Getting to the Bottom of It

Getting to the Bottom of It

getting to the bottom of itWhile the battle against corruption in Africa is mostly going well, it’s hit a brick wall in Tanzania. Yesterday, most of the aid-giving free world (less the U.S.) chided Tanzania for dragging its feet.

The donor group, calling itself the “General Budget Support” (GBS) Group, gives Tanzania approximately a half billion dollars annually as direct cash into its general budget fund, about 10% of the country’s projected national budget.

The U.S. in comparison plans to give Tanzania this year approximately $1.15 billion.

The difference with USAid is that it doesn’t flow without conditions into the country’s general fund as is the case with the GBS, but towards specific projects and programs, many of which are outside the Tanzanian government’s budget programs.

Specificity in aid is a hallmark of U.S. assistance, and a controversial one. It’s not only a hallmark of USAid, but of Tanzania’s other principal donor, China.

By specifying what the money is supposed to be used for, the vendors receiving the funds are often U.S. and Chinese companies.

And the U.S. usually does a pretty good job; China often doesn’t.

It’s been less than a year since China finished the Namanga/Arusha/Dodoma road, and it’s collapsing already.

I’ve traveled that road multiple times annually since 1973. It’s rare to be in very good shape, but the best period was from about 2000 to 2008, a legacy of Japanese aid and workmanship.

But no road lasts forever, and even less so when a country is developing and its trucks and commerce are growing.

So we were all extremely excited last year, despite the delays of construction, that this “new road” would bring new speed to the country’s prosperity.

Junk aid is the controversy that surrounds specificity of aid, which is the practice of the Chinese and Americans. Many European countries that have developed real expertise in aid to the developing world, like the Netherlands and Norway, prefer to work through world bodies like the World Bank, or directly with country authorities as is the case with the GBS.

So while it may seem counter-intuitive that giving unspecified aid battles corruption, that’s exactly what this does, as evidenced yesterday by the sweeping indignation of the GBS and its threats to hold back some of what is being pledged.

It’s the same policy that the European Union applied to Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. There was no specificity to the cash, other than you better get your house in order.

That’s what the GBS is doing in Tanzania, and from my point of view, it has a lot more effect than America and China’s grandiose claims that their aid avoids causing corruption.

An enormous percentage of USAid, for example goes to a handful of corporations, like Halliburton. (The exact percentages take institutions to figure out, and clearly are being intentionally made difficult to determine.)

Just as in Tanzania the Chinese road corporation, China Geo Engineering, received the funds to rebuild the Namanga/Arusha/Dodoma road.

These mega corporations then pay themselves and their country cronies for such things as equipment, and often for expertise and management as well. The Chinese actually are far more guilty of this than the Americans. It is hard to find a Chinese project with any locals above basic laborer.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t help the local economy, but advocates of the GBS form of aid argue it leads to much greater corruption.

And the corruption begins at home. Halliburton, like China Geo Engineering, is rife with nepotism, cronyism and just simple outright graft. Removed from many of the accounting restraints that would attend them for projects within their home country, they are essentially set free to work as they wish.

Bribing is par for the course.

And whether a Chinese or American capitalist monster, the bottom line is what counts. And that doesn’t seem to be effected by where the bottom of the road goes.

Power to the People

Power to the People

obamatanzaniaAmerican presidents one-upping each other is hardly news at home, but this time round it really is news for Africa. George Bush is personally credited with $15 billion for Africa, now Obama with $16 billion.

This year the Obama Administration requested a total of $7.5 billion for USAid to Africa. Twenty percent of that is for Egypt, with the remaining 43 beneficiary countries receiving $5 billion.

Nigeria is in second place, no surprise. If the country can ever solve its ethnic problems its massive oil reserves will make it literally one of the most important countries in the world.
2013USAidtoAfrica
But what is surprising is third place, Tanzania.

Obama just completed an Africa trip where the signature speeches, most dramatic announcements and largest contingent of Americans traveling with him (800) were in Tanzania. Why Tanzania?

Tanzania’s human rights ranking is terrible. Just before Obama arrived, an opposition rally in Arusha was brutally crushed by police. A month before Obama arrived the Tanzanian government announced wholesale movements of Maasai from their native lands to increase a hunting reserve for Arab princes.

And there’s been scandal after scandal, many centering on the country’s 15-year inability to make money from the discovery of the world’s second largest gold reserve.

Compared to neighboring Kenya, Tanzania is a banana republic with no clear optimistic future.

Why Tanzania?

There are two reasons. The first is because Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, doled out a huge amount of his $15 billion AIDs initiative in Africa to Tanzania. Why Tanzania? Because Kenya wouldn’t have him and South Africa didn’t really want him, either. In fact, because most of Africa did not want to be associated with George Bush.

The Bush Administration alienated most of the world with its invasion of Iraq, Africa included. Its foreign policy was hurtful to emerging countries in virtually all areas, from conservation to economics.

And its missteps were many and severe in Africa. Perhaps the most notable for this discussion was when George Bush became the only leader in the world to congratulate Mwai Kibaki on becoming elected president in 2007. Which he hadn’t been, which was why no other world leader offered the congratulations.

But those congratulations Kibaki immediately published on Kenyan media to consolidate his illegitimate claim to power, and that led to the terrible violence of 2007/2008.

So by process of default, Bush went to Tanzania. Obama has to one-up him. Bush’s $15 billion was for AIDS aid. Obama’s $16 billion is for electrification.

There’s a second reason.

Drones have assassinated no fewer than a dozen terrorists while they were living in Kenya and Tanzania. Kenya doth protest. Tanzania doesn’t.

Aid is a tricky game. I have a sense that Obama has mastered it far better than Bush did, but he’s shackled by his militarism and obsession with killing terrorists, and influenced by not letting his predecessor shine more brightly.

Aid is a tricky game. Morality isn’t. I don’t know how long it will take for America to sync itself into a truly moral stance after our generations of warring, but it doesn’t look like it will be soon.

Obama Reconsidered

Obama Reconsidered

africa25n-1webIn Arusha today rumors abound that President Obama will cancel his visit to Tanzania next week, because of Nelson Mandela’s failing health and the Snowden Affair.

Africa thrives on rumors like nowhere else, but my experience is this is so because they’re often true. Put another way, the NSA wouldn’t want to put a station here.

On the other hand, Arusha is the center of Tanzanian political dissent and Obama was never scheduled to muddy the waters by making his host, Tanzanian president Kikwete, venture into an area that hugely dislikes him.

But nevertheless last week’s rumors were that Obama was going to make a quick surprise visit to the north, where Arusha is located, just like President Bush did on the last American presidential visit here.

After all, this is where the big game animal parks like the Serengeti are, where much of Tanzania’s development in agricultural export is growing, and certainly the most educated and globally engaged part of the country.

My sources are the best there are: taxi cab drivers. I was with three different ones this morning in Arusha, and with little prompting they all said the same thing. They were also uncharacteristically hesitant to talk politics, almost as if doing so would contribute to the possibility Obama won’t come.

Africa’s love affair with Obama when he was elected has changed. There’s a lot of resentment that America has seemed far less engaged with Africa than under the last two presidents. Many respected experts are calling the trip “long overdue.”

I expect there are many protagonists who feel slighted by the world recession and the priority world leaders had to give that. And whether or not Obama has more severely slighted Africa than immigration groups or returning vets, he has hardly “disengaged” from Africa:

Total bilateral non-military assistance for Africa has risen from roughly $7 billion in Bush’s last year as president to $7.6 billion today. That’s a modest increase, but when set in the context of the world recession and the fact that much American aid was decreased, it’s actually a positive number.

But the headline is how dramatically military aid has increased – or at least we think so, because those figures are near impossible to parse. But the level of Obama military involvement from Somalia to Kenya to the CAR to Malawi is widely known and very considerable. Many of us have written that it is too involved.

But Obama has kept all this under the radar; I understand why there was little stomach to publicize our considerable military involvement, but I don’t understand why we didn’t tout our non-military increases in aid, explaining the relatively smallness in terms of the global recession.

“Kamma Obama,” one driver explained: ‘That’s Obama.’ He’s widely viewed throughout the continent as too soft-spoken and too much of a conciliator. Africa politics and culture is not accustomed to such politeness.

Tanzania is the place where the president’s most important speech is scheduled, and that because the Obama Administration hopes that East Africa will move more quickly to implement its East African trade agreements. It seems that all American administrations place increased trade as a top priority in dealing with Africa, and it becomes easier when African neighboring countries break down the barriers that exist between them, first.

But elevating Tanzania to this importance may be short-sighted. It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be Kenya, with the country’s president and vice-president under indictment from the World Court for crimes against humanity, but few consider Tanzania more important than South Africa or Senegal, the other countries scheduled to be visited.

An important part of any American presidential trip is to promote democracy, and Tanzania is hardly the shining example. A week ago Saturday an opposition rally in Arusha was bombed and three died, and many in Arusha believe the government if not directly responsible probably knew it was planned but did nothing to prevent it.

From my point of view, this is the real “disengagement” of Obama. He seems to have a good wide-angle lense on the situation here, but has no time for details. This lack of focus suggests distraction, but regardless it may be something his administration is coming round to realize.

And so an excuse like Mandela’s ill health or Snowden’s night flight to Havana might be all that is needed to scratch the journey at the last minute. And until the right, better focus is achieved, that might not be all such a bad thing.

No More Grains of Rice

No More Grains of Rice

Susan Rice’s performance on the Sunday Talk Shows incorrectly explaining the Benghazi attacks is a perfect example of how she has historically allowed political considerations to trump more important foreign policy or human rights considerations in Africa.

She’s been acting like this for years. She seems incapable of intricate analysis and quiet diplomacy. She’s no engineer of foreign policy. She’s a cheerleader. Africans don’t like it. I don’t like it. Americans should not make her the Secretary of State.

Her list of failures in Africa is impressive: Blackhawk Down followed by the Rwandan genocide followed by the East African embassy bombings followed by the escalating instability of Darfur followed by the poorly created South Sudan and most recently, the mishandling of the growing violence in Kivu and Goma.

There are more, but these are the main ones.

Contrary to the Huffington Post that I usually love, there were plenty of warnings that the Kenyan embassy was going to be attacked in 1998.

An Egyptian agent, or double agent initially set up by the FBI gave warnings of the attack on East African embassies about nine months before it happened. The details were published long ago by the New York Times.

After years of further investigations, Frontline organized all the evidence in a way that was resounding proof that plenty of warning had been given, warning that had been ignored. At the time, Susan Rice was advising President Clinton on African affairs and had to have been involved in the decision (or lack of decision) to do something about the intelligence.

Today in Nairobi the “August 7 Memorial Park” stands as America’s remembrance of the bombing and in particular remembrance of the 238 Kenyans who were killed. I’ve visited the memorial often and it includes a short movie that also describes a workman who came into the embassy hours before the bombing and tried to warn everyone to leave, but who was ignored.

The memorial has had a website for years: memorialparkkenya.org. The URL is confirmed by Google. But the website no longer works… for some reason.

I was in Nairobi and heard the bomb go off. It is a day I will never forget, and I will never forget what I’ve learned about it, even if websites die.

But worse than the 1998 bombing was the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The U.S. and France are specifically responsible for having allowed the genocide to happen by their actions blocking the Security Council from sending in more peace-keeping troops as desperately requested by the Canadian General at the time.

France refused to increase peace-keeping because of a complex historical feud with Belgium and France’s blind support of the Hutu who at the time were plotting the genocide but had been seriously repressed by the existing Rwandan regime.

Clinton backed France because of his being burned by BlackHawk Down. It was a cowardly response, and one for which he has since apologized.

There is a wealth of literature on this. The two best are the movie “Hotel Rwanda“ and the book, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.”

According to a former President of GenocideWatch, Dr. Gregory Stanton of Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars:

“The U.S. government was forewarned of the impending genocide. Communications were sent by cable, e-mail, and secure telephone… [But] Policy makers in Washington, D.C., especially Anthony Lake, Dick Clarke and Susan Rice at the National Security Council… did not want the U.S. to get involved in another African “civil war.”

The decision to “not get involved” hooked America into a mind-boggling expensive refugee and human rights initiative, followed by billions for Rwanda aid that continues today. But beyond the expense, we’re talking of at least a million lives lost.

The guilt of supporting Rwanda is something Susan Rice knows deeply and is deeply entrenched in. As the DRC Congo/Goma crisis deepened this fall, she specifically in her capacity as UN ambassador engineered multiple softenings of European led initiatives to impose sanctions on Rwanda to restrain its wanton support of the turbulence there.

A few weeks ago, America began reversing this overly cautious policy. It was terribly wrong in the beginning and has certainly led to more violence than was necessary.

Perhaps the best example of Rice’s inability to perform more than a political role was her performance in The Sudan, including Darfur and the creation of South Sudan.

The secession of South Sudan from the greater Sudan is overall a diplomatic victory for the world and most certainly a good move for the citizens there. It took more than 20 years and involved a serious civil war that the U.S. was deeply involved in.

But the creation of the new state was poorly done. Two years after independence, South Sudan is still mired in military difficulties with the north in a modern way, and with several ethnic groups in ways reminiscent of William of Orange. The untold oil wealth is not being mined because of this instability and a refugee problem within the country has grown severe.

Rice must shoulder much of the blame. She consistently created PR moments, sound bites and veneers of western institutions neglecting the much more difficult and intricate process of creating social institutions.

At a critical juncture in the negotiations that were leading to the two-country solution in The Sudan, Rice actually organized a rally of blurry-eye Juba citizens hurriedly rounded up for something more akin to an American political rally.

As reported by Matthew Russell Lee of InterCity Press who was traveling with Rice at the time:

“‘Are you ready to protect your country?’ [Rice shouted to the small crowd.]
Yes!
‘Are you ready for independence?’
Yes! … Another diplomat … would later call it a “political rally” and deem Susan Rice’s organization of the Juba leg as inappropriate.”

Rice has never displayed the insight or vision of a Hillary Clinton. She is schooled in American bureaucracy where she has percolated through the ranks and become one of its best soldiers.

One of Obama’s most serious failings is his inability to freshen up government. Rice like Geithner and others in his close circle, are old boys/girls who have rarely lived on the outside. While you might say the same of Hillary Clinton, it could be that rising to the top as fast as she did insulated Hillary from the strictures of soldiering Rice has not liberated herself from.

I’ve come to believe that Obama chooses people like Rice and Geithner not completely from a lack of his own personal courage, but because he very deeply believes in the American government status quo. He eloquently describes government’s ups and downs, but he sees overall America as on the right path.

I’m more radical. I’d like a visionary who shakes up government and doesn’t rely exclusively on old people with old ideas to join him at the helm. Africa has changed so quickly and so radically in my lifetime, I don’t think someone schooled and processed through American bureaucracy for her entire life is how we as Americans should be represented to Africa.

“Susan Rice’s chances of succeeding Clinton as secretary of state look slim,” writes a respected South African analyst.

And he, and I, think that’s just the way it should be.

Goma Solution

Goma Solution

Starve Rwandan and Ugandan dictators of any aid, significantly beef up the UN peace-keepers in Goma, allow the “Arab Spring” to develop and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s my solution for the Goma catastrophe.

It surprised me that Goma has stayed in the news. I’m not sure why, as the current crisis is probably less severe than multiple other ones in the past.

But suddenly there are Congressmen, movie celebrities and evening nightly news casts all talking about the catastrophe of Goma. Yesterday morning NPR featured a story and that was followed by an excellent hour of OnPoint featuring a Goma resident as panelist who writes the blog I have closely followed for several years.

This is so surprising but too overwhelming to explain. Anyway, we’ve got the attention that has been lacking for nearly 20 years.

Goma in particular and the Kivu province in eastern Congo of which it is the only large city has been an ungovernable cauldron of unspeakable violence, bubbling with untold natural resource riches, for more than two decades. The question is – and always has been – how to achieve the peace to release its mind-boggling riches.

While technically a part of the country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), not since the ruthless and crazed dictator Mobutu has the DRC effectively governed, there. The city and the province are controlled alternatively by thugs, crazies on drugs, and ruthless militias all competing for the vast wealth under its soil.

The UN has had a peace-keeping force in Goma almost continuously since the Rwandan genocide. It’s had some success, but as demonstrated last week when a tiny militia of only 1500 rolled into Goma, the UN force is too weak to provide real security.

There are three players in Goma’s world, each with their own story:

RWANDA
Susan Rice is an important component in “what to do with Goma” and it’s not good news for her. I’ve never liked Susan Rice. My feelings probably originate with the fact she was Clinton’s closest adviser on African affairs, and she shares blame for much of what is happening, now.

Clinton could have prevented, at least for a time, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 but he specifically refused to do so. He has since apologized. Rice has been less forthcoming, although she was the person advising him. The presumption is that she concurred with if not crafted the decision.

The genocide and its aftermath resulted in more than a million Rwandan Hutus fleeing into Goma and Kivu. There they stayed, prospered as warlords and gangs that later became known as the Interahamwe soon posing a real threat to the Tutsi in control of the Rwandan government.

American guilt has never been so expensive. The amount of money the U.S. poured into Rwanda is absolutely mind-boggling. The stated mission was to provide security for Rwandans, especially from the Interahamwe, and to create a life style that has proved truly the envy of any African anywhere in east or central Africa.

But all this has happened at extraordinary cost, and there is no strategic need for America to do this, and the result has been to create a western country-oasis in central Africa.

No other country in Africa has fiber optic cable laid to its most remote locales. No other has a satellite “Museum of Photographic Arts.” No other African country offers a completely free 12 years of primary and secondary education to virtually every child.

The quality of medical care in Kigali hospitals rivals South Africa. Every Rwandan family is guaranteed at least one cow. The government intends that every single school child get a free laptop, with 32000 having been distributed before this year.

This is not a typical African country. It is a construct of western guilt. And it has created a monster:

Paul Kagame as president has imprisoned and assassinated every whisper of opposition. To him Goma and Kivu become a threat to him if they grow stable, as they will most certainly be ruled mostly by Hutus and at the very least provide sanctuary and training for his enemies.

From Kagame’s point of view, the only alternative to promulgating instability in Kivu is to give it to him lock, stock and barrel.

UGANDA
Uganda is the thug in the triad. Uganda’s western border is much longer with Kivu than little Rwanda. The Mountains of the Moon separate the two, but they are hardly a buffer to the experienced militia of the area, in fact they provide sanctuary.

Uganda like Rwanda has benefitted from the black-marketeering of rare earths in Kivu, and the current ruthless dictator president, Museveni, is a Tutsi. It’s abhorrent to him that his neighbor be ruled even moderately by a Hutu. And even more abhorrent that he be cut out of such rich black market rewards.

American support of the Museveni regime is even more embarrassing and immoral than its support for the Rwandan regime. I’ve written tomes on the horrible history of American involvement in Uganda’s repressive regime.

THE CONGO (DRC)
It’s ironic that the legitimate governing authority is the least important of the triad. The DRC has become an incredibly corrupt country. The president stacked the last election’s ballot boxes in almost comic ways yet succeeded. But the world recognizes the DRC as the legitimate governing authority, and so anything the world does will have to include it.

The U.S. is adrift in the jungle, still guilt ridden and not acting properly. The worst of American history is repeating itself. We are creating colonial proxies for our incorrectly presumed interests, regardless of the legitimacy of those powers and their history of human rights abuses.

We are propping up Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda the same way we propped up the Shah of Iran and the Contras of Nicaragua. Will we never learn?

And with regards to Goma it paints us into an untenable position of broker between dictators. The actual people of Kivu, the students of Goma, the radio stations and attempts at free press, have no faith in America.

It is time to let the chips fall where they may, but our responsibility to redeem our malevolent past means we must first reduce Rwanda and Uganda to a natural state, a state without American blood money.

I don’t doubt that in the 4-5 years this will take that the turbulence in Goma and Kivu will escalate, and that absent the paymaster, Rwanda could teeter on new genocide. We can counter the worst of this by putting all our own chips in the UN basket, by considerably beefing up the UN forces and giving them a more aggressive mandate to maintain peace.

But it’s time to stop trying to master puppets whose strings slip from our hands with our tears. We are so terribly terribly sorry.

General Ndugu Obama

General Ndugu Obama

Drawing by PSMandrake.
Many will be surprised that America has grown increasingly militant in Africa. Because Africa is where most world terrorists now locate, American policy on the continent is defined overwhelmingly by the American War on Terror.

Obama’s massive military involvement in Africa is mostly covert, so not readily understood. But the policy is public if difficult to ferret out, and Ralph Nader said yesterday on Iowa Public Radio that Obama is far more militant than George Bush, who got us mired in two major wars.

Nader’s right. But Nader neglects to explain that Obama’s militancy is predominantly covert. Using drones, very secret special forces that come and go quickly, and massive support of African proxy armies, Obama has exceeded American military involvement in Africa under George Bush almost exponentially. But not in soldiers. So Americans don’t feel it, and mostly they don’t know about it.

Africom, the Pentagon command for Africa, now has more personnel and overall resources than all of USAid for Africa. The command manipulates deployed drones that have assassinated a dozen African militants and been critical to successful African military operations in Somalia, Uganda, the DRC and the Central African Republic.

That is not, of course, the be-all and end-all of American foreign policy in Africa. There has been continued assistance throughout the continent on a wide range of issues from clean water to malaria eradication; the Obama administration has been particularly supportive of African initiatives in the UN and World Court; and on highly political issues (several regarding Rwanda) the Obama Administration has come down swiftly and correctly on the sides that we progressives champion.

But the bottom line is that Obama looks much more like a general than a philanthropist to Africans, today. It is unlikely he would be nominated today for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I remain certain terrorism cannot be eliminated strictly militarily. That results in two options: (a) don’t try to eliminate global terror, just do the best possible and learn to live with what remains; or (b) simultaneously work towards eliminating the cause of terrorism.

That [b] has gained the euphemism of “nation building” starting as early as the Vietnam War, and it remains hard to define, very open-ended nonmilitary support that is often squandered or misplaced. But there is no question Obama believes in the policy for Africa, despite the emphasis on militarism.

So as the veteran African diplomat John Norris pointed out in Foreign Policy earlier this year, “this president’s approach to Africa look a great deal like business as usual.”

It’s hard to fault a leader who had to dedicate most of his time to staving the collapse of the entire global economic order for being uncreative with new African development policies. But it’s not hard to critique his aggressive militant approach to Africa’s terrorists. That’s not “business as usual.” It is a considerable ratcheting up of war in Africa.

But fatefully or coincidentally “nation building” in Africa is proceeding at a rapid pace as well, albeit with little direct American support. The implementation of a new constitution in Kenya, a recharged South African political debate about basic social and commercial policies, glimmers of constitutional change in Tanzania and Malawi, might all be that is necessary to balance Obama’s militarism.

And it puts us progressives and peaceniks in a compromised position. Terrorism might indeed be on the wane in Africa because of Obama’s increased militarism, but the policies are not the ones we would have advocated in the beginning and the question of their shelf life remains dubious.

Is Obama an African war monger? Yes. But global peace maker, too? That is the crux of today’s African foreign policy debate.

Poopooing Philanthropy

Poopooing Philanthropy

Bill Gates’ “Reinvent the Toilet Fair” in Seattle next week illustrates perfectly the limits of philanthropy and why real generosity must come from governments not individual rich people.

The Gates’ Foundation work to prevent and cure malaria is outstanding. The battle against the disease is perfect for individual philanthropy for two reasons. But most philanthropy, if not the vast majority promulgated by private foundations and individuals is wasteful and destructive.

The first reason the Gates’ Foundation work in malaria is valuable is that global agencies and governments from the developed world dare not tread on the mechanisms of global capitalism. Developing a vaccine, or a super small X-ray machine, or the Mars’ Curiosity, takes enormous capital. It’s the reason cancer drugs are so expensive. The drug company must recover not only the huge initial investment for a successful drug but it must also cover the huge losses of failed drugs.

Governments are capable of making these investments to be sure as are multinational corporations, but developed world interest in eradicating malaria in Africa doesn’t reach the threshold of importance developed world society does place, for example, in Mars’ Curiosity. Whether this is right or wrong isn’t my point. It’s just the case that developed world priorities do not extend to malaria eradication in the developing world.

Last year U.S. aid for developing world disease control and prevention – concentrated principally to fight tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria – was $503 million (from an HHS agency budget of $30.5 billion.) Gates alone has spent nearly four times this amount just on malaria research and prevention.

Because that is how much it takes to develop a malaria vaccine. The disease is among the most complex diseases on earth, a legendary evolutionary battle between man and his greatest nemesis, disease.

Neither will the developed world’s capitalist markets undertake a project to eradicate malaria. A malaria vaccine would not generate enough financial return to warrant the investment. Once malaria was controlled in the developed world — just as with polio more recently — the developed world will not provide the additional capital investment from either governments or markets for control in the less affluent developing world.

So it’s a perfect project for a rich man.

The second important reason malaria control is perfect for western philanthropy is because it’s so political. Malaria was eradicated in the developed world by DDT. The developed world now believes that DDT poses too great an environmental hazard to be used, now.

Whether this is rank fiscal hypocrisy or a cold prioritization of self-interest I’m not certain, but the door to quick eradication of malaria in the developing world, using the only historical method we know, has been slammed shut. DDT manufacturing is mostly controlled by the developed world, but more importantly, the threat of sanctions against developing countries that would dare to use it is real.

But most philanthropy cannot be justified by these two reasons. The vast majority of philanthropy funds projects that societies are fully capable of funding themselves. By that I mean not just through government services supported by taxes but more so by the albeit much smaller capitalist markets in the developing world.

They include almost everything from education to sanitation to energy development. When a philanthropist steps into areas like these it’s usually because of a failing in society’s planning or an oversight by market developers. To that extent pointing these out becomes the greatest justification for philanthropy.

But once pointed out philanthropists should move on and the implementation should be left to society. Society, of course, can’t do everything so it picks and chooses its priorities and that process of choosing is the very essence of a society. It should not be usurped by individuals. The best example is education. There’s no doubt that education is fundamental to almost all other development. Everyone agrees with this.

The components of successful education may be innumerable. There will always be a myriad of ways to better society’s educational efforts. Philanthropy has a major role in discovering society’s failings and to discovering innovative components otherwise overlooked by society.

But once discovered it should be left to that society to implement. Implementing it outside of normal societal mechanisms (such as through individual philanthropy) distorts any social plan and usurps the right of the majority.

Community sewage disposal is as fundamental to organized communities as education is to a workable society as a whole. A multitude of techniques are known, the engineering is fully developed, none of the essential technology is protected by copyright, and it’s fair even for a laymen to conclude there aren’t many alternatives to waste disposal except disposing waste.

So the Gates Foundation’s $42 million grants to “reinvent the toilet” are absurd. Like our own current infatuation with ethanol from corn in gasoline, more energy is being used by the so-called innovation than if we just didn’t do it at all.

The reason Nairobi’s sanitation is so underdeveloped is not because Kenya lacks either the resources or technology to lay appropriate sewers in the city’s ground, but because in part the country’s resources are being used instead to fund a war in Somalia.

I’m not arguing whether the war in Somalia is right or wrong, I’m arguing that Kenya should not assume its expense. The turmoil in Somalia was not caused by Kenya. It was caused by the developed world.

So the problem in poor sanitation in Nairobi is that the world as a whole — including Kenya itself — hasn’t owned up to its social obligations even though it’s fully capable of doing so. And this dynamic is propped up by western philanthropy.

If the Gates’ Foundation is successful in creating a “better toilet” for the developing world it could not possibly be more efficient than community sewage works. But it might indeed discover a device that can produce sanitation for a given few who have the wealth to enjoy it, and then delay even further extending sanitation services to the greater society at large.

In a nutshell it divides the rich from the poor, and it accelerates the dividing.

Frankly, I think even Gates’ officials and associates realize this. A blog widely disseminated in the developed world yesterday by Gates associate Diane Scott was rife with self-deprecation and embarrassment and proves what foolishness is going on. I can just imagine my friends in Nairobi reading this and chuckling madly.

Utopia is not in the cards, I know. But philanthropy in the main delays most utopian visions. Gates should be commended for so much of his work, but this – and most philanthropy in general – is just not right.

Development for What

Development for What

Rising conflicts between Chinese and Africans in Zambia and Malawi demonstrate that the Chinese do-anything desperation for Africa’s natural resources may be backfiring.

In 2009 China surpassed all other nations to become Africa’s leading trading partner. It is likely the continent’s biggest aid donor as well, although western institutions rating aid argue that the quid-pro-quo of Chinese aid moves it from the category of aid to investment.

I sat recently with three young Chinese men, probably still in their teens or early twenties, as we all waited for a delayed flight from Nairobi to Kampala. Our inability to communicate well was mitigated by the long delay. One of the fascinating things I learned from them was that they were not just excited about their upcoming work gig in Uganda, they were emigrating there!

They held one-way airline tickets from a Chinese construction company, jobs to build a highway in western Uganda, undoubtedly enough sudden cash that together they had just purchased a laptop in duty free, and … no intention to ever return home.

The rest was left to my speculation, but it seemed pretty clear to me that after their contract with the construction company ended, they would set down roots in Uganda and spend the rest of their lives there.

This is hardly new. It is exactly what the British did when they built the East African colony’s infrastructure in the mid 19th Century, except that they imported Indians rather than Scots. At the end of various construction projects, the Indians set down roots and today are as much Kenyan or Tanzanian as a Kikuyu.

The initial motives were identical as well. The British East African Trading Company was proudly a profit-making business which intended to extract as much as it could out of East Africa for the benefit of England. Chinese today are desperate for the natural resources necessary to power its society, lacking in China and flush in Africa.

Later Livingstone’s moral imperatives got entangled in British colonial development, but until that historical point the two capitalistic paths are identical.

What’s different, today, is that social authority derived of a growing embrace of self-determination, and the importance of human rights, are much different than two centuries ago. The British model of buying out local chiefs with bags of beads is quite similar to what the Economist calls “oil for infrastructure.” But the willingness of the local people to enter the deal is much more restrained.

Last week this restraint blew a threshold in Zambia and Malawi.

Mine workers staged a violent protest against their Chinese manager/owners. The Chinese have yet to mature beyond the desperation of need, and many are ruthless paymasters particularly when it comes to mining.

Last year Human Rights Watch documented increasing labor abuse by Chinese managing Zambia’s copper mines. Last week it came to a head when workers struck one mine and then battled security personnel and police, killing one of the principal Chinese managers.

In neighboring Malawi, what appears to be nothing less than a xenophobic vendetta against small Chinese business owners began last week. The government policy will essentially close down hundreds of small, local Chinese businesses in Malawi, developed I presume like the three guys I met waiting for the flight to Kampala want to eventually do in Uganda.

And in a stark 180-degree difference between the British colonial era, the Chinese ambassador to Malawi more or less endorsed the Malawian government’s move. There is little connection left between the homeland and the Chinaman who moved away.

In Dakar last week, Hillary Clinton remarked on these growing tensions and argued rather well that Chinese policy won’t work. “The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century,” she said.

“Throughout my trip across Africa this week, I will be talking about what that means – about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it,” she added.

I’m not sure. I’m sure that Hillary’s admonition is correct, and that the right and moral way for a developed society to act toward a developing one is not the Chinese model. On the other hand, I’m not sure the American model is all that much better. Our “aid” to Africa is fickle, up with Democrats and way down with Republicans. All that Africa is left with is confusion and a certainty that American constancy doesn’t exist.

Africa needs infrastructure desperately. China needs oil desperately. There’s great constancy in that.

Whose Creation of the World?

Whose Creation of the World?

A Congolese ballet currently moving through Europe’s summer festivals strikes a remarkable difference between American and European compassion to Africa. Maybe compassion per se.

Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula is currently restaging a near century’s old ballet called “The Creation of the World” that was first produced in France between the world wars. At that time it was widely called “The First Negro Ballet” since its depiction of emerging humankind was black, and as such, included pioneering black performers at a time when blacks worldwide were pretty much confined to trumpets and drums.

It became impossible then, and remains impossible now, to view this ballet as anything more than white people’s fantasies about black people’s existence. Racism in its most theoretical forms.

The ballet’s storyline is basically biblical, but the world that emerges is not flowering with white lovers under a perfectly formed apple tree. Instead, mankind births into something rather depressingly horrible: skin without bodies, torsos without hearts, and babies in abject suffering. Essentially, mankind without a soul.

And in the Bible’s remarkable way of accepting suffering as simple destiny, it prevents the viewer from leaping to any remedy. There is no hope things will get better in the ballet. The story ends in misery.

Linyekula’s thundering question is “How could they not see the suffering?” The English translation was made by Radio Netherlands after Wednesday’s performance in Amsterdam, and it’s right on.

More exactly Linyekula means why did they not react to the misery during the colonial age, and now, why are non-Africans not assisting Africa more than they are?

The question begs the question about compassion. And it’s logical that those who are responding most compassionately (Europeans) will also be challenged more often (than Americans who are doing less) that they are still not doing enough. That’s what Linyekula is trying to do: tug on the European’s guilt, egg them on to even greater compassion.

“The Creation of the World” wouldn’t succeed in America, today. Like anything troubling, there is a threshold of assumed responsibility, and I believe Europeans have a greater tolerance for heavy lifting in Africa than Americans. A greater compassion.

It would take me a book to dissect the cultural facts of current European antipathy to immigration vis-a-vis its greater compassion to mankind as a whole than American’s. But I do believe that:

Americans are fast losing their compassion, compassion for almost anything but themselves. Whether Europeans in contrast are growing more compassionate and tolerant is hard to measure on its own, but in contrast to America they most certainly are, despite the wave of anti-immigration sentiment polluting Europe, today.

The ready measures of this regarding Africa specifically are foreign aid and private investment, government engagement (military or otherwise) and free trade agreements. In all these areas, Europe is racing past America despite Obama’s attempts to stay even.

Europe is in a much worse economic situation than America. Why, then, is Europe reaching out to Africa more than America? The first reason is because of America’s current obstructionist Congress. But there are deeper reasons as well.

Europe is closer to Africa than America, so trade and investment is easier. It has more immigrants from Africa and it has a more pressing problem of refugees from Africa than America. But there’s an even more important reason in my view: there’s more guilt.

Few societies in the world used and profited from slavery as much as America, and we all know where they came from. But that’s perhaps too long ago for any residual guilt to move us in any contemporary fashion to greater compassion. The colonial period in Africa which emerged as slavery was being ended was dominated by European powers and lasted for a very long time. It’s not “so old.”

That was a mostly wretched period in world history. Parliaments in Portugal, Belgium and France have all apologized and paid reparations for their society’s unjust colonial involvements. The Catholic notion of repairing past wrongs by dropping a penny in the church’s collection box is a very European notion.

(And, by the way, it often works and has a much greater impact than lovely speeches about morality and compassion.)

To be fair, though, the production is not being swallowed whole in Europe. Linyekula actually extended the ending of the original production exaggerating the “misery.”

A respected French arts critic, Marie-Valentine Chaudon, asks “Does Linyekula go too far” implying European disinterest with the African suffering she accepts was in large part caused by the colonial period.

Perhaps. But what saddens me is that “maybe too far” in the European mind is outright “extra-terrestrial” in America’s, today. And while I’m no dance critic, I think the art Linyekula clearly has turned for political and social purpose is extremely valuable.

And I sorely wish we in America could achieve the same level of self-inspection with regards to racism, with regards to our lack of compassion.

The Ties that Bind Us

The Ties that Bind Us

By Conor Godfrey
Just a few days ago bipartisan sponsors introduced a bill simultaneously into the house and senate that would, if passed, better coordinate all the various organs of U.S. policy on Africa.

by Black Agenda Report

This got me thinking- well, what is U.S. policy on Africa? In fact, more broadly, what does the U.S.–Africa relationship look like now?

Let’s start with official policy, and move into the more nuanced aspects of the relationship.

On a macro level, the only thing resembling a coherent platform for U.S – Africa relations is a trade program known as the African Growth and Opportunities Act, or AGOA for short.

AGOA allows a wide variety of African exports into the U.S. duty free, and in most cases, quota free as well.

Unfortunately, the only real AGOA success lies in textiles and apparel, and this success has been tempered in recent years by the expiration of a law that previously limited textile power houses like Bangladesh and Cambodia from flooding the U.S. market.

The United States also undertakes several major security operations and partnerships in Africa.

These include anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, anti-terrorism partnerships in West and East/Central Africa; and, with their check book at least, the U.S. supports peacekeeping and security service training in a number of places.

Most of these programs are run via the U.S.-Africa Command, or Africom, (paradoxically based in Germany), or the 50 U.S. embassies spread all over the continent.

Uncle Sam also makes a (somewhat half-hearted) effort to promote commercial ties via 8 full time U.S. Commercial Service offices on the continent. (fun fact: There are now 54 countries in Africa.)

That leaves, in terms of official policy anyway, development assistance.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) maintains programs in 23 African countries, and in 2010, spent ~ 1.6 billion USD on humanitarian and development assistance.

If you have read any of my other posts, you probably know that I am a development aid skeptic.

I meet formally and informally with African business people every day, and I can say that a huge (I am choosing the word “huge” deliberately) percentage of educated African movers and shakers believe that development assistance is the salient characteristic of U.S.–Africa policy, and bash that assistance as paternalistic and unhelpful.

Exceptions abound: most people cannot say enough good things about U.S. led HIV/AIDS interventions and research, and in places where the U.S. can operate freely, its disaster relief and humanitarian assistance is more efficient and impactful then many other donors.

But are security partnerships and development assistance and international trade the basis of a 21st century partnership?

Maybe. Probably. Well, at least a part of it.

But what about people to people connections?

There are approximately 171,000 Americans living in Africa excluding military, (Source.) compared with 1,612,000 in Europe, and about a million in Asia depending on what one counts as Asia.

Conversely, African citizens now number around 1.5 million in the U.S., and migrants of African origin constitute 3.5 percent of all migrants to the U.S.

That number leaves out the 40 million African Americans that form the traditional or historical diaspora in the United States.

The real Africaanswerman makes his living helping Americans experience Africa. But only 3% of the 28,507,000 annual U.S. based international travelers visited Africa in 2010 (Likely inflated by the World Cup in South Africa!)

There are other ties of course; American religious organizations of all stripes have ties in Africa, and we are just starting to see educational institutions partner with African universities.

However, I have been looking into the best international policy graduate schools the U.S. has to offer, and the African offerings are slim.

Options to take major African languages (French, Arabic, and Portuguese aside) are even slimmer. (There are very, very cool Title 6 centers that teach African languages in some undergraduate institutions.)

The picture I am trying to paint is that of a relationship that screams for attention and coherence.

In my next blog on Monday, I will highlight how I think policy makers and thought leaders in American society could build on natural U.S. ties to the continent, and why I think U.S. society would be better off if we did so.

USAID’s Annual Letter to Share – I mean – Stake – Holders

USAID’s Annual Letter to Share – I mean – Stake – Holders

By Conor Godfrey

This week the highest USAID cadre, Rajiv Shaw, released his annual (2nd) letter. If this second ‘annual’ letter was intended to mimic a private sector letter to shareholders, than I liked Warren Buffet’s letter to Berkshire Hathaway better, but I do appreciate the attempt.

In his very first paragraph, Rajiv and I essentially break up.

He lauds president Obama’s push to make development assistance a core part of U.S. international strategy, right alongside defense and diplomacy.

“…But the President and Secretary both believe that the development work our staff does is just as vital to our country’s interests and national security as the work of our soldiers and diplomats.“

I confess I do not believe this is true.

In fact, when viewed in this light, it is no wonder that we drown Pakistan and Afghanistan (critical U.S. priorities) in development assistance.

It is possible that this cash actually harms people, and at best, I think it is probably a wash.

Read this NYTimes article about development assistance in Afghanistan and cry.

AID workers in these countries struggle to spend the money that has been allotted to them, and set themselves up for horrendous overbilling and corruption.

There are also two other problems with AID money in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan – one, the local economy can be trashed by the influx of foreign currency, and two, the best and brightest in those communities try and get high paying jobs with AID agencies instead of working in local government or starting businesses.

These thoughts are not new; actually, it is very much in vogue to bash development assistance.

I challenge you to go out and find someone that works in development right now, get them out of the work environment, give them two beers, and ask them what they think of either their specific project of development assistance in general.

They will start with a resume-speech that uses words like capacity building and stakeholders, but it will degenerate into a story of waste and frustration.

There are people out there who work on great projects…but I bet you go through four or five of the scenarios I just mentioned before you get to them.

To avoid being charged with too much complaining and not enough suggesting, here is what I see as the future of development assistance.

1) A clearer distinction between humanitarian relief (floods, fires, droughts, conflicts) and development assistance.

The former (staffed by former soldiers and other logisticians), should be given wide latitude to act preemptively, and should make sure the U.S. is the first on the scene and the most generous when they get there.

The U.S. already does a pretty darn good job here.

The latter, development assistance, needs to be reconceived as a social impact investment fund with a high tolerance for risk.

2) They should take on investment worthy projects that are not attractive to traditional investors because the recipients do not have collateral or other assets. (Like our current Export-Import Bank, but with a much higher appetite for risk, and a bent toward micro projects.)

Better yet, they should invest in LOCAL impact investment funds that have a better handle on vetting projects.

Most importantly, this agency should RETURN MONEY TO THE TREASURY!

Now, that might be too strict when lending to entrepreneurs and businesses at this level, so perhaps the rules should be as follows….

The agency will loan out XXX Million USD per year, but only 15% of the loans could be non-performing at any given time.

If we wanted to get really crazy, the agency could take equity positions in these companies and entrepreneurs.

(Moral Hazard alert here, the business might just expect the agency to do everything.)

Yes- this would immediately take some of the least developed countries off the USAID map.

(You could adjust the rules for least developed countries if necessary.) I think that is ok, because I do not believe what these various groups say they are achieving in those countries anyway.

If you added up the stats that various AID agencies and NGOs give you for some countries, and compound those over all the years this assistance has been given out….the problem(s) would theoretically be solved already.

It is a little like the phenomenon whereby all the purported shards of wood from the Biblical cross add up to seven or eight crosses worth of wood.

Ok I am probably getting carried away.

The biggest weakness in my argument is in health. Many health problems are not ‘investment opportunities.’

(Many are though! Check out my favorite company in this space.)

There are other problems too, but I think they pale in comparison to the waste in the current system.

Rain No Gain Only Pain

Rain No Gain Only Pain

Folks, it is drizzling near Dadaab. And it shouldn’t be. This is normally a dry season. We’ve got to understand again and again that this terrible famine is man made. It is not the work of God.

Yesterday I listened and watched to report after report, including from Kenya itself, decrying the “60-year drought.”

There is no 60-year drought in Kenya. What there is, by the way, is more important: a famine of extreme proportions. But it is not caused by drought. And all the western journalists flying into the dusty desert for the first time aren’t checking facts.

Even if we hadn’t missed a rainy season in March, even if the rains had been normal, I dare say even if the rains had been above normal, we would have had this famine.

The Dadaab refugee camp is not overflowing with starving people because there was no rain. There is no drought that caused this.

Here is NOAA’s report of rainfall in the area for the month of July just past. This is the area to which all the foreign correspondents are flying in northeast Kenya, southern Somali. In a normal year, these areas would be completely white. From about the end of May to the middle of November, for the last hundred years, not a drop of rain falls.

And now, it seems at least for the moment, it’s raining. Study the picture above. It was taken by Agence France Presse yesterday near the Kenyan town of Liboi, which according to GoogleEarth is about 27 miles northeast of the misery center of Dadaab.

There are pools of water. There is green grass. There is an automobile, although the AFP caption for the picture reads “Somali immigrants repair a tyre 2km inside Kenya enroute to Liboi. There are few who can afford to pay up to $150 to travel from the capital Mogadishu.”

Here is NOA’s prediction of expected rain for next week. Good news, of course. White overlaid by brown and even green shades showing pretty intense drizzle for the desert in a dry season.

What seems to be happening this year is a shift due to climate change of the rainy season that usually occurs March – May, to now. The March-May period was dry.

But understand this, please: A single missed rainy season cannot possibly cause such misery. Unless..

…there’s a vicious war just now getting worse… there’s a world recession that has so increased food prices that normal development aid is collapsed into fractions of its worth… there is political tension in the area so that bumper harvests (in Tanzania) are being prevented from shipment to the areas in need.

All the above are true. Add the real stress caused subsistence farmers who are disconnected from their normal planting routines by climate change, and you have … famine.

There is real, significant, terrible famine. We are approaching a half million people starving in the area of Dadaab … where it may be raining.

Uniquely as always, Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times, is reporting the truer story. And he is located exactly where the famine is really being caused. And that is not Dadaab. It’s in the heart of the battle for Somalia.

Gettleman makes the same mistake everyone seems to be making: calling a huge area “the worst drought in 60 years” which, sorry to have to repeat, it isn’t. But this is buried deep in his story which is otherwise right on. He explains the catastrophe as a political one, not a climate-made one.

A number of you have emailed me asking me for advice regarding how you can personally contribute best. I’m not the one to ask. Click here for better recommendations than I will give you.

My recommendation is one you probably won’t expect.

Become political and support leaders who understand a world order. Spend significant resources to defeat T-Party like mentalities that refuse to ameliorate world suffering with even a penny of the rich.

This famine is man made. I’m not for an instant suggesting that American conservatives have caused the war which caused the famine. Quite to the contrary, if anyone caused it, it was Bill Clinton.

His sheepish retreat from dealing with the mess in Somali because of the political flack he got from BlackHawk Down is the main reason for the problems, now. Almost 20 years ago, we now see the damage of short-term political gain.

This isn’t a left or right issue. It’s an issue of simple long-term compassion. Unless we get our heads screwed on right and steadfastly so, there’s going to be famine at Thanksgiving in the rain forest.

No Room at The Inn

No Room at The Inn

The Kenyan refugee camp at Dadaab, the largest in the world, is full. 1300 new arrivals daily from an increasing conflict in Somali are being refused services, because there’s simply no more room, no more food, no more medicines… the money has run out.

Dadaab became the largest refugee camp in the world several years ago. It lies in far northeastern Kenya along the Somalia border. The refugees have been fleeing a growing conflict between Somali warlords, the weak UN and AU supported Somali government, and al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the horn of Africa.

Dadaab is a city in a desert. It was built after Blackhawk Down to house 90,000 refugees as Somalia began to implode. At the end of last year, they were 350,00 refugees living there, and according to Medecins sans Frontiere, there are now 30,000 people in makeshift shelters that can’t be supported by the camp. “There is nowhere for them to stay.”

CARE, Save the Children, and Medecins sans Frontiere all confirm there are 1300 new arrivals daily in the last few weeks.

The terror of the Afghanistan Taliban, of the Cambodian Khymer Rouge, of the Cultural Revolution and the Stalin Scorched Earth Policy has come to Somalia. It’s no longer just a dysfunctional state. It’s a world crisis.

The refugees flee a war relocated from Yemen, which was relocated from Afghanistan, which was relocated from Iraq, hopping around the Horn of Africa staying one step ahead of western vengeance.

I’m not sure the world is ready for this crisis. And separated by 300 miles of desert from populated areas of Kenya, even Kenyans are ignoring it.

The situation is worsened by drought.

The drought is caused by Global Warming. Global Warming is caused by accelerated levels of greenhouse gases from industrialized nations, mostly the U.S. The refugee crisis is caused by the aftermath of Blackhawk Down, a pitiful American retreat from a mess Clinton caused years ago. The inability of aid organizations to cope any longer is caused by western nations cutting back aid, led by the U.S. Aid is being cut back because of the world economic crisis. The world economic crisis was caused by greedy American capitalists.

It all comes back to us in America. And we can’t even seem to repair ourselves.

I have never sensed such despair in my life.

When my wife and I first worked for the United Nations in Paris in the early 1970s, the agencies there were worried sick that by the end of the decade there would be a million refugees for which the UN would be responsible.

Today, the UN High Commission on Refugees takes care of more than 40 million.

That’s one-eighth of the entire population of the United States.

Nineteen American soldiers were killed in Blackhawk Down and 73 wounded. 2996 were killed in 9-11 and about 6000 others were injured. That’s about 9000 westerners killed or wounded in mired religious battles that if they hadn’t occurred would probably not have resulted in the refugee situation found today in Dadaab.

The UN estimates by year’s end there will be 450,000 refugees and wannabe refugees in Dadaab. That’s 50 for every casualty America suffered from Blackhawk Down and 9-11.

Is that enough?

Victory in the Serengeti!

Victory in the Serengeti!

On November 9, 2010, I posted this graphic above my blog suggesting the Tanzanians would eventually back down from building a road through the Serengeti.
As I’ve been suggesting for a year, the “Serengeti Highway” will not be built through the park, but will be built right up to the eastern edge, and the goal of reaching the Lake Victoria port of Mwanza will be pursued as a new southern road from Arusha.

Wednesday, the Tanzanian government released a letter to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site office, which had threatened to remove World Heritage Status from the Serengeti if it were bisected by the highway, confirming that a paved west/east road through the neck of the park had been scrapped.

This is not a total victory, but a significant one. Let me explain why it’s not total.

Right now commercial traffic does move through the Serengeti, but it’s laborious. A paved road leads to the entry to the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority (NCA), and it’s then gravel for a long way, 5-6 hours to the Serengeti’s western gate.

What is planned, now, is for a new paved road to the eastern edge of the Serengeti, which will then continue as a new (short) gravel road to the existing gravel thoroughfare that runs roughly from Lobo to the western gate. When completed this “new route” will cut down the existing travel time through the Serengeti from 5-6 hours to about 3-4 hours.

The “new route” will also be significantly easier, as it will be straighter and less hilly than the winding cloud forest road through the NCA. So there will definitely be a new incentive for commercial traffic to increase once the route is completed.

But it is still likely a toss-up for commercial traffic to take this [faster] route rather than start from Arusha in a northwesterly direction on paved roads the whole way. This and the fact all roads within the park will remain unpaved are significant disincentives to commercial travel.

So in this sense it ends at least for the time being nearly two years of the most aggressive efforts by conservationists and scientists worldwide to alter a local country’s management of its sovereign wilderness.

Don’t pop the champagne.

First, this could not have been easy for the Tanzanians to have done. They have backed down. Can anyone imagine Eric Cantor backing down? Some creative spinning and long-term vengeance is in the political forecast.

Second, the real reasons for abandoning the project may not be known for some time, and I believe the main one is economic and strictly so. If I’m right, when the economic situation improves, the issue could reemerge.

Third, there is enough ambiguity in the letter that a flipflop would be easy … at any time.

Certainly there are recent indications that foreign donors – including the United States – engaged in some hard bargaining which may result in greater foreign aid to Tanzania, and likely for the construction of that southern road.

Hillary Clinton was in a specially good bargaining position last week. She was in Dar when the al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Fazul, was killed in Somalia, and when his passport revealed that the only country which had given him safe haven was Tanzania.

What she told Tanzanian officials about Fazul’s capture is not known, and what was released instead included her reprimand about building a highway through the Serengeti.

Clinton was only the last of a long list of prominent diplomats who opposed the highway. Consortiums of scientists and wildlife organizations presented an impressive array of opposition, too. I remain seriously disappointed that our own American consortium of zoos was unable to get it together to join the impressive team.

An effort to get AZA, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, to join the world conservation opposition failed last year.

The first suggestions about the road came in early September, 2009, when East Africa was not yet suffering the world economic depression. What is hard for westerners to understand is that much of the developing world, and East Africa in particular, actually experienced increased growth until virtually this year.

But this year has hit East Africa very hard. Most prominently, the master road-builder China is reassessing its aid to East Africa and the world economic recession means that year after year, now, there is less to give to Africa.

Tanzanian president Kikwete is bound by a net of politics to help the Maasai in Loliondo, just to the east of the Serengeti. He linked this good, ostensible need with a bevy of corrupt components to give it a PR smile.

He can forego the corrupt goals, but the Maasai goal can’t be abandoned. This is the reason the government said, and I knew they would always have to deliver, a paved road up to the eastern edge of the park.

With less aid that will be difficult, now. But I feel that actually takes precedence over the grand scheme of linking Arusha with Mwanza, linking Tanzania’s northern heart to Lake Victoria. The priority must be the road to Loliondo.

So what happens when that is completed, but money runs out for the much more expensive southern road?

It depends. It depends upon how well tourism fairs in this down economic times. It depends upon how well Bilila Lodge (which was in the route of the old proposed highway), in which the president holds personal and substantial stock, does.

It depends upon whether the Grumeti Reserves continue to draw too much water from Lake Victoria. It depends upon whether American hedge fund traders do well enough to build the new Serengeti headquarters as they’ve promised.

It depends upon how prominent the opposition MP from Arusha, Godbless Lema, fairs in the next couple years.

All of these depends reduce to this:

If foreign donors put up the funds and build the southern road before all of the above depends play themselves out, the Serengeti is safe for another decade or two. If they don’t, it all depends.

America’s Faces are now Fabulous

America’s Faces are now Fabulous

America’s new ambassador to Kenya is a brilliant appointment that ensures U.S. goals and interests while really helping Kenya move into the new era created by its new constitution. A win-win situation the likes of which were unknown before Obama/Clinton took over world diplomacy.

Like many of Obama’s better civil servants, Maj.-General Jonathan Gration is a disenfranchised Republican. (Best example, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.) Steeped in solid conservative traditions, he quietly moved away from the receding cliff that so many Republicans fell off.

The decline of the solid Republican Party gave Obama a real windfall of good folks. Gration was drafted into the Obama campaign early on as an African policy advisor and became our envoy to the South Sudan, where he did yeoman’s work that seems to be paying off.

Gration just replaced another fabulous ambassador in Kenya, Obama-appointed Michael Rannenberger, who like many diplomats worldwide was forced out because of embarrassing classified remarks exposed by Wikileaks.

And as should be the case of all diplomats, Gration really knows his assignment. He was born in the Congo to missionary parents. His first language was Swahili. He rose in the military as a security/terrorism expert. There can simply be no better replacement for Rannenberger.

During the Bush years diplomats were appointed usually as party favors, literally. TV personalities, big time donors and other celebrities drove the art of diplomacy into the realm of country clubs.

I remember Sam Fox’s appointment to Belgium, a man incapable of tying his shoes much less working in the country that was the center of the EU. And he had almost single-handedly funded the terrible “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ad against Sen. Kerry.

That was typical of all of the Bush era appointments. The Republican slide that he oversaw believed international relations were mixed marriages to be avoided.

How wonderful things have changed.

Gration knows that no major policy changes are occurring with his appointment, and I think that both Kenya and those of us at home familiar with Africa are glad with that. Rannenberger was a stellar diplomat who really moved forward anti-corruption efforts as well as the implementation of the new Kenyan constitution.

I’m not familiar enough with the rest of the world, but if this is any indication of Obama/Clinton diplomacy elsewhere, we’re doing extremely well worldwide.