Thursday, January 31, 2008


Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times about an issue ("The Dynastic Question") that has troubled me. Here's his comparative politics angle on Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy:

We Americans snicker patronizingly as "democratic" Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore, India and Argentina hand over power to a wife or child of a former leader. Yet I can’t find any example of even the most rinky-dink "democracy" confining power continuously for seven terms over 28 years to four people from two families. (And that's not counting George H.W. Bush's eight years as vice president.)

On the other hand, at least the countries Kristof mentions--except for Singapore--have had female presidents or prime ministers. The United States lags behind much of the world in this respect.

Mann in Zimbabwe

Simon Mann, the leader of a failed 2004 plot to use mercenaries to overthrow the corrupt government of Equatorial Guinea, has had his latest effort to avoid extradition to Equatorial Guinea denied by the High Court of Zimbabwe where he is being held. Mann, who will now appeal to Zimbabwe's Supreme Court, has claimed that he will likely be tortured if sent to Equatorial Guinea. His fear is very reasonable given the documented human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea, but Zimbabwe's judiciary seems unlikely to place human rights considerations above politics.

The story of Mann's coup attempt was detailed in The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa by Adam Roberts.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Responding (or Not) to Genocide

Eric Reeves, the author of A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide, has a passionate commentary in today's Christian Science Monitor on the international community's failure to act in the face of genocide. He argues that the United Nations "desperately requires a substantial, robust standing force, prepared to deploy urgently to protect civilian populations facing genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity."

Unfortunately, even if the will to create such a force existed among the UN Security Council members needed to make it a reality, it seems unlikely that the will to authorize its use in Darfur and elsewhere could be mustered when the time comes. The inaction of states--including the United States--in the face of genocide and other serious human rights abuses is rooted in much more fundamental problems, one of which is the failure of democratic polities to hold governments accountable for moral failures in foreign policy.

If I seem overly pessimistic, it may be a result of having read Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell:" America and the Age of Genocide, a work that details the many ways the United States has evaded its moral and legal responsibilities to prevent and punish genocide. I wish various UN reform proposals could, if implemented, solve the problems that have crippled the world's response to Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and other modern crimes, but I fear that focusing on those reforms diverts too much of the responsibility from those of us living in democracies who ought to be doing more to ensure that our own governments do not get away with indifference to human suffering wherever it occurs.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Africa's Oil Boom

Today's Financial Times reports on the growing importance of oil production in Africa. Between 2002 and 2006, publicly-traded oil companies tripled their investment in Africa. By 2012, total production on the continent is expected to reach 16 million barrels per day.

As FT points out, however, this massive investment has not helped the development picture in Africa as much as might be expected. High oil prices, a key factor in the investment boom, have seriously damaged the economies of the thirteen African states with no oil resources to develop. In some states with significant production, an absence of refining capacity has meant high fuel import bills have cut into the economic gains from oil exports. Furthermore, government corruption and mismanagement of oil revenues have resulted in many states' failure to achieve export-led economic development.

When one adds to these problems the aggressive positions being taken in Africa by state-run oil companies from China and other Asian states, "one has the recipe for a new scramble for Africa," according to FT.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taylor on Trial

The war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor began in the Hague on Monday. Taylor is accused of a variety of crimes associated with his support for the rebels in the bloody civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, crimes that include enslavement and the use of child soldiers.

For live-blogging of the trial and links to trial documents (including a report on the role of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone's civil war [.pdf] submitted into evidence by the prosecution), see this site sponsored by the Open Society Institute. The BBC is providing some of the best coverage of the trial, including this background story posted on Monday and this summary of Charles Taylor's career here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Iraq: Casualties in 2007

Today's New York Times provides an interesting graphic representation of deaths among security forces in Iraq during 2007. The conclusion: "For those in uniform [both Iraqis and Americans], 2007 was the deadliest year since the invasion."