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Archive for April 2009

Man bites dog. Scratch that…

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A New York Sun editor, John B. Bogart, is attributed with the following quote:

When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.

Well, Mr. Bogart must be having a chuckle somewhere…

From the BBC: Man bites snake in epic struggle.

Too much.


Written by Niall

April 16, 2009 at 6:45 am

Posted in Africa, Journalism, Kenya


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Are gacaca courts still relevant?  Kenneth Roth suggests that the answer is “No.”  Roth provides several other reasons to be skeptical of Paul Kagame’s government.

One tool of repression has been the gacaca courts — informal tribunals run without trained lawyers or judges — which the government established at the community level to try alleged perpetrators of the genocide. The original impetus was understandable: Rwandan prisons were overpopulated with tens of thousands of alleged genocidaires and no prospect of the country’s regular courts trying them within any reasonable time. The gacaca courts provided a quick, if informal, way to resolve these cases. In theory, members of the community would know who had or had not been involved in the genocide, but in reality the lack of involvement by legal professionals has left the proceedings open to manipulation.
Today, 15 years after the genocide, people are still coming forward and accusing their neighbors of complicity in it, suggesting that gacaca has morphed into a forum for settling personal vendettas or silencing dissident voices. The prospect of suddenly being accused of past participation in the genocide, with little legal recourse against concocted charges, is enough to make most people keep their heads down in the political arena.
The government says it will close the gacaca courts in June. But the government has another tool of control — the crime of “genocide ideology.” Formally adopted last year, the law outlawing “genocide ideology” is written so broadly that it can encompass even the most innocuous comments. As many Rwandans have discovered, disagreeing with the government or making unpopular statements can easily be portrayed as genocide ideology, punishable by sentences of 10 to 25 years. That leaves little political space for dissent.
…Western governments, guilt-ridden at not having stopped the genocide and impressed by Rwanda’s stability and economic growth, have been all too willing to close their eyes to this repressive sleight of hand.
But Kagame’s strategy is shortsighted and dangerous. He claims to be building a society in which citizens are only Rwandans, not Tutsi or Hutu, but his repression of civil society means that avenues to forge alternative bonds among people are limited. That makes it more likely that in moments of tension Rwandans will resort to their ethnic identity, as so often happens in repressive societies.

Written by Niall

April 13, 2009 at 7:58 am

Posted in Africa, Law, Rwanda

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“Made in heaven, assembled in Nigeria, exported to the world.”

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Very informative piece in The New York Times Magazine today on pentecostalism, particularly the breed currently being spread by Nigerian ministers throughout Africa and, increasingly, in parts of the United States and Europe.

Here is one excerpt on Redeemed Church’s leader, Enohc Adeboye, and ways to bless your cellphone:

Born into a family of poor cocoa farmers, Adeboye taught mathematics at the University of Lagos before he became a full-time minister. His followers, who revere him as a patriarch, call him the General Overseer, or Daddy G.O. The church he has built echoes his personality: it is disciplined, nurturing, systematic. Back in Nigeria, Adeboye claims to have at least five million followers, including some of the country’s most influential figures. As general overseer, he presides over financial ventures, including private schools, a bank and a media business. He’s innovative at developing methods to spread the word, as well as coming up with fresh revenue streams. The church produces inspirational movies on DVD, which are big sellers, and offers a service that sends daily text messages, believed to offer divine protection, to subscribers’ cellphones.

Defining a new phrase, “church planting”:

Enoch Adeboye would prefer to have many small parishes rather than a few megachurches. So the Redeemed spread through a process similar to mitosis. When a parish reaches a certain size, it is encouraged to divide in two, with part of the congregation moving to a nearby location, usually with a newly ordained pastor, a process that the Redeemed, adopting a bit of American evangelical lingo, call “church planting.”

Written by Niall

April 12, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Nigeria, religion

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Books: Dead Aid

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I’m looking forward to buying a copy of Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid when I return to the United States for vacation in May. Moyo’s thesis a s hot topic of conversation in the development community these days. The subject matter has been a running subject of discussion among development theorists, emiricists and practiioners for many years. I am interested to see what Moyo’s book adds to this debate. 

Shanta Devarajan supplies a good teaser on how to view the book’s thesis and proposals. (ht to Chris Blattman also read Chris’s post here and here).

If Moyo’s argument is anything like George Ayittey’s, then I believe that there is good reason to pay attention to the messages contained in the book. Until I have a full reading, I am unconvinced by the policy recommendations quoted by reviews. I will post my thoughts after reading the book.

Moyo does get my respect for this particular zinger (from a conversation with the Financial Times):

Most Brits would be irritated if Michael Jackson started offering advice on how to resolve the credit crisis. Americans would be put out if Amy Winehouse went to tell them how to end the housing crisis. I don’t see why Africans shouldn’t be perturbed for the same reasons. 

Written by Niall

April 12, 2009 at 11:55 am

Ports and Bribes

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From a new paper by Simeon Djankov and Sandra Sequiera (pdf here):

…We find that bribes are product-specific, frequent and substantial. Bribes can represent up to a 14% increase in total shipping costs for a standard 20ft container and a 600% increase in the monthly salary of a port official. Bribes are paid primarily to evade tariffs, protect cargo on the docks and avoid costly storage. We further identify three systemic effects associated with this type of corruption: a “diversion effect” where firms go the long way around to avoid the most corrupt port; a “revenue effect” as bribes reduce overall tariff revenue; and a “congestion effect” as the re-routing of firms increases congestion and transport costs by causing imbalanced cargo flows in the transport network. The evidence supports the theory that bribe payments at ports represent a significant distortionary tax on trade, as opposed to just a transfer between shippers and port officials that greases slow-moving clearing queues.

ht to Justin Grimmer

Written by Niall

April 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

Jukebox: Freshlyground

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Good vibe and fun beats from South African band Freshlyground. I’m looking forward to downloading the full albums.

Shashank Bengali writes a positive review from the 10th Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

One of the big draws was a young South African pop group called Freshlyground. A racially diverse group that mixes R&B, jazz and pop sounds — some record stores don’t seem to know in which section to stock their two successful albums — they’re one of the most popular homegrown bands today. After their set on Friday, when an announcer called their tunes “the soundtrack of a new South Africa,” you couldn’t help but feel he was right.

Written by Niall

April 12, 2009 at 11:13 am

Posted in music, South Africa

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Odd bedfellows

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In the most recent sign that contemporary Malawian politics is nothing but a display of convenience and uncontrollable thirst for power, former president Baliki Maluzi has thrown his support and encouraged his party, the United Democratic Front (UDF),  behind his once-bitter-enemy and current leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), John Tembo.

Tembo, formerly the head goon during the Banda years, has blood on his hands from the era of single-party rule. Maluzi spent years arguing for the end of one-party rule and several more years leading prosecution against Banda. Nevertheless, Tembo is gaining the support of MCP members and UDF members in advance of the May 19th elections.

This odd alliance is motivated by a shared dislike for current president and leader of the DPP leader, Bingu Wa Mutharika. During his five years as Malawian president Mutharika has constantly irked the political establishment by his independent manner of politics, often shunning the desires of the longstanding political brass. While certainly power hungry himself, Mutharika’s administration has made considerable strides to building a long-run strategy for development in Malawi. Of course this would not have been possible without the achievements of Maluzi as the man to lead the push for a multi-party state.

Most Malawians that I speak whith are not supporters of Mutharika’s DPP, however, they respect the achievemnets that Mutharika has made over the past 5 years. Nearly all feel that the MCP is old fashioned, Tembo’s past is dark and that Malluzi is an interminable populist. Enough people still have sympathies for the Banda years that when combined with the support for Maluzi and UDF, this could be a tight election.

See more here.

Written by Niall

April 12, 2009 at 10:52 am

Posted in Africa, Malawi