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2010 January 28 Thursday
Shoddy Construction Caused Haiti Death Toll

Lots of people built lots of structures with bad designs.

The audience at last Tuesday’s UC Berkeley lecture given by Eduardo Fierro, one of the first U.S. earthquake engineers to visit post-quake Haiti, collectively cringed as Fierro showed slide after slide of haphazard columns, brittle frames, and slipshod rods and joints. “This was not an earthquake disaster,” Fierro said. “[This] was caused by people that didn’t know how to use codes, that built things in bad shape. These were the people that caused the tragedy.”

The international aid agencies and developed world governments ought to spend a substantial portion of their reconstruction funds on architectural engineers and building construction inspectors to make sure the new buildings can withstand the next earthquake. Take over the building inspection function of the Haiti government and run it smartly and without corruption.

This is consistent with a previous post:

"Porte-au-Prince is probably one of the worst constructed cities in the world, and even the presidential palace collapsed," said Bilham. "An earthquake near a major city on one of several faults bounding the edge of the Caribbean Plate is one that many of us were expecting sooner or later."

With a population over 9 million and a population growth rate of 1.838% even if Haiti has lost as many as 250,000 people the population will be above 9 million once again by the end of 2011.

With a per capita GDP of $1,300 is it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Along with architectural engineers and building inspectors Haiti also needs free widely available birth control and family planning counselors.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 28 10:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2010 January 17 Sunday
Corruption Caused Haiti Death Toll

Why did an only moderate sized earthquake kill so many people and collapse so many buildings in Haiti? Corruption kills. Virtue is essential for good government.

The death toll in the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti Jan. 12 is expected to continue to rise in the coming days, likely in large part because of corruption and resulting shoddy construction practices in the poor Caribbean nation, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder seismologist.

The earthquake hit about 10 miles west of the capitol city of Porte-au-Prince, which has about 2 million inhabitants, said Professor Roger Bilham of CU-Boulder's geological sciences department. The earthquake occurred along what is known as a "strike-slip zone" similar to the San Andreas Fault in California, where one side of a vertical fault moves past another one, he said.

"Porte-au-Prince is probably one of the worst constructed cities in the world, and even the presidential palace collapsed," said Bilham. "An earthquake near a major city on one of several faults bounding the edge of the Caribbean Plate is one that many of us were expecting sooner or later."

Send in some uncorruptible Finns as building inspectors for the rebuilding. Of course, assign two Xe Services (formely Blackwater) bodyguards to each of them for protection.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 17 12:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2009 December 14 Monday
Whole Eritrean Football Team Stays In Nairobi

After losing to Tanzania at a match in Nairobi Kenya all the players on the football team of Eritrea apparently decided to duck out of going home. Can you blame them? Nairobi looks good to an Eritrean.

What I want to know: Does Eritrea look good to a Somalian? Also, would a Somalian rather go to Zimbabwe more or less than a Zimbabwean would like to go to Somalia? Just what is the bottom in Africa?

By Randall Parker    2009 December 14 08:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2009 September 07 Monday
Satellite Night Pictures Measure Economic Growth

In some of the more primitive, corrupt, and despotic regions of the world accurate economic growth measures are hard to come by. Well, night time satellite pictures provide a rough measure of levels of economic development and economic growth.

To improve these estimates, Henderson, Storeygard, and Weil suggest combining measured income data with the changes observed in a country’s “night lights” as seen from outer space. Using U.S. Air Force weather satellite picture composites, they look at changes in a region’s light density over a 10-year period. “Consumption of nearly all goods in the evening requires lights,” they write. “As income rises, so does light usage per person, in both consumption activities and many investment activities.”

When the researchers applied the new methodology to countries with low-quality national income data, the new estimates were significantly different. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lights suggest a 2.4-percent annual growth rate in GDP, while official estimates suggest a negative 2.6-percent growth over the same time period. The Congo appears to be growing faster than official estimates suggest. At the other end, Myanmar has an official growth rate of 8.6 percent a year, but the lights data imply only a 3.4-percent annual growth rate.

At 3.4% the Myanmar (Burma) growth rate is still faster than you'd expect from listening to Western political commentary about how the military dictatorship in that country is driving it into the ground. Could faith in democracy as the only political system capable of overseeing economic growth blind commentators to the facts on the ground?

Congo: Where's the economic growth happening? In areas outside of the central government's control? Is resource extraction providing the money to fund local electric power generation plants? What's powering the plants? Oil? If it is oil then Peak Oil will reverse the current development. I'd ask the same question about electric power plant energy sources about other countries reported in this survey. Areas that haven't made the transition from oil to other energy sources for electric power generation will be especially hard hit by Peak Oil.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 07 08:09 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 April 29 Wednesday
Yemen As Worsening Basket Case

Avoid Yemen and expect it to get worse when the oil runs out.

Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, is seeing annual tourist numbers dwindle to the thousands from 100,000 two decades ago because of worsening security. This is ending government hopes that its historical landmarks, including the 3,000-year-old Queen of Sheba temple and four United Nations World Heritage sites, can generate revenue and jobs to diversify the oil-dominated economy.

The country’s 2.8 billion barrels of oil reserves, which fund 70 percent of the national budget, are forecast by the government to run out over the next decade. With little foreign aid, economic prospects are shrinking for a population that is expected to double by 2030 to 40 million.

A doubling population while per capita GDP declines. Terrorist attacks have caused the tourist industry in Yemen to go in sharp decline. Few tourists still go to Yemen. But if you want bragging rights for an experience none of your peers will have then Yemen does offer a rare exclusive experience.

That oil decline in Yemen is going to repeat in other countries. Think about where you want to be and what job you want to be doing when oil production starts down its final path of production decline.

Yemen's population age distribution is best viewed in charts. Suffice to say, an extremely young and rapidly growing population. Yemen's yearly per capita GDP is somewhere between $765 and $880 depending on who is doing the measuring.

Yemen is across the Gulf of Aden from the territory which is still called Somalia even though Somalia is effectively no longer a single country. Will Yemen also fall down into civil war? It is a place in desperate need of aggressive birth control. But Islam helps to keep the women down and pregnant.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 29 11:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 January 16 Friday
100 Trillion Dollar Zimbabwe Banknote

Nothing new to report here folks. Kinda like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Same old bad news year after year.

Zimbabwe's central bank will issue a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknote, worth about $33 (22 pounds) on the black market, to try to ease desperate cash shortages, state-run media said Friday.

Prices are doubling every day and food and fuel are in short supply. A cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people and a deadlock between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition over power sharing has dampened hopes of ending the crisis.

The crisis could be ended by a return to colonial rule. Lots of Western retired heads of state could be given jobs running Zimbabwe's government. Tony Blair could take a wack at it. Or John Major could do it. A retired governor of a US state could do it. Retired judges could staff the judiciary. The police could be run by retired police chiefs. Bring in a few thousand foreign administrators, a thousand engineers, and a few thousand mercenaries and Zimbabwe could become substantially less bad.

Of course that isn't going to happen. Lucky thing in a way. I do not want to pay for all those colonial administrators.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 16 06:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 December 08 Monday
Personal Account Of Argentina 2001 Financial Collapse

When the proverbial wheels came off the Argentine economy in 2001 the poverty was so severe and the disruption so abrupt that crime soared, people begged, and people went hungry. I found one person's account of what life became like and what one ought to do to prepare if one thinks such a disruption is possible in one's own society. An interesting read.

Forget about shooting those that mean you harm from 300 yards away with your MBR. Leave that notion to armchair commandos and 12 year old kids that pretend to be grown ups on the internet.

Some facts:

1) Those that want to harm you/steal from you don’t come with a pirate flag waving over their heads.

2) Neither do they start shooting at you 200 yards away.

3) They wont come riding loud bikes or dressed with their orange, convict just escaped from prison jump suits, so that you can identify them the better. Nor do they all wear chains around their necks and leather jackets. If I had a dollar for each time a person that got robbed told me, “They looked like NORMAL people, dressed better than we are”, honestly, I would have enough money for a nice gun. There are exceptions, but don’t expect them to dress like in the movies.

4) A man with a wife and two or three kids can’t set up a watch. I don’t care if you are SEAL, SWAT or John Freaking Rambo, no 6th sense is going to tell you that there is a guy pointing a gun at your back when you are trying to fix the water pump that just broke, or carrying a big heavy bag of dried beans you bought that morning. The best alarm system anyone can have in a farm are dogs. But dogs can get killed and poisoned. A friend of mine had all four dogs poisoned on his farm one night, they all died.

After all these years I learned that even though the person that lives out in the country is safer when it comes to small time robberies, that same person is more exposed to extremely violent home robberies. Criminals know that they are isolated and their feeling of invulnerability is boosted. When they assault a country home or farm, they will usually stay there for hours or days torturing the owners. I heard it all: women and children getting raped, people tied to the beds and tortured with electricity, beatings, burned with acetylene torches.

He thinks you shouldn't be too isolated. You need a group around to do mutual self defense. But at the same time he thinks urban areas become too dangerous during a period of severe economic downturn. One problem is that one doesn't just need a safe place to live. One also needs a way to work and to engage in commerce.

Read the full lengthy article for lots of details of what this guy saw. I was struck by the fact that while one can stockpile lots of stuff one can't stockpile internet access or phone access. The ability to communicate is crucial for commerce, especially if you can telecommute. A large country wouldn't be equally impacted everywhere by communications failures. He said Argentina had many electric power outages but most were not long.

There is a survivalist angle to this article. But it also provides insights into human nature. Given tough enough conditions suddenly people who you'd never expect to become criminals engage in criminal behavior. Also, the level of corruptibility of police and government officials plays a huge role in determining just how far a country will fall as a result of economic disruption. Note that not all police departments or local and state governments are equally corruptible. Some areas in the United States would probably stay pretty uncorrupt even in a severe crisis.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 08 11:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2008 December 07 Sunday
Zimbabwe Soldiers Not Getting Paid

Robert Mugabe's government is failing to pay its soldiers. What this means: A small covert operation dispensing US dollars or Euros could bring down the Zimbabwean government by bribing soldiers to rebel.

HARARE (IRIN) - Uniformed Zimbabwean soldiers raided one of the capital's money-changing haunts after becoming frustrated with queuing to withdraw cash at a Harare bank, according to an IRIN correspondent who witnessed the event.

The soldiers descended on foreign currency dealers in "Roadport" in central Harare on 27 November, where they assaulted money dealers and robbed them, an indication of the low morale among Zimbabwe's rank and file soldiers.

Effectively the national currency is now useless.

Zimbabwe's official inflation annual rate is estimated at 231 million percent, but independent economists cite the inflation rate in the billions of percent; hyperinflation is causing widespread cash shortages.

Banks have set a maximum daily limit of Z$500,000 (US$0.25), creating long queues at banks each day, with no guarantee there will be any money to withdraw.

A small shove could knock over this government. Granted, overthrowing the government won't bring on a golden age. But while Africa is going to remain impoverished and backward it does not have to be as totally dysfunctional as Zimbabwe.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 07 01:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 September 28 Sunday
Which Muslims Will Get Hijacked Ship Cargo?

The hijacking of a Ukranian freighter with a likely Russian arms shipment to the government of Sudan hasn't reached a conclusion yet.

Islamist extremists prepared last night to unload rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns from a Ukrainian freighter seized by Somali pirates even as foreign warships surrounded the vessel.

Kenya says the shipment belongs to it. But there's a twist:

Kenya's Government said that it was awaiting the weaponry aboard the ship, but similar shipments in the past have been sent on to southern Sudan.

So either the Islamists in Somalia use the loot to fight their way to power in Somalia or the goods move on to Sudan where Muslim fighters use them against Christians and animists in Darfur. International law calls out for which choice exactly?

Do we a have a dog in this fight? Maybe a member of Obama's Luo tribe serves to make a big commission on it and we should make sure the shipment reaches Kenya? But then again, maybe the profits will go to rival Kalenjin and so we should let the Somalis have it? Or if McCain wins maybe we should let the Kalenjin make the money? Tribal intrigue anyone?

By Randall Parker    2008 September 28 02:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 May 26 Monday
Robert Kaplan: The Coming Anarchy

Robert Kaplan has a new article in The Atlantic called The Coming Anarchy about "How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet". I would say these factors are ripping the social fabric in some parts of the world but not others. The extent to which these factors hit America depends on whether we let the rest of the world migrate into our nation or not.

The Minister's eyes were like egg yolks, an aftereffect of some of the many illnesses, malaria especially, endemic in his country. There was also an irrefutable sadness in his eyes. He spoke in a slow and creaking voice, the voice of hope about to expire. Flame trees, coconut palms, and a ballpoint-blue Atlantic composed the background. None of it seemed beautiful, though. "In forty-five years I have never seen things so bad. We did not manage ourselves well after the British departed. But what we have now is something worse—the revenge of the poor, of the social failures, of the people least able to bring up children in a modern society." Then he referred to the recent coup in the West African country Sierra Leone. "The boys who took power in Sierra Leone come from houses like this." The Minister jabbed his finger at a corrugated metal shack teeming with children. "In three months these boys confiscated all the official Mercedes, Volvos, and BMWs and willfully wrecked them on the road." The Minister mentioned one of the coup's leaders, Solomon Anthony Joseph Musa, who shot the people who had paid for his schooling, "in order to erase the humiliation and mitigate the power his middle-class sponsors held over him."

Tyranny is nothing new in Sierra Leone or in the rest of West Africa. But it is now part and parcel of an increasing lawlessness that is far more significant than any coup, rebel incursion, or episodic experiment in democracy. Crime was what my friend—a top-ranking African official whose life would be threatened were I to identify him more precisely—really wanted to talk about. Crime is what makes West Africa a natural point of departure for my report on what the political character of our planet is likely to be in the twenty-first century.

Africa certainly is a basket case. Parts are becoming a slightly more affluent basket case due to high commodity prices. Other parts are becoming more of a basket case again because of high commodity prices (the exporters versus the importers).

Don't go to West Africa. Okay?

The cities of West Africa at night are some of the unsafest places in the world. Streets are unlit; the police often lack gasoline for their vehicles; armed burglars, carjackers, and muggers proliferate. "The government in Sierra Leone has no writ after dark," says a foreign resident, shrugging. When I was in the capital, Freetown, last September, eight men armed with AK-47s broke into the house of an American man. They tied him up and stole everything of value. Forget Miami: direct flights between the United States and the Murtala Muhammed Airport, in neighboring Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, have been suspended by order of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation because of ineffective security at the terminal and its environs. A State Department report cited the airport for "extortion by law-enforcement and immigration officials." This is one of the few times that the U.S. government has embargoed a foreign airport for reasons that are linked purely to crime.

This reminds me of a Canadian cellular equipment installer I once met in an airport. He told me he flew around the world for a Canadian cellular equipment company installing cellular phone networks. The worst place he'd never been was Nigeria. His team would install cell phone towers, line up relay microwave equipment, and then go back to the hotel for the night. The next day they'd find the equipment had been misaligned, probably by their own workers trying to make the jobs last longer. He never saw so much corruption. But the worst for him came in the Lagos airport. A guy walked up to him and hit his arm with a tire iron, breaking a bone in his arm. The guy was trying to steal his carry-on luggage. This Canadian shifted his luggage into his other arm and took off running. His assailant pursued him. No security officials rushed to his aid. So he ran out the door onto the tarmac. The assailant went onto the tarmac too. So the Canadian looked for an airplane that looked like his and shouted to grounds workers about a London flight and he got directed toward his plane. His assailant didn't stop chasing him until he got onto the on ramp of his airplane. He had to fly to London with an untreated broken arm.

I'm still reading this pretty long article. It serves as a useful reminder that not all the world is developing and some parts of the world are getting worse. Some of those latter parts have fertility rates of 5, 6, 7, 8 babies per woman. We should care about this and want to reduce those fertility rates. But you'll scarcely hear about this in the intellectually bankrupt mainstream media.

Update: Oops, this article is from 2000.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 26 11:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2008 January 18 Friday
Places Australians Should Not Travel

The government of Australia has a Smartraveller web site with two lists of special interest: We advise against all travel to these countries:

Central African Republic

The theme? Muslim countries of the Middle East and African countries. No surprise.

Then there is their list of less bad but still pretty bad countries you really ought to avoid if you wish a long and healthy life: Destinations for which we advise you to reconsider your need to travel:

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
East Timor
Saudi Arabia
Sri Lanka

Saudi Arabia is an interesting entry on that list. Do the Aussies see its oppressive legal system a danger even to people who obey the laws in the Kingdom? There's certainly enough evidence available to support that view.

Leave aside even more Muslim Middle Eastern countres and African countries. What else do we see? East Timor and Indonesia. East Timor used to be part of Indonesia and they have a rather bloody history. Indonesia is Muslim and an amalgamation of lots of incompatible ethnic and religious groups. The market dominant minority Chinese get treated in ways that affirm the threat that market dominant minorities face and their treatment there serves as warning about continued immigration of low IQ ethnic groups into the United States.

Haiti is basically a messed up African country transplanted to the Caribbean. The move didn't help.

Burma is the oddest entry on the list, perhaps demonstrating that the legacy of communism and socialism still has some very small role to place in making countries very messed up places. But most of the remaining big problems are caused by Islam and low I.Q.

By Randall Parker    2008 January 18 09:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 December 13 Thursday
Baby Wrapped In Bomb Almost Kills Benazir Bhutto

In Pakistan an attempt was made to kill Benazir Bhutto as she passed along a road in a political campaign. The use of a baby as a bomb delivery device serves as a reminder of just how values and beliefs vary around the world and between individuals.

"It was about one or two years old, and I think it was a girl," Mrs. Bhutto recalled. "We feel it was a baby, kidnapped, and its clothes were rigged with explosives. He kept trying to hand it to people to hand to me. I'm a mother, I love babies, but the [street lights] had already gone out, and I was worried about the baby getting dropped or hurt." She would have been dead, she said, if she had not just dipped back inside her vehicle to loosen the shoes on her swollen feet.

"The baby, the bomb, it went off only feet from me; there was nothing between us but the wall of the truck," she said in an interview with The Washington Times on Tuesday.

Was the baby kidnapped? Or was some Muslim true believer thinking their baby was headed for heaven by dying for Jihad?

This is nature's way of reminding us that Muslim immigration is a bad idea.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 13 10:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 October 02 Tuesday
Insurgency Capturing Territory From Pakistani Government

A Muslim nuclear power is losing ground against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistan's government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.

The depth of the problem has become clear only in recent months, as regional peace deals have collapsed and the government has deferred developing a new strategy to defeat insurgents until Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can resolve a political crisis that threatens his presidency.

Meanwhile, radical Islamic fighters who were evicted from Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion have intensified a ruthless campaign that has consumed Pakistan's tribal areas and now affects its major cities. Military officials say the insurgents have enhanced their ability to threaten not only Pakistan but the United States and Europe as well.

Pervez Musharraf is busy trying to get elected. Read the whole thing.

Musharraf reminds me of Putin. Musharraf is also changing his position in the government (giving up one title while keeping another in his case) just as Putin is going to shift from President to Prime MInister. Musharraf is also going to replace himself with an ally for a position he is giving up.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 2 -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday picked his trusted former spy chief to succeed him as leader of the army, and signaled that exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto would be able to return to Pakistan this month without facing charges.

Taken together, the moves bring greater focus to an emerging political arrangement in which Musharraf will have to share power with others, rather than wield it almost single-handedly as he has for eight years. They also indicate that Musharraf is increasingly confident he will win a new term in elections Saturday, despite a tumultuous year in which his popularity has sunk to new lows and his ability to hang on to the presidency has often been in doubt.

So how can he win an election while his popularity is sinking to new lows?

By Randall Parker    2007 October 02 10:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 August 19 Sunday
Zimbabwe Collapses By Christmas?

The end of the Mugabe regime may be in sight. The total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy might so emasculate the state that Mugabe's regime could fall.

The economy of Zimbabwe is facing total collapse within four months, leaving the country facing a slide into Congo-style anarchy, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.

Western officials fear the business, farming and financial sectors may be crippled by Christmas, triggering a collapse of government control that could leave the country prey to warlords and ignite long-suppressed tribal tensions.

This is like Atlas Shrugged.

Speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject, one Western official said: "It is hard to be definitive, but probably within months, by the end of the year, we will see the formal economy cease to work."

He added: "One of the great dangers in all this, if Mugabe hangs on for much longer, is that the country will slip from authoritarianism to anarchy, the government will lose control of the provinces, it will lose control of the towns and you will have a situation where the central authority's writ no longer holds."

So where is Galt's Gulch? Instead of Dagny Taggart and John Galt putting Zimbabwe back together Chinese entrepreneurs will probably become the new colonialists. Africa is no longer the White Man's Burden (except for rent-seeking leftists in NGOs) because white men with talent can make more money in the First World. Whereas China still has plenty smart but very poor people who could provide the brains needed to make African economies function.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 19 01:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2005 December 28 Wednesday
Press Not Free In Democratic Afghanistan

In Afghanistan never suggest that converts from Islam to another religion should not be killed.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- When Ali Mohaqeq Nasab returned to Afghanistan last year after a long exile, he thought the atmosphere had opened up enough to raise questions about women's rights and the justice system in his country's nascent democracy.

But the magazine publisher's provocative essays put him at the mercy of that system. He was imprisoned on blasphemy charges and facing possible execution until his release last week.

After refusing for three months to retract his comments, Nasab told an appeals court last week that he was sorry for writing stories that asserted women should be given equal status to men in court, that questioned the use of harsh physical punishments for crimes, and suggested that converts from Islam should not face execution.

Wait a second. We overthrew the Taliban (which was a good thing to do). We helped the Afghanis hold elections. They've got an elected government. So why don't they have freedom of the press? How come democracy does not liberalise their society? Democracy isn't a panacea? Illiberal illiterate peasants will elect an illiberal repressive theocratic government? Democracy just becomes rule by the tribal leaders of the illiterate repressive illiberal masses who embrace a religion that is very hostile to non-believers? Sure looks that way to me.

A month or two ago Sri Lanka held an election and I remember reading predictions then by some analysts that the election of a hardliner as President was sure to encourage the Tamils to intensify their rebellion. Those predictions were correct. The democratic election of Mahinda Rajapakse as President of Sri Lanka appears to have catalyzed an intensification of the Sri Lankan civil war.

All told, 45 Sri Lankan soldiers, sailors and police officers have died in December alone, ratcheting up fears of a full-scale retaliation by the Sri Lankan military and a resumption of a two-decade-long civil war. Grenade and land-mine attacks against the military have become routine fare in the Tamil-majority areas under government control, as have targeted assassinations.

And yet, on paper, the 2002 cease-fire agreement, monitored by Norway, still holds. "It's going from bad to worse," said Erik Solheim, Norway's minister of international development, in a telephone interview on Tuesday night. "It's very worrying. It's a kind of shadow war."

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's newly elected president, Mahinda Rajapakse, prepared to meet with India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, here in the Indian capital on Wednesday. Mr. Rajapakse has suggested that he wants New Delhi to play a greater role in the peace talks, an idea that India is unlikely to embrace readily.

Of course, a certain country back in 1860 had an election that touched off a war that killed half a million people out of a total population of about 20 million. That's more dead than have died in all that country's foreign wars combined.

Democracy is not a panacea.

I want to compile a list of all the countries that have had civil wars or coups or dictatorships started as a result of reactions to elections. Anyone who knows of good examples please post in the comments.

By Randall Parker    2005 December 28 10:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2005 May 26 Thursday
Zimbabwe Government Wants Return Of White Farmers

After seizing the land from over 90% of the white farmers in Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe's government wants the white farmers to come back to lease their former lands to farm.

White farmers may be allowed back on their land in Zimbabwe as part of a plan by the government of Robert Mugabe to solve the country's deepening economic crisis.

The president's key finance aide has called for some of the farmers whose properties were confiscated in a land seizure programme to be allowed to resume growing crops to boost the country's flagging agricultural output.

Gideon Gono, governor of the central bank and Mr Mugabe's main policy maker, made the proposal as he announced a 31% devaluation of the Zimbabwe currency.

With over half the farms seized from whites now lying fallow and the economy down 40% in the last 5 years Zimbabwe's government boldly shows the world where South Africa is headed in perhaps 15 or 20 years. Think I'm exaggerating? In January 2003 the South African labour minister found Mugabe's land program much to his liking.

The South Africa labour minister, Membathisi Mdladlana, said in Zimbabwe yesterday that his country had a lot to learn from President Robert Mugabe's programme of land reform.

"You don't need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows".

Price controls make a resumption of white farming unattractive even if the white farmers thought they could trust the government to uphold their end of a deal.

"The GMB set the buying price of maize but, given rapid inflation, this price was unattractive, so farmers had little incentive to invest in intensified production and generate a surplus of maize," the researchers said.

In the last week the government has arrested over 10,000 people for trading at unregulated prices and in banned markets.

Angry residents of Zimbabwe's capital clashed with police on Wednesday, damaging property and vehicles in the first major protest against a crackdown on illegal traders and hawkers, police said on Thursday.

The government is waging war against the informal economy.

So police have raided flea markets, demolished temporary buildings housing small convenience stores, and set up roadblocks throughout the city. With the formal economy in a tailspin, many people had taken up street vending - selling cellphone recharge cards or loaves of bread - to subsist. And now they're being targeted, with critics noting that urban residents are also supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

This will drive the economy down even further.

The extent of Zimbabwe's decline is breathtaking.

After seven years of unprecedented economic decline, 80 percent of the work force is unemployed and 4 million of Zimbabwe's 16 million people have emigrated. Agriculture, once the mainstay, has been hard hit by Mugabe's seizure of 5,000 white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.

Mugabe has made a deal to bring in a new Chinese colonial class.

Since western countries imposed sanctions on the Mugabe regime three years ago for failing to uphold democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, the Zimbabwean leader has responded by looking East. Mugabe himself vigorously courted Chinese businessmen to invest in Zimbabwe, who in the last three years have descended on Harare and the country's other major cities, setting up shop at every street corner to sell cheap clothing and electronic goods.


One local academic joked that Mugabe had "yellow fever" since he can only see allies in Asia, which he knows will not criticize his oppressive policies. But the academic also raised a more serious point: Mugabe is throwing his own political cronies off tobacco growing land and oppressing street hawkers in towns to make way for the Chinese; and he is selling out his country to the Chinese in order to cling to power.

What does the rise of China translate into? Support for the worst sorts of governments.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 26 11:03 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2005 March 31 Thursday
Influence Of China Grows In Africa

Western attempts to pressure Zimbabwe's ruler Robert Mugabe are being undermined by China.

In addition, China or its businesses have reportedly:

• provided a radio-jamming device for a military base outside the capital, preventing independent stations from balancing state-controlled media during the election campaign;

• begun to deliver 12 fighter jets and 100 trucks to Zimbabwe's Army amid a Western arms embargo; and

• designed President Robert Mugabe's new 25-bedroom mansion, complete with helipad. The cobalt-blue tiles for its swooping roof, which echoes Beijing's Forbidden City, were a Chinese gift.

China is increasingly making its presence felt on the continent - from building roads in Kenya and Rwanda to increasing trade with Uganda and South Africa. But critics say its involvement in politics could help prop up questionable regimes, like Mr. Mugabe's increasingly autocratic 25-year reign.

China is surpassing the United States as the largest trading partner for an increasing list of nations. The Chinese economy's hunger for oil and natural resources and is going to give countries in the Middle East, Africa, and other regions a major power to turn to for support against the United States and Europe. China is a competing model for less developed countries to aspire to. It is becoming affluent without democracy and with little sign that it will become democratic, let alone a liberal democracy.

China's influence is going to prop up regimes that really deserve to fall. Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe is a poster child for what is wrong with governments in Africa. Though even without China's growing role of supporter of tyrants and bad governments it is unlikely that America and Europe would do much about the quality of governance in the basket case countries of the world. Post-colonial guilt stoked by lefists combined with a reluctance to pay the cost of imperialism leaves the West unwilling to pay to reestablish some form of colonial rule in Africa and other failed states (e.g. Haiti).

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reports that many people in Zimbabwe wish the white government of Rhodesia could resume rule in Zimbabwe.

The hungry children and the families dying of AIDS here are gut-wrenching, but somehow what I find even more depressing is this: Many, many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970's.

"If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we'd do it," said Solomon Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his village. "Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job."

Well maybe the Chinese will find ways to effectively rule parts of Africa while pretending not to. Unburdened by guilt or the need for openness and motivated by desire for access to lots of raw materials they might be able to stealthily rule whole countries and take on what may some day be called the yellow man's burden.

Will future superpower China improve the lot of the people living in the more chaotic regions of the world? What do you think?

By Randall Parker    2005 March 31 12:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2004 November 23 Tuesday
Most Of Zimbabwe Workforce Have Fled Country

Most Zimbabwean workers have left for neighboring countries.

The South African-based Solidarity Peace Trust said that most of them had crossed the borders into neighbouring countries, with an estimated 1.5 million skilled and able-bodied workers arriving in South Africa to seek work to support families left behind in Zimbabwe.

"An estimated 25 to 30 per cent of the entire Zimbabwean population has left the nation," the Peace Trust reported.

"Out of five million potentially productive adults, 3.4 million are outside Zimbabwe. This is a staggering 60 to 70 per cent of productive adults."

Someone who flees to Botswana or Mozambique isn't exactly headed for streets that are paved with gold.

Historically there have always been about 500 000 Zimbabweans who have come to South Africa to work. But an additional 1,2 million have arrived here in the past 36 months, bringing the total Zimbabwean population in South Africa to close to two million.


An estimated 400 000 Zimbabweans live in Mozambique, 200 000 are in Botswana and 300 000 in England.


He cited three major reasons for the exodus: the breakdown of law and order including torture with impunity; the collapse of the economy; and the shortage and "political abuse" of food.

"Commentators fear the probability of food becoming a political weapon ahead of the 2005 elections is even more likely in a situation where the ruling party effectively controls all food in the country," the trust's report said.

The Zimbabwean government is not satisfied by the rate of decline in Zimbabwean agriculture that has been caused by throwing white farmers off their land. The Zimbabwean government is determined to speed up the land seizures and the Zimbabwean agricultural collapse.

New courts have begun operating in Zimbabwe to help the government speed the confiscation of thousands of white-owned farms. Many lawyers say the new process created by Zimbabwe Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa is unconstitutional.

The special courts have a backlog of up to 5,000 properties taken by the government since 2000, but not processed through the courts. Most white farmers were forced to leave their homes and agricultural businesses, but have challenged the seizure of their properties in the courts.

A Zimbabwean joke now runs "“What did we have before candles?” “Electricity.” Well, not only are ambulances now pulled by oxen and farm fields plowed with animals instead of machines but even city water supplies have become unreliable enough to drive people back to getting water from rivers.

Living conditions in Zimbabwe's urban centres have deteriorated as the country faces its worst economic crisis. Over the past year service delivery in Harare has plummeted and recurrent breaks in the water supply have forced some residents to use river water, raising concerns over possible outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

In the middle of the massive flight of workers, political oppression, lawlessness, and economic decay money from China is buying influence in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's national airline is to start flying to the Chinese capital Beijing twice a week.


As many as 9,000 Chinese are believed to be in Zimbabwe working on a wide range of projects.

In construction, the Chinese are understood to be working on hydro-electric and coal power stations, bridges, airports, and the reconstruction of Zimbabwe's most important border post at Beit Bridge with South Africa.

As China grows to become the most powerful country in the world moralistic Western groups demanding sanctions and other coercive tools to morally improve the world are going to come to be seen as irrelevant relics of a bygone age.

Continued white flight and ethnic south Asian flight from South Africa will eventually drive South Africa down the same road as Zimbabwe.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 23 01:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
2004 September 03 Friday
Sudan Darfur Conflict Between Farmers And Pastoralists

If you are wondering why two groups are fighting in Sudan this time around it is not a battle between black Christians and Arab Muslims. Both groups are Muslims. But as David S. Hauck of the Christian Science Monitor explains, the Arabs are pastoralists who have been raiding the (almost same in skin color) ethnic African farmers.

According to Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring group, the farmers are generally non-Arabs, or ethnic Africans. They live and farm in the central part of the region. The pastoralists, who reside in the north, are largely of Arab descent. They are nomadic and seminomadic and herd camels by trade.

Spats have periodically flared between the two groups, as migrating camel herders in search of water during the dry season would graze on the farmers' land. Disputes over lost crops would be settled by tribal leaders, with the nomadic tribes reimbursing the farmers. Recent droughts, however, have exacerbated the tension. The pastoralists began raiding farms to restock their decimated herds, and with the introduction of automatic weapons in the 1980s, banditry increased and the clashes became more violent.

The Arab-dominated government has been siding with the Arab pastoralists. Why? Perhaps simple racism in favor of their genetically closer Arab brethren. Or are the top leaders of Sudan from herding families? Has anyone come across an article which provides a convincing explanation of the Sudan government's motives?

By Randall Parker    2004 September 03 11:34 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 March 09 Tuesday
US Military European Command Expanding In Africa

The United States held off on bombing a possible terrorist training camp in Mali because the intelligence on the camp wasn't strong enough to confirm its purpose.

The U.S. military has considered air strikes against targets in a suspected terrorist safe haven in the desert wastelands of West Africa.

The border area between Algeria and Mali is remote and official comment on anti-terrorist activities there is rare.

But VOA has learned U.S. involvement in a crackdown on al-Qaida linked armed groups in the desert region has taken on new dimensions, in part out of concern terrorist leaders forced from other countries may have sought refuge there.

Defense officials say the United States has been sharing intelligence with Algeria and has deployed counter-insurgency specialists in Mali.

But note that the tone struck in the article is that the US military wouldhave done an air strike in Mali had it been possible to verify the nature of the camp.

The US military is making it clear that it wants to use US military force in Africa to stop Al Qaeda activities there.

Key among U.S. military proposals to fight back is deploying American units of about 200 soldiers to train armies throughout the continent, patrol alongside them, or hunt terrorists on short notice if necessary.

"Some people compare it to draining a swamp," Air Force Gen. Charles Wald told The Associated Press, eyeing a map of Africa in his office in Stuttgart. "We need to drain the swamp."

The US European Command is focusing southward and its top officers say they want to prevent other parts of Africa from descending into the sort of chaos that Somalia has been experiencing.

The US military is working closely with Algerian and other North African forces to help them combat the Salafist Group and other accused terrorist organizations. Military officials declined to provide details.

In addition, under a State Department-sponsored program involving training, cooperation, and equipment and called the Pan Sahel Initiative, the US military is helping the governments of Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and stopping suspected militants, terrorists, criminals, and contraband.

The military has also reached agreements to use some sites in Africa, including airports at Gao, Mali, and Entebbe, Uganda, for stopovers and refueling. The sites could later be expanded to house troops while they are training.

The US government is trying to be vague about the extent of its involvement with Algeria. The US government is officially claiming the US has no military base in Algeria.

ALGIERS, 5 March 2004 — The United States does not have any military bases in Algeria but is actively working with the north African country to fight terrorism, a statement by the US Embassy in Algiers said yesterday.

“The United States has not set up or intend to install any military bases in Algeria. Reports in the press to this end are baseless,” said the statement.

Note that this does not mean that there are no US special forces in Algeria doing training or conducting patrols.

The official US position is that the US involvement with the Algerian government is pretty minimal.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns said the Bush administration offered what he termed defensive systems to Algeria as part of expanded military aid and cooperation. Burns did not specify the weaponry.

During a weekend visit to Algiers, Burns said the United States provided Algeria with $700,000 a year for military equipment and training of security forces. That equipment is said to include night-vision and other non-lethal equipment.

Lets be real. Night vision equipment is not lethal as rifles or mortars are. But with night vision equipment soldiers can spot enemies to be able to shoot them. Such equipment obviously makes soldiers more lethal to their enemies. That is why the United States government is providing the equipment to Algeria. Non-lethal? Diplomats can be pretty funny guys.

Radars are also non-lethal unless you stand too close to them or they are used to direct fire against an enemy.

Algeria has been negotiating with such Western countries as Britain, France and the United States for a range of military systems. Officials said Algiers seeks to bolster night-vision and all-weather combat aircraft capability as well as radars and ground-based sensors to track Islamic insurgents in mountainous and wooded areas. Meanwhile Algeria has released the last of the Western tourists abducted by an Islamic insurgency group linked to Al Qaida.

Airplanes are not lethal either (unless an airplane happens to crash into the enemy). But the bombs and guns they carry will kill the enemy.

The US embassy in Algeria is engaging in yet more splitting of diplomatic hairs as the embassy acknowledges that the US is somehow battling terrorists in Algeria.

“The United States is battling terrorist activities in Algeria and the Sahel”, the US Embassy in Algiers said, adding, the country’s “noteworthy cooperation” with the US will be “extended to other sectors”, including training Algerian armed forces.

In May 2002 anti-terrorist efforts by Algerian and Malian intelligence officials prevent a bombing attack on the US embassy in Mali by the Algerian Salafist rebels.

A coalition of African anti-terror units frustrated specific plans last month by the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (known by the acronym GSPC) to attack the U.S. Embassy in Mali's capital, Bamako, the sources said.

The same Salafist version of Islam which the Algerian rebels embrace is also spreading in France and Salafists are taking over French mosques.

French officials have noted an increase in Islamic radicals taking over Paris area mosques in the last year, with 32 mosques now under the control of extremists.

According to a study by undercover police forces, the number of radical mosques has increased by 10 in the last year. Officials say there are a total of 373 mosques or prayer groups in Paris and its suburban areas.

French scholar Olivier Roy says the Salafists are the sorts of Muslims who become terrorists.

"Not all Salafists are terrorists but all terrorists are Salafists," he added.

Some might argue that the link I'm making between the French and Algerian Salafists is a cheap smear against French Muslims. But the French government is so afraid of Salafist terrorist attacks in France that it has refused to sell Algeria the kinds of "non-lethal" weapons tha the US is now selling to Algeria.

Burns did not say what kind of weapons the United States was willing to supply, but the Algerian authorities have long complained that a shortage of attack helicopters and night-vision equipment was hampering the country's efforts to end a 10-year Islamic insurgency that is estimated to have cost more than 100,000 lives.

These are precisely the kind of weapons that France has refused to sell its former colony, said Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French center on the U.S. at the French Institute for Foreign Affairs, of IFRI. He said the fear was that putting such weapons in the hands of the Algerian security forces could incite terrorist reprisals in France.

That fear is nature's way of telling the French they should deport all their illegal aliens and stop any further immigration of Muslims into France. Wake up. Save your country.

The US effectively is now intervening in ways the French fear to do. Is the French government happy to see the US government taking the risks that will anger groups that the French are afraid to anger? Or do the French leaders resent the US for intervening in their historic area of influence? Quite possibly they are feeling both those reactions at the same time.

France is in such a difficult spot with a large and growing Muslim population as a result of decades of foolish immigration policy.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 09 01:48 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 February 06 Friday
Afghanistan Is Still Being Mismanaged

One of the many reasons I have decided that George W. Bush is not sufficiently competent to be reelected President of the United States is his sustained mishandling of Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid has written an excellent article in The New York Review of Books detailing many of the things going badly wrong in Afghanistan. Rashid points to the work the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been doing releasing reports detailing humans rights violations in Afghanistan. Many of the human rights violations are committed by warlords that the US supports in place of a proper government.

In July 2003, in a report on southeastern Afghanistan, where much of the Taliban resurgence is now taking place on the Pakistan border, HRW gave a vivid account of abuses by local forces, who claimed to be loyal to the government. The result has been that the region is all the more vulnerable to the Taliban incursions. "Afghanistan's window of opportunity is closing fast," said the HRW report. The "continuing insecurity, at its heart, is due to policies ...of local government actors": soldiers, police, military, intelligence officials, and government ministers. These abuses are not unavoidable because many of these actors were brought to power by the US and the international community or are dependent on them now for support. In the southeast a local expression describes abuses by gunmen as happening "'right under the mustaches' of the Americans."

Hazrat Ali, the warlord in the northeastern provinces of Nangarhar and Laghman, whose forces fought alongside US troops in the Tora Bora battle against al-Qaeda, is still a favorite of the US military. He is named by HRW as one of the most prominent violators of human rights in eastern Afghanistan. His commanders and troops rob, steal, kidnap, and violate women and indulge in sexual violence against young boys. "Many of the soldiers in the military unit with Hazrat Ali are just teenagers, and the commanders use them for sex purposes," says a university student in Jalalabad.

In Paghman, just an hour's drive from Kabul, the former fundamentalist Mujahideen leader Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf enforces a local regime which comes closest to the Taliban system in today's Afghanistan. In Paghman women are forced to stay at home and cannot work or shop in the bazaar. Sayyaf's troops regularly appear in the western suburbs of Kabul at night to rob homes and rape women. Kabul's police are too scared to touch them, and ISAF forces do not intervene.

What is especially sad about the situation in Afghanistan is that even in the one city, Kabul, where the US and its allies have put a large concentration of troops on the ground to make a major effort to maintain order the warlords in the government still behave in a lawless manner.

The Bush Administration decided last summer to try harder in Afghanistan in order to have a clear success story to point to to weigh against the problems in Iraq. But the Bush Administration is not tackling any of the very difficult root problems in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and Taliban forces are flush with money from drug smuggling and from support provided by the Islamic party Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam (JUI) that now forms part of the Pakistan's Baluchistan provincial government. Al Qaeda forces are even buying night vision googles from sources in the Gulf states.

A January 26, 2004 HRW report by Sam Zia-Zarifi lays out many of the problems facing Afghanistan.

This inattention has had a tremendously negative impact. Taliban forces are resurgent and emboldened in their attacks on U.S. troops as well as on the government of President Hamid Karzai and the foreign community supporting him. Warlords, militias, and brigands dominate the entire country, including the city of Kabul. Many women and girls, freed from the Taliban’s rule, have again been forced out of schools and jobs due to insecurity. Poppy cultivation has soared to new highs, providing billions of dollars to the Taliban, warlords, and petty criminals who resist the central government. Foreign states with long, mostly destructive histories of interference in Afghanistan’s affairs—­Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Uzbekistan, and Russia—are again picking local proxies to push their agendas.

What explains the lack of commitment to Afghanistan? A major reason is that the United States, like previous foreign powers in Afghanistan, sees the country as endemically violent and thus excessively relies on a military response to the country’s problems. Viewing the country through a prism of violence has contributed to a number of erroneous policies in Afghanistan, to wit: focusing on the short-term defeat of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces with little regard for long-term security concerns; the resultant reliance on warlords on the national and local levels without regard for their legitimacy with the local population; and the shortchanging of nonmilitary measures. This skewed understanding of Afghanistan’s problems and their solutions has persisted despite recent indications that Washington policy-makers now recognize the continuing threats posed in Afghanistan and understand some of the mistakes of their past policies.

What would failure mean in Afghanistan? For the community of nations dedicated to the machinery of global order created after the Second World War, abandoning Afghanistan again would constitute a defeat with repercussions well beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The country might once again become a training ground for terror.

President Bush declared in April 2002 that he envisioned nothing short of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. The whole world is gauging how the United States and other international actors perform in Afghanistan. For NATO, which has just taken over the responsibility of providing security in parts of Afghanistan, failure would mean losing a raison d’être in a world without a Soviet threat. Failure in Afghanistan would be a sign of the global community’s impotence and insincerity in transforming failed states. For most Afghans, failure would mean a return to warfare, chaos, and misery.

The goal of creating a stable, civilian government in Afghanistan faces four different but interlinked challenges: increasingly powerful regional warlords, resurgent Taliban forces, growth of the poppy trade and other criminal activity, and a continuing threat of meddling regional powers, in particular Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. All of these challenges have grown more pressing due to international inattention, and all are likely to become even more threatening as Afghanistan enters a politically charged election year, with a constitutional process recently completed and a presidential election set for June of 2004. Failure to meet any of these challenges will greatly increase the chances of failure in Afghanistan and a return to a conflict that savages the Afghans and destabilizes Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, and, by providing a haven for criminals and terrorists, the world.

Such an outcome is not inevitable in Afghanistan. Nearly all observers, Afghan and international, agree that progress can be made in Afghanistan. It requires an increased, consistent commitment by the international community. It requires integration of military and economic reconstruction efforts. Most basically, and most crucially, it requires listening to ordinary Afghans who seek international assistance so they can work toward peace and prosperity. A serious commitment to Afghanistan has to be made, and made clearly. There are signs that in some quarters of the U.N. and, most importantly, of the U.S. leadership, this need is now understood. However, this commitment is still not being felt in Afghanistan. Without it, failure is likely.

An argument can be made that Afghanistan, even more than Iraq, has too many ethnic groups speaking too many languages and regarding each other with too much distrust to make the place a proper country. If the United States government is not going to make a serious effort to make Afghanistan a much more civilized place then the US should move to split Afghanistan up into separate territories that each more naturally make up a country. But regardless of whether the Pashtuns are kept in Afghanistan or the southern part of Afghanistan is broken off into Pashtunistan the Pashtun area needs to be made a far more civilized place in order to prevent the Taliban from regaining power some day.

The United States is competing with Islamic forces for influence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US can not afford to lose that competition because the Islamists are seeking to control the only Muslim country which is a nuclear power. The Bush Administration needs to admit that rule of Afghanistan through warlord proxies is a bad long-term strategy with unacceptably high risks.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 06 02:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 December 21 Sunday
Why Not Partition Afghanistan Along Tribal Lines?

The constitutional assembly meeting in Afghanistan to draw up a new constitution is split over the question of whether there should be a powerful central presidency. The Pashtuns, who make up approximately 47% to 50% of the total Afghan population, favor the central presidency because they expect to elect a Pashtun to occupy the office. The other ethnic groups oppose this proposal. Afghanistan is effectively split in half by the divide between Pashtuns and other ethnic and tribal groups.

"The voting was according to ethnicity," said Abdul Waqif Hakimi, a Kabul delegate and a Tajik, who lost the contest for chairman.

No one told Pashtuns to unite, insisted Muhammad Taher, a Pashtun who defeated Mr. Hakimi. "But if there is a tribe, and their culture is the same, they must be united."

On Thursday, a group of Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkmen went to United Nations officials to complain about Pashtun domination.

Afghanistan is not naturally a country. The various ethnic groups within its borders speak different languages and have good reasons not to trust each other. It would be less trouble in the long run if Afghanistan was just split up with the Pashtuns getting their own country while the other groups either form a single country for a few separate countries. The other groups could even take pieces of Afghanistan and merge them with their ethnic brothers who speak the same languages and have much the same cultures in bordering northern countries.

The overall trend in the 20th century has been toward greater ethnic self-rule and the splintering of countries into smaller ethnically-based pieces. Attempts to swim against the tide of history tend to meet with failure unless backed up with a lot of resources and determination. There is no large force available to hold Afghanistan together and no overwhelming reason to want to do so. For analogous arguments applied to Iraq see my previous posts in favor of Iraq partition: Steve Sailer On The Iraq Partition Argument and Jim Hoagland: Sunnis In Iraq See Democracy As A Threat.

Update: The Power that Hamid Karzai wants for the Afghan President is very far reaching.

Under the draft, the president would have the power to appoint one-third of the upper house of parliament and dismiss and appoint judges. The president would appear to have ample ability to initiate laws by presidential decree and would be able to take some serious actions, such as declaring war, without legislative approval.

A Pashtun President would be able to appoint Pashtuns for one third of the upper house of Parliament in addition to the elected Pashtuns and therefore the Pashtuns would effectively control the Presidency and the upper house of Parliament. Incredible as it may sound, the Bush Administration supports this proposal.

So far rocket attacks have missed the loya jirga constitutional convention site.

Three rockets slammed into Kabul early Tuesday morning, but none landed near the jirga site or caused serious damage. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, told The Associated Press on Saturday he expects more attacks.

Perhaps the proposed strong presidency won't really matter in the long run. The authority of the central government currently does not extend much beyond the outskirts of Kabul. So Karzai can use the new constitution to set himself up as dictator of Kabul while warlords rule the rest of Afghanistan.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 21 03:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 December 04 Thursday
US Has More Troops In Afghanistan Than NATO Partners

The United States has over twice as many soldiers in Afghanistan as the rest of its NATO partners combined.

Since August, NATO has had more than 5,000 peacekeeping troops in the capital, Kabul, while some 11,000 American troops mop up remnants of the Taliban and search for Al Qaeda leaders. The US needs its forces in Iraq and wants Europe to create a larger military presence in Afghanistan, especially as Taliban forces appear to be sabotaging aid and election work.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture? NATO has extended the reach of the national government of Afghanistan all the way to the outskirts of Kabul. What about the rest of the country?

Canada's cited reason for not sending troops to Iraq was that Canada was committed to a role in Afghanistan and had no troops to spare. But Canada says it is tapped out just supplying 2000 troops for one whole year.

The Canadian military is committed to two six-month rotations of 2,000 troops in the capital of Kabul as a stabilization force.

The Canadian government is trying to find another NATO country to take its place.

Defence minister John McCallum challenged his NATO counterparts yesterday to find a replacement force for Canada’s troops in Afghanistan when their mission ends in August after noticing little movement among other members of the alliance to take over.

The Canadian soldiers have to get back home before their military collapses.

The report by the influential School of Policy Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, said Canada's armed forces will face "massive obsolescence" within two years.

Canada has a very small military.

According to the university, the Canadian armed forces needs an additional 4000 soldiers, a little less than 10 percent of its current manpower, in order to be fully functional.

The US ought to pull its forces out of the Balkans and force the European countries to deal with it. If the Europeans are going to take so little of a role outside of Europe then the US ought to at least force them to deal with problems in their own backyards.

Update: Out-going NATO Secretary-General George Robertson thinks NATO ought to be able to deploy more troops abroad.

To Robertson, it is unacceptable that an organization with 1.4 million men and women in uniform and more than 1 million reservists feels overstretched with only 55,000 troops currently deployed around the globe.

But where are these troops deployed? With 5,000 in Afghanistan that leaves another 50,000 still to count. Some of them are probably the British, Polish, Spanish, and Italian troops in Iraq. But that still comes nowhere close to adding up to 50,000. Probably there are more in the Balkans than Iraq. Are there any NATO troops anywhere else? Perhaps European naval deployments around the Horn of Africa are counted in the total.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 04 04:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2003 September 21 Sunday
Primitive Legal System In Afghanistan Fuels Land Grabs

A scandal currently receiving attention in Kabul involves government ministers being accused of building mansions on land given to them by the government. The land has existing primitive dwellings of poor people who have been living there in some cases for as long as decades. This is part of a larger pattern in Afghanistan of the more powerful using a weak legal system to take land from the poorer and the weaker.

Further heat was added to the issue by Miloon Kothari, an independent consultant who spent a fortnight travelling around Afghanistan to compile a report on land and housing issues for the UN's Human Rights Commission. He found widespread evidence that provincial warlords and government officials - exploiting the lack of a judiciary or land registries - are grabbing land illegally, forcing people to sell, and driving up property prices to levels well beyond the means of the poor by land speculation, sometimes to launder drugs money.

This is a very familiar story for those who have read Peruvian writer Hernando de Soto on the problem of legal systems in poor countries that effectively shut out a large fraction of the populace from access the means to register and protect property rights and contracts. He has a lot of good ideas on how to go about setting up a property rights system that is widely accessible. I read and liked his earlier book The Other Path (before it got the more contemporary subtitle "The Economic Answer To Terrorism") but haven't read his more recent The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. Since Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are not exactly Western culturally this title is a bit of a stretch. More generally he's probably attributing too much of the differences in economic outcome to his own hobbyhorse as experts in narrow specialties tend to do (Jared Diamond being another example of this phenomenon). But certainly a lack of broad public access to a general property rights enforcement system is going to hold back economic growth.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 21 10:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 September 19 Friday
Afghanistan Rebuilds Slowly, Taliban Influence Spreads

BusinessWeek Bombay bureau chief Manjeet Kripalani took a trip thru Afghanistan and wrote a two-part article on her experiences. Little aid money is being spent.

Afghanistan became a sideshow. So now the warlords are back, vicious and rapacious. The Taliban is back, too, terrorizing the area. The Pakistanis are back to their old game of wanting to make an even poorer Afghanistan their colony, many Afghans feel. And the West's promise to reconstruct the country hasn't been kept.

Of the $5.1 billion that was promised to Afghanistan after the Taliban's ouster, to be spread over five years, only about $2 billion has come through. Afghan officials tell me that hardly any of that funding -- a pittance next to the $87 billion President George Bush wants to spend in Iraq -- has found its way to the formal rebuilding of the country. Most seems not to have gone much beyond Kabul, the capital. Kandahar, certainly, shows little evidence of that cash.

Bush is pushing for a tripling of aid to Afghanistan in part ot help Karzai to be relected as President in next year's election. Meanwhile most other countries that have promised aid are providing very little of it.

The Taliban are regaining control of parts of Afghanistan.

The next night, a woman who worked at the house where we were staying whispered that she had seen the dead or wounded bodies of young Afghan boys being brought into the city in the dark. It was a fight between Afghan tribes, but these skirmishes, I'm told, are instigated by the Taliban, trying to reassert their rule. Bit by bit, they are crossing the Pakistani border and coming into the southern flank of Afghanistan, capturing village by village, then district by district.

A former mujahideen fighter recognizes the strategy. It's what they themselves did with the Soviets, he declares. In Zabul province, adjoining Afghanistan, I'm told the Taliban have appointed their own governor and their own police chief. It's only a matter of time before they move into Kandahar.

What the US, the West and rest of the world is doing in Afghanistan is even less than half-measures. A larger portion of it ought to be secured and modernized.

One disappointing point that she mentions is the use of Pakistani laborers to build the roads instead of training local Afghans in the necessary skills. This reduces the amount of aid money that stays in the local economy and seems dumb.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 19 12:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 28 Monday
US To Give Afghanistan $1 Billion In Aid In Next Year

The US is going to triple aid to Afghanistan.

The $1 billion package, which more than triples the $300 million Afghanistan receives, represents new spending on Afghanistan and is designed to fund projects that can be completed within a year to have maximum impact on the lives of the Afghan people before scheduled elections in October 2004, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Another motivation for the increased spending appears to be a need to make Afghanistan look better given the continuing problems in Iraq.

The U.S. government was eager to point to Afghanistan as a success story as it faced difficulty in getting the situation in Iraq under control, officials said. It was also anxious that Hamid Karzai, the moderate, U.S.-backed Afghan president, should notch up more achievements before elections, due in June 2004.

In a nutshell: Afghanistan will benefit because Iraq is a mess.

The US has been slow to send promised aid to Afghanistan (and the same is true of other countries which promised aid).

Congress authorized $3.3 billion in financial and military assistance over four years in the fall of 2001, but only about $300 million of that has been spent so far.

None of the money seems to be allocated for better security.

But Afghan officials said there had been no talk of expanding peacekeeping operations, which are currently confined to Kabul.

This is unfortunate. The US ought to solicit bids from private security organisations for what it would cost to bring some measure of security to various regions of Afghanistan. Another possibility would be to ask for bids for security forces that would protect aid workers and specific projects.

US officials are trying to spin this as a response to unfulfilled promises made by other countries.

The announcement later this year reflects administration frustration with ``unfulfilled'' pledges from other countries, the official said.

But, hey, it is also a response to unfulfilled promises made by the United States government.

Given how low salaries are in Afghanistan a relatively small amount of money would pay for a lot of local police workers.

Police and other key government employees lack the basic tools -- such as cars and radios -- to do their jobs. Many haven't been paid for months

Meanwhile, the reason for recent clashes between Pakistani and Afghani military forces (including missiles fired into Pakistan) is probably Afghan anger at Pakistani toleration of Taliban operations from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Recent tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which heightened with the border clashes and the Quetta massacre of Shias, have forced afghan President Hamid Karzai and even US officials to ask Islamabad not to allow its territory to be used by Taliban and other terrorist elements, media reports have said.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 28 10:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 25 Friday
Pakistan and Afghanistan In Low Level Border Conflict

Pakistani Army forces have been attacking fighters who are members of the Khoga Khel tribe in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). For some reason this has led to gun battles between Pakistani and Afghani Army units.

New Delhi: Clashes along the Pakistan-Afghan border in the tribal region of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) are on the rise since the past month, according to media reports.

Troops from both the countries have been continuously exchanging fire across the border as tension between the neighbours is mounting.

Another article from a few weeks ago claims that the Afghan fighters are members of the Northern Alliance. Well, the Northern Alliance is mostly Tajiks from Northern Afghanistan. So why are they sticking up for Khoga Khel tribe members of the NWFP? One would expect a NWFP tribe to be allied with tribal groups from southern Afghanistan who are enemies of the northern Afghans. Or are the Northern Alliance forces shooting at the Pakistanis simply because the Pakistani soldiers, while pursuing Khoga Khel fighters, moved into border territory whose ownership is disputed between Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or is the Northern Alliance seeking to settle scores over Pakistan's past and to extent even present support for the Taliban?

The US is deeply involved in a Balkanized Afghanistan to the tune of about $1 billion per month in military costs and has to manage a rather complicated relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq gets more attention because there are more journalists there and more US soldiers getting shot at. But the situation with Afghanistan is so sticky that the country is in armed conflict with Pakistan while Iran is carving out a sphere of influence in Afghanistan and is probably running agents into Kabul to cause trouble.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 25 10:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 July 22 Tuesday
Solomon Islanders Welcome Colonial Administration

An Australian led force which includes soldiers from New Zealand is en route to take over the Solomon Islands.

What might be more surprising to outsiders is the fact that most Solomon Islanders seem to support the intervention force. There is no official opinion polling in a nation whose telephone book runs to just over 100 pages (Sydney's has more than 6,000), but it takes a long time to meet anyone on the streets of Honiara who doesn't welcome it.


Most importantly, there is no point in pumping in aid money to support the Solomons so long as anyone with a gun is able to extort it from a government that is unprotected by any effective police force or army.

Late last year, both the prime minister and treasurer paid hefty sums from the national budget to buy off armed militants close to the country's police force. Honiara's ANZ bank was less easily threatened: when its managers were issued death threats after refusing to open accounts for a well-connected local gang, the company's Australian headquarters was able to airlift the staff out of the country.

While Australia is leading the force 3 other nations are contributing.

An Australian led force, including contributions from Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, will provide policing and military back up to efforts to restore law and order.

Ben Devitt, Australian Federal Assistant Police Commissioner, sees Australia's involvement as lasting for years.

We're actually expecting to be in the Solomon Islands for some years and we won't leave until there is a viable police force in place.

A Solomon Islands rebel leader claims to be happy about the Australian forces which are coming.

A SOLOMON Islands rebel leader says he is happy that an Australian-led intervention force is coming. Harold Keke, who describes himself as general of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, said the force was welcome "as long as its first priority is to disarm the militants in Honiara and get rid of corrupt politicians".

Aside: whenever I read references to "militants" it is like a warning sign flashing that Orwellian double-speak is being used. Why not call rebels, well, rebels? Or why label predatory criminal gangs what they are as well?

Even as Harold Keke fights for secession for his part of the main Solomon Island Prime Minister John Howard of Australian wants to merge Pacific nations into a larger nation.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday risked angering smaller Pacific states by saying some of them were "too small to be viable", after rejecting suggestions that sending Australian and New Zealand troops to the Solomon Islands was a "colonial hangover".

Some element of high tech automation will be used to help restore order with UAVs to track rebels and gangs.

The spy planes, known as UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles) will be used to track the rebel forces and gangs of thugs which have terrorised the Pacific island nation.

This operation is going to cost Australia about $200 million in US dollars per year. That compares favorably with the $1 billion per week the US is spending in Iraq or the $1 billion per month the US is spending in Afghanistan. Why can't terrorists and nuclear bomb developers try to operate from Pacific islands rather than from the Middle East?

By Randall Parker    2003 July 22 11:11 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 July 19 Saturday
Anthony Daniels On Liberia

Anthony Daniels says that the United States was bound to be condemned for either intervening or failing to intervene. (Daily Telegraph, free registration may be required)

After all, as Liberians never ceased to point out to me when I visited Monrovia during a brief lull in the civil war, a detachment of 500 trained troops could have put an end to the violence there in a couple of weeks. A few marines would have saved 200,000 lives.

The trouble is that life is lived forwards, not backwards. If the marines had been dispatched, no one would have known how many lives they saved, and then the very same people who condemn the Americans for not having dispatched them would have blamed the Americans for other reasons. They would have said that the Americans were trying to secure West African diamonds, or its iron and manganese deposits. There is no pleasing some people.

The article is an excellent quick overview of the significant forces and events that led to the current conditions in Liberia. The most notable fact brought out in the article is that only 3% of the Liberians are really from the group of ex-slaves who settled there from America in the 19th century. For many decades until about 1980 people from that small group made up the governing elite of Liberia. Think about that. If they had been white they would have been condemned in many circles as colonial oppressors. Also, their fall from power basically marks the beginning point of the slide of Liberia into mismanagement, lawlessness, and civil war.

The group that replaced the American slave descendants were members of another tribe which were also only 3% of the total Liberian population. To put Liberia back together again and restore it to the state of governance it was in before the decay began would require restoration of the descendants of ex-American slaves back into power. But given the tribal and religious divisions in the country it is not at all clear that a broadly representative government is workable either.

Daniels points out that the United States is far from the only country with a few thousand troops capable of restoring some degree of order. Given that the US military already has too many other things to do why doesn't some other country step up to the plate? Failing that, I'll repeat again: a private military force could do the job very cost-effectively and quickly.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 19 05:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 July 13 Sunday
Liberian Rebels Say Taylor Must Go Before Peacekeepers Arrive

The largest rebel force in Liberia insists Charles Taylor leave Liberia before peacekeeping forces enter.

"Any troops deployed before the departure of Taylor must be prepared for a firefight," the group said in a communique.

The rebels do not trust the African countries who will send peacekeeping forces.

Despite LURD's declared commitments to the peace process mediated by the West African regional body, ECOWAS, the rebel group appears to have developed a strong mistrust for West African leaders, who they allege seem to be backing Taylor. "Our fear is that we don't trust Taylor neither do we trust ECOWAS leaders. We believe many of them are working for Taylor. Some of their pronouncements have proved it. They still consider him as president. Look at the way they are dealing with the indictment issue. They are describing it as a political problem and they are trying to find a way around it to Taylor's favor," Dweh said.

There are both tribal and religious elements to the conflict in Liberia.

Both Lasimeto and Goon were wounded pushing back the latest rebel offensive last month. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, approached from the north, the direction of Guinea, their main patron. Although some call LURD a tribal movement because its ranks are dominated by Mandingos, others see it as a religion-oriented group. A handout circulating in Monrovia calls for jihad against Liberia's Christian establishment.

Analysts say LURD is best understood as a client of the neighboring states, most notably Ivory Coast, that Taylor destabilized by sending rebels into their territory.

So then does Ivory Coast not trust Nigeria?

Note that once peacekeepers arrive the Liberians will still have their tribal and religious loyalties. Also, the rebel and government fighters will still have the experience of years of fighting and years of extorting goods and cash from the populace. These people are not going to all turn over a new leaf tomorrow and start living according to civilized norms of behavior.

The fighters for the government are thoroughly corrupt.

Such fighters and their leaders commit most of the crimes in Monrovia, according to diplomats and community leaders. From Taylor down to his foot soldiers, violence or the threat of it has become the way to pay salaries, put food on the table, gain political power, buy fancy cars and fill Swiss bank accounts.

If you have a rival, you execute him. If you need money, you threaten one of Monrovia's wealthy Lebanese merchants until he pays you for protection. Or you simply loot his store.

Those fighters are demanding to be put on a US payroll or they will resort to a life of crime once the peacekeepers arrive. Well, they will probably resort to a life of crime either way. But paying them to work at some jobs at inflated salaries so that they at least will be off the street and monitorable part of the day would help the situation. However, such a pragmatic approach will probably strike the US government, the UN, and NGOs as too morally tainted. So expect a lot of unemployed fighters to be roaming around forming into crime gangs.

My guess is that the US will send soldiers to Liberia as part of a peacekeeping force. Bush will go into it with the intent of pulling US troops out after a few months. But if a lot of fighting continues he will come under pressure to keep US troops in place. Whether he will do so remains to be seen.

Update: Karl Vick reports that the Liberians he met in Monrovia all want US soldiers to come.

"You know in Liberia we have brotherly feelings for America," said Jeremiah Varmie, owner of Uncle Sam's Tele Link, where most of the long-distance calls placed are to the United States. "I can't speak for the soldiers, but I don't think your people would be attacked."

The soldiers say the same. Young men carrying weapons -- in some cases since 1989, when warlord Charles Taylor began the rebellion that eventually made him president -- say they want only to put down their guns and go back to school.

The Liberians have seen Black Hawk Down and they promise they won't be like the Somalians. Well, geez, for the sake of the US Marines I hope so.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 13 09:32 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 11 Friday
Jack Spencer Lists 8 Reasons To Oppose US Troops For Liberia

Jack Spencer of The Heritage Foundation lists 8 reasons not to send US soldiers into Liberia.

  1. Political violence in Liberia does not constitute a threat to the vital interests of United States.
  2. Americans are not needed.
  3. A Liberian peacekeeping operation will drain valuable resources away from vital national security requirements.
  4. Considerable financial cost.
  5. Americans peacekeepers will be targets of political violence.
  6. The American public will not support such operations.
  7. The U.S. armed forces do not make good peacekeepers.
  8. The international elite makes it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to participate in any of these kinds of missions.

Spencer says the US has spent $20 billion so far doing Balkans peace-keeping and military operations. An intervention in Liberia might easily stretch on for years as well. The US Army is already overcommitted. We need to deal with higher priorities including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the nuclear weapons development programs of Iran and North Korea. As Spencer points out, every soldier sent on a peacekeeping operation is really a commitment of at least 3 soldiers.

A peacekeeping force consists of more then just the number of troops actually involved in the operation. If 2,000 troops are deployed – as Kofi Annan requested – the United States would really be committing is 6,000 troops, because for every soldier committed, there is one preparing to deploy and one recovering.

In addition to that, the U.S. maintains 8,000 troops in the Balkans, which means that 24,000 are dedicated to that mission. So with an additional peacekeeping mission in Liberia, the United States would have at least 30,000 troops committed to missions that have little or nothing to do with U.S. national security.

Why doesn't Germany handle Liberia? Or why not use a private army? There are other solutions besides US troops. The US should reserve its forces for problems that only America can handle and that involve vital US interests. Unfortunately, there are already more such situations than there are US soldiers to handle them. US soldiers in Iraq are still experiencing 10 to 25 attacks per day. Iran and North Korea are hard at work developing nuclear weapons. US special forces are involved in operations in the Horn of Africa against Al Qaeda and likely in other places as well. People who argue for US intervention in Liberia need to explain why it is that only US forces could do the job and how it is that the US has enough soldiers to spare for optional interventions. Surely European forces, African forces, or a private army could do the job just as well.

Update: The proposal by the International Peace Operations Association for private firms to take over peacekeeping in the Congo could be followed for Liberia instead or as well.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 11 01:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
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