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?

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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.”