Category Archives: Security Politics

Good Read on Kenya, Kenyatta, and the ICC

A piece in yesterday’s Guardian from prominent Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina is well worth a read. His ultimate point is that Kenyatta is the candidate for peace and security within Kenya, which is the reality Kenyans are invested in right now. He has strong words for the ICC and the international community’s interference more broadly.

Memorable excerpts for the cliff notes version:

We fully intend to co-operate with the ICC: we opted in, and we will see it through. But I and many others no longer have any serious moral investment in its progress as an institution. I propose they go and build their court properly, and then come back and talk to us when it is grown up, when there are a few convictions of people who are not Africans. Kenya is a real place, with real politics.

I have heard this sentiment in conversations with friends repeatedly over the past few weeks in Malawi, as well as during my visits to Uganda and Rwanda. Many educated Africans are tired of seeing the ICC bring repeated cases against African leaders, cases which are at best ineffectual, and at worst incendiary. I’ve even heard friends say that they will support Kenyatta just because he has the ICC indictment standing against them. Hearing all this makes it hard to understand the ICC’s logic in indicting Kenyatta and Ruto at all, or at least indicting those two and leaving Odinga out of the fray. It seems to me that the ICC went a long way to undermining its own credibility in this case.

My favorite excerpt:

We are not, and have never been, a CNN African country, held together by western pins and glue, pity, bananas and paternal concern.

“African solutions to African problems” is a favorite catchphrase in Washington and in capitals across the continent. It is exciting to see Kenya asserting its commitment to making the catchphrase matter.

And all ideologies aside, it is a relief for everyone in this corner of the world to see the election in Kenya violence-free so far. On a practical note, more fighting there would spike prices on consumer goods across the region where we rely on the Mombasa port for imports and exports. It would also dim investment prospects in the East African community should the region’s brightest star prove unable to generate its own solutions to its ethnic and electoral tensions.


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On Violence in Congo

Jeffrey Gettleman has a piece in the New York Times Sunday Review on Congo. His writing is crisp as ever and the details are haunting. He provides useful background on the enormously complex country, including a bit of insight on the role of Rwanda in the conflict.

What I find most striking about his reporting is the description of the systemic violence Congo is famous for. Each news article I read about the country’s horrors bring more tales so awful that they are almost unbelievable.

The most striking anecdote was not the most gruesome of Gettleman’s coverage. Instead, it was this one:

One of the most frightening things I’ve ever witnessed — was watching a mob of furious voters attack a poll worker, slugging him in the face until he toppled to the ground and then stomping on his rib cage until I’m sure he died.

What strikes me about this story is that these voters are “regular” people. Not battle-scarred rebels who have been living in the bush for years, or soldiers whose conscience has been scabbed over by years of neglect from the government and watching comrades die in horrifying ways. Instead, these are everyday citizens, incensed at the miscarriage of justice and democracy in their country. Their response? Violence, with whatever tools at their disposal.

My wonder is about the kind of long-term conditioning violence brings to a people, and how they recover from it and create a peaceful society. When children have been raised in an environment where they are not safe in their own homes, and see gratuitous violence around them, how can even well-meaning parents instill a sense of right and wrong? How can Congo bring up a generation of peace-loving people in the context of endless war?

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Inequality and African Futures


Sunrise over Lake Malawi.

Simon Freemantle, an Africa analyst with Standard Bank, wrote into “African Arguments” about the binary views the international community seems to favor when it comes to Africa. On “Africa in Transition,” John Campbell responded with an echo of Freemantle’s plea to see Africa as its component parts. The continent is either “rising,” the great economic miracle of the 21st century, or it is “hopeless,” entirely reliant on foreign aid and intervention to stem disease, starvation, and war. As Freemantle explains, not only are both these attitudes incorrect, but furthermore, this analytical framework is dangerously simplistic.

Perhaps most critical is the necessity to craft more inclusive and equitably distributed growth. The gulf in income across Africa is becoming more pronounced, and the socio-economic responsibilities, let alone threats, that this gives rise to must be a central feature of future plans. While North Africa’s “Arab Spring” will not systemically spread south, political systems will have to become more nimble to negotiate the demands of an increasingly youthful, urbanised and connected populace. The risks, both foreseeable and unknown, that accompany these inevitable shifts may not detract from Africa’s allure, but they certainly imply that a more nuanced and critical approach to the continent is necessary.

Inequality within African countries has been on my mind frequently since I arrived in Malawi, and it is something I wonder about frequently when considering development more broadly. Living as an expatriate in Blantyre, the income inequalities are stark and obvious on a daily basis. I have been surprised to find that you can find most things in Malawi–so long as you can pay for it. The great global economic machine gets me balsamic vinegar, reportedly of Modena, in the supermarket here, and yet friends who work at the hospital tell me that the infant ventilators no longer work because the hospital cannot get the right parts from South Africa.

More broadly, however, the question of inequality and development should sit centrally in thinking and talking about Africa’s future. After all, seven out the world’s ten fastest growing economies are located in this part of the world. I was astounded to learn that one of the world’s five most expensive cities is in Africa–it’s Luanda, the capital of Angola. As economic growth continues to sputter in the developed world, Africa’s booming population and growing middle class, resources, and seemingly untapped potential are bound to lure investment and hope. That said, if we look at growth with a development or national security perspective, the question is not gross national economic growth rate, but rather whether the welfare of the average person improves. Unfortunately, the indicators from some of Africa’s current “tigers” do not look good.

Next door, Mozambique is part of the clique of African nations on the move with a +6 percent annual growth rate. The excitement about Mozambique’s bright future, fueled (literally) by coal and gas deposits, spills over even into resource poor Malawi with rumors about new railroads and Brazilian investments. Tete, a coal mining city just a few hours from Blantyre, is awash with Brazilian businessmen and growing at an impressive clip. It is easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm about this growth from even where I sit. Every other business owner I talk to is excited about the possibility of infrastructure improvements facilitating trade to Mozambican ports and the Brazilian money facilitating much needed upgrades to aging roads and train lines.

I was sad, then, to see a recent New York Times report on the state of the rural poor in Mozambique. As in Malawi, the average individual in Mozambique fits that description to a tee, eking out a living on a smallholder farm, farming a variety of crops in small quantities, primarily for subsistence but with some for sale to local traders and markets. Investments in extractive industries and their profits do not reach an isolated rural farmer, and in fact, might even harm his interests by degrading the environment, or as in this example in Mozambique, relocating entire villages to make room for coal mines. The result is that the poor stay poor or even get poorer, while the extractives create a new class of wealthy in the country, widening the gulf between the two. And Mozambique’s example is nothing compared to Nigeria, where the inequality is coupling with history to spinning off violence in the northern and Delta regions of the country.

I think Freemantle is right to note that  inequality in Africa will play into the political and security dynamics of the years to come, and perhaps even undermine the continent’s bright economic prospects. There is room for optimism still, as the Times piece points out, seen in the examples of countries like Bostwana and projects like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. For now, at the least, when I hear enthusiasm about skyrocketing growth rates in Africa now, I temper that by asking myself whether trickle-down economics have worked back home.

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On the Fall of Goma

Eastern Congolese soldiers don’t rebel so often for the thrill of it. They do so largely for the reason that explains the M23’s military victories and its broader allure — namely, the neglect with which they and just about everyone else here have been treated by Kabila. While the capital and western Congo have enjoyed development, the Kivus, for all their resources, have been left to suffer. They rank at the bottom of international public health and corruption indexes. Indeed, walking around Goma’s dirt roads and years-old refugee camps, neglect seems a polite word. Contempt feels more accurate.

From James Verini’s excellent piece at about the fall of Goma to M23 rebels on November 19.

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November 28, 2012 · 9:53 am