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


from a mile away

Oh, New Times of Rwanda, you never cease to amuse. Today's op-ed ( to the Times' credit, it is clearly labeled as opinion) manages in spectacular fashion to tenuously "link" opposition presidential candidate Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire, Human Rights Watch, and two Catholic priests to the FDLR. It's an interesting study in the ways that a few facts (Namely, that the FDLR gets significant amounts of funding from abroad, France hasn't arrested all of the genocidaires living in its territory, and minerals flow in and out of the DRC with little regulation) can be so misconstrued as to construct an alternate reality. Glenn Beck would be proud.

An alternate reality, of course, is what the New Times' RPF backers need if they're to maintain the idea that Rwanda cannot safely be governed by anyone else. Rwanda's leaders are aware that the donors are watching this election more closely than the last two. They aren't able to lock the opposition out of the country as they've done in the past. Thus, the next six months will be full of poorly researched "news" pieces, bizarre security incidents designed to scare the population, and thinly-veiled verbal attacks on the credibility of anyone who dares question the RPF's narrative of life in post-genocide Rwanda.

The real shame in Rwanda is that the RPF could run a clean campaign on a solid platform. After all, they've restored peace and stability, significantly developed the economy, and improved the provision of public goods over the course of the last sixteen years. Would they win? It seems unlikely; they represent a minority of a minority in a place where ethnic tensions are still incredibly high, despite rhetoric of reconciliation. But the opposition lacks a record of success and wouldn't have much to campaign on, other than the "We're not the RPF" line they're using now. It seems to me that a true coalition government of RPF and non-RPF members would do much to restore the Rwandan people's faith that the government exists for all Rwandans rather than for just a few.

this & that

This video from a clinic about an hour outside of Port-au-Prince caused me to weep:


mysteriouser and mysteriouser

On Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria:
Two unmarked jets landed in the dead of night at the sealed-off international airport in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to be met by a fleet of SUVs and an ambulance.

Within minutes, that 23-vehicle convoy was speeding along the deserted highway – with armed officers stationed every 300 meters – toward Abuja and, eventually, to the presidential palace at Aso Rock.

Yar'Adua is not yet healthy enough to lead the country, which will be run in the interim by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

But how is Yar'Adua's health?

“I have not seen [Yar'Adua], so I cannot say what his condition is,” says Mary Ikoku, special assistant to the minister of information. “But he arrived in what I can call an air ambulance, and he was taken to Aso Rock in an ambulance, so I don’t imagine that he is in the best of health.”


six of one

The latest from Niger:
The junta which overthrew Niger's president and seized power last week has appointed a civilian to be prime minister until new elections are held.

It chose Mahamadou Danda, who served as communications minister in a previous administration, which itself took power in a coup in 1999.

The ousted President, Mamadou Tandja, is still being held by the military along with some of his ministers.

No date for the new polls has yet been announced by the coup leaders.
Meanwhile, in that other country that most definitely isn't Niger despite what the international oil market might think:
Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's stricken president whose three-month absence has plunged Africa's biggest energy producer into uncertainty, was flying home last night, according to a close ally.

Mr Yar'Adua has been heard from only once since he was evacuated to Saudi Arabia in November after developing a heart complaint.

His absence has visited on Nigeria the sternest test of a democratic era that began when soldiers handed power back to civilians in 1999.

Mr Yar'Adua's failure to hand over interim powers to his deputy has been blamed on an inner circle that had resisted relinquishing control even temporarily - resistance critics say is due to a political system based on a network on patronage.

The close ally said Mr Yar'Adua was flying back from Saudi Arabia and would arrive back in Nigeria during the night.
I have a feeling the market should be more concerned about the latter than the former.


this & that


phoning it in

I just got back from the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in New Orleans. Rather than attempt to write a coherent post after flying AirTran, I'll just refer you to Global Voices' excellent roundup of blogosphere opinion on the Niger coup. The short version: everyone, especially those living in Niger and its environs, seems to think that the coup could be a positive step towards the restoration of the rule of law.


what a day

Yesterday could not have been more strange. I woke up to the news that an attempted coup d'etat was in progress in Niamey, then saw a Facebook post from a friend who'd witnessed the immediate aftermath of the attack on the IRS office in Austin. (The latter hit particularly close to home; that building is in my old neighborhood and my bus passed in front of it.) The terrorist* in question turned out to be unstable; the coup turned out to be real.

Then to top it off, on the way home from work, I got stuck in traffic that was apparently caused by an escaped circus zebra that was wandering the freeway.

You can't make this stuff up.

Since the ostensible topic of this blog is African politics and development, let's talk about the coup. Here's what we think we know:
  • At about noon local time, armed soldiers witnesses described as "trained commandos" stormed President Mamadou Tandja's weekly cabinet meeting.
  • They removed Tandja to an undisclosed location, which is likely some army barracks outside of town.
  • Three soldiers were killed. It's not clear whether the three were allied with the coup plotters or were defending the president.
  • The gunfire was mostly over by 4pm local time.
  • The coup appears to have been successful.
  • The military announced the suspension of Niger's constitution, the dissolution of all political institutions, and declared itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD is the French acronym).
  • The leader of the coup is Major Amadou Harouna.
I am far from being an expert on Niger, but here are a couple of key pieces of background information that may be helpful in understanding why this coup happened. First, about 7.8 million (3/5) of Niger's citizens experience severe or moderate food insecurity. Mass starvation is never a stabilizing force.

Second, and more importantly, President Tandja had angered many Nigeriens in 2009 when he dissolved parliament and enacted constitutional reforms that gave him broad powers with few checks or balances. Tandja was constitutionally required to step down from office in December, as that was the end of his second five-year term in office, but the changes he made to the constitution allowed him to stay in office for three more years. These moves were extremely unpopular; 10,000 protesters came out on Sunday to dispute Tandja's actions.

Clearly, this coup is the result of the ongoing political crisis. While I won't be so bold as to claim that the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy has pure ambitions for the future of this mineral-rich country and its political institutions, it is important to remember that coups are not always bad things. They have been used from time to time as a means of restoring democracy and the rule of law. Such an outcome is not likely in this scenario, but it is within the realm of possibility.

For updates on the situation, I'll be keeping an eye on the Sahel Blog, an excellent source of information on politics in West Africa. You might also check out the BBC's Niger Country Profile for basic background information.

*There's a big debate in political science and policy circles over how to define "terrorism," but the definition I usually give my students is "an act of violence directed at civilians that is undertaken with a political and/or religious motivation." Based on what we know so far, this incident seems to fit the bill. Thank goodness he was not more successful.


doing justice

SOS Children's Villages reports on a new initiative to teach Congolese women and girls to take rape cases to court:
Sebbabi told villagers rape victims need to do three key things after an attack. First find medical help and take an HIV test. The next step she advised potential victims to take was to contact an aid organisation that deals with in human rights. And finally, the most important step to take, she said is to bring charges against the attacker.
This is a noble effort to end the culture of impunity that surrounds rape in much of the eastern D.R. Congo. However, a key piece of the puzzle is missing here: the vast majority of Congolese courts aren't equipped to give rape victims justice.

SOS's efforts are in Katanga. I've never been to the areas in which they're conducting this training, but there's little reason to believe that the justice systems in rural Katanga function any better than they do in the Kivus.

By and large, Congolese courts are not places in which justice is dispensed. Instead, they are a kind of quasi-institutional shell of the former structures. Because the Congolese state does not collect taxes that are then dispensed to the courts via budget and salary structures, anyone wishing to have a case heard must pay all court costs out-of-pocket. This means paying everything from the judge's salary to the court's costs for photocopies, candles or electricity, and any other incidental expense. Costs mount quickly; a land case can cost as much as $40,000 just to be heard by a judge.

But that's not the only problem in the Congolese justice system. In almost every court, judges accept bribes and make their decisions based on the outcome of bidding wars between the plantifs and the defendants. Winning bribes can be as little as $10-20 (which was enough to release a rapist in a case some friends dealt with in Goma in 2007) or can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars when the land rights to a Masisi cattle farm are at stake. Remember - Congolese judges are generally not paid the salaries they're owed by the state, so they depend on the income from court costs and bribes for their families' well-being.

The ineffectiveness of the courts in actually delivering justice is why many Congolese prefer to seek justice through traditional means, as the SOS story notes:
...even though it is illegal to come to an arrangement when a rape case is brought, the Congolese traditionally settle...sexual assault cases through their own customs. Also, a victim’s parents can force the rapist to marry her, after having been compensated both in kind and in cash. These kind of arrangements also bring the added problem that they can encourage rapists to rape again. "Here, you pay money, five goats, a rush mat and a loincloth to purify the image of the girl who has been dishonoured," a young man told Associated Press news agency.
These means of attaining justice are problematic for very clear reasons, but they also work, at least to the extent to which the rapist is held accountable and is unable to buy his way out of all responsibility. If you were a Congolese rape victim or part of her family, which would you choose?

As with everything else in the DRC, the problem of holding rapists to account requires a complex solution. There are some efforts underway to build capacity and accountability in the courts, including an excellent effort by the American Bar Association, especially via its mobile courts program. Simple measures like DNA testing for rape victims can only help to end the culture of impunity.

But ensuring justice for all Congolese victims of violence ultimately requires more than reliance on a non-functioning judiciary. It requires rebuilding the state to the extent that the judiciary exists to promote the common good rather than to sell justice to the highest bidder. How do we do that?


on writing well

Chris Blattman has a great post on writing essays, including a link to Henry Farrell's wonderful piece on writing for political science. Farrell put his essay up as a PDF with a creative commons license and I will be referring students to it as research paper deadlines approach.

If I had to pick one of his point to emphasize, it would be this: get to the point. Essays that begin, "Man has fought man in conflict since the dawn of time" or otherwise state the obvious drive most professors crazy. Good writing gets to the point, has clear organization, and shows that the researcher had an original thought or two.

fame and prizes

Some of you may be interested in this announcement from the African Politics Conference Group:
The APCG Best Graduate Paper Award committee is soliciting nominations for the 2009/2010 conference season. Eligible papers will be nominated by a member of the APCG (self nominations not allowed), be written by a graduate student, and be presented at an African Studies Association, American Political Science Association, or International Studies Association annual meeting held during the 2009/2010 academic year. The selection committee will evaluate papers based on the following four criteria:

1. Contribution to the study of African politics

2. Originality of the research/data

3. Effectiveness of argument

4. Situation in the existing literature

To nominate a paper please email Kevin S. Fridy with the paper’s author, title, and conference it was presented at no later than 1 April 2010.
It just so happens that yours truly is on the prize committee. We are hoping to gather several more submissions before the deadline, so if you've heard or know of a great paper on African politics that a grad student presented this year, be sure to let us know asap.

If you're not a member of the APCG, it's easy to join - shoot me an email and I'll put you in contact with the right people.


this & that


move along

Nope, nothing to see, no corruption here:
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has revoked the prime minister's suspension of two government ministers linked to corruption allegations.

The ministers of agriculture and education were suspended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga during fraud investigations into missing funds.

But hours later the suspensions were lifted as Mr Kibaki said Mr Odinga did not have the authority to suspend.

The two suspended ministers have denied any personal wrongdoing.

There had been growing calls for ministers to resign after millions of dollars of public money were siphoned off in an education and a maize scandal.
The prospects of free, fair, and nonviolent elections in 2011 dim more and more with every passing day.


summer opportunity

The American Political Science Association is taking applications for its summer workshop for African scholars. This is the third topical workshop aimed at African scholars residing in Africa, twenty of whom will gather in Kampala in late July to discuss the latest research on politics and gender. In addition to the African scholars, three U.S. graduate students get to participate as well. All expenses are covered.

My dissertation adviser oversees this program and directed the first workshop (on civil society) in Dakar a couple of years ago. By all accounts, the program is a rousing success. It's a fantastic opportunity, especially for scholars in Africa who may have limited access to scholarly resources at their home institutions. Details about the program and how to apply are here.


this & that


provincial autonomy

Reuters ran this very interesting tidbit earlier this week:
Miners and authorities in the Congolese province of Katanga have settled a row over support for local farming, leading to the lifting of an export ban for 16 companies, a provincial minister told Reuters on Tuesday.

Mineral-rich Katanga province announced last week it was blocking exports by mining companies which it judged had not supported local agriculture projects as requested.
How often does a province get to declare its own export ban? Well, if you're talking about a failed state, whenever it wants to, especially if that province is the most functional territory within the failed state.

Aid Watch ran a post last month arguing that "'Failed State' is a Failed Concept." While the argument that "there aren't any good economics articles about it" is an incredibly weak reason to dismiss a field of research, I do think Aid Watch makes a good point about the lack of an agreed-upon definition of exactly what a failed state is. The problem isn't so much that scholars haven't tried to specify it (we have and we do), but rather that there is not a universally-agreed upon definition, beyond the idea that a failed state is the weakest kind of state a weak state can be.

Part of the problem in defining "failed states" is that the degree of the state's failure to do the things that states do is rarely uniform throughout a national territory. In the case of Katanga, mining revenues keep the provincial government at least marginally capable of governing, or at least of making life very difficult for mining companies that violate their standards. The mining companies provide and develop infrastructure, mostly out of necessity; they need paved roads and a functioning electrical grid to get their work done. As a result, Lubumbashi, Katanga's provincial capital, is far more functional than the rest of the DRC. There's a measure of public order. They even have working traffic lights.

If Katanga were independent, nobody would call it a failed state. It would likely be weak, but it would not have failed. However, Katanga is a subunit of a state that is clearly and obviously nonfunctional. So what does that tell us about the DRC and about how to specify what constitutes "state failure?"

We don't have a good way of measuring for this variation within failed states, or even of what to call it. Can you scale a semi-autonomous, sub-national unit like Katanga using something akin to a polity score or a measure of state effectiveness? That's a question my co-author and I have been trying to address in our paper on Somali pirates. I'll be presenting the paper at ISA next Saturday at 3:45; we'd love your feedback if you're able to be there.


twenty years

And it still gets me every single time. Say what we might about the length of time it takes to recover from oppression, the ANC's mismanagement of critical issues, or the moral failings of President Zuma, that moment was one of the rare times in history that we see yes, that long arc of history does bend towards justice. Oh, yes it does.

David Smith has an excellent summary of all the issues surrounding today's anniversary.

(Photo: Alexander Joe, AFP/Getty)

intimidation in Rwanda

Human Rights Watch lets Rwanda have it:
In the past week, members of the FDU-Inkingi and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda - new opposition parties critical of government policies - have suffered serious incidents of intimidation by individuals and institutions close to the government and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). One member of the FDU-Inkingi was beaten by a mob in front of a local government office. The attack appeared to have been well coordinated, suggesting it had been planned in advance.

"The Rwandan government already tightly controls political space," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "These incidents will further undermine democracy by discouraging any meaningful opposition in the elections."

The Rwandan government and the RPF have strongly resisted any political opposition or broader challenge of their policies by civil society. On several occasions, the government has used accusations of participation in the genocide, or "genocide ideology," as a way of targeting and discrediting its critics. The current RPF-dominated government has been in power in Rwanda since the end of the 1994 genocide.
And, really, what more is there to say than that? The lack of political freedom in Rwanda is unsustainable. Everyone - including the RPF leadership - knows it. It's simply impossible for a minority of a minority to maintain its grip on power when the vast majority of Rwandans don't support it and the international community has clued in to what the RPF has been up to in the DRC for the last few years. The best thing the RPF could do at this juncture is to allow a truly fair election on August 9 that is free of intimidation, violence, and manipulation. I am not hopeful on this count.

This week marks a year since the death of longtime HRW scholar-activist Alison des Forges in a plane crash in Buffalo, New York. There is no doubt that she would have given the RPF hell over the limits on political freedom they maintain in the country. Kudos to Human Rights Watch for doing her proud.


there comes a time...

This sounds WAY better than a pointless remake of "We Are the World:"
In the most recent African aid initiative, dozens of singers, among them internationally known names including Senegalese vocalists Youssou Ndour and Baba Maal, Ivorian reggae artist Alpha Blondy and Congolese musicians Lokua Kanza and Papa Wemba, will gather in Dakar from March 1-6 to record a song, all proceeds from which will go to Haitians.

this & that


why I don't like Kristof

In the interest of staying sane - and, really, because Amanda and Kate already had it covered - I've thus far refrained from comment on this blog about the whole Kristof-printed-a-child-rape-victim's-name fiasco. Suffice it to say that Kristof's apology did not satisfy me. It was an apology of the "sorry if I upset you" nature that didn't reflect a real understanding or acknowledgment of why this was such a grave error. Moreover, his essential justification for printing her name and face is that she's Congolese and lives in a remote area.

Sorry, but that's not good enough. There's a qualitative difference between getting informed consent to print an adult rape victim's name and doing the same for a child. I don't believe there's ever a valid reason to print the name and face of a child who is a victim of abuse or violent crime, especially when that child is an orphan. The story would have been just as horrific had Kristof used a pseudonym and an obscured picture, and I can't think of any good-hearted person who would refuse to donate to an aid organization because they didn't get to know the child's actual name. There was just no reason to put her at even more risk on the pages of the New York Times. And the Times would never have even considered printing the name and face of an American child who'd been raped. The only things that differentiate this little girl are her ethnicity, nationality, and location. None of those factors validate the decision to violate her right to have her identity protected.

Someone sent me a tweet the other day to note that I seem to enjoy attacking Kristof and that I need to recognize that he's an ally. I don't like Kristof, it's true. Do we both think the things that happen to women and girls in the Congo are horrific? Of course. But I don't see Kristof as an ally, or at least not one with whom I want to be associated. Kristof spends his time sensationalizing poverty and behaving as though the solutions to global poverty, violence, and abuse must originate from the west. His approach reeks of the white man's burden and all-too-often ignores the complexity of the cases he addresses. Kristof seems to be largely unwilling or unable to recognize that the solution to the Congo's problems will ultimately have to come from within the Congo.

As we've discussed here time and time and time again, advocacy for its own sake is a not laudable goal. Bad advocacy that's based on bad facts leads to bad policy recommendations. I don't enjoy attacking anyone who's putting out bad ideas based on incomplete understandings and faulty assumptions. But I'm not going to ignore them when they do. The Congolese deserve better. And it's their voices - not Nick Kristof's or mine - that should be foremost in the debate.



"the greatest musical performance that ever was"

Soul Power, a documentary about the Zaire 74 music festival that accompanied the Rumble in the Jungle, is now out on DVD. It's a can't miss film; my review is here.

(HT: @tristanreed)


this & that


take care of yourself

Daniel Gerstle has a fantastic post on resources for crisis workers and journalists dealing with combat stress. He shares a very personal experience to illustrate a need we all share: to take care of ourselves.

Gerstle's advice is great for researchers as well. Mental health issues often get lost in the shuffle of graduate school, grant applications, and fieldwork adventures. But they're important, especially if you are working in a conflict zone. That you are not directly serving war-affected populations or fighting in combat yourself does not mean you are immune to combat stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health issues. It's important for you and your support network to be aware of the signs of combat stress before you go into the field, and to keep an eye on your mental health while you're there and when you return.

Fieldwork can be an isolating experience. You have to work to maintain connections with the people who care about you. Letting them know about the particular stresses you may face before you go is a great way to keep from becoming too isolated.

There's no shame in being affected by the things you see in a war zone, and being moved by the plight of war victims doesn't mean that you revoke your status as an impartial observer. After witnessing the horrific violence perpetrated against women and girls in the eastern Congo, I found it useful to channel some of that horror into advocating for an organization that helps them. I talked with family and friends about it and spoke to a few community groups who had heard about the situation and wanted to help.

If you suspect you might be experiencing some of the effects of combat stress or a related issue, the best thing you can do is to see a mental health professional. Most universities have counseling services available, and they're often free or inexpensive for graduate students. Take advantage of those services. Not dealing with fieldwork-related stress will distract you from the task at hand. It's best to get help sooner rather than later so you can finish up and get on with your life.

As Gerstle points out, the most helpful thing in taking care of your own mental health is having a network of friends who've shared similar experiences. I get together periodically with a small group of women who also do independent research in the eastern DRC. We find it really helpful to share stories (and a few laughs), and we look out for one another to make sure everybody's okay. Those are the kinds of connections that make it possible for all of us to continue studying and writing about the region. And all of us hope that our contributions will, in some small way, contribute to peace and stability in the years to come. That makes it worth it.

going to the ISA?

We're two weeks out from the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in New Orleans. (What could be more fun than New Orleans the day after Mardi Gras? Ew.) I'll be there to present the latest iteration of the pirate paper, which is now based on a mostly complete data set (God bless our poor, faithful research assistants, every one.).

I know several friends from the blogosphere and Twitter will be at the conference. Some of us have talked about trying to meet up in New Orleans to put names/alter egos with faces. If you'd be interested in meeting, please leave a comment below or shoot me an email. Also, let me know what days you'll be there. Right now I'm thinking early Friday evening might work for the most people.


humanitarian impulse

From The Somaliland Press:
Spokesmen for the so-called “Somali pirates” have expressed willingness to transfer part of their loot captured from transnational boats and send it to Haiti.

Leaders of these groups have declared they have links in various places around the world to help them ensure the delivery of aid without being detected by the armed forces of enemy governments.

The “pirates” typically redistribute a significant portion of their profits among relatives and the local population. In their operations, the “pirates” urge transnational corporations that own the cargo confiscated to pay back in cash as banks can not operate in Somalia.
More analysis on the pirates' announcement is here. Any thoughts on why the word "pirates" is placed in quotes throughout the story?


the attention it needs

The Kristof is writing about his brief trip to the DRC again. From his Sunday column:
Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs.* The barbaric civil war being waged here is the most lethal conflict since World War II and has claimed at least 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake.

Yet no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.
The story continues as a discussion of a nine-year-old rape victim's experiences. It's a horrific story about a little girl whose name means "luck." I pray she will find some. No one should have to endure what she has survived.

But Kristof is wrong in a key assertion that he's made in column after column. The claim that the DRC is an ignored or under-reported crisis is belied by the evidence. And the idea that the international response has been pathetic isn't supported by the numbers.

The Congo story is extremely well-covered. A quick, non-scientific Google News search yielded 1,857 stories that at least mention "Democratic Republic of Congo." These stories come from news sources as varied as Allafrica.com and the Washington Post. When I narrow the search to include "conflict," there are 444 hits from the last two weeks alone. When I narrow it further to search for both terms from January 2002 to December 2010, there are 17,800 stories. Even Oprah covers the DRC, with specific attention to the rape crisis.

This, friends, is not evidence of an under-reported story, and I'm certain that a more scientific data analysis would yield similar results.

Reporting the story is one thing, but is it true that, as Kristof argues, the tragedy is mostly ignored? After all, reasonably intelligent people read about awful things in their newspapers every day without doing anything about those crises. Again, I don't have time to do a full-on study of this question, but let's look at one reliable indicator that could answer such a question: international financial and humanitarian assistance.

Lucky for me, Jason Stearns already figured all of this out over on Congo Siasa. Congo's government budgeted to receive about $2.1 billion in donor assistance this year. That's money that goes to support governing institutions, pay soldiers' salaries, and other official government functions. It includes some, but not all humanitarian assistance; the rest of that added up to $646 million in 2008. MONUC's budget is about $1.35 billion for 2009-10. All told, the Democratic Republic of Congo gets about $4 billion per year in foreign aid.

How exactly does $4 billion per annum constitute "ignored?"

The simple fact is that the Congo crisis is neither ignored nor under-reported. Insisting otherwise directs focus away from the real problem: that donor policy solutions, regional politics, and an overarching focus on the wrong issues are prolonging rather than mitigating the conflict and its effects.

What are some of these mistakes?
  • An obsession with the 2006 presidential elections. Donors (mostly the U.S.) spent $500 million to hold an election that would legitimate the new regime in Kinshasa. They did so despite clear signals that the fighting in the east wasn't over and that the country wasn't even close to "democratic." It also prematurely raised the populations's hopes for real change in their lives. Those hopes have been almost completely unrealized, and many Congolese are disillusioned with the idea of democracy.
  • A failure to address local land conflicts & citizenship issues in the peace settlements. Severine Autesserre's observations on this issue are key to understanding why the fighting drags on.
  • A failure to acknowledge and address Rwanda's role in the conflicts until very recently.**
  • Misguided military strategies that assume the FARDC is a credible partner.
  • Financing a government that is rife with corruption.
All the news accounts and money in the world won't protect the Congolese if the basis on which the international community's response to the crisis is flawed. The problem is not - and has never been - under-reporting or a lack of compassion on the part of donors. The problem is the approach. The DRC receives a huge amount of attention. But that attention is too often misdirected.

Until that changes, we will continue to read one horror story after another. And I fear that in the meantime, there's little that most of us can do to prevent brutality and despair.

*Um, the eastern Congo has suffered its fair share of natural disasters in the last eight years, including two volcanic eruptions and a significant earthquake.

**To be fair, Kristof finally called out the Rwandans for their involvement in the Congo conflict in this column.



off the mend

This is not good:
A militant group in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta says it is ending the ceasefire it declared last October.

Jomo Gbomo, who said he was a spokesman for the group Mend, said it did not believe the government would restore control of resources to local people.

Mend has demanded that residents be given a greater share in profits from oil resources and land.

It warned oil companies to prepare for what it called an all-out onslaught against installations and personnel.

Analysts say it is not yet clear if this statement comes from the whole of Mend - the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta - or just a faction that did not accept the offer of an amnesty from President Umaru Yar Adua.
Let's set aside for a second the question of whether President Yar'Adua is in any condition to guarantee amnesty offers. The fact is, the amnesty doesn't solve the real issue underlying MEND's militancy. There's a reason that MEND is active; the people of Nigeria's delta region have suffered horrific environmental devastation while seeing very few material benefits from the exploitation of their land. Part of this is the oil companies' fault, but the biggest issue is corruption by federal and regional leaders who siphon off oil money that is supposed to be for the public benefit.

Given the low-intensity, anti-oil company violence that began in the delta nearly twenty years ago, it's not surprising that a militant organization would eventually form as a result of those grievances. (It's also not surprising that they would get involved in banditry-style piracy, but that's another post.)

Does having a sense of why MEND exists excuse their methods? Of course not. They commit horrible crimes. But until the solution matches the problem - that is, until the people of the delta get more than a pittance of the profits from the oil - they're unlikely to stop.