Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Statistics are rank

File under obvious: The developing world loves reports. By that I mean not just the developing world of kind of rich nations, but also people who work in the field of development. (They happen to mostly work in the world of kind of rich nations.) In other words, give me an indictor to measure and I’ll show you two development consultants wrestling over the fine print.

The developing world (of quasi-state like nations of aid) throws these indicators at you. They’re always ranking something: richest, poorest, least likely to send kids to school, most likely to blow up a bus in central Dar es Salaam.

In a way, these rankings work. They make the abstract real. They force us to agree on a common language. They give us something to talk about. (Like the greatest 10 guitarists from Minneapolis or the ten best places to take a dump in Istanbul.)

The problem is, few people ever question the rankings. They may have issues about the statistics that feed those rankings. They may wonder about the assertions made. But count on this: once an order is assembled it may as well be written in stone.

Let’s take the Human Development Index from UNDP. HDI is the granddaddy of them all – think how many decisions get made, how much money gets thrown around, just on the basis of a country’s HDI rank. In fact, I heard that when Niger hit the bottom (number 177 out of 177), the country had the event enshrined on its official stationary: Government of Niger, officially the poorest country in the world.

I don’t know about you, but the folks I hang out with throw these rankings around like stones.

“Mexico: 53. That’s not as bad as I’d thought.”

“Really, aren’t there just a bunch of drug cartels running the country?”

“Slovakia, way up at 42”

“Aren’t they communist?”

Once you start thinking about the rankings, you can kind of see into the UNDP’s arbitrariness. For example, Burkina Faso may be more than 70 points behind the Palestinian Occupied Territories, but let’s talk about quality of life here. Haiti also kicks its butt (154 to 174), but what role does crime rate play? Military coups?

What about the festering war zones? Why are they always ranked higher? Some would say resources gave the country a higher development rating and a greater chance to endure conflict. (Sorry, Iraq isn’t represented on the list. But Congo is. (140). So is Sudan. (141). And Myanar. (130). The list goes on.

Anyway, the reason behind this rant is the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report, which was released this week. On the top spot lies the U.S., which was only six last year. On the bottom we find Chad, which fell 10 points from last year.

Here is an overview of the report: “The rankings are calculated from both publicly available data and the Executive Opinion Survey, a comprehensive annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum together with its network of Partner Institutes (leading research institutes and business organizations) in the countries covered by the Report. This year, over 11,000 business leaders were polled in a record 131 countries.”

Unlike the HDI, where I can dig into the statistics behind the ranking (Palestinian Occupied Territories literacy rate: 92.4 percent; Burkina Faso: 21.8 percent), the World Economic Forum doesn’t let me. I don't get to understand the network of Partner Institutes (Transparency International? The Multinational Monitor?) What exactly did you ask all these business "leaders"?

If I want to dig any deeper, I have to buy the report, which they make quite easy through a site at Amazon in Great Britain. The only sticking point is the asking price: about $134 bucks, but for that they’ll throw in the 12 pillars of competitiveness. (We admit we are powerless over government interference...)

Anyway, I'll have to pass. If I wanted to parse the authors’ fallacies, judgments and inductive arguments, I’ll wait until next year, when I can buy this year’s report: only $40.

For free, they will let you download the .pdf with the rankings. But like the guitarists of Minneapolis, you can only stare at the hard cold facts: USA is 1 and Chad is 131.

Cotton redux: finding a winner

One issue I forgot to bring up during the debate on cotton in West Africa: Who is going to profit the most from the estimated six to 14 percent increase in world cotton prices? Probably not West Africa.

That’s right. If U.S. farmers lose a good portion of their subsidies – and it looks like they will certainly lose something – don’t count on West Africans from picking up the slack from falling U.S. production. That’s because West African cotton has already expanded 10-fold in the past thirty years. However, the region has seen an actual decrease in its yield per hectare.

According to World Bank economist John Baffes, in the 1970/71 harvest, West and Central African cotton farmers produced 109,000 tons of cotton from 644,000 hectares (about 2.4 acres), giving them a yield of 169 kilograms/hectare.

In 1989, the Africans produced 498,000 tons from 1,101,000 hectares, producing a yield of 452. Other than the season of 1990/90, West Africans have not had a yield that large. But it still lagged beyond yields posted for the rest of the world. (In 88/89, the world scored 546.)

The West and Central Africans have doubled production since 88/89, but their yields have not topped 452, which they hit in 2004/05. (They’ve generally been better than 400 for most of this century, however.) Since 2000, world yields are much higher: from 598 to a whopping 744 in 04/05, followed up by 723 two seasons ago.

The question is why have African yields stagnated? It could be bleached soil with the decreasing efficacy of inputs. It also may be also a lack of GM, yes genetically modified crops. American officials always point out that 30 percent of world cotton stocks are now grown genetically. For most Africans, however, GM remains unpalatable.

There’s always the question of technology. The richer countries in the world are pushing aside those countries who can’t afford to keep up with yield-increasing technologies. Because Africa’s corrupt cotton sector is mostly broke – and beholden to their states for funds – they’ve not had a chance to invest in new technologies.

One country that has greatly modernized its cotton sector? Brazil. Yes, the country that took the U.S. and its subsidies to court has been moving and shaking up its cotton sector for a while. According to the trade publication, Cotton Farming, Brazil’s industry is a sleeping giant.

In 2003, members of the U.S. trade delegation took a tour through Brazil and this is what they had to say about its cotton industry: “Brazil has many pluses ­ excellent weather, sufficient rainfall, good soil composition and access to the world's best-performing varieties. What it doesn't have are efficient infrastructure, stable currency, sufficient ginning capacity and government support programs.”

(Notice the lack of government support programs as a negative.)

In 2002, Brazil produced roughly 847,000 tons of cotton on 735,000 hectares, a yield of 1,150. However, the Brazilians told the U.S. trade delegates they were planning on making use of another 150 million to 200 million acres for cotton. That’s about the same amount of space the U.S. uses for its entire cotton crop.

Brazil is now importing cotton for its own mills, which are mostly described as being very modern. It needs to fix its transportation infrastructure, the U.S. team said. But other than that, the sky is the limit.

"The take-away message for U.S. producers is that we need to keep our eyes on Brazil. If the world price ever gets up in the 70 or 80-cent range, this country has unlimited potential. It could become a juggernaut if it really wanted to move in that direction."

With the nail in the coffin for U.S. subsidies, prices may begin inching that way. It sure shows that the country really knew what it was doing when it took the U.S. to the WTO.

It also proves that more of some of the fight over subsidies was fought in the court of public opinion. Brazil was very careful not to highlights its modern industry, and at the same time point out how U.S. subsidies were harming African nations.

You can feel National Cotton Council’s chairman Woody Anderson’s frustration at being whipped by the richer nations of the developing world. “The developed versus developing country dichotomy advanced by some in Cancun was a clear attempt to move the Doha Round negotiations away from reciprocity,” he said in testimony at the House Agriculture committee in 2004. “Additionally, under the current structure of the WTO, which allows self-designation, Brazil claims the same economic position as Mali, and China claims the same exemptions as Nigeria.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Conflict management: Q & A with Global Witness

Yesterday, I discussed the Global Witness report on how cocoa helped fuel the war in Cote d’Ivoire. Having lived in Cote d’Ivoire briefly, I found the report to be thorough and have a good understanding of Cote d’Ivoire’s mixed history with the temptations of controlling the price of a hot commodity. (The report is also a good read on how the Gbagbo regime and the Forces Nouvelles do business. It doesn’t lend for much optimism.)

The reason I wrote so many words on the struggle, however, is that I’ve been a fan of Global Witness for a long time. Primarily because they’ve helped shed light on a once relatively-unknown topic: The relationship between resources and conflict.

In Cote d’Ivoire’s case, Global Witness proved that the country’s resources have helped perpetuate the war. But there are many arguments that clashes over resources help instigate wars. In the popular press, Jered Diamond’s book Collapse argued that a tipping point in the road to genocide in Rwanda was partly the product of high population density and decreasing area for food production.

Another reason I respect Global Witness is because they have enough power to be viewed as an important actor on the international front. They can make headlines. I am somewhat cynical about the capacity of how public opinion can shape issues and force the hands of otherwise risk-averse governments (see Darfur and Rwanda circa 1994), actors like Global Witness proves that events are influenced by more than just the bald power of nation states.

Guns may be more persuasive than reports, but information still holds a modicum of power. (In the International Court of Justice, at least.)

To prove their importance, Global Witness’s work has spawned a whole host of complimentary research on the ties between resource wealth and conflict. (Or, as my wife says: If there are resources to fight over, people will usually find a way to fight over them.”) For example, a horde of academics have begun tackling the subject. And let’s not forgot the movie Blood Diamonds. After Hollywood’s interest in the issue, the most surprising locale for innovative research on the economics of conflict in the post-Cold War world has been World Bank. The short take: The intersection of growing populations and diminishing resources could make conflict more common. (Now would be a good time to add the “water will be the next oil” remark here.)

Q & A with Global Witness
Anyway, this is a long introduction to the topic at hand: An Africa Flak exclusive Q & A with Maria Lopez, an author of the Global Witness report: Hot Chocolate: How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Cote d’Ivoire.

Africa Flak: With Global Witness tracking “resource conflicts” in Africa and elsewhere, we have heard about wars funded by oil, diamonds, etc. How many other conflicts have been fueled by cocoa?

Maria Lopez: There is evidence that an abundance of natural resources (as measured by the ratio of primary commodity exports to GDP) is the single most important factor in determining whether a country experiences civil war. Cocoa is the main economic resource of Côte d’Ivoire and Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s biggest producer of cocoa. Global Witness’s research on conflict and transparency issues in Côte d’Ivoire has focused on cocoa, because the relation between cocoa and Côte d’Ivoire is unique. In no other country does cocoa play a role this important. For this reason, Global Witness has not looked at the role of cocoa in conflicts around the world.

AF: What is the difference between a war fueled by cocoa and one fueled by, say, oil or diamonds?

ML: Natural resources and their control play a key role in the dynamic of the conflict. Wars need money. Our report provides another example of how natural resources have played an increasingly prominent role in providing this money. As war remains an expensive business, belligerents have turned to easily accessible wealth from the exploitation of minerals, timber and other natural resources and commodities. In Côte d’Ivoire, in addition to funding the war, the profits each side derives from the cocoa trade are fundamental to understanding why the main protagonists have not shown greater commitment to solving the political crisis over the past four and a half years.

AF: “Hot Chocolate: How cocoa fuelled the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire” portrays the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire to be shrouded in mystery. Hot Chocolate details the deliberately complex structure of the Ivorian cocoa sector; the appointment of many presidential allies to the leadership of cocoa boards and financial institutions; and, the complete lack of transparency that allows the government to misuse profits from the sale of cocoa. Investigators have found that international cocoa exporters and manufacturers condone this opacity to protect themselves and because they don’t want to lose their status with the cocoa boards. Finally, the report concludes with documented incidents of intimidation and violence against those who investigate and/or speak out against corruption in the cocoa sector.

With these overwhelming factors against developing a full-scale investigation of Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa sector, how reliable is the information provided in this report?

ML: Global Witness relied on a wide-array of independent sources, who indeed often asked not to be quoted in the report. The information is based on in-depth field investigations conducted in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Togo in June and July 2006. Global Witness staff interviewed a wide range of sources in Abidjan in the government-controlled zone; in Bouaké and Korhogo in the FN-controlled zone; in Bobo-Dioulasso in neighboring Burkina Faso, and in Lomé, the capital of Togo. Those interviewed included cocoa sector officials, cocoa exporters, government officials, diplomats, academics, members of non-governmental organizations and journalists. Further research was carried out in France and from the United Kingdom in 2006.

AF: One insider told your investigators about situation in the South: “Of course the government used the cocoa money to buy weapons. Their only mistake is trying to hide it. They should have been open about it.” What has the government in the south done that is illegal?

ML: The distinction between levies on cocoa and taxes on cocoa needs to be made. Taxes on cocoa are collected by the government. Cocoa levies are collected by Ivorian cocoa institutions, the majority of which claim to be private companies. The government has used money from cocoa levies to finance the war effort. The national cocoa institutions, the majority of which were set up after President Gbagbo came to power in 2001, have used money from cocoa levies and directly contributed at least US$20.3m to the war effort. Until at least April 2003, when the reconciliation government became operational, the government diverted US$38.5m generated by levies on cocoa, to finance their war effort (in addition to the US$20.3m mentioned above). These payments are an obvious deviation from the cocoa institutions’ official role, stated in decrees, which is to regulate the cocoa trade and support cocoa farmers. In addition, all of these payments coincided with a period when some of the worst human rights violations by government forces took place.

AF: What about the north? How has the Forces Nouvelles’s manipulation of the northern cocoa sector broken the law?

ML: What is happening in the Forces Nouvelles’ zone is nothing more than institutionalized extortion. Global Witness estimates the annual average of cocoa revenues accrued by the Forces Nouvelles (FN) since 2004 at 15.1bn CFA (US$30m), because companies exporting cocoa from the FN-controlled zone have to pay an export tax and a registration tax. The FN, despite being part of the government of national reconciliation set up by a peace agreement, have progressively instituted their own parallel tax system, notably on cocoa, which has enabled them to survive as a movement and has allowed individual FN officials to enrich themselves.

The FN have imposed a cocoa blockade, preventing northern cocoa from transiting south, so that they can secure the taxes for themselves. FN political and military officials have raised a significant amount of money through a multitude of official and unofficial taxes on cocoa and other goods.

AF: Let’s talk about international actors. What role do major international exporters and chocolate manufacturers like Cargill, ADM, CEMOI and Barry Callebaut play in this issue?

ML: Cocoa-exporting companies need to operate in a transparent way and publish the payments they make to the Ivorian government and cocoa institutions. In the government-controlled zone, companies, including American multinationals such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill, continue to trade without appearing to question the use or misuse of the significant taxes and levies they pay to the government and cocoa bodies. Publishing their payments would contribute to improving the management of cocoa revenues by the government and the cocoa institutions, as well as increasing accountability of the government to the people of Côte d’Ivoire, who have the right to know how their natural resources are being used.

Companies should press for all cocoa institutions’ accounts to be audited and published, as a way of ensuring that levies paid by exporters are not contributing to financing the conflict.

Companies should also audit their supply chain to find out the exact origin of the products they are buying. This would involve performing extended due diligence on all their cocoa purchases from the region to demonstrate publicly that they are not inadvertently providing money which is being diverted to the warring factions. For instance they should publish information on their website/annual report on the exact origin of the cocoa (department or region) they are buying their cocoa from.

AF: What about the International Cocoa Organization? Global Witness calls for more revenue transparency in the international cocoa markets. How much leverage would the ICCO have to institute this?

ML: Global Witness has called for more transparency in Côte d’Ivoire, a member country of the ICCO, and this message should be relayed by the ICCO. The ICCO and its decision-making body, the International Cocoa Council, should put revenue transparency on their agenda.

AF: What role does the World Bank have in this issue?

ML: Through their discussions with the Ivorian government, the World Bank and the IMF can push the transparency agenda. They have done so to a certain extent, but they could do more, for instance, urge that the investigation recently opened by the Procurer of Côte d’Ivoire on cocoa institutions and their activities is independent, impartial and exhaustive, that the investigation’s time line and terms of reference be widely publicised as well as its conclusions, in due time.

AF: We have a Kimberly process for guaranteeing the authenticity of diamonds. We have attempted tighter controls for the oil sector in some countries. What can be done to bring about more transparency in the cocoa market?

ML: Global Witness is not calling for a Kimberley process for cocoa. It is calling for a more open discussion of the economic motivations of both sides, as an important first step towards a sustainable solution to the Ivorian crisis. In addition to the measures recommended to cocoa-exporting companies, the Ivorian government should put pressure on all cocoa institutions to publicise where they hold bank accounts and should publish annual reports, including financial audits, with details of their activities and investments. The government can also make public the financial information it already has on the cocoa sector.

AF: Finally, what needs to happen in the cocoa sector to help usher in a peaceful Côte d’Ivoire?

ML: A huge push towards transparency, as well as a reflection on how the sector should work for the benefit of all cocoa farmers. This will contribute to improve revenues for farmers and will help greatly to soothe tensions in this vital economic sector.

Late: Darfur talks postponed

Sorry, wrote this up yesterday and forgot to file.

Two rebel factions continuing to boycott and Sudan still putting a full court press on the proposed deployment of a 26,000 African Union peacekeeping force forced UN lead mediator to postpone talks on Darfur for three weeks.

"Only after that period ... of approximately three weeks, will we go into substantial negotiations," Mr. Eliasson told the Associated Press on Sunday.

Members of French NGO charged with kidnapping

The Chadian government brought attempted kidnapping charges against six employees of a French NGO, three French journalists, seven members of the Spanish-based flight team and two Chadians who were allegedly involved in a plan to repatriate 103 orphans to France.

The French NGO, L’Arche de Zoé, made news Thursday when they were detained in the city of Abeche in eastern Chad trying to fly the children to France. They claimed the children, mostly between three and four years old, were refugee orphans from the Darfur crisis.

This fact may be in dispute. According to the BBC: “[S]taff from the UN children's agency Unicef say many of the children, now being kept in an orphanage in Abeche, cry at night for their parents and say they are from villages in Chad.”

The nine French detainees will face charges of attempted child abduction, the BBC said. The seven Spaniards, members of the flight staff, will be charged as being accomplices. As will the two Chadians.

Reporters Without Borders called for the release of the three French journalists. The Paris-based journalist-rights group claimed the reporters were merely covering the event, not acting as accomplices.

The French government called the group’s actions illegal and unacceptable over the weekend. But one French opposition politician has begun closing rank around the NGO and claim the authorities in Chad are trying to exploit the case.

"I know some of these people who are working in Darfur, and they are very generous people, and probably they have made several mistakes - it's not easy to understand," said Jack Lang, a former Socialist minister told the BBC. "But now it appears that the Chadian government wants to create with France difficult relations."

Ghana: West African hub for illegal sex trade

Ghana is a hub for many things in the West African sub-region, including an international sex trade, says an editorial in Accra’s Public Agenda. That’s why it didn’t surprise many that two men were busted for illegally trafficking 19 Nigerian women to Europe.

“At the heart of trafficking girls for sexual exploitation is tourism, no one needs any reminder that wherever tourism is at its peak social vices like prostitution, homosexuality and pedophilia come as a natural consequence,” the editor wrote. “That is why this newspaper has had cause to raise the red flag over the government’s zeal to make tourism the number one exchange earner. Undoubtedly, tourism has the potential to boost economic growth, but even where the economies entirely depend on tourism for revenue, they have put in tight laws to protect vulnerable children.”

Without a law protecting children from abuse, Ghana may be overrun in 2008 by sex tourists masquerading as soccer fans.

U.S. - Egypt relations: keeping democracy at arm's length

Honsi Mubarek is 80, reportedly in poor health, and ready for his son, Gamal, to succeed him. To do that, he must quash all opposition for the ascension of the 43-year-old investment banker, Hrach Gregorian of the Institute of World Affairs pointed out in a commentary of the Daily Star.

That means warning the press to keep complaints to itself and keeping the military – the usual training grounds for power in Egypt – at arm’s length.

No matter how oppressive the Mubarek regime will act, don’t expect the powers that be in Washington to lend a hand to democratic movements in Egypt. The current administration has tried aiding democracy before and it failed in bringing rise to moderate elements in the political culture of Middle Eastern countries. For example, during Egyptian parliamentary elections in 2005, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won most races where they appeared on the ballot. In January 2006, Hamas scored a victory in Palestinian elections. These appear to have tempered the U.S. zeal for democratization.

“Regardless of who among the frontrunners in the current US presidential campaign ends up in the White House, it is highly likely that Washington will refrain from any further calls for regime change in the region, albeit quietly pressing for political and economic reform in Egypt,” he wrote.

Tuareg group 'warns' French uranium firm

The rebel Tuareg group, the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice, has warned the French nuclear firm to stop its operations in northern Niger, according to a report in

“We inform Aveva that from now on all its activities are considered illicit,” the group said in a statement on its website. The group would like the French firm, which has mined uranium in northern Niger for 40 years, to begin hiring Tuaregs.

“Today we note that despite this warning, Areva continues, with Paris' blessing, to promote a policy of marginalizing the local population (in northern Niger),' the MNJ said.

Rising population worries in Burkina Faso

Family planning advocates worry over demographic information released in Burkina Faso that says the country of 13.31 million inhabitants is still maintaining to a 2.95 percent growth rate. If that holds up, the country will count more than 20 million Burkinabé by 2020.

“The census indicates that between 1996 and 2006 the population grew by 341,000 every year, which is considerable”, says Bamory Ouattara, director of the National Institute for Demographics and Statistics in a report by

Health reports show that only 14 percent of Burkina’s population use contraception, dipping to merely 9 percent in some rural areas, rates that call into question 20 years of family planning activities. Women in Burkina Faso bear on average seven children. Yet, the number of women who die in childbirth is one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

To help stabilize the relationship between a smaller growth rate and higher development, family planning advocates have looked to the Burkina Faso government for assistance. It has responded with a $7 billion program to bring down maternal death toll by 30 percent before 2008 that also stresses strategies to fight AIDS and female genital mutilation, with family planning as the project’s centerpiece.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Third journalist arrested in Niger

A third journalist from Niger has been arrested, stemming from a government crackdown people with alleged links with the Niger People’s Movement for Justice, a Tuareg rebel group.

The Paris-based press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders reported that early in the morning of Thursday, October 25, gendarmes arrived at the home of Daouda Yacouba and took him to a cell in Agadez. Yacouba, a correspondent for the bi-weekly Agadez-based Aïr Info, was placed in a cell with his editor Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, who was arrested October 9.

The third journalist, Moussa Kaka, the manager of the Niamey based Radio Saraouniya, was arrested September 20 and remains in Niamey. Kaka, who has been charged with "complicity in a conspiracy to undermine the authority of the state" and could face life in prison.

Also, on October 6, the government expelled a French journalist, after he spent one month in prison, for his alleged ties to the MNJ rebel group.

Government investigators accuse the journalists of having ties with the MNJ, the Tuareg group responsible for a string of armed attacks in northern Niger and Mali. The two governments signed a cease fire with the MNJ that ended at the end of Ramadan.

MNJ said on Saturday, October 27 they had ambushed and killed 12 soldiers in northern Niger. The military, however, denied this, saying a few soldiers were lightly injured when one of their vehicles ran over a mine near the Algerian border.

The MNJ began its campaign of violence earlier this year when it announced neither of the Malian or Nigerien governments had followed through on a 1995 peace deal that guaranteed greater political representation in the respective capitals. Also, with world uranium prices increasing, Niger has approved new mining claims in the north, an area populated by Tuaregs.

The governments in Niamey and Bamako have officially refused to recognize the MNJ.

Koffi Annan for British Knight: Vote No

Former U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan a British Knight?

“Few international figures are less deserving of an honorary knighthood,” writes Nile Gardiner in the National Review Online.

Why? Because Annan’s tenure as the head the UN and his role as undersecretary general for Peacekeeping Operations “were a monumental failure, and he left behind an institution whose standing could barely be lower and a legacy that is a testament to appeasement, mismanagement, corruption, and anti-Americanism.”

Continuing to quote:

It took Annan and the U.N. several years to even acknowledge that the mass slaughter of more than 200,000 villagers by Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militias in Darfur was an act of genocide. He remained silent over the forced starvation of millions of Zimbabweans by the Mugabe regime, barely said a word about human rights in Burma and North Korea, and never stood up to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel. The U.N. Human Rights Commission was a complete farce, populated with many of the world’s worst human rights violators, from Libya to Cuba. Even Annan himself eventually acknowledged that the Commission was broken, and its successor, the new Human Rights Council, is just as bad if not worse.


As Secretary General Annan oversaw a huge scandal involving United Nations peacekeepers in the Congo as well as in southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Guinea, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Cambodia. In the Congo alone, U.N. personnel were accused of hundreds of crimes, including the rape and forced prostitution of women and young girls across the war-torn country. The victims were defenseless refugees who had already been brutalized and terrorized by years of war and who looked to the U.N. for safety and protection.

Blood and Chocolate: Civil war in Cote d'Ivoire

Cote d’Ivoire’s civil war: Another African conflict funded by the plundering of resources. That’s the story told from Global Witness, a London-based non-governmental organization that tracks the illegal exploitation and international market for natural resources like diamonds and oil.

The country’s civil war is eerily familiar to other African conflicts: countless human rights violations; an unsolved murder of a journalist; extortion of business people; 700,000 displaced persons; an immeasurable number shattered lives and a UN-brokered arms embargo.

While very real political issues lead to the war, economic issues continue to fuel the conflict. In an August report, Global Witness claims that both sides have misappropriated the country’s ample resources to fund their armies – and diminish the possibility of reconciliation.

At the heart of this conflict is cocoa, whose beans are grown from trees, picked and dried to make chocolate. As the world’s largest cocoa producer, these beans comprise a $1.4 billion industry to this divided West African nation. Global Witness claims the southern government diverted $58 million from the cocoa industry to fight the rebels. In the north, the group asserts, the Forces Nouvelles raised $30 million per year through a parallel tax on cocoa.

“The lucrative cocoa trade has been at the heart of the war economy and continues to serve the interests of protagonists to the conflict, to the detriment of the Ivorian population,” concludes the Global Witness report Hot Chocolate: How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Cote d’Ivoire. “For the past four and a half years, both sides in the conflict have reaped significant political and economic benefits with impunity.”

Here are highlights of the report’s recommendations:

To the Ivorian Government:

  • Ensure that the national cocoa institutions fulfil their stated role and that levies paid to cocoa institutions are not used to fund the conflict. In particular, they should not be used to finance the activities of militia or the purchase of weapons and other military equipment;
  • Install greater transparency and accountability in the cocoa industry. In particular, all cocoa institutions should publicise where they hold bank accounts and should publish annual reports, including financial audits,with details of their activities and investments. These reports and audits should be made publicly available.

To the country’s cocoa institutions

  • Fulfil their stated role, including providing oversight and regulation of the industry, enhancing and promoting production, collecting accurate production and export statistics, and supporting cocoa farmers, including by guaranteeing them a minimum price for their cocoa.

To the Forces Nouvelles

  • Lift the blockade on cocoa traveling south from the FN-controlled zone;
  • Disclose revenues generated by taxes on cocoa and other products throughout the FN zone and publish information on how this money has been used to date.

To the governments of Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo

  • Produce and publish accurate and comprehensive import, export and re-export figures for cocoa, indicating the origin and destination of cocoa exported and differentiating between domestic production, exports of cocoa originating wholly from Côte d’Ivoire, and exports containing a mix of domestic production and Ivorian cocoa.

To cocoa companies operating in Cote d’Ivoire

  • Perform extended due diligence on all their cocoa purchases from the region to demonstrate publicly that they are not inadvertently providing money that is being diverted to the warring factions;
  • Press for all cocoa institutions’ accounts to be audited and published, as a way of ensuring that levies paid by exporters are not contributing to financing the conflict.

To international cocoa companies buying from West African countries.

  • Perform extended due diligence on all their cocoa purchases from the region to demonstrate publicly that they are not inadvertently providing money that is being diverted to the warring factions;
  • Publish information on the exact origin of the cocoa they are buying, in particular how much of it originates from the FN-held area of northern Côte d’Ivoire.

To UN Security Council

  • Perform extended due diligence on all their cocoa purchases from the region to demonstrate publicly that they are not inadvertently providing money that is being diverted to the warring factions;
  • Publish information on the exact origin of the cocoa they are buying, in particular how much of it originates from the FN-held area of northern Côte d’Ivoire.

The conflict’s history

By now, the tale has been told too many times. Cote d’Ivoire was once hailed as Africa’s success story, a pillar of political stability and economic growth. Workers from all over West Africa flooded Cote d’Ivoire, searching for work in the country’s verdant fields, its bustling plantations and opulent cities.

There was room for everyone who wanted to help develop the country, said Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the benevolent dictator who ran Cote d’Ivoire since its independence from France in 1960. This former doctor, former cocoa farmer was seen as a modern-day Midas. But after his death in 1993, his proud legacy of agriculture-based development and ethnic and religious ecumenism slowly began disintegrating. Underlying these problems was the country’s worsening economy, already on the decline from the high-flying days of the 1980s when cocoa, sugar and coffee prices buoyed the state treasury.

Just a few years after Houphouet-Boigny’s death, commodity prices had fallen greatly, as did foreign investment and direct aid. Corruption, a mainstay of the Houphouet-Boigny administration, bled the treasury even more.

Many Ivorians, who years before put down their farming implements to find white collar work in the cities, now returned to start over in their villages. What they found were West African immigrants working their fields, carving out a life they once abandoned. Anti-immigrant tensions rose. So did the political rift between the opposition parties of the predominately Muslim north and the ruling parties of the predominately Christian south.

The ruling clan tried everything to hold on to power of the fraying state. Opposition parties boycotted the 1995 presidential elections, and the 2000 election was never held because the country’s first military coup intervened on Christmas day 1999. Leader of the bloodless coup, General Guei called for new elections in 2001, but the Ivorian Supreme Court exempted the largest northern party from participating due to questions over its candidate’s alleged Burkinabé heritage. It didn’t matter as Guei nullified the election’s results when it appeared he would lose. A revolt broke out in Abidjan, forcing Guei to flee and placing front-runner Laurent Gbagbo in the state house.

Full scale civil war broke out in September 2002 when President Gbagbo was visiting Rome. General Guei died in the first day of fighting, as did thousands of civilians. The French army intervened and the two Ivorian armies fought to a stalemate, effectively dividing the country between the north and south. Both sides reached an uneasy peace in January 2003. Yet government-sponsored paramilitary groups continued to harass and kill foreigners in the south, forcing hundreds of thousands of immigrants back to their home countries.

The country continues to be effectively divided between the Abidjan-centered Gbagbo government and the Forces Nouvelles ruling the north from Bouake, the Cote d’Ivoire’s second-largest city. Between them stands more than 4,000 French troops and 6,000 UN peacekeepers.

Both sides attempted to create a government of national unity in January 2003. This, and subsequent attempts failed. Most recently, both sides hashed out an agreement in Ouagadougou, which gives Guillaume Soro, leader of the Forces Nouvelles the position of prime minister. Elections could be held as soon as next year.

An uneasy peace continues to permeate the land.

French NGO + Darfur "refugees" = weirdness

You can’t say this isn’t a strange tale.

A French NGO, L’Arche de Zoé, attempted to transport 103 children to France on Thursday, October 25, where at least fifty French families were waiting an airport 150 km east of Paris to welcome them. The NGO staff said the children, between the ages of one and nine, were refugees from the Darfur crisis and were in need of medical attention.

In reality, however, at least some of the children appear to be Chadian and most of the children are in good health. It is unknown how many are believed to be orphans. For the mix-up, the nine members of the NGO and the seven Spanish flight staff have been detained by Chadian authorities and Chad President Idriss Deby has promised to charge them with “kidnapping” and/or “child trafficking.”

UNICEF condemned the operation, billing it as “illegal and irresponsible.” The French government has also strongly criticized it. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Chad President Idriss Deby about the matter.

Instead of calming the situation, Deby visited the children at an orphanage and appealed to base fears: "Their aim is to kidnap the children from their parents, to steal the children from their parents and sell them to paedophile organisations in Europe, and even perhaps to kill them and sell their organs," the BBC reported.

His paranoia aside, Deby appeared to be appealing to his base who must wonder how this went on without the government’s knowledge. Presently, the French government is also unequivocal in its denunciation.

"I can understand the families, the French families who wanted to save children,” the BBC quoted the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Rama Yade. “But I don't understand why an association decided, alone, to bring them to Paris. That's why we completely disapprove of this initiative."

IRIN, a United Nations news agency, reported that the Paris-based NGO, founded by a firefighter, had earlier announced its intention to evacuate 10,000 orphans from the Darfur crisis, where four years of armed conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.3 million more.

The statement, which IRIN reported was posted on the NGO’s website in April, declared: “We must act to save these children. Now! In a few months, they will be dead.”

The story goes on to say, however, that officials from L'Arche de Zoé claim they were only bringing the children to France for medical treatment. From IRIN:

“For us, it was never, and I insist never, a question of being an adoption agency,” Stéphanie Lefebvre, secretary general of L’Arche de Zoé, told Le Parisien. “These children were not destined for adoption. Our approach was simple: We just wanted to save them from death by offering them a host family.”

Lefebvre also said that 300 families had paid €2,400 ($3,450) to host the children. The BBC reports that the NGO has statements saying the children are refugees.

Questions still remain
According to a round up of the French press by Angola News, left-of-center papers in Paris were questioning the role of the French embassy in Chad.

Stressing the inconsistencies in the position of the French government, Libération revealed that several times the French Army had provided transportation for the NGO between Ndiamena and Abeche, where the Darfur children were supposed to take off for France.

"The strange looks of the NGO members, most of whom were wearing firemen`s uniforms, could have raised the suspicion of the French embassy, or soldiers who boast of knowing everything in Chad," Libération insisted, describing the official position of Paris as inconsistent.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Can you guess: Which leader of Western "power" gives speech to African Union?

Below lies the highlights of a speech given to the African Union by a leader of a Western "power." After reading through the topics covered - malaria, African partnership, climate change, globalization, governance and a laundry list of rouge states - try to tell who gave the speech.

Africa is at the heart of my country's development policy, says the speaker in a October 4, 2007 speech.

Here are the highlights:

Health care

The scale of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis on your continent is a human disaster. It is a brake on the develop­ment of entire states and societies. And above all, it means ineffable suffering for those afflicted and their families, for their friends and acquaintances. We thus have to improve the healthcare systems and make progress towards the goal of near-universal access to preventa­tive measures, to medical treatment and to care. To this end, the G8 want to make available a total of over 60 billion US dollars in the coming years. [My country] has stated its willingness to raise four billion euro by 2015.

Europe/Africa partnership

More than 50 percent of the development assistance for Africa is pro­vided by the European Union and its member states.

It is therefore naturally very important to us that development cooperation funds are spent in a sensible, targeted and efficient manner…I call for a policy between the EU and Africa that goes well beyond classical development assistance as we know it from the past. Our cooperation will be built on the premise that we will only be able to solve most of the problems and challenges ahead by working together – to establish stable, democratic and free political systems, fair and free world trade, reduce poverty and curb disease, prevent political radicalization, terrorism and civil war, slow climate change, protect our resources and liveli­hoods and make greater use of renewable energies. I see that our agendas are the same in many of these areas.

The United Nations Millennium Declaration provides a framework for action that enjoys international legitimacy, having been adopted by the UN.

Climate Change

Climate protection is equally something we can only tackle together…We in the industrialized countries know that we have to meet ambitious emission-reduction targets and must of course help the devel­oping countries pursue a similar route in the long term, so that sustainable development can become a reality. This will involve investment and technology transfer on an unprecedented scale. In the future, energy supplies will have to be based to a large extent on renewables such as solar and wind power. Africa must profit from these developments. We as industrialized nations must of course also support the countries of Africa in adapting to climate change, which is already making its impact felt, in some places dramatically.


I am convinced that we poli­ticians can shape globalization. Actively participating in globalization results in more growth and thereby also increases the chance of greater prosperity. Protectionism is inevitably linked to a reduction in growth. This is equally true for developing countries and industrialized coun­tries. The World Bank's studies have recently corroborated this once again.
The bad news

  • Zimbabwe:We are deeply concerned about the developments there, about the threats and victimization, the intimidation of the Opposition, the demolition of slums and the constant human rights violations. We cannot just sit back and watch. In my opinion, it is above all the states of southern Africa, i.e. the states neighbouring Zimbabwe, that are called upon to act.
  • Sudan/Darfur: Of course, it is the Sudanese Government that should be the first to take action, but the African Union and the international community must also be ready to step in. UNAMID must be deployed as quickly as possible, and will then hopefully have the desired effect – as we have discussed today. That is our joint concern.
  • Somalia: It poses a considerable threat to the region and beyond. The national process of reconciliation must be pushed forward and a political solution found. I therefore call on all parties to the conflict to reach an agreement. We would be glad to offer our help, and will provide it as and when we are asked.
So, was the speaker:
  • Nicolas Sarkozy of France;
  • Angela Merkel of Germany;
  • Gordon Brown of Great Britain.
This link will tell you.

Am I being naive in saying this speech could have been given by a handful of leaders? Other than the references to climate change (and to Africa's relationship with Europe), George Bush could have given this speech. Another quiz. Should we thank Western leaders for:
  • The consistency of their message;
  • The agreement of Africa's problems;
  • Their vanilla proposals.

Briefs: Soldiers killed in Niger? Will Ghana ban tomato paste imports? Will Darfur see a ceasefire?

Tuareg rebels claimed to have killed 12 soldiers in the northern part of Niger.

Agence France Presse reported that the Movement of the People of Niger for Justice claimed to have destroyed two military vehicles as well as having killed "at least" a dozen soldiers in a dawn raid on Thursday in Touara, an internet statement said.

It was the first attack by the MNJ since the end of Ramadan when a negotiated ceasefire ended.

Tomato farmers in Ghana are preparing for ban of imported canned tomato concentrate. The ban, which will begin November 1, has been challenged by some importers and local farmers worry the government may rethink its plan, according to

The story points out that during the 1990s tomato concentrate imports stagnated, but began rising in the latter part of the decade. Between 1998 and 2003, the market share for local tomatoes fell from 92 percent to 57 percent.

“Due to lack of marketing and processing opportunities, it is estimated that about half of the annual production by the local farmers go waste,” the story pointed out.

I think this portends to be a very interesting issue because at least a few economists believe there is a good argument for temporary tariffs for countries wishing to protect nascent industries from outside competition, which in the short term may help alleviate unemployment and poverty in developing nations like Ghana. However, it appears that Ghana’s tomato canning industry is far from new. Nor is it known whether this decision will be permanent.

The government of Sudan called for an immediate cease fire in the war-torn Darfur region, according to a government spokesman. However, the announcement, which took place during the first day of peace talks with the rebels, has not been taken up by the rebels, according to the Associated Press.

The two groups are trying to meet to broker a deal that will put an end to a four-year conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians. However, many rebel groups have boycotted the talks because many feel too many groups have been invited to attend the UN-sponsored conference.

Even if some parties are speaking for the first time in more than a year, prospects for peace still remain low. According to the PINR, the Power and Interest News Report:

Even if the flawed peace talks were to end with a deal, the instability surrounding Darfur would probably be enough to sink any hopes of a lasting peace. A weak patchwork of bilateral peace deals and separate U.N. peacekeeping missions is unlikely to hold in a region where many of the conflicts are intertwined. Each agreement will be inherently weak, and each peacekeeping mission will be given narrow rules of engagement, leaving many opportunities for new rebel groups to stir up trouble.

Tour du Faso gets underway

Africa’s most popular bike rice, the Tour de Faso got underway this weekend in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The ten-day, 1500 kilometer race comprising 11 stages will cover all regions of the country.

Rumor has it the race will be broadcast in the United States.

Here is a site to view photos.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Briefs and such: World Bank (again), money poor, resource rich, environmental issues

To increase credibility and legitimacy in Africa, the Caucus of African Central Bank Governors challenged the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to give them more representation and voting rights.

The increased representation would not only ensure fair representation, but augment the decision making processes at the two financial institutions.

"We are concerned about the continued erosion of the voice and representation of African in the Bretton Woods Institutions," the group said in a statement.

Africa isn’t poor. It’s people are poor, writes Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika. Africa is a continent bountiful in all sorts of resources. One of the issues keeping Africa buckled under the global economy is the fact that African countries rarely process their resources. Instead, gold, natural gas, cotton is all shipped to rich countries where they can be processed and profited on.

Africa may be on the right path to better economic development, but its environment will continually be under pressure, said a new report from the UN Environment Program. Higher development means more waste and resources going to supply a growing African population.

For proof, the report offered the myriad of natural disasters affecting the continent: floods, droughts and coastal erosion.

These issues have affected land use, where per capita food production is 12 percent less than it was in 1981.

AFRICOM: A failure to communicate

I’ve covered some of the debate surrounding the U.S. military adventures in East Africa and the Sahel. But I haven’t written much about AFRICOM. That’s partly because it’s just been finalized and policies don't seem to be firmed up.

Born out of a recent reorganization in the Pentagon, AFRICOM will be the first U.S. military command solely responsible for Africa and a few outlying island states. Its basic premise will allow U.S. soldiers to work directly with African militaries and build “local security capacity,” claims Theresa Whelan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs. Peace keeping will be a high priority for the training agenda as will maritime security. These trainings will hopefully build local capacity so when security issues arise, African militaries can manage them without relying on the international community.

But there's more. AFRICOM basically follows the leads of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Horn of Africa and a second program in the Sahel, where the U.S. military has expanded its traditional role. Instead of solely providing training, U.S. soldiers will also assist local populations with engineering and humanitarian support, simple development chores like digging wells or providing medical, dental and veterinarian service.

For those in the development field, herein lies a red flag. Where is the line drawn between “military support” and “development assistance”? (Or, where is the line drawn between working with corrupt militaries and their usual prey, the local population?) Well, the Pentagon admits, that lined is purposely blurred. According to this FAQ, AFRICOM’s goals include: “[T]o better enable the Department of Defense and other elements of the U.S. government, to work in concert and with partners to achieve a more stable environment in which 1) political and economic growth can take place and 2) humanitarian and development assistance can be used more effectively.”

Again, there’s more. Rumors persist that the U.S. is looking for a base in Africa to station AFRICOM. Since the end of 2002, around 1,800 U.S. soldiers and civilian employees have worked out of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti City, Djibouti, providing security assistance for trouble spots in East Africa and doing some of that aforementioned winning over the hearts and minds. In the Sahel program, soldiers don’t stay long in one country, so a base has not been a necessity.

But…The U.S. government has allegedly asked around for the use of space in a number of African countries. African governments have turned them down – and the South Africans have coordinated a large “no” block in southern tip of the continent. (On the other hand, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf freely admits she supports AFRICOM’s general principal.)

As you can see, one problem concerning AFRICOM is the lack of detail. Yet this dearth of information hasn’t stopped people from speculating like a stock market bonanza.

AFRICOM: the new militarization of Africa.
AFRICOM: the U.S. digging in to protect its oil interests in Africa.
AFRICOM: An expensive development program.

These stories are mostly opinion and analysis pieces. My worry begins when unverified opinionating finds its way into news stories from the mainstream press.

Here is a story from National Public Radio.

“AFRICOM is about oil," says Sandra Barnes, the founding director of the Africa Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

But, she adds, AFRICOM is also about China.

Barnes points out that China is now one of the largest foreign donors to Africa. The continent is awash in Chinese exports and today, China brings in more oil from Angola than it does from Saudi Arabia.

Over the past five years, China has also started to develop oil platforms in the Gulf of Guinea, worrying officials at the Pentagon and the State Department. Many Africa analysts say that's the main reason the U.S. is pursuing AFRICOM.

So, what is it oil or China?

How are we supposed to know? Curious listeners could believe the unverified opinions of the director of the African Studies Center from the University of Pennsylvania. Or, they could? Believe the unverified opinions of the director of the African Studies Center from the University of Pennsylvania.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Let me put this another way. The press has been rightly criticized for allowing the government to frame the debate in the years directly after Sept. 11, 2001. When their assertions were mostly debunked in the Iraq war, government critics felt vindicated – and reporters began chasing them down for quotes. That doesn't address the real problem. Any so-called expert worth tenure has more than enough ability to lead journalists down wild goose chases.

I am not trying to carp on NPR here. Nor am I against placing opinions in news stories. What I don’t like is allowing speculation to fly unverified through the airwaves.

The role of the media is to help readers/listeners understand an issue. To do this, the press has a responsibility to stop the debate from spinning out of control. We’re here to provide context. And with that comes the responsibility to say “how do you know that?”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

AFRICOM: the fact checks begin

The U.S. government is denying reports that it will build a base for AFRICOM in Mauritania, according to the French-based newspaper Afriquenlingue.

The paper reported that the U.S. embassy in Nouakchott issued a statement stating the US "has not engaged and has no intention to engage in talks with the Mauritanian government on the possible presence of AFRICOM in Mauritania, even though some command offices can possibly be established in Africa.

Yet no statement could be found on the U.S. embassy website, although the press releases are at least a month old. Neither could information be found at U.S. State dept. website.

AIDS in Africa: Context, please

Two issues have stood out above others in my storied career as a press critic. One, I’ve called for more coverage of shark attacks, a wish the fourth estate is currently fulfilling. Second, I’ve called for providing readers more with context – more background information so they can better understand how an issue truly affects others. This is especially important for international stories, where readers may not have everyday understanding of the problems facing, say, Africans.

Here’s an example:

On the Oprah Winfrey show, Bono explains some of the bad news facing the continent: “Currently, 28 million Africans are infected HIV; approximately 1.5 million children.”

In a perfect world, Oprah would then whip out her laptop and pull up this website, and say to Bono: “Well, it says here that more than 922 million people live in Africa. That would be” – tapping on a calculator – “about three percent.”

Oprah would then look solemnly at the camera: “Three percent of Africans have AIDS. It’s a tragedy, a human tragedy. But the way you keep going on, Bono, you’d think that four out of five Africans were lying in huts waiting to die.”

This didn’t happen, of course. Oprah Winfrey is not in the business of fighting with too many guests. She's an entertainer. She is not responsible for vetting much of the information reported on her show.

But what can we say of our news organizations?

A recent New York Times story reported that according to a poll, 42 percent of Americans think that AIDS is the world’s most prolific killer of children under five. However, the disease is only responsible for three percent of the nearly 10 million deaths to children every year.

Also, nearly one in five of those polled felt malaria was the biggest killer. But the mosquito-born illness kills about 8 percent of children under five.

To the story:

The reasons for this misapprehension are varied, but they most likely include health advocates' recent success in focusing politicians and news organizations on the undeniably horrific toll from AIDS and malaria.

''It's based on what's in the news,'' said Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council, an organization of health professionals, nonprofit groups and other institutions. ''And it's a vicious cycle. The things that get reported on are the things that people believe are important.''

Health advocates’ recent success focusing news organizations? Apparently, the New York Times takes no responsibility for these misconceptions. In fact, the story is placed under the following headline:

In U.S. Poll, Most Fail a Quiz on Global Causes of Child Deaths

Yet, a simple search of “AIDS + Africa” at yielded more than 250 stories (including one in the Home and Garden section) published within the past year. Conversely, a search for the words "diarrhea" + "Africa" landed only 24 hits. By the looks of it, those health professionals working with AIDS must have done a lot of arm twisting.

Yes, Americans may be ignorant about the cause children’s deaths (I know I am). But I’d like to think as journalists we could start looking for blame elsewhere for our readers’ lack of understanding.

U.S. Republicans and Africa

With the Democrats out of the way, it’s time to understand how the Republicans plan to deal with Africa – once one of them reaches the White House. Once again, this information is being borrowed from the Council on Foreign Relations issue tracker.

Rudy Guiliani
African policy will focus on increased trade;
Carry on Bush plan for AIDS and malaria;
Darfur: Called for Bush to hold an international summit on the conflict.

Mike Huckabee
Claims foreign aid should be limited to humanitarian efforts.

Duncan Hunter
Darfur: Urged Bush to improve the Abeche airfield in Chad (near Darfur). Base has potential to stage humanitarian flights as well as NATO and UN operations.

John McCain
Supports promoting democracy abroad;
Darfur: Supports NATO-enforced no-fly zone; Claims U.S. should pressure EU and UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Khartoum government; reminded Sudanese leaders that International Criminal Court can prosecute war crimes for those who attack civilians.

Ron Paul
Did not support Bush’s plan to double foreign aid;
Darfur: Voted against sanction and disinvestment bills.

Mitt Romney
Proposes targeting Muslims in Africa for Middle East anti-poverty programs;
Praises celebrities and activists for raising concerns about poverty.

Tom Tancredo
Darfur: Co-sponsored bill placing sanctions on officials who are complicit in the killings.

Fred Thompson
Supported extending trade benefits to Africa.

A note on divestment of companies working in Sudan: House Resolution 180, the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act of 2007, was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and has, presently, 152 co-sponsors, including Dennis Kucinich, Tom Tancredo. The bill requires two basic actions: If passed, it will require the identification of companies doing business in Sudan; and, will prohibit the U.S. government from making contracts with those companies. The bill passed the House of Representatives on August 3 and is now waiting for debate in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

With this in mind, the candidates’ investment in companies doing business in Sudan has become something of a campaign issue. John Edwards and Rudy Guiliani were informed in May they held investments in companies working in Sudan. An Edwards spokesman told the Associated Press he would sell off the investments. Rudy Guiliani was also informed that he held investments and his campaign said he would investigate those investments and “take appropriate action.”

The LA Times reported that Mitt Romney has investments in an oil company tied to the Sudanese government. A Romney spokesman said the candidate’s attorney controls the investments and Romney had no influence on investing decisions.

Barack Obama had already sold off his investments with companies doing business with Sudan.

Ron Paul was the only representatives to vote against the bill (13 others were not present.)

On the first read of these proposals, it appeared the Republicans as a whole had beefier, more thoughtful plans for Africa. After parsing the programs out, however, I appear to be wrong. The Democrats don’t do a great job, mind you; but they are – by in large – more active on the African front than their Republican counterparts.

Of course, a whole stable of issues have been ignored. No one is saying anything about the budding relationship of the U.S. military and the continent. Agricultural subsidies are another area left off the table. How will the candidates deal with African oil politics? What place will human rights take in their administration? What about rewarding well run governments?

What happens if resolution is found in Darfur? We’d have one less massive human tragedy, of course. In the short term, the Democrats would lose a cornerstone of their plans for the continent. On the societal level, though, the U.S. would be forced to find a different frame to view Africa through. And that is what good foreign policy is about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Accident at the Rue de la Croix Rouge

At two o’clock Monday, a woman drove east down the Rue de la Croix Rouge and signaled to take a left turn at Rue Ganga. There’s a small boutique at the corner and Rue Ganga is a skinny road, so she headed into the turn slowly.

At the same moment, a young man also traveled east on Rue de la Croix Rouge on a small motorcycle. When he saw the woman’s car pause in the middle of the street, he proceeded to pass her on the left. As the car driver glided into her turn, the motorcycle passed, striking the front quarter-panel of the car and throwing the young driver headlong into the front metal wall of the small boutique. The motorcycle lay at the side of the road.

Crowds gather quickly in Burkina Faso. And even during the sleepy lunch hour a group of people quickly assembled. Accidents can be dangerous for foreigners, and the driver of the car happens to be French. Vigilante justice sometimes plays a role because a common-held belief that an untrustworthy judicial system often means the rich often can get out of crimes, so people sometimes take the law into their own hands. However, as the young man lay bloody and screaming in front of the small boutique, people quickly came to the conclusion that it was his fault, not the foreigner.

Someone dialed the ambulance. The proprietor of the neighboring café let the woman come in and sit out of the sun. She called her husband. Everyone stood in the blazing mid-day heat and listened to the young man wail under a sheet someone put over his head. As the sheet turned dark crimson, our large neighbor kept gawkers away. Not wanting to listen anymore, many of us just looked at the damage to the car: the crumpled metal, the plastic lying in the road. There was nothing anyone could do until the victim arrived at the hospital.

The ambulance finally arrived and the young man picked himself up and walked to the small van under his own power. He’d be ok.

Accidents are not accidental
Accidents are oftentimes not accidents. Burkina Faso is known for the proliferation of motorcycles and mopeds on its roads. It’s affordable, personal transportation; the best way to get around in a crowded city. These days, the moto of choice is small, light, fast motorcycle, equipped with big engines and poor breaks. Oftentimes they come without turn signals.

The young boy is a student, and like many of his friends, he often zips up and down Rue de la Croix Rouge at amazing speeds. When these youngsters come upon slower moving objects – and there are many: donkey carts, bicycles, pedestrians on the side of the road, even puttering cars – the kids usually pass by on the right hand side of the car. That the young boy passed on the left was not only uncommon, but an obvious error.

But it’s not only youngsters joyriding on motorcycles who create problems on this road: cars of all shapes and sizes use this street as a alternative for the busier, slower Boulevard de Charles de Gaulle, just a few blocks away. A few NGOs have moved into the neighborhood, which, along with the Red Cross, have increased vehicle traffic. These NGOs often employ chauffeurs, who are instructed to quickly get the boss to and from work.

A worldwide problem
In 2002, 1.2 million people died in road crashes and 50 million people were injured. Nearly half of the traffic fatalities consist of people under 25 years old, making our roads the world’s largest graveyard for young people.

Most of the road accidents occur in the developing world, in middle- and low-income countries where families often don’t have the financial means to cope with the death or disability of these young people. Raising the stakes even further, those most often hurt (or killed) in a road crash are family bread earners, according to the World Health Organization.

On the country level, the cost of road deaths is staggering. They are responsible for at least one percent of lost GDP in low-income countries; 1.5 percent for middle-income.

None of this acknowledges the emotional toll inflicted by all this carnage.

I know of a woman who searched for her missing husband for more nearly a week before they found his body in the city morgue. He had been out with friends at a bar and left to run a five-minute errand. Such a short trip, he said, so he left even his cell phone on the table. When he didn’t return, his friends thought he merely met other friends. They brought the phone to his wife, who didn’t think of looking until the next day. Four days after that he was found in the morgue. He was involved in an accident, and because he had no ID, no phone, nothing, the authorities didn’t know what to do with the body.

In Ouagadougou, the government has tried to institute wearing helmets for moto drivers. But when the police were issuing tickets for those without head protection, people threw rocks at the officers. The government relented.

The police also attempted to control people driving and speaking on cell phones. A friend of mine was pulled over while on his bicycle. That too has gone by the wayside.

The police do control speed and the obedience of stop signs through monitors standing on the side of the road. But these controls are infrequent. And most people think the police are only out to make money on the side.

Rumor has it that the city will soon prohibit those without driver’s license to drive motorcycles and cars.

The future
My guess is the young man didn’t have a driver’s license. But would driving school have saved him from getting hurt? And what about the others – it’s estimated that at least one person dies on the streets of Ouagadougou every day.

The streets here will only become more crowded, the traffic more diverse. It’s a growing city and this affects drivers in different ways: A higher population will put more drivers on the roads; more people in Ouagadougou will also stretch out the boundaries of the city, forcing people to drive longer distances.

Malcolm Gladwell points out in his story on road safety in the U.S: “Every two miles, the average driver makes four hundred observations, forty decisions and one mistake. Once every five hundred miles, one of those mistakes leads to a near collision, and every sixty thousand miles one of those mistakes leads to a crash.”

That happened to my friend Allasane, who had to work on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He was driving a large white truck, cruising down Boulevard de Charles de Gaulle. Next to him: a young man on a moto, but he was in the bike lane – a well regarded safety feature designed to separate different types of vehicles. The moto driver must not have noticed Allasane, for he made a left hand turn out of the bike lane directly into the traffic of Charles de Gaulle. What can you do? Allasane braked. The kid flipped over the grill of the large truck and onto the hood. The blood on the grill said it all.

Africa through the war on terror viewfinder

For those who don’t know, Africa Confidential is an invaluable resource on the political and economic comings and goings of the continent. The bi-weekly newsletter gets its name from the anonymous correspondents and contributors based around Africa who can analyze a country in the strictest of safety and security.

Patrick Smith has edited Africa Confidential since 1991 and is an outspoken, trenchant observer of not only Africa, but also the developing world’s relationship with the continent.

Sadly, I am not a subscriber to the newsletter. (I can’t afford it.) I used to read it in the library, but now I can only follow Africa Confidential through its Fortnightly Email Alert, which among other things includes commentaries from Patrick Smith. (You can sign up for the alert on the homepage.)

I just received this email, which describes Smith’s trip to the U.S. as part of the opening of the UN General Assembly and to catch meetings of the African Studies Association of the United States and the annual World Bank and IMF meetings.

Here are some of the highlights:

A whirlwind trip through New York and Washington this week shows that Africa has moved up the diplomatic and economic agenda - despite the Iraq-Iran obsessions here. However, so much of Africa is seen through the war on terror viewfinder…

At the peak of the Cold War, there was no conflict than an earnest policy wonk wouldn't squeeze [to] fit into a global scheme of U.S. foreign policy. The same holds today. The wonk can be pro- or anti-government but the fallacy is the same: Africa cannot allowed to be Africa, it must be corralled into a wider template of global power relations. Of course, Africa has its own international interests but the wonks attach too little importance to these…

Somalia has become Africa's front in the war on terror for the wonks. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Mogadishu and Kismayo have become Iraq writ small for Washington and Addis Ababa. More puzzlingly, the Sudanese regime in Khartoum has become a source of vital intelligence on terrorism for the West. Even the once-reviled Moammar el Gadaffi of Libya is now feted as another key intelligence source - more logically because the overthrow of Gadaffi's regime is near the top of Al Qaida's to-do list in North Africa

He then traveled to the 50th annual meeting of the African Studies Association of the United States, where Washington's Ambassador to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Cindy Courville, defended U.S. Africa policy against what Smith described as a pretty hostile crowd.

The critics' theme was that U.S. policy in Africa has become irredeemably militarized and is now a poorly resourced sideshow to its failing policy in the Middle East. As the African speakers picked over US policy, aided by speakers from the floor such as ex-USAID consultant Joel Barkin, Courville struggled to convince. None of the speakers on the floor - Americans and Africans alike - spoke in defense of US policy. Some even rubbished Courville's invitation for critics to engage with administration officials.

I have to agree with much of what Smith says. The U.S. presidential candidates have remained silent on the issue AFRICOM or any other U.S. military work in Africa. Yet, on the ground, we are seeing a definite change of U.S. policy. On one hand, you could call it the militarization of development. Even during the Cold War, the U.S. military treated Africa like a bench player. On the other, you could make an argument for another form of engagement. One must wonder, though: When military issues seemingly overshadowing political concerns, will the U.S. ever develop a consistent policy on Africa?

Perhaps we don't need one. Has the Bush administration succeeded in developing not a policy on Africa, but a policy in regards to different African states? We complain -- or at least I complain -- that American politicians look at Africa as it was one single state with really nice beaches. Nothing could be further than the truth. When nobody expects the U.S. to have a single "Asia" policy, why should a president attempt to create a single policy for an entire continent? (You could make the argument that this is what the Millennium Challenge Corporation does: funds individual countries on their own merits.) Perhaps it is true that the administration now deals with a few "friendly" states in Africa (like they would deal with Japan and South Korea, while ignoring Laos and North Korea), but those associations have been highlighted by military relationships.