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Two young women check out the photo of themselves with the Mandela statue on their cell phone at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff)

The social (studies) network: Africa's cellular education revolution

By Lee-Roy ChettyGuest blogger / 04.09.13

A version of this post originally appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own.

For a continent that has historically been largely unconnected via land-based telecommunications, mobile telephony uptake over the last few years has been nothing short of a revolution on the African continent.

In 1995 there were an estimated 600,000 mobile phone subscriptions in Africa. A decade later this number rose to 87 million and in 2012 it was estimated that there were 735 million mobile subscriptions on the continent. This makes Africa currently the fastest growing and second-largest market for mobile phones in the world. 

For the first time in its history, large numbers of Africans can communicate with each other over distance, receive information, and access services via mobile devices. As a result mobile telephony has significantly impacted the way people communicate, socialize, play, pay for things, and interact with their governments.

These connections also offer an opportunity for education.

Mobile technologies are being used to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services.

A tangible example of this is Mxit, Africa’s largest home-grown mobile social network. The South African technology start-up not only allows its young users to stay in touch by text chatting, it also facilitates live tutoring for mathematics homework. Dr. Math on Mxit, a project launched in 2007, has helped more than 32,000 school-aged children work through math problems by connecting them with tutors for live chat sessions.

While the mobile revolution is taking off in Africa, it must be noted that the mobile landscape is spread unevenly across and within countries on the continent. Some areas have good mobile broadband in place, while in others access is unreliable and limited to basic services such as voice calls and SMS.

To have a real impact on education, mobile learning initiatives must – and do in Africa – cater to a range of technology contexts.

An example is Nokia Life, an information service with more than 70 million subscribers in India, China, Indonesia, and Nigeria. In Nigeria its popular information channels deliver exam preparation tips for middle and high-school students, health education aimed at families, and English language learning. The service has traditionally used SMS to deliver the content. Nokia Life+, launched in late 2012, uses mobile data to offer an improved content experience. As mobile data connectivity infrastructure improves, additional services will come online across Africa.

However, the barriers to fully realizing the potential of mobile learning in Africa are often complex and significant.

For instance, while prices for mobile usage have dropped, they are still too high for many Africans, who spend on average of 17 percent of their monthly income on mobile phones and connectivity plans. In comparison, people in North America and Western Europe spend under 2 percent. Additional obstacles include a shortage of local-language content, low levels of literacy that make mobile learning difficult and a low numbers of smartphones and digital tablets that could enable richer mobile learning experiences.

School or district policies that ban mobile phone usage are another hindrance. Still, despite the challenges, which are increasingly being addressed, mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing approaches, is supporting and extending education in ways not possible before on the continent.

The past decade has seen a surge in the number and types of physical devices that can support digital platforms. Where it was once possible to categorize devices into three broadly delineated “classes” – mobile phones, tablet computers and desktop computers – the lines between these devices have shifted and blurred, and today technology that fits comfortably in a person’s pocket or handbag can open a plethora of educational opportunities previously restricted to stationary technology.

Small devices are hardly limited in terms of power. A high-end smartphone has the same computing power and many of the same multimedia functionalities as mid-range desktop computers that are 20 times as large. Additionally, high-resolution touch screens, intuitive operating systems and applications designed specifically for use on small screens have mitigated, if not eliminated, many of the disadvantages of mobile technology versus traditional desktop computers.

As mobile hardware and the networks that support them become more powerful, more dynamic and more affordable, the mobility of these technologies offers new options for teaching and learning. Education studies have historically conceptualized technology as existing in two separate spheres – at schools and in students’ homes – but this dichotomous view is changing and does not fully describe how many young people use and conceive of technology.

Today, learners are likely to have technology with them constantly, either at home, at school, on public transportation, at work, even in bed. Technology use is no longer, to a large extent, geographically constrained.

The widespread availability of information technologies has also sparked important societal changes, and these changes are beginning to ripple into education. People are rightfully asking what easy and instant access to these devices means for education.

Why doesn't predicting African famines prevent them?

By Tom MurphyGuest blogger / 04.08.13

A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.

Experts knew it was coming. In March of 2011 the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) warned that low rains in the Horn of Africa would make parts of the region food insecure through June of that year.

“A poor season could result in a major crisis. Therefore, these areas require especially close monitoring over the coming months,” warned the report.

Despite the warnings of a potential crisis, little action was taken. When the rains did not come and the drought led to famine in parts of Somalia by July, it was too late for some people. Food and fuel prices spiked. An estimated 11.5 million people needed immediate humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations, and tens of thousands died.

In just a span of 90 days, an estimated 29,000 Somali children died. 

“The greatest tragedy is that the world saw this disaster coming but did not prevent it. Across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia this crisis has played out very differently, but common to all of them was a slow response to early warnings,” said former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland last year.

The England-based policy think tank Chatham House took a closer look at how countries respond to early warnings of famine and found that the case of the Horn of Africa is generally the rule, rather than the exception.

“All too often the link between early warning and early action fails and the opportunity to mitigate a gathering crisis is lost,” writes lead author Rob Bailey.

“This disconnect was starkly apparent in Somalia during 2010/11, when increasingly urgent early warnings accumulated for 11 months before famine was finally declared in July. Only after that did the humanitarian system mobilize.”

Although the international community failed to heed the warnings of FEWS Net, the fact that the early warning systems worked was a good thing. Aid agencies knew that a food crisis was possible because of the widespread tracking of rainfall, food prices, and crop yields through the system.

The Chatham House report points out that food crises are slow-developing events that can be anticipated, as seen in the case of the Horn of Africa, several months in advance. Despite having proper warning systems and dealing with problems that develop over time, it does not mean that action takes place quickly.

“We have learned some lessons from the Horn of Africa. While we can’t prevent drought, we can prevent famine,” says UN World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

The Horn of Africa crisis and a similar crisis in the Sahel region of Africa illustrate the fact that responding to droughts is becoming more expensive. Consolidated and flash appeals from the UN for the two regions grew from $130 million in 2002 to over $2 billion by 2012. The financial needs increased as did the gap between the amount required and the funds raised. The same rising trend is seen in donor contributions to the World Food Programme as a whole.

Opportunities to exist to improve early warning systems, including better coordination, crowd-sourcing information, and differentiating between likelihood crises and humanitarian interventions. A comparison of the early warning systems capacity of countries shows that there are generally strong systems in countries such as Somalia, Kenya, and Niger and weak systems in Chad, South Sudan, and Mauritania. The larger challenges exist when it comes to how countries choose to respond when provided information by the early warning systems.

Early response to a food crisis requires a bureaucracy capable of responding within the context of national politics that will undertake famine prevention measures. Ethiopia is given as an example in the report of a country with the capability to respond in terms of assessments and response capacity, but stumbles over itself due to political holdups. It is in some part due to incentives to downplay the risk of famine.

“In the case of Ethiopia, this incentive is magnified by a national development narrative underpinned by double-digit economic growth and rapidly increasing agricultural productivity,” says the report.

When warnings were raised regarding a potential food crisis in the Sahel shortly after the Horn of Africa crisis, countries and the international community sprung into action.

“In the case of the Sahel last year, there was very clearly a big sense of shame about what had happened in the Horn of Africa and particularly Somalia, and people were openly talking about the need to show that we’ve learned lessons,” Mr. Bailey explained to AlertNet.

The response helped to avert a famine, but it is not necessarily a matter of lessons learned, explained Bailey. He said that the underlying institutions did not change. The difference was the fact that the motivation to mitigate political risk tipped in the favor of early action.

Ensuring that such disasters do not keep occurring will involve greater accountability measures for individual countries and changed incentives for donors to undertake preventative measures. The challenge that donor countries face is a fear that people will accuse them of wasting money.

Media attention can mobilize a response, says the report, but it takes place at the point of crisis.

“The media cannot be relied on to help trigger an early response because the so-called "CNN effect" depends on images of suffering not available before an emergency.”

Donors must deploy flexible and prevention-oriented funding in order to ensure that future food crises and famines do not take place. Concerns that the rebel group Al-Shabaab would take aid money and disbursements slowed down the US response to famine in Somalia. The problem created a greater burden on agencies who had to go through reporting hoops.

Solutions will require greater collaboration and a shared responsibility among donor countries, says the report. It recommends improving coordination activities as well as investments in what it calls "resilience labs," where new approaches to prevention can be tested, shared and improved. The donors can then turn back to their citizens to support the case that investments in prevention are worthwhile.

BRICS leaders, from left, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a group picture during the BRICS 2013 Summit in Durban, South Africa, last week. (AP/Sabelo Mngoma)

At South Africa summit, lack of cohesion weighs heavily on the BRICS

By Tom MurphyGuest blogger / 04.01.13

• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.

A meeting of the major middle-income countries in South Africa garnered plenty of attention, but produced little in terms of actual policies.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) account for over 40% of the world’s population, one fourth of the world’s GDP, and are responsible for 55 percent of global economic growth since 2009. The BRICS have raced onward in the face of the financial downturn and are poised to take a larger share of the global economy in the coming years.

The recently published United Nations 2013 Human Development Report says that the BRICS are on track to overtake the economies of the longstanding Western powers.

“By 2020, according to projections developed for this Report, the combined economic output of three leading developing countries alone—Brazil, China and India—will surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States,” says the report.

What will this mean for development – for the global push to reduce poverty, inequity, and the so-called north-south imbalance of power? Some experts think not much, because the BRICS are more a concept than a cohesive force. 

Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill predicted a decade of massive economic growth by Brazil, Russia, India and China in a paper he published in November 2001. He argued that the changing landscape and the growing economies of the four countries gave reason to re-think the Group of Seven (G7) that is comprised of the major global powers.

The grouping recommended by Mr. O’Neill and the moniker BRIC stuck as the countries pursued a different avenue of cooperation outside of the G7. Its first formal BRIC meeting was held in Russia in 2009, and South Africa was granted membership in 2010.

“The grouping doesn’t make much sense, and any expectation that these countries will form a new geopolitical bloc is outside of O’Neill’s original intent,” argues economist Daniel Altman.

“Their political systems, population dynamics, and paths to economic growth are all different," Mr. Altman says. "Brazil and Russia both depend to a great degree on natural resources, and India and China must both use manufacturing to employ hundreds of millions of people.”

Will they Accomplish Anything?

The group agreed last year when meeting in India to launch their own development bank. It would represent a direct competitor to Western-influenced banks like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). India, a country that recently set up its own international development agency, made the proposal to pursue a BRIC bank.

“The BRICS countries have agreed to examine in greater detail a proposal to set up a South-South development bank, funded and managed by the BRICS and other developing countries,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the event.

The conference in Durban, South Africa one year later was meant to be the opportunity to move from talking about building a bank to actually establishing one. Despite news stories reporting an agreement to form a bank (as if the announcement a year earlier did not happen) however, the BRICS did not come much closer to forming a bank.

The group could not agree where to locate the bank – China wants it in China and South Africa wants it in South Africa – nor could they agree how much each country would invest in the bank.

The Russian envoy to Africa Mikhail Margelov told AFP that they want to pursue the BRICS bank in incremental steps.

“We believe in a step-by-step way of doing business,” he said. "We better talk about projects and then we talk about needed amounts of money.”

The inability to come to an agreement led to further questions about the feasibility of forming a bank and the ability of the BRICS to accomplish anything meaningful.

The Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board welcomed the effort to form a BRICS development bank, citing that its existince is an example of spreading universal liberal norms.

"It is, after all, helping humanity, or at least a portion of it where the BRICS want to have influence with what strings are attached to loans. The bank’s very existence plays to the idea of a free market of ideas, or a competition based on merit. And it will likely be run in a democratic way."

Martyn Davies, chief executive of Frontier-Advisory, told Businessweek that it was naive of the BRICS to think that they can quickly set up a competitor to the World Bank and said that the group lacked the "glue" that existed between the post-World War II nations that formed the World Bank.

Others pointed to the equally amorphous statement condemning the fighting in Syria as another example of a lack of cohesion. Russia has long stood in the way of Western attempts to more forcefully intervene through the United Nations. The BRICS made mention of the problem and called for humanitarian aid, but they put little pressure on any side and made no comments on the Assad regime.

President President Bashar al-Assad appealed to the BRICS to help in finding a political solution to the civil war in Syria.

“It’s less clear what the BRICS represent politically. Setting up a big new bank to give away money is easier than figuring out what to do with a desperate crisis like Syria. And on that test of global leadership, where so many have been so critical of the global powers-that-be, the BRICS this week stumbled miserably,” wrote Carroll Bogert in Slate.

Why is South Africa Included?

If the G8 was the proverbial adults table, that would make the BRICS the rapidly growing teenagers who eat fast and yell loud enough that they can be heard by the adults in the next room (Russia is the awkward kid who gets to eat at both tables, but doesn’t really fit in with either group).

The thing is that the economies of India, Brazil, Russia and China are undoubtedly large and growing quickly. Somehow, however, South Africa also managed to get a seat at the table of unruly teens when it is still an undersized ten-year-old yearning to be older.

China looms large over the group with an economy that is bigger than the other four combined. Meanwhile, the economy of South Africa is equivalent to that of China’s sixth larges province, pointed out Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer in the New York Times.

There are plenty of other countries that make for a better fit economically, says Altman, the economist.

“In terms of economic size and potential for growth, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey are much closer to the existing BRIC countries.”

Some have cited the inclusion of South Africa as a strategic move by China to gain better access to the continent of Africa. However, Roy Robins argued that idea is false in Foreign Policy.

“China would do just fine on the continent if South Africa did not exist. The truth is that China sees Africa as the gateway to a richer and stronger China,” wrote Robins.

He expressed concern that trying to keep up with the Joneses has South Africa prioritizing the wrong problems. He says that South Africa is not just along for the ride, but argues for a greater emphasis on fixing internal problems.

“It needs to look more deeply inward, where its challenges are enormous and increasing. Only when the country achieves greater stability, equality, and prosperity at home will it be a genuinely impactful player abroad.”

While opinions about the BRICS remain varied, the inability to accomplish much in Durban produced more criticism and gives greater credence to Bremmer’s conclusions from December.

“In short, the BRICs can agree to disagree with the global status quo. They will sometimes use their collective weight to obstruct U.S. and European plans. But the BRICs have too little in common abroad and too much at stake at home to play a single coherent role on the global stage.”

Razack Munboadan (l.), senior manager with Karuturi, an Indian company with four commercial farms in Ethiopia, talks to his workers at Karuturi's farm in Bako, central Ethiopia. (Reuters/Staff photographer)

Agricultural gains in Africa crippled by funding crisis

By Tom MurphyGuest blogger / 03.27.13

• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.

African countries are making promising agricultural gains, but the progress remains in the balance due to a $4.4 billion funding shortfall, warns a new report by the ONE Campaign. That is in addition to $11 billion in agriculture funding pledged by G8 nations that has yet to be disbursed.

The ONE report cites 2013 as an important year for agriculture in Africa because it is a time when international and domestic funding agreements come to an end.

“African leaders have the opportunity to deliver on their goals of lifting millions from extreme poverty and hunger and preventing chronic malnutrition by meeting these commitments,” write the report’s authors.

Edward Carr of the University of South Carolina was general supportive of the report, but noted that the problem of agriculture may be one that is about markets rather than production.

“There is no discussion on the massive rate of loss between farm gate and market in this region,” Mr. Carr says. “The report raises further questions. Is there really a production shortfall or a marketable crop shortfall?” 

The heads of state for the countries of Malawi, Senegal, Cape Verde, and Sierra Leone have been invited for a two-day visit to the White House at the end of this week. The countries are among the six highest performing African countries in the ONE report and have strong ties to US agriculture initiatives such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challange Corporation (MCC).

ONE believes that the Obama administration may add Malawi and Senegal to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a move that further commits US support for agriculture development in the two countries.

The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) established by African leaders in Maputo in July 2003 set forward the goal of countries allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. Since then, 24 countries signed the agreement and have developed national agriculture plans. The ONE report assessed 19 of the signatory countries and found that only 4 have met the 10 percent spending target.

Despite the fact that the majority of countries are off the spending target, there are signs of promising progress. Eight of the 19 countries are on pace to half extreme poverty by 2015, meeting millennium development goal 1a. Additionally, 13 of 15 countries with adequate data will meet the second CAADP goal of annual agriculture growth of 6 percent or more.

Duke University researcher Marc Bellemare pointed out that trade is missing from the report. He says that development gains will be made through policy changes as opposed to simply increasing aid.

“For 60 years, we have been telling developing countries to open themselves up to international trade, that trade is not a zero-sum game. But international trade only helps a country if it can tap into its comparative advantage, which for developing countries is agriculture,” says Mr. Bellemare.

“We are undermining the comparative advantage and constraining the economic development of the developing world by refusing to liberalize agricultural trade and heavily subsidizing our own agriculture,” he adds.

Ethiopia is one of the countries that performs relatively well in the report’s scorecard. The East African nation spent an average of roughly 15 percent of its national budget on agriculture in the 2000s and spent 19.7 percent of its budget on agriculture in 2011. The money has been invested in disaster risk reduction and food security programs for the country’s drought-prone populations.

The massive famine in Ethiopia from 1983 to 1985 killed an estimated 400,000 people and sparked the massive awareness campaigns like Band Aid’s Do they Know it’s Christmas and the Live Aid concerts (see a news report from 1984 on the famine here).  The cycle of droughts and continuous food insecurity led the country to launch the Productive Safety-Net Programme (PNSP) in 2005 as a way of traisitioning from emergency food aid to cash-based social protection.

PNSP supported the food needs of 7.8 million Ethiopians, rehabilitated roughly 40,000 hectacres of land and undertook infrastructure building projects in its intial four year phase. The World Bank was optimistic about its early progress, but some doubts have been raised about the reliability of the data provided.

“The narrative is that the corner [as far as food security is concerned] has been turned, but that is a narrative carefully controlled by the government. Time will tell,” said an anonymous food security analyst to IRIN humanitarian news service.

ONE’s report called for a greater level of transparency from the Ethiopian government, citing that the information available "does not seem comprehensive."Transparency is among other issues that the report repeatedly presses for more improvements across the countries evaluated. Other areas in need of improvement include increasing the ability of non-state actors, such as civil society and the private sector, to participate in the implementation of programs and a greater focus on women farmers.

“While women farmers contribute up to 50% of labour on farms in sub-Saharan Africa, women do not have the same access, credit or inputs as men and own only 1% of land,” says the report. “More secure property rights for women, and indeed more transparent legal ownership of land overall, would help facilitate access to services as well as responsible investment.”

There is also a small, but important mention about nutrition, says Carr. He adds, “I like the fact that they are pointing to nutrition here, as I do think that is  an under-discussed issue.”

With the African Union looking towards agriculture in 2014 and the upcoming meetings regarding hunger at the G8, the conversation is turning towards agriculture and food security. A coalition of British NGOs hope that their Enough Food If campaign can draw attention to the issue and propel the current momentum towards ending hunger.

“The agenda we have set out is radical – more so than Make Poverty History. This is the agenda we’ll campaign hard for, engage millions in and what we’ll judge by. The real challenge over the coming months is to put all our efforts into making as big a difference as we possibly can,” said the campaign in a statement at their launch. 

Refugees from South Kordofan, Sudan, gather around a small TV set in the Yida refugee camp in Unity State, South Sudan on Saturday May 12, 2012. (AP/Pete Muller)

For refugees in South Sudan, a transit camp becomes a long-term home

By Akshaya KumarGuest blogger / 03.26.13

A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the Enough Project. The views expressed are the author's own. 

The United Nations reports that every day approximately 338 refugees cross from South Kordofan, Sudan, into the newly independent South Sudan. Yida refugee camp now hosts more than 70,000 Sudanese who are fleeing atrocities and starvation warfare in their home country.

However, the UN's refugee agency maintains that Yida, which lies mere kilometers from the international border between the two Sudans, is an unsuitable location for an “official” refugee camp.

Notwithstanding the fact that the camp has been hosting refugees for almost 20 months, the UN still classifies the camp as a "transit" facility. But the reality on the ground tells a very different story.

Aid workers report that the camp hosts scores of brick buildings and a bustling marketplace. Convincing refugees in Yida to abandon their new dwellings and livelihoods simply because of their technically inappropriate location will continue to be a huge challenge, especially since the community’s leadership sees benefit from the proximity to the border. Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees attempted, without success, to relocate the camp further south to the established camps of Pariang and Nyeel.

The refugee communities' leaders objected to the transfer, arguing that those camps were located in deforested areas that were prone to flooding during the rainy season. By December 2012, only 853 refugees had relocated to Nyeel camp and 763 to Pariang camp. Pariang temporarily hosted around a thousand people from Yida during the school year due to the education services that it offered.

Camp organizers object that Yida’s proximity to the border allows for Sudanese rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, and Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, to abuse the camp. Both groups are currently engaged in active hostilities with various Sudanese armed forces in Sudan’s Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states.

The UN’s refugee agency has repeatedly warned against the continued presence of armed men in the camps, as they undermine the fundamentally neutral character of refugee camps. In mid-March, Voice of America reported that one person died and hundreds fled as a result of clashes between unknown armed groups in the camps.

According to the UN, rebels cycle through the camp in between offensive maneuvers. In October 2012, a visiting U.S. official confirmed this objection, sharing, "we have asked them not to use the camp, which is supposed to be civilian, as a center for R&R [rest and recuperation] or the recruitment of soldiers." The leaders of the refugee communities, who largely support the SPLM-N, prefer living closer to the border so that they can maintain contact and stay closer to their original homes.

Unfortunately, refugee children are the victims in this standoff between the camp's leadership and the UN agency. The refugee agency has refused to establish schools there, pointing to a policy that classifies the camp as a "transit" point. This decision has been highly controversial, particularly since most of Yida's current residents expect to live there for some time, according to Enough Project sources on the ground.

Nearly 70 percent of refugees in Yida are below age 18, making the lack of educational facilities particularly problematic. Continuing to insist that the children of Yida don't need formal schooling is a bureaucratic mistake. The people of Yida attempted to complain about the lack of schools during a visit from UN officials last year, but this effort failed. In an attempt to force the issue, the refugee agency is now suggesting those who want their children to go to school need to move to one of the new camps.

The UN recently announced that it will be begin transferring refugees out of Yida at the end of this month. The refugee agency plans to open two new camps. The first proposed camp, Ajuong, a portion of which will open at the end of March, is being established in densely forested area, which should respond to the community's concerns about access to firewood and protection from flooding.

However, even when complete, the new camp will only have the capacity to host around 25,000 refugees. Aid workers on the ground confess that they are not on schedule to fully set up Ajuong before the rainy season, further complicating plans for people to move from Yida. No work has started in Gumriak, the planned location for a second camp. Realistically, the tens of thousands of people who live in Yida, which continues to grow, could not be accommodated in the new facilities, even if they could be convinced to move.

Central African Republic rebel leader Michel Djotodia arrives ahead of planned peace talks with Central African Republic's government, in Libreville, Gabon, in January. (AP/Joel Bouopda Tatou)

Meet the polygot who just took over the Central African Republic

By Louisa LombardGuest blogger / 03.25.13

On Sunday, a loose rebel alliance known as Seleka captured Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, and sent the country's beleaguered president, Francois Bozize, fleeing to neighboring Cameroon. In his place, rebel leader Michel Djotodia reportedly assumed power and announced he would form a new government. Central African political expert Louisa Lombard has studied rebel leadership in CAR for several years, and writes of her own attempts to answer a question that has now taken on pressing international relevance: who is Michel Djotodia? 

• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Foole's No Man's Land. The views expressed are the author's own.

When the Central African rebel group Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR) announced its presence by capturing CAR's northeasternmost town, Birao, at the end of October 2006, a few different men immediately declared themselves the movement's leader. There was Abakar Sabone, formerly best known as a Chadian recruiter of men-in-arms who'd helped Mr. Bozize take power in 2003 but became disgruntled with his former ally over a perceived lack of proper payment for his services. Then there was Damane Zakaria, a counselor in the small town of Tiringoulou who was with the men on the ground.

Finally there was Michel Djotodia, who few people knew much about at all.

Mr. Sabone and Djotodia were in Cotonou, Benin at the time – locked up at Bozize's request. Though they were eventually released, they were both somewhat sidelined during the peace process, and for the next few years whenever anyone asked who was the leader of the UFDR, it was General Damane's name that was put forward.

It was Damane who I got to know while doing research among the UFDR in Tiringoulou in 2009-2010. Nevertheless, I was curious about Djotodia, so I frequently asked about him as well. Overall, the impression I got was of a polyglot, intelligent guy with outsize political ambitions.

He made it into my dissertation, but only in the form of a long footnote:

People in Vakaga [prefecture] remember [Djotodia] as a prolific practitioner of extraversion. He went to the USSR to study and ended up living there ten years, marrying, and fathering two daughters, and then finally returning to CAR with “ten diplomas” and fluency in a number of languages, which made him useful when it came to representing the UFDR to foreigners and media.

People in Tiringoulou tell of one day, long before the rebellion, when a plane of Russian hunters unexpectedly arrived. Upon hearing Djotodia’s rendition of their language, declared him not Central African but Russian and brought him along for their tour of the country. He had political aspirations, and he pursued them fervently. Twice he tried to become a deputy, and twice he failed.

The highest post he attained was Tax Director. He also worked to become close to the Sheikh Tidjani, spiritual leader for many in the buffer zone, who lives in South Darfur. At the time of the UFDR’s first attack, he, like Sabone, was in Benin, where he had friends from his Russia days. Like Sabone, he was jailed in Cotonou for his role in the insurgency.

But then he becomes harder to track. He had a falling out with the Sheikh when he tried to convince the president’s son to name him consul to Sudan in the Sheikh’s place (though technically Sudanese himself, the Sheikh occupies this post as a result of the respect and legitimacy he enjoys throughout the region). The break in this relationship has made it harder for him to claim to represent people in the area.

Damane said that he had pushed him out when Djotodia had attempted to make an alliance with Charles Massi, another sidelined politician aiming for power through the form of insurgency. Whatever the specifics of his fall, people described it as a function of his failure to properly negotiate alliances. This diplomatic capability is central to maintaining power in a place of plural authorities. People surmised that this “intellectual” is now trying his luck somewhere far away.

Well, now we know a bit more about what Djotodia was up to. He has been in Nyala, in South Darfur, cultivating working alliances with the remnants of Chadian rebel groups that have been hanging out in the area. It was these fighters from the Chad/Sudan/CAR borderlands who became the military backbone of the Seleka rebel coalition that first threatened the CAR capital, Bangui, in December.

And through these alliances, Djotodia has come out on top. Hearing the stories of his ambition during my research, I almost felt embarrassed on his behalf -- he seemed like a Jamaican bobsledder convinced he'd win gold. And yet here he is, ten years after Bozize took power, getting ready to move into the presidential palace.

Here's hoping he lives up to his intellectual reputation and does a better job than his predecessor. Goodness knows Central Africans have suffered far too much already.

General Bosco Ntaganda addresses a news conference in Kabati, a village located in Congo's eastern North Kivu province, Jan. 2009. (Abdul Ndemere/Reuters)

A broken rebellion and Rwanda's cold shoulder: Why Congo's Terminator turned himself in

By Jason StearnsGuest blogger / 03.22.13

• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Congo Siasa. The views expressed are the author's own.

There has been a lot of conjecture and speculation surrounding the Rwandan-born Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda's "surrender" to the US embassy in Rwanda on Tuesday morning. In recent weeks, various parties to the conflict have been purposely spreading false information about "The Terminator" – who was wanted in connection with war crimes by the International Criminal Court – which has made it difficult to parse the facts in the case. Here are my own thoughts on some of these points.

Why did he surrender?

His time was up. On Feb. 24, an internal battle had broken out among the M23 rebels, pitting Mr. Ntaganda's wing against that of Sultani Makenga (for more information about Ntaganda's career and the divisions within the M23 see the Usalama Project's briefing here). While Ntaganda led a large group of soldiers – at least 500 were reported to have crossed the border on March 14 – he was short on ammunition. After weeks of fighting, he decided to run.

The larger and perhaps more important question is: Why did the M23 implode? Divisions existed since the group's creation in April 2012, driven by ethnic considerations – Ntaganda is from the Gogwe sub-ethnic group, many of Mr. Makenga's officers are Banyajomba – as well as historical differences (Makenga was close to Laurent Nkunda, whom Ntaganda replaced in January 2009), and struggles over money and power (each carried out promotions behind the other's back and set up separate tax structures).

The final straw, however, appears to have been the looming possibility of a peace deal, or at least Ntaganda's perception that one might take place. With an international arrest warrant looming over his head, and declarations by the Congolese government concerning his arrest, he knew that he would have no chance of re-integrating into the Congolese army.

Nonetheless, important questions persist. Allegations abound, for example, that Congolese President Joseph Kabila exacerbated the divisions with bribes. But which side did he bribe? Each accuses the other for having received blood money.

Rwanda's role is also curious. Reliable reports point to Rwandan backing for the M23 up until the capture of the eastern Congolese city of Goma on Nov. 20, 2012. Since then, however, support appears to have declined, perhaps also because there has been a de facto truce with the Congolese army during the Kampala negotiations.

However, if the Rwandan army had wanted to prevent the implosion, it most likely could have. Also, if it had wanted to solve Ntaganda's ammunition problem, they could have easily sent bullets and mortar rounds across the border. So why didn't it? Had the aid cuts affected its view of the conflict, and the M23 squabbles looked like a way out?

How did Ntaganda get from the eastern Congo to the US embassy in Rwanda?

It is obvious that Ntaganda thought his choice was the International Criminal Court or probable death, but at the hands of whom? And was it his choice to make?

The first version, supported by many current and former M23 soldiers, has Ntaganda crossing the border along with the rest of his troops, probably on March 14 or 15, then being arrested by the Rwandan army and debriefed. They then decided that they didn't want yet another Congolese rebel under house arrest in Rwanda – Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebutsi are enough of a headache and Ntaganda's ICC warrant would certainly make him a more difficult case.

But why would the Rwandan government hand Ntaganda over to the US embassy, where he immediately asked to be transferred to the ICC? The Rwandan government opposes the ICC, and is probably concerned by some of the revelations that Ntaganda could make on the stand. After all, Kigali backed the Union of Congolese Patriots armed group for whose crimes Ntaganda is now answering, as well as the the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and M23.

If this version is correct, it may be that Rwanda was not left any good options and preferred Ntaganda being sent to the ICC than having him sit around under house arrest in Rwanda (or worse). After all, Ntaganda's former UPC boss Thomas Lubanga stood trial for five years without any revelations being made about outside support to his group.

The second version, supported by ex-CNDP officers, diplomats, and Congolese and Rwandan intelligence agents, suggests that Ntaganda slipped across the border, evading detection and eventually arriving at the US embassy in downtown Kigali. According to this version, he took advantage of his contacts in the Rwandan army, as well as his ethnic kin and family in Ruhengeri, to escape arrest. There have even been reports of Rwandan intelligence agents being arrested for failing in their duties to detect him.


Hard to say – Ntaganda does have friends and family in Rwanda, as well as a lot of money. But if he wanted to hand himself over to the ICC, why not just go to the MONUSCO base in Kibati (just north of Goma), which was under his control up until the last minute? It would probably have been safer for him. And could he really escape detection by Rwandan security services, who have extensive contacts with M23 members and good control over their own country?

What will the impact be of his transfer to the ICC?

In part, it strengthens his rival Makenga's hand – he is now rid of a large faction of his officers and political leaders who had been a thorn in his side. While he has probably lost over a third of his troops to death or defection, he has rationalized his military chain of command and now has more reliable politicians to represent him in Kampala. While he is now rid of all of the officers with serious legal problems (except himself), it is unclear whether this will result in a peace deal in Kampala.

M23 delegates say that they can't accept the terms proposed by President Kabila, which amount to integration with almost nothing in return. In particular, they insist on good ranks, political positions, the return of refugees, and generous amnesty. As one of Makenga's officers told me today, just before a meeting of the officer corps, "Alituambia: vita ingali. Kungali njia mrefu." (He told us: there is still war. The road is still long).

On the other hand, Rwanda emerges with a boost to its reputation. While it isn't clear what role it played in Ntaganda's surrender, at the very least the country signed off on the implosion of the M23, which makes it look like their are more part of the solution than the problem.

In recent weeks, the World Bank has disbursed $50 million of the previously cut aid, and other donors may soon follow suit.

What will happen at the ICC? Ntaganda is reportedly more of a slam dunk that other cases currently being tried. Given his direct involvement in military operations, there is strong evidence against him for the crimes of rape, recruitment of child soldiers, murder, and pillage. In addition, the prosecutor will seek to add charges related to his time as chief of staff of the CNDP (2006-2009).

So, in sum, Ntaganda's arrest won't bring peace to the eastern Congo, but it does spell a victory in the battle against impunity and the dismantling to one of the barriers to a peace process in the country.

Supporters of Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga protest outside the Supreme Court as a case is filed over claims of massive fraud that took place during the country's March 4 election, in Nairobi, Kenya, Saturday. (Khalil Senosi/AP)

Kenyan candidate turns to court to challenge defeat in presidential election

By Ken OpaloGuest blogger / 03.21.13

• A version of this post originally appeared on the author's blog. The views expressed are his own. 

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga filed a court petition last Saturday challenging the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect – with 50.07 percent of the vote to 43.28 percent – after elections earlier this month.

In the petition, Mr. Odinga cites a host of factors that, in his view, significantly compromised the integrity of the election – including an unstable voter register, inconsistencies and errors in final vote counts, and failures in the electronic tallying system.

In a rally in the coastal city of Mombasa this week, Odinga claimed to have won the election with 5.7 million votes to Mr. Kenyatta’s 4.5 million.

With the filing of the petition, the country’s attention has now shifted to the Supreme Court. The court is constitutionally mandated to issue its ruling within two weeks from last Saturday. That gives them until Mar. 30 at the latest. 

Should the court find in favor of Odinga’s petition, Kenyans will have a re-run election in late May, with a possible runoff a month after that. The law says that in case of irregularities the court has to nullify the entire presidential election. It is unclear if the judges can rule on limiting the re-run to a runoff between Kenyatta and Odinga, rather than the entire slate of candidates. If the judges dismiss the case, however, Kenyatta will be sworn in on April 9.

It is obvious that the ruling will be as political as it will be legal. Six judges (see here) will hear the case as the nominated deputy chief justice is yet to be confirmed by the National Assembly.

Under normal circumstances five judges would have heard the case to avoid a tie, but since the selection of the five would have tilted the case one way or the other all six will be present. Should there be a tie the status quo will hold and Kenyatta will be sworn in early next month.

So how might the judges vote?

Based on my conversations with people in the know, it appears that the swing justices will be Chief Justice Willy Munyoki Mutunga and Justice Mohamed Ibrahim. The two are largely expected to adhere the most to the legal merits and implications of the petition. The eventual ruling will therefore partly depend on the ability of the two to persuade their colleagues. As president of the court, Mr. Mutunga will be under pressure to be on the winning side of the ruling.

A tie would be the worst of possible outcomes as it would suggest that the court – by far the most trusted Kenyan institution – is just as divided as the rest of the country.

The court’s only other ruling before this was on affirmative action to increase the proportion of women in the Kenyan parliament to a third. They voted against (arguing for a gradualist achievement of the same), with Mutunga the sole dissenter.

On the left-right spectrum Mutunga is the most progressive member of the court (and the highest rated public official, despite Kenya’s socially conservative bent). Justices Ibrahim, Smokin Wanjala, and Njoki Susanna Ndungu are considered centrists, while Jackton Boma Ojwang and Philip Kiptoo Tunoi are considered conservative.

Kennedy Opalo is a PhD candidate in political science at Stanford University, where he studies, among other things, elections and governance in sub-Saharan Africa.

In this Jan. 16, 2009 file photo, Bosco Ntaganda, seated center, holds a press conference with Congo Interior Minister Celestine Mboyo, right, in Goma, Congo, as Mr. Ntaganda agreed to work with the Congolese government. (AP/T.J. Kirkpatrick)

Why 'The Terminator' may have surrendered: Turncoats

By Enough ProjectGuest Blogger / 03.20.13

• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide NGO. The views expressed are the author's own.

In a startling development Monday, Rwandan-born Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda turned up unannounced at the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, asking to be transferred to the International Criminal Court.

Wanted by the ICC since 2006, Mr. Ntaganda, who is known as “The Terminator” for his ruthless tactics – including recruitment of child soldiers, murder, and sexual slavery – has been elusive ever since international pressure mounted for his arrest in early 2012. Protecting Ntaganda and his lucrative links to eastern Congo’s illicit minerals trade is seen as a key rationale behind the formation of the rebel group M23, which he headed, in April 2012.

What might explain his decision to give himself up? Ntaganda, a Congolese Tutsi born in Rwanda, once served in the Rwandan army alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame and is implicated by the United Nations Group of Experts to have maintained links to President Kagame's government through various roles commanding rebel groups in eastern Congo.

But as this connection proved increasingly awkward for the Rwandan government, Ntaganda’s decision to go underground suggests he questioned the strength of that loyalty. Ntaganda would have considered all his options before deciding to turn himself in to the US embassy, so he may have felt his best chance for survival was to surrender to people he believes can ensure his safety.

Ntaganda's decision to surrender is a consequence of a profound crisis within M23. During recent weeks, the group has been consumed by infighting. Early Saturday morning, Ntaganda’s rival in the M23 and leader of its competing faction, Sultani Makenga, seized control of the town of Kibumba – 30 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Goma – from Ntaganda’s forces.

Meanwhile, Ntaganda's political head, Jean-Marie Runiga, fled into neighboring Rwanda with over 700 combatants, where Rwandan authorities said they have been detained. Two eyewitnesses at the Congo-Rwandan border crossing in Kibumbu told the Enough Project that they had seen Ntaganda cross into Rwanda along with his affiliates Colonel Charles Muhire, Colonel Seraphin Mirindi, and Innocent Zimurinda (allegedly wounded and carried on a soldier’s back).

While all eyes will now be on the fate of Ntaganda, the handling of his affiliates will also have a significant impact on efforts to stabilize eastern Congo. The United States government and the UN Security Council have enacted sanctions on Mr. Runiga, Mr. Ngaruye, Mr. Kaïna, and Mr. Zimurinda.

The UN Framework agreement signed by regional heads of state in Addis Ababa three weeks ago should obligate Rwanda to break with its tradition of providing a safe haven for people wanted in eastern Congo, such as Colonel Jules Mutebutsi and General Laurent Nkunda. (Read more about the framework and its uncertain future.)

Rwanda must comply with Congolese and international efforts to prosecute all Congo war criminals in refuge on its territory. Kinshasa has already requested Rwanda to extradite Runiga, who, in turn, requested for Rwandan authorities to deport him to Uganda.

Rwanda’s potential role in the surrender of Ntaganda and cooperation in holding the others accountable is still unclear. Colonel Olivier Hamuli, spokesman for Congo's army in the province North Kivu, asked: "Is it an arrest or are they hiding him [Runiga] away?"

If Runiga is extradited to Kinshasa, Congolese authorities must provide for a fair trial and not set suspects free in exchange for a temporary "peace" deal with the M23.

What implications does Ntaganda’s surrender and M23 infighting have for the peace talks currently held between the government of Congo and the M23 in Kampala, Uganda? As of yesterday, the talks are suspended for a week but until they resume, uncertainty prevails.

In pursuing further peace talks with the M23 – and seeing the potential end of the group suddenly close at hand – Kinshasa must not settle for a shady deal with a wanted war criminal such as Sultani Makenga or offer him amnesty.

A man walks past a signage decoration for the BRICS summit in Sanya, Hainan province, China, April 2011. The BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – gathered in Beijing Tuesday. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

China steps up to support Africa's development

By Correspondent / 03.19.13

One week into his tenure as China’s president, Xi Jinping is already stressing his country’s ties to the African continent and the interconnected future of the world’s developing economies, in what may be an effort to highlight China's growing economic clout.

"No matter how international landscape may change, China will continue to support and promote Africa's efforts to achieve peace, stability, prosperity, and development, seek strength through unity and participate in international affairs on a basis of equality," Mr. Xi told a group of reporters from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – gathered in Beijing Tuesday.

The timing of the announcement may be key. That seemingly magnanimous declaration comes on the heels of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s announcement Monday that the new president will make his first trip to Africa beginning later this week, visiting Tanzania and the Congo Republic and attending a BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa. 

At that summit, the BRICS countries are expected to announce the creation of a new global development bank, a World Bank-like financial institution to be based, for the first time, in the so-called global south.

The bank is meant to increase the economic clout of the world’s developing economies whose stature in global financial institutions has trailed behind their explosive economic growth. By 2020, the combined economic output of just three of the BRICS – Brazil, China, and India – will overtake that of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Canada combined, according to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Report.

Despite this potential rising economic power, however, no BRICS leader has ever run the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. 

"These are 20th century institutions dealing with 21st century realities," says Khalid Malik, lead author of the UN report. 

BRICS leaders say the new bank will be a significant step in realigning the orientation of global economic power. And for the world’s most aid-dependent countries, which are disproportionately concentrated on the African continent, the bank would continue the growing trend of looking east – not west – for development. 

“I believe the proposed BRICS-led bank … provides the opportunity to mobilize funding for infrastructure development, which is needed in most emerging markets, and in particular in South Africa at present, and which would benefit the wider region as well,” said Anil Sooklal, South Africa’s BRICS ambassador, in an interview with Voice of America

All BRICS are not created equal, however.

The gap between Xi’s China, the world’s second-largest economy, and South Africa, the 27th, is cavernous. According to a report by South Africa’s Standard Bank, each of the BRICS would be expected to pay $10 billion into the new bank. For China, that’s well under 1 percent of its gross domestic product – for "little bric" South Africa it’s about 3 percent. 

But whatever balance of power the BRICS strike with its new bank, China under Xi will likely continue its blitz of private and public investment in the African continent. Over the past decade, China has sped past the US to become Africa’s largest trading partner, and its direct investment in the country rose from $200 million to $12 billion between 2003 and 2011.

Whether that investment is, as Xi claims, strengthening Africa’s ability to “participate in international affairs on a basis of equality,” however, is contested.

“Africa must shake off its romantic view of China and accept Beijing is a competitor as much as a partner and capable of the same exploitative practices as the old colonial powers,” wrote Nigerian central bank governor Lamido Sanusi in a recent Financial Times op-ed. “China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.”

China’s ministry of commerce flatly denied that charge.

"I suggest the governor carefully study the history of colonialism," said ministry spokesman Shen Danyang at a press conference Tuesday. "The trade and economic cooperation between China and Africa has nothing to do with colonialism."

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