Tag Archives: Africa

Investigating and Prosecuting War Crimes

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, yesterday announced she was opening a “preliminary investigation” into possible war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic—one of Africa’s poorest countries—has been the site of ongoing sectarian violence for more than a year. Thousands of refugees have attempted to flee into neighboring countries, often escorted by African Union-backed peacekeeping forces.

In her report, Bensouda noted that her initial investigation has already found “hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities,” and that “in many incidents, victims appear to have been deliberately targeted on religious grounds.” Some have suggested that the Central African Republic may be on the verge of genocide.

Fatou Bensoouda’s statement was published as a short, 3 minute video.

The International Criminal Court was created in 2002 to prosecute acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in situations where existing national legal systems are unwilling or unable to act. The ICC has come under attack in recent years for its near-exclusive focus on Africa, as all of the ICC’s investigations to date have focused on African countries.

What do you think? Should the ICC begin an investigation into developments in the Central African Republic? Is the ICC biased against Africa? Or does it merely reflect the concentration of conflict in the region? Can the ICC effectively deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity? Why or why not?

Is the ICC Biased?

 

A 2012 Meeting of the African Union

A 2012 Meeting of the African Union

African Union officials meeting over the weekend urged the International Criminal Court to postpone cases against sitting leaders. Leaders of the 54-member African Union contend that a pattern of bias exists within the ICC, making fair trials of African leaders impossible. Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesys, stated, “We are deeply troubled by the fact that a sitting head of state and his deputy are for the first time being tired in an international court, which infringes on the sovereignty of Kenya and undermines…the country’s reconciliation and reform process.”

The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to prosecute claims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The organization’s charter provides that the ICC is not a substitute for domestic legal proceedings and that the organization shall defer to national courts, only becoming involved when the national court system is unable or unwilling to address questions of justice. The court is currently hearing a case against Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, and his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, is scheduled to appear in court next month. The court has also heard cases or issued warrants against leaders in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda.  The court has yet to hear cases against any government outside of Africa, although it is conducting investigations into situations in Afghanistan, Georgia, Colombia, Honduras, and Korea.

The International Criminal Court operates under the principle of voluntary jurisdiction, meaning that unless a case is explicitly referred to it by the United Nations Security Council, it can generally only deal with cases against citizens of countries that are party to the Rome Statute that created the organization. Three countries, the United States, Israel, and Sudan, have informed the United Nations that they are withdrawing from the Rome Statute and therefore have no legal obligations under the agreement.

As a result of the perception that the ICC has focused on prosecuting African leaders, several other African states, including Kenya, are considering withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ICC.  The NGO Human Rights Watch has urged the countries not to withdraw, asserting that “Any withdrawal fro the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa’s commitment to protect and promote human rights and to reject impunity.” But with the perception of bias within the ICCC growing, African leaders may face no alternative.

What do you think? Has the ICC demonstrated bias against African leaders? Would such bias justify a withdrawal of African Member States from the International Criminal Court? And what other signals might such a withdrawal send? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Another Reason for Literature in the Classroom

A student emailed me a very powerful Ted talk this morning that follows nicely on yesterday’s post on Chinua Achebe. In the Ted Talk, Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian author, explains the danger of a single story.

From the video: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Remembering Chinua Achebe: Using Fiction in the Political Science Classroom

Nelson Mandela was a fan of Chinua Achebe’s work, having said that while reading Achebe’s novels as a prisoner of Robbin Island for 27 years, “prison walls fell down.” Mandela also said that Achebe’s work, “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”

Nelson Mandela was a fan of Chinua Achebe’s (left) work, having said that while reading Achebe’s novels as a prisoner of Robbin Island for 27 years, “prison walls fell down.” Mandela also said that Achebe’s work, “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”

Nigerian author and poet Chinua Achebe died on Friday. He was 82. Achebe’s work centered on understanding the effects of colonialism and corruption in Africa. His first—and most famous—book was Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, the classic text analyzed the clash between African and British colonial values in Nigeria, seeking to understand how local norms and values were undermined by colonialism.

In the book, Obierika comments that, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

Although Achebe was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was regularly held in the pantheon of the best African writers, including Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Lewis Nkosi. Achebe also served as a role model for countless younger African authors.

His passing was indeed a tragedy. But it also provided me pause. I had regularly used fiction, most notably Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Nigeria), but also other works such as Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe), Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (Nigeria), Chukwuemeka Ike’s Bottled Leopard (Nigeria), and Gillian Slovo’s Red Dust (South Africa), among others, as part of my introductory comparative politics course. Finding myself constantly trying to fit additional materials into the course, I stopped using novels in favor of other (nonfiction) readings covering key themes and debates.

Yet increasingly I suspect that fiction should have a more central place in the class again. Good fiction provides students with an additional avenue to make sense of the issues faced in regions and societies far removed from their own. While a well-written journal article or textbook chapter can covey all the factual information students need, the more emotive, visceral, and evocative learning atmosphere created through fiction speaks to students in a different way. Students, in short, get a better “feel” for the places they are studying.

I’ve provided a few recommendations for books covering several African countries above. I’d welcome recommendations for some of the other regions we typically cover in an intro to comparative politics course. Leave your suggestions below. And thanks!

Measuring Economic Activity and Development in Africa

Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria

According to a report by Reuters, Nigeria’s gross domestic product will grow by 40 percent in the second quarter of 2012. If correct, Nigeria’s GDP would increase from $273 billion to $370 billion, and Nigeria would become Africa’s second largest economy in Africa. Growth forecasts suggest that Nigeria would surpass South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy within a few years.

The move has significant implications for Nigeria and the rest of the developing world. Symbolically, Nigeria’s newfound economic prowess could afford the country greater leadership and influence on the continent, particularly within West Africa.

Nigeria’s larger economy would also have important policy effects for international institutions. By increasing its GDP, Nigeria’s debt ratio (the size of the country’s national debt as a proportion of the total size of its economy) will nearly be cut in half. At the same time, the improved economic status of the country could affect its ability to secure concessionary loans. When Ghana’s GDP was increased by more than 60 percent in 2010, its debt-to-GDP ratio fell from 40% to 24% and the World Bank reclassified it from a low income to a lower-middle income country.

So how did Nigeria and Ghana grow their economies so dramatically? In truth, they didn’t. Gross domestic product is the total value of goods and services produced win a country in a given year. But in most countries in most years, economists don’t actually go out and add everything up. Instead, they start with a year in which a fairly accurate survey was conducted and adjust it annually based on other variables like population growth. In both Ghana and Nigeria, the dramatic increase in GDP was not the result of sudden and dramatic economic growth. Rather, in both cases, the upward shift in GDP was the result of how the number was calculated and which base year was used.

This methodology raises several important questions.

First, how accurate is the baseline year? If the baseline year is incorrect, then all subsequent calculations based on that initial estimate also be inaccurate. The exclusion of the informal sector, which can include everything from sales by unlicensed street vendors to prostitution to the sale and trafficking of illicit drugs, often leads GDP to be underestimated. A 2010 World Bank report estimated the size of the informal economy in the United States as 8.8 percent of the formal economy. The median figure for developing countries was 41 percent. In the countries with the largest informal economies (such as Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Georgia, and Panama), it exceeded 60 percent.

Second, how old is the baseline year? When Ghana’s GDP increased in 2010, it was because Ghana shifted its baseline year from 1993 to 2006. Similarly, Nigeria’s baseline year shift from 1990 to 2008 will likely account for a significant portion of the increase in its GDP. Think for a moment about the importance of the baseline year. In the early 1990s, the cell phones which are no so ubiquitous across Africa will still in their infancy, widely unavailable on the continent. This one example illustrates how dramatically the structure of an economy (and a society) can shift in a relatively short period of time.

This means that GDP figures for developing countries are best thought of as general estimates falling within a wide margin of error rather than concrete numbers that reflect real, on the ground economic activity. It teaches us that we should be critical consumers of data.

Those interested in learning more about this questions would be well advised to seek out Morten Jerven’s new book, Poor Numbers: Facts, Assumptions and Controversy in African Development Statistics, forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

What do you think? Should we continue to use GDP as a proxy measure for development? If so, how can we acknowledge the limits of that figure while making meaningful decisions? If not, what do we use instead? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Challenge of Nacro-States

A soldier stands outside military headquarters in Guinea Bissau following April’s coup.

It was reported last week that the government of Guinea-Bissau was likely providing shelter for expansive nacro-trafficking operations. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for West Africa,  a large number of small planes have been making the transatlantic journey from Latin America to the West African nation, likely carrying cocaine which is then sent on to Europe. While West Africa has long been an important transit point for Latin American drugs moving to Europe, the UNODC now estimates that Guinea-Bissau accounts for at least half of all cocaine shipped through the region.

What makes this case particularly interesting is the role of the military coup. The West African nation has a long history of coups and coup attempts; in nearly forty years of independence, no elected leader has finished their constitutional term of office.

Last April, the country’s military staged a coup ahead of the second round of presidential elections. The new government is believed to have close ties to drug traffickers. According to a BBC report, top military officials are believed to be working with drug traffickers to facilitate their operations. The UN Security Council has sought to isolate the nation, imposing travel bans on coup leaders, and the US government has imposed financial sanctions on key officials under the Drug Kingpin Act.

The forces driving the development of the nacro-state are clear. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest nations, with a gross domestic product of $970 million in 2011 (this works out to a per capita figure of approximately $600. This ties Guinea-Bissau at 172nd place (out of 191 countries) in the world. Nacro-trafficking brings provides a key source of income and revenue in an otherwise exceedingly poor country.

At the same time, drug trafficking illustrates (the admittedly shady side) of globalization. The drug trade accounts for an estimated 5-6 percent of all world trade, a figure slightly greater than that of agriculture and automobiles combined.Indeed, a UNESCO report concludes that it’s behind only the global arms trade (and perhaps now the global oil trade) in market size. It is driven by regional specialization and comparative advantage, and highlights the challenges of weak and failed states and the dynamics of global inequality.

What do you think? What can we learn from narco-trafficking about the dynamics of globalization and international relations?  And what should be done about the situation in Guinea-Bissau? How, if at all, should the international community respond to narco-states? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know.

Nations, States, and the Independence of South Sudan

Celebrations marked the birth of South Sudan in Juba, the new country's capital.

South Sudan became an independent state today, six months after its people voted in a referendum to break away from Sudan and form their own country. You can watch videos of the festivities here.  The north and the south have fought two civil wars in Sudan, with the latest (ended by a peace agreement in 2005) claiming over two million lives. The international recognition of South Sudan will confer upon its government juridical (legal) sovereignty–the recognized right to rule within a defined territory without external interference. But empirical (actual) sovereignty is something different–the government’s ability to control its territory and maintain independence from outside interference.  Often a government possesses juridical but not empirical sovereignty (consider Pakistan’s inability to control its tribal areas) or empirical sovereignty without international recognition (Taiwan).  It appears that South Sudan may have a shot at both types of sovereignty, although there remain internal ethnic divides and unresolved disputes with Sudan over the south’s oil resources and territorial boundaries in the regions of Abyei and South Kordofan that could tempt the north to intervene and undermine South Sudan’s sovereignty.

With the independence of South Sudan from the Republic of Sudan, both countries become closer to meeting the ideal of a “nation-state” than they were before.  The north is predominantly Arab and Muslim, whereas the south is black, Christian, and Animist.  Reflecting the sentiment of many in South Sudan, a man celebrating the country’s birth carried a hand-painted sign that read “From today our identity is southern and African, not Arabic and Muslim.” Political scientists use the term nation to describe a group of people who have a common identity.  Usually this group shares a history and such characteristics as culture, religion, and language, but the common identity–a sense of “we-ness”–is the most important attribute.  In contrast, the term state refers to a political entity (a government) that controls a defined territory and population.  Many states are actually multinational (Sudan before the south broke away would definitely qualify), and frequently nations are split between several states.  This is particularly common in Africa, where imperial powers created boundaries based on their colonial interests rather than the realities of where ethnic and tribal groups lived.  Nation-states only exist where the nation and the state coincide (examples would include Japan and Egypt), and these are the exception rather than the rule worldwide.  Of course, a mismatch between political boundaries and ethnic or cultural boundaries is a frequent cause of conflict.  In the case of Sudan, the Arab and Muslim north’s political and economic domination of the south reinforced the these identity boundaries and helped to produce today’s new political and territorial boundaries. Financial Times blogger Gideon Rachman suggests that this redrawing of boundaries could even be the wave of the future:

“A peaceful partition would also obviously have implications for the rest of Africa. It is a commonplace that many of the borders inherited from the colonial era make little sense. But there is understandable anxiety about the potential for conflict, if African borders start being withdrawn. If the division of Sudan demonstrates that this can be more or less peacefully, it may not be that long before the world has 200 states.”

The Politics of Nationalism and Identity

A fascinating discussion on the politics of citizenship in Africa is taking place on the SSRC’s African Arguments blog. As described by Sebastian Kohn,

Millions of people in Africa are stateless. Some because their births were never recorded, others because they belong to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group. Civil conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and numerous other countries have been fuelled if not created by pernicious citizenship policies that sever the link between certain parts of the population and the state. The politics of statelessness and citizenship discrimination in Africa are complex and potentially explosive.

While certainly important in the context of the struggle for political power and resources, this debate is certainly not unique to the African continent. The French government is currently in the midst of a three-month series of meetings to “reaffirm the values of national identity and pride in being French.” The discussions were prompted by the rise of the far-right French nationalists, who objected to the increasing multiculturalism of French society.

Citizenship (and national identity more generally) has long been a contested political concept. Identity politics can be used in a progressive, inclusive sense. But far more often identity politics are used to exclude certain members of the polity from participating in the body politic. In the context of post-colonial Africa, this is particularly problematic because the borders of state [glossary] and nation [glossary] bear little historical connection to the actual on the ground identities of the people. The creation of artificial states as a result of colonialism has been a problem recognized since the early days of African independence. Indeed, many of Africa’s most celebrated leaders—Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, to name but a few—rose to prominence preaching a message of inclusion. For them, the only solution to the divisions created by colonialism was to establish a new, Pan-African political identity, essentially transcending the political divisions of statehood to create a unified African community.

This vision never materialized. Instead, the politics of identity came to be characterized by exclusion and hierarchy, frequently motivating political violence: Hutus vs. Tutsis in Rwanda, Yoruba vs. Igbo in Nigeria, Xhosas vs. Zulus in South Africa, Shona vs. Ndebele in Zimbabwe, and so on. But rethinking the nature of citizenship and constructing a politics of inclusiveness may represent an important step towards national reconciliation and development. The Truth and Reconcilliation Commission in South Africa sought to address the injustices of apartheid by brining the violence of the apartheid system to public light. Similarly, efforts at national reconciliation following the Rwandan genocide centered on overcoming the divisive politics of ethnicity that characterized the genocide.

Contributing to the discussion on the African Arguments blog, Bronwen Manby offers a powerful conclusion, describing citizenship as “the most important right of all.”  Manby writing,

“Give us our identity cards and we hand over our Kalashnikovs”, said the leader of the rebel forces in Côte d’Ivoire. Those who have never been deprived of official papers may find it hard to imagine the powerlessness that results: powerlessness that can and does lead people to take up arms. Even in the poorest countries, a passport or identity card does not just provide the right to travel, but forms the basis of the right to almost everything else.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been another busy week for President Barack Obama, who started the week laying the foundation for a new arms control agreement with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, then moved on to discuss a range of issues including food security and climate change at the G8 summit in Italy, before concluding the week with a visit to Ghana, where he delivered a speech calling for more effective and accountable leadership in Africa.

In other news from the previous week:

1. In a surprising move, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced on Friday that Russia was still interested in securing membership in the World Trade Organization. In doing so, President Medvedev reversed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s June announcement that Russia was ending its bid to secure WTO membership, moving forward instead with a customs union incorporating several of the former Soviet republics. While Medvedev’s spokesperson sought to minimize the differences between Medvedev and Putin’s approaches the policy reversal nevertheless represents the most dramatic policy clash between Russia’s two top political leaders. The uncertainty surrounding Russia’s position on WTO membership further complicates ongoing talks between Russia and its trade partners.

2. A series of denial-of-service attacks against the United States and South Korea on Wednesday were likely the result of a North Korean cyber attack. In a denial-of-service attack, thousands of simultaneous electronic information requests are made, causing computer servers to crash. Wednesday’s attacks were directed against South Korean and U.S. financial sector and government computers, including Department of Defense and FBI networks. The attacks followed a series of increasingly aggressive missile test launches by North Korea, including several launched over the July 4th weekend, and highlighted the vulnerability of U.S. computer networks to relatively simple cyber attacks. Many analysts believe this sort of denial-of-service attack—in an effort to inhibit communications—would precede a North Korean military attacks against the South.

3. Israel’s National Security Advisor, Uzi Arad, considered by many to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closed political advisor, announced that Israel would not return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of any peace deal. The two countries are currently engaged in indirect talks aimed at reaching a “comprehensive peace.” But the status of the Golan Heights remains disputed, as both countries seek control of the region, which is of strategic importance, as well as being a major source of water and a popular tourist destination in the water-scarce region. Israel seized the Golan Heights in 1967, after the Syrian army used the strategic position to shell Israeli positions in the Hula Valley below. The status of the Golan Heights, along with the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, remains the major stumbling blocks for a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors.

4. Talks intended to resolve the political crisis in Honduras began in Costa Rica on Thursday. The crisis began two weeks ago, when President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office and put on a military transport out of the country. Roberto Micheletti has been named interim president, but his government is not recognized by the international community. The Organization of American States has taken the lead on addressing the standoff, sponsoring talks to peacefully resolve the standoff. But so far, both sides are unwilling to compromise on the central question: who should rule in Honduras?

5. The United States and the European Union appear to be on a collision course with respect to new financial regulations intended to prevent another global financial crisis like the one that ripped through markets late last year. The U.S. Congress is currently considering a new regulatory system that would impose stricter regulation on derivatives, including bans on some of the riskiest financial instruments. But many are concerned that stricter regulations in the United States would encourage regulatory arbitrage, where financial companies would simply relocate to jurisdictions with weaker regulatory systems.

The Problem with the Development Aid Debate

A fascinating debate has been taking place over at the Huffington Post over the past several days. At issue is Dambisa Moyo’s new book, Dead Aid, in which Moyo argues that aid undermines developmental efforts in recipient countries. Africa therefore needs to go “cold turkey” off foreign aid in order to achieve economic development. Moyo is, in short, advocating the ultimate in free market economics. Moyo’s controversial thesis has been widely popular in some circles, even breaking into mainstream television coverage on the Colbert Report.

Jeffrey Sachs offered a counterpoint to Moyo’s position, arguing that foreign aid is necessary to address the contemporary challenges faced by the African continent. A number of other bloggers, including Kristi York Wooten, Jake Whitney, and Alex Coutinho have also chimed in to the debate to support Sach’s critique of Moyo.

But the problem in the debate so far has, as Kevin Watkins points out, been oversimplified. Watkins critiques Moyo for “tilting at windmills.” “The real debate,” he argues, “should be over how to increase aid effectiveness.” Watkins is right. But he doesn’t go far enough in his critique. To the contrary, in his defense of Moyo, William Easterly criticizes Sachs for providing too many caveats to his theory. According to Easterly,

A good rule for all theories, including theories of global poverty, is Occam’s Razor — make the theory as simple as possible, but no simpler. Another way to put it is beware of explanations with too many Ifs, Buts and Excepts in them.

But Easterly’s concerns are only valid insofar as the goal is to provide a universal theory of economic development. If the goal is rather to achieve development in a specific country, that the greater the specificity the better. In this respect, the debate over whether foreign aid facilitates or undermines development has been that it offers a single, unified vision of what constitutes development. We don’t seem to have learned from the failure of the Washington Consensus (glossary) to achieve development in Africa through its “one size fits all” policy prescriptions.