Sunday, November 29, 2009

Provocative Reading On African Democracy

I just finished one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. It's Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford and Director for the Center for the Study of African Economies, contends that our obsession with democracy as the be-all and end-all of governance for every nation in the world is a big mistake. He points out that voting is good but far from a panacea for developing countries who lack the social structure, legal systems, stability, and economic prospects to make the results of their elections work. Collier's contentions aren't based on guesswork, either, but rather on statistical studies that examine not our beliefs about developing countries but the reality of them.

I was particularly intrigued by his comments about the Democratic Republic of Congo, which provides numerous examples of the situations he explores. Here's one passage that neatly sums up the current status of the legitimate Congolese mining industry:

"Is democracy the key to peace in these societies?....The recent record is not entirely encouraging....

"Take the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing that they had only three years in power before facing elections and the possible loss of office, ministers set about plundering the public purse. But the public purse was pretty small because tax revenue had withered away: as you will see, low taxation is part of the strategy of misgovernance. But plunder can extend beyond tax revenue. One strategy would be to borrow: saddle future citizens with liabilities and run off with the proceeds. Unfortunately for the new leaders of the DRC, this strategy was not feasible: President Mobutu had already used it to the hilt so that the country was beyond its neck in debt. No bank was going to lend.

"But there was an alternative. The Congo is mineral-rich. Much of these resources are unexploited because under President Mobutu it would have been folly for a company to incur investment necessary to sink a mine. The president was stuck in what economists call the time-consistency problem: because he could not bind himself from confiscating investments, no sane company would make them. But by the time of the transitional government the global boom in commodity prices had changed the calculus of risk: it was worth paying a little something for the exploitation rights that the transitional government could legally confer. And so the ministers of the transitional government of the DRC mortgaged the future of its citizens as surely as if they had issued debt, by selling off national assets at bargain prices. A few months ago I had lunch with one of the shrewd purchasers of these rights: a good lunch it was too. He became a little upset when I told him that the rights ought to be renegotiated."

While I found most of Collier's observations highly believable, I can't say the same for his proposed solutions, which I found mostly impractical or even totally impossible except in theory. Still, the solutions he proposes are like the rest of the work--very tasty food for thought.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Report From The Scene In Eastern Congo

My associate Joseph Mbangu recently returned from a fascinating, productive trip to his native Congo. His observations are not only cogent but make good reading as well. Check them out at his new blog, The Congo Solution.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

CBS Overlooks How Congolese Criminals Fund FDLR

The 60 Minutes report on how illicit gold mines support the FDLR was worthwhile and timely, but it barely grazed the surface of the issue. For another, more in-depth view of the way mineral exploitation is destroying the Congo, read the recent special report to the UN Security Council on MONUC's support of anti-FDLR military operations in North and South Kivu. The report bears close analysis on many issues. Most of the media coverage of the report excoriates (justly) that operation for its abject failure to defeat the FDLR (widely identified as remnants of the Rwandan Hutu genocidaires) while destroying the civilian communities it is supposed to protect.

What I found fascinating and even more damning, however, were the reported details of the convoluted relationships between the many groups profiting from the conflict. It should be noted that, while elements in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and other nearby countries are reaping the rewards of the continuing conflict, none of those profits would be possible without the substantial participation of Congolese elements in the illicit sale of minerals, arms, and even agricultural products.

I hope to comment on the report in several posts (and will post a link to the full report when I find one online), but let me begin with one section that demonstrates how pervasive the criminality really is. The authors of the report and MONUC both report that FDLR and various Mai Mai units have formed an alliance to exploit significant gold reserves in Lubero and Walikale territories. The operation is led by General Kakule Sikula Lafontaine, military commander of the Mai Mai alliance known as PARECO. The report says:

" sources as well as a former Mai Mai leader interviewed by the Group reported that Gen. Lafontaine, who has several kinship ties to the Nande traders in Butembo, acts as an intermediary between the FDLR and many traders in Butembo, organizing the delivery of general goods to the FDLR in exchange for brokering gold deals."
The traders in question are Congolese also:
"The gold from Kasugho and Oninga is principally sold to Kahindo Muhiwa, Katina Kambale Mbayahi and Kambale Vikalwe, three Nande gold traders based in Butembo who the Group cited in its December 2008 report"
Their company is known as Glory Minerals, which was formed in 2008 and received approval from the Centre d’Expertise d’Evaluation et de Certification (CEEC) in Kinshasa to operate as an official gold exporting company. The investigators confirmed, however, that
"...Glory Minerals continues to source gold from FDLR-controlled areas."
The three Congolese businessmen are reported to travel regularly to Kampala and Dubai to sell the gold they've purchased from the FDLR. They deal largely with Indian businessmen based in Kampala who in turn sell the gold to the United Arab Emirates. The gold itself is smuggled to Kampala by road or by commercial flight to Entebbe and finally to Dubai.

This is but one example of the sad state of affairs outlined in the report, dated November 9, 2009, and known officially as the Final Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It reveals many unfortunate facts, not the least of which is that crime knows no nationality. Until the government of the DRC enforces its own laws and moves against the indigenous criminals on its own soil, all the blockades, embargoes, and conflict mineral resolutions in the world aren't going to end the rape of the nation.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, November 23, 2009

Video Report On Congo Conflict Minerals

As Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced his bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to help stop the use of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo in cell phones and other electronic devices, my colleague Rima Abdelkader filed this incisive report.

During McDermott's press conference introducing the bill, the Congressman explained why the continuing conflict in Congo is important to him and to all Americans.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More On The AFRICOM Debate

One of my posts regarding AFRICOM has prompted a healthy and civil discussion of the issues from readers. Let me add a thought or two:

While there have been many misguided ventures financed by the IMF and others (including the U.S.) in Africa, not all have failed. Nor have all the failures been due to the source. The U.S. is not an evil country as it is so often portrayed. Much good is done by the people, corporations, and yes, the government of the U.S. for the people of Africa and elsewhere in the world. Are U.S. aid programs perfect? Of course not. Are U.S. investments without strings? Of course not. Nor are those by China, Germany, France, or Britain. The question I would pose is, if these powers don't invest in Africa, who will? Development of third world economies, improvement of living conditions, and peace in the societies won't happen without investment and assistance.

What prompted the discussion, of course, is the growing influence of AFRICOM. Please keep in mind that AFRICOM is no more than the re-organization of existing U.S. military operations on the continent. I have very mixed feelings about the use of U.S. military assets for humanitarian purposes as I wrote when AFRICOM was announced, but would like to suggest that we look beyond the rhetoric to see what's actually happening on the ground, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AFRICOM has offered training assistance in two key areas that would be a great help to Congo. One is in the justice system, where U.S. legal experts have provided training in the investigation and prosecution of rape and other crimes by Congolese military personnel. The other is in training programs for FARDC units designed to discourage crimes against the civilians the army is supposed to be protecting. It should be noted that both programs were conducted upon the express invitation of the Congolese government.

I don't advocate military solutions for social problems, but the transfer of knowledge is far from an invasion of sovereignty. In these instances, the U.S. provided expertise lacking in the Congo. How is that wrong?

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the