Off-Topic: The Maserati Theory of Development

In the run-up to release of the Post-2015 development framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, one concept has come up several times: the differential responsibilities of developed and developing countries.  According to the Open Working Group tasked with drafting the proposed Goals and associated indicators, “Each country has primary responsibility for its own economic and social development and the role of national policies, domestic resources and development strategies cannot be overemphasized. Developing countries need additional resources for sustainable development” (emphasis mine). Thus, “developed countries” will be financing the sustainable development of “developing countries.”  Which is correct and proper.  But how to distinguish between a developed country and a developing country?

Ask any development professional to name all of the developing countries and he or she will produce a list that mostly agrees with any other development professional’s list.  I would assume that we can agree as a community on about 75 – 80% of the countries that would qualify as “developing.”  It’s on the margins between “developing” and “developed” that we might disagree.  For example, there are more poor people in India than anywhere else in the world, but India’s economy is one of the largest in the world.  Is India developed or developing?  Are Kenya and Nigeria with two of the three largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa developed countries, like South Africa, or developing countries like their immediate neighbors?  These are the debates that will consume much of the negotiations as countries try to position themselves to benefit from the resources that are made available to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  There will be many good and reasonable arguments on both sides as the status of these and other countries are decided. However, we will not have a long time for these debates as the final Goals will be approved in less than a year.  Therefore, I propose a simple test to determine whether or not a country should be classified as “developed” or “developing”: Does the country sustain a Maserati or Ferrari dealership?

This question came to me when I was working in El Salvador and learned that a new Maserati dealership was opening in San Salvador.  At first I was dismayed at the thought that Maserati would even consider opening a dealership in a country which had only recently suffered civil war and natural disasters, but then I figured that the bigwigs back in Italy had done their homework and knew that the conditions in El Salvador were ripe for sales.  As such, we in the development community can use the presence of Italian super car dealerships, specifically Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini, as a marker for certain preconditions in a country, but we’ll keep the name “Maserati Theory of Development” because Maserati was the inspiration.

In order for a country to have a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini dealership, we can reasonably assume the following:

  1. There is a cohort of individuals in the country who can actually afford enough of the cars to make the investment in a dealership (as opposed to one-by-one imports) a reasonable business decision;
  2. The quality of roads and infrastructure, especially road repair, in the country are high enough not to damage a car with a low chassis;
  3. Skilled workers are sufficient to conduct maintenance on the vehicles;
  4. The security situation is stable enough that luxury car drivers are not instantly targeted for theft;
  5. Banking system is secure enough to allow for payment transfers to be made reliably, both within the country and back to Italy;
  6. This would not be the first luxury car dealership to open in a country. That would be Mercedes.

So, what countries should be considered “developed” countries under the Maserati Theory?  Below is a list of all countries with a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini dealership according to the companies’ websites (Maserati; Lamborghini; Ferrari).  All countries with a Maserati dealership also have a Ferrari dealership; countries in bold have a Lamborghini dealer only.  The numbers next to the countries are their rankings on the 2014 Human Development Index.  Worth noting, the “most developed” country, Norway, does not have a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini dealership…

  • Australia                            2
  • Switzerland                       3
  • Netherlands                      4
  • United States                    5
  • Germany                            6
  • New Zealand                     7
  • Canada                               8
  • Singapore                      9
  • Denmark                           10
  • Sweden                              12
  • United Kingdom              14
  • South Korea                     15
  • Japan                                 17
  • Israel                                  19
  • France                                20
  • Austria                               21
  • Belgium                             21
  • Slovenia                             25
  • Italy                                    26
  • Spain                                  27
  • Czech Republic                28
  • Greece                               29
  • Qatar                                 31
  • Cyprus                           32
  • Estonia                          33
  • Saudi Arabia                    34
  • Poland                               35
  • United Arab Emirates    40
  • Portugal                            41
  • Hungary                            43
  • Bahrain                             44
  • Kuwait                               46
  • Argentina                          49
  • Romania                            54
  • Oman                                 56
  • Russian Federation         57
  • Malaysia                        62
  • Mauritius                          63
  • Lebanon                            65
  • Panama                             65
  • Venezuela                         67
  • Turkey                               69
  • Mexico                               71
  • Azerbaijan                         76
  • Jordan                            77
  • Brazil                                  79
  • Ukraine                              83
  • Thailand                            89
  • China                                 91
  • Dominican Republic      102
  • Indonesia                          108
  • Egypt                                  110
  • Philippines                        117
  • South Africa                      118
  • Vietnam                         121
  • Morocco                             129
  • India                                135
  • Taiwan                                n/a
  • Monaco                               n/a

 

So, check this list next time a country claims to be “developing” and in need of multi-lateral or bi-lateral assistance…

 

Michael P. Moore

December 31, 2014

 

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


OT: Consider Band-Aid as a Gateway Drug

Small confession: I like “Do they know it’s Christmas?” and will probably buy the Band-Aid 30 single.  It’s a decent pop song with a few good hooks and the Band-Aid 25 version wisely ditched the synthesizers for electric guitars.  As a depiction of Africa, it’s so laughably false as to stagger the imagination.  Lines like “Tonight, thank god it’s them and not you;” “Where the only water flowing, is the bitter sting of tears;” and the repeated “Feed the world” are massive failures of fact but reflect Bob Geldof’s bombast and the simple point he was trying to make in 1984: “Give us your fucking money!”

Since Bob Geldof announced Band-Aid 30, I’ve seen a lot of commentary about how the song is dated, it contributes to a false stereotype of Africa and Africans, it takes away from other charitable ventures, Geldof’s a smug bastard whose just trying to stay relevant, et cetera.  And this is all very true.  But it should not take away from the fact that money raised by Band-Aid 30 will do some good and the awareness-raising that goes along with the single will do much more.

Band-Aid 30 might, might raise US $10 million.  The United States government has discussed allocating $6 billion.  But Band-Aid does two things the US government cannot: 1) it gets people to contribute to global development challenges who would otherwise not do so, and 2) it’s a gateway drug for future development professionals.

Bob Geldof is not a dumb man.  He knows the lyrics aren’t true, but this is the fourth release of the single and each time he’s released it, the song has topped the British music charts and raised money and awareness for what are fairly complex issues like politically-engineered famines and multilateral debt relief.  Band-Aid also gives people a simple answer to the age-old question of “What can ordinary people do about extraordinary problems?”  Simple: buy the record (or probably MP3 file or iTunes single these days) and feel good about yourself.  People who do not otherwise give to global charities will buy the Band-Aid 30 single and those dollars will go to fight Ebola.  That’s a pretty good outcome.  Is it as good as giving directly to Doctors without Borders or Samaritan’s Purse or the other organizations on the ground in West Africa right now?  No.  But my guess is the people who buy Band-Aid 30 weren’t going to give money to those organizations.  So if the option is not giving anything to fight Ebola and buying Band-Aid 30, then Band-Aid 30 is the preferable option.

But what Band-Aid 30 will also do is also engage people.  How many people will read about the US’s contribution?  Not many.  How many will buy the Band-Aid single?  Many, many more.  Some of the people who buy or listen to the single will want to learn more about Ebola and the health systems in West Africa.  Will this be a large number? No.  But these will become the people who support the MSFs of the world.  I clearly remember listening to Band-Aid and Live Aid in 1984 and 1985 and that sparked a lifelong interest in international development.  My guess is there are many other development professionals for whom Band-Aid was their gateway drug to global issues.  People need to start somewhere and Band-Aid is an invitation to do so.  People who buy the single will watch the documentaries and the news reporting with a little more interest and care and learn about the realities of the situation.

So it’s okay to buy the Band-Aid 30 single; but also send MSF a much bigger donation…

Michael P. Moore

November 14, 2014

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Off Topic: Why Football is so important in Somalia

Football returns to Somalia.

Football returns to Somalia.

With the teams for the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil set (BBC News), it should come as no surprise to anyone that Somalia is not one of the 32 participants.  Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria will represent Africa and Ghana will likely be one of the favorites.  Somalia did not field a team during the qualifying rounds due to prohibitions against playing and watching football issued by Al Shabaab which controlled most of Somalia until last year.  However, Somalia will be able to participate in qualifying for the next African Cup of Nations and the next World Cup, participation that seemed almost impossible just two years ago.

In 2011, as part of its campaign to impose control and its own version of Sharia on Somalia, Al Shabaab banned all watching of football, on television and in person.  Al Shabaab threatened to punish any who defied their “order against bad traditions” (The Somalia Report).  This ban followed Al Shabaab’s bombing of two nightclubs in Kampala, Uganda on the night of the World Cup Final in Johannesburg in 2010 which killed 74 people and injured dozens more (BBC News).  These bans and attacks were not about football or about Islam, but about demonstrating Al Shabaab’s total control in Somalia and its ability to attack those who opposed the group.

With the success of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the military support received by the United Nations-backed government from Ethiopia and Kenya, portions of Somalia have been liberated from Al Shabaab.  Al Shabaab still holds sway in much of the country, but Mogadishu, Kismayo and several other cities are under the control of the Somali government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.  Development projects have re-started and a re-invigorated AMISOM force will soon launch another campaign against Al Shabaab.  The narrative of Somalia has changed from the World’s Worst Failed State (a title soon to be taken by the Central African Republic) to a security-challenged partner in East Africa.  Somalia is by no means out of the woods as near daily stories of Al Shabaab attacks demonstrate the continuing threat, but where the international community once saw a hopeless situation, it can now see a viable state in the not-too-distant future.

With liberation from Al Shabaab has come football.  It’s not great football, Somalia is currently ranked 201st in the world just behind those footballing powers of the British Virgin Islands and Andorra and just ahead of neighboring Djibouti and South Sudan (FIFA), but in addition to playing its first international matches in years, a domestic league has resumed.  With eight teams and a completely renovated Banadir Stadium in Mogadishu (paid for by FIFA who has been asked to fund renovations of other stadiums), Somalis can choose to watch football (Sabahi) and thousands chose to come out and watch the opening match of the season (won by Heegan, 3-2 over Gaadiidka).  That choice is the important element.  Other outlets are talking about football’s ability to be a peace-building tool which is important (RFI), but just having to opportunity to play and watch football should be the story.  Among the 20,000 spectators in the stands at a game over the weekend were many women, a mingling of the sexes also banned by Al Shabaab (Bloomberg News). In addition to the new domestic league games, the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) is exploring the possibility of hosting a youth tournament in Somalia with the participation of teams from the member associations, including the countries that have supported the AMISOM peacekeepers, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Burundi (RBC Radio).

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves to the crowd at a football match in Banadir Stadium.

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves to the crowd at a football match in Banadir Stadium.

Side note, the Banadir Stadium is not the Mogadishu Stadium that has been used many times over the last 20 years as a military staging site including by the United Nations peacekeepers that were called in to rescue the US Army Rangers and Special Forces operators after the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.  Banadir Stadium was severely damaged by mortar fire in 2009 when Somali government forces attacked Al Shabaab members who were using the stadium as a base.  Banadir Stadium now has an astro-turf pitch and VIP seating.

Teams walk out onto the pitch at newly renovated Banadir Stadium

Teams walk out onto the pitch at newly renovated Banadir Stadium

Football in Somalia is a sign of belief on the part of the Somali people that conditions are improving.  After 20 years of conflict, famine and dislocation, it’s good just to be able to enjoy a game.  Somalis believe that they will be safe at the stadium; they have disposable income to afford a ticket; they feel there is value in entertainment.  The mere fact that a game can be played shows that change has happened in Somalia, or at least in the capitol.  Over the coming years, the Somali government, neighboring states and the international community must consolidate the gains that have been made, but in the meantime, play ball.


Off Topic: An Easy Target, Civil Society Under Fire

After the Washington Post’s reprehensible piece on fraud and mismanagement in US not-for-profit organizations, I took the Post to task on this site.  The Post’s story and database generated other attention and some Senators and state regulators piled on with Iowa’s Charles Grassley saying, “Tax-exempt dollars are meant for tax-exempt purposes, not bankrolling someone’s personal Champagne lifestyle.”  Falling for the Post’s poor reporting, Grassley said it’s “stunning that diversion appears to be so common.”  Here in Washington, DC, the city’s Attorney General said that he will investigate whether “nonprofits are fulfilling their basic obligation to protect the charitable assets entrusted to them.”  One of the Attorney General’s staff suggested that not-for-profits are “tolerating embezzlement,” and some will now be under “greater scrutiny” (Washington Post).

Well done, Washington Post; just when not-for-profits are needed more than ever, you’ve called the entire industry into question on the basis of one bad apple.  Thanks.  Let me use your own pages to show the problem: On November 1st, food stamp subsidies (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) were reduced by US $5 billion (Washington Post).  In Washington, DC, this translated to a $15 million cut affecting 140,000 people; roughly a quarter of the city’s population.  Local not-for-profit groups, including Martha’s Table and D.C. Hunger Solutions, are scrambling to fill this Congressionally-mandated cut, but as you published on November 7th, “Martha’s Table’s food budget is $1 million for the entire year” and “when SNAP benefits are cut by 5 percent, charitable organizations have to double their contributions across the nation to keep up.”  Food banks survive on the generosity of others, generosity that you, Washington Post, have threatened with your reckless reporting.  Martha’s Table and D.C. Hunger Solutions used the Post’s editorial page to ask “those who are able should increase their charitable giving — in money and in food” (Washington Post).  Will the Post assure its readers that such charity is well-deserved and needed or continue to suggest that all not-for-profits are subject to fraud and embezzlement?

And it’s not just the Washington Post and US not-for-profits that are coming under attack.  Last week in online publication, Pambazuka News, two items caught my eye.  From Uganda, Vincent Nuwagaba, “a human rights defender, researcher and life member of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)” wrote an editorial declaring that Ugandan not-for-profit organizations “are guilty of murdering this country” are “far [more] corrupt than the government they demonise.” Without naming a single example, Nuwagaba accuses directors of being “chauffeured” in expensive cars, paying journalists to cover events and write supportive stories, and “cheat and fleece their employees.”  He declares “80 percent of NGO staff are pretenders, hypocrites and outright dishonest.  The human rights organisations flagrantly abuse human rights. The anti-corruption organisations are more corrupt than corruption itself.”  His logic is flawed when he says that because “the media are always awash with stories chronicling ghost soldiers, ghost teachers, ghost students, ghost pensioners and virtually ghost everything… Does it not plausibly follow that we have ghost NGOs and ghost CSOs [?]”  No, it doesn’t.  The accountability structures in not-for-profits are different from those in governments.  But Nuwagaba doesn’t discount civil society entirely, he calls for “the association of social scientists… [to] provide lasting solutions to the decay that characterize our society” (Pambazuka News) assuming that such an association would be immune to the corruption he sees in every other organization.

Unfounded and arbitrary accusations like those brought by Nuwagaba and the Washington Post leads to the “greater scrutiny” described by the Post and also allows for increased regulation of the not-for-profit sector.  In Cambodia, Russia and Ethiopia, laws have been passed that limit the amount of funding not-for-profit organizations can receive from external sources.  In these countries, the limitations are specifically imposed upon organizations that advocate for human rights and government accountability and have been used to investigate and close organizations that challenge the regime.  By accusing all organizations of fraud and corruption, the Post and Nuwagaba provide cover for these authoritarian regimes to stifle opposition voices.  In Kenya, the Parliament has gone one step further and proposes a law that states “A Public Benefit Organization shall not receive more than fifteen percent of its total funding from external donors.”  Kenya’s law covers all organizations, including those that provide humanitarian relief and development support and would force donor countries to give the assistance dollars that would have gone to Kenyan not-for-profits to the Kenyan government.  At the moment, not-for-profits represent 200 billion shillings (equivalent to US $2.3 billion) of Kenya’s economy and while I do not know the proportion that derives from international sources, I imagine it’s the majority of that amount.  And with Kenya facing a one trillion shilling budget shortfall (Pambazuka News), additional threats to the economy are unwelcome, and to assume that donors would contribute to the Kenyan government, when the President and Deputy President of Kenya face prosecution in the International Criminal Court, would be false.

Not-for-profit organizations fulfill a very important role in development and providing social safety nets.  Yes, they are subject to fraud, waste and theft, but so are all industries.  To suggest that they are more susceptible or even complicit in such is to threaten the health and livelihoods of those that have come to depend upon them.  Frankly, I wish not-for-profits were not needed and that the public sector and the private sector could provide for all of societies’ needs, but that is not the case, not today.  However, just as the First Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protect my right of association, so too do those documents protect the right of the media to publish whatever they choose.  And, as I will fight for the media’s right to publish irresponsible journalism, I hope the media will accept mine and civil society’s right to point out the media’s errors and false assumptions.

Michael P. Moore

November 18, 2013


Off-Topic: A defense of the not-for-profit sector and critique of the Washington Post’s “investigation”

For my day job (when I’m not writing and researching about the continuing threat of landmines on the Continent) I work as a finance manager for a not-for-profit company in Washington, DC.  My entire professional career has been in this field working for a variety of organizations.  I have worked for a professional association, a university, and three international development organizations of differing sizes and missions.  In addition to the work I have done for these organizations directly, I have conducted audits of dozens of organizations in the United States and around the world (the only continent I have not been to is Antarctica).  When I was thinking about launching Landmines in Africa, the alternative was “Free 2 Associate,” a blog that would have discussed the nonprofit sector, international development and the increasing challenges faced by the sector.  I am good at what I do and am pretty pissed off at the Washington Post for its article in yesterday’s paper, “Inside the hidden world of thefts, scams and phantom purchases at the nation’s nonprofits” (Washington Post).  Had I written this yesterday, I would have used words like “shoddy,” “irresponsible” and “ignorant” and felt justified in doing so.  I still feel that way, but will settle (as my blood pressure has) for “sensationalist and lazy garbage.”

I have two problems with the story, the first (and what drove me to a sputtering, expletive-ridden rant) is the tone.  Starting with “the hidden world of thefts, scams and phantom purchases” in the title to unsupported claims of “financial skullduggery,” the article suggests that nonprofits are crime-plagued scams to bilk the government and the suckers who give them money.  The article quotes a lawyer’s accusations that nonprofits are “allowing people to steal” money and states that the “the nonprofit sector has repeatedly run into accountability problems” on the basis of only two, albeit high profile, cases.  The article claims that nonprofits actively try to hide any thefts and abuse the public’s trust in doing so.  The Washington Post would have you believe that you cannot trust any nonprofit with your money because fraud and theft is so pervasive in the industry.  To further fan the flames of discontent, the Post published the annual salaries of three people – the president, a vice president and the person accused of the fraud – it implicates in the American Legacy Foundation case (the only one it presents in any kind of detail), leading readers to assume that the employees of the Foundation, specifically the president and vice president, had a financial motive to keep the story quiet.  The Post also repeatedly noted where no charges were filed against accused thieves.

The second problem with the story is factual.  The Post accuses the nonprofit sector of insufficient scrutiny of its financial operations and are unusually susceptible to theft and fraud.  As part of the financial operations of several organizations, I can assure you, dear readers, that this is completely false.  Yes, nonprofits are subject to theft and fraud, but all industries are.  The Post even says, “Little comparative data are available about the prevalence of fraud across business sectors,” but quotes one study which listed nonprofits as “second only to the financial services industry” in cases of “major embezzlements.”  There are over 2 million nonprofit organizations in the United States with millions of employees around the world with at least $4.5 trillion in assets.  Nonprofits are susceptible to theft and fraud simply because we are so numerous, we have such a large stake in the domestic and global economies, and we employ so many people.  Fraud is a crime of opportunity and unfortunately, the amount of business nonprofits do and the number of people we employ means that there are opportunities for fraudulent behavior.  There are even some funny stories like the time I was asked to pay a bribe for a service and when I balked, the person asking for the bribe offered to give me a receipt for the bribe so I could include it in my expense report.

The Post does identify one of the key sources of scrutiny for nonprofits, their employees, but misses the third, the board of directors.  In the American Legacy Foundation case, an employee identified the fraud and reported it.  When he or she did not see a satisfactory response, the employee reported it again to someone else.  Every case of fraud that I know of was discovered not by an auditor or an accountant, but by an employee who was angered by the fact that a co-worker was stealing.  Look at the quotes from the Post article, “We are horrified it happened on our watch,” “It’s sadder when it happens to a nonprofit,” “There are kids out there we could have touched that we didn’t, because this money was taken from our coffers,” “We do view ourselves as holding a public trust.” Most people who work at nonprofits know that they are being entrusted with someone else’s money and hold themselves and their co-workers to a very high standard.  The organizations I have worked for helped landmine victims, searched for cures to malaria, sought to educate under-privileged students and protected fragile ecosystems.  We do work that no one does and without us the world would be a worse-off place; we honestly believe this stuff and when someone steals from a nonprofit, they are stealing not from an organization, but from the people we try to help.  As the President of the American Legacy Foundation said, the stolen money was money “that did not go to save lives.”  I say with confidence, people in nonprofits do not stand for theft or fraud.  If the Post were to investigate further, I’m sure they would find that most instances of fraud were reported by employees who detected the problem and took action.

Why don’t more people go to jail for fraud?  How many bankers went to jail after the market collapses of 2008?  Nonprofits report theft to authorities and it’s up to the authorities to pursue the case.  We do what we can, we fire people.  As for getting the money back, that requires lawyers and unfortunately, most nonprofits do not have the resources to hire lawyers to pursue civil trials.  I’ve seen the anger at thieves when they were found in our midst and know that people wanted to use every lawyer in the phone book to get the money back, but the cost of litigation would exceed the amount stolen.  Blame the high cost of legal fees on the absence of court cases, not will on the part of the organizations.

Lastly, the Post’s article suggested that the “public” has a right to know about these cases.  Well, they do, but not directly.  Nonprofit organizations are governed by boards of directors who are tasked with acting on the public’s behalf.  Often board members are recruited for their ability to bring in funds or make connections for the organization, but their first responsibility is to ensure that the organization adheres to its mission and acts in the public interest.  There are organizations, like Board Source which are devoted to educating board members about their responsibilities and while more organization should take advantage of these resources, to say that nonprofits are held accountable is simply false.  Most board members I know take their responsibilities very seriously and as key donors to organizations, they have a lot at stake when someone steals from their organization so they are motivated to act.  When fraud is detected, the board should be notified so that the organization can take appropriate action.  What the Post did not ask, despite mentioning the American Legacy Foundation’s high-profile board members was when they were informed of the detected fraud.  The board provides direction in times of crisis, like a fraud investigation and whether or not to publicly disclose fraud is the role of the board, not a lawyer in Chicago with a beef against nonprofits.

After 15 years in the business, I do have some recommendations for organizations to minimize and monitor for fraud.  First, change your auditor frequently.  Most nonprofits are audited annually and a clean audit is a point of pride, but an audit is also the opportunity to ask hard questions.  A new auditor will ask questions that an old auditor might not; from experience, I know a new auditor keeps the finance team on its toes.  Second, minimize cash transactions.  When organizations have large piles of cash lying around (and I’ve carried upwards of $10,000 at times), the temptation is high, as is the risk of outright theft by a third party.  Third, tell your board everything.  If you have done your job, your board is both your biggest cheerleader and your harshest critique because they believe in what you are doing and want to see you succeed.  They will help make the hard choices.  If you don’t trust your board enough to tell them about potential fraud, you recruited badly.  Fourth, listen to your employees and keep them informed.  Many of the people who work for a nonprofit for that particular nonprofit because they believe in the mission of the organization.  They would be horrified to learn of any thefts and would be more willing to report it if they knew both that the organization is watching and that reports are taken seriously and fairly.  A culture of suspicion is not helpful, but a culture of accountability is.  Last, don’t believe everything you read in the paper.

 

Michael P. Moore

October 28, 2013


2012 in review

I appreciate that WordPress is able to do this for me automatically and save me a ton of time a research.  See the link below for the 2012 annual report of blogging from LandminesinAfrica.org.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 14,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


Off Topic – Football, Oil and Invest in Africa

Frequent readers of this blog, both of you, will recall in January I wrote about how Everton Football Club received sponsorship dollars from Hanwha SolarOne, part of the Hanwha group of companies which in addition to making solar panels, also makes landmines.  As a longtime fan of Everton, I felt deeply offended that they would take money from such a company and have been without a team since (btw, Everton have won 15, lost 5 and drawn 9 since the post came out; you’re welcome, Toffees).  When the 2012-2013 English Premier League season started I looked around for a new team and have been weighing the relative merits of two candidates, Stoke City and Newcastle United.  Last weekend however, I watched a game with Sunderland who were sporting their new jersey sponsored by “Invest in Africa”:

Invest in Africa is a not-for-profit investment group founded by Tullow Oil plc, an oil exploration company with active oil projects in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire among other countries in Africa.  When the sponsorship deal was announced, the Independent, the New York Times and the Football Ramble (a Sunderland-focused blog) all wrote pieces questioning the deal and bringing up concerns about the relationship between oil and African politics.  Tullow Oil has been regularly accused of bribing Ugandan officials with payments documented in Uganda’s Parliament (All Africa) and was forced to issue  unconvincing denials in October 2011 (Wall Street Journal) and April 2012 (Wall Street Journal).  Since Uganda is the most corrupt nation in East Africa (All Africa), I’m tempted to believe that Invest in Africa’s investments include envelopes of cash.  It’s a shame because the idea of promoting investment in the developing world is a good one; probably why former British Foreign Minister (and Sunderland vice-chairman) David Miliband pushed for the deal. 

So the search for a new team continues.  If you have suggestions for the official Landmines in Africa football team, please share them.  But keep in mind that teams associated with defense industries (Everton, Bolton, Bayern Munich), oil industries (Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City and Sunderland), Luis Suarez (Liverpool) and Manchester United do not meet the “fit and proper” test.

Michael P. Moore, October 12, 2012


Off-Topic: What the response to Invisible Children’s video says about the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine

Apologies for the absence of citations and sources in this post, am traveling and have limited connectivity – MPM, 3/18/12.

Lost within all the kerfuffle about the veracity of the claims made in the “Kony 2012” video produced by the NGO Invisible Children and the subsequent hospitalization of Invisible Children’s co-founder and the video’s director, Jason Russell, for “exhaustion” is a discussion of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine.  In the video, Invisible Children urges the United States to take action to capture Joseph Kony and the other leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army and deliver them to the International Criminal Court to face the charges they have been indicted for.  I’m not going to wade into the discussions of the veracity of Invisible Children’s claims; those have been handled elsewhere by luminaries such as Alex de Waal and Rosebell Kagire.  Instead, I want to address the R2P context in which Invisible Children is acting and how the uproar against Invisible Children’s actions demonstrate the flaws in the R2P doctrine and the weakness of legitimacy for the International Criminal Court. 

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. R2P is an outgrowth of previous civil-society driven international initiatives such as the Mine Ban Treaty and international justice precedents like the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the special courts set up by the international community in the wake of crimes against humanity in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  R2P is to security what the ICC was to justice: when a nation’s judicial system is inadequate or unable to fairly try cases of crimes against humanity, the ICC will step in; when a nation’s military and police force is unable or unwilling to provide security to the citizens of that nation, the international community will step in.  Both the ICC and R2P represent fundamental challenges to a nation’s sovereignty, essentially saying the in order for a nation to maintain its sovereignty, that nation must provide security and justice for its citizens.  The ICC has been criticized in many corners as a paternalistic and “Western” entity, imposing “Western” concepts of justice on the developing world.  The ICC has also been criticized for only bringing indictments against Africans and not against any criminals from other continents. 

First, I think it’s important to point out that Invisible Children and the related organization Resolve (formerly Resolve Uganda) have managed to spark a global conversation about the LRA and Joseph Kony.  I am writing this from India and saw editorials in the newspapers here on the #Kony2012 campaign.  Invisible Children produced a widely seen internet video, dominated Twitter and got Africans and Africanists around the world to write article, editorials and blog posts on the subject.  In a matter of days, Invisible Children demonstrated to power of social media to raise awareness and communicate a specific message to a worldwide audience.  Activists should study how Invisible Children was able to do this and take from them the lessons learned.  Simply put, Invisible Children have figured out how to make a social media campaign effective and established a model for future campaigns.  I can’t help but think part of the criticism of Invisible Children is born of jealousy and frustration on the part of activists and Africanists who for decades were trying to bring greater attention and action to Northern Uganda in response to the LRA with measured and well-argued campaigns and then saw the ease with which Invisible Children was able to almost instantly seize the world’s attention. 

Second, this is not the first time an innovative campaign has been centered on the Lord’s Resistance Army.  In 2010, Resolve drafted the Lord’s Resistance Army >Capture and Assistance Act< and then targeted the members of the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Representatives.  Staging what they called the “Hometown Shakedown,” Resolve volunteers camped out at the district offices of the members of the committee to shame them into passing the bill which, because it dictated foreign policy to the President, fundamentally violated the role of the House of Representatives as described in the Constitution.  Let me say that again because it’s so important: Resolve got the US Congress to pass a bill dictating US foreign policy in contravention of the separation of powers in the Constitution.  What’s more, the bill was passed by the full House once the Committee had approved it and then President Obama signed it into law.  Resolve re-wrote the Constitution to get the US government to address its issue, the continued existence of the Lord’s Resistance Army.  I have been stunned that other organizations have not realized the full measure of what Resolve was able to accomplish and used similar methods to get Congressional committees and the Congress as a whole to draft and send bills to the President for signature. 

When he signed the LRA act into law, Obama committed the US to developing and implementing a strategy to capture Joseph Kony and bring to an end the LRA rebellion.  This is the US military intervention discussed in the Invisible Children video that has raised so much attention and concern.  Currently 100 US Special Forces soldiers are embedded with the Ugandan army providing intelligence and logistical support for the pursuit of Kony and the LRA. 

Now, let’s get into the tricky part.  This intervention and the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 both fall under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, even though the US and NATO did not specifically invoke the doctrine.  The R2P doctrine states that when nations are unable or unwilling to provide security for their citizens, then the international community has the moral obligation and the legal authority to step in and provide the necessary security.  In this formulation, Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic were unable to prevent the predations of the LRA; Libya was unwilling to protect its citizens and even seemed on the verge of massacring tens of thousands of Libyans in Benghazi. As a result, the United States and the international community had the responsibility to intervene in these conflicts. 

The problem is that intervention under R2P eliminates the possibility of “African solutions for African problems” which is half of the critique of Invisible Children’s position; the other half of the critique is the simplicity of Invisible Children’s position.  The simplicity of Invisible Children’s presentation belies the fact that Invisible Children is advocating for the exact same response to the LRA that the International Crisis Group (ICG) has advocated for; Invisible Children’s argument was cruder and more visceral, but underneath, they are the same plans and no one has critiqued ICG, therefore the intervention proposed by Invisible Children may have some validity.  The other side of the critique, the question of R2P versus “African solutions to African problems,” is an important argument that needs to be had.  “African solutions to African problems” and R2P would seem to be mutually exclusive and that is the problem: either R2P is a valid doctrine and the international community has the responsibility to intervene or R2P is an invalid doctrine and conflicts, no matter how violent and how terrible, should be resolved by the participants or their neighbors. 

The African Union has, in recent years, become more active in peacekeeping missions, but does not have a peace-making ability.  In theory, the African Union has a Peace and Security Committee which could take on a peace-making role, but no military or security forces have been pledged for that purpose.  One place where the African Union and other countries have made interventions that could be considered an application of the R2P doctrine is Somalia.

Beginning in 2006 with the US-backed invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian Army, Somalia has been the site of African interventions under an R2P-like mandate.  In 2006, the Ethiopian army entered and occupied large sections of southern Somalia to oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  Ethiopia justified its actions by saying the ICU was not providing security to Somalis and was violating the human rights of Somalis, especially women.  Ethiopia was initially successful in removing the ICU from power, restoring nominal control of the country to the UN-sponsored Transitional Federal Government (TFG) (and by control I mean that the TFG controlled only those parts of the capitol of Mogadishu where African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi were stationed, an extremely limited geography).  However, Ethiopian forces soon became the target of an insurgency campaign from Islamist forces reconstituted under the title “Al Shabaab,” or “The Youth.”  Al Shabaab was successful in harassing Ethiopian soldiers and supply lines, eventually forcing Ethiopia to withdraw. 

In 2011, Kenya invaded Somalia in response to a spate of kidnappings along the Indian Ocean coast at hotels near the Kenya – Somalia border.  Because the TFG in Somalia was unable to exert any pressure against Al Shabaab outside of Mogadishu (or frankly even within Mogadishu), Kenya was forced to act to protect its tourism industry.  Shortly after Kenya’s invasion, the African Union peacekeepers launched an offensive against Al Shabaab forces in Mogadishu and then Ethiopia once again invaded.  A three-pronged assault seems to be having the desired effect of weakening Al Shabaab and driving it from Mogadishu and from Al Shabaab stronghold of Baidoa.   While neither Kenya nor Ethiopia have specifically invoked R2P as the justification for their interventions, they have used language consistent with the R2P doctrine, just as the US and NATO did with Uganda and Libya. 

In theory, African states could invoke R2P and intervene in their neighboring states as was done in Somalia by Kenya and Ethiopia.  However, in the case of the LRA, the only forces that ever pursued Kony and the LRA are Uganda’s army and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement in Sudan that has emerged as the governing party of South Sudan.  Since these forces were also the immediate targets of the LRA, they could not be accused of acting in an altruistic manner.  In Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are also acting out of their own self-interests and not on the basis of R2P doctrine although they use R2P language to support their invasions.  R2P is not about protecting one’s own security (that’s the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive action), instead R2P is about protecting the security of the citizens of the nation in which the intervention takes place.  So, the example of Somalia is an example of an “African solution to African problems,” but it is not R2P; Kenya’s and Ethiopia’s interventions have also been highly criticized because the two countries are acting in their own self-interest and not in the interest of Somalis. 

This I think is the real fear with R2P as a doctrine for militarized peace-making: countries could invoke R2P when they are serving their own self-interests.  For example, in Libya NATO could be accused of acting to protect oil supplies instead of Libyans.  Or, as was done in Iraq after the invasion by the US, the US changed the rhetoric on the reasons for invasion from the threat of weapons of mass destruction to a desire to bring democracy to Iraq.  LRA watchers are afraid that the US’s intervention is the first of many such interventions through the US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), interventions that will supersede African nations’ sovereignty and serve only the US’s interests in the region.  Then R2P would be invoked to provide international cover for the US’s actions.    

So, where does that leave us?  I think that much of the response and critique to Invisible Children is a rejection of the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.  The simplicity of Invisible Children’s presentation didn’t help their argument, but that’s not the origin of the problem.  I think R2P and the ICC do not have broad support within the countries they are supposed to be protecting.  Instead they are viewed as Western institutions that serve Western interests.  Invisible Children and the “Kony 2012” video are merely the NGO equivalents; serving their own interests while denying agency and sovereignty to those affected.  The “Kony 2012” video has sparked international interest, but the discussion needs to be about the concept of international intervention, such as those proposed under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine; if those interventions are valid then Invisible Children is just guilty of being crass.  If interventions under R2P are not valid, then the “Kony 2012” video should spark a broader conversation about R2P and perhaps create a structure under which militarized peace-making interventions might be acceptable, if ever.

Michael P. Moore, March 18, 2012


Whither the “African Spring”?

“I will eat them like samosas.”

 – Yoweri Museveni describing how he would deal with an Arab Spring-style demonstrators.

Recently, I saw a couple of posts on Facebook encouraging the people of Zimbabwe to rise up against the regime of Robert Mugabe.  That’s great, it really is.  But, if you are serious about encouraging Zimbabweans to rise up against Mugabe, don’t send Facebook posts; send money.  Send guns and people who know how to use them.  Send journalists to document the regime’s abuses and then send NATO air superiority.  But why stop at Zimbabwe.  Why not encourage the peoples of Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cameroon, Gabon, Sudan, Uganda, Burkina Faso or Chad to rise up against their oppressive regimes.  You won’t run out of dictators in African to overthrow any time soon.

So, maybe the question should be, why, in the face of the successes of the Arab Spring, have we not seen an African Spring?  Well, who says we haven’t?  There have been popular revolutions recently in Madagascar when Adriy Rajoelina street protests ousted the Ravalomana regime and in Cote d’Ivoire, following the stolen elections, the true winner, Alassane Outtarra’s forces (with the support of French troops – see the Libya connection) ousted Laurent Gbagbo’s regime. That’s two examples and in Uganda we see the gathering storm created by the Walk to Work campaign, despite Yoweri Museveni’s recent re-election as president with support of nearly three-quarters of the electorate. The Madagascar and Cote d’Ivoire actions preceded the Arab Spring, but much like the unsuccessful Green Revolution in Iran (and the earlier, successful Cedar Revolution in Lebanon), these popular uprisings have demonstrated to the populations under oppressive regimes that popular movement can galvanize the opposition and possible create change.  But the wave of protest and change that has swept North Africa (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco) and Syria has not sparked a similar movement across sub-Saharan Africa.

I’d like to pose a few reasons why we have not seen an African Spring (or at least one recognized as such).  I’m sure that we will see several dissertations on this subject over the next few years but let me take an initial bloggy stab.  Specifically, I am interested on the barriers to the kind of mass mobilization that would spark a popular revolution as we saw in North Africa. Here, in no particular order, are nine candidates (I tried for ten, but ran short):

1. Election violence

In 2007, the presidential elections in Kenya were marred by (correct) accusations of fraud and vote-rigging; those accusations led to violent attacks by supporters of Raila Odinga against supporters of Mwai Kibaki and vice versa.  Odinga and Kibaki had stoked ethnic tensions leading up to the elections and the spasms of violence, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, were committed along ethnic lines (IRIN News).  Since the 2007 election in Kenya, many other elections in Africa (Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda and Cote d’Iviore, to name just a couple) have been accompanied by accusations of vote-rigging and subsequent violence.

These accusations and the associated violence reveal that many leaders (both in government and in the opposition) in Africa have instrumentalized ethnicity as a short-cut for loyalty.  This instrumentalization has polarized African nations to the point where mass mobilization of “the people” against the “government,” as seen in Tunisia and Egypt would be difficult because of the ethnic ties between leaders and followers.  As long as those ties exist (and are rewarded with patronage), leaders can rely on the continuing loyalty of their followers.

2. History of civil war in Africa

After the end of the Cold War, many African nations experienced long civil wars.  In West Africa the conflict complex drew in the nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso; in East Africa the conflict complexes include Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia; in Central Africa, the African World War grew out of the Rwandan genocide to involve the former Zaire, Uganda, Burundi, Angola and Zimbabwe.  These wars and the many other conflicts of the last two decades in sub-Saharan Africa have left the continent played out.  The exuberance with which Libyans embarked on their armed uprising against Gaddhafi’s forces would not be seen in countries already suffering from years of war and all of its associated pains.  In North Africa and the Middle East, despite the horrific oppression, the countries of the Arab Spring – Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Syria – have been relatively peaceful.  Note that those Arab countries that have experienced civil war in recent years – Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq – there have been no such uprisings or demonstrations. The absence of conflict has meant that the populations are neither polarized into backing one faction over another; nor have the potential revolutionaries already been brought into other movements. The one exception is Yemen which has experienced many years of low-level conflict and has been an active participant in the Arab Spring. 

3. African Union rules

Not too long ago, as recently as August, the African Union announced that it would not recognize the National Transitional Council in Libya as the official government, despite the fact that the NTC was recognized by members of NATO as the official government (Huffington Post).  This was due to the fact that one of the African Union’s rules explicitly prevented recognition of governments that came to power via coups or other non-democratic methods.  The abdications of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia meant the AU could recognize the interim governments in those states, but because the NTC was seeking to seize power by armed means, the AU would not recognize the NTC (in September, the AU recognized the NTC, presumably under pressure from the US and Western Europe, [BBC News]). 

This rule was put in place to discourage coups and to protect leaders democratically elected.  Okay, many “democratic” regimes in sub-Saharan Africa are pure dictatorships with only thin veneers of electoral validation, but those regimes were the ones to come up with the rule of non-recognition of coup leaders out of self-interest and self-preservation.  The fact that Gaddhafi himself came to power by coup is an example of the inconsistency of the policy, but the rule is still there and it has been used to keep Andriy Rajoelina’s regime in Madagascar a pariah state.  In other words, the rule works when applied and I think the African Union wanted to demonstrate that it would be willing to enforce its policy in the face of external (NATO) intervention.

4. Lack of external intervention

Speaking of NATO, I think external interventions in Egypt and Libya have been key to the success of those revolutions.  When the United States withdrew support for Mubarak in Egypt, he and his supporters quickly fell from power.  When NATO airstrikes stopped the assault of Gaddhafi’s forces on Benghazi, that started to turn the tide; the continued assistance from NATO in terms of intelligence and air superiority helped to seal the end of Gaddhafi’s rule.  Tunisia is the only Arab Spring state to completely succeed in overthrowing the regime without external assistance and the absence of assistance to demonstrators in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen has kept those leaders in place.  In fact, the external intervention in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen has been (from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain and Yemen, from Russia and Iran to Syria) on the side of the ruling regimes.  Similarly, during Iran’s Green Revolution, the absence of external support to the protesters allowed the regime time to re-group and quash the uprising. 

In Uganda, the Walk to Work protests have been going for some weeks and the opposition leadership has been beaten and arrested.  But the US has refused to comment and has provided additional military support to the Ugandan army and government to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.  This is in addition to the support Uganda receives from the US for sending Ugandan soldiers to Somalia to serve as peacekeepers.  The message to the Ugandan protesters could not be clearer: help is not coming for you.  So even where a potential African Spring event is occurring, the absence of external support for the protesters will likely prevent the uprising from succeeding.

5. Twitter and communications infrastructure

Did you know that Twitter is not available via SMS text messaging outside of Nigeria, Madagascar and Kenya? (The White African Blog).  Twitter was supposed to be available in Cameroon, but Paul Biya’s regime (he has since won re-election and will likely be president for life) banned mobile Twitter use prior to the elections.  Yes, you can use Twitter on computers anywhere in the world, but the ability to mobilize quickly would require remote, mobile phone posts to Twitter, either via a smart phone or SMS text.  If smart phones are hard to come by (simply because of cost), then SMS texts are the way to go, but for nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa, that’s simply not possible.  The Twitter infrastructure, such a key to protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, is not available to potential participants in an African Spring.  The fact that Cameroon banned mobile Twitter confirms the fact that Twitter can be a tool for mobilization and its absence is notable.

Internet use in general differs between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa.  In 2007, there were only 3.23 internet users per 100 people in sub-Saharan Africa compared to 13.64 per 100 in North Africa (International Telecommunications Union). More internet users means more people with access to information about protests. Remember, the Wikileaks revelations about Tunisia’s rulers and their corruption helped to spur the Arab Spring protests and without internet access, Tunisians and others would not have been able to share this information quickly. 

6. Religious diversity

The Arab Spring states are not religious monoliths.  Egypt and Tunisia have a wide array of faiths and broad diversity of Islamic beliefs, from moderate to extreme.  Syria is extremely diverse, Bahrain is majority Shia (although the rulers are Sunni), and Libya has a wealth of tribes adherent to a spectrum of Islamic beliefs.  However, the mosques in all of these countries were and are important centers for organizing.  The Friday prayers were often followed by marches and mass demonstrations, presumably following sermons given in support of such actions.  Throughout Arab Spring, one could count on the largest demonstrations and protests taking place on Friday afternoons and with each successive week, the number of participants increased. 

At the same time, the rulers of these countries identified with Islam and professed their devotion and so could not shut down the mosques (as they had done with Twitter and mobile phone networks).  The mosques became centers of protests and allowed potential demonstrators to first come together in a non-confrontational venue, see the solidarity of their fellow potential protesters, and emerge together in a demonstration.  It takes bravery to join a protest; that bravery is helped when you already feel the support of group participation instead of venturing to the demonstration site in isolation. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, a union between Christians (of many, many denominations) and Muslims would be needed to coordinate protests in a similar manner as was done in the Arab Spring.  It’s not impossible, and is happening in Syria now, but the simple difference of Friday prayers versus Sunday services creates a divide in the population.  Whose holy day do you protest on? 

7. Language

The term “Arab Spring” can refer not only to the ethnic origins of the populations involved, but also the language.  From Bahrain to Morocco, the Arabic language is a shared tool for communication.  Al Jazeera broadcasts could be seen and understood by the majorities of the populations of the Middle East and North Africa.  This linguistic alliance eases communication and information sharing.  I do not dare estimate the number of languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa, but I am sure there is no lingua franca throughout the continent.  English may come the closest, although Swahili, French and Arabic may also be contenders.  The language barrier may be more insurmountable for mobilization than ethnic or religious divides: if the leaders of the demonstrations cannot get their message across, they will not attract new adherents.

8. Urbanization

Where people live closer together, the ability of leaders (or opposition) to mobilize the population is much easier.  The average level of urbanization (proportion of population living in cities) in sub-Saharan Africa is 36% (Afribiz); for North Africa (the Africa of Arab Spring) the level is 59%.  Yes, there are some sub-Saharan countries with extremely high levels of urbanization, e.g., Gabon at 85%, whilst Egypt is only 43% urbanized (Cairo does have around 15 million people living in and around the city, making it the largest metropolitan area in Africa, more populous than two-thirds of sub-Saharan African countries, [Wikipedia]).  Communication and transportation are easier in urbanized areas; social networks may be denser; places to congregate easier to locate. 

When populations are more spread out, when countries are less urbanized, mass mobilization requires physically getting people to the demonstration sites and feeding and housing them between demonstrations.  These logistical barriers are not found in urban settings where demonstrators could simply go home after the event, or – as in Tahrir Square – the networks and markets necessary to feed and support the demonstrating populations already existed because they were needed to support the city in the first place. 

9. Educated Youth Bulge

The Arab Spring started when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government office in Tunisia.  He later died of his wounds.  His self-immolation was borne out of the frustration he felt as a college graduate who was forced to work as a street vendor (BBC News).  That frustration is not unique. Across Africa and the Middle East, there are large populations of young men and women who were promised better lives and jobs if they received an education; promises that have not been fulfilled.  In Arab countries the frustration has fueled blogs, websites and Facebook accounts.  In sub-Saharan Africa countries, the same process is happening, but the level of access to the Internet is less than in North Africa and the Middle East (see above).

An African Spring is not entirely out of the question, but the above reasons show the enormous hurdles that would need to be overcome to rid African nations of their dictators.  And Facebook posts won’t get it done.

Michael P. Moore, October 25, 2011.