Monthly Archives: March 2010

Refugees for all Regions in the Congo!

While the Eastern DRC tends to have a monopoly on all this crisis related, the Equator Province in the West is starting to compete. Jason Stearns of CongoSiasa provides an excellent background on a situation that has finally garnered its own map, which includes a brief history of the issues and bathroom-like symbol representations for displacement rates:

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Friday Afternoon Africana

Because Tanzanian-Danish hybrid band Mzungu Kichaa produce really good Swahili hip-hop:

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This Week in the Great Lakes

1. Ben Affleck launches the the Eastern Congo Initiative; Angeline Jolie pissed that he is competing for pictures of Congolese children with her.

2. Charles Petrie becomes new head of United Nations Mission to Burundi; UN continues to relocate heads of missions to get kicked out of one country to another.

3. Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire arrested, forced to leave country, then forced to stay in country; government thinking of putting her in celebrity-house-arrest spot with Laurent Nkunda.

4. DRC might have 11 billion in debt forgiven so that they can take out more loans and accumulate new debt.

5. Belgium doubles election funding to Burundi; more election conferences with lobster on the docket.

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MONUC: The Least Worse Option

Over at Reuters, Frank Nyakairu talks with 3 Congo experts on what MONUC’s departure from the DRC means for the country. Nyakairu asks the fundamental question:

Can DR Congo do without MONUC?

Guillaume Lacaille: The government wants to demonstrate, one year after the 2011 elections, that they can do this by themselves. But without MONUC, this election period we are now getting in to will be very chaotic. MONUC helped carry out those elections in 2006. Without MONUC, credible elections will be impossible to hold.

Alex Vines: This is politics and President Kabila Junior is feeling more assertive and is making these sorts of statements. The situation in DR Congo is not yet contained. It would be premature to see a full pull-out of MONUC. This is a kind of posturing position by the Kabila administration ahead of the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence from Belgium.

Andrew Phillips: I think it’s a very reckless request to be made by the government and I am worried that the U.N. is not going to be robust enough to say no. They have already agreed to a phased withdrawal and this could have very grave risks for the civilian population. You just need to know who the civilian population turns to when they are attacked – it’s the U.N.

The overwhelming consensus is that while it may be easy to dislike MONUC, the country will be worse off without it. Everybody agrees that the DRC needs to rebuild political institutions, outfit a proper military, hold credible elections, and do all of those other non-failed-state things. But MONUC can’t do this, which means extending the force’s tour is a temporary response to a long-term problem. However, extending MONUC’s tour might be the least worse option until policymakers and scholars can come up with a better than befuddled response:

How can peace be achieved while retaining DR Congo’s sovereignty?

Guillaume Lacaille: Just like the head of DPKO (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations) suggested to the Congo government, there should be benchmarks before MONUC leaves. The DPKO is trying to engage the government and the presidency in this kind of discussion but it’s not easy. They need to bridge that discrepancy because if they don’t there will be more trouble along the way.

Alex Vines: In the long-term, Congo won’t need U.N. operations. MONUC had its problems but there is a vacuum and a lack of alternatives. There are things MONUC can still contribute to. Progress in security sector reform and stabilisation of eastern Congo remain problematic areas that may still warrant the expertise of MONUC. But I also understand that Congo cannot have MONUC there indefinitely.

Andrew Phillips: The government has resented the degree of political influence held by MONUC and the international community. I think we need to get the African Union more involved in Congo. It is inconceivable to contemplate the withdrawal of MONUC, when there are a sizeable number of armed groups in northeastern Congo. People need to address the protection challenges that remain, to make sure that there are reforms in the security sector. The Congolese army and the police must be capable of ensuring security and ensuring maximum respect for human rights. Part of this role is currently being played by MONUC.

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Corruption = Dead Babies

During this past week’s blog-silence, I checked in on how enumerator karaoke skills translate in data collection and also found out that corruption causes baby death:

Karaoke skills: 1, Baby Death: 0.

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Friday Afternoon Africana

Because Tanzanian singer songwriter Ashimba relaxes Swahili Coast rhythms to produce excellent beats:

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Clean Coltan?

Over at Foreign Policy, Africa activist and celebrity-whisperer John Prendergast says there is a “Light at The End of the Tunnel in Congo“. Prendergast thinks the two bills before the House and Senate about extractive mineral regulation in the DRC and increasing consumer consciousness about coltan could radically change the dynamics of the conflict. Why?

For decades, this illegal economy has thrived in the shadows. Atrocities committed against Congo’s civilian populations are both a means of social control and retribution for the perceived support of military (and hence commercial) opponents. It’s all about controlling the minerals and gaining a handsome profit. And until this logic of unaccountable, violent, illegal mineral extraction changes, all the peacekeepers and peacemakers in the world will have very little impact on the levels of violence there.

But, what’s the mechanism at work that changes this reality?

If these stars align, it may well be the opportunity that Congo needs to finally bring transparency, legality, and security to its minerals trade. Together, all this would fundamentally alter the incentives that are today fueling conflict. Commercial actors might change their behavior, worried that a potential boycott would cut profits and make things more difficult for everyone who is currently benefiting. Central African governments could clean up their act or face International Criminal Court indictments, United Nations sanctions, and other scarlet letters. Electronics and jewelry companies would demand best practices or face increasing negative publicity about their “hear no evil, see no evil” mentality when it comes to the cries of Congo’s women and girls.

Prendergast is on shaky ground. While consumer activism can be powerful, it rarely stops wars, especially when luxury goods with substitutes aren’t the target. Which is why coltan is entirely different from diamonds. There is no good substitute for coltan, which is a super-conductor found in near all technology. Consumers can’t voice their power over industry by opting-out of the market.  Prendergast isn’t going to stop making cell phone calls because he can’t and because he can’t, consumer activism becomes mere tokenism.

Compounding the inability to make consumer activism credible is the fact that coltan is alluvial. Mining coltan does not require intensive industry. Rather, small shops can set up fairly profitable extractive rings, which are mobile and require little capital. Regulating these types of industries effectively is like playing the whac-a-mol game – as soon as one provider is regulated, he’ll be forced to leave in order to compete with other providers.

This makes it nearly impossible to effectively certify coltan in the same way diamonds were certified by the Kimberely process. In other words, the idea of genocide-free cell phones is basically whimsical. Prendergast does get the underlying argument right: you have to change the incentives on the ground to stop the war. However, catchy activism isn’t enough, you’ve actually got to understand the economics behind the argument.

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