The Day The Music Died

The Day The Music Died

MissingInActionMusicians have long waved the banners of the oppressed, and I’m worried that they have abandoned Nairobi’s Eastleigh because of Kenya’s increasing war on terror.

Nothing is ever all one way or the other. Despite Texas Congressional candidates’ assertions, not all Muslims are jihadists.

Many Somalis abhor war, are vehemently anti-terrorist, and many who I know are among the most placid individuals in the world. Many hundreds, even thousands, left Somalia for Kenya fleeing the conflict.

They ended up in Eastleigh, a northeast part of the city now known as “Little Mogadischu.”

When terrorist attacks increased in Kenya, jihadists’ retribution for Kenya invading Somalia and displacing al-Shabaab, almost all the attacks in and around Nairobi were in Eastleigh.

Somalis attacking Somalis. Jihadists attacking pacifists.

The pacifists fought back … with music. There were some incredibly courageous individuals and bands in Eastleigh who defied terrible and real threats after denouncing al-Shabaab and terrorism.

It began in 2008 with an artists’ collective in Eastleigh called Waayahu Cusub, “New Era.” The young artists wanted to structure a Somali existence in Kenya based on no war. Since 1993 Somalia has been a land of war.

In the beginning they focused on things music normally does, like love and romance. Alla Weyn (Big Dude) was an immediate worldwide success.

But as terrorism increased in Kenya they got pushed into the political front. A 2012 Rolling Stones article said “Somalia’s hip-hop renegades are claiming their war-torn country’s culture back from militant extremists.”

In some regards they had no choice. Radical jihadists normally ban all music. So last year in July Waayahu Cusub’s musicians successfully produced a giant concert for Somali relief.

And there were no more lyrics laced in roses and kisses. The singers challenged al Shabaab in particular to defy their music and painted a red line at Eastleigh.

Then there was the devastating destruction of the Westgate Mall and more recently the terrible massacre at a clothing market.

Waayahu Cusub has gone silent. Their website, once attracting thousands of hits daily, is dead.

The reasons for this are as much in the response to the War on Terror as the war itself, and more of this on Monday.

Meanwhile, enjoy the music.

Thanksgiving Holiday

Thanksgiving Holiday

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. (Canada celebrates it earlier.) Thanksgiving is one of Canada and the U.S.’ major holiday celebrations, characterized by copious amounts of food featuring seasonal recipes and lots of sweets. The traditional meat served at the feast is turkey.

The two-day holiday originates with the first permanent settlers to the New World, people who called themselves pilgrims fleeing England’s restrictive laws on religion and who arrived the northeast coast of America in between 1620 and 1621.

They faired poorly in the beginning until two local native Americans, Wampanoags of the Algonkian-speaking clans, both of whom spoke English (because one of them had previously traveled to England in 1605) befriended the settlers. The “Indians” taught the pilgrims how to farm and build homesteads, and the summer planting season was so successful that the pilgrims invited the Indians to a “Thanksgiving” harvest dinner in November, 1621.

Click here for much more information about the history and meaning of Thanksgiving by a native American school teacher, who dispels not only the myths about the “primitiveness” of native Americans, but also about the pilgrims’ history and beliefs.

Frack in The Karoo

Frack in The Karoo

karoofrackAt a private party last night in my remote woody knoll in the Upper Midwest, I listened with fascination to an entrepreneurial engineer describe several devices that could create cheaper, quicker fertilizer for farmers, then totally separately, medical devices of the R2D2 kind.

Recently, the South African government strongly affirmed a controversial decision made last year that seriously impacts the potential for my friend’s successes.

Fracking must go on, the South African government declared, despite increasing opposition by environmental groups.

My friend’s inventions like thousands of others worldwide attracts investors motivated almost entirely by their presumptions of future energy costs.

There are scores of new inventions presuming much higher energy costs, like my friend’s microwave device to produce fertilizer.

But as with many biofuel processes, it’s only efficient if the costs of production are lower than traditional processes associated with increasing energy costs.

Today’s low-cost traditional energy seems to come from fracking, and the strengthened South African policy is an important global incentive for governments worldwide to pursue friendly fracking policies.

“South Africa has very strong environmental legislation and a very strong environmental provision in our constitution,” explains one of South Africa’s most prominent environmentalists, Jonathan Deal.

“Were South Africa to fall to shale gas mining, I believe that it would be a strategic blow to those opposing shale gas mining globally. It’s got the potential to be a strategic domino in a series of dominos.”

And last night I listened to this passionate inventor, who also considers himself an environmentalist, concede that the chance for his inventions to become reality could be linked to fracking successes.

The glut of natural gas fracking is producing has so lowered the cost of traditional fertilizer manufacturing that his models are now stressed. The chances of attracting investment – at least in the immediate term – are now diminished because of fracking.

Last year the South African government lifted a year-long moratorium on fracking, and the issue as in the U.S. is now headed to the courts.

Few on either side dispute the facts. Fracking is a particularly intrusive environmental mining technique that often pollutes ground water, the most immediate hazard that can shake public support.

As in the U.S. and elsewhere in the western world, governments’ replies attempt to assure the public that the situation will be diligently monitored, and fracking will be suspended if pollution is detected.

Governments are widely supported by government-subsidized science, including the U.S.’s widely cited EPA study that essentially gave a green light to fracking.

Of the entire developed world, only France has banned fracking. But that is likely because 80% of France’s energy comes from nuclear power plants.

Everything, today, is inextricably linked. My friend’s microwave invention for fertilizer, to neighbor’s solar panels, to Chinese employment of solar factories, to the safety of the water I drink.

Moreover, I think if the beneficiaries of our energy debates were truly public, and not measured as the profits of BP-Shell, the debates would be quicker and more accurate. I really see that as a major part of our energy dither, the inability to extract private enterprise from public good.

I’m no scientist, but ever since I met and lived with my wife in Paris, I’ve liked the French: Nuclear is the way to go.

That would empower not only South Africa, which already has nuclear energy, but my friends’ inventions as well.

But I haven’t yet passed this by my Japanese friends.

Better Brazil

Better Brazil

brazilchinainafricaChina’s striking involvement in Africa is well documented, including a growing African skepticism of it. Capitalizing on this tension, Brazil may become a bigger player than China in the next decade.

China’s interest in Africa is transparently its need for the continent’s considerable natural resources. This transparency was sold with total noninterference in local politics and government. It didn’t matter if you were lily white or deadly dark, a despot or a human rights hero. If you had oil, a deal’s a deal.

This was attractive to Africans in the beginning, a refreshing change from the centuries of Machiavellian dealing by the west which began with the earliest days of colonization.

But Africa and China are growing increasingly at odds with one another.

Africans are starting to realize the bad thing about “non-interference” is that bad African governments and policies are propped up by the Chinese philosophy. And throughout especially sub-Saharan Africa a truly new political awakening is occurring.

“China’s indiscriminate investments in good and bad governments alike, with its particular affinity for corrupt and dictatorial governments, [is] undermining peace and security in the region,” writes African scholar Alula A. Iyasu, an Ethiopian who holds prominent expert positions in the African Union and United Nations.

East African governments were particularly angered this year by Chinese positions in the UN Security Council that stalled much needed action in The Congo.

And there is a growing concern with Chinese immigrants. Call it xenophobic if you want, but large-scale Chinese immigration – which is part and parcel of Chinese policy for African development – has recently challenged traditional African tolerances.

This May Ghanian President Mahama launched a crackdown on illegal gold mining that resulted in 169 individual Chinese arrested.

In East Africa increasing numbers of Chinese are being arrested for ivory smuggling, a distinct change from the recent past when authorities looked the other way.

And particularly in South Africa, Chinese companies have built manufacturing and mining factories with work conditions that are inferior to similar South African companies.

It’s a doubly whammy to South Africans who are in the first incidence harmed by Chinese preference to hire Chinese immigrants, and then when South Africans are hired, discover that the working conditions are so bad.

China, Russia, South Africa, India and Brazil formed a trade and political association in 2005 called BRICS, intended to coordinate political, economic and cultural development. BRICS ostensible policies would facilitate an integration and ease of cooperation that is quite impressive by most trade pact standards.

But Russia and India have yet to show any serious enthusiasm for the new association, and with Africans’ new ambivalence towards China, Brazil has immediately stepped up to the plate.

Not without controversy similar to the Chinese, Brazil is striking forward positions in Mozambique mining and Angolan manufacturing, two potential powerhouses with which it shares a native language.

But as Kenyan Julius Okoth of the social movement “People’s Parliament”
explains, Brazil comes to the table with a distinct advantage China lacks:

Humanitarism.

Recent, successful socialist policies to reduce poverty, including ‘Bolsa Familia’ (“Family Fund”), have resulted in a major redistribution of wealth in Brazil under its last president, Lula da Silva. Okoth and others believe that these social/political models would work well in Africa.

China in complete contrast has no desire to export its social or political policies. In fact, there is every indication the Chinese don’t want outsiders to fully understand exactly what policies the government has for such major social problems as poverty, much less try to copy them.

As the world’s sixth largest economy, Brazil is in a highly competitive situation with China, the world’s second. Brazil’s culture is much more similar to many in Africa than China’s culture is, and its stated humanitarian and social positions strike a higher moral bar than China’s that is especially attractive to African youth.

It’s far too early to say for certain, but I for one think that African tolerance of Chinese involvement – however financially beneficial – is growing increasingly raw.

Brazil is much better fit.

Salmon & Sourdough

Salmon & Sourdough

pancakes&salmonSeventy-five pounds of king salmon and probably half that of sourdough pancakes: that’s Talkeetna, Alaska, bumper stickered around town as “A Quaint Little Drinking Village with a Climbing Problem.”

After our adventure in the wilderness in Denali we spent two days at the park’s far southeastern end in Talkeetna. This is where all the climbers start. There are only four air charter companies with rights from the National Parks Service to actually land on Mt. McKinley and they all bay in Talkeetna.

Some folks went jetboating, some river rafting, others fishing and everyone had the Roadhouse sourdough pancakes.

The story of salmon and intertwined but separately that of Alaskan fish hatcheries are really fascinating. The life cycle of a salmon begins as a hatchling in clear mountain streams hardly a few fingers deep. The majority of its life is in the ocean, some traveling as far as Japan. Then, just before it dies it returns to where it was born to spawn.

three fishersuccesses.631.mfrankelWe had five fisherfolks today, and two ladies (Pat Herman and Cathy Tschannen) and one gent (Mark Frankel) each landed king salmon about 25 pounds each. I’ve had excellent luck with king in the Talkeetna area over the years, but it’s getting more difficult.

Alaska DFG closed the Talkeetna River this year because the King “statement” hadn’t been reached last year. That’s jargon for a minimum number returning to their spawning grounds to breed and die, and several years ago it fell to below 12,000 on the Talkeetna.

There are lots of different speculations as to why: everything of course from global warming to blaming the fish hatcheries, that had a boom year and are reported to have dumped a bunch of unused kings. But just south of Talkeetna is the Deshka River, and that was overflowing with kings … and fishermen!

You can fish for five of the six species of Pacific salmon in Alaska: King (also known as Chinook) oncorhynchus tschawytscha, Sockeye (also known as Red) oncorhynchus nerka, Coho (also known as Silver) oncorhynchus kisutch, Pink (also known as humpie) oncorhynchus gorbusha, and Chum (also known as Keta, Silverbrite and Dog) oncorhynchus keta.

Sockeye and King vie for favorite, both for taste and fight. My preference is King, and it runs now in the Talkeetna area.

But everyone enjoyed the famous Roadhouse sourdough pancakes! Myself, included, although I still think that Sourdough Sam’s in Fairbanks wins in the State. Third prize to the Snow City in Anchorage. And Roadhouse gets second.

But for presentation, there’s no contest: Roadhouse wins. For atmosphere, sides, coffee and the incredible variety of home-baked pastries and pies, Roadhouse wins.

We actually began our Prince William cruise Sunday, but there’s no internet or cell reception for the whole week. So I’ll be preposting stories that happened where we expect to be this year, from previous years, so…

Stay tuned!
closeup.roadhousesourdough.631

Dumb Roper Nabbed

Dumb Roper Nabbed

Many Americans don’t care if something’s going extinct: it’s just “the way it is.” So it’s no surprise that big game poaching is as much an American problem as it is an African one.

“Put bluntly,” writes Australian ecologist Euan Ritchie, current species extinction is an ecological “avalanche” with current rates 1000 to 10,000 times higher than would be normal in a balanced environment.

Most people realize that the extinction of one species has the potential to threaten a whole ecosystem. We might not fully understand, for example, why that little flower in the Amazon jungle keep the canopy from falling down, but most people in the world accept that it might.

But rhino? What purpose, exactly, does this beast have? We know an awful lot about rhino, and nothing suggests it’s integral to the status quo of any particular environment. In fact, it rarely exists in the wild, anymore.

The answers are allusive and often personal. There are probably fewer Americans as a percentage who believe extinction of something like the rhino is a priority than compared to other societies, but likely and fortunately still probably a majority.

Americans were the ones to formalize the concept of an endangered species with historic legislation in 1973. And shortly after the Endangered Species Act was enacted, the sale of rhino horn was banned.

Almost forty years later, Jarrod Wade Steffen, a poor kid from McHenry Illinois, just wanted to get his mom some money after his rodeo career collapsed, so he started trafficking rhino horn.

There’s more to it, of course, including Mom sneaking out of California with a suitcase of small bills totaling more than $100,000. And there’s a lot we still don’t know, since Wade’s plea agreement with the Justice Department suggests he’s still involved with helping ongoing investigations.

At 21 years old, Wade was struggling to make a living competing in rodeos. He’d won his events in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Missouri and while he certainly wasn’t a star to watch his trajectory was OK.

Then he got injured in the eye by a camel he was trying to train. He started driving a truck, which earned a better living anyway than rodeos, and moved to Hico, Texas.

There in Texas, that wild and rowdy and never wholly moral place, Wade reconnected with old rodeo acquaintances who had rhino horn for sale. Most of them had it legally, usually from old big game trophies shot before the 1976 ban from the Endangered Species Act.

It wasn’t hard to find someone to sell to. Thirty-three times between June of 2010 and just before he was arrested in February of 2012 Wade sent rhino horn to Vinh “Jimmy” Choung Kha in Orange County California and earned hundreds of thousand dollars.

In that 18-month period, the American cowboy, Wade Steffen, trafficked in more rhino than were poached in Kenya.

Kha in turn sold the horn to Zhao Feng, a Chinese national living mysteriously in Orange County, part of the new rich Chinese buying expensive California real estate and not really doing much else. Kha laundered the money he got from Feng through his import/export business and his girlfriend’s nail salon.

The ring was blown apart when Wade, his mother and his girlfriend, were stopped at the Orange County airport with three suitcases carrying around $300,000 in cash.

Wade, his mother, his girlfriend, Kha, Feng and a bunch of others, including an antique dealer in New York, were all subsequently arrested. Federal authorities called it the biggest bust in the history of illegal rhino horn trading.

“These individuals were interested in one thing and one thing only – making money,” said Fish & Wildlife Director Dan Ashe.

Whether that’s wholly true or not, one thing is certainly wholly true:

Wade, his relatives and friends, and all the other people around who knew what he was doing don’t care if something goes extinct.

Extinction, and in particular rhino extinction, is not just an African problem.

At More Than Arm’s Length

At More Than Arm’s Length

Yes I’m again guiding safaris in Kenya. There is peace and safety throughout the country, again, the best in five years. This does not mean I like the government.

EWT will broker safaris in Kenya, again, for the same reason EWT sent tourists to China and Ethiopia in the 1980s and to South Africa throughout the apartheid era: individuals need to see for themselves, and because those places at those times were safe for tourists.

As Kenya is, again. As Rwanda is, today. But just because it might be safe doesn’t mean I condone the evil and undemocratic policies of the government.

This is not just my assessment, of course. As each day passes, there is more condemnation of Kenyatta and Ruto, most of it from within Kenya.

Over the weekend it became clear that that the Uhruto Mafia might actually weasel out of their trials as still another important witness dropped out of the case. This has infuriated the educated Kenyan public.

It’s important always to make a distinction between government and the people. Especially when “the people” are so closely divided between those who ardently support their government and those who are so ardently opposed to it.

Such was the era of George Bush. And such today is the era of Uhuru Kenyatta. George Bush didn’t last and hopefully neither will Uhuru Kenyatta. But Kenyatta is just beginning his term, and it doesn’t look good.

Twisting the good things of the new constitution onto themselves, Kenyatta has managed to stymie opposition in Parliament. He’s done this by stepping outside civil society and the majesty of his own constitution, and essentially bribing easily coerced members of the opposition.

This is not Lincoln trading a post office to free slaves. It’s Uhuru Kenyatta dolling out money and fancy cars from the national treasury to support appointing his cronies to the most important watchdog committees of Parliament.

And following the lead of Ages Past, a recent High Court judge just stopped the prosecution of Kenya’s biggest financial scandal in its history, with the blessing of Kenyatta.

But such overt actions, skirting the boundaries of legality, are not as disconcerting as the extra-legal ones.

“Recent public pronouncements … suggest that the Uhuru administration might at some point resort to a Russia-style crackdown to silence critical voices,” claimed one of Kenya’s most acclaimed columnists this weekend.

Mr. Otieno explained that the organizations currently being harassed by public institutions on a much more grievous scale than our Right Wingers were called out by the IRS are universally ones that challenged Kenyatta’s election victory in the courts.

Kenyatta is feeling deep embarrassment on the global arena, as world leaders shun him and he becomes increasingly isolated. His problem, of course, is that he’s been indicted for crimes against humanity by the world community, and is due to be tried on July 9 in The Hague.

Cornered beasts tend to lash out, and that remains my worry. I worry that the current Kenyan regime – although I admire them for having established a palpable peace in society for the first time in nearly six years – will become so isolated that violence will return.

If it does, we’ll go away, again. If it doesn’t, I invite you to enjoy the beauty and promise of Kenya, which does not include its current government leadership.

On Safari: Great Migration

On Safari: Great Migration

This year’s Great Migration is an almost constant sea of animals from the eastern Serengeti plains to the western and beyond, one of the most placid and easiest to see that I can remember.

Seeing the migration is like seeing the stars. You can never see them all, and you can’t even see at once all those that might be in your field of vision. The sky is just too large, and so is the Serengeti. Two million animals might not seem like a lot when you’re atop Naabi Hill, but it is.

I figure that at the very best views of the Serengeti, one of which is atop Naabi Hill, when pointed in any one given direction the most you can see is about 25 square miles, and if the animals in the migration were packed into every crevice of that view, you’d maybe see 150,000 animals, a tenth of the great migration.

The migration for us this year is not sardine packaging.The veld is green and beautiful across almost the entire southern Serengeti, and so the grass is abundant everywhere. The animals are dispersed much more than they would be during drier years.

We started seeing wilde right after leaving Shifting Sands outside Olduvai. We saw them continuously, although sparsely, over the plains between Shifting Sands and Lemuta Kopjes.

We had lunch atop one of the unique kopjes opposite Lemuta where the view was incredible. To the south was the giant Ngorongoro on our day covered by a super storm. But while we could see the lightning, the rest of the sky – probably 80% of our sky view – was clear and beautiful.

At lunch the density of the wilde increased. As we moved west towards Ndutu it fluctuated but we were never out of sight of large groups of wilde, and as we approached the main road the density was quite high.

We also saw many other animals, of course, including many hyaena, jackal and as a great bonus, nearly 200 eland. That’s especially beautiful as the world’s largest antelope (1600 pounds) when in a truly wild situation is especially skittish.

This massive and beautiful antelope runs at breakneck speeds and leaps nearly 8′ into the air, and unbelievable sight.

And of course we saw several kills, or possibly deaths caused during bad childbirth, covered with birds and hyaenas. This is the season for birthing, and one day we spent nearly an hour just watching a nearby female herd of wilde give birth.

That’s why this is my favorite time for the migration. It isn’t as dramatic as the racing across rivers chock full of crocodile that starts in June and continues through September (at different parts in the Serengeti and Mara), but those events are very irregular and hard to intersect.

Whereas the birthing time is when the entire herd comes to feed on the new nutrient grasses brought by the heavy rains. So everybody is together, more or less, even if more widely spaced and much calmer.

And unlike the “racing time” where the herd is fractured into innumerable smaller groups, now it is more or less uniformly on the southern grassland plains. And seeing the newborn gives an added dimension to the experience.

Nothing can ever be guaranteed in the wild. A shift in weather, an insect blight, and even an over- or under-population of animals can result in radical changes in numbers and locations. But this year everything was – more or less – normal, and we witnessed what is absolutely the greatest spectacle in the natural world.

On Safari: Kenyatta Wins

On Safari: Kenyatta Wins

Confusing, remarkable situation in Kenya.

As I write this Sunday night in East Africa, a man indicted for crimes against humanity is Kenya’s 4th president, and the place is quiet if solemn.

None of the foregoing may last long.

Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the 4th President of Kenya by the election authority, having won 50.07% of the vote. His nearest rival, Raila Odinga, had less than 44%. Nearly 85% of the registered voters participated.

If less than 10,000 votes are reversed, and nearly a half million are being challenged in court right now, then a run-off election will be mandated. In Kenya if less than 50% of the votes are received, the top two of the original 8 contenders must vie in a run-off election.

What that would mean is that Raila Odinga would have to command nearly all the votes that were cast for the other six candidates combined, and that seems to me unlikely. However, note that I also thought it unlikely Kenyatta would win.

The strength of Kenyatta’s polling rested heavily on his success in getting out the ethnic voters in the Rift Valley. I’m sure he would be similarly successful a second time around.

If Kenyatta remains president, or is confirmed in a run-off election, he will be the first sitting president in the world to be on trial for crimes against humanity in The Hague.

Those charges stem from the World Court’s assessment of years of fact-finding that Kenyatta was instrumental in provoking and sustaining the horrible violence that followed the 2007 elections.

The U.S. and Britain have already warned Kenya that Kenyatta as president would have “repercussion” on bilateral relationships.

It doesn’t really matter whether Kenyatta fulfills his promise to attend the trial.

The very fact he stands accused in a criminal court system which rarely arrives at the point of a trial without substantial evidence to convict is alarming.

Kenya is still peaceful.

Raila Odinga is aggressively challenging the decision in the courts, and he has substantial evidence behind him, but he is also constantly telling Kenyans to remain peaceful.

So what now?

What is a peaceful Kenya with a rogue president?

Oh, and by the way, his Vice President, William Ruto, is on trial with him, and from my point of view, is evil incarnate, by far worse than Kenyatta.

I don’t know. I don’t know whether to trust the people of Kenya so long as they remain peaceful and work within the system they so tirelessly created, or to trust the world system whose suspicions about Kenyatta and Ruto are deep and severe.

We must let more time pass. That’s the African way.

Mali: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Mali: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Conor Godfrey

For how long? Photo by New York Times
This is my last blog before turning the reins back over to Jim, so I thought I would sign out with the state of play in Mali, a country near and dear to my heart.

4,000 French troops, along with several hundred Chadians, and smaller contingents from Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Senegal, have retaken the three main Northern cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, and pushed the main body of insurgents northward into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains on the border with Algeria.

Estimates put total insurgent numbers, spread among three or four different groups, around 4,000 – 6,000, and French forces report the rebels are well armed and better trained than expected.

The Good:
– The hardcore Islamist leadership is dropping like horses in the Tse-Tse belt. A mess of confirmed and unconfirmed reports claim that French and/or Chadian forces killed two leading figures in the assorted extremist groups currently fighting in Northern Mali.
– These leaders— Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zeid—are committed international Jihadis from outside Mali, with long histories of murder and kidnapping. (Disclaimer: Belmoktar’s death remains unconfirmed)

As much as some readers may hate force, or the idea of the French using it in West Africa, I would argue that brute force helps separate the committed jihadis from opportunistic locals.

Joining a rebel movement seems like a much better play when they run your hometown, claim to fight your traditional enemies, or pay the best of any employer in town.

That line of work looks far less attractive when your foreign (likely Algerian or Mauritanian) boss is running for his life through the dessert.

The Bad:
– So far, diverse Northern communities are broadly receptive of the French intervention.

However, this is horrendously complicated and could turn at any moment. A few things you should keep in mind regarding about popular opinion in Mali:

Anti-northern attitudes are hardening in Southern Mali—especially negative feelings toward Tuaregs.

This xenophobia will complicate the post-conflict scenario, as Southern elites will come under serious pressure to punish the North. In the North, communal divisions make coalescing behind moderate representation nigh impossible.

See this great post by Bamako Bruce exploring the historical roots of inter-communal antipathy….

Essentially, the Tuaregs have been slavers for most of the territory’s history, so the former slaves find it rather difficult to see Tuaregs as victims.

The Ugly:
– There is no centrifugal force currently capable of creating a unified, functional Mali. Watch this two-minute Stratfor video on Mali’s geographic challenge.

Nothing has changed.

A military occupation by a superior force can enforce a temporary peace, but not make a state. The French are facing intense domestic pressure to make good on Hollande’s claim that this would be a short term operation, and every French soldier that dies (three so far) makes Mali look more like Iraq to the folks back home.

Optimism…?:
– Sure. But really just for optimism’s sake.

Mali needs representative, viable, and politically palatable representation in the North that can lead a constituent assembly, or at least claim to speak for Northern communities in negotiations with the South.

An armed peace held together by regional forces and or the (proposed) UN Peacekeeping mission might give Northern elites time to bargain over such a coalition.

However, I don’t think any of the current groups would be acceptable to the entire Northern population – the MNLA are too Tuareg centric, and the others are mostly too extreme.

The international community – especially the French – should immediately begin using whatever leverage they have to kick-start the bargaining process before the extremists come get back from the mountains.

Borders and Blood

Borders and Blood

by Conor Godfrey
I’ve been accused of being a relentless Africa booster… this is almost certainly true.

To fight back, however, I am going to offer a scarier version of the continent’s next thirty years that has taken up serious mind share recently.

This idea will hopefully pass muster as a research topic, so I would certainly appreciate your feedback as I am just getting the full proposal together now.

From the late 90s to the present, we have seen tremendous agitation around African intra and inter-state borders.

I would argue that this started with the Ethiopia Eritrea war (1998-2000) and would include the escalation of civilizational conflict inside Nigeria and Mali, the 2006 Ethiopian and the 2012 Kenyan invasions of Somalia, and, of course, the separation of Sudan and South Sudan.

Dozens of conflicts—including many in the DRC—do not make this list because they did or do not fundamentally challenge the status-quo colonial borders.

You can quibble with or add to my list – that is not the point.

Before this decade the Colonial borders exhibited nigh unprecedented durability. Here is a list of African border changes post WW1… 90% of them were trades between colonial powers.

My point (or wild hypothesis if you will) is this… from independence to 2000, most African states did not possess the material capabilities to mount a sustained challenge to the territorial status quo; doing so requires states to centralize political control, neutralize domestic opponents that pose a threat to the state, and have the material resources necessary to take, hold, and administer territory.

As the U.S. knows well, this requires lots and lots of money (not to mention a professional military and a tolerant domestic audience).

For this entire period, states concentrated on papering over the inconsistencies built into their illogical creations, and, if hostile foreign action were required, they relied on cheap and effective proxy militias and other irregular activity rather than large-scale mobilization.

The Council on Foreign relations writes —not totally persuasively in my opinion—that keeping colonial borders gave African leaders “reciprocal insurance” against invasion, and that leaders were more concerned with arguing over who controlled state resources than fighting over borders.

So why are things coming apart at the seams (pun very much intended)?

This could, after all, just be a blip, a decade long aberration on an otherwise century long consolidation along the lines drawn on a cocktail napkin in Europe.

Here is what I think:

1) Differential Growth: The continent is booming, but not everywhere feels the love.

As some countries outpace their neighbors they will be tempted to acquire the military capabilities to favorably alter the territorial status quo.

Colonialism left hundreds of potential territorial flash points, and for the first time since independence, some African states can likely do something about them.

Differential growth also exacerbates tensions within countries.

As globally connected and well endowed regions grow faster than other provinces inside the same country, resentments build and fuel long simmering separatist ambitions.

This narrative plays itself out most visibly today in Mali, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire, and to a lesser extent in Kenya and Uganda.

2) Resources: As mentioned in this post, Africa is massively under prospected and companies are racing to catch up.

A powerful country may have let unfavorable borders lie when no rents could be extracted from the disputed territory, but what happens when billions of dollars of oil and gas hang on a few lousy kilometers, and investing in a miniscule navy would be sufficient to enforce a fait accompli on the border?

There are a number of possible mitigating factors—colonial withdrawal, regional integration, economic integration, etc… — but I will save those for some future post.

This is worth getting right. I would hate to see a decade of phenomenal growth and progress undone in an orgy of territorial revisionism, and reasonable precautions could help stop spirals of security competition before they begin.

On Safari : South Africa

On Safari : South Africa

South Africa provides an excellent platform to explain why so many American tourists make bad decisions about their African touring.

Probably most tourists to Africa travel on referral from friends or family. It’s a very small percentage that buy strictly off the internet without vetting what they’ve found with people they know and trust. That’s all well and good but where it goes wrong is when these referrals are from friends or family who have very limited experience.

And the fact is that a single trip, or even two trips to some area, is very limited experience. So you’ve got to guard against personal referrals being …well, too personal.

South Africa is an excellent example of how past travelers get it wrong.

The first is that the best time to go is during America’s summer.

The second is the enormous perception particularly in America that Johannesburg and surroundings are unsafe to visit, and even if they were safe, uninteresting.

The third is that you should avoid the “touristy” places to stay, like the Waterfront in Cape Town or Sandton City north of Johannesburg.

These three entrenched notions are essentially 180 degrees wrong.

I’m currently guiding a small, private group through South African into Botswana and Victoria Falls. We started in Cape Town, they took Rovos Rail and we are now in Johannesburg. It’s South Africa’s summer, and I just checked that the temperature at my home is 2F with a winter storm on its way.

I think before any other information is known, the best time to visit virtually any place outside of the equatorial regions or great deserts is their summer.

The flowers and trees are in bloom, the golf courses are beautiful; surfing, swimming, diving, sailing and everything to do with waters and oceans is at its peak (including some of the finest seafood in the world), outdoor concerts and flea markets are in their hay day, and … it’s comfortable!

South Africa’s winter doesn’t begin to compare to Chicago’s, but it is quite similar to much of the upper south in the United States, like northern Georgia and Tennessee. All the trees lose their leaves. Daylight is diminished. Grass is brown and it’s usually dismal and chilly or cold. Now does that sound like a fun place to be?

And while it’s true that moving north into our safari tomorrow in Botswana increases the temperatures, today’s better camps are so brilliantly constructed – some with air conditioning – that it really isn’t so uncomfortable, now. And this is the time for the best animal viewing!

Two: Time and again you hear so-called “experienced travelers” warning new comers away from places they feel are dangerous, like Lima or St. Petersburg, or … Johannesburg. This is balderdash.

To begin with every city is huge and there are safe parts and unsafe parts, so to lump everything together reveals immediately the silliness of the statement. We are staying in the posh suburb of Sandton. We leave our luggage two floors below reception on the curb to be attended by the porters, we leave our purses in the tour vehicles, we dangle bracelets and necklaces when we go out for a nice dinner.

It’s perfectly safe. And also time-and-again these same naysayers will claim that the “unsafe” city has nothing to offer, anyway.

Like the Apartheid Museum? One of the greatest museums on earth. Or the Cradle of Humankind, which is an exceptional – probably the best – museum complex on earth describing what we know about early man? Or the Sandton museum of the country’s 4 Nobel Laureates? Or absolutely some of the best restaurants and certainly the best shopping complexes anywhere in Africa?

Or jazz and cabaret cafes, theaters, symphonies, multiple festivals at any given time, sports events out the wazoo … in a nutshell, an urban setting difficult to match anywhere on earth.

Three. Avoid the “touristy places.”

Why, exactly? Aren’t you a tourist? Do you not go to Times Square or the Statue of Liberty or Ground Zero or Disneyland or Hollywood boulevard, or the Miracle Mile, or on and on? That’s what these things are for! This isn’t skid row for the leisure class!

Cape Town’s best hotels are at the Waterfront, a complex not so dissimilar to my Chicago’s Navy Pier. The old hotels in the city and outlying areas like the Mt. Nelson are musty and away from all the good action. The best restaurants, the best shops, the best information centers, the best galleries and some of the best museums – they are in the “tourist areas.”

And this is true I suppose anywhere in the world. No matter how you try, if you aren’t committed to actually living somewhere for a good period of time, the best experience you can have of that place is to for at least part of the time join the crowds.

Tomorrow we head into the bush. It’s remarkable to think our last week has been in anything but. It’s hard for me, an East African freak, to really believe our incredible week is only a few hours airplane ride away from the wilds.

So tune in, again, and I’ll let you know if it was just all a fantasy!

Everything you see in the picture above -- except of course my wonderful friends and clients Sally Downey and Ada Addington -- is made from beads and discarded wire. This is "Streetwires," a fabulous Cape Town artists' coop.

It’s Politics Stupid

It’s Politics Stupid

by Conor Godfrey
Africa needs more intra-regional transport links..

Africa needs more improved water sources.

If only Africa had enough eight-cent vaccines, free elections, power plants, kids toys or TOMS shoes then it would all fall together. Sigh.

How often have you heard these quasi-truisms?

(Quick note: Can’t mention the 6% continental growth rate enough, and TOMS Shoes is one of the worst charity ideas since Scrooge recommended putting poor people in debtor’s prisons in A Christmas Carol.)

I have undoubtedly used such intellectually lazy reasoning myself in moments of confusion or frustration.

Believing that A+B would equal C if only those poor, unfortunate wretches could get their act together defers the substantial effort that would be required to understand more difficult questions, and strokes our sub-conscious bias telling us that we would do better in someone else’s shoes.

The dirty little secret of self-help books, aid industries, and all manner of 12-step plans to success is that everyone already knows 95% of the right answers.

Distributional politics—not misinformation—scuttles good ideas in favor of bad ones. Permit me a few examples.

Why are there so few roads linking secondary cities to each other in Africa, or roads between markets across borders?

Mainly because second tier cities are usually opposition strongholds, and linking them by road or rail would increase the likelihood of an alliance against the group in power.

Why do wealthy African countries consistently fail to meet the demand for electricity?

I doubt anyone believes that leaders don’t understand the relationship between power and economic growth. Of course they do. The problem revolves around who gets what! Who gets the contract, who pays which price for electricity, and which neighborhood/city will have access?

There are dozens of similar examples in the United States.

The most famous example is U.S. government research and academic funding: investing more in a few large projects would yield more break-throughs, but instead, the government spreads ineffectually small amounts to hundreds of organizations to appease political and/or state-based interests.

These political or distributional problems are even more salient in weaker states where sub-sate actors are more powerful.

The best articulation of why politics torpedoes policies that all actors agree would increase aggregate welfare concerns the difference between relative and absolute gains.

(I here begin stealing liberally from the Realist school of thought in international politics, led in its modern incarnation by Kenneth Waltz and Hans Morgenthau.)

Actors care less about large increases in absolute welfare than about gaining small advantages over strategic rivals or adversaries.

After all, if a given policy makes an entire country richer, but makes a competing ethno-regional grouping slightly wealthier than your in-group, then that competing group might use their newfound power to snuff you out. This security-dilemma often forces all actors to pursue sub-optimal policies.

These dynamics, however, do not lend themselves to easy solutions, and therefore we mostly prefer to pretend that African leaders don’t understand how important roads are, or that LSE trained African Foreign Ministers just don’t get how high tariffs distort trade.

If you ever get tired of hearing about the next big thing in development, read through some of the case studies at the Institute For Successful Societies. These are the stories of battle hardened reformers trying to implement the small or large changes that everyone knows their country or community needs.

Nicholas Kristof’s white “transition” characters not included.

First Time…

First Time…

By Conor Godfrey.
Two days ago the first Malian in history blew himself up in an attempt to kill others.

Americans have become so inured to suicide bombings that this fact may seem tragic but inconsequential.

Most Malians, however, have yet to recover.

This simply does, or did, not happen in the land of Sundiata Keita.

Nowhere in Songhai chants, or Fulani poems, or even marshal Bambara stories do people talk about strapping bombs to their waist and taking innocent lives.

In centuries of warfare between Arab and Bantu, nomad and farmer, Muslim and pagan, such a thing as never happened.

Let us try for one moment to return to our pre-9/11 innocence and feel some shock, and some sympathy for a corner of the world previously uncontaminated by this particular evil.

I remember when the first Boko Haram suicide bomber blew himself up in Nigeria.

My Nigerian friends and colleagues were stunned. It seemed as though they took the attack as an indictment of the culture they thought they knew and understood.

Even mass killings of Muslims and Christians on the Nigerian central plateau did not generate one-tenth the moral outrage of that single suicide bombing.

Inter-communal conflict was something they understood intuitively. This business with bombs was not.

Americans have become unconscious experts at shielding ourselves from the emotive power of a suicide bombing. We have had too.

Erecting effective psychological defenses against suicide bombing requires neutering all the emotional content of a suicide attack.

In silent partnership, the news consumer and the news provider reduce an attack to its purported essentials – the death toll, the mechanics of delivering the bomb, and which group of crazies was claiming responsibility.

In Mali’s virgin case—two deaths, by bicycle, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

Why do we wallow in the raw emotionality of a natural disaster, or school shooting, or even an individual suicide, but culturally divorce ourselves from the most heinous and powerful act of violence and protest available to today’s discontents?

I think it remains much easier to homogenize people we don’t understand in far away places by reducing their actions to banalities like numbers of wounded and how the attack took place.

Stop and think about what we’re saying; someone was just willing to die in order to kill!

If we let ourselves feel the tragedy of a homegrown suicide bombing in Mali, we would probably have to ask why the attacker felt strongly enough to blow himself to pieces.

Through this we would learn, to our concernment, that he was not ‘crazy’ in the sense of being insane, and all this introspection might lead us to think more clearly about the blowback from our global war on terror.

These thoughts will of course feel vaguely (and wrongly) treasonous.

It is far easier just to think of Mali or Africa as somewhere used to getting a raw deal.

Maybe somewhere where life comes a little cheaper, and craziness prevails. This is nonsense, but hard to shake if you were raised on the same images and news coverage I was.

Fight the urge to disassociate and dismiss.

The new normal is NOT normal in Mali, and an entire society will need to rebuild its sense of self (or senses of selves) in a world where the tears in the cultural fabric are large enough to permit boys with bombs bent on self-annihilation.