Morgan Tsvangirai, not the EU, should have Won the Nobel Peace Prize


The EU? Over a guy regularly facing down death-threats, bullying, and intimidation from one of the worst dictators on earth? Boo to the Nobel Committee for missing this obvious choice.

If they can give the prize to the drone-warrior with a kill-list (Obama) and an institution run by wealthy, comfortable lawyers, bankers, and white collar professionals, then surely they can give it to someone who every day is making a far more direct, personal, bodily commitment to peace and social change. In fact, why Tsvangirai hasn’t won yet is beyond me. It seems so obvious. (Yes, his personal life is somewhat chaotic, but I don’t think that is normally a consideration. Kissinger called himself a ‘swinger.’)

Here is a good profile from the BBC. Note how badly he got beaten up by the thugs of President Robert Mugabe in 2007. He’s be charged with treason multiple times, and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has been harassed from the beginning. That is commitment, far more than endless EU meetings about some treaty no one will read.

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‘Responsible’ Sovereignty vs the Responsibility to Protect


The ramp up in drones and special operations in the GWoT has me thinking we are stumbling into a future of unspoken limitations on sovereignty.

Limits on sovereignty is an old story, and one of the classic points of disagreement in IR. Usually, it pits realists against liberals – the general lines being that states won’t really cede any authority to a higher institution, while liberals scramble to find examples from the UN system to suggest that sovereignty is slowing leeching away. The ‘institutional’ debate is wrapped up in globalization too. Globalization supposedly makes the world more interdependent. More interdependence means more rules are needed, so states will slowly give up some prerogatives in order to get the benefits of the global economy. Earlier generations of IR talked about ‘spillover,’ as states slowly slid into more rule-bound orders, almost unconsciously.

But now we are seeing something different. Now, we see the US (usually) telling countries that if they can’t get their act together internally, we will take action. The issue is the responsible use of your sovereignty (RS). If you turn your country over  to drug lords, proliferators, pirates, terrorists, etc, then you are gambling with your sovereign inviolability (Afghanistan, northern Pakistan). Or even if you don’t agree to turn over your state to such non-state and if it happens against your will, others will still feel it ok to intrude (Somalia, Congo).

This most definitely does not fit the traditional liberal IR image of sovereignty cession. It is a product of state-weakness (Somalia) or nastiness (Taliban Afghanistan), not democratic decision-making or spill-over (the EU).

If intruding on sovereignty used ‘irresponsibly’ sounds like another neo-con excuse for democratic imperialism (it is), one can always try the liberal internationalist version of this – ‘the responsibility to protect’ (R2P). R2P puts a lefty spin on this by saying that the government has a responsibility to protect its own people; i.e., governments can’t prey on their own people as in Sudan. Governments that continue to do so will ultimately face international sanction and an agreement by the great powers, ideally through the UN Security Council, to step into your affairs to protect your own people from you. Obviously, this only happens in extreme circumstances (Kosovo, Rwanda), and the Chinese, with their regular opposition to any ‘intervention in internal affairs,’ will oppose it. But nevertheless, R2P thinking clearly suggests that human rights sensibilities are now so advanced, that there are extreme limits to sovereignty, and that is almost certainly a good thing. Governments can do a lot, but they can’t do anything anymore.

If this sounds kind of benign, focused on human rights and the domestic population’s well-being, ‘responsible sovereignty’ is a little scarier, because it is focused on outsiders’ well-being (defined by them of course), and it explicitly embraces the use of force by outsiders to protect themselves from you and your carelessness. So if Sudan is a good example of the R2P logic – a nasty state tearing up its own people which should get whacked a bit by the international community for doing that – then Somalia is a good example of RS – failed state so out of any domestic control, and thereby becoming so dangerous to the rest of us, that it has essentially forfeited its right to manage itself and foreigners will do (some of) it for them. Is this neocolonialism?

Finally, the US has already flirted with RS before the declaration of preemption by the Bush administration. A century ago, in the Roosevelt and Wilson Corollaries to the Monroe Doctrine, the US reserved the right to intervene in Latin America should its governments become too ‘disorderly.’ The neo-con update of this idea is to expand it worldwide, which I can’t help wondering if the US can really afford now, with a $1.5 trillion deficit. Sounds like overstretch all over again…

More African Impressions



This continues my just-off-the plane post from our return from Africa in late August. Further discussion with political science colleagues, commenters, and students got me thinking more:

1. Where are the Americans and Japanese? To my great surprise, we met very few Americans on the trip. Usually Americans are everywhere when one travels. Being a superpower with bases and businesses around the world, Americans are a fixture of the global tourism industry. So much that the term ‘ugly American’ came about – a vague caricature that we’re monolinguist rednecks, like Sheriff Pepper in the ‘Man with the Golden Gun.’ But I didn’t see too many. In fact, we scarcely saw any Americans. And we didn’t see any black American tourists at all. (I’m not quite sure what to make of that; all the western tourists were white.) Ditto for Japanese. 80% of the tourists we met were Europeans. There were 5 Koreans in our safari trip. And of course, we saw Chinese – not just from all the construction projects, but even tourists too. Chinese tourists, but no Japanese tourists? What a sea-change. Is this a sign of the bite of the Great Recession or disinterest, or what?

2. Africa Time/TIA (this is Africa)/‘It’s always Friday night in Mozambique.’ This was the hardest one to get used to, as you don’t know if it is a real ‘cultural attribute’ you should respect, or just a BS excuse for bad service, endless delays, and cold food.  The last expression came from our South African tour guide in Mozambique; the other 2 are ubiquitous. After a few weeks on the road in Africa, we started using them too. Africa time is the same thing as ‘Latin time,’ as a friend told me they say in Belize. The idea is the ‘we are slower here than you noxious, western city slickers. Life is pleasant, and we enjoy ourselves. So take a load off; drink a beer; and don’t worry. Your bus will show up some time, and you’ll get there eventually.’ TIA gets to the dysfunction of, well,  almost everything. When the bus you paid a lot of money to take breaks down, and you are standing around in the desert for 12 hours getting sunstroke (true story), or when the border guards rip you off for your visa (also true), or there is one clerk at immigration and a 2 hour line at midnight in the outdoor cold (also true), well, this is Africa. Get used to it. Don’t stress or try to fix it. You can’t. And inevitably, you do just give up and go with the flow. You plan that 5-10% of your expenses will be rip-offs where you are overcharged for stuff, because you’re a tourist. You get used to the fact that a sandwich and a Coke take 45 minutes to prepare in a restaurant. When our truck broke down for a whole day in South Africa, the recently-arrived European tourists on our trip got furious and impatient. But my wife and I, after 5 weeks already in-country, were just fine with it. We napped and read, and then watched Weird Al videos all day at the farm of a friend of our driver (yes, that’s true too). And no, the guide never even bothered to suggest that we be compensated for the whole lost day of the tour we paid for. Sigh. TIA…

3. Where is the developmentalism? This observation is as much a product of living in East Asia as it is of visiting Africa. In Korea, you see everywhere the dynamism and energy driving this place. Koreans are obsessed with catching up with the first world, joining modernity, being taken seriously in the G-20 and OECD, etc. To be sure, I was in Africa for only 6-7 weeks, but I didn’t see that vibe at all. I was amazed how much loitering about there was. In countries with 30-40% unemployment, this is inevitable. But the economist in me saw huge wasted labor potential. All those young men just standing around, looking for something to do,and then, inevitably, depressingly, trying to rip me off by changing money on the street with folded notes and other tricks, or harassing me to buy some shoddy overpriced souvenir. And there was so much obvious need for all that unused labor. Streets needed to be cleaned, trash picked up (the amount of litter in southern Africa is astonishing), decaying, half-finished building are everywhere. Nothing made me more sympathetic to the ‘Beijing consensus’ as this trip.

4. They still say ‘coloured.’ This was another big surprise as an American. Raised on strict US political correctness, where you can only say ‘colored’ if you say ‘NAACP,’ it was pretty striking to hear whites say this or that guy is coloured or black. I even heard ‘mulatto.’ But the blacks and ‘coloureds’ talk that way too, so you quickly realize the language of race is a lot more relaxed, and I have to say I kinda liked that. I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘colored;’ I used the more anodyne US ‘mixed.’ But still, compared to the verbal acrobatics Americans go through to talk about race – like ‘European-American,’ – this was kind of refreshing. I found it rather more mature.

Back from Africa – Quick Impressions

So I admit this has nothing to Asian security, but off we went to southern Africa for what is likely one-time exposure to some of the most dysfunctional countries on the planet. We visited South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. Here are some political science observations:

1. Passport-stamping to reinforce sovereignty. In all my travels, I don’t think I ever got stamped, photographed, or ID’d as much I did in Africa. Mozambique alone made me pay $80 for a ridiculously garish and oversized tourist permit, plus entry and ext stamps that took up two pages. But it occurred to me that for many of these states, just being a functional state is pretty d— challenging. Mozambique’s HIV infection is 21% and Maputo looks like Baghdad. So one subtle way to reinforce your ‘stateness’ is elaborate border controls.

2. African streetnames as the last bastion of Marxism. Nothing beats a relaxing stroll down Maputo’s Kim Il Sung Avenue, poking between the proliferating trash and yawning potholes, except perhaps scurrying as fast as possible away from Windhoek’s cringe-inducing intersection of Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe Avenues. I used to think the apartheid South African government’s line about Marxist revolutionaries in the black front-line states was just an excuse for its front-line destabilization policy. But not after visiting these capitals and their national museums. The national museum of Namibia in Windhoek is a Marxist-Cold War throwback in tone, and Mozambique so completely transplanted the East Bloc-model, it still feels today like East Germany in Africa – crumbing concrete everywhere, half-finished rusting buildings, brownouts, purposeful disdain of ancien regime architecture, and even a scary, commie-inspired national logo with a AK-47 on it! Having grown up in the 80s, there was something vaguely familiar to all this stuff, but for the world growing up on globalization and iPods, maybe its time to take down down those pictures of Erich Honecker, huh?

3. Please stop trying to rip me off. This was probably the most depressing part of the experience. Although you are traveling in genuinely third world countries, your sympathy quickly dissipates when you are confronted with routine and blatant efforts to scam you at almost every turn. As a foreigner you are seen as a min-gold mine by just about everyone and you become a magnet for noxious money changers and street hawkers determined to ruin your day. After a few weeks, it becomes a depressing reflex to rudely blow off almost anyone speaking to you on the street, because you know it is a time-wasting scam. Taxi drivers, hostel owners, waiters, street kids and dealers, clerks of almost every variety, airport porters, etc, etc. – all of them seek to charge outrageous prices for faux, nonservices like you showing you where your luggage arrives.

4. White enclavisation. The safari companies run from one ‘white’ enclave to another, in a depressing recognition that the most tourists don’t want to see the black parts of the country and that these are likely too dangerous for a group of ignorant, western newbies. One after another, we hit Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Vilankulos, and places like that, and they just look liked western resorts. About the only thing ‘African’ was the guy serving you drinks in the disturbingly neocolonial dining experience you regularly have in Africa – that is, hordes of obese white tourists ordering game meat from black waiters in white-owned restaurants ‘safe’ for the companies to take you to. Creepy!

5. Nature tourism is about all there is to do. With only one world-class museum in all of southern Africa, and a cultural life far below what you get in wealthier societies, basically all the tourists go to the bush. It really hit me when one traveler said to me, ‘yeah, we did Botswana in about a week – we hit Chobe and Okavango, and that’s basically all there is to see there.’ In other words, the white people fly in, run around the bush looking at water, flora & fauna, and rock formations, and then take off. You spend more time talking to the other white people in your safari truck then you ever do talking to the native black population of any of the places you visit. Even creepier, the tour companies have realized that the western tourists don’t really want to do that anyway. That’s why the companies bounce you from one resort to another like a chain across the landscape. You are never too far away from a bar that offers Jack Daniels and western food.

6. The Afrikaners are even creepier than you thought; conversely black South African restraint is astonishing. Invictus does a good job showing you how restrained the black majority was in South Africa after 1994, but you don’t realize how extraordinarily generous South Africa’s blacks have been till you visit Pretoria. It is littered, still, with all the old monuments to white domination, topped off by the astonishingly racist Voortrekker Monument. The Voortrekkers were the Calvinist, Dutch-descended Boers who broke from British control of the southern cape and ‘trekked’ inland in search of their (slavery-practicing) ‘free states.’ All of this is presented in the most heroic terms, whitewashing (literally), 1) that the Boers broke from the British primarily because they wanted to continue to enslave Africans, not because of trumped-up British high-handedness, and 2) the massive cultural disruption the Boers brought to black tribes in their path – instead the museum literally says the “Voortrekkers brought the light of civilization to the interior.” The Battle of Blood River is portrayed, inevitably, as a triumph of Christianity and sturdy white rural folk – the marble imagery is brutally classical – and vindication of the civilizing mission.

Honestly, I found the presentation shocking, appalling. It was like some museum glorifying the Old South had somehow survived. Stunned, I asked our black tour guide what he thought. I told him that in Eastern Europe, after the revolution, they tore down all those statues of Lenin, and the Iraqis pulled down Saddam’s statue. But he was remarkably stoic about it. He genuinely seemed concerned that whites in South Africa feel like they belong. That was probably the most impressive sentiment I saw in our entire trip. If I were the president of South Africa, I would dynamite the Voortrekker Monument immediately, even if I weren’t black.

What Kim Jong Il can learn from Idi Amin

If Idi Amin ever did anything useful for Africa or the world, I don’t know of it. But he did provide one good negative lesson – how to get a brutal tyrant out of the way, one who would like to abdicate but is terrified of meeting a Ceausescu-style end (running away in terror from a vengeful firing squad looking for blood). Those cell phone vids of Saddam’s execuction-turned-lynching are exactly why the world’s nasties like Mugabe or Castro won’t leave power even when their ‘revolutions’ are spent or corrupted and the whole world has turned on them.

Kim Jong Il has to be thinking the same. He knows his regime is falling apart, and that its already slim chance for a stable future is even more reduced by its extreme isolation. He is afraid of collapse and an ignominious end like Mussolini’s – hung from a lamppost by angry resistors. And indeed, this is likely, or a trial in postunification courts that will almost certainly convict him as a criminal against humanity and possibly a genocidaire. South Korea has the death penalty, and Kim would almost certainly face execution. This must not only deeply unnerve Kim, but also anger him. He is a sitting head of state with a Mandate from Heaven and nuclear weapons. Yet most of the world thinks he should be hanged by the SK government.

SK rarely uses the death penalty, and I suspect it is kept on the book primarily for the postunification trials. The NK elite is complicit in the worst man-made famine since the Great Leap Forward, and runs the most awful gulag system the world has ever known.

So here is where the man who said human flesh tastes too salty can ‘help.’ Amin basically gave up making trouble for Uganda when he received asylum in Saudi Arabia. He wasn’t executed, never repented, and lived reasonably well. Kim probably wants all these things too. And China could give them to him. This is far better end than the possible factional conflict brewing after his death. He must know that the regime will be terribly shaky without him; analysts still regularly argue that Kim must shore up his own power in the regime, some 15 years after his father’s death. If that is so, how long will Kim Jong-Un last before he is pushed aside or turned into a figurehead? At least from a comfortable exile Jong-Il can blame the Americans and condemn SK’s destruction of the utopia. He can enjoy the girls, movies and booze he loves; maybe China will give him a home theater and he can just slide away like Amin did. On the hand, if he hangs on to the bitter end, I predict factionalism.