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

8.29.2011

now we are six

Today marks six years of blogging at Texas in Africa. When I started this blog in August 2005 with the goal of keeping in touch with family and friends while conducting dissertation fieldwork in North Kivu, I never would have dreamed where it would end up. Today, Texas in Africa is a thriving community of smart people who bring a wide variety of perspectives to the discussion from points all over the world. For all of you, I am incredibly grateful.

You've probably noticed some changes around here in the last few months, particularly with respect to the pace of posting. As the pressures of the tenure track mount and my responsibilities as an assistant professor grow more significant, I've given up trying to post every day. Taking that pressure off of myself has helped incredibly, and I think the quality of posts has gone up as I've been more focused and truly interested in writing each one. This is a middle way between quitting blogging altogether and maintaining a now-impossible-for-me pace. Thanks for sticking with me.

Of course, there have been a lot of other exciting changes in the last couple of years as well; some of my posts are picked up by the CSM's Africa Monitor and the Guardian's Global Development blog. I'm also occasionally contributing to the Atlantic.com and in a few other places on occasion. Thank-you to the wonderful crop of editors who make me seem a far better writer than I am, and for the incredible opportunity to engage with even more people from around the world.

On a totally unrelated note, this weekend, I came across a big story here in Georgia, where a new law prohibits undocumented immigrants from attending the state's best public universities. These students, the vast majority of whom were brought to the US as small children, are excluded from the opportunities a high-quality public education can provide through no fault of their own. In response to this law, a group of University of Georgia professors have started an informal university that our state's best undocumented students can attend. They have an Amazon.com wishlist of textbooks and supplies to which anyone can donate, and the products are shipped directly to the school. I think this is a fantastic response to an unjust, discriminatory law. If you feel the same way, I hope you'll join me in purchasing a couple of books to help these students out. If you don't feel the same way, I encourage you to donate to a charity more in line with your views. Thanks for sticking around, and here's to another year of Texas in Africa.

8.26.2011

this & that

8.18.2011

shameless self-promotion

African Security Review recently published a special issue on "The Meaning of MONUC," (gated) one year after the DRC peacekeeping mission became MONUSCO. The issue includes several excellent articles as well as a symposium on Severine Autesserre's The Trouble with the Congo featuring critiques by several DRC scholars, including yours truly. The issue is well worth a read if you have access to academic journals, with smart critiques by scholars who regularly spend time in the field and who understand the complexities of peacebuilding in eastern DRC.

8.11.2011

links on conflict minerals

One point most of Section 1502's defenders are making is that Dodd-Frank does not call for any boycott of Congolese minerals. This is true, but it is also true that it is highly unlikely that either the government boycott of last September or the EICC-driven boycott would have happened were it not for the legislation. An unintended consequence can be a direct consequence, and this is such a case.

There must be a better solution for now-unemployed Congolese miners that will enable them to support their families with meaningful employment over the long term. Starting a fund, as Leshnev suggests, will only create dependency and further impede long-term sustainable development in the region. The advocates who pushed for Section 1502 need to take responsibility for all the effects of their efforts, not just the intended ones.

8.09.2011

this & that

8.08.2011

the Dodd-Frank catastrophe

David Aronson in the New York Times, writing on the effects of Dodd-Frank in eastern DRC:

For locals, however, the law has been a catastrophe. In South Kivu Province, I heard from scores of artisanal miners and small-scale purchasers, who used to make a few dollars a day digging ore out of mountainsides with hand tools. Paltry as it may seem, this income was a lifeline for people in a region that was devastated by 32 years of misrule under the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko (when the country was known as Zaire) and that is now just beginning to emerge from over a decade of brutal war and internal strife.

The pastor at one church told me that women were giving birth at home because they couldn’t afford the $20 or so for the maternity clinic. Children are dropping out of school because parents can’t pay the fees. Remote mining towns are virtually cut off from the outside world because the planes that once provisioned them no longer land. Most worrying, a crop disease periodically decimates the region’s staple, cassava. Villagers who relied on their mining income to buy food when harvests failed are beginning to go hungry.

Aronson blogs at Congo Resources.

What's so frustrating for people like me is that it was clear to most Congo experts that Dodd-Frank wouldn't play out as designed, but no one listened to us. Everybody who really knows the region - who lived there before, during, and since the wars, who speak the languages, who know local communities - understood that initiatives rarely work as intended in a place as complicated as the DRC and foresaw exactly these sorts of problems. We were vocal about it. And we were ignored.

I have puzzled and debated with many knowledgeable observers for the last few years over how the Enough Project works and how some of the very smart people who work there could come to conclusions that are so off-base. The conclusion I've come to is that information that comes into that organization is almost always filtered through the lens of John Prendergast's initial opinions. Prendergast decided early on that the story in the Congo was one about fighting primarily driven by resource extraction, and any information that contradicted that story had to be made to fit the pre-determined narrative. I don't have any way of proving that this is true, but I think it's fair to say that this is the consensus opinion about how Enough works by people who closely observe the organization. Feel free to disagree in the comments if you'd like.

If true, that's a terrible way to do advocacy. What's even more frustrating is that members of Congress like Jim McDermott and their staffs seem to have taken Enough's word at face value, going so far as to let the advocacy organization choose most of the witnesses at hearings on the Dodd-Frank measure, which meant that any dissenting voices - Congolese or American - went mostly unheard.

That's a terrible way to develop legislation. I realize that members of Congressional staffs are extremely busy dealing with hundreds of issues every day and that it saves time to let an advocacy organization plan most of the details of a hearing on one obscure topic, but there need to be a wider variety of voices on questions involving Africa - or any topic, for that matter. At the very least, I think it's reasonable to expect that people testifying before Congress on DRC actually speak French and spend regular, extended periods of time there.

It is beyond frustrating to have watched this completely avoidable catastrophe unfold when it was so evident that Enough has misread the situation in DRC and that the legislators who listened to them were going to unintentionally create the disaster Aronson describes.

At this point, I don't know what we do to help the families whose lives have been destroyed by Dodd-Frank. But it's time to start that conversation, and to have another on how we can avoid making these mistakes in the future. The Congolese deserve better.

8.04.2011

the DRC minerals mess

Jason Stearns has a must-read interview with Congolese civil society leader and mining expert Eric Kajemba on the effects of the Dodd-Frank Act, Enough and Global Witness, and the de facto ban on Congolese minerals that has developed as a result of their efforts. Kajemba:
The motivation behind the law is very good - to impose transparency. But it the implementation has been the problem. We are not in a country with a functioning government, you cannot just assume that certification and due diligence can spring up overnight. Plus, there were efforts under way already by other actors to impose transparency; ironically, the Dodd-Frank law slowed these efforts down, as they were financed by the minerals trade
One of the most frightening effects of the Dodd-Frank legislation is the chaos that it has created in sectors of the economy not at all related to the conflict mineral trade. Kajemba:
But there have been other consequences as well, for example, with other aspects of the local economy. For example, in places like Shabunda, people relied on planes to bring them goods and merchandise - rice, sugar, and so on. Those same planes then left with minerals back to Bukavu. But now that the planes cannot transport minerals [due to the export ban and embargo] they don't fly there with goods any more. So the impact has been huge in many areas.
Aside from Congolese who now have no access to critical staples like rice and sugar, Dodd-Frank has also created a host of problems in DRC's legitimate mining sector - non-militarized mines in non-conflict areas. Mark Drajem, Jessie Hamilton, and Michael Kavanaugh write in Business Week:
Loch traveled with Katanga’s local mining minister to certify that tantalum from the mine that Motorola Solutions, a maker of communications equipment for governments and businesses, wants to purchase was in no way connected to the Congo’s armed conflict. Production at the mine had all but stopped, idling workers who dig for ore with hand tools. “This was a non-conflict mine in a non-conflict area, but it was being harmed by the U.S. legislation,” Loch says.
They further note that, "Congolese mineral exports are down 90 percent due to a new rule requiring U.S. companies to avoid indirectly financing rebel groups."

John Prendergast, The Enough Project, and Global Witness are directly responsible for this completely predictable havoc, as are the American legislators and industry personnel who took their testimony as gospel, let them write section 1502 of the legislation, and ignored dissenting voices in the debate over the minerals. We now have a situation in which the already tenuous economy of the eastern DRC is further deteriorating. Ordinary Congolese are suffering far more than the militias at whom this legislation was targeted. And I, for one, would like to know what the people who caused this problem are going to do about it.

8.02.2011

helping with the famine

Owen Barder has a great post on the seriousness of the famine in the Horn of Africa, which, by all accounts, will get much worse before it gets better, including a discussion of the political roots of the crisis. He also links to ways people in the UK and in the US can donate. Siena Antsis notes that Canadian citizens can have their donations matched by the Canadian government and provides details here.

We can all afford to skip a few meals out, a new outfit, or a month's worth of coffees in order to have the money to help out in this situation. I hope you'll choose to do so as well.

8.01.2011

a recommendation for monday

Do you follow the African Arguments blog? If not, you should subscribe. A joint project of the Royal African Society and the Social Science Resource Council, African Arguments has quickly become one of my go-to references for high-quality, in-depth analysis of African politics and economics. What I particularly like about the blog is that it features local voices - especially local journalists and academics - whenever possible. It also features analysis by foreign academics with years of experience in the countries about which they write.

I also like African Arguments because it runs features you won't see anywhere else on topics that are typically missed by the Western press. Here are a few recent favorites that emphasize that point. All are well worth your time: