Jul 24 2014

Book Review: Rwanda and The Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention by Joshua James Kassner

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The 1994 Rwandan Genocide that took the lives of approximately 800,000 men, women and children is etched into our memories as one of the most acute failures of intervening in human rights violations. In Rwanda and The Moral Obligation of Humanitarian interventionJoshua James Kassner contends that the international community had a moral obligation to intervene and therefore unrolls a convincing argument for a significant reform of the normative framework governing international relations. This argument bears unquestionable urgency but regrettably fails to move beyond the oft-debated Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework. Reviewed by Lucas Van Milders.

Joshua James Kassner’s assessment of our moral obligation to act whenever human rights are violated on a massive scale, such as during the Rwandan Genocide, situates itself firmly within a tradition of scholarly work that critically engages the prevailing norms of our international system. This is immediately apparent from the title, which refers to one of the most controversial and dazzling challenges of International Relations after the Cold War on the one hand, and an example of what is generally agreed upon as one of its disastrous and devastating consequences on the other.


Although invoking the memory of one of the most severe tragedies of the second half of the 20th century might seem a self-evident argument in favour of a more progressive defence of humanitarian intervention, Kassner’s engagement with Rwanda is reduced to such an extent that its inclusion in the title might be called into question. A more fitting subtitle could therefore be: Why did the international community fail to act? According to Kassner, there are conditions that induce an “all-things-considered reason for action” (p. 11). These entail a violation of the basic right to physical security, a guarantee that states do not need to make internal sacrifices, the protection of a community of moral significance, that international peace and security will not be compromised unjustifiably, that those bearing the obligation are capable of effectively fulfilling this obligation, that intervention will not worsen the situation, and that intervention will not undermine the presumption against non-intervention (p. 83). When these conditions are met, as was the case in 1994 Rwanda, there is an irrefutable obligation to act. Continue reading

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Jul 22 2014

“Illegal” migration is a problem of our own making

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LSE’s Ruben Andersson argues that rich nations’ efforts to quell “irregular” migration by land and sea are failing spectacularly.

In the Indian Ocean, Australian border patrols intercept 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers and return them straight back to their home country. In the Mediterranean, the Italian navy rescues more than 2,600 migrants over one single weekend as the number of tragedies and disappearances at sea keep mounting. At the US-Mexico border, the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors is creating a moral panic and a headache for Obama. What on earth is happening at the rich world’s borders? And why do the migrants and refugees keep coming – despite the enormous investments in tougher controls over recent years?

illegalityincIn the mainstream media, so-called “illegal” migration across sea and land borders appears as a recurrent spectacle, a blip on the evening news. The visual cues are now familiar: boats heaving with human cargo, coffins in port, migrants blankly staring out through a fence. Some citizens and politicians, distressed by these images, call for an end to the suffering; others see in them a menace, and want ever tougher and more militarised controls. Still others turn a blind eye and prefer to forget, the misery safely contained by the borders. Or as Pope Francis said last year on the tragedy-haunted Italian island of Lampedusa: “We have become used to the suffering of others…It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.” Continue reading

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Jul 21 2014

‘Ending Child Marriage – Tackling stereotypes through quotas and motivating governments through regional peer review

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Ahead of Girl Summit 2014, LSE’s Alice Evans discusses the campaign to end child marriage.

To mobilise support against child marriage, the UK is hosting the ‘Girl Summit’ on 22 July. It will bring together governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector in a bid to amplify existing efforts.

In Zambia, where the UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening recently spoke out against child marriage, a nationwide campaign is already underway. It is backed by government ministries, the country’s First Lady, Dr Christine Kaseba, UNICEF, UNFPA and a number of traditional chiefs.

For many, the solution is girls’ education rather than marriage.

Indeed, there is an association here, as highlighted in the widely-shared Twitter picture below:


But how can popular support for girls’ education be galvanised in the first place, so that girls stay in school and out of marriage? Continue reading

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Jul 17 2014

Book Review: Africa Emerges by Robert I. Rotberg

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Many countries in Sub–Saharan Africa are now enjoying significant economic growth and political progress. The new Africa has begun to banish the miseries of the past, and appears ready to play an important role in world affairs. Africa Emerges draws on a wealth of empirical data to explore the key challenges Africa must overcome in the coming decades, from peacekeeping to health and disease, from energy needs to education. Ainsley Elbra finds that this book is replete with data at all levels and on a wide variety of measures that should be of interest to any reader keen to develop an understanding of recent changes taking place throughout Africa.

Robert I. Rotberg’s latest book, Africa Emerges, provides a valuable update on the progress of one of the world’s most vastly misunderstood regions. Written by a pre-eminent scholar of African affairs, and governance more broadly, the author utilises a raft of quantitative data to outline a more nuanced picture of the continent’s development. Overall, the book reveals trends in a variety of areas of interest to development scholars, such as population demographics, disease, conflict, infrastructure and the role of China in the continent’s progress. Rotberg’s book is well balanced, reflecting on the progress being made (including growth rates exceeding those in other developing regions) as well as the challenges facing the translation of this growth into true development across all groups in society.

Rotberg_AfricaEmergesDespite any misgivings from the title, the author avoids the common mistake of assuming a continent-wide trajectory at the expense of specific local experiences. Rotberg instead provides key statistics detailing progress at the regional, country and sub-national levels. Continue reading

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Jul 16 2014

World Cup fever in Sierra Leone reveals how the beautiful game unites and divides

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LSE’s Jonah Lipton looks at how football serves as a window into a wider world for marginalised youth in Freetown.

I am sitting in Victor’s cinema in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A rumbling generator powers three televisions at the front of a large room built from corrugated iron and wood. A crowd has assembled to watch the World Cup game between Ivory Coast and Greece. This is the final game of the group stage for Ivory Coast’s “golden generation”, many of whom are celebrated members of Europe’s top clubs but have yet to achieve at international level. A victory or draw would offer an historic opportunity to progress to the knock-out stages.

The atmosphere in the cinema is one of pride for fellow West Africans performing on the global stage, but also one of profound and somehow expected disappointment, crystalised by the late penalty awarded to Greece, winning them the game in literally the last minute. One audience member exclaims that “they don’t want African teams to succeed”. Others comment on the determination of the Greeks to score right until the very end versus the Ivorian’s misjudged self-assuredness.


A crowd watching Ivory Coast-Greece at Victor’s cinema in Freetown

Continue reading

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Jul 16 2014

The rise of Afro-Smart cities should be viewed with caution


Smart cities are the latest craze across Africa. But should we be as excited about them as public discourse says we should? LSE’s Jonathan Silver thinks not.

The recent announcement by IBM establishing its twelfth global laboratory in Nairobi has followed a rise in news about Smart cities across urban Africa. These include IBM’s inclusion of Durban and Abuja in its Smarter Cities Challenge, a plethora of summits and conferences, together with planning for a series of new smart urban extensions on the periphery of major conurbations such as Accra and Kinshasa. Together these developments are generating an ever growing clamour concerning the potential of smart urbanism to transform urban Africa through the integration of digital technologies across networked infrastructures, offering resource efficiencies, global competitiveness, safer cities and ultimately much greater control over the built environment and everyday life.

Here is a depiction of the Smart City (Source: http://www2.schneider-electric.com/sites/corporate/en/solutions/sustainable_solutions/smart-cities.page)

Here is a depiction of the Smart City (Source: http://bit.ly/1qzpK1Z)

Such coverage is often predicated on these techno-futures enabling ways to leapfrog other global regions through next generation infrastructure and technology. The images and narratives of smart futures in cities like Rio, portrayed in endless representations through its control room, and major Northern cities such as London and New York are ubiquitous and firmly entrenched in the imaginary of policymakers and the wider public. Yet the notion of smart in urban Africa has been less visible (at least on a global level) up till now. But as things change, the rise of Afro-Smart cities is going to require much more attention from those interested in rapid urbanisation and associated challenges of poverty and development faced by these diverse cities. For behind the widely circulated images of slum dwellers using mobile technologies to improve daily lives, the dominance of large ICT companies, a splintered urban landscape, land dispossession and the securitisation of urban space reveal a more complicated potential smart urban future. Continue reading

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Jul 14 2014

What Gives? African Union Head of State Immunity

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With African leaders voting to grant themselves and their senior officials immunity from prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity,  LSE’s Mark Kersten analyses how much of a setback this is for international justice on the African continent.

In June 2014, the African Union (AU) voted to grant immunity from prosecution to all African Heads of State and “senior officials” at the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. Predictably, the human rights and international justice world were up in arms. Some called it the “worst possible signal” to perpetrators of atrocities.

Members of the African Union have pushed for head of state immunity since Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was first indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009. Their mission has only gathered steam since Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing trial at the ICC, was elected in March 2013.

Protesters voice their support for the ICC in Nairobi in 2011 (Photo: VOA)

Protesters voice their support for the ICC in Nairobi in 2011 (Photo: VOA)

So what should we make of the AU’s efforts? Here are a few thoughts.

Not Just Ocampo-Justice

It would be easy, but generally wrong, to ascribe the AU’s motion to a bunch of cronies. There are cronies and they are leading the attack on the ICC. But ICC member-states in Africa aren’t exactly lining up to defend the Court. This seems symptomatic of a widening and deepening wave of discontent with international justice. And this frustration may yet grow among the citizenry of African states – ironically in part because the Court has been unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute some African heads of state. Continue reading

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