment of the population. It also means that the citizens suffering the most harm are less accessible to aid agencies and to MONUC. Places like Luofu are much more difficult to reach than Masisi, Rutshuru, or even Walikale.

An interesting aspect of this story is the role being played by local leaders, particularly in the Catholic Church:
"We are trying to calm the population so they don't run into the bush," said Jean Bosco Masumbuko, another priest in Luofu. "We will stay in the church and pray. If they must come and kill us, they will kill us while we pray."
One of my big criticisms of the way interventions in the eastern DRC are handled is that most of the ideas about "solutions" to the crisis are conceived in Kinshasa or Brussels or Paris or Washington - places that are in every sense a world away from the Kivus. Perhaps you've noticed that these so-called solutions never work. The Kivus, especially North Kivu, are still conflict zones, vulnerable populations are still at risk, and basic security is still a pipe dream for millions of innocent people.

But here's an example of local leaders coming up with an idea on their own. Yeah, they can't stop the FDLR, they need peacekeepers and security, and they need immediate humanitarian emergency assistance. But those priests are doing a huge service by trying to calm the people and keep them concentrated in the village, where it will be much easier for humanitarian agencies to help them and for MONUC to provide some protection. They understand the culture and know that inviting everyone into the church to pray will achieve those ends.

It's unlikely that anyone bothered to ask Father Masumbuko and his colleagues what they thinks should be done to secure the region. Which is too bad, because they probably have some good ideas, maybe even ones that would work.

4.21


We still miss you, Allie. Rest in peace.

4.20.2009

the moment of truth

The big news in African politics this week is South Africa's general election, which takes place on Wednesday, April 22. ANC leader Jacob Zuma seems almost certain to win the presidency. (Any time Nelson Mandela shows in a t-shirt bearing your face, I'd say that's a sign you're likely to win. We should develop a control variable for that!) Although the election has a fairly predictable outcome, the peaceful continuance of South Africa's democracy is critical for regional and continental security. Not only will the new leader of Africa's strongest economy have to contend with the Zimbabwe basket case on its northern border, he'll also have a critical role to play in stabilizing the D.R. Congo, pressuring Rwanda and Uganda to behave, ensuring a more robust national response to the HIV/AIDS crisis throughout southern Africa, and building an continent-wide consensus on what to do about Sudan.

I'm by no means an expert on southern African politics and will therefore offer only general observations on the events to come this week. Here are some great places to learn more:
Anyone else have suggestions on good bloggers or analysts covering South Africa's elections in an impartial fashion?

(Photo: AFP)

4.19.2009

life among the ruins

Imagine if your town were destroyed by grenades and rocket launchers and helicopters falling from the sky and famine and disease and crumbling buildings and teenage boys with guns - and you still had to live there.

Picturing that sort of scenario will give you a vague idea as to what it's like to be a resident of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. But not as much as these incredible photos of the city, the likes of which I've never seen in 10+ years of thinking about state failure. Franco Pagetti is the photographer.

(HT: @Scarlett Lion)

4.18.2009

weekend this & that

  • You that place where you get in an argument or conversation with someone and can't think of an appropriate snappy comeback until way after it's cool to continue the conversation? Yeah, the Vatican is SO there when it comes to condom use in Africa. A month after the pope's highly-criticized remarks on a visit to Africa. And after Belgium let them have it.
  • This is not exactly an accurate representation of the situation in South Kivu, but it's a very accurate reflection of what most Banyamulenge perceive the situation in South Kivu to be. Since perception is often more important than reality in violent conflict, it gives you a good idea of some of the region's dynamics. But there's a lot that's wrong, including the presentation of the Mai Mai (which is a catch-all term for highly decentralized local defense militias) and the idea that the Banyamulenge have been in the Kivus for five centuries (a claim for which there is little evidence from non-biased sources).
  • Here's a fascinating study of the impact of regular, severe droughts on sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In what is perhaps the least surprising conclusion of an investigation of all time, the MDC isn't sure that the accident that killed Susan Tsvangirai was really an accident.
  • This is a great piece on the incentives young Somali men have to become pirates.
  • Oh, Rick Perry. Oh, oh, Rich Perry. Pandering to the extremist fringe isn't going to help him win the Republican primary battle against Kay Bailey Hutchison next fall, but bless his heart, he's going to keep trying.
  • Man bites snake. This is an even more interesting headline when you learn that the man bit the snake because the snake had dragged him up a tree in Kenya.
  • Some Texas in Africa readers are upset that I referred to participants in the Tax Day tea parties as "crazies" in my post on Newt Gingrich's dissertation. Just to be clear, there were plenty of people at the protests who were just exercising their free speech rights. I'm fine with that; the best thing about being Americans is our ability to protest without fear of reprisal. What I am NOT okay with, however, is the idea that it is EVER okay to refer to a duly elected, sitting president as Hitler, Osama bin Laden, or the homosexual lover of the Saudi king. There is no question that Wednesday's events attracted the extremist fringe, and because they have the craziest ideas, their signs and speeches probably got the most attention.
  • I see the tea parties more as an expression of disgruntlement about a lost election than anything else. After all, the vast majority of the spending decisions the protesters were complaining about were enacted under Bush, not Obama. If you don't like Obama, that's fine. Say so. But don't dress it up in the language of protesting unnecessary government spending that you blame on him. It's not Obama's fault that we have such a huge deficit and that our economy is in free-fall. Where were these protesters for the last eight years? And why are they protesting tax policies that don't even affect most of those involved? (I'm willing to bet that less than 1% of the tea partiers have household incomes greater than $250,000 a year.)
  • Speaking of appalling things the Bush administration did, authorizing torture is probably at the top of my list. I, for one, appreciate Obama's attempt to return our system of government to its constitutional limits. Someone's going to have to explain this to me: how is it conservative to oppose that effort?
  • Facebook for World Leaders (thanks, Shannon!)
  • Here's a very fair review of American Violet, the film about the Texas justice system I saw at SXSW last month.

4.17.2009

turned into a newt

Surprise, surprise, Newt Gingrich's decade of punditry and self-promotional book writing may result in a 2012 presidential run. That's about the least shocking news since FOX News aligned itself with the crazies and their tea bags, but it's interesting.

What most people don't know about Gingrich is that he's a card-carrying member of the overeducated elite. (My membership card and instructions for buying a navy blue Subaru hatchback and joining an organic food co-op should arrive any day now.) That's right: Newton Leroy Gingrich holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Modern European History from Tulane University in New Orleans. The subject of his dissertation? Education policy in the Belgian Congo.

(My adviser discovered the cite. We thought it was a joke.)

Just before handing in the final version of my dissertation, I finally sucked it up and headed to the basement microfilm room in the library to read Gingrich's dissertation. (When I say "read" here, I mean, of course, that I skimmed through until I found something interesting.) I think it's fairly safe to assume that I'm among a rather limited number of people to have actually looked at our possible future president's thoughts, so just in case you're wondering what he had to say, here's a synopsis. What did the young Mr. Gingrich think of Belgium's colonial administration of education in the Congo?
  • He didn't actually go to the Congo. From what I could gather, anyway. There's no evidence in the text suggesting that Gingrich actually went to Kinshasa to see what Belgium hath wrought. That's fair; his Ph.D. was in Modern European history, not African history. But the story about the Congo that's told in Brussels is vastly different from the reality on the ground. That was even more true when Gingrich was conducting his research.
  • He liked paternalism. A lot. Belgium's policy with regards to the vast majority of the Congolese was to deny secondary-level education to all but a very few people. Boys were educated to be laborers and girls were trained as housemaids and for other domestic pursuits. All students (most of whom, it should be noted, were learning in government-subsidized Catholic schools) were taught the virtues of loyalty and obedience to their white masters. Until the post-World War II period, very few Congolese advanced beyond a sixth-grade education. It was the mid-1950's before the Belgian government allowed a Congolese man to attend university in Europe. (This policy stands in sharp contrast to that of the British and the French in particular, who were busy trying to assimilate their African subjects into "Frenchness" pretty much from the get-go.) The policy was known as paternalism; the colonial government saw itself as the protector of and provider for the Congolese, and as the entity who knew what was best for millions of central Africans. Gingrich doesn't seem to have an issue with the paternalistic policies. In fact, in some parts of the dissertation, he seems to embrace it. For example, towards the end, he praises the fact that the Belgians developed "the largest pirimary and vocational school systems in Black Africa" (280).
  • He saw Belgian rule as beneficent. Gingrich argues that the Belgians prepared Congolese women for the challenges of modernity, by which he presumably means that learning to wash the dishes of wealthy white women with water from a faucet was a useful 20th century skill to have in place of, say, being able to critically reason or understand what the natural rights imply about subservience and racism.
  • He viewed the colonial administration of the Belgian government as technocratic. A technocratic government is one in which most of the decisions that actually matter are made by bureaucrats with highly specialized training. Today, most technocratic regimes are in Latin America. That's an interesting way of describing the system, and I think it's a fair analysis.
  • He recognized some of the absurdity of it all. There's a section in Gingrich's dissertation on the debate over bilingual education that took place in the halls of the colonial administration in Brussels. By "bilingual," of course, the Belgian bureaucrats and politicians were arguing over whether Congolese children should be instructed in both French and Flemish, or just in French.
The whole thing is kindof a glorified white man's burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970's. Gingrich wrote this as the Black Consciousness and Black Power movements were approaching their pinnacles. It was most decidedly not the time to be arguing that white European masters did a swell job ruling black Africans through a system that ensured that most Congolese would never get a real education. Then again, Gingrich finished his Ph.D. just before Mobutu systematically destroyed almost every aspect of Congolese society, including the education system. It's very fair to say that the Congolese were in some ways better off under the Belgians in the post-World War II era than they were in the mid-1980's as Mobutu stole from the public coffers and allowed the state to collapse under the weight of corruption and falling commodity prices on the global market.

And why, you might ask, did Gingrich leave the cushy, underpaid halls of academia for the madhouse of modern American politics? He was denied tenure by West Georgia College. (Rumor has it that this was in part because he was spending all his time on politics.) Still, let that be a lesson to us, academics. If the ambitious conservative in your midst won't shut up, at least give him the benefit of the doubt. West Georgia might could have saved the rest of us from a lot of trouble. Then again, at least I only had to read one Newt Gingrich publication on the Congo.

don't mess with mamdani

Via Karl (who linked to it in the comments of this post on Wronging Rights), here's a fantastic description of Tuesday night's debate between Mahmood Mamdani and John Prendergast over advocacy and the situation in Darfur. Mamdani knows more about central and eastern Africa than just about any other academic working on the continent today. Prendergast works on the advocacy side of things; here's James North's description of him:
"He is more a publicity-hungry showman than a genuine scholar, an Alan Dershowitz with shoulder-length hair and a laid-back Indiana Jones manner."
Ahem. The focus of the debate, it seems, was on how the situation in Darfur is presented to the Western public, particularly with respect to the Save Darfur advocacy organization. Mamdani doesn't believe that what's going on in Darfur today can properly be termed "genocide." Prendergast, from the sound of it, knew better than to argue with Mamdani on that point and distanced himself from Save Darfur's insistence that it is a genocide (despite the fact that Prendergast's Enough Project clearly calls it such) and that external military intervention is necessary to end the suffering of the Darfurians.

I haven't had the chance to read Mamdani's new book on Darfur yet, but will be deciding whether to use his account or Julie Flint & Alex de Waal's in my African politics seminar next year. All I have to go on about the nature of the debate is North's account. But I'll just say a couple of things:
  1. This was fairly predictable. Like Save Darfur, Prendergast is very good at presenting humanitarian crises and conflicts in a way that provokes an emotional response. And Mamdani knows that of which he speaks.
  2. Mamdani's criticisms of the Save Darfur bunch are valid, but that doesn't mean they haven't done some good in raising awareness of the world outside of middle America. (North says Mamdani acknowledged this later in the talk.) But just because something isn't a genocide per se doesn't mean we can't care about it. Save Darfur (and Invisible Children, and a myriad of other organizations run by well-intentioned, idealistic foreigners) errs in its apparent perception that you have to present the situation in the worst light possible in order to get people to take action.
  3. Americans are really bad at recognizing and understanding nuance in African conflicts. As is the case in the D.R. Congo, there aren't really any good guys in Sudan. There's blood on everyone's hands, including that of the Darfur militias that started the insurgency against the Khartoum government in early 2003. Innocent civilians get caught up in these conflicts and they need help, but outside observers (especially those who've never been to the region, or who went on a two-week fact-finding mission with an affable translator/fixer and came back assuming they understood a conflict with decades-old roots) fail those civilians when they fail to fully recognize all the dimensions of the conflict. As my adviser pointed out at my defense on Wednesday, there are so many layers to these situations that people just throw up their hands and call it "chaos." The reality is much more complicated, and much more organized than most of us care to admit.
Update: Here are some links to other analyses of the event:

Labels:

4.16.2009

important legislative priorities

This debate (on the subject of which county gets to claim the title "Official Goat BBQ of Texas") tells you everything you need to know about politics here in God's country:

For the record, I learned in the Congo that bbq-ed goat is pretty darn good when it's done right. Road trip, anyone?

4.15.2009

this is the end

This is a picture from my first day of school in the autumn of 1983. Since that day, I've finished thirteen years of public school, four years of undergrad, two years in a master's program, and seven years of Ph.D. work. I also studied abroad in Kenya, did extensive fieldwork in central Africa, and completed a whole mess of internships in Nairobi, Washington, and Yaounde. (I did stop carrying the Strawberry Shortcake tote at some point in there. :)

For those of you who are counting, that makes 26 consecutive years of education.

Today was, for all practical purposes, my last day of school. I defended my dissertation, spent a couple of nervous minutes in the hallway with very good friends, and then heard those three magic words every graduate student waits to hear:

"Congratulations, Dr. [your name here]."

It was a good day. In a fantastic twist of fate, my friend Kirstin defended her dissertation an hour and a half earlier. We've gone through most of this process together and it was so good to spend a couple of minutes celebrating together (and meeting her beautiful baby girl!).

Ph.D. work is interesting in that it's a very solitary pursuit, but it also takes a community to bring the work to completion. Conducting original research, constructing a logical argument, and writing the text are lonely tasks. They involve painful hours obsessing over the right wording and long nights with dry library books and horrors like Newt Gingrich's dissertation. In my case, it involved fieldwork in a conflict zone where there are earthquakes and angry mobs and corrupt border guards and a myriad of other hindrances to finishing the data collection. (After the defense, my advisor asked what the best and worst parts of the program had been for me. It was clearly the fieldwork.)

These things are made do-able by the support of your colleagues and advisors, whose feedback and suggestions are often invaluable. And they are made survivable by the presence of friends and family who may or may not understand all the academic jargon, but who are there to love, encourage, and support you through it all.

I am very lucky to have had all of these people in my life. And I'm lucky to have all of you who read this blog and throw in your thoughts on African politics and all these other issues.

Thanks.

gotta start somewhere

4.14.2009

the high somali seas

So there are pirates in Somalia.

Perhaps you heard about it.

It was a big weekend in piracy. Or, to be more specific, in fighting piracy. As usual with all things African, the U.S. didn't do much about the situation until American interests (and American lives) were at risk. But when the situation hit the fan, our boys in blue acted calmly and carefully, managing to extract a hostage from what appeared to be a no-win situation. They also killed three pirates and took another one into custody.

As a result, the Obama administration gets to claim a national security victory of sorts, and there's now a serious debate among the chattering classes as to what should be done to eliminate the piracy threat in the Gulf of Aden and the waters south of Somalia.

It's an interesting time to be writing a paper on pirate organization and its effect on local social and political organization, let me tell you. I heard enough inaccurate information (The pirates are ragtag bandits!) in the mainstream press this weekend to make FOX News look like the arbiter of journalistic integrity.

The pirates are not ragtag bandits. As we're arguing in our paper, they are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-organized. And one defeat at the hands of the United States Navy isn't going to stop their lucrative industry. Too many people depend on their access to resources.

As Robert Kaplan points out, the actual act of piracy is much less of a problem in relative terms than is the issue of the total lawlessness in much of Somalia that makes it possible (and even desirable) for pirates to operate.

The pirates have vowed revenge against the United States and haven't been deterred in the least since the attacks. At least four ships and sixty hostages have been taken since Sunday. Some media outlets appeared to take yesterday's near-miss of American Congressman Donald Payne by mortar fire as a sign that they were acting on that promise. That's highly unlikely; the attack on Payne's plane occurred in Mogadishu (which rests midway down the coastline of southern Somalia), while most Somali pirates operate out of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region on the very tip of the Horn of Africa. Another clue? Militant Islamists claimed responsibility, saying that they were attacking "the enemy of Allah who arrived to spread democracy in Somalia."

You've gotta love a group that knows what they stand against.

And there's the problem with using military force to go after the pirates. Up to now, the Somali pirates have mostly avoided aligning themselves with the Islamists and al-Qaeda. Strange times make for strange bedfellows, however. If the pirates see their work as seriously threatened by the United States, who's to say they won't look to the Islamists for an alliance? Even if they don't tack that way, there's clear evidence that the pirates may stop treating their hostages so well. That hurts their chances of getting ransom money and makes them more like terrorists in the eyes of the global community, but it could make them seem more like heroes at home, where they're lauded for bringing in much-needed foreign currency.

If either of the above scenarios plays out, Obama's strong response to the pirates could backfire in a major way. Which wouldn't be a new thing for U.S. policy in Africa; we get it wrong more often than we get it right, especially when it comes to dealing with failed states.

Some things never change.

UPDATE: Then again, maybe God's on our side. (Or at least that of the Chinese.) Seems an attempted pirate attack on Chinese merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden was foiled on Monday by - wait for it - dolphins.

this & that

4.13.2009

this & that

africa in texas

Andrew Rice has a fascinating piece about African Christianity's mission efforts in the West in this weekend's NYT Magazine. It's a dead-on analysis of the way African Christianity is changing the nature of the religion globally.

The story focuses on Nigeria's Redeemed Christian Church of God, which is constructing a major camp in Hunt County, Texas. The RCCG is a great example of an Africanized form of Pentacostalism that didn't exactly result from missionary activity, but that was also heavily influenced by American and European Pentacostal doctrine. The church has unqestionably followed its American counterparts in the way it has perfected Western-style methods of fundraising, messaging, and marketing. They now send missionaries to the United States and Europe. As Rice writes:
The Redeemed Church offers a case study of the crosscurrents that are drawing Christianity southward. Its leader and guiding force, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, sums up the church’s history this way: “Made in heaven, assembled in Nigeria, exported to the world.”
Rice's piece is fantastic, pointing out that the cultural divide between a Nigerian pastor and his Spanish-speaking flock can be difficult to surmount. The RCCG is a great example of the way that Protestant churches in Africa tend to be heavily dominated by persons from one ethnic group (in this case, the Yoruba).

I'm a firm believer that anyone who claims to understand an African state without regularly visiting its houses of worship misses a lot of the picture. In the D.R. Congo, politics are regularly discussed in the pulpits. People get their ideas about politics, public order, and politicians as much in church as they do in conversations with their neighbors in Africa - just as many American Christians do at their churches. Researchers headed to the field would do well to skip sleeping in on Sunday morning and go observe what the Pentecostals are saying in Kampala or Bukavu or Nairobi. Kudos to Rice for a great overview of the issue.

4.10.2009

anybody else have to work today?

This'll make you feel better:

Stand By Me from David Johnson on Vimeo.

this & that

  • A federal judge has ruled that victims of South Africa's apartheid system can sue corporations that are accused of having been directly involved in supporting the regime's suppression of the country's black majority. Those companies include IBM, Daimler, Ford, and General Motors. Perhaps you've heard of them?
  • Nothing like a little latent racism to get blood pressures up over at the Texas Legislature. Bless her heart, Representative Betty Brown apparently thinks that Asian-Americans aren't like the rest of us, and she let a few words slip that were all but of the "your people" variety. Brown's spokesperson says it wasn't racism, that she was just dealing with the issue of transliterated names in voter ID issues. And I believe that Rep. Brown doesn't think she said anything inappropriate. Problem is, it's horribly insensitive to suggest that one group of Americans aren't "really" Americans and that they need to change something as basic as their names in order to make things easier for the rest of us.
  • The best part of the whole thing? The guy testifying is somebody I know! Ramey Ko is a graduate of Yale and the University of Chicago law school. Check out how well he kept his composure while answering Brown's questions; Ramey is a super-smart guy and sees this as an opportunity to educate. Rep. Brown also apologized to him.


  • Soft power is back, baby. Here's hoping that an increased military role in delivering humanitarian aid doesn't mean that aid workers will be confused for military personnel. I wouldn't hold my breath and will eventually get around to talking about a talk I heard on this very issue the other night.
  • My friend Jonny has a very interesting proposal for what to do with Jerusalem in an Israel-Palestine settlement.
  • I have a post up over at Inspired to Action on the Run for Compassion, coming up in Bryan/College Station on April 18.

  • genius

    Robert Mugabe is just a piece of work. In the last year or so, Our Man in Harare stole not only an election, but also, apparently, the Ark of the Covenant (or at least some relic a scholar in London believes to be the Ark of the Covenant). He also threw himself a very special birthday party despite the fact that most of his population is starving to death.

    But it's also been a rough few months for Bobby M., what with having to come to a power-sharing agreement with the opposition party and being accused of offing the prime minister's wife in an horrific car accident.

    Seems Mugabe's not the only one suffering; his closest lieutenants and most loyal supporters appear to also be concerned about their safety and well-being. So much so that they've found a surefire way to avoid prosecution by opposition members who are now in power: "abducting, detaining and torturing opposition officials and activists." This is - no joke - their idea of a good way to win amnesty for their past crimes.

    It's hard to see how they could lose with strategery like that.

    As this NYT article points out, there are some parallels with other countries that entered transitions out of authoritarian rule. The most obvious seems to be South Africa, where in the last days before the end of apartheid, National Party hard-liners did whatever they could to avoid the inevitable. (To be fair, the struggle for power wasn't just limited to white supremacists. The Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party almost caused everything to fall apart.)

    My guess is that Mugabe's boys know the jig is up. If I were in their fancy Italian leather shoes, I'd start looking for friendly places to live in exile. I hear Khartoum's a dencent hangout for rouge war criminals these days...

    4.09.2009

    this & that

    4.07.2009

    this & that

    • South Africa dropped criminal corruption charges against ANC leader Jacob Zuma on Monday. Which will make it considerably easier for him to become president after the April 22 elections. And I quote, "After the announcement, there were celebrations across the country with thousands dancing in jubilation and singing Mr. Zuma’s trademark anthem, 'Bring Me My Machine Gun.'”
    • Who else wants to hear the apartheid-era struggle song "Umshimi Wami" ("Bring Me My Machine Gun") that's been appropriated as a campaign song by Mr. Zuma? You've come to the right place:

    • Rick Warren blatantly lied on Larry King Live last night. One would think that the guy who's perfected the use of technology to get his message across would remember that once you say something on television, it's out there forever.
  • texas in africa - for real

    Dr. Keith, who in addition to apparently being a Texan is also a dentist working in Monrovia, sent me this little bit of awesomeness from Ghana. I think you'll agree that it's pretty much the most amazing thing ever:

    4.06.2009

    the people's people

    As South Africa prepares to celebrate 15 years since the end of apartheid, it's also showing the marks of disunity that are the hallmark of any truly democratic political system. The African National Congress is splitting and some people aren't behaving very well in the process. The country holds a general election later this month and the Cope ("Congress of the People") party - which was founded by former ANC members who support former president Thabo Mbeki and who don't like the likely future president, Jacob Zuma, one little bit - says that their members are being intimidated by the ANC.

    There's little reason to doubt Cope's claims. None less than Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the moral voice of South Africa's liberation movement and the architect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, condemned actions by the ANC in on the radio last week. Tutu told listeners that the ANC one day will get its "comeuppance."

    It's interesting how parties in power become corrupt so quickly, or if not overtly corrupt, then unwilling to allow dissent within or outside of their ranks. Many political parties that started out as military movements become just as repressive to their least-favored constituencies as their former tormentors were to them.

    In the case of the ANC, it's been very difficult for anyone to publicly criticize the group for the last fifteen years. After all, the ANC is the group that ended apartheid. Its members fought a long, difficult struggle against a regime that was unequivocally in the wrong. It was led by Mandela.

    But having had the moral high ground in the 1980's does not make a party forever immune to corruption. Indeed, there's some evidence that suggests that the ANC is anything but fair in the way it distributes resources in South Africa. Sarah Gray Knoesen, a graduate student in political science at UCSD, is doing fascinating work that (as of the last time I heard her present her work, in August) showsthat the ANC seems to distribute social services more rapidly to electoral districts that vote its members into power. Conversely, neighborhoods that vote for competitors may not get things like running water or electricity quite as quickly as do ANC-supportive districts.

    I happen to believe that a little bit of tension is a natural part of growth into a consolidated democracy. Lest we forget, politicans here in the good ole U.S. of A. played nice and often pretended they liked each other for a few years following our war of liberation. But that fell apart quickly, and within fifteen years of the ratification of the Constitution, we had serious, competitive political parties vying for our votes and attention. The party machines that dominated politics in the pre-secret ballot, pre-civil service system era were engaged in far deeper forms of corruption than simply running sewer lines to one city before another. And despite the fact that we have a system of government that's a bit of a mess in terms of financing, providing adequate electoral choices, and day-to-day operations, it's far better than the known alternatives.

    Here's hoping that the April 22 elections will help South Africa to move toward becoming a healthy multiparty system. And here's wishing that the ANC will realize that competition isn't a bad thing, because competition often inspires innovation and creativity that are much-needed in Pretoria and beyond. As the regional power and the economic engine of southern Africa, South Africa's just too big to fail.

    4.05.2009

    pretty much the most exotic place in the world to get a baby

    this & that

    • Non-Afghanis taken to Afghanistan to be held at Bagram Air Base have the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.
    • South Africa has come up with what seems like a fairly sensible solution to its Zimbabwean immigration dilemma: they're handing out six-month visas. Apparently, acknowledging that illigeal immigrants who come into the better-off country do so almost entirely for economic reasons made more sense to Pretoria than building a wall.
    • Speaking of Zimbabwe, you do not want to be in prison there.
    • But someone finally found a good use for Zimbabwe's currency.
    • It is increasingly clear that there are some members of the Bush administration who should probably be in jail for their allegedly illegal authorization of the use of torture against terror suspects. But coming to an agreement about what to do with them and restoring the rule of law is pretty complicated, as evidenced by the fight going on in the White House about whether or not to release some relevant memos. I hope the president will recognize that corruption has to be brought to light in all its many forms. Otherwise, it festers and seriously undermines government institutions.
    • This is a pretty amazing story about racism and repentance.
    • You think you've got crazy at your job? Oh, no. You do not have crazy. Check out my friend Lindsay-with-an-A's point #3 in this post on her blog.
    • Things aren't going so well in Lake Wobegon.
    • I, for one, applaud Malawi's decision to deny Madonna the right to adopt another child from the country. That the court refused to make an exception to the country's laws regarding international adoption is a sign that the rule of law is strengthening in the tiny republic. (The court also suggested that adoption laws need a review.)
    • Does anyone besides Governor Goodhair still care what the Young Conservatives of Texas think? (Here's hoping their state chair isn't anything like the head of Baylor's chapter when I was a student there. He looked like central casting's idea version of the Hitler Youth. Seriously. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and a short haircut, a la Rolf in The Sound of Music. He was pretty much the Aryan ideal.)
    • I'm not sure this link will work, but here's a fantastic story from The Economist that explains precisely why Paul Kagame gave up on Laurent Nkunda. Given that we still haven't actually, um, seen Nkunda in two months, I'm not sure that Kagame has really betrayed his former proxy army general. Will he be extradited to Congo or the Hague? I'm not holding my breath.
    • Because I am a total nerd, I sometimes read court decisions for fun. The Iowa same-sex marriage ruling is pretty interesting, and very accessible to a general audience. I think even the top 10% might understand it.

    4.04.2009

    sweet bluebonnet spring

    It's my last one for awhile.

    the other georgia

    Are you tired of all the Congo-centric African politics discussion on this board, or just looking for something new? May I suggest my friend and colleague Julie's new tumblr blog? She's hanging out in Tbilisi, Georgia at the moment. Apparently there's going to be some kind of protest/bloodless revolution next week, and, being a good political scientist (with, incidentally, a book on ethnic separatism in the Caucuses coming out later this year), she couldn't miss out. Follow the adventure here.

    4.03.2009

    slightly less scary belgians

    This is for my sister, because it will make her happy:

    perfect timing

    It's my last semester teaching intro American government, and we just started the part of the course that deals with the judiciary, theories of constitutional interpretation, civil liberties, and civil rights. The students usually really enjoy this part of the course as the cases we study are all about sex, drugs, and free speech. Oh, and what not to do when you get arrested. (Some of them take alarmingly copious notes on that part of the lecture.)

    I incorporate current events into my courses whenever possible because it helps the students to see how these issues are relevant for day-to-day life. It also shows that the law isn't static.

    For that reason, I'd like to thank the Iowa Supreme Court for timing their decision on same-sex marriage for today. They could not have given me a more perfect example, and it will have the attention of every single one of my students. Here's an excellent summary of the ruling's text.

    The essential points as I understand them are that not allowing same-sex couples to marry is fundamentally discriminatory and that objections grounded in religious belief cannot be the basis for legal distinctions in a secular state. That last point is key; try as they may, opponents of same-sex marriage have so far failed to come up with a solid argument that isn't ultimately grounded in personal religious beliefs. As we don't live in a theocracy, that won't cut it.

    4.02.2009

    this & that

    • Omar al-Bashir's tour de Middle East continues.
    • Virgil's on Facebook.
    • Obama's Kenyan aunt gets to stay in the U.S. at least until next year, pending her asylum hearing.
    • Huh.
    • Here's an extensive explanation of one of the most vexing problems facing the Obama administration: what to do with innocent people who are still detained at Gitmo.
    • Rwanda's "successful" February operation in Congo has set off a huge wave of attacks by the FDLR, which has thus far displaced about 250,000 people, according to Oxfam. And Congolese soldiers, who haven't been paid in three months, are attacking civilians. Way to go.
    • Some things never change at Baylor.
    • Speaking of Baylor, one of my college classmates is a radio DJ here in Austin. She made a bet with Ahmad Brooks, who's a former Longhorn football player, concerning their NCAA brackets. And she won. Which meant that Mr. Brooks had to go to work wearing her Baylor Line class of 2000 jersey. Which reads "Foxy Roxy" on the back.
    • Speaking of brackets, this year was a little rough in the first few rounds. Something about finishing the dissertation ended my intense focus, I don't know. Anyway, all is now well. I'm winning the department pool and am thisclose to taking down Keith, the kid who had piano lessons right before me for most of our childhoods, in the Cool People Care bracket group. I'm nowhere near as cool as Kat, however, who's beating several hundred people in the BooMama pool.
    • You've gotta admire a guy who "counts being burned in effigy among his career highlights." Even if he has no soul.

    nothing's scarier than a belgian clown

    There's a wildly entertaining discussion of the world's worst NGO's over at Chris Blattman's blog. My favorites (all of them real) so far?

    4.01.2009

    i just threw up in my mouth a little

    Texas in Africa reader Dustyn Winder, who keeps a great record of stories about development and foreign aid horrors on his blog, sent me this today. I am mostly speechless. We'll just let the FOX Business story/thinly veiled press release speak for itself:i
    Visiting families will be thrilled with the unveiling of Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort's latest blockbuster sensation, the Congo River Expedition, a multi-sensory jungle adventure scheduled to open this summer.

    Deep in the heart of the rainforest guests discover an ancient river teeming with wild animals, restless natives, thundering waterfalls and a mysterious underground diamond mine.

    After crossing makeshift rope bridges, guests enter the Congo River Outpost gaining access to the exploration campsite. Towering over the encampment is a giant angry volcano on the edge of eruption. As the epicenter of the outpost begins to rumble warning of an eminent explosion, the volcano vents plumes of steam before blasting water more than 20 feet in the air!

    It goes on from there. But the piece de resistance? Why, the list of animatronic "creatures" in the jungle, which ends with the "restless natives." Natch:

    The adventure continues as guests float at the will of the water's current and encounter a variety of special effects and animatronic creatures including a mischievous monkey; angry, snapping crocodiles; a ferocious lion; a menacing, coiled python; a mammoth, trumpeting elephant and an agitated tribe of natives ready to attack without warning.
    Oh. My. Freaking. Word.

    I really don't know what to say. Part of me is completely horrified that the family-friendly folks down at Schlitterbahn have apparently taken a page from the 1958 Brussels World's Fair . I would never consider giving them money to see one of the single most offensive things of which I've ever heard.

    (Note to the gang in New Braunfels: having downloadable "desktop tribal art" doesn't make this okay. It especially doesn't make it okay given that lions don't live anywhere near the Congo River. Because lions? They're savannah animals. They don't like deep, dark jungles. Like the one that surrounds all 2,000 miles of the Congo River. Also, that "mysterious underground diamond mine"? Those are blood diamonds. Now I'm no expert on the Disneyfication of Texas-based waterpark dynasties. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that perhaps you don't want your family-friendly fun park associated with small children dying in mineshafts because of the West's greed for industrial diamonds. You know, just maybe.)

    The other part of me thinks it may be time to invite you all out for the first annual Texas in Africa field trip/protest in New Braunfels sometime in July.