Links I liked

Cn41OAvXgAA2tJjThis and other interesting graphs to be found at the new African Visual Data site

Links I liked


Mobility patterns during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, using mobile phone data, via CNN.  As Kevin Fridy said, “Could have been labeled ‘Colonial borders be like serious yo!’


Non-violence and the political marketplace


Women protesting against the government in Khartoum in 2013 (NBC News)

Alex de Waal has an excellent recent post at Reinventing Peace on non-violence and the political marketplace in weak states.  It fits very well with North, Wallis & Weingast’s statebuilding framework in Violence and Social Orders, which I’ve previously written about here.  The major point is that violence in weak states is not an anomaly but an important type of “currency” in the marketplace for political power, which makes non-violent political change rather difficult.  Some key quotes:

First let me define a political marketplace. It is a system of governance that is driven by personal transactions of loyalty for reward. All political systems have this element: what characterizes a political marketplace is that all institutions, rules and laws are subordinate to this kind of bargaining…

[In a political marketplace,] politics are driven by the three principles of political budget (cash for renting loyalties), the political market (the prevailing price of loyalties) and skill in political business management. Skilled political managers are entirely instrumental and deal with individuals in an opportunistic manner: there are no permanent friends or enemies, only peers, rivals, clients and contractors. Ethnic and sectarian loyalties are mobilized on an instrumental basis. These political systems are typically highly turbulent, unpredictable from week to week, but maintaining recognizable patterns over a long period of time.

Violence is a standard tool within a political market. It is a signal of presence in the market; it is a means of bargaining and especially a signifier of determination in pursuing the best price (highest for the claimant, lowest for the ruler). It can also be a means of reducing or eliminating a rival’s constituency, by killing, raping, robbing and destroying. Excessive violence is a risky strategy as it disturbs any near-equilibrium in the market and risks inviting in new players.

On peacebuilding:

What is peace under these circumstances? Most peace agreements are bargains struck among players in the marketplace, to share resources and reconfigure alliances. They divide the cake and construct a new configuration according to which they share out the rents. A peace agreement is as good as the market conditions in which it is made. It also typically involves the parties to the agreement organizing violence against those who have not joined. Often, such peace agreements actually see an upsurge in violence, as the signatories enforce their deal on those they describe as ‘spoilers’. A ‘successful’ peace deal in a political market is not an end to violence: rather it means that violence no longer matters (specifically, it is no longer a problem to those in power)…

Non-violent political mobilization can take several forms.  First is for an individual to act out of personal integrity to uphold justice and non-violence. An individual judge, chief, administrator, journalist, teacher, religious leader, etc., can uphold non-violence in a limited sphere. There are cases of principled individuals defying the pressure of political leaders and resisting financial inducements. An example is the decision by high court judges in South Sudan to throw out treason charges against political opponents of the government. In order to do this, the individual concerned needs many of the same qualities and capacities as an effective political entrepreneur: a wide network, skills in judging character and circumstance, and resources. Those individuals are also typically selective in applying their principles: they do enough to generate a reputation and a following, which protects them, but they cannot uphold principle on every occasion…

A second approach is to make a political market more efficient. In principle, a well-run political market could be made to function with reduced violence, if the functions of signaling entrance into the political market and bargaining could be carried out by other means, for example through elections or non-violent demonstrations, violence would be reduced. As countries urbanize, and as communication improves, this may indeed be a long-term trend. Some initiatives have enhanced this feature, for example the use of the internet and social media by Ushahidi in Kenya. Communication among elites increases the possibility that they will conduct their business with limited violence. Another approach to this is to enhance the coordination of political finance: if those who provide the funds for political entrepreneurs to operate coordinate to insist that politics is conducted with less violence, then politicians will comply.

The entire piece is essential reading.

The political economy of mass atrocities

This recent post from Alex de Waal on the structural causes of mass violence should be required reading.  I’m quoting here a bit out of order because it ranges rather widely, but there are several important main points.

On targeting prevention activities:

The Enough Project has a habit of targeting the well-known gallery of rogues. It wasn’t news to anyone that Sudan’s president Omar al Bashir ran a government responsible for mass atrocities against civilians. A project aimed at stopping mass atrocities needed to point out that Bashir’s challengers—the leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army—did not have a better record. Since the eruption of civil war in South Sudan in December 2013, that fact has become painfully obvious—but the depths of corruption and militarization, and South Sudanese leaders’ sense of impunity and recklessness were evident beforehand. Similarly, everyone agrees that Joseph Kony, leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army is a villain. But in terms of sheer numbers of people harmed and damage done to the fabric of society, the Ugandan army is comparably destructive. The Ugandan defense budget is the black heart of corruption in that country—and remains a valued partner for U.S. security cooperation. South Sudan’s pathological political economy appeared on American advocates’ radar only after mass atrocities occurred—let that not be the case for Uganda.

On the internationalization of the US war on terror:

The firehose of counter-terror funding—now increasingly blended with peacekeeping operations—is generating out-of-control security establishments across the world. Army generals and security chiefs receive hard currency for which they do not need to account. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that these security entrepreneurs have an interest in keeping crises bubbling away, and are networked in both to counter-insurgency and insurgency.

Corruption, violence and impunity are not anomalies: they are how individuals respond to the incentives and opportunities they face. The black budgets of the U.S. national security establishment, the monies associated with arms deals, and the blanket secrecy that covers all of these, are the fuel in this engine.

And on the US role in supporting brutal dictators:

Sarah Chayes in her recent book Thieves of State describes how U.S. money and license to act with impunity changed Afghanistan from a corrupt patrimonial system into a vertically-integrated and transnationally-linked criminal cartel. The Pentagon and the CIA were the chief accomplices in the criminal takeover of the Afghan state. Repeatedly, when anti-corruption officers identified a highly-placed person responsible for thievery, they found that individual was protected by the CIA—purportedly indispensible for America’s war on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

It is no different in Africa. Chad’s president Idriss Déby is a ruthless dictator who runs his country as a personal business. But his troops are valued by France and the U.S. for military operations against militants in Mali and Nigeria, so he gets a free pass.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, international interventions have made a bad situation worse. … We have a closed security establishment that considers itself above the rules that govern society as a whole. Their worldview subordinates public interest to greed and fear, and their prescriptions for global problems don’t challenge this formula.

State-building and local autonomy in South Sudan

African Arguments recently wrote about the semi-autonomous form of government granted to the Murle ethnic group in South Sudan, under the leadership of former rebel commander David Yau Yau.  It’s an interesting meditation on the micro-politics of state-building:

The ‘Murle secession’, although it is not always termed as such, is problematic from a state’s perspective because it implies the existence of a challenge to the dominion of South Sudan. So why and how did Yau Yau succeed in obtaining the sort of concessions that others failed to acquire?

A definitive answer is hard to come by, although several conjectures may be made: First, geographic concentration of the Murle is likely to have influenced and reinforced their separatist stance vis-à-vis the rest of South Sudan. Furthermore, the moment may have been opportune – given southern Jonglei’s strategic geographic location as a buffer between the Nuer-controlled Greater Upper Nile and the Equatorias, alienating the Murle on the advent of the newest civil war may have been perceived by the [goverment of South Sudan] as a bad idea…

As Yau Yau engages with communities within [the autonomous area] and transforms his militant group into an acceptable political entity, he has focused, sometimes by choice and often out of compulsion, on social welfare, economic development and building sustainable security arrangements. Schools have been renovated, agricultural activities restarted and health facilities re-introduced for the first time in a long time.

In September 2014, Yau Yau appointed seven commissioners, followed by additional ministerial appointments in December to kick-start local governance institution building. A selection process for the [regional] council is underway and Pibor town has emerged as the de facto center. As of November 2014, local authorities have also started implementing fiscal policies to compensate for budgetary shortfall, and Yau Yau’s group have begun levying taxes on traded commodities and goods being moved in or out of the area.

It will be very interesting to see if this leads to better development outcomes for the Murle, or if the area ends up drawn back into future conflicts.