Tag: Africa

Understanding the Emotional Impacts of Ebola: moving beyond crisis and stats to stories

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

What are the emotional and psycho-social impacts of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa? With much of the media attention on the medical, international, and civil-military response to Ebola, this is a question that has largely been unaddressed. Yet it is inevitable that a virus that ravaged communities, halted economies, and killed thousands in a region would have multiple and lasting emotional impacts. Taking account of people’s extreme social and emotional reactions in emergency settings is vital to understanding the long-term impacts of Ebola. Moreover, a focused picture on emotion is necessary in trying to grasp the nature of the crisis and why resources should be dedicated not just to ‘eradicating’ the virus, but also to supporting communities struggling in a ‘post-Ebola’ era. This post provides a few examples of the emotional impact of Ebola and raises several questions about crisis, emotion, and the varying meanings of ‘impact,’ ‘virus free,’ and ‘security’ in relation to medical crises.

The first story takes place in Freetown, the capital, during the peak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in November 2014. It involved a one-week old baby who was found by the side of her dead mother. As part of the protocol at the time, the infant was driven in an ambulance to one of the holding centres for testing, but the baby was not immediately allowed in. Continue reading

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Experiencing the Ebola Crisis: a perspective from inside Sierra Leone

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, Researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

There has been increased international attention to the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) and its spread in West Africa. However, for those living in the region, the reports, meetings, and fears associated with the virus seem to have come too late. The international community should send aid, supplies, and experts, but it should also listen to the experiences, advice, and wisdom of locals. Those living amidst the epidemic have a first-hand view of why the disease has spreading so quickly, and how it can be managed and contained. This post contains my own view about the current Ebola outbreak. Overall, the disease has slowed down much of our activities and movement and this is bound to spread hardship among the population, most of whom are poor already. Here, I focus on what I see as the number one reason as to why the outbreak has been difficult to contain, as well as a host of practical (and easy) mechanisms for halting the virus.

To start, it is useful to know that EVD first attacked some residents of Kailahun District in May this year. This is the same district where the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone began in the early 1990s, along the border with Liberia. Today, the disease is present in 13 out of the 14 districts in the country (only Koinadugu District has yet to record any infected case). While the first hit districts of Kailahun and Kenema (the district I hail from) are recording diminishing infection rates, rather unfortunately, the districts of Bombali, Port Loko and the Western Area (where the capital, Freetown, is located) have increasing infection rates. This is because our health system appears to be buckling.

One of the greatest contributors to the spread of the virus has been misinformation and miseducation about the virus. Continue reading

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Political Homophobia in Uganda and a (Very) Belated Apology

In what I suspect is the least auspicious debut ever made by a Duck guest blogger, six months after being welcomed by the Duck team, I’m finally posting. It turns out that starting a new job, prepping a new course, learning how to shovel snow, and attempting to finish a book manuscript all at once is not particularly conducive to being a good guest blogger. I’d like to thank the Duck team for their patience, and for their completely unwarranted confidence in still welcoming me to blog here. And I promise to do better from here on out. 

As Charli noted, my area of interest is in questions at the intersection of conflict and development in Africa. I’m particularly fascinated these days by African states, how they (and their international relations) contrast with traditional understandings of what states are and what they do, and how people in conflict situations organize themselves to provide for community needs, with or without outside help. So it’s likely that most of my posts at the Duck will focus on these questions one way or another, as well as on general debates in the study of politics in Africa.

The biggest African story right now is the increasing criminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior in places like Uganda and Nigeria. Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law has drawn the greatest amount of attention due to its extremely harsh penalties. Though the worst excesses of the bill’s original language (including the death penalty for those caught committing multiple homosexual  acts) were  amended out, the bill still provides for jail time for persons who engage in any form of physical content with “intent” to engage in homosexual acts as well as imprisonment for those who help or counsel GLBTQ Ugandans. Continue reading

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New Subnational African Education and Infrastructure Dataset

Todd Smith, Anustubh Agnihotri, and I have put together a new resource of subnational education and infrastructure access indicators for Africa, released as part of the Climate Change and Africa Political Stability (CCAPS) program at the University of Texas. This dataset provides data on literacy rates, primary and secondary school attendance rates, access to improved water and sanitation, household access to electricity, and household ownership of radio and television. The new CCAPS dataset includes data for 38 countries, covering 471 of Africa’s 699 first-level administrative districts.  Continue reading

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Africa for Norway

This video from Africa for Norway provides a humorous way to think about foreign aid:

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Thursday Morning Linkage

It’s a beautiful day in Washington; not so beautiful in New Orleans. Some of this text comes from PM.

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Does the ICC Need to Reconcile with Africa? Bensouda Comes Out Swinging

(Originally posted at Justice in Conflict)

Photo: BBC

Fatou Bensouda, incoming Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, has put threatening war criminals and defiant states on notice. In several recent public statements she has directly addressed two of the Court’s most significant challenges: the accusation that the Court’s credibility suffers from a “pro-Western, anti-African” bias and the related issue of ensuring state cooperation and support, particularly in executing arrest warrants.

The argument that the ICC has (so far) unjustly targeted only African states and individuals is mostly based on misperception and has become a rhetorical tool of political elites to undermine the Court. Yes, all of the situations presently under the Court’s jurisdiction are from Africa. But as Bensouda and many others have pointed out, the Africa bias criticism is baseless for the following reasons.

African states wanted the ICC. Much of the strongest support for a permanent international criminal court in the Rome Treaty negotiations came from the Africa group. That support continued after Rome and African States Parties have a high level of ratification of the treaty (although, notably, a weak level of corresponding implementation legislation).

African states need the ICC. The empirical reality is that many situations of atrocities, and those that meet the (vague) “sufficient gravity” criteria for the Court to intervene, are in Africa. Moreover, many African states have a weak rule of law that fails to deter and respond to such atrocities, and so these situations justify the ICC’s intervention as a “court of last resort.” As Bensouda defended,

“The office of the prosecutor will go where the victims need us…The world increasingly understands the role of the court and Africa understood it from the start. As Africans we know that impunity is not an academic, abstract notion.”

African states invited and welcomed the ICC. Three states self-referred their situations to the Court (Uganda, DRC, and the Central Africa Republic) and three states initially welcomed and have since exhibited a satisfactory pattern of cooperation with the Court (Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Libya). Only Sudan remains resolutely defiant and given its head of state is among the accused this should prove, not disprove, the ICC’s credibility. Bensouda expressed frustration that cooperation from African states and civil society is

“not the story relayed in the media…(and) anti-ICC elements have been working very hard to discredit the Court and to lobby for non-support and they are doing this, unfortunately, with complete disregard for legal arguments.”


J’accuse! African war criminals don’t want the ICC. Accusing the ICC of a “pro-Western, anti-African” bias is a rhetorical tool of the accused themselves. Accusing an international tribunal of pro-Western bias or victor’s justice is also not unique to the ICC – Goering, Milosevic, Taylor, etc. all rejected the tribunals they faced with this grandstanding challenge. The accused cannot defend their crimes, so they choose to undermine their accusers instead and invoke hyperbolic claims of racism and neo-colonialism.

African victims and civil society want the ICC. Despite the protestations of some political elites, there is substantial support for the Court’s investigations and arrest warrants among victim communities and civil society, whose support is essential for the ICC’s legitimacy and its ability to obtain witness testimony and evidence. The ICC also engages in outreach and assistance to war-affected communities and brings some hope of justice to those further marginalized by their victimization – something that domestic political and judicial institutions have less capacity and will to do.

The primary cause for concern is not the alleged bias against African states, but that misperceptions of bias have translated into obstacles to state cooperation on arrests and manipulation of the Court as a tool in electoral contests and war-making. The continued cooperation of elites in Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Libya will likely depend more on the circumstances of domestic politics and elections than on principled support for the ICC. And in the DRC, there is a renewed sense of urgency for Bosco Ntaganda’s arrest after he and his supporters defected from the ranks of the DRC military and have continued on the war-path in defiance of the ICC. The “Terminator’s” arrest is only likely to happen with the support of the DRC and (possibly) Rwandan governments and militaries. But Bensouda expressed concern about Ntaganda’s tactics and the need for state cooperation on his arrest:

“This level of blackmail – which I call it – in which perpetrators are saying that if you do not drop warrants against me, I’ll continue to kill people – I think this is what the international community, especially those who are directly responsible for the arrest of Bosco, should take into account.”

On cooperation with arrest warrants, the African Union is fingered for encouraging non-cooperation with the ICC, notably because of its 2010 call for non-cooperation on the Bashir arrest warrant and supporting Kenya’s request to the UNSC and OTP for a deferral of the indictments of its nationals. But as Bensouda argues, there are signs of improvement in cooperation with the AU and indeed the AU supported Bensouda’s nomination, believing the “African bias” of the ICC was more directly linked to outgoing Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and not the mandate of the Court itself.

It is wishful thinking, however, to assume that Bensouda will engender a cozier relationship with the AU simply because she is African. It is likely that the the ICC will become a more victim-centered court under Bensouda’s public leadership and prosecutorial strategy, which may lead to more interventions and engagement in Africa and not less.

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Invisible Children – Pretty Dang Visible

KONY, WE GON’ FIND YOU – as soon as I buy my bracelet!

Anyone who has been on Facebook and Twitter over the past 24 hours has probably seen impassioned pleas to watch a high-production video by Invisible Children, an American NGO (whose Board of Directors just happens to be entirely white American males). And anyone who is following many of the IR tweeters out there, you have also probably began to see the backlash.

For those of you who do not know what is going on, the video produced by Invisible Children discusses the conflict in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and in particular the crimes of the movement’s leader Joseph Kony – calling upon the world (particularly the United States) to act by signing a petition and, apparently, buying bracelets.

There is no doubt that Kony is – to put it mildly – a gigantic AAA asshole of the highest order, responsible for crimes that would make anyone’s stomach sick. And it is great that this video is spreading awareness of these crimes.

However, the solutions that Invisible Children (and other organisations, such as Human Rights Watch – now getting in on the #KONY2012 action) advocates are problematic. Others (see this article in Foreign Affairs) have pointed out that military humanitarian intervention in Uganda has been tried and tried again – always ultimately failing and managing to make matters a lot worse for civilians on the ground. Worse, in advocating for these policies, organisations such as Invisible Children, are giving a misleading and simplistic impression of what is actually happening on the ground:

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.

 Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict writes along similar lines:

It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor. Incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern Ugandan victim, Jacob, the voices of northern Ugandans go almost completely unheard.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the views of northern Ugandans wouldn’t be considered: they don’t fit with the narrative produced and reproduced in the insulated echo chamber that produced the ‘Kony 2012′ film.
‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA. Once again, this issue is barely touched upon in the film. Yet the LRA poses a stark dilemma to the people of northern Uganda: it is now composed primarily of child soldiers, most of whom were abducted and forced to join the rebel ranks and commit atrocities. Labeling them “victims” or “perpetrators” becomes particularly problematic as they are often both.
Furthermore, the crisis in northern Ugandan is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the LRA. Yes, you read that right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the Government of Uganda and the LRA, as well as their regional supporters (primarily South Sudan and Khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. This pattern is what Chris Dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the Ugandan Government and the LRA’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.

Beyond this, I find the entire nature of the campaign to be problematic. As this excellent post at King’s of War argues:

Will simplistic explanations of long-running wars, delivered in a Facebook-friendly manner become the future of foreign policy? If the opinion of Rihanna and George Clooney is going to dislodge ‘technocrats’ who do things like read the Military Balance, then what’s to stop intervention in Syria? Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in military affairs says “that is a very bad idea and lots of people will die” but I’m pretty sure that a bright person with access to youtube can come up with a better argument for a brighter world in which taking Assad down is an expression of democratic empowerment. The point about war and military affairs is that at some point, it requires restraint. That restraint is entirely arbitrary (and unfair) but it stops people getting killed. If Angelina Jolie in combination with Condoleeza Rice are to dictate American strategy, then restraints to force will disappear into a blur of “Let’s go get the bad guy” activism that is almost entirely ignorant of the second and third order effects of those decisions.

Last year I wrote a post that was critical of those who are concerned about the use of media which re-emphasizes the idea of “Africans as victims”. I argued that in times of famine, pictures of said famine are useful for generating much needed donations for use by reputable organisations who are combating famine in, say, the Horn of Africa. But this is something altogether different. Invisible Children has been accused of manipulating numbers in order to generate money for its cause. Worse, the vast majority of the money is not actually put towards victims of the conflict, but for advocating military intervention in Western countries. This is basically Save Darfur 2.0.

To put it simply, the situation on the ground in Uganda is complex. Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences. Ham-fistedly intervening in a conflict of which few have a nuanced understanding of the conditions on the ground, where local actors are already engaged in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, is not going to help and may in fact serve to make a difficult situation worse. Buying a bracelet from an American run NGO will not change this.

I am increasingly getting the feeling that if this is the future of international politics and humanitarian intervention, there are high-definition troubled waters ahead.

Other interesting  posts on Invisible Children from around the web:


How Matters


Unmuted 


Visible Children – a no doubt hastily constructed Tumblr, but one that effectively critiques the Invisible Children video.


Washington Post’s slightly less critical take of the issue that highlights the different sides of the debate.


Edit: The very darkly humoured Kony 2012 drinking game! (via Alana Tiemessen)

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Isn’t there a global climate conference in Durban?

Durban Skyline

Why aren’t you there? You love South Africa. New baby. ‘Nuff said.

What, there is more? Low expectations. Hard to justify traveling all that way (let alone burn all those hydrocarbons) for a meeting that is likely to be unproductive.*

I take it you are not a big fan of big global conferences? Not really. Hard to see how thousands of delegates and NGOs can converge in a single place and actually produce meaningful results.

Jealous much? A little.

Ok, low expectations aside, what would constitute a “success” and what would be a failure?

Here are some headlines coming out of Durban that would signal “success.”

  • New York Times – Durban meeting ends with agreement on the Green Climate Fund
  • Washington Post – Climate negotiations reach agreement on transparency
  • ClimateWire – Global warming negotiations avoid blowup over Kyoto Protocol
  • The Economist – Boring climate negotiations make incremental progress
  • The Onion – Durban meeting ends

Here are some headlines that would be bad news for future action on climate change.
  • Climate Progress – Climate negotiations end in impasse over future of the Kyoto Protocol
  • Global and Mail – Canada leads walk out of Durban climate meeting
  • ECO – Durban climate talks a bust: No legally binding treaty!
  • OneClimate – U.S.-China Finger-pointing over Durban Climate Talks Failure 

Somewhat humorous, but what does this all mean?
Ever since the United States Congress failed to act on domestic climate legislation in 2010, it has become clear that the Obama Administration is not in a strong position to do much at home to address its greenhouse gas emissions or provide its fair share of funding for global climate finance. This has cast something of a pall over the ambitions that can be achieved globally because at the heart of the agreements reached at Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010 are non-binding political pledges by countries, including emerging economies like China, to take action at home. With the U.S. hard-pressed to do much, this could take the steam out of other countries’ efforts. That said, there has been some good news as Australia recently passed a carbon tax, and China has actually embraced more robust action. 
Advanced industrialized countries, what we used to call “rich” countries, also pledged billions in climate finance to developing countries, up to $30 billion in the short-run. They are expected to mobilize $100 billion per year in public and private sources by 2020. Unfortunately, without a price on carbon in the United States, it’s hard to see where money from the U.S. will come from. With Europe on the brink of financial catastrophe, it’s also increasingly unclear whether Europe will be in a position to keep its commitments.
Moreover, though the global recession has helped U.S. and European emissions decline, global emissions are soaring. Meanwhile, the politics in the U.S. are unfavorable for another legislative effort. The Obama Administration is nominally committed to its commitments to reduce emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 but unless it unrolls a regulatory approach to carbon and President Obama wins in 2012, it’s hard to see how those all come to pass (though its actions on automobile fuel efficiency, appliances and other measures have all been quite positive).
So that’s old news, what’s happening in Durban?
In the midst of all this comes Durban where there is plenty of unfinished business. Copenhagen and Cancun created the Green Climate Fund but left the details on its structure, who administers, who receives, and what it will fund for subsequent negotiation (details were discussed by a 40 person Transitional Committee). Assuming some of that climate finance materializes and is directed multilaterally through the Fund, there have to be some clearer rules on how it will operate. Incremental plodding progress on this issue would make for a low-key but successful meeting.
The danger is a big dust-up over the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Its first commitment period ends in 2012 and Europe, China, and developing countries would like to see it extended for different reasons and with slightly different implications. Developing countries want to see a second commitment period of binding emissions reductions for developed countries (Ed. – ain’t gonna happen). Europe might accept a political commitment of a second commitment period but wants countries to set 2015 as the date for a new legally binding treaty that would take effect in 2020 so long as countries like China and India sign up (Ed. – ain’t gonna happen), but it may settle for Kyoto’s first commitment period to be extended for a few years. 
China likes Kyoto, not least because it enshrines legal asymmetry for developing countries, binding emissions for advanced industrialized countries but none for itself. China also likes Kyoto because it has been the main beneficiary of the Clean Development Mechanism, which allows rich countries to meet their obligations at lower cost by paying for projects in developing countries.
For their part, countries like the U.S., Canada, and Japan have ruled out a second commitment period under Kyoto. As U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing said: “A structure of a legal agreement where we are bound and major emerging economies are not is untenable.” All three of these countries have had difficulty meeting their Kyoto Commitments and support the new processes created under Copenhagen and Cancun. Rather than a divisive fight over new binding commitments or a new treaty, these countries want to spend the time at Durban fleshing out the rules and procedures related to transparency, technology transfer, and finance agreed to last year in Mexico. 
As Robert Stavins from Harvard noted, there are actually three negotiation tracks on-going: (1) a Kyoto track, (2) a track based on Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) emanating from the first 1992 framework treaty, and a third Copenhagen/Cancun track. The U.S. and company want to combine (2) and (3) and focus on the technical details of those (for discussions on these dynamics, see here and here in Bloomberg. Read CFR Michael Levi’s blog and FT column for a more extended discussion here. NRDC’s Jake Schmidt has a three part series on Switchboard here).

If it wasn’t clear, I’m sympathetic to the U.S. point of view. I don’t see belabored negotiations about treaties that aren’t going to happen to be at all useful.

So, how is it all going to end?
Your guess is as good as mine. My most hopeful faux headline from above is the one from The Onion or maybe the first one on the Green Climate Fund. If there is drama at this meeting, that would likely be bad. I don’t see how the U.S. can be shamed into action internationally without a domestic consensus at home. That brings us back to domestic politics and the need for smarter climate strategies here at home, getting angry, going right, or something altogether different. 
* Actually, members of our research team from the Climate Change and African Political Stability Program are presenting our work at some side events
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Spoiler Alert! Latest Episode of ‘Dictator Survivor: Africa’

For all you fans of ‘Dictator Survivor: Africa,’ the forthcoming episode is sure to be the most dramatic one yet. Before this year, fans had gotten tired of some of the story lines and characters (I mean it seems obvious that Mugabe will win, so why bother watching right?), but this last season the international community producers have really intervened to make things more interesting.

Forget about Charles Tayor. Sure he was considered at one time to be the front runner in the dictatorship survival race- from the beginning he was named one of the Top Ten African Dictators of all time (no, really). He had it all: rebel forces in more than one country, massive diamond wealth, and illegal elections. Remember his bio episode when he talked about escaping from a US prison so he could return to rule the country? What about the shots of his election campaign where we learned that his slogan was ‘He Killed My Ma, He Killed my Pa, I’ll Vote for Him‘ (seriously). Even when Taylor was indicted voted off, producers continued to pursue his story line. They brought in celebrity guests to spruce up ratings when audiences grew tired of his Special Court trial, which continues to drag on. Bringing in Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow with the whole diamond drama was pure reality TV genius. Bitchy drama, big rocks= high ratings.
Then we had Hosni Mubarak- no one thought he would leave so soon and most assumed his sons would join the cast.
But the real story is Gaddafi…

What a spoiler! Most audience members were convinced that he and Mugabe had formed an alliance that would assure they remained the last dictators standing. However, a few weak efforts in the regular Survivor challenges (control of the media, for one) has left Gaddafi all but assured of losing his place. What will the producers do without Gaddafi? His sexy female guards, the speculation about his ever-changing hair and face (check out the before and after photos), the costumes that seemed part Bea Arthur from Golden Girls and part Jesus Christ Superstar…can the show go on without him? Luckily the producers are dragging his exit from the show out over several episodes. Recently, an element of humor has been added to the story line, with a key Gaddafi spokesperson being caught dressed as a woman trying to flee the country. Audiences have also been taken on a virtual roller coaster with teasers about Gaddafi’s location: he was getting on a South African plane, he was underground in a bunker, he fled to Niger, he’s at the Algerian border…what will happen in the real finale?
Stay tuned for the developments. If history past seasons are any indication, even if Gaddafi is indicted voted off it will likely be another few years before he gets his own spin-off series goes to trial. Viewers will remember that Taylor was voted off in 2003 and didn’t get his series trial until 2006. This drama is now in the 6th season, with international attention viewership dropping drastically after the Naomi Campbell episode.
So fans may need to stay committed for the long haul. Luckily, for Mugabe, all the diversion in attention has meant that he has crept even further in the Survivor lead, with more years, more financial ruin, and more human rights violations than ever. Unfortunately, he may outlast the show.
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Is there a time and place for (humanitarian) shock and awe?

Don’t feel bad though. It’s disempowering.

Look. I get the whole ‘stop the portrayal of Africans as victims’ debate. I really do. Empowerment and portrays of empowerment are important.

But I can’t help but be slightly frustrated with this entry at UN Dispatch which discusses the “shock and awe” approach to fundraising for disasters.

Penelope Chester (apparently a professional Canadian humanitarian) quotes Peter Gill (who has written on the Ethiopian Famine) stating that the West :

certainly has no proper answers to the conflicts and dislocation that lead to starvation and deathIn northern Kenya, to which so many thousands of Somali pastoralists have fled in recent months, the West does have an answer of sorts – it can feed people in the world’s largest refugee camp, in the thin expectation of better times back across the border.

And that:

Ethiopia must keep addressing the image of destitution and the reality that too often underpins it, but it needs to promote other images as well. Instead of the risk of starvation, it also needs to be able to draw attention to impressive annual economic growth figures. Instead of food hand-outs, it also needs to be able to emphasise its big drive for inward investment.

She then comments:

In highlighting Gill’s argument, I’m not suggesting that the international community should eschew necessary emergency aid and interventions to help protect vulnerable populations. Instead, I think there is an important truth in the notion that images of Africa as a continent full of powerless victims are part of a vicious cycle of irresponsibility.
Aid and international organizations, western donors (governments and individuals) and African governments are caught in a western-centric approach to humanitarian relief, where the effective mobilization of funds and good will seems to be proportionate to the inevitability of a crisis. In other words, there is still a lot to be done to appropriately deal with threats and improve local capacity to prevent famines – whether it be through the development of strong early prevention systems, improved strategic food reserves or improving access to agricultural and pastoral technology. The Guardian’s concluding paragraph in an editorial on this issue captures the sentiment: “As it is, aid agencies race from one drought to another. And the fact that the shortfall in WFP funding is 42% in Somalia, and 67% in Ethiopia and Kenya, speaks volumes about the mentality of donors who are only moved to act when it is too late.”

I suppose my biggest frustrations with the argument are twofold.

First, I can’t figure out who this is aimed at. The West? The media? Aid agencies? Donors? Who? Who is supposed to change this? And how and when?

Second, the “world weary” humanitarian lecturing tone to people that I can only assume are actually trying to feed some starving people. Yes, you think you’re doing a good thing, but really you’re not. You’re perpetuating an evil stereotype when you feel bad for those people on television.

It’s true – the West has a very strange view of Africa and famine. I need only look at my family, the people around me and my own memories to see this. Noting someone’s thinness, my Grandmother comments that they look like a “Biafran”. Some of my first memories are listening to “The Tears are Not Enough” on the radio to raise funds for the Ethiopian Famine in the 1980s. (It was Canada’s “We are the World”. It’s terrible, but had the cast of Les Miserables!). And one of my students made a comment about someone looking like a starving Darfurian a few months back. It’s like we can trace generations via the famines that have been marketed to them by aid agencies.

I also accept, that as Alana Tiemessen blogged here earlier this year that photos without context and understanding can strip individuals of their dignity. As she points out, the pictures (like the one used in this post) do not help us “understand the causes and conditions of state failure and nor do they prescribe solutions. They simply invite shock and awe.”

So I’m not saying this isn’t an issue. But as these aid agencies trying to raise funds in an emergency situation/impending famine, is it really the time to start explaining to my parents the dynamics of African development? Or give narratives of empowerment? Would these same narratives have raised £6 million in a few days? I’m all for re-thinking our portrayal of Africa, but I don’t think Chester’s arguments really answers these questions.

Is this a simplification of her argument? Possibly. In defence of Chester I suspect that she is thinking in the mid-to-long term rather than the immediate present. But there is also a real note of hypocrisy in the air: Oxfam’s internal reports may say: “The world is moving away from a western-inspired, UN-centric model of humanitarian action to one which is much more diverse and localised, and sustainable. This is both a trend and a desirable outcome.” But a visit to its website today said in gigantic red banner: “The worst food crisis of the century has left more than 12 million people in East Africa in desperate need of food and water. Support our biggest ever emergency appeal for Africa”. Not so much empowerment then, just trying to feed people.

Which is probably what they should be doing.

PS: I’m not a famine/African expert so happy to hear why I’m very, very wrong on this by Duck readers. 

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What you should know about ‘Right to Know’

While WikiLinks is dumping information from the US military all over the internets, the South African government is taking some rather disturbing steps to ensure that citizens, citizens and pretty much everyone in between will not have the right to access any information deemed a threat to “national security”.  What kind of information threatens national security? Well, according to the “Protection of Information Bill”, pretty much whatever government (local, regional, national) decides. It’s a dangerously vague bill that could possibly do great harm to South Africa. I don’t think I need to go into great detail why so much government control over information is a bad thing. I’m not an African politics specialist, but I’ve been chatting about it with my very cool historian friend Sarah Duff, who gave me the following run-down of the main issues below that I thought I would share with Duck readers as this story, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention outside of South Africa. If nothing else, how could you possibly resist a movement with a logo of a crumpled vuvuzela?

Last month the Minister for State Security, Bheki Cwele, announced to the Ad Hoc Committee currently steering the controversial Protection of Information Bill through the South African Parliament that ‘secrecy is the oil which lubricates our democracy.’ While not only an icky choice of metaphor, Cwele’s positioning of secrecy at the heart of South African democracy runs counter to the ideals embodied by our Constitution, and is also ‘against the spirit of 1994’, as struggle veteran and former cabinet minister Kader Asmal remarked last week. If it is passed in its current form, the Protection of Information Bill will empower state employees – in government departments, parastatals, local government councils, and state agencies – to classify all and any information as secret without having to provide reasons for doing so.

This Bill has been introduced on the grounds that South Africa’s ‘national interest’ needs to be better protected by allowing the state to make ‘sensitive’ information secret. But partly because of the Bill’s very vague definition of ‘national interest’, it is clear that its reach is far wider than ensuring South Africa’s security. (It is also debatable whether South Africa needs this legislation when other laws, such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act, make allowance for the classification of sensitive information.) By allowing government officials to classify all state-held information, by increasing the penalty for being in possession of classified information to imprisonment to up to 25 years, and by refusing to include a ‘public interest’ clause, the Bill will have profound implications for the work done by journalists and whistleblowers. In fact, the Bill is unconstitutional, as it contradicts Section 32 of the Constitution which enshrines the right to access information.

Although the media has drawn attention to the Bill’s potential to stifle freedom of speech and expression, the Bill’s impact will be felt by all South Africans, and will have a disproportionate effect on those people who rely heaviest on the state for support. It was for this reason that the Right2Know Campaign was launched at the end of August. Representing more than 400 civil society organisations and 10,000 individuals who have signed the Campaign’s petition, Right2Know campaigns against the introduction of what we call the Secrecy Bill: a piece of legislation which will transform South Africa into a secretive and paranoid society. Our week of action against the Bill was launched with a silent march to Constitution Hill on 19 October – to coincide with commemorations of ‘Black Wednesday’ when, in 1977, the apartheid government banned three newspapers on the grounds of the protection of the national interest – and will culminate with marches to Parliament in Cape Town and the Durban City Hall on 27 October. Our branches in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban have put on a range of seminars, workshops, cultural evenings, and even a symbolic funeral for free speech.

Political commentator Richard Calland has described Right2Know as ‘very remarkable, and very significant’, and the Campaign has made political waves. During his second presentation to Parliament on Friday, Cwele condemned the campaign’s actions and giggled nervously as Right2Know campaigners lined the walls of the meeting room. But he turned a deaf ear to the Campaign’s concerns. We only have one chance to stop this Bill, and from preventing South Africa from becoming a society of secrets. We will make ourselves heard loudly – so that not even the deafest government can ignore us.

For more on Right2Know, see www.right2know.org.za and check out their twitter here

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Debates in Canadian Foreign Pol… Wait! Don’t leave!

I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland this week for the Political Studies Association Conference so my attention to all things blogging and internet is a bit short. However, as the Duck’s official Canadian ex-pat guest-poster, I did want to post this video (transcript here) of Robert Fowler, a former senior Canadian diplomat who gave a rather scathing critique of Canadian foreign policy at a conference this past weekend in Montreal.

No wait – don’t leave! Trust me on this one.

In it, he basically blasts both major political parties for their failure to enact any worthwhile international policies beyond that of short-sighted, narrowly defined and selfish national interest. It’s kind of like the equivalent of zombie Adlai Stevenson standing up at the Democratic National Convention and telling all of the politicos that they are full of it. (Although I don’t think that Fowler has ever run for office.)

Okay, I realize that controversies in Canadian foreign policy ain’t exactly an easy sell (or at all interesting) for non-Canadian (or even Canadian) audiences. But there are some really interesting points here for the politics of middle powers and IR theory/policy generally.


  1. Fowler is making a clear case for an idealist-driven foreign policy. He’s an experienced diplomat who helped to bring about the Kimberly Process to help curb trade in blood diamonds. He also spent a good chunk of the last two years being held hostage by radical Islamic groups in Western Africa. He’s not naive. Yet, to his credit, I think he asserts his case in a powerful and pragmatic way.
  2. His argument rests on the idea that Canada does have an international role to play and a duty to the international community. Certainly, Fowler is not the first to put this argument forward, but he’s the first Canadian leader I’ve heard really articulate it in a long time. (Whether or not it’s true, however, is another story.) While the US often speaks of its leadership role, I can’t think of an American politician speaking of duties in this way. Is this just a Canadian thing? (Like when Dean Acheson called us “the stern daughter of the voice of God”?)
  3. Fowler says that Canada and its western allies simply do not have the ability to stomach the losses and resources required to win in Afghanistan and therefore the war is lost. He suggests that basically that we should cut our losses and leave – but turn our attention to Africa and international development, suggesting it is the only way to really stop al-Qaida from spreading. I find this interesting, because in some ways development in Africa is surely as difficult (if not more so) than nation building in Afghanistan. Certainly we’ve been trying to develop states there for years without much to show for it. I’m not sure he made the case that this is any more realistic or a viable alternative.
  4. Fowler is staking his own version of the “Israel Lobby” in the speech – suggesting that the Tories (the current political party in power) are supporting Israeli policies over the traditional “balanced” view that has been taken by Canada in the Middle East. He suggests that this is because the Tories are trying appeal to Jewish voters (and that the Liberals are also guilty to some extent here as well.) To Fowler, this means that Canada cannot play a useful role in the Middle East. I’ve heard this complaint from Canadian diplomatic-types before (that we were undermining our position), but this is the first major statement I’ve heard spoken so prominently. However, I do have to wonder if Canada (other than the Suez crisis) has ever really played a useful role in the Middle East? I must profess some level of ignorance on the subject here.

There is plenty more in the speech, but I’ll leave it on those four points. He has, so far, received praise from both the left and the right in the press. But also some really harsh criticism.

I have a lot of respect for Fowler, even if I feel inclined to disagree with him on Afghanistan (and possibly his arguments on the Middle East). I had the opportunity to meet him once when he was Canada’s representative on the UN Security Council in 1999. One very much had the impression that he was very interested in African issues then as much as now and that he was proud of his work in trying to stop blood diamonds.

But the fact that this speech, coming from someone who was also a senior UN diplomat, is so critical about Canada, Canadian foreign policy – at a time when Canada is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council may actually put a serious damper on any attempt to actually get it. He openly says that Canada does not deserve the seat – and I would think that all Portugal would have to do would be to show this speech around in order to bolster its attempt to get on the Council.

It’s probably the best case I’ve heard put forward for an idealist-driven foreign policy – even if it is in scathing terms (the line about “Own the Podium” – OUCH!). If nothing else, it was a speech that was honest and informed – something that always seems to be lacking nowadays.

So if you’re just dying to know how a middle power debates its foreign policy – you’re welcome.

As for me, I’ll probably be returning to my regularly scheduled program of blowy-uppy-things next week.

But first I am going to have to try and survive the crazy weather up here.

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The sources of Uganda’s anti-gay bias


The NY Times ran a story this morning on how three American evangelical Christians influenced the gay death penalty bill now pending in Uganda.

While the emphasis in the story is on the influence of the American evangelical Christians, there is a line in the NYTimes article that deserves more attention:

Many Africans view homosexuality as an immoral Western import, and the continent is full of harsh homophobic laws. In northern Nigeria, gay men can face death by stoning. (my emphasis)

Likewise, Andrew Sullivan picks up the story and blasts the Americans. But he too has a line that is added without comment:

…in Africa, the public consensus is so anti-gay already that the consequences of this demonization are felt much more immediately and brutally.

This begs the question: Where do all these laws and the anti-gay public consensus in Africa come from?

In his 2002 book titled The Next Christendom: the coming of global Christianity, Philip Jenkins from Penn State University noted that nearly one third of the planet (just over 2 billion people) are Christians with the most rapid growth in past several decades coming in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He notes that by 2025, both Africa and Latin America likely will have more Christians than Europe and all three continents will far outpace North America.

Because of the degree of poverty in the global south, for the past several decades many American commentators have simply assumed that the religion of the developing world would move toward a more fervent liberation theology with a focus on global redistribution of wealth.

Yet, Jenkins finds a different trend:

At present, the most immediately apparent difference between the older and new churches is that South Christians are far more conservative in terms of both beliefs and moral teaching. The denominations that are triumphing all across the global South are stalwartly traditional or even reactionary by the standards of the economically advanced nations. The churches that have made most dramatic progress in the global South have been either Roman Catholic, of a traditionalist and fideistic kind, or radical Protestant sects, evangelical or Pentecostal….

…These newer churches preach deep personal faith and communal orthodoxy, mysticism and Puritanism, all founded on clear scriptural authority. They preach messages that, to a Westerner, appear simplistically charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic…..On present evidence, a Southernized Christian future should be distinctly conservative.

While we may be able to trace the specific influence of this pending legislation to the visit of three American evangelical Christians, the broader trend of anti-gay bias throughout the continent is almost certainly rooted in the rise of more traditionalist, conservative theology. And, if Jenkins’ demographic projections are correct, the rise of this traditionalist theology throughout the global South will have much broader socio-political effects throughout the world in the years to come….

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Joking cousins

The most recent Utne Reader includes a short piece from Katie Krueger about the practice of “joking cousins” in Senegal:

This means that whenever we meet, as a sign of friendliness, we insult each other without hesitation. Every ethnic group in Senegal has at least one or two joking cousin groups, so meeting one is rare enough to be a delight but common enough that it is protocol.

Professor Brett O’Bannon of DePauw University (a former graduate student of mine) has written an academic paper arguing that such “joking relationships” are threatened by the forces of globalization. Yet, he notes, these localized relationships ordinarily play important roles in maintaining peaceful order in some societies.

In a short blurb describing his academic work, O’Bannon explains that the “joking relationship”

“binds families, clans or even whole ethnic groups into ties of imagined kinship. For example, when two people of the Ndiaye and Diop families (quite common family names in the Senegambia) meet, they are required to ‘dis’ each other. That is, they insult each others’ family heritage, eating habits, you name it. It’s pretty funny stuff, actually. The important thing is that they are not only required to engage in these insulting exchanges, but they are equally obligated not to take offense.”

“For one, these fictive relationships have been known to bring an end to quite serious conflicts. I document an instance in which a rebel group in southern Senegal actually released a carload of hostages because the driver successfully pleaded for their lives in the name of the Serer-Diola joking relationship. The Serer and Diola are two ethnic groups bound by a mutual pact of non-aggression, so to speak. The rebels in question are mainly from the Diola group and the terms of their joking relationship prohibit the spilling of the other’s blood. The potential for these kinds of indigenous institutions of self governance is significant.”

Apparently, the practice is fairly common throughout Africa — though O’Bannon’s field work (like Krueger‘s travel) has been based in Senegal.

In the Occasional Paper, O’Bannon views joking relationships as “quintessential indigenous governance institutions,” particularly important because rural Senegal faces conditions consistent with state collapse. Farmers and herders, for example, find themselves increasingly in conflict over natural resources. O’Bannon explains that neoliberal economic policies have wrought changes in rural Senegal that impose barriers between herders and ranchers that did not previously exist — individual property rights claims, for instance, which limit access to land. In his words, “the ties between these putative cousins are fraying.”

I find this practice an interesting supplement to my ongoing work on the comedy of global politics. In Medieval and other historical contexts, the court jester was similarly allowed to make jokes at the expense of the king — without fear of retribution. I see these as important elements in critical IR theory.

Note: the Krueger story originally appeared at World Hum.

I also fixed the typo in the title. Blogger doesn’t seem to identify spelling errors in the title.

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Djibouti and Eritrea


Did you know that Djibouti is in the midst of a border conflict with Eritrea? I didn’t, and for that I blame American news outlets. According to the BBC, French troops are providing logistical and medical support to Djibouti’s forces. The United States has condemned “Eritrean aggression.”.

Eritrea, for its part, has condemned “‘US meddling’ in the Horn of Africa.”. Which presumably refers not just to the large US base in Djibouti (Camp Lemonier), but to its backing of Ethiopia and its related proxy (as well as direct) activities in Somalia.


Given the creation of AFRICOM, the fact that Africa remains one of the least politically stable regions in the world, and the growing importance of the continent to the “War on Terror,” we should expect to see more conflicts in which the United States plays some kind of role or, at least, has some stake in the outcome.

The French, of course, have often engaged in direct military action–of one form or another–on the continent.

Image from the US Department of State.

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How soft can power be?


Last summer, I noted the significance of the Pentagon’s creation of an Africa Command in the unified command plan. My conclusion then was:

By creating such a high-profile position for Africa, the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and the US Government as a whole, will see Africa in a whole new light.

On Monday, the Washington Post ran an article based on analysis of a CRS Report on the new command (You can read the entire CRS Report here).

There are two broad issues here that I think merit discussion and reflect more than just the basic reorganization of boxes on the Pentagon’s Org chart.

First is the concern over the militarization of US policy toward Africa.

The creation of the Defense Department Africa Command, with responsibilities to promote security and government stability in the region, has heightened concerns among African countries and in the U.S. government over the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, according to a newly released study by the Congressional Research Service.

AFRICOM would have traditional responsibilities of a combat command “to facilitate or lead [U.S.] military operations” on the continent, but would also include “a broader ‘soft power’ mandate aimed at preemptively reducing conflict and would incorporate a larger civilian component to address those challenges,” according to the CRS study.

Fear that it could represent a first step toward more U.S. troops in Africa led [Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy] to assure African leaders that the “principal mission will be in the area of security cooperation and building partnership capability. It will not be in warfighting.”

As has been discussed often on this blog, usually by Dan, the US role as hegemon with a global order / empire to manage has required a number of US policy and grand strategy shifts in recent years. The US has become more involved militarily in more corners of the globe, not only fighting terrorism, but also enforcing and maintaining the current global order. Africa, long ignored in this process, now gets its own military command, allowing the Pentagon to further extend US military interests in Africa. Given the power of the Pentagon in the current Administration, its highly likely that under the new Command, the Pentagon’s priorities for Africa will come to dominate the US Government’s priorities and policies toward Africa, thereby increasing the militarization of US Foreign Policy.

However, the interesting line above is:

also include “a broader ‘soft power’ mandate aimed at preemptively reducing conflict and would incorporate a larger civilian component to address those challenges,”

How soft can power be? Nye’s idea of soft power rests on getting people to want what you want so that one can achieve outcomes without having to resort to military or economic force. Unresolved in Nye’s definition, I think, is the very question raised by AFRICOM–can the military employ ‘soft power?’ Is soft power defined by the tools used to realize it, making it a cultural/media/internet type phenomenon, or is soft power defined by the way one exercises power over another–in this case, allowing for the possibility that the military might be the organization that is best able to convey values and ideas to other actors.

The US Military has a very mixed record on this front. On the one hand, military engagement programs have been very very effective in helping to transform former communist countries into Western-European, NATO allied market democracies. These engagement programs have been all run out of EUCOM, so creating an AFRICOM might similarly duplicate this success in Africa. Moreover, the military may in fact be one of the most powerful social institutions (for good or ill) in many African countries, so using soft power to spread certain ideas through the military could be a good way to reach more (and more important) people than working through some other social network. On the other hand, the military does like to see and solve military problems, and its hard to see how a special forces A-team or IMET money will make serious progress in sustainable agriculture, clean water, or combating HIV-AIDS.

Second is the change in US bureaucratic politics:

A State Department civilian official is to be one of the two deputy commanders of AFRICOM, though that official would not be in the chain of command on military operations, according to the CRS report. In addition, more than one-third of AFRICOM headquarters personnel would be from outside the Pentagon. Defense officials told CRS that “the new command will seek greater interagency coordination with the State Department, USAID and other government agencies,” according to the report.

Now this is very interesting. In my earlier piece on AFRICOM, I noted that having a high-profile, well funded bureaucratic organization within the government to generate knowledge, raise and define issues, advocate for positions, and implement programs would change the way the US government sees Africa. Now, there already is one person who ostensibly does this: Jendayi E. Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I never heard of her either until I looked up that link. Compare her stature and resources to those of the eventual three or four star flag officer who will assume command of AFRICOM, and under Goldwater-Nichols report directly to the National Command Authority–The President and Secretary of Defense. Add, on top of that, the rise of the Unified Command Combatant Commanders in recent years and the rise of the Pentagon within the national security bureaucracy under the current administration, and you have a very strong new player on African Issues who will probably come to dominate the agenda (leading to the worries of militarization above).

But, notice how ‘inter-agency’ the new command is supposed to be. Having a State Department official as a Deputy Commander will create a new role in the diplomatic corps and give State and other civilian agencies a huge say in the Command’s activities. Having one third of staff from non-military agencies, including USAID, suggests that AFRICOM may very well start to champion inter-agency cooperation on African issues and perhaps might even be able to raise the profile of key development issues on the continent. Of course, there is the price of securitizing development, AIDS, and the like, but the lesson in Washington is that this is how things get done these days. Perhaps the new, inter-agency make up of the Command will lead to a ‘softer’ military presence, and engagement in non-military or partially military development and capacity building activities.

Do you think it would make a difference if a 4-star general in full uniform heads up to the Hill to testify on behalf of an increase in the 150 account (the foreign aid budget) for development in Africa?

If this model works, it could very well serve as a model for future government reforms, where inter-agency cooperation and coordination is a key need. Look no farther than Iraq where DoD, State, and everyone else couldn’t get along and it turned into a colossal disaster (as Dan just pointed out). Key agencies worked at cross-purposes to the detriment of the government’s policy agenda. Worse, they failed to learn from each other, ignoring key bits of knowledge, expertise, and insight that could have prevented many of the worst elements of the post-invasion occupation from happening. Granted–the failings of the inter-agency process in Iraq were as much the result of fighting among principles, not line-workers, but having some more State Dept and AID folks on Frank’s staff might have helped them just a bit when the “planned” the invasion.

So, I think the creation of this new Command and the way in which its being done will have far-reaching affects–on how the US sees the world, develops policy, and goes about its business as a national security state.

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