Monthly Archives: March 2009

Volcanic Activity for Everyone!

The newest work hazard in the Eastern DRC: Hot Lava. I opened up my Goma office e-mail this morning to receive a letter from L’Observatoire Volcanologique de Goma warning of a “lake of active lava in the Nyirangongo volcano,” that you know, might explode. While the Observatory claims the recent  volcanic activity doesn’t represent a serious danger to local populated areas, Reuters reports:

“Red Cross volunteers are on alert to help the population, which still has memories of the (2002) eruption … which displaced around 400,000 people,” Zebe Kitabingo, head of the local chapter of the Congolese Red Cross, said in a statement.

Nothing quite like a bit of volcanic activity to keep humanitarian workers on their toes, and of course, screw the local population.



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Pacman, Gone Virtual Lawyer

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has entered the virtual world of international law.  In an effort to increase public knowledge about the law, she has founded Our Courts, an organization dedicated to fostering democratic participation and 21st century civics. However, 21st century civics seems a lot like virtual colonialism. Grab your joystick and play Guardian of the Law to “spread the rule of law to a fictional world.”

After leaving the land of law, you enter a dilapidated landscape of broken houses in which you grab loose diamonds to ‘gain legal knowledge,’ and combat disorder and chaos. Through logic, and possibly snatching up local resources, you bring law to the destitute locals. When you plant your flag in the middle of the community, Law, in the form of a continuously spreading red glow, seeps into the surroundings, rehabilitating local structures and sprouting fresh flowers.

The virtual exercise of bringing law to decrepit communities by planting your flag and snatching up diamonds falsely represents how legal institutions are cultivated and cultures of individual rights established. The game visually implies that spreading law is like bringing light to dark places. It implies that impoverished communities have no law, no organizing system of social checks and balances for those who transgress. It falls back on colonial tropes of civilizing lands without law, which has been awesomely effective in Africa.

It teaches our youth that spreading the law actually makes flowers sprout. And that’s problematic.

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Springtime in the Congo

According to Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills, There is No Congo. So, in their Foreign Policy article, Herbst and Mills propose a new policy approach towards the Eastern DRC:unvehicle

A more realistic foreign policy toward eastern Congo would assign a high priority to Rwandan security interests, given that many derive from the wake of the 1994 genocide. Get this right and there might actually be a chance to reduce the violence that has haunted the Kivus. It would also incentivize the Rwandans to see Congo as a natural partner in trade and development rather than a security problem to be managed unilaterally.

Séverine Autesserre, a Great Lakes specialist and professor at Bard, offered her opinion at the Politic on Congolese-Rwandan relations in a recent interview .  Her more explicit and slightly more aggressive take is that:

The U.S. and U.K. can do what countries like Norway, Sweden and Holland have been good at practicing; that is, whenever Rwanda is accused by the UN of fueling the conflict in Congo, these countries withrdaw aid. It’s a symbolic and material sanction… I definitely agree that we should rethink Western aid policy to Rwanda.

And, remember that guy, ex-president of a really populous African nation who is supposed to be handling the crisis? He did an interview too. Olusegun Obasanjo, UN Special Envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, made everybody feel better about the future of the Congo when he explained:

I have no message for Rwanda. I have peace mission in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. I have peace mission in the whole of Great Lakes region. Now, I don’t tell Rwandan government or Congo’s government what they should do.

Peace is kind of hard when you don’t have a message, no?

It should be a pleasant springtime in the Congo, or at least make March and April a great month for interviews and articles.

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Extractive Mining Lesson of the Day

jn_congo_03Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced that it will rubbing Congolese mines in a lot of money. A 195.5 Million USD injection into the DRC will stabilize resource prices (read: coltan, copper, and all other well-regulated, rights respecting labour markets) from the global financial crisis and increased fighting in the east.  The IMF will fight weakening export revenue and falling commodity prices.  Bloomerg reminds us how important these measures are urgent given that:

Several mining projects in Congo, which holds a third of the world’s cobalt reserves and 4 percent of all copper, have been scaled down or put on hold, curbing economic growth.

The Extractive Mining Lesson of the Day:  To stabilize the Democratic Republic of Congo, secure markets, and regulate extraction,  throw lots of money at rebel-run mines that abuse workers and illegally export resources to exploitative partners.

(Photo complements of James Nachtwey‘s Can Change Come to the Congo)

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Washing Your Hair in Voinjama


Liberian Sun: faster than a blowdryer.

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Three Cheers for Anglo-Medieval Sounding Awards in Africa

kagame_1At the first International Colloquium on Women held in Monrovia this past weekend, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf bestowed on Rwandan president Paul Kagame an unbelievably awesome title:

The Distinction of the Grand Cordon in the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of Pioneers

Personally, I think its his King-Arthur-like golden circular rims that make Kagame seem like a pioneer.

The big question though:  Will Kagame’s profile on his personal government webpage be updated to include this myspace-sounding distinction? More importantly, will Congolese president Jospeh Kabila start addressing Kagame as Mr. Grand Cordon in the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of Pioneers?


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Enumerators, Monkeys, and Crackers, Oh My!

During the 6 week and now-over silence on this blog, I somehow covered 2000 kilometers on 14 motorcycles with 28 academic enumerators in north-east Liberia . Highlights included convincing people to tell us if they were apart of secret societies, eating porcupine, and watching colleagues carry surveys, monkeys, and crackers into confidential and private interviews.


In retrospect, the monkeys probably engendered trust between enumerators and respondents.

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