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


why cairo won't be tunis

This is a guest post from Matt Buehler, PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Matt is going to be a regular contributor on the blog with a focus on north Africa. Here are his thoughts on the unfolding crisis in Egypt:

Large protests are expected today in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities following Friday prayer. Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and unsuccessful opposition presidential candidate, Mohammed ELBaradei, has returned to Cairo to lead the protests and call for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. A diverse array of organizations and ordinary citizens will join the protests including Egypt’s largest opposition political movement, the nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the outpouring of public dissatisfaction, Egypt is unlikely to experience a “Jasmine Revolution.” Here’s why:

1) Egypt’s military is far less professionalized and depoliticized than Tunisia’s. Rachid Ammar, the Tunisian military’s commander, played an important role in the Jasmine Revolution by siding with the Tunisian people against Ben Ali and his republican guard. It would be unexpected for the Egyptian military, which remains close to the ruling National Democratic Party, to demonstrate such professionalism in civil-military relations.

2) In Egypt, the stakes are much higher for domestic interest groups (especially sectarian minorities). Certain sub-sections of Egyptian society, particularly Egypt’s 10-12% Coptic Christian population, rely on the Mubarak regime for protection and support. If the regime suddenly collapses, they fear the ethnic conflict that might emerge within the period of instability. Tunisia, by contrast, is homogenous in terms of the ethnic and sectarian composition of its population.

3) More than Tunisia, the Egyptian military has experience dealing with large public demonstrations. Beginning with the bread riots of the 1977, the Egyptian state has successfully dealt with large-scale protests in the Nile Delta in the 1990’s, 2003, and 2005. The bread riots, which lasted two full days and resulted in 800 deaths, forced the regime to turn back scheduled IMF and World Bank loan payments that were inflating food prices for ordinary Egyptians through subsidy reductions. Thus, the planned ‘day of rage’ in Cairo this Friday may, in short, drive the regime to make concessions and introduce limited reforms, but we should not expect to see a second Jasmine revolution accompanied by substantive regime change.

Here’s an interesting article on the importance of military professionalization in these recent uprisings.


APSA Africa Workshop 2011

African political scientists and US-based grad students, take note:
Participant Applications Now Being Accepted for APSA’s Fourth Africa Workshop – Kenya 2011

The American Political Science Association (APSA) is accepting participant applications for its fourth Africa Workshop, entitled “Representation Reconsidered: Ethnic Politics and Africa’s Governance Institutions in Comparative Perspective.” It will take place July 23 to August 6, 2011 at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Nairobi.

The organizers, with a grant secured from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will cover all the costs of participation (travel, lodging, meals, daily stipend, and materials) for up to 23 qualified applicants (20 African, plus 3 based in the U.S.). Professional fluency in English is absolutely required. Because the workshop will have a strong cross-regional component, US-based PhD students with expertise in either Africa or Latin America are encouraged to apply.

The workshop leaders are Todd Eisenstadt (American University, USA), Carl LeVan (American University, USA), Josephine Ahikire (Makerere University, Uganda), and Karuti Kanyinga (Institute for Development Studies, Kenya).

Program announcements, the 2011 Application Form, and more information about the workshop themes can be found online at the APSA Africa Workshop website, www.apsanet.org/africaworkshops.

The application deadline is March 14, 2011.

Tunisia's jasmine revolution: surprises and non-surprises

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Matt Buehler. Buehler is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Texas at Austin. Currently conducting field research in North Africa in 2010-2011 funded through a David L. Boren Graduate Fellowship, his dissertation examines coalition building between Islamist and secular political parties. Here, Matt explains several key aspects of Tunisia's recent Jasmine Revolution:

Countless newspaper articles and television programs have sought to explain Tunisia’s ongoing “Jasmine Revolution.” Nearly all accounts, whether emerging from French, English, or Arab news sources, described the events as unfolding rapidly and surprisingly. In this guest post for Texas in Africa, I hope to highlight a few surprising (and non-surprising) aspects of the popular uprising that these sources seem to have passed over.

The Jasmine Revolution occurred in a surprising place. Tunisia, according to standard socio-economic indicators, seems ostensibly far less revolution-prone than its regional neighbors. Tunisians are, in general, more educated and enjoy higher living conditions than other Arab North Africans. Tunisia has a nearly 80% literacy rate compared to 75% in Algeria, 65% in Egypt, and 55% in Morocco. According to the UN’s human development index, which ranks counties based on a basket of indicators such as material inequality, life expectancy, and years of education, Tunisia lies at ranking 81 compared to Algeria’s 84, Egypt’s 101, and Morocco’s 114. The fact, then, that a 26-year-old university graduate took the decision to self-immolate in protest of his generation’s dire economic prospects in Tunisia - rather than Algeria, Egypt, or Morocco – seems rather unexpected.

Tunisia, moreover, is a surprising place for a popular uprising given that it hasn’t experienced previous instances of violent revolution or colonial struggle, as its neighbors Egypt and Algeria. Ben Ali’s predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, successfully brought Tunisia to independence through gradual negotiations with the French, preserving the country’s good diplomatic relations with its colonizer that continue until today. With fewer examples of popular uprisings leading to regime change than elsewhere in North Africa, Tunisia seems like an unlikely country for one to produce this outcome.

In examining the political actors that have spearheaded the Jasmine Revolution, one can see a surprising alliance that crosses both ideological and institutional lines. While unemployed young men provided the muscle in protests that began in Sidi Bouzaid, spread to Tunis, and eventually forced Ben Ali’s exile, labor unions and professional military officers have emerged as important players in the uprising. The military, in effect, has chosen to side with the people against Ben Ali and his closest allies, the presidential guard. In recent days, even the national police force – which initially repressed the protests – has begun cooperating with civil society activists through its national syndicate. It remains undetermined, however, whether Islamist and communist political parties currently banned under the Tunisian constitution will be permitted to join the alliance and compete in future elections. In Morocco, such a strategy has contributed to greater political stability and could offer benefits for Tunisia.

Although Tunisia may be an unexpected place for a popular uprising, it came at a relatively unsurprising time in its political history. While Habib Bourguiba saw little use for political pluralism, few dispute that he genuinely sought to implement western-style reforms that made Tunisia one of the most secular, educated, and prosperous countries in the Arab world. Ben Ali, in contrast, had few accomplishments to speak of other than fixing elections, amassing private wealth through public funds, and changing the constitution to allow him to continue as president after the age of 75. After ruling for 23 years, and five successive presidential terms, Ben Ali had provoked the ire of ordinary and elite Tunisians alike. They were fed up and wanted change. We wait now to see, however, whether the Jasmine Revolution blossoms into a participatory democratic system or gets nipped in its bud.

For background on the revolution, see this very useful timeline from al Jazeera.


shameless self-promotion

Nicholas Garrett and I have a piece out in the new issue of Accord's Cross-Border Peacebuilding Project entitled "Trade, Development, and Peacebuilding in the African Great Lakes: the Role of the Minerals Sector." We argue that the mineral sector in the eastern DRC can and must become part of the peace building and trade development process if the region is to experience increased stability.

It's available as a PDF here; you have to register, but access is free. Our piece starts on page 86. I'd love your comments if you have the chance to take a look.


so you want to be an aid worker...

Update: As you can see above, there's apparently a copyright claim on this video. When I posted it, the video was freely available for embedding on YouTube. I'll post the link if it reappears.


naming, shaming, & measuring

Just before the holidays, the Enough Project released its first rankings of electronics companies based on their "progress they are making toward conflict-free supply chains and a conflict-free mining sector in Congo." You can look at the quick guide to their rankings here or read the full report here.

As longtime readers of this blog know, I'm cynical about the effects that any effort to engage in supply chain monitoring in the DRC will have on the conflict there. This is because the conflicts there are not only about or fueled by the mineral trade and also because local institutions are not strong enough to prevent smuggling, mislabeling, and the many, many, many other ways of getting around a monitoring and tracing regime. I'm of the view that this exercise is mostly a waste of time and effort, but if companies want to do it, then so be it. The "name-and-shame" approach that Enough is using here is standard advocacy practice. Whether consumers will pay any attention remains to be seen.

What I'm interested in here, however, is the report's authors' methodology in determining whether a company is making a good-faith effort at tracing and ending the use of Congolese conflict minerals in their products. The report outlines 18 indicators they used to make this judgment:
1. Tracing: Has the company traced its suppliers of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold
(3TG)? (four questions)
2. Auditing: Does the company have audits conducted of its suppliers of the 3TG
minerals to determine mine of origin and chain of custody? (six questions)
3. Certification: Has the company taken concrete steps to develop an international
certification regime for the 3TG minerals? (three questions)
4. Stakeholder engagement: Has the company had regular engagement with the NGO
coalition, led by Enough, on the conflict minerals issue? (two questions)
5. Support for legislation: Has the company supported the legislation on conflict
minerals? (three questions)
As you can see from the rankings, Enough believes it has sufficient information for most companies to answer all of the above questions. I'm curious, though, as to how they've verified that companies have undertaken these actions. It's virtually impossible to fully trace suppliers, determine mine of origin, and to determine the chain of custody for the 3T's and, in particular, gold in the eastern DRC. On what basis is Enough gauging these activities? As Jason Stearns points out, it's pretty easy under the newly-released draft SEC framework (the development of which was required by the Dodd-Frank legislation) for a company to engage in due diligence, find nothing, and yet still be using minerals the sale of which is funding violence. As he notes in another post, the lack of an oversight mechanism plus the secretive nature of mineral sales in the Kivus will make it very, very difficult for companies' auditors to actually verify what they claim to be verifying.

Then there's the issue of engagement with Enough, which I find a somewhat bizarre indicator for measuring this particular outcome. The insinuation here is that a company that doesn't go along with Enough's method and advocacy program must not be doing anything about this issue. For example, one of the questions (worth one point) in the survey is, "Has the company held regular communication with the Enough NGO coalition regarding conflict minerals (at least bi-monthly)?" Which means that if your company hasn't sent an email or talked to Enough and the coalition once every two months, you must not care about conflict minerals.

Is that really the case, though? It may be unlikely, but isn't it possible that a corporation could be pursuing efforts to avoid the use of conflict minerals outside of Enough's framework? Especially if, like many observers, they believe that this effort is unlikely to lead to lasting peace in the DRC? Likewise, I find the "supporting conflict minerals legislation" criteria dubious. The legislation on this issue wasn't necessarily worth supporting for the reasons I've outlined above. Does a corporation have to support that legislation in order to be a good corporate citizen?

The conflict minerals issue gave Enough the chance to score a major legislative victory, and it gives corporations a chance to make themselves look like good corporate citizens. This is true regardless of whether the approach mandated by the legislation actually produces measurable positive outcomes for the Congolese. (HP in particular has been very interested in appearing to be a leader on conflict minerals.) However, much of the criteria by which this commitment is measured seems to me to be fairly dubious. A corporation can lose up to nine points on the scale simply for not working with Enough or getting involved with the legislation. To an academic like me, the use of "working with Enough" as an indicator seems to be measuring something that has very little to do with the outcome they're seeking to measure, namely, progress towards the use of fewer conflict minerals in consumer electronics.

I'd be interested to hear from other advocacy folks as to the justification for using such measures as a matter of commitment, as well as whether this is standard practice.



intelligence is not enough

"Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

"The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

"We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living."

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The Purpose of Education," an article written by King as an undergraduate in the Morehouse campus newspaper (1948)

(Photo: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the campus of Morehouse College: AP/Rick Feld on thegriot.com)


a chat with Alassane Ouattara

Friday morning at 10am EST, the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a conversation with Alassane Ouattara, whom most international observers believe won Cote d'Ivoire's presidential election late last year. He'll be chatting with CSIS Africa Program Director Jennifer Cooke, Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute, and Akwe Amousu, Director of African Advocacy for the Open Society Foundations.

Thanks to the folks at CSIS, I'm happy to present a live stream of this event here. Log on at 10 on Friday to watch below:

Update: If you missed the conversation this morning. you can listen to it here.

Update 2: You can also watch the chat here (HT: @viewfromthecave)


Sudan referendum: what to watch

After decades of war, a five-year transition/peace process that at several points seemed destined for failure, and a year-long push, tomorrow, Southern Sudanese will at long last vote in a referendum on whether to secede from the North. The outcome of the referendum is a foregone conclusion; there's no question that the vast majority of Southern Sudanese will vote to go. The only surprise will be if the option to split garners less than 95% of the vote.

While John Prendergast, George Clooney, and other advocates who don't speak a word of Arabic have been raising fears about violence for months (and are now embarking on silly plans to take satellite images of areas in which they believe genocide is likely, despite the fact that you can't actually see that level of detail in satellite imagery), the likelihood that a genocide or war will break out immediately seems to me to be slim to none. As Stephen Chan notes in a discussion hosted by the Royal African Society, there are too many incentives for both sides to behave themselves - the oil needs to keep flowing for both sides to benefit, and the US and China aren't likely to put up with any shenanigans. Also, al-Bashir seems to be willing to let the secession happen, despite pointing out to al-Jazeera that the South is going to be a bit of a mess in its initial independence period.

As Rob Crilly points out, al-Bashir is right. My real worry for this situation is not that war will break out between north and south - even over Abyei, which I think will eventually be allowed to vote on its own status - but rather than tensions within the South will be played out in the context of an extremely fragile state. Southern Sudan will immediately become one of the world's poorest, weakest states - albeit one with oil - with a plethora of ethnic groups who don't see eye-to-eye on everything. That's rarely a recipe for stability. Add to that the resentment that may build up over the SPLM's domination of politics within the South and there could be real problems.

Then again, the South's many groups have had several years to learn to work together, and everyone has known what was coming for some time.

There are, as you might imagine, lots of resources on what's going on in Southern Sudan this weekend. Here are some of the best I've seen; please add others in the comments:


your tax dollars at work

So, how 'bout that border fence along the US-Mexico border, built at an average cost to US taxpayers of $4 million/mile?

This film was made by my grad school classmate Roy Germano, who's a visiting assistant professor at the New School. Roy also made a documentary film, The Other Side of Immigration, which is conveniently available for viewing via Netflix.