Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Movies to Raise Awareness

Why does Hollywood succeed at raising awareness when the mainstream media fails? Drama captures one’s attention and emotions much more effectively than words on a page or a monotone newscaster. When an issue reaches the silver screen it can no longer be swept under the rug. Movies like Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, and Blood Diamond have recently had this effect.

Charles Lindbergh once said, “How can there be writhing, mangled bodies? … It is like listening to a radio account of a battle on the other side of the earth. It is too far away, too separated to hold reality.” Lindbergh was speaking of the Holocaust, but his words hold true today. Many people hear reports of conflicts in Africa on the news and then forget about it twenty minutes later, it isn’t their country or their people so they are not interested. They are simply statistics scrolling past them on the bottom of the television screen. But, in movies the drama captivates and the tragedies can no longer be ignored.

Hotel Rwanda is probably the most important of the three aforementioned films because it made genocide real to the world. People began to remember the Rwandan Genocide and began to recognize the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. One of the things that made Hotel Rwanda great is that it is a true story of good prevailing against all odds. Moreover, the film captures the complexity of the conflict, the slaughter, the brutality, ethnic history, political stalemate, the press coverage, the hopelessness of the Red Cross, and the struggle to persevere. The story does not simply display the Rwandans as savages; it also displays the innocent and those who felt obligated to do the right thing.

The Last King of Scotland is a fictional account of Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda in the 1970’s. Though the story of the Scottish doctor is fictional the movie reveals many truths about Idi Amin and the stereotype harsh African dictator. Like Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland was made long after the events it portrays. The problem with this is that it allows some viewers to believe that the realities of these films are outdated. Although Blood Diamond is a work of fiction, it places the viewer in the present with the real issue of conflict diamonds. As a result of the movies message much more attention has been paid to conflict diamonds and other conflict minerals. Activists and authors have directed attention not only to conflict diamonds but to conflict minerals, such as columbite tantalite in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is used in cell phones, laptops, and Sony Playstations (cf. “The Congo’s Resource Curse” in the archives).

Film is a valuable asset when raising awareness for a cause and it has been very effective in raising attention for Africa. However, serious movies about Africa come out bi-annually at the most (probably less frequently than James Bond movies). The effectiveness of these films are unquestionable but Hollywood should still do more to raise awareness for Africa. Many celebrities who are advocates for African causes should consider film as a means to make a difference. Perhaps Oprah should produce a movie about Africa or Angelina Jolie should seek out a role in a movie about Africa.

Images from Wikipedia

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Origins of International Justice

After World War II there were hundreds of Nazi war criminals who needed to be brought to justice for their participation in the Holocaust. When Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin met to discuss post-war Germany at a conference in Soviet controlled Tehran, Stalin called for the summary execution of 50,000 Germans after the Allied victory, which outraged Churchill who strongly believed in a judicial solution in post-war Germany. (Beschloss 26) As early as 1942, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom expressed the need to bring these men to justice. Then in October 1943, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill signed the Moscow Declaration, which outlined allied plans for trying Nazi war criminals ("International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg"). Under the Moscow Declaration, most war criminals would be tried in the countries in which they committed their crimes. Higher ranking Nazi war criminals, whose crimes were committed throughout Europe, would be tried by an Allied tribunal. This judicial system was a great victory for Churchill who often felt that he was the third wheel in these allied negotiations.
The twenty-one most culpable Nazi war criminals (excluding Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Josef Goebbels, who committed suicide before the war ended) were tried in Nuremburg by the International Military Tribunal (International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg). Of these twenty-one defendants, twelve were sentenced to death, three were sentenced to life in prison, four were given sentences ranging from ten to twenty years, and only three were acquitted (International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg). One hundred eighty-five other egregious war criminals were tried in a series of twelve trials, which are now known as the Subsequent Nuremburg Proceedings (International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg). However, the vast majority of Nazi war criminals were sent to the countries where their crimes were committed and tried by the laws of that country.
It was through the post war trials that the wide range of inconceivable crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust was first fully exposed. Robert Jackson, chief American prosecutor for the Nuremburg trials, said, “unless record was made… future generations would not be able to believe how horrible the truth was.” (qtd. in “Evidence”) For instance, in concentration camps the bodies of the millions who died were thrown in mass graves, burned in ovens, and the Nazis used their hair to make cloth, bones to make soap, and skin to make parchment. (Night and Fog) But, for fear that future generations would not be able to comprehend the immeasurable atrocities of the Holocaust, the prosecutors at Nuremburg decided to base their case primarily on Nazi records rather than on testimony which could be interpreted as biased (Evidence from the Holocaust). This would not be possible in many ongoing ICC investigations, namely those in Sudan, where the government refuses to cooperate or in other instances such as the Rwandan Genocide, after which many government documents were destroyed. Additionally, mot third-world governments and officials were not as diligent with records as the Nazis were.
Perhaps what is more shocking than the atrocities committed during the Holocaust is the widespread involvement of the German people in carrying out the “Aryanization” of Germany during the Holocaust. Soldiers were not the only criminals, German industrialists funded concentration camps by producing their products at the camps, doctors at the camps tested poisons and drugs on their patients, and common men who were drafted into the SS, SA, and Gestapo became different men who seemingly had no regard for human life. In Ordinary Men, historian, Christopher Browning describes how the Reserve Police Battalion 101, which was filled mostly with husbands and fathers who were drafted into the police because they were too old to serve in the army, killed 1500 Jewish women, children, and elderly Jews; although they were all given the option to leave the battalion, but none of them left (1-3). Perhaps the most disturbing observation about the perpetrator of the Holocaust is that they were not all heartless murderers. Many were loving family men who were simply manipulated into executing the worst crime in history.
The relationship between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin was essential to how the allies would treat the Holocaust and post war Germany. Stalin once roared, “I propose a salute to the swiftest possible justice for all Germany’s war criminals- justice before a firing squad! … There must be at least fifty thousand.” (Beschloss 26) To this Churchill replied, “I will not be a party to any butchery in cold blood.” (Beschloss 27) The fact that justice prevailed over draconian slaughter is one of Churchill’s greatest achievements in allied policy.
The Nuremburg trials and other post war trials set a precedent for the current international justice system which is much improved but still very ineffective in preventing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The main reason for the ineffectiveness of the International Criminal Court is that it lacks clout and military backing. In order for the ICC to be more effective the international community will have to establish when it is acceptable to infringe on national sovereignty, otherwise war criminals will not be brought to justice until their crimes have taken the lives of thousands while the world watches. Now as in World War II, criminals cannot be tried until they are defeated and the genocide has run its course. We cannot allow genocide to continue based on national sovereignty because genocide is never static. It spreads internationally: the Holocaust spread through most of Europe, the Rwandan genocide spread into the eastern Congolese provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu, and the genocide in Darfur has spread into eastern Chad. It is important to note that the ICC has yet to indict anyone on charges of genocide, despite significant evidence of genocide in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Had Stalin’s draconian summary executions been allowed they would only have perpetuated violence. A judicial solution to matters of racial aggression is far more effective in stopping violence. For example, after the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, the defeated Hutus fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they have fallen into a disturbing pattern of violence with Tutsi rebel groups. However, after a warlord, such as Laurent Nkunda is arrested violence drops.
National Soveriegnty is of particular concern in Sudan, which is not a party to the ICC. In Sudan, which is not a member of the ICC, ICC is operating on a United Nations Security Council mandate. However, the Sudanese government, even before president Al-Bashir was indicted, refused to allow ICC inspectors into Sudan to investigate. It will be difficult to end the Genocide in Darfur and bring its perpetrators to justice until Sudan cooperates with other nations and international bodies such as the ICC, whether it be coerced or voluntary. A modern example of international cooperation working to ensure justice was when the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, who had previously been at odds for over a decade, worked together to capture Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda was the commander of the largest Tutsi rebel group in the Congo, the Tutsi National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) (Kahorha). Nkunda is being investigated by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity, although he has yet to be indicted, it is expected that the ICC will indict him in the future. Nkunda is suspected of committing war crimes including murder of noncombatants, rape, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers (Kahorha). The success of cooperation between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrates the need for international cooperation to stifle the spread of genocide.
After the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, which predated the ICC, the prosecution of war criminals was remarkably similar to the post World War II trials. The genocide itself eerily mirrored the Holocaust, methodical list of proscribed people were produced, ethnic identity cards became the equivalent of the yellow stars of the Holocaust, and Hutus employed a full spectrum of people in its plot: “doctors, nurses, teachers, priests, nuns, businessmen, government officials of every rank, even children.” (A Human Rights First report on the ICTR and National Trials) The most egregious offenders were tried by an ad hoc international tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was established by a United Nations Security Council resolution. Other offenders were tried in Rwandan courts and due to the massive number of defendants some were even tried by local tribal committees. In addition, many soldiers were tried in military courts and in some cases jointly with civilians. (“A Human Rights First report on the ICTR and National Trials”)
Despite the pitfalls of the current international justice system, the ICC has established itself as a legitimate international body. Instead of the laws and definitions used in the Nuremburg trials, which were made ex post facto, current international law is clearly defined in the charter of the ICC and the Geneva Conventions. Additionally, one crucial article in the charter of the ICC reaffirms the ruling of the International Military Tribunal: that following the orders of a superior officer is not a sufficient defense. Moreover, the ICC is a permanent institution rather than an ad hoc military tribunal. Despite the progress it has made the ICC needs to establish more authority beyond simply issuing warrants.
The post war trials of Holocaust perpetrators are invaluable, because they documented the unimaginable atrocities of the Holocaust and laid the foundation for international justice. Much of what is known about the Holocaust was revealed in the post war trials. Furthermore, the men who participated in the Holocaust were brought to justice by fair trials rather than by summary execution. When the allies established the International Military Tribunal they laid the cornerstone for international justice prior to and including the ICC.


Browning , Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final
Solution in Poland. Harper Perennial. 2001.
“Congolese Rebel Leader Captured in Rwanda” National Public Radio. January 23, 2009. National Public Radio. May 3, 2009.
“Evidence from the Holocaust.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. March 11,
2009. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. April 21, 2009.

Goldston, Robert. The Life and Death of Nazi Germany. New York: Fawcett World
Library, 1967.

“A Human Rights First report on the ICTR and National Trials” Human Rights First. July
1997. Human Rights First. May 4, 2009.

“International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg.” United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum. March 11, 2009. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. April 21,
Jacques Kahorha. “Nkunda Responds to Possible ICC Indictment” The Journal of Turkish Weekly. February 22, 2008. The Journal of Turkish Weekly. May 3, 2009.
Night and Fog [Nuit et Brouillard]. Written by Jean Cayrol. Dir. Alain Resnais. 1955.
Finland: Argos Films.

“Who Else was Brought to Trial? The Subsequent Nurmemburg Proceedings.” United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum. March 11, 2009. United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum. April 21, 2009.

Williams, Neville. The Hutchinson Chronology of World History: The Modern World: 1901-1998. Vol. 4. Oxford: Helicon Publishing Ltd. 1999.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Symbol of Democracy or a Failure of Democracy

On April 22, people across South Africa waited in lines for hours to vote and many polling stations stayed open an extra three hours until midnight to accommodate the massive turnout. The turnout is estimated to be roughly 77% percent which though very high by western standards pales in comparison to he record numbers seen in South Africa in the 1990’s. South Africa has now established three legitimate parties which were vying for votes in the national elections.
Despite these indicators of true democracy at work there is an egregious lack of bipartisanship. The main reason why there is so little bipartisanship is because of the stranglehold that the African National Congress (ANC) party has on national and provincial power. In 2004, the ANC won a record 70% in the National Assembly exceeding the two-thirds majority in parliament. It appears that the ANC will receive or fall just short of a two-thirds majority again this year. Jacob Zuma, leader of the ANC is expected to be elected when the new parliament opens on May 6th and would then be inaugurated on May 9th.
The only other significant victories came for the Democratic Alliance (DA) led by Helen Zille and the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE). The DA took home about 16% of the vote, up from 12% in 2004. More importantly, the DA regained control of the Western Cape Province making it the only province (of nine) which is not controlled by the ANC. The newly formed COPE was hastily created about five months before the election by disgruntled members of the ANC. Most pundits had predicted that the newly formed party would surpass the DA as the ANC’s main opposition and some predicted that COPE would take as much as 30% of the vote. COPE suffered from its affiliation with the unpopular former president, Thabo Mbeki, who resigned on September 25, 2008. COPE disappointed by taking home only 7-8% of the vote but it did solidify itself as a legitimate party in South Africa.
The ANC’s dominance of South African politics is a major threat to the democratic system in South Africa. Zuma even said “God expects us [the ANC] to rule this country [South Africa] because we are the only organization which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow anyone to govern our city when we are ruling the country.” In this Zuma is declaring his and the ANC’s divine right to rule South Africa, just as European monarchs justified their rule in the past.


Friday, March 27, 2009

The Exception to the Rule

“Botswana is what it is because of diamonds.”

-Festus Mogae,
Former President of Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Botswana was a British territory known as Bechuanaland until it gained independence in 1966 and became known as Botswana. The first president was Sir Seretse Khama who served fourteen years as president until his death in 1980. Sir Khama’s son Ian Khama became the president of Botswana in 2008, when then president Festus Mogae graciously retiring after serving for ten years, which is a rare occurrence in African politics.
Upon its independence most of the people survived by raising cattle since agriculture is limited by the sand that covers most of Botswana. This feeble economy was often susceptible to crisis because of frequent draughts in the region. But, with the discoveries on several diamond mines the fate of Botswana changed dramatically. Diamonds are the only reason that Botswana is one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa instead of one of the poorest.
Many African Nations have the "oil curse" or a similar situation with gems or precious metals; however Botswana is one of the few nations which has utilized their resources for the betterment of the country and the people. Botswana has become an exemplar of the success and stability that mineral-rich African nations are capable of and should strive for. Botswana is one of the only economically, politically, and socially stable countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Botswana is the largest diamond exporter in the world and most mining operations are run by the government. Moreover, with only 1.8 million people, Botswana’s per capita income is four times the regional average at $5,900 per capita and taxes are also among the lowest as well. In addition, the government in Botswana has been able to avoid corruption and properly allocate its funds. Botswana government has spent its diamond revenues on building schools, clinics, roads, and sanitation.

Diamonds and the Economy

Upon Botswana’s independence most of the people survived by raising cattle since agriculture is limited by the sand that covers most of Botswana because of the Kalahari Desert. This feeble economy was often susceptible to crisis because of frequent draughts in the region. But, with the discoveries on several diamond mines the fate of Botswana changed dramatically. Diamonds are the only reason that Botswana is one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa instead of one of the poorest.
Botswana’s government has partnered with De Beers, which controls more than seventy percent of all diamond worldwide. This partnership is responsible for the production of almost all of Botswana’s diamonds. Unfortunately this causes the government to become the sole driving force behind Botswana’s economy, since the private sector. This realization is a concern for Botswana’s economical future, since diamond production in Botswana will plummet in the next fifteen to twenty years barring the discovery of new mines.[i]
Before Botswana picks its diamond mines dry it must find a way to diversify its economy much as Algeria has succeeded in doing. If Botswana cannot diversify its economy it will plunge into a depression, which could cause a civil war and result in the destruction of Botswana’s reputation of stability that Botswana’s government has worked so hard to establish. Currently the only thing that Botswana’s economy can fall back on is Botswana’s large coal reserves, which are similarly limited. Botswana’s government has announced that it plans to build power stations, which would be a sustainable source of income for Botswana.
There are also other economic issues that currently face Botswana. Aside from mining companies interested in diamonds Botswana has been unable to appeal to foreign companies and investors. Botswana’s government has tried to appeal to foreign investors with its low taxes and labor costs. Additionally, unemployment is roughly eighteen percent and the income gap between the people in the cities and those in rural regions of Botswana is large and growing.
[i] Economist southern star

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nigeria's oil curse

“This is an example of how closely we are tied to the global economic chain of crude oil. We're often asked how a strike in Nigeria or an incident in Russia could have an effect on us here.”

-Michael Geeser, Triple A Spokesperson

Nigeria was part of the British Empire from 1906 until October 1, 1960 when it gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Like neighboring Niger, Nigeria takes its name from the Niger River which runs through the two countries. After gaining its independence in 1960 Nigeria fell victim to a series of military coups. The first coup occurred in January of 1966 when Prime Minister Balewa, the second Nigerian prime minister, was assassinated and Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi assumed power. Ironsi abolished the federal system that was in place at the time and established a military government. But six months after his own accession to power he was killed in a countercoup. Ironsi was succeeded by Major General Yakubu Gowon who restored the federal system in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government has been notoriously known as one of the most corrupt in the world since it gained its independence more than forty years ago. Nigeria is also the leading African oil exporter and supplies the United States with twenty percent of its crude oil imports. There has been a large amount of outcry from the Nigerian people in response to the government poor allocation of funds produced by oil revenues.


Nigeria is one of the four African nations with membership in OPEC the others being Angola, Algeria, and Libya. Nigeria’s economy is almost completely dependent on its petroleum and liquefied natural gas as they accounted for 93.3% of all Nigerian exports in 2006.[i] Most of these exports were sent to the United States as more than 58% of all Nigerian exports are imported by the US. Oil also accounts for more than eighty percent of the government’s revenue and more than forty percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) in Nigeria.[ii]
Shell is the most prominent oil company operating in Nigeria as it controls over half of all Nigerian oil and gas reserves. The Niger Delta region currently accounts for more than ten percent of Shell’s global production. Other well known oil companies such as Chevron and ExxonMobil are currently operating in the Niger Delta region and many offshore Nigerian oilfields.
There has been a large outcry from the poor of Nigeria, because despite Nigeria’s great wealth of oil the people are not reaping any of the benefits. All of the profits are going to international oil corporations and the corrupt government. Furthermore all of the jobs created by the oil industry are given to the foreign workers of the international oil corporation that mine the oil fields.
Many rebel groups have been sabotaging the oil corporations. In a single year Nigerian rebels took more than a hundred foreign oil workers hostage and held them for ransom. Nigerian rebel groups have also caused many oil spills by sabotaging the oil pipelines which are poorly maintained as well. One area that has suffered the most from these rebel actions is Port Harcourt, which is considered to be the Nigerian oil capital, and the rest of the Niger River Delta along the west coast of Nigeria. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Nigeria’s current president, has promised to make this area a priority in an attempt to stop rebel sabotage of the oil industry. Many oil contractors are charging ten times more to work in the Niger Delta due to the recent kidnappings of foreign workers by Nigerian rebels.
Due to the rebel sabotage of oil operations in the Niger Delta, Nigerian revenues are forty percent lower than initially projected and the oil industry significantly underperformed. Aside from reduced production caused by sabotage, a change to offshore oilfields has reduced the government’s short term revenue. The traditional oilfields were managed by joint venture agreements where companies would have to pay the government as it accumulates revenue. The offshore oilfields are governed by more recent production-sharing which allow companies to wait longer before paying large fees to the government.
Aside from the political ramifications the oil industry has on Nigeria, Nigerian gas flares are an ecological hazard. Gas flaring is when oil companies burn gas to separate it from the crude oil. Nigeria outlawed the practice of gas flaring in 1979, but most companies continued and paid small fines or were granted exceptions by the government. These gas flares produce greenhouse gases and contribute to acid rain. In Nigeria, these gas flares burn 20 billion cubic meters and also wastes $500 million worth of gas annually. Russia is only country that wastes more gas through gas flaring and Nigeria now accounts for more than thirteen percent of all gas flaring worldwide. Gas flaring is also another cause of outrage and sabotage as one irate Nigerian put it, “Our environment is being destroyed. So there is an acceptance that if [militants] blow up a pipeline, at least they are taking revenue out of the government's pocket.”[iii]
[i] fact sheet on Nigeria
[ii] Pg 114 of A Game as Old as Empire
[iii] Economist “gas flaring”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Congo's Resources Curse

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is arguably one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has vast deposits of oil, coltan (columbite-tantalite), cobalt, copper, gold, silver, uranium, diamonds, zinc, manganese, tin, and coal. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a major trade partner of the United States in the past and continues to be as in 2006 58.4% of Congolese exports went to the United States.[i] In fact, when under the colonial rule of Belgium, the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) provided the United States with the uranium used in the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Columbite-tantalite is an ore, more commonly known as coltan, which is a notable Congolese export that is rapidly gaining value in the global marketplace. Coltan is an essential component of cell phones, laptops, Sony PlayStations, and weapons systems. The price of coltan skyrocketed from $18 per pound in 1998 to $380 in 2000.[ii] This spike in the price has had a profound effect on the Congolese economy since 80% of the known coltan mines are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Coltan was one of the many natural resources looted by Rwandan troops when they were supposedly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to pursue Hutu militants responsible for the Rwandan genocide who fled from Rwanda into the eastern Congolese provinces. There are also Tutsi insurgents in the eastern provinces, who are seeking revenge against Hutu rebels. Most organized Tutsi insurgents are led by General Laurent Nkunda. In December 2008, Congolese President Joseph Kabila deployed 25,000 troops into suppress Nkunda’s insurgency in the east.
There is evidence that shows how in 1998 Rwandan troops looted 1,500 tons of coltan, which the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been stockpiling for seven years, and shipped it to the Rwandan capital of Kigali. At the time that amount of coltan would have been worth only $54 million; however two years later that quantity would be worth $1.14 billion, because the value skyrocketed due to a rapidly growing demand for coltan in cell phones, laptops, and Sony PlayStations. Due to the Congolese Civil War, Congolese exports of coltan decreased in 2000 and caused a shortage of the Sony PlayStation 2 during the holiday season.
Rwandan troops looted many Congolese natural resources including coltan, gold, diamonds, timber, and coffee in the late 1990’s. There are several Rwandan export statistics which blatantly demonstrate looting of Congolese mines by Rwandan troops. Rwanda did not produce any coltan in 1999, but Rwanda exported 69.5 tons of coltan that year. Since only a pick and shovel are needed to mine coltan Rwandan troops would often force prisoners or impoverished Congolese village people to mine the coltan. Although Rwanda has no diamond mines, Rwandan diamond exports increased from 166 carats in 1998 to 30,500 carats in 2000. That same year Rwanda produced a mere 0.0044 tons of gold, yet Rwandan gold exports totaled 10.83 tons. All of these increases were due to Rwandan forces looting Congolese mines.
Copper serves as an exemplar of the devastating economical effects of the Congolese Civil War and the Congo wars. Copper was once an essential Congolese export, but copper production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has declined exponentially due to the Congo wars and the Congolese Civil War. In the 1980’s Gecamine, a government owned mining company, produced up to 470,000 tons of copper; however, in 2005, Gecamine only produced 14,000 tons.[iii]
Furthermore, the Congolese government is reviewing the legality sixty-five mining contracts which were granted before the most recent Congolese election. It is feared that many warring factions and corrupt government officials granted these contracts for their own personal gain. The deputy mines minister, Victor Kasongo, explained to the press, “The aim is to bring the Congo to the stage where things are clear, legal and beneficial for all the parties.” In addition to these unlawful contracts the Congolese government has struggled to collect royalties. In 2006, Congolese mining royalties were estimated at $160 million, but the Congolese government only collected a mere $32 million in mining royalties.[iv]
China offered to invest $8.5 billion dollars to build roads, railroads, schools and hospitals; however unlike most relief funds China’s investment would also be used to resurrect the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s once lucrative mining industries. China also built a railroad that is roughly 2,000 miles long from Congolese mines in southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Congolese silver mines near the Atlantic coast. It would be prudent for the United States to take similar action in the mineral rich regions of Africa so as to improve African relations and ensure natural resource imports. India and Brazil are both discussing similar investments with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[i] Pg 114 of a game as old as empire
[ii] A Game as Old as Empire
[iii] Mining firms face Congo crackdown; Ben Laurance Sunday Times of London 10-21-2007
[iv] Mining firms face Congo crackdown; Ben Laurance Sunday Times of London 10-21-2007

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Problems with Lake Albert

Lake Albert, which is also known as Albert Nyanza, sits on the loosely defined and contested border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda and it is also the northernmost of the African Great Lakes. The lake is the seventh largest lake in Africa and is fed by the Victoria Nile which flows from Lake Victoria to Lake Kyoga and then to Lake Albert. The lake was named for Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort and it became known to the western world in 1864 when it was discovered by Sir Samuel Baker. When Mobutu Sese Seko reigned as the dictator of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) he named the lake after himself and officially changed the name of Lake Albert to Lake Mobutu Sese Seko. After Mobuto Sese Seko fell from power Lake Albert was restored as the name of the lake.
One of most important and relevant issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo aside from the civil war is that oil deposits were recently discovered the Albertine Basin, beneath the lake bed in the sediment, which due to loosely defined borders in Lake Albert has spurred an armed conflict between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda which prompted UN peacekeepers to intervene. The conflict over the oil in Lake Albert has resulted in fatalities for both armies, but unfortunately innocent civilians have been caught in the crossfire including a British geologist who was working for the Heritage Oil Company which was hired by the Ugandan Government. Additional oil was discovered below the surface of the east coast of Lake Albert, but this oil is not disputed as it clearly belongs to Uganda.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the many countries that has fallen victim to the African curse of abundant natural resources. This is a curse because the Congolese economy is dependent upon the commodity markets and it fluctuates with the price of commodities such as diamonds, cobalt, and oil. The oil in Lake Albert is estimated to have enough oil to produce slightly less than 100,000 barrels of oil per day for only ten years which would not ensure financial stability for the Congolese economy. The revenue produced by the oil from Lake Albert would provide an opportunity for the diversification of the Congolese economy into industrial and technological markets. The diversification of the Congolese economy would help to stabilize the economy and provide a safety net if the value of a particular Congolese commodity plummets.
Rukwanzi Island, a small island in the southern region of the lake, has become one of the center points in the struggle between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. Rukwanzi Island was home to about a thousand fishermen most of who have fled since the Congolese military occupied the island. The island was part of Uganda, but the government abandoned the island because they feared that it was sinking into the lake. Recently the Democratic Republic of the Congo claimed the island and established a military encampment on the island. Both the Congolese and Ugandan government’s want ownership of the island because it could serve as a base for oil mining in the lake.
There are also several ecological issues associated with Lake Albert including eutrophication, hypoxia, a decreasing fish population, and reduced biodiversity in the lake. Eutrophication is caused by excess nutrients in the lake in particular high nitrate and phosphate levels, which would be exacerbated by industrializing the lake in order to mine for oil. Hypoxia is an oxygen deficiency which both exacerbates and is exacerbated by eutrophication. Algal blooms from eutrophication serve as a barrier that blocks dissolved oxygen from reaching fish and plant life in the deeper portion of the lake. When the fish and plant life decays it produces nitrogen which is converted to nitrates and further contributes to the eutrophication of the lake. Hypoxia and eutrophication have adversely effected the fish population and biodiversity of the lake. Over fishing particularly by Ugandan fisheries has also greatly contributed to decreased fish population in Lake Albert. The Ugandan fisheries have also introduced nonnative species which have damaged the equilibrium of the natural ecosystem in Lake Albert and appreciably contributed to the recent decrease in the biodiversity of Lake Albert. Ironically the Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) and the Nile Talapia (Oreochromis niloticus) were taken from Lake Albert and transferred to Lake Kyoga and Lake Victoria where they have similarly disrupted the natural ecosystem and caused a decrease in biodiversity in both of the lakes.[i]

Drinking Water

As in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa the safety of drinking water is a major problem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Diarrheal diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery are the main concern. There are also some diarrheal diseases such as trachoma which can often cause blindness. During his congressional testimony in 2000, Peter Lochery, a senior advisor for the relief agency CARE, stated “Water-related diseases including diarrhea are the single largest cause of human sickness and death.”[i] It has been estimated that three million children die of diarrheal diseases each year. The Democratic Republic of the Congo suffers from many of these water safety issues and there was recently a widespread outbreak of cholera in one of the northern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most drinking water in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is unsafe and most be boiled to eliminate fecal coliform bacteria.
The water from Lake Albert is becoming to high nitrate levels due to the eutrophication of the lake. Consumption of water with high nitrate concentrations by infants under six months old can cause methemogolbinemia, more commonly known as blue baby disease, which can cause death. Methemoglobinemia is the result of nitrates converting the hemoglobin in red blood cells, which carries oxygen through the body, into methemogolbin, which can not carry oxygen and if untreated will result in death. Methemoglobinemia is highly noticeable because it cause skin to become bluish-gray if diagnosed it is easily treated. Unfortunately, many Congolese citizens are unaware of these symptoms and many do not have sufficient access to healthcare. Additionally, long term consumption of water with high nitrate concentrations have recently been linked to certain cancers by several medical studies. Also, when pregnant women drink water with high nitrate concentrations, it has been shown that the baby is placed at an increased risk of deformity.
Deforestation of Congolese rainforests also contributes to water problems. Typically plants alongside rivers will absorb nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates from the river as it passes. As these plants die off more and more of these nutrients flow into still water bodies such as lakes or ponds where high levels of phosphates and nitrates causing eutrophication and then hypoxia which can devastate aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, deforestation also causes riverbanks to erode much more rapidly than they would naturally.

[i] Global Access to Safe Water: Mr. Peter Lochery; Congressional Testimony 10-12-2000