By Aaron Pangburn
A Memorial to Mobutu in Gbadolite’s Central Square. Photo by Mignonne Fowlis.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Mobutu Sese Seko’s rise to power, and the debates over the “next Congolese President” in 2016 intensify, it is a unique moment to reflect on his legacy and his lingering impact on the locality he once called home. The story of Gbadolite (in the territory of Nord-Ubangi and the province of Equateur) is often romanticized, as the small village in the middle of the jungle that was once transformed into a “city of privilege,” complete with a 5-star hotel, Coca-Cola factory and an international airport modeled after its counterpart in Nice, France. Mobutu’s three immense palaces sat on the hills of neighboring Kawele, and VIP guests such as the Pope, the UN Secretary-General, the King of Belgium, Director of the CIA and President of France were his reported guests. As Albert Moleka, a frequent attendee of these lavish gatherings and now former senior member of the opposition party, the UDPS, put it in a recent Guardian article, “it was like an African Versailles.”
Yet while this vision is still being described in international newspapers as the prime example of Mobutu’s Kleptocracy, there is a need to disassociate the privilege the president bestowed on his guests to the palace and the city that remains in the valley below. During a recent field visit in February 2015 to Gbadolite and its surrounding environments, JSRP Research Director at the SSRC Tatiana Carayannis, Program Coordinator Aaron Pangburn, and Program Associate Mignonne Fowlis encountered a marginalized community desperate to shed the image of its former president. This is not because there are not fond memories of the past and of the support Maréchal Mobutu provided to the community, but rather that this notion of privilege was vastly overstated, then and now. For the past eighteen years the community has felt punished by provincial and state leadership, and overlooked by the international community. Continue reading
By Mareike Schomerus and Anouk S. Rigterink
Lady Gaga thinks the telephone is pretty much a one-way street: “Call all you want, but there’s no one home—and you’re not gonna reach my telephone,” she sings, together with Beyoncé in the aptly-named song “Telephone”. The two might have a point beyond fobbing off an annoying boyfriend. Even though the phone stands for communication, it only works if both ends play along—which is a good way to describe the dilemma about mobile phones and politics. Particularly in situations of political contest and conflict, much hope has been attached to the mobile phone: it stands for connectivity and modern living. It has been credited with helping with revolutions; trust in its abilities to build states and peace is sometimes expressed in overly enthusiastic terms. For example, mobile phones are lauded on the website buildingpeace.org: “Look at your cell phone. Turn on your computer. Check your Facebook page. You are using tools that can build peace”.
Such enthusiasm comes from the assumption that access to a communication infrastructure will create better informed citizens who participate more in politics—most obviously through voting—which makes governments more accountable. A more accountable government and an active citizenry could contribute to statebuilding. But are these connections far-fetched? We wanted to know. Continue reading
Lessons from Pajok: Towards a comparative ethnography of security and justice in Africa
By Ryan O’Byrne
The author has undertaken an extended period of fieldwork in Pajok, South Sudan, for his recent JSRP Paper on the cosmological dimensions of (in)justice and (in)security in the country. In this post he highlights key issues raised in the paper.
The Bobi subclan kac (ancestral shrine), Lawacci Boma, Pajok (Photo: Ryan O’Byrne)
There is a growing realisation amongst donors and policy makers that a stronger evidence base is needed on issues such as how public authority and governance serve end-users or how justice and security experiences are affected by dynamics of social exclusion. This blog highlights a new JSRP paper which provides original, important, and much needed research into just these areas, delivering a unique and empirically grounded argument for the importance of the cosmological dimensions of (in)justice and (in)security in the lives of end-users in Pajok, South Sudan. One dominant theme of this new paper is that end-users not only experience (in)security and (in)justice in multiple socially and spiritually determined ways but that in response to these experiences they adopt a diverse array of strategies that attempt to reorient cosmological governance structures towards their own needs.
This blogpost, however, seeks to highlight another important argument presented within the newest JSRP paper, and argues that a correct depiction of the diversity of hybrid governance forms in the lives of end-users in our research areas must, by both contextual and theoretical necessity, always be defined as broadly as the ethnographic circumstances require. Indeed, such circumstances need to be considered highly relevant to the wider forum of interest in understanding the interactions between hybrid governance and issues of (in)security and (in)justice. Due to the way they impact on and frame interpersonal and communal relations, the actors and institutions that comprise the public authority structures of contemporary Pajok include such cosmological aspects as rainmakers and jogi (‘non-human spiritual forces’). The reason for such broad and distinctly nonstandard definitional criteria is that, in contemporary Pajok, it is precisely these informal institutions that govern peoples’ lives. Continue reading
By Edward Thomas
Twentieth-century Sudan was Africa’s conflicted behemoth: a landmass of one million square miles; societies rich with interconnections and contradictions; and a highly unequal economic and political system that set those societies against each other. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed ten years ago, was supposed to end the armed conflicts born of this economic and political system. The peace was signed by the Khartoum government, led by a broad alliance of the winners from Sudan’s unequal system, and by the southern-based rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the SPLM, whose base lay in the south, Sudan’s poorest and most diverse periphery. The peace was financed by oil revenues, which were another outcome of war. Khartoum had built an oil industry through a mix of astute trade diplomacy in east Asia and ferocious warfare that used local militias to depopulate the oilfields of South Sudan. Oil revenues were now to be used to reinvent Sudan as a more unified, inclusive, equal country. The CPA also gave South Sudanese a unique get-out clause – they could vote for separation if unity and inclusion failed to materialize. In 2011, South Sudanese voters overwhelmingly chose independence. The new Republic of South Sudan was born in July, with Africa’s third largest oil reserves.
But ten years on, comprehensive peace has eluded both South Sudan and Sudan. Drawing on my new book, South Sudan: A Slow Liberation, here I address the elusive peace in South Sudan today. South Sudan’s current civil war began almost thirteen months ago. It has displaced up to two million of the country’s exhausted people and gruesomely reconfigured relationships between different communities. Maybe fifty thousand people have been killed. The government spent some of its oil rents addressing South Sudan’s hyper-underdevelopment – the modest progress has been reversed. Even more money was invested in its army, which served as an expensive mechanism for resolving the contradictions of the civil war of 1983-2005. South Sudan’s army united the guerrilla army which had fought against Khartoum with Khartoum’s southern militias (deployed mainly around the oilfields) in a single vast structure with more generals than the US army. At the outset of peace, all that defence spending sometimes seemed like a strangely judicious kind of profligacy – a way of buying off hungry troublemakers with steady jobs. Nowadays, it feels like a monstrous failure that may become a macabre precedent for future peace deals. Continue reading
Read Tom Kirk’s new JSRP Paper, ‘Citizen-Led Accountability and Inclusivity in Pakistan’, here.
Abstract: This ‘theory in practice’ paper examines the experiences of citizens groups seeking to hold Pakistan’s elected representatives and governance institutions accountable. A sustained period of democracy, ongoing devolution plans and increasing space for civil society suggest the beginnings of a favourable context to improve the demand side of governance. At the same time, however, Pakistan continues to score low on development indexes and parts of the country suffer from insecurity. The latter reflects state-society relations, with various groups fighting to change national and local distributions of political and economic opportunities. Nonetheless a recent citizen-led accountability programme across both conflict-affected and peaceful constituencies has reported significant success in mobilising volunteer groups to demand the resolution of local issues. This paper asks how these groups organised and examines the strategies that contributed to their successes. In particular, it focuses on the tensions between the programme’s drive for ‘inclusive’ citizens groups that raise demands, and the need for such groups to work in ways that acknowledge the power and politics of their local contexts. While in some cases this led to innovative solutions to local problems, in others it may have strengthened the divisions and networks that support unaccountable governance. It is hoped the findings will add to debates over the worth of citizen-led accountability programmes where strong societies, weak states and conflict shape governance.
Read JSRP Research Director Alex de Waal’s powerful new piece in the Boston Review here.
By Rachel Ibreck
‘There is no law in South Sudan’, a resident of the town of Nimule, Eastern Equatoria, explained: ‘You see the police cell there is for those who are very poor. You will never see a rich person in that prison for the rest of your life. Trust me, this is true.’ This elder echoed views expressed by many other participants in research for the Justice and Security Research Programme in Nimule that ‘some people are above the law’, protected by their economic status, political allegiance or ethnic identity. In many instances, when crimes are reported or ‘referred up’ from the customary courts, ‘no action is taken’. There are also practical obstacles, including the financial costs: a victim of a crime may need to pay to open the case, to fund transport for police to make the arrest, or even to provide food for the accused once in prison. And there is fear of retribution, especially if the perpetrator is associated with the security forces or is politically influential. People spoke of occasions when they, or a member of their community, endured further suffering on the floor of a police cell or a beating in the barracks following a complaint. If you ask ordinary citizens about their experiences of the justice system in Nimule, you will hear of cases that never reached the courts, illegal detentions, intimidation, torture and violence. Continue reading
Read the new report by Jeroen Cuvelier, Steven Van Bockstael, Koen Vlassenroot and Claude Iguma, ‘Analyzing the Impact of the Dodd-Frank Act on Congolese Livelihoods’, on the SSRC website.
The report presents a detailed study of how the Dodd-Frank Act in particular has affected several mining communities in eastern Congo, and the extent to which various conflict minerals initiatives have been implemented on the ground.
By Alex de Waal
International peacekeeping operations are deployed to complicated and troubled places. Often, reliable information is scarce, rumors and poorly-founded allegations are common, and interpretation of events is highly politicized. Recent controversies around what is going on in Darfur illuminate the need for much better data.
A former UN official, Aicha Elbasri, has made much-publicized allegations that the UN-African Union hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) covered up evidence of attacks by the Government of Sudan. The magazine Foreign Policy took up the issue. The UN investigated sixteen incidents of alleged cover-up, and last week published a summary of its findings. The summary did not support Elbasri’s claims, finding only “a tendency to under-report unless absolutely certain of the facts,” but the full report has not been released. Elbasri has accused the UN of a “cover-up of a cover-up.”
Press coverage of this controversy has not yet included a basic point: peacekeeping operations collect vast amounts of data, and have the capacity to collect more, but rarely analyze those data in a rigorous manner. This is a missed opportunity. Continue reading