Thursday, June 28, 2007

Congolese Pygmies in a master/slave dynamic with local Bantu

I just returned from a trip to assess access to basic services (health, education, etc) of Congolese Pygmies in the province of Equateur. They are largely sedentary but have little access to their own land, and work as day laborers in the fields of the Bantu families who 'own' them. An article on the experience can be found here on 3 quarks daily.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Could France’s new odd couple—Sarkozy and Kouchner—spell the end of French privilege for Africa’s most venal?

In the 1960s, post-colonial Africa was the most hopeful place on the planet. Post-partum exuberance in Europe’s former colonies was infectious and abundant. Yet fate has not been kind to sub-Saharan Africa. From Namibia to Guinea to Somalia, the path of most sub-Saharan nations has traced an arc of intimate complicity with the predatory appetites of their former colonial masters. Nowhere has this neo-colonial continuation of anti-development and enrichment by and for the few been more evident than in France’s former colonies.

The nature of governance in these ex-colonies attests to the abiding power of the self-serving instinct and immediate gain, over and against the long-term goal of national progress. Such is the confounding irony of Africa’s entire post-colonial era in nations previously occupied by France, Britain, Portugal and Belgium alike: why is the colonial, predatory model of governance so faithfully re-enacted by ruling African elites? It’s as if all that negative conditioning only succeeded in instilling a predatory instinct in the new ruling class. Why are Mandela-style visions for collective prosperity not more common, given the shared experience of subjugation and occupation across the continent?
read the rest of this article, posted at 3quarksdaily, here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Evaluating hurricane recovery in the US

Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans area early morning August 29, 2005. The storm surge breached the city's levees at multiple points, leaving 80 percent of the city submerged, tens of thousands of victims clinging to rooftops, and hundreds of thousands scattered to shelters around the country. Three weeks later, Hurricane Rita re-flooded much of the area.

As someone who works on disaster relief programs worldwide, I was invited to come for a month and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various projects in New Orleans and Biloxi, two centers of urban devastation. The experience thus far has been surprisingly positive and inspiring, an unexpected antidote to my entrenched cynicism regarding relief efforts in places like Darfur or Congo, where I typically work.

[...] I've pondered over some perhaps facile but nonetheless empirical truths about the dynamic of human response to extreme disasters.

Read the rest of this post at 3 Quarks Daily...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The ICC and the war in northern Uganda

'By today’s measures of geopolitical relevance, Uganda would seem an insignificant country. Its name may trigger a few neuron firings among those who’ve read Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland, or seen its recent film adaptation starring Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.

Ugandans who’ve seen the film are less than delighted. Amin’s son allegedly complained to reporters, “He [Whitaker] doesn’t even look like my father.” More clueful viewers writing in local newspapers claim the film relies on the tired reference of African dysfunction to tell and sell a story to an international audience. Much agreed—although I appreciated the film’s portrayal of complicity with evil as a creeping, dimly conscious evolution, capable of crippling the purest intentions.'
Read more from my April article for 3 Quarks Daily on the war with the LRA and how the ICC indictments and the UN Security Council are affecting change here.

The ICC: ‘A giant without arms or legs’

'A gripping and maddening slow-motion spectacle, last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Situation in Afghanistan (available on C-Span), drifted predictably to Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan as senators and experts grappled over why Afghans, like Iraqis, could not ‘get it together after all we’ve done for them’. Another exasperated senator demanded, uncomprehending of why the hunt for Osama Bin Laden was still inconclusive: ‘Why not raise the price on Osama’s head by a million USD a week?’ It is currently valued at $25 million. Surely more millions would do the trick.'

Read more of a piece I wrote in early March 07 for 3 quarks daily on international justice for war crimes and the ICC experiment here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Evangelical aid agencies finally under scrutiny

Often operating below the radar and marching to their own drum, humanitarian relief efforts funded and implemented by evangelical Christians are a common feature in many of the world's emergencies.

An AP report from Uganda addresses the professionalism and qualifications of one such organization, Samaritan's Purse, led by Franklin Graham, Reverend Billy Graham's son. Billy Graham was described by Time magazine as an American 'hero and icon' of the twentieth century.

The AP story begins:
"Telephone to Jesus. Hello?" the children of Aler refugee camp in northern Uganda sing, their bare feet thumping the ground as they dance wildly in their concrete chapel. Most camp residents have never used a phone, but they are learning about Jesus. The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, smiled as he watched the children — members of a club run by Samaritan's Purse, the Christian missionary organization he leads.

Critics accuse them of taking advantage of vulnerable communities — forcing people to abandon traditional beliefs in exchange for desperately needed goods and medicine. Graham, though, says his group is meeting spiritual as well as physical needs, and he's proud of what has been accomplished.

Read the rest of the story here.

In 2003, Slate reported on Franklin's global vision as informed by his faith. It is worth a read, and starts thus:

"Franklin Graham is the son of Billy Graham and a far more influential figure in the evangelical Christian community than Jerry Falwell or even Pat Robertson. Graham is viewed as the torch-carrier for his father, who is still among the most beloved figures in American Christianity. Moreover, the Graham family is close to Bush. Billy Graham led Bush to Christianity in the 1980s; Franklin Graham delivered the invocation at his presidential inauguration.

In addition to being publicly allied with the Bush administration, Graham also happens to be stridently anti-Islam. His list of anti-Islam comments is long; his most succinct was that Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Guinea: Arising after two decades of civic slumber

From ICG's new report: "Guinea has been dominated for nearly 23 years by the unique figure of General Conté, corrupt and desperate to hold onto his privileges. The opposition to the Conté regime, begun during the general strike at the beginning of the year, has taken a bloody turn and has mutated into an unprecedented popular uprising.

Guinea now faces two possible scenarios. There is still a chance, though a diminishing one, for a negotiated solution involving key Guinean, regional and wider international actors. Alternatively, if the Conté regime continues to rely on military repression, it could rapidly bring Guinea to a dramatic spiral of violence: full popular insurgency, with increasing chaos that is likely to stimulate a military take-over in a blood-bath, leading in turn to a possible civil war comparable to those that have torn apart its neighbours in the past decade and with uncontrollable consequences.

Western governments as well as multinational firms that benefit from the country’s natural resources value political quiet but they would be making a serious mistake if this led them to support, even by passivity, an effort to retain the Conté system (with or without its creator)."

Read more from the new Crisis Group Report on recent events, called "Guinea: Change or Chaos"

BBC is doing some good reporting as well here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Paris: New proscriptions against use of child soldiers

From the Unicef website:

"Fifty-eight countries represented at a high-level conference in Paris today committed themselves to stopping the unlawful recruitment and use of children in
armed conflicts.

[Former child soldier Ishmael Beah holds up the Paris Commitments at the end of the historic ‘Free Children from War’ conference in Paris.]

The Paris Commitments, as they are now known, lay out detailed guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and for providing assistance to those already involved with armed groups or forces. They will complement the political and legal mechanisms already in place at the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court and other bodies trying to protect children from exploitation and violence.

The conference, which was jointly organized by the French Government and UNICEF, attracted dozens of government ministers, donors, the heads of several UN agencies – including UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman – and many non-governmental organizations."

Read more about the Paris conference here.

And read the recent NYT article on Ishmael Beah and his forthcoming memoir called “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” babout life as a child soldier here.