WTF Wednesday, 12/19/2012

I’m headed out of town for the holidays tomorrow, so here’s a supersize dose of absurdity to tide you over until 2013:

  • Apparently half of Africa fell for a spoof article reporting Mike Tyson’s sex change surgery and subsequent adoption of the name “Michelle.” Because excessive lactation totally seems like a plausible explanation for the 1996 loss to Holyfield… (h/t Ben in Lusaka)
  • The Teletubbies will begin airing in Burma in January. Call me crazy, but this does not seem like a great way to incentivize other authoritarian regimes to liberalize.
  • Current longest-serving-African-dictator Teodor Obiang is building a shiny new capital city deep in the jungles of Equatorial Guinea, where he won’t have to worry about sea invasions. (But he will have a 6-lane highway and a golf course.) The government plans to drag approximately 1/3 of EG’s 700,000 inhabitants along with it when it moves into Oyala in 2020.

Why the Ngudjolo Acquittal Is Not Necessarily Bad News for the ICC

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about yesterday’s acquittal of Congolese rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo.

OSJI’s Eric Witte describes the verdict as a “worrying signal about the quality of ICC prosecutions,” while human rights groups suggest that the court has failed to provide justice to Congolese victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These reactions are undoubtedly valid, but there’s a silver lining.

Courts have to do two things to establish their legitimacy. They must show that they can enforce accountability for unlawful behavior, and they must demonstrate their allegiance to the legal process rather than politics. That second criterion is a particular challenge for the International Criminal Court, a relatively new legal institution operating in a highly politicized context.

Yesterday’s acquittal shows that, although the ICC faces tremendous pressure to deliver convictions, it will not operate merely as a stamp on public consensus about a defendant’s guilt. If the prosecution failed to prove the charges against Ngudjolo beyond a reasonable doubt, then it is an important and positive development for international justice that the Trial Chamber declined to convict him.

WTF Friday, 5/18/2012

This week’s winner: Belgian Congo Pale Ale, apparently an actual thing. The brewer describes it as “[a] blend of old world traditions.” Right, a “secret Belgian yeast strain” and delicious old world traditions like forced labor and mass amputations. Yum. (h/t: @texasinafrica)

And the runner-up: More than 50% of the police officers in Greece voted for the neo-Nazi party in the May 6th elections. Always a good sign when most of your security sector is fascists…

Whither Bosco?

Yesterday’s internets were full of the news that Congolese President Joseph Kabila has finally stated publicly that Bosco Ntaganda should be arrested and tried for war crimes.

Ntaganda’s continued freedom, and prominent position as a general in the Congolese national army (FARDC), has been a thorn in the side of international justice advocates who want him to face trial on a 2006 ICC warrant. -Particularly for ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has repeatedly called on the Congolese government and/or MONUSCO to arrest Ntaganda and surrender him to the ICC. However, regional actors have been reluctant to act on these demands due to their belief that Ntaganda’s cooperation is crucial to ensuring (relative) stability in the Kivus.

A statement by Kabila that Ntaganda should stand trial is therefore big news. Events over the last couple of weeks have suggested that Ntaganda’s grip on power may be slipping. If regional powers (specifically, the Rwandan government) no longer think his cooperation is necessary for peace in the Kivus, then he may indeed be vulnerable to arrest. However, as Jason Stearns points out, it’s not clear what Kabila actually said. Although Western media are reporting it as a call for Ntaganda’s immediate capture, it may simply have been a statement that he “could be arrested by Congolese officials when the moment is right.”

Whether or not Ntaganda ends up in the dock, these developments have set off a new round of the perennial peace vs. justice debate. For advocates of justice, Ntaganda’s ability to live freely among the victims of CNDP atrocities is a clear case of unacceptable impunity. For those on the other side of the debate, his freedom is simply the price of preventing future atrocities.

A number of people, concerned about the risk of violence in the Kivus if Ntaganda gets nabbed, have asked what options the Prosecutor has for suspending the warrant. The answer is: none.

Unsurprisingly, the architecture of the international criminal law system skews heavily towards Team Justice in the peace vs. justice debate. Although the Rome Statue builds in some prosecutorial discretion regarding decisions about what cases to pursue – specifically, Article 53 allows the Prosecutor to decline to proceed with an investigation “there are substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice” – once a warrant is issued the Prosecutor has no ability to defer to political considerations. There are, however, two other legal mechanisms that can delay or prevent an ICC prosecution once a warrant has been issued. (And, of course, the political mechanism of everybody just looking the other way and not arresting the guy.)

The first is the Article 16 Security Council deferral procedure, which can delay an ICC prosecution for renewable 1 year periods. The implication of situating this mechanism within the Council’s Chapter VII powers is that it applies only when a prosecution represents a threat to the peace.

The second is the preemption of ICC prosecution by a domestic trial, which I’ve explained previously. (This one actually underscores how little power the Prosecutor has to defer to politics after the issuance of warrants. In the case of Saif al-Gaddafi, we’ve seen Moreno-Ocampo support Libya’s new government’s efforts to preempt the ICC prosecution, only to get slapped down by the Pre-Trial Chamber.)

Either of these mechanisms could potentially be utilized in the Ntaganda case, however, it’s not clear that they would actually help with the peace vs. justice conundrum.

The Security Council deferral mechanism only delays the process; it doesn’t lift the warrant, so whatever incentives a looming threat of prosecution creates to retain the ability to spoil peace would persist. And preempting ICC jurisdiction through a domestic proceeding would require the Congolese authorities to try Ntaganda under conditions that meet international fair trial standards (i.e. no indefinite detention, no secretive military tribunal). Such a process is therefore likely to be at least as disruptive to the peace as an ICC prosecution.

Given the other choices on the table, the selection (so far) of the “let him wander around Goma, profiting off of everything in sight” option starts to look a bit more understandable…

WTF Friday, 3/16/2012

This week in first world problems: “‘It’s not cheap like it used to be,’ laments Dale Weathington of Kolcraft, an American firm that uses contract manufacturers to make prams in southern China. Labour costs have surged by 20% a year for the past four years, he grumbles (emphasis mine).” This sounds like the curmudgeonest dude in history. Also I’m pretty sure he makes an imaginary product.

“Sixteen civilians [have] been killed in a shooting spree by a U.S. officer stationed in Afghanistan…The incident is the latest in a series of widely publicized self-inflicted setbacks for U.S. forces in recent months. In February, Qurans were mistakenly burned as garbage at a military base in Afghanistan, which led to deadly riots. In January, a video of U.S. forces urinating on Taliban corpses surfaced on the Internet.” Reaction from Newt Gingrich: “We’re not prepared to be ruthless enough.” Just so everybody has it straight, to Newt Gingrich, massacring civilians and pissing on corpses counts as not ruthless enough.

ICC celebrates its decennial with…a verdict!

WTF Friday, 12/16/11

As commenter “Tanuki Man” points out, this one is a little white man’s burden-y. I understand the frustration at the large amount of money spent by UN, EU, UK, etc. resulting in what seems to be a flawed election in DRC, but maybe that (as well as history) should tell you that democracy might take more than dough and trying hard. Advocating redirecting these funds toward health measures might make sense, but is that any less of a shrug?

Womp womp…

“A year after the self-immolation of a vegetable vendor in Tunisia sparked a political tidal wave across the Arab world, it’s hard to point to much positive change in the North African country. Unemployment remains high, Islamists won a plurality in elections, and women fight to wear the niqab in public.” Well, when you put it like that…

WTF Friday 12/9/11

“Columns of black smoke from burning tires rose over parts of this capital on Friday as Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president, was declared the official winner of Congo’s troubled election.” Apparently Charles Dickens weighed in over at the New York Times.

Forget all these bogus December holidays, this is my new favorite.

Twitter war between al-Shabab and the Kenyan military? Smh…

WTF Friday 12/2/11

Vladimir Putin appeals to voters and politicians to not “make politics a circus.” Yea, this guy.
I though this article was actually going to explain how Egyptian voters have figured a way to “boycott boycotts.” It did not. I even Googled “how to boycott a boycott.” Nada. Would it just be to vote? If anyone has a creative solution to this I’d love to hear it.

Not Live from the Great Lakes Policy Forum Conference on Congo Advocacy

Amanda and I were tragically absent from the second panel of the GLPF Congo Advocacy event, because we had Important Business to attend to elsewhere. Fortunately, Laura Seay and Daniel Solomon were both live-tweeting the proceedings, and some other members of the audience graciously shared their impressions with me as well.

Apparently, it was highly similar to yesterday’s panel along the dimensions of muffinlessness and derailment of the Q&A period by nonsensical rants. (Very disappointed to have missed what sounds like an epic intervention by a megalomaniacal anthropology student.) However, the heavy reliance on sausage-metaphors-of-questionable-taste was new, and, unlike yesterday, not all of this morning’s panelists were snappy dressers. -One may even have neglected to wash his hair.

While the themes of engagement with Kinshasa and paying more (any) attention to local voices carried through across both days, today’s panel got more directly into the “Conflict Mineral Advocacy: Friend or Foe” debate. Despite the presumably universal appeal of one panelist’s call for finding a way to improve transparency in the mining sector while limiting the costs to the affected population, a meeting of the minds did not occur. My sense is that this comes down to intractable disagreement on two points: (1) whether or not the violence in the Kivus has “economic roots”, and (2) whether the negative impacts of the de facto embargo can be attributed to Dodd-Franck (and therefore to conflict mineral advocacy).

So the conference probably didn’t move anyone off of their entrenched positions on the conflict mineral question. (I haven’t changed my mind, anyway.) However, important points got brought up that have been generally missing from the debate. For instance, yesterday’s money quote: “If it’s about U.S. consumers, please don’t call it a Congo strategy.” Additionally, several panelists raised the issue of how conflict framing by the international advocacy community can produce perverse incentives for local organizations and individuals. This is something I’ve wondered crankily about before, so it was useful to hear about the phenomenon from a more informed perspective.

And for my money, the most interesting point made over the two days was a comment by one of today’s panelists.  He observed that conflict mineral advocacy, by locating the causes of violence in private sector activity, limits itself to private-sector-focused solutions. Something to think about…

Live from the Great Lakes Policy Forum Conference on Congo Advocacy

Morning internets!  We’re on a field trip to the Great Lakes Policy Forum Conference on Congo Advocacy today.

We’re live-blogging live, but the conference policy of “on the record but not for attribution” means that we are apparently only allowed to tell you what is being said, not who is saying it.  So, to set the scene:

We have three panelists and one moderator, making up a total of three distinguished gentlemen and one distinguished lady who is a friend of the blog and is named Laura Seay.* Three of them are wearing suits!  One moderator is wearing a tie! And Tom from A View from the Cave is sitting behind us, which is awfully exciting.

*Laura has given us permission to attribute her statements, so this is not as much of a flagrant rule violation as you probably thought it was. Fooled you!

9:45: Not-to-be-identified-speaker-in-spiffy-yellow-tie notes that international advocacy around Congo is not a new phenomenon. Mark Twain FTW!

9:49: Broad theme for this panel is “how is the narrative of the Congo conveyed in Washington?” (Somehow we think the answer to that question is going to be “not that well, actually.”)

9:52: Oooh! A map!

9:53: Focus on eastern DRC means “we have ignored the rest of the country altogether.”

9:54: Your interest has been captured by eastern DRC, so those are the stories you tell. You think you are doing something good for the Congo, but you’re not. You’re arguably doing something for this region, but ignoring the rest. The result has been terrible.

9:56: Shout out to a great moment in “WTF Congo Advocacy” history – Secretary Clinton’s video cameras for rape victims initiative. Whatever happened with that, anyway?

9:57: No one asks about the Congolese government when something bad happens. When women get raped, we send NGOs, and students from good law schools to run clinics on how to prosecute people that no one has the power to arrest.

9:58: First reference to Dr. Mukwege. Who thinks we’ll get to ten mentions by 11:30?

10:01: What is lacking in the advocacy in this town is the courage to tell the truth. You’re thinking of your next job, and what people will think of you.

10:02: Explanation of who Edward Morrell was is probably not necessary – suspect 100% of this audience has read “King Leopold’s Ghost.”

10:03: Oooh, burn. Report saying that 48 women are raped every hour is “most ridiculous thing I’ve heard.” If you take a holistic view of all rape in a country, then the U.S. is in serious trouble too. Maybe we need to build a Panzi hospital here.

10:06: Exciting Panelist #2! (Suit, no tie. Have we mentioned these panelists are snappy dressers?)

10:09: External intervention is preventing Congolese from dealing with internal problems. U.S. should “stop the support of strong men in Africa.”

10:10: Panelist says that one of the things activists should do is to tell President Obama not to give Kagame immunity in U.S. courts, (as the State Dept. recently requested). Um, good luck with that. Guess we need to do another installment of “LOL International Law.”

10:14: Panelist expresses frustration that IBM and Apple get a hard time about conflict minerals, but mining companies get a free pass.

10:15: Emphasis on need to include the Congolese diaspora in the discussion.

10:17: It’s Laura time! She gives a shout-out to the people at Search for Common Ground who organized this event after seeing a blog post on Texasinafrica where she suggested something like this happen. Yay blogging, blogging FTW.

10:18: When she started her research in the Congo, no one was talking about the Congo, or about conflict minerals. Then celebrities and activists from Nick Kristof to Lucy Liu started visiting the HEAL Africa Hospital and Panzi hospital for advocacy and photo-ops. Then, several years ago, the focus shifted to conflict minerals.

10:20: Someone is yapping all through Laura’s remarks. Shush!

10:21: Laura, like most academics, is not a fan of the conflict-mineral narrative. There is insufficient evidence on more or less all points – how much of the world’s coltan is in Congo, whether cutting off revenue will cause armed groups to stop fighting, etc. More importantly, however, this is a narrative that was developed in Washington, and without the involvement of Congolese people. If we had involved local voices earlier, we might have recognized the potential harms of policies which have ended up putting thousands of people out of work – and might have also recognized how difficult supply-chain monitoring actually is.

10:23: Hooray, it’s personal anecdote time! Aw, Laura had a “delightful chat” with a bishop who asked her to be a “voice” for the Congolese, and now it’s a teachable moment about how we should listen DIRECTLY to Congolese voices and stop claiming to speak for them.

10:27: Hmm, apparently part of the panel thinks the conference is “off the record and not for attribution.” Not what the announcement says, suckers!

10:31: Money quote: “If it’s about U.S. consumers, please don’t call it a Congo strategy.”

10:33: Panelist wonders “when will we hold the mining companies responsible for what they have done,” in the same way that Holocaust survivors have held companies involved with the Nazis responsible through the courts for their involvement in the Holocaust.

10:35: Rachel Strohm has left the building. The room somehow seems dimmer.

10:36: Laura: Congo needs stronger institutions and rule of law. Period.

10:36: Apparently Congo is not a howling wilderness, there are sectors where things work. Laura suggests that we look at places in Congo that are pretty well governed, like Lubumbashi and Butembo, to draw lessons from them about how they collect revenue and get their institutions to work. More generally, security sector reform is a necessary precondition. The country needs to have all of its territory under its control. We need the FARDC to mean something.

10:38: Security sector reform needs to happen throughout the country, not just in the east.

10:39: Oh my my, “It should not be just one organization picking the witnesses for a congressional hearing on these issues.” And the SEC is having a roundtable on conflict minerals, and there should be Congolese voices at that table.

10:41: The floor is now open for questions. Oh sweet Jesus…

10:54: Some questions collected from the audience thus far:

  1. How should we deal with the lack of a willing partner in Kinshasa to undertake security sector reform?
  2. Is Kagame Hitler reincarnated?
  3. Will Dodd-Frank’s transparency requirements help with pursuing accountability for mining companies?
  4. Who is Kabila’s REAL father?
  5. Is the war in Congo Bill Clinton’s fault?
  6. Does “ICC” stand for “Injustice Colonial Court”?
  7. What are other African countries doing for Congo? We can say that the problems came from the West, but what are we doing to move forward from there, as Africans?

10:58 Panelist response: If you are an advocacy organization and you are caught between wanting to discuss the role of Rwanda in the conflict in Congo, and your sympathy for the Rwandan genocide, then you are compromised.

10:59 “The DRC actually has gone through security sector reform before, in the 60s.” Good point.

11:03: Internet is glitching out and there are no muffins. Oh the humanity…

11:05: Panelist discusses civilian review boards that oversee police in the U.S. Says wants an equivalent “civil society review board” for security sector reform in Congo.

11:06: Laura points out the African Union’s “tradition of not holding leaders accountable for their behavior” (see, e.g., Libya, Côte d’Ivoire), argues that accountability has to come from citizens of African states.

11:06: Laura says the blame game needs to stop in order to move forward. “No one is going to say that Belgian colonization was good for the Congolese people.” Um, didn’t Newt Gingrich say that in his PhD dissertation?

11:08: Another panelist pushes back. Blame is important, because opposite of blame is impunity.

11:09: Laura says she’s not pro-impunity, she just wants to focus on options that will allow “the woman who has been raped to safely return to her community,” rather than just allowing blame to dominate the conversation.

11:13: Floor is open again. Ruh-roh.

11:15: Love of god, why are there no muffins at this event?

11:17: Have we mentioned we’d really go for a muffin about now?

11:18: Question from the peanut gallery: Is the U.S. only interested in the rape story? Without it, would Congo drop off the foreign policy agenda entirely?

11:25: Panelist: for the love of god, don’t call your congressional reps and tell them you want them to “be more engaged”. That’s how you get Africom!

11:27: All we’re saying is, we were promised muffins.

11:30: Laura on how we can use democratic and diplomatic levers. There are opportunities, and we’ve missed a big one in the lead-up to the 2011 elections. Kabila is not that interested in SSR, but he is interested in reelection. We missed a big opportunity to support the elections in a way that promoted security sector reform. However, 40% of the DRC’s budget comes from foreign donors, so there are still opportunities there to put pressure on Kabila for SSR.

11:31: Laura raises a troubling concern: “What’s going to happen when Kabila wins with 25 or 30% of the vote?”

11:34: Laura notes that there are a broad variety of Congolese civil society organizations, covering all possible issues. They are smart, and motivated. However, they aren’t necessarily covering the “hot” issues, like rape or conflict minerals, so no one listens to them.

11:36: Another panelist takes up the same point. The NGO-partnership model mutes the conversation. “If I’m partnered with Enough, and I come to DC, then I am going to say what they want me to say, because my livelihood depends on it.” And everyone else gets ignored.

11:41: Question from the audience: if the U.S. doesn’t have interests in Congo, then why, according to Professor Erlinder, was the plan to invade formed in Virginia? (Panelists look bemused.)

11:44: Laura, responding to a question about what are the true root causes of the war in the Congo, asks “which one?” She notes that “the DRC wars are entangled, but they’re distinct.” She emphasizes, however, that state fragility contributes to all of it and that questions over land rights and citizenship continue to cause conflict.

11:48: Another panelist following up on Laura’s remarks: Conflict in the Congo is “overdetermined.” Ha!

11:52: Wow, audience NOT happy with Laura’s remarks about the need to resolve the citizenship status of Congolese of Rwandese origin in the Kivus. She said that there would not be peace until their status was clarified, and the room erupted in shouts of “no! no!” from Congolese audience members.

11:57: Ugh, we are SERIOUSLY due for a post on head of state immunity. Sorry, team “hold Kagame accountable in the U.S. courts”, no dice.

11:58: It’s over. Muffin time!