Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Twevolution, the Arab Spring [by Twitter] is universally considered the most important story of the year, much less just in Africa. But I believe the Kenyan invasion of Somalia will have as lasting an effect on Africa, so I’ve considered them both Number One.

On October 18 Kenya invaded Somalia, where 4-5,000 of its troops remain today. Provoked by several kidnapings and other fighting in and around the rapidly growing refugee camp of Dadaab, the impression given at the time was that Kenyans had “just had enough” of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorism group in The Horn which at the time controlled approximately the southern third of Somalia. Later on, however, it became apparent that the invasion had been in the works for some time.

At the beginning of the invasion the Kenyan command announced its objective was the port city of Kismayo. To date that hasn’t happened. Aided by American drones and intelligence, and by French intelligence and naval warships, an assessment was made early on that the battle for Kismayo would be much harder than the Kenyans first assumed, and the strategy was reduced to laying siege.

That continues and remarkably, might be working. Call it what you will, but the Kenyan restraint managed to gain the support of a number of other African nations, and Kenya is now theoretically but a part of the larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been in Somali for 8 years. Moreover, the capital of Mogadishu has been pretty much secured, a task the previous peace keepers had been unable to do for 8 years.

The invasion costs Kenya dearly. The Kenyan shilling has lost about a third of its value, there are food shortages nationwide, about a half dozen terrorist attacks in retribution have occurred killing and wounding scores of people (2 in Nairobi city) and tourism – its principal source of foreign reserves – lingers around a third of what it would otherwise be had there be no invasion.

At first I considered this was just another failed “war against terrorism” albeit in this case the avowed terrorists controlled the country right next door. Moreover, I saw it as basically a proxy war by France and the U.S., which it may indeed be. But the Kenyan military restraint and the near unanimous support for the war at home, as well as the accumulation of individually marginal battle successes and outside support now coming to Kenya in assistance, all makes me wonder if once again Africans have shown us how to do it right.

That’s what makes this such an important story. The possibility that conventional military reaction to guerilla terrorism has learned a way to succeed, essentially displacing the great powers – the U.S. primarily – as the world’s best military strategists. There is as much hope in this statement as evidence, but both exist, and that alone raises this story to the top.

You may also wish to review Top al-Shabaab Leader Killed and Somali Professionals Flee as Refugees.

The Egyptian uprising, unlike its Tunisian predecessor, ensured that no African government was immune to revolution, perhaps no government in the world. I called it Twevolution because especially in Egypt the moment-by-moment activities of the mass was definitely managed by Twitter.

And the particular connection to Kenya was fabulous, because the software that powered the Twitter, Facebook and other similar revolution managing tools came originally from Kenya.

Similar of course to Tunisia was the platform for any “software instructions” – the power of the people! And this in the face of the most unimaginable odds if you’re rating the brute physical force of the regime in power.

Egypt fell rather quickly and the aftermath was remarkably peaceful. Compared to the original demonstrations, later civil disobedience whether it was against the Coptics or the military, was actually quite small. So I found it particularly fascinating how world travelers reacted. Whereas tourist murders, kidnapings and muggings were common for the many years that Egypt experienced millions of visitors annually, tourists balked at coming now that such political acts against tourists no longer occurred, because the instigators were now a part of the political process! This despite incredible deals.

We wait with baited breath for the outcome in Syria, but less visible countries like Botswana and Malawi also experienced their own Twevolution. And I listed 11 dictators that I expected would ultimately fall because of the Egyptian revolution.

Like any major revolution, the path has been bumpy, the future not easily predicted. But I’m certain, for example, that the hard and often brutal tactics of the military who currently assumes the reins of state will ultimately be vindicated. And certainly this tumultuous African revolution if not the outright cause was an important factor in our own protests, like Occupy Wall Street.

The free election and emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s 54th country would have been the year’s top story if all that revolution hadn’t started further north! In the making for more than ten years, a remarkably successful diplomatic coup for the United States, this new western ally rich with natural resources was gingerly excised from of the west’s most notorious foes, The Sudan.

Even as Sudan’s president was being indicted for war crimes in Darfur, he ostensibly participated in the creation of this new entity. But because of the drama up north, the final act of the ultimate referendum in the South which set up the new republic produced no more news noise than a snap of the fingers.

Regrettably, with so much of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, the new country was hassled violently by its former parent to the north. We can only hope that this new country will forge a more humane path than its parent, and my greatest concern for Africa right now is that global attention to reigning in the brutal regime of the north will be directed elsewhere.

Twevolution essentially effected every country in Africa in some way. Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni, looked in the early part of the last decade like he was in for life. Much was made about his attachment to American politicians on the right, and this right after he was Bill Clinton’s Africa doll child.

But even before Twevolution – or perhaps because of the same dynamics that first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – Museveni’s opponents grew bold and his vicious suppression of their attempts to legitimately oust him from power ended with the most flawed election seen in East Africa since Independence.

But unlike in neighboring Kenya where a similar 2007 election caused nationwide turmoil and an ultimate power sharing agreement, Museveni simply jailed anyone who opposed him. At first this seemed to work but several months later the opposition resurfaced and it became apparent that the country was at a crossroads. Submit to the strongman or fight him.

Meanwhile, tourism sunk into near oblivion. And by mid-May I was predicting that Museveni was the new Mugabe and had successfully oppressed his country to his regime. But as it turned out it was a hiatus not a surrender and a month later demonstrations began, twice as strong as before. And it was sad, because they went on and on and on, and hundreds if not thousands of people were injured and jailed.

Finally towards the end of August a major demonstration seemed to alter the balance. And if it did so it was because Museveni simply wouldn’t believe what was happening.

I wish I could tell you the story continued to a happy ending, but it hasn’t, at least not yet. There is an uneasy calm in Ugandan society, one buoyed to some extent by a new voice in legislators that dares to criticize Museveni, that has begun a number of inquiries and with media that has even dared to suggest Museveni will be impeached. The U.S. deployment of 100 green berets in the country enroute the Central African Republic in October essentially seems to have actually raised Museveni’s popularity. So Uganda falters, and how it falls – either way – will dramatically alter the East African landscape for decades.

This is a global phenomena, of course, but it is the developing world like so much of Africa which suffers the most and is least capable of dealing with it. The year began with incessant reporting by western media of droughts, then floods, in a confused misunderstanding of what global warming means.

It means both, just as in temperate climates it means colder and hotter. With statistics that questions the very name “Developed World,” America is reported to still have a third of its citizens disputing that global warming is even happening, and an even greater percentage who accept it is happening but believe man is not responsible either for it occurring or trying to change it. Even as clear and obvious events happen all around them.

Global warming is pretty simple to understand, so doubters’ only recourse is to make it much more confusing than it really is. And the most important reason that we must get everyone to understand and accept global warming, is we then must accept global responsibilities for doing something about it. I was incensed, for example, about how so much of the media described the droughts in Africa as fate when in fact they are a direct result of the developed world’s high carbon emissions.

And the news continued in a depressing way with the very bad (proponents call it “compromised”) outcome of the Durban climate talks. My take was that even the countries most effected, the developed world, were basically bought off from making a bigger stink.

Environmentalists will argue, understandably, that this is really the biggest story and will remain so until we all fry. The problem is that our lives are measured in the nano seconds of video games, and until we can embrace a long view of humanity and that our most fundamental role is to keep the world alive for those who come after us, it won’t even make the top ten for too much longer.

This is a remarkable story that so little attention has been given. An obscure part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act essentially halved if not ultimately will end the wars in the eastern Congo which have been going on for decades.

These wars are very much like the fractional wars in Somalia before al-Shabaab began to consolidate its power, there. Numerous militias, certain ones predominant, but a series of fiefdoms up and down the eastern Congo. You can’t survive in this deepest jungle of interior Africa without money, and that money came from the sale of this area’s rich rare earth metals.

Tantalum, coltran more commonly said, is needed by virtually every cell phone, computer and communication device used today. And there are mines in the U.S. and Australia and elsewhere, but the deal came from the warlords in the eastern Congo. And Playbox masters, Sony, and computer wizards, Intel, bought illegally from these warlords because the price was right.

And that price funded guns, rape, pillaging and the destruction of the jungle. The Consumer Protection Agency, set up by the Dodd-Frank Act, now forbids these giants of technology from doing business in the U.S. unless they can prove they aren’t buying Coltran from the warlords. Done. War if not right now, soon over.

The semi-decade meeting of CITES occurred this March in Doha, Qatar, and the big fight of interest to me was over elephants. The two basic opposing positions on whether to downlist elephants from an endangered species hasn’t changed: those opposed to taking elephants off the list so that their body parts (ivory) could be traded believed that poaching was at bay, and that at least it was at bay in their country. South Africa has led this flank for years and has a compelling argument, since poaching of elephants is controlled in the south and the stockpiling of ivory, incapable of being sold, lessens the funds that might otherwise be available for wider conservation.

The east and most western countries like the U.S. and U.K. argue that while this may be true in the south, it isn’t at all true elsewhere on the continent, and that once a market is legal no matter from where, poaching will increase geometrically especially in the east where it is more difficult to control. I concur with this argument, although it is weakened by the fact that elephants are overpopulated in the east, now, and that there are no good strategic plans to do something about the increasing human/elephant conflicts, there.

But while the arguments didn’t change, the proponents themselves did. In a dramatic retreat from its East African colleagues, Tanzania sided with the south, and that put enormous strain on the negotiations. When evidence emerged that Tanzania was about the worst country in all of Africa to manage its poaching and that officials there were likely involved, the tide returned to normal and the convention voted to continue keeping elephants listed as an endangered species.

For the first time in history, an animal product (ground rhino horn) became more expensive on illicit markets than gold.

Rhino, unlike elephant, is not doing well in the wild. It’s doing wonderfully in captivity and right next to the wild in many private reserves, but in the wild it’s too easy a take. This year’s elevation of the value of rhino horn resulted in unexpectedly high poaching, and some of it very high profile.

This story isn’t all good, but mostly, because the Serengeti Highway project was shelved and that’s the important part. And to be sure, the success of stopping this untenable project was aided by a group called Serengeti Watch.

But after some extremely good and aggressive work, Serengeti Watch started to behave like Congress, more interested in keeping itself in place than doing the work it was intended to do. The first indication of this came when a Tanzanian government report in February, which on careful reading suggested the government was having second thoughts about the project, was identified but for some reason not carefully analyzed by Watch.

So while the highway is at least for the time being dead, Serengeti Watch which based on its original genesis should be as well, isn’t.

The ongoing and now seemingly endless transformation of Kenyan society and politics provoked by the widespread election violence of 2007, and which has led to a marvelous new constitution, is an ongoing top ten story for this year for sure. But more specifically, the acceptance of this new Kenyan society of the validity of the World Court has elevated the power of that controversial institution well beyond anyone’s expectations here in the west.

Following last year’s publication by the court of the principal accused of the crimes against humanity that fired the 2007 violence, it was widely expected that Kenya would simply ignore it. Not so. Politicians and current government officials of the highest profile, including the son of the founder of Kenya, dutifully traveled to The Hague to voluntarily participate in the global judicial process that ultimately has the power to incarcerate them.

The outcome, of course, remains to be seen and no telling what they’ll do if actually convicted. It’s very hard to imagine them all getting on an airplane in Nairobi to walk into a cell in Rotterdam.

But in a real switcheroo this travel to The Hague has even been spun by those accused as something positive and in fact might have boosted their political standing at home. And however it effects the specific accused, or Kenya society’s orientation to them, the main story is how it has validated a global institution’s political authority.

War or Peace, At This Very Instant

War or Peace, At This Very Instant

I started this blog to write about animals. Today, like so many days, it’s about elections and wars. And in this wrap-up blog before our Thanksgiving holiday, the preeminent news is at this very moment in time. Better than I would have a hoped a few moments ago.

It’s so ephemeral. It’s easy to argue that things change so quickly, that news and blog-news is disseminated so instantly, that clearly seeing a trend to events becomes more and more murky. Well, bring it on!

So let me wage a huge gamble about Kenya, Egypt and The Congo – three volatile yet extremely promising societies – which I promise to revisit next week: Last weekend the situation in all three looked nothing short of awful. This morning, at this very instant, it looks different and better.

Kenya’s advancing invasion of Somalia for the first time in six weeks has an optimistic cast. Despite unbelievable clashes in Egypt over the last few days, at this very moment in time the military seems to actually be negotiating away its position to the people, and even in the Heart of Darkness I see glimmers of goodness in the November 28th election in The Congo.

It’s only logical that the Kenyan invasion of Somali begun more than a month ago would fail and strangle the country’s developing economy and polity in the process. And the quick entry, then total abortion of the process which resulted in a Kenyan decampment less than half way to its stated objective, the port of Kismayo, looked threateningly like Kenyan defeat earlier than any could have predicted.

But then chips we didn’t know we’re in the game started to fall into place. The dysfunctional Somali transitional government got in line. Coordination began with African Union forces that have been in the country since its seems the industrial revolution. And last week, Kenya’s sometimes adversary Ethiopia resent troops into the country presumably to fight alongside Kenya.

I am not one to believe wars work very well, but reports this morning suggest that the size of the combined effort by Kenya, Ethiopia and the AU is such that routing al-Shabaab might just be possible.

In Egypt all hell broke loose last week following the military’s very ill-advised November 1 edicts setting the final rules for the election process and simultaneously entrenching itself in a cocoon of immunity from civilian authority.

Like so many countries in South America and Asia in the recent past, military autocracies justify themselves as the only cohesion to otherwise dysfunctional and often ethnically divided societies. It is laughably early for me to post this as the meetings are actually in progress in Cairo, at this very instant in time, but my intuition is on the line. I think the military is going to back down.

The poor Congo was crippled in the 1960s at the very moment of its independence, when Belgium and the U.S. teamed up to murder the duly elected first president of the country, Patrice Lamumba, for fear he was a “communist.” That body blow to its polity has seemed to fester rather than heal.

The current president is the son of the “liberator” who forcibly ousted the long-time ruthless dictator, Sesi Seko Mobutu. But Mobutu had held power for so long that throngs of people and institutions depended upon him. Chaos reigned in the eastern Kivu Province, where child soldiers and blackmarketed Star Wars rare metals fueled Dante’s inferno.

But with a little help from its friends, most notably a little acknowledged provision in the Dodd-Frank banking act, the temperature in The Congo has plummeted to near normal highland rain forest levels. The bad guys have fled north. Next Monday’s election might just actually go off well.

If these possibly irresponsible optimistic predictions come true there is an important lesson I for one should learn and could easily forget if not pointed out, now. Trust youth.

It has been us fuddy duddies predicting gloom and doom. We have nothing but history to reference. The rest of our lives would make a very short line.

It’s the youth in Tahrir Square, in Nairobi, and in the jungles of Kivu who have been insisting throughout all the ups and downs in their situations that “we will prevail.” It’s new tour companies that have contacted me from Kivu-Congo, and Nairobi and Cairo.

Tour companies? New tour companies in the midst of fire and smoke?

Hot Time in the Old Town

Hot Time in the Old Town

There is probably nowhere better on earth to see and learn about volcanoes than Hawaii. But it’s in Africa where you can risk your life to get close!

And that’s the important phrase: risk your life. I’m not sure it’s either wise or appropriate no matter who you are, but right now the officials managing a track of Congo national park are organizing trips up to a cliff just above the erupting Nyahamiru.

Nyahamiru – which you’ll find spelled in a variety of ways – is the live brother of the dormant volcanoes lived in by the mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. It is the western most volcano of this range. And for my entire lifetime it has been a live volcano moving in and out of dormancy about every 10-15 years.

In the days before the Congo wars, we traveled up and down Kivu province with abandon, and there were mountain gorillas in several different places. In Kahuzi-Biega national park literally adjacent Nyahamiru, there are the eastern lowland gorillas, gorilla berengei graueri, lives. Not too long ago Kahuzi-Biega was its own live volcano.

So this is beyond doubt the land of volcanoes. Some of my closest associates in the tour business in the 1970s and 1980s were volcanologists. Together with Hawaii, the volcanoes on the western Rift of Africa (this place) are the most spectacular and interesting in the world.

Which is probably why I’ve never personally climbed one, or a mountain beside one, as currently promoted in Congo tourist literature.

In fact one of the conservateurs (top officials) of the eastern Congo parks is personally inviting us all to join him on the plateau just above the volcano. And people are doing it. And I won’t admit whether I would like to do it or not, but you shouldn’t.

There’s no other place in the world with as loose or nonexistent tourist safety regulations as The Congo, so essentially you can do anything you want. Right now, the Congo’s wildlife sanctuaries are simultaneously its hunting reserves.

So the “Conservateur” of the public land on which sits this giant volcano has invited everyone to come and see it … up close.

This should not be disseminated on college campuses.

The conservateur has found a flat piece of land about 300 feet above the molten lava, and in a position where prevailing winds always carry lava spews in the opposite direction. It’s been given the scientific seal of approval by selected by volcanologist Dario Tedesco who heads the Goma Volcanological Observatory.

I’m not sure this is wise, but then if you’ve even just found yourself in The Congo you’re probably unwise from the getgo.

Here’s what one Scandanavian traveler recently posted on a blog:

“The Nyiragongo is an omnipresent view from the streets of Goma: a smoking giant during the day, a surreal glowing shadow at night. With a group of 7 tourists we started our ascend (sic) through the foothills of the volcano through dense jungle, after about an hour the forest gave way to an old lava flow, which according to our guide originated from the 2002 eruption, which burned down half of Goma.”

You got that last bit, right? Burned down half of Goma.

“After this point the landscape varies between lava flows, jungle and African alpine vegetation. The last leg of the journey is by far the toughest, a 20-30 minute hike up a 45 degree angle mountain mostly consisting of loose scree. But when you get to the crater all your weariness is forgotten, one of the most amazing sights you will ever witness welcomes you with warmth (literally).

“All your senses are stimulated by the loudly boiling, red-hot glowing, warmth radiating and sulfur smelling lava lake, the largest in the world.”

There is a reason that there aren’t too many tourists traveling into The Congo yet. The numbers going in never equal the numbers coming out.

America & Magic Help The Congo!

America & Magic Help The Congo!

While beating ourselves up over whether Wall Street was too big to fail, the unceremonious application of the Dodd-Frank Act has slowly stopped hundreds of thousands of gruesome murders in Africa, aborted tens of thousands of acts of rape and child kidnapping. The Act has absolutely helped to end one of Africa’s most gruesome multi-generational wars. We really do have something to be proud of.

Technically implementation as regards Section 1502 has not yet even occurred. It is likely to be implemented after August. But the very process of publicizing The Act, requesting comments and holding hearings has so radically altered the economy of Kivu Province, that it appears the war is truly winding down!

Giant world corporations that funded Africa’s longest and most gruesome war have changed their policies. Sony, Intel, Motorola, HP have all publicly adopted new policies that either conform to what they expect the new rules will be, or moved in that direction.

I won’t retell the story or history. But for the full background see my earlier blogs:
Evaporize Goma!
We Won!

Essentially your cell phone and your kids’ PlayStations can’t work without minerals previously bought from warlords in Kivu who then used that money to murder, pillage, rape and kidnap Africa’s children to an extent never before seen in history.

The Congo Wars began in the 1980s and have lasted as long as I’ve worked in Africa. They have nearly totally destroyed one of Africa’s most beautiful, magical places. But maybe, maybe there’s just enough magic left to reemerge.

Last month 118 tourists visited Virunga National Park in Kivu Province in the eastern Congo. One of the first and earliest intrepid tourists wrote on the Lonely Planet forum almost a year ago:

“There is a lot of information floating around on different websites saying the Congo is a dangerous place to visit…. At no stage during my time … did I feel unsafe or threatened in any way or form… The villagers we met along the way were the most delightful and happy people you could wish to meet.”

The presumption of peace encouraged many NGOs to increase their assistance. German groups especially began funding the rebuilding of the national parks, in particular, Virunga.

It’s hard for me to imagine that Virunga will ever greet me again with the splendor of my memories there in the late 1970s. The jungle was unbelievably beautiful, and unlike the heat and humidity of the Amazon and Asian “jungles” I’ve visited, this is a highland jungle: cool and spectacular.

Billions of same colored butterflies, friendly and helpful pygmies, unnamed monkeys, okapi, and truly myriads of undiscovered bugs, plants, frogs… I have visited many of the world’s wildest places. This was the most beautiful.

“Last week our team of skillful roof engineers have started on the roof of the main building of the Lodge,” wrote the chief warden on Sunday of the lodge he is building in his new Virunga National Park. He set an ambitious goal of 200 tourists for next month!

And there was massive attendance at a community forum to help with all aspects of the Virunga wildlife region just on Tuesday.

A real sense of normalcy is returning to Kivu. But I’m not quite ready to schedule EWT’s first trip in 35 years to Virunga. The same park warden lauding his new lodge also wrote of ongoing attacks. He calls them “organized land invasions.”

The warlords who took Sony’s money were born during war. They know no other life. And they’ve morphed from international crooks into petty thieves, and as raw bandits they’re very successful.

But I’m watching the situation very carefully. A string of positive remarks from young, intrepid travelers last year seemed to end right around the time of the flawed Rwandan election, which makes sense. Rwanda politics is probably the single greatest factor in the stability of Kivu.

And the disintegration of everything that’s good in neighboring Uganda is more bad news. This week’s bit of trouble in the new South Sudan I don’t consider serious, but it distracts NGOs and other humanitarian organizations from their focus on helping the DRC.

And finally, the DRC has called for Kivu’s first elections this November. Amazing, incredibly gratifying if it’s pulled off well, and the single most hopeful sign I’ll be watching for. We can’t expect 40 years of brutal, sadistic war to end quickly.

But yes, it is ending. And probably the single-most important reason was section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act. America, you can truly be proud!

Both Sides of the Moon

Both Sides of the Moon

We found the shoebill in Lake Albert.
The Cleveland Zoo safari spent several days in the Semliki Reserve adjacent Lake Albert right on the Mountains of the Moon. We were lucky to see both the dark side and the bright side.

We flew from Entebbe to the Semliki Reserve in one of the few charter planes that exists in Uganda. Unlike Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda’s tourism is very small and its infrastructure still being built. Charter flights is one of the difficulties.

But we managed and collapsed a 7-hour ride into a beautiful one hour flight that headed straight for the Mountains of the Moon, the Ruwenzori mountain range first described by Henry Stanley in 1889. Stanley had been lucky. The reason they are nicknamed “Mountains of the Moon” is because a heavy mist usually covers them except at night, when they can only be seen when the moon is bright enough.

We couldn’t see them any better than most, but we knew they were there. Huge rain storms formed on them and nearly disrupted our first night Sundowner. And when we took our boat trip on Lake Albert, the mist raised for all of a few seconds revealing their awesome size.

We’d gone to Lake Albert to try to find a shoebill stork. There are less than 7000 of these dinosaur like birds left, and almost all of those are in the troubled Sudan. As the shoebill flies, we weren’t too far from there.

Traveling to the village of Ntoroko on the lake, we hired several boats to head towards a swamp peninsula about a half hour from the shore. It was a lovely, very still day, and not too hot. The lake was like glass, pocked throughout with water hyacinth, a growing threat to the area’s fishing industry.

It wasn’t too long before Hope Koncal on the trip spotted the first shoebill. If they’re there, they can’t be missed, but Hope had seen it looming above the lilies and hyacinth from some distance away.

The birds aren’t frightened of people. There are so many fisherman in the area with no interest whatever in them, that an incredible tolerance has been developed in this area.

So we cut the engines and polled to within 15m of the bird as it was hunting. Like all storks, it was very slow moving and deliberate.

Dave Koncal got a video of the bird in an unsuccessful hunt. Unlike most storks which “bite” their prey, the shoebill hooks it with a formidable tooth that drops down on the outside tip of its mandible.

We watched the giant critter try to hook something – but it missed. It’s favorite food here are little crocodiles, but it also eats fish and frogs.

It was an outstanding find and as we headed back I panned my binoculars to a collection of vessels near the town at the shore.

There were several barges and a number of large containers. Later we would see these more closely, along with some of the strangely marked trucks going to and from that jetty.

It was undoubtedly one of the crossing points for Congo contraband, particularly its precious metals like coltan.

Without a formal customs station, I’m sure that the captains of the vessels and drivers of the truck pay some hefty bribes, and from the looks of the village of Ntoroko, some of it was trickling down into the community.

Usually, when I visit fishing villages like Ntoroko there are many malnourished kids. They eat tons of fish, but nothing else. Ntoroko kids looked a lot better.

And so I realized how the recent victory we celebrated in the financial reform act that will ban coltan purchase from the Congo is a two-edged sword. (See my blog last week, “We Won!”)

Sanctioning the mining of Coltan by warlords in the Congo is likely to reduce the war there, and reduce the use of child soldiers and miners. But it may also negatively effect Ntoroko and villages like it, until a wider, more comprehensive solution can be found.

Safaris are not always measured in just successful game viewing.

We Won! Power to YOU!

We Won! Power to YOU!

The Dodd-Frank Act is our victory!
Guess what? We won an important battle: The Wall Street reform act signed by President Obama this week regulates U.S. corporations using Coltan from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)!

Reread my blog of May 10, “Evaporize Goma!”

There I discussed several of the great horrors of Africa : war, corruption, child soldiers and resource theft. All embodied in one main mineral, Coltan, used by electronic companies and principally to power PlayStation3.

The largest source of Coltan in the world is in the DRC, a lawless, governmentless jungle controlled by warlords who are becoming billionaires by selling Coltan to companies like Sony and Intel.

In a little noticed provision of The Dodd-Frank Act, the commission which must now be created for consumer protection is charged with drawing up rules that will prevent any U.S. corporation from buying any minerals from the DRC unless it can specifically prove that its payments are not being used for …

… war, corruption, child soldiers and resource theft.

Which… is impossible. Every dime paid for minerals that come out of the DRC goes to warlords.

We won. An important, obscure battle that few people noticed but which has such an incredible impact on Africans, particularly children, has finally been won by the power of U.S. capitalist law.

The law regulates “specific minerals obtained from sources in the Democratic Republic of Congo and bordering countries, which include “columbite-tantalite (coltan), cassiterite, gold, wolfamite, or their derivatives” and certain other minerals.”

These are the “conflict minerals” of which Coltan is the leader.

And with the “force of law” we suddenly have all these marvelous U.S. corporations acting as if they never wanted to buy Coltan in the first place:

In June when passage looked likely sneaky guru Steve Jobs announced Apple would never buy Coltan from DRC warlords. (He didn’t say they never had and there is every indication they have.)

Yesterday, Michael J. Holston, executive vice president and general counsel for Hewlett-Packard, said, “We believe this provision will help … reduce the purchase and use of conflict minerals known to fund the ongoing armed conflict in the .. (DRC), and thus help reduce some of the factors that have contributed to the civil war there.”

Right, Michael. HP has intentionally avoided vetting its microprocessor suppliers before now.

So don’t let all this gibberish take away YOUR victory. It was individuals like you, who contacted your Congressmen, organized by a huge coalition of proactive African organizations worldwide. It was a peoples’ battle that overcame the World Transformer Corporation.

We won. And there’s even more. After the U.S., it’s U.K. corporations that are the biggest offenders in the area. Boosted by the new U.S. law, a powerful world advocacy group, Global Witness, announced it would now sue the new Conservative Government to follow the U.S. law!

Now all we have to do is monitor the victory. The commission has 270 days to promulgate the law. And after that, only a U.S. Presidential degree that the conflict in the Congo is over will terminate the law.

Visions of a President Bush insisting there is no climate change or threats of off-shore drilling sets the stage, now, for the new battlefield. But the big engagement is over. We won!