By Andrew Hanauer
When a severe drought spread across the Horn of Africa over the past year, it did not have to result in a famine.  Indeed, the idea that famines are natural disasters free of human agency has been thoroughly discredited; author Thomas Keneally recently noted, for instance, that a similar drought in the western United States would never lead to thousands of Americans starving to death. (Keneally, 2011)  The reality is that famines are man-made, the result of a combination of economic and political conditions that allow for the unthinkable widespread starvation of a nation’s citizens.
The famine in the Horn of Africa is no exception; it was entirely preventable and its principal causes are man-made.  These causes are diverse, ranging from agricultural policies to geopolitical conflict to the impact of climate change.  In this paper, I will focus on two principal causes of the famine: the instability caused by the conflict in southern Somalia and the absence of democratic institutions in the country.  Without question, the conflict in southern Somalia helped to create the conditions of the famine and has exacerbated its effects, while the lack of a democratic government prevented necessary preemptive measures from being implemented to prevent the famine from occurring. 
These issues, however, have deeper roots that stretch back to Somalia’s colonial history.  In a broader historical context, the famine is the result of U.S. economic imperialism and the legacy of Somalia’s colonial rule.  Specifically, U.S. oil policy led to a catastrophic intervention in Somalia that created the current conflict in the south, while colonial partition of Somalia created arbitrary borders that severely hampered the emergence of a coherent democratic nation-state.  Together, these processes helped to create the 2011 famine.     
This paper will be organized as follows: first, a brief overview of the current situation in Somalia; second, a review of the historical causes of Somalia’s failure to establish democratic institutions; third, an examination of the conflict in southern Somalia and its historical roots; and fourth, a concluding discussion of the dynamics of colonialism and unintended consequences.
On July 20, 2011, the United Nations officially declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia, the first time it had made such a declaration in almost thirty years. (UK Telegraph, 2011)  Famine is defined by the United Nations as a situation in which “at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition in over 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day.” (Discovery News, 2011)   At that time, tens of thousands of people were believed to have already died of starvation, and many more were leaving Somalia for refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. (UK Telegraph, 2011)  The immediate trigger for the famine was a severe drought that struck the Horn of Africa, impacting some 12 million people in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and possibly Eritrea. (UK Telegraph, 2011)  Below is a relatively current map of food insecurity in the region courtesy of USAID’s “Famine Early Warning System” (FEWS.net) demonstrating the impact of the drought; of particular note is that despite the widespread presence of drought conditions, only Somalia has experienced actual famine.
Description: http://v4.fews.net/FNTeam/EmergencyImages/Horn_Crisis_2A.png
In Somalia, several million people are in need of food assistance, and roughly 1.5 million are displaced within the country (which does not count those who have fled to refugee camps in foreign countries), or more than 15% of the entire Somali population. (UK Telegraph, 2011)  Almost half a million Somali children are malnourished, and in some parts of the country, malnutrition rates are as high as 50%, the highest in the world. (UK Telegraph, 2011)  Looming over all other statistics is the UN warning that 750,000 Somalis are at risk of dying of starvation. (BBC News, 2011)
The famine is also exacerbated by a conflict in southern Somalia between a radical militant group known as al Shabaab and the country’s weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG), located in the capital city of Mogadishu.  Al Shabaab controls wide swaths of territory in the southern region, and stands accused of forcing Somali residents back into famine areas from which they had fled; banning immunizations; forcing Somalis to remain in the country at gunpoint; threatening aid workers; stealing aid from famine victims; and selling stolen aid on the open market and using the money to buy guns. (The New York Times, 2011)
The famine is in part the result of the lack of democratic institutions in Somalia, which is, in turn, the direct result of the arbitrary nature of colonial rule.  Specifically, colonial partition and subsequent re-unification presented two unique and paradoxical dynamics that left Somalia vulnerable to anarchy and state failure.  While partition created arbitrary borders separating people who largely shared customs, language, and ethnicity, it also created divisions between those same people that made re-unification problematic.  In the end, both factors were damaging for different reasons, and they have reinforced the destructive legacy of colonialism.
The Somali state was officially created out of the former colonies of “British Somaliland” and “Italian Somaliland” in the aftermath of World War II, as both the losing Axis powers and the victorious allies moved to dismantle their colonial systems.  Somalia was formally granted independence by the United Nations on June 26, 1960 and promptly created a constitutional democracy. (US Department of State, 2011)
The principal irony of the newly created Somali state was that it did not fully realize pan-Somalism and yet it also attempted to merge lands that had previously been partitioned by colonial powers and thus had established unique identities.  This compounded the issue of divergent clan loyalties in Somalia, a societal trait that already made the concept of a unified pan-Somali state problematic to begin with.  “Although the UN ‘experiment’ (unification) in Somalia had worked in the simple sense of providing a European-style centralized state framework,” writes anthropology professor Ioan Lewis.  “…No serious thought had been given to considering how appropriate this would prove in the local setting, or above all in conjunction with the highly decentralized nature of traditional Somali political institutions.” (Lewis, 2008, page 34)
Somalia was originally partitioned in the late 19th century in the midst of a colonial fight over control of the waterways of the Nile.  The five sections of land containing ethnic Somalis included Djibouti (France), British Somaliland (UK, currently Somaliland), Italian Somalia (Italy, present day Somalia), Northern Kenya (UK), and Ogaden (Ethiopia).  This partition did not, of course, make any sense with regards to the creation of a coherent nation-state, but rather served the interests of colonial powers competing for land, resources, and power.
As a result of the partition, different societies and systems of government emerged in different areas.  “(Britain’s) Somaliand…remained an essentially Somali territory very different from cosmopolitan Somalia,” argues Lewis. (Lewis, page 30)  Linguistic differences emerged in the different territories as well, and the partition between British Somaliland and the Italian colony of Somalia may have furthered what some analysts claim is an under-examined dichotomy between northern and southern Somalia.  Two such analysts, writing in Third-World Quarterly, argue that “Somali society has always been divided into nomadic pastoralists in the north and southern agro-pastoralists ‘which have distinctly different cultural, linguistic, and social structures.’” (Ahmed and Green, 1999, page 3)
One of the reasons for the differences that emerged during colonialism is the distinction between British imperial colonialism and Italian settler colonialism.  While the British desired Somaliland for largely strategic economic reasons, namely its status as a port on a crucial waterway, the Italians established a true colony in greater Somalia, a place where Italians could settle.  Hannah Arendt reflects on the difference between imperialism and colonialism, and argues that the British were imperial in that they left “the conquered peoples to their own devices as far as culture, religion, and law were concerned.” (Arendt, 1953, page 130) 
Indeed, the difference between Italian colonialism and British imperialism caused problems for the fledgling re-unified state from the beginning.  Writes Lewis, “apart from the language problem which pervaded all spheres of activity, there were wide divergencies between Italian and British practice in administration, bureaucratic procedure, accounting, law etc…there was often considerable friction between British- and Italian-trained personnel.” (Lewis, page 34)  There is also evidence that the democratic institutions that began in Somaliland under British protectorate rule helped set the stage for the current democracy (and lack of famine) in the north while the lack of such institutions under Italian rule prevented such a development.  Lewis argues that these political parties were “encouraged by the benevolent paternalism of British military rule.” (Lewis, page 32)  Green and Ahmed, meanwhile, note that “latent corruption (in Somalia) has been attributed to residual Italian influence in the public sector.” (Ahmed and Green, page 4)
As a result, the unification of an independent Somalia under the borders set by the United Nations in July of 1960 probably made no more practical sense than did the original partition into Italian and British territories.  Pan-Somalism was not achieved by unification as large numbers of ethnic Somalis lived in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and in areas of northern Kenya.  After World War II, there was discussion of granting these areas self-determination and the opportunity to unite with the rest of Somalia, but British opposition scuttled it.  The British had interests in their former colony of Kenya and were keen to support Ethiopia, which had been attacked by the Axis country of Italy during the war. (Lewis, page 33)  And because pan-Somalism did not result, unification merely brought together two unique regions of “Somalia” that did not necessarily fit together into a coherent nation-state.
Upon unification, for instance, large numbers of the northern Somalilanders boycotted the referendum on approving the constitution of the newly unified state, while the majority of those in the north who did vote opposed the measure.  In the south, however, it passed easily. (Lewis, page 35)  At this point, it was easy to imagine that a unified Somalia might not lead directly to a functioning democratic state.  In fact, this legacy of arbitrary partition and re-unification caused problems for the Somali state immediately after independence.
“After Somalia became independent in 1960 it spent most of its resources regaining the lost regions,” writes Somali academic Afyare Elmi. (Elmi, 2010, page 19)  This took the form of multiple military efforts in Ethiopia and Kenya, efforts that were largely unsuccessful.  In other words, resources and attention that should have been put toward building a functional state were instead spent attempting to correct the consequences of colonial rule.  The war in the Ogaden region was particularly damaging, resulting in over a million ethnic Somali refugees from Ethiopia entering Somalia and creating tension between the new arrivals and those already established inside Somali territory. (Ahmed and Green, page 6)  Had colonial powers created a unified Somalia inclusive of all Somalis or simply allowed existing clan leaders to rule independently of each other, this disaster would have been averted.  Once again, arbitrary lines drawn by foreigners led Somalia into greater conflict and instability.  Writes Elmi:  “the current collapse of the Somali state is rooted in the 1977 war…over the ‘Ogaden’ region.” (Elmi, page 19)
Moreover, the colonial legacy that led to an arbitrary unification left Somalia in a destructive predicament.  While a strong autocratic government was created in a military coup in 1969, bringing dictator Siyad Barre to power, clan divisions in the country hampered the ability of Somalis to form a unified opposition to authoritarian rule.  At the same time, when Barre’s government did fall in the early 1990’s, those same divisions left Somalia unable to create a unified government in its place.  This dynamic is largely responsible for the anarchy that resulted from the fall of the Barre regime, which in turn explains the lack of democratic institutions in the country at the time of the famine in 2011.
The emergence of the Somali National Movement (SNM) and the subsequent battle it fought with the Barre government are prime examples of the impact of colonial partition on Somalia.  The SNM was a political party based in the northern formerly-British portion of Somalia known as Somaliland that clashed with the Barre government; the conflict led to a brutal crackdown in the north by the government in Mogadishu.  A key component of this violence was a direct example of the colonial playbook of “divide-and-rule”: refugees from Ogaden, competing with northern Somalilanders and SNM supporters for scarce resources, were recruited by the government into militias that attacked the Somaliland civilian population. (Ahmed and Green, page 7)  
What is particularly telling regarding the role of colonial partition, however, is that when tensions between the SNM and the Barre government reached a tipping point, rather than attempt to alter or overthrow the central government in Mogadishu, the SNM simply declared Somaliland to be an independent state.  Arguably, such an action could not have come about had there not been a clear separation already in place to distinguish Somaliland from the rest of Somalia.  That separation was the invisible line drawn decades earlier to separate Italian from British territory, and “Somalia had thus now reverted to its two former constituent colonial units, the ex-British and ex-Italian Somalilands…” (Lewis, page 75)
With these divisions and paradoxes woven into the Somali political landscape, the anarchy following the collapse of the Barre government in 1991 is hardly surprising.  Had ethnic Somalis truly believed in a pan-Somali state that transcended clan rivalries and hierarchies, the creation of the Somali state at the time of independence would have made sense.  But “the pan-Somali ideal (was) founded in cultural identity rather than political unity evoked in opposition to the colonial situation,” and thus the collapse of an artificial government led not to its replacement with another government but rather with separatism, clan-rule, and anarchy. (Lewis, page 76)  There was no Somali unity to draw on in the post-Barre era because there had never truly been unity in the first place; it was an imposed unity following an imposed division. To this day, the TFG essentially controls just one city, if that, and the Somali people do not have a voice in their own government.
The link between famine and the absence of democratic institutions is well-documented.  As economist Amartya Sen notes, “it is certainly true that there has never been a famine in a functioning multiparty democracy.” (Sen, 1999. Page 161)  Sen argues that in a functioning democracy, the failure of the government to successfully combat a famine and essentially allow thousands of its own people to starve to death would result in widespread political repercussions and media criticism.  This further underscores that famines have less to do with a lack of available food and more to do with the ability of people to purchase that food and the government’s commitment to ensuring that food gets to starving people when food insecurity emerges.
In the late 1970’s, for instance, the countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe faced huge declines in food production while Sudan and Ethiopia had smaller declines.  And yet “Sudan and Ethiopia…had massive famines, Botswana and Zimbabwe had none, and this was largely due to timely and extensive famine prevention policies by these latter countries.” (Ibid, page 179)
Below is a partial list of countries that have experienced famine in the past fifty years and the system of government in place at the time of the catastrophe:
Somalia, 2011
Weak unelected gov’t and anarchic rule by militia
Sudan, 2003
Ethiopia, 1998
Limited democracy in wartime
North Korea, 1996
Somalia, 1991
Ethiopia, 1984
Dictatorship during civil war
Cambodia, 1975
Military dictatorship
Bangladesh, 1974
Emerging one-party “democracy”
Ethiopia, 1973
Nigeria, 1967
Military dictatorship during Civil War
China, 1960
The common themes across these various famines are conflict and a lack of democratic institutions, either due to authoritarian rule or the failure of the state to function properly.  In illustrating this point, Sen points out the prevalence of famine in India up until independence in 1947; since that time, there has not been a famine in India despite “severe crop failures and massive loss of purchasing power…in 1968, 1973, 1979, and 1987…” (Sen, page 180)
China, on the other hand, suffered the famine listed above in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Sen notes the obvious when he argues “it is hard to imagine that anything like this (the famine) could have happened in a country that goes to the polls regularly and that has an independent press.” (Sen, page 181) 
In Somalia, in 2011, there is quite obviously a lack of functioning democratic institutions.  The Transitional Federal Government is not democratically elected, and does not have control over most of the country.  Moreover, in the north of the country, in the recognized autonomous region of Somaliland, a fully operational democratic system exists and no famine has occurred. 
In short, were Somalia to have a democratically elected central state, there would be no famine today.  That said, the lack of democratic institutions was but one factor that created the famine; the situation was compounded by the continuing conflict in the south of the country, and the tragic rise of al Shabaab.
The conflict raging across Somalia, and specifically the rule of al Shabaab in the southern part of the country, helped to create the famine and has exacerbated its duration and scope.  The conflict helped to create the famine by preventing the implementation of democratic institutions and reducing the incentive for farmers in al Shabaab territory to grow surplus crops. It has exacerbated the tragedy by making it more difficult for aid to reach the Somali people, making it more difficult for Somalis to flee the country at all, and by increasing the stress on refugee camps in neighboring countries that are attempting to handle forced migrants fleeing both starvation and war.
In short, responsibility for the conflict, and its contribution to the existence and exacerbation of the famine, lies with al Shabaab and with the governments and actors that helped to destabilize Somalia and bring about al Shabaab’s ascension. 
This rise to power came about in the aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 and the subsequent destruction of the temporary Islamic Courts Union (ICU) government.  While the list of responsible parties includes multiple African states and individual Somali warlords, the principal actor in the events of 2006 was the United States.  Writes Jeremy Scahill in The Nation: “the Shabab’s meteoric rise in Somalia…is blowback sparked by a decade of disastrous US policy.” (Scahill, The Nation, 2011, page 22)  To understand the conflict, therefore, it is necessary to understand the historical roots of this failed policy, and its origins in U.S. economic imperialism and the rise of the global oil economy.
After World War II, as oil replaced coal as a principal means of energy, and Americans built miles of highways and constructed numerous suburban communities reliant on vehicular transportation, the United States government set itself on a path of economic imperialism, arguably to protect its ability to access oil around the world.  Early signs of the manner in which this policy would play out were evident in Iran, where the democratically elected President Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup after he had nationalized Iran’s oil industry. (Agency France-Presse, 2009)
Indeed, the meteoric rise of the U.S. dependence on oil is shocking.  While oil passed coal as America’s number one energy source in 1951, it took only 19 years before US oil production had peaked and begun to decline. (United States Energy Information Administration, 2010)  The end result was that the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, and its involvement with oil-producing countries became particularly sensitive.  It is argued that this dependence on foreign oil led the United States into its heavy involvement in the Middle East, culminating in two wars in the Persian Gulf and the current conflict in Afghanistan. 
There is, however, another theory of why the United States would want to manage access to oil: writes David Harvey: “whoever controls the Middle East controls the global oil spigot and whoever controls the global oil spigot can control the global economy…” (Harvey, 2003, page 19)  Harvey’s argument is that the U.S. is attempting not merely to secure its own oil needs, but rather to maintain an economic imperialism that allows it to prosper and consume resources at a rate that is inconsistent with international parity. 
This form of economic imperialism is defined by Hannah Arendt as “expansion as a permanent and supreme aim of politics…it implies neither temporary looting nor the more lasting assimilation of conquest…” (Arendt, page 125)  This concept is similar to the policies of the British in Somaliland, who expanded to serve global economic interests but had no interest in settling their own people (along with their customs and religion) on foreign soil.  Arendt argues that the “process of never-ending accumulation of power (is) necessary for the protection of a never-ending accumulation of capital,” and that “imperialism must be considered the first stage in political rule of the bourgeoisie rather than the last stage of capitalism.” (Arendt, pages 143 and 138)  The U.S., Arendt would argue, pursues oil to satisfy the interests of the domestic bourgeoisie (read: oil companies) and in doing so must exert increasing levels of military power in order to sustain this accumulation of capital. 
Here, Harvey and Arendt both note the particular role of power in this dynamic.  Were the United States simply another country in need of oil to support its domestic economy, it might involve itself with oil producing countries and perhaps even do so militarily, but it would hardly pursue a policy of domination and control.  The United States, however, is not such a country; it is a global hegemonic superpower, and its policies of military intervention, occupation, and coercion are classic characteristics of economic imperialism.
These policies led the United States to fight a war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 that would have disastrous consequences for both the United States and Somalia.  When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked the tiny oil-rich nation of Kuwait, the United States led a military intervention to expel the Iraqis.  As part of that invasion force, the United States stationed five thousand troops in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites. (BBC News, 2003)  At the time, the U.S. feared that Iraq might also attack Saudi Arabia, a country with enormous oil resources and a friendly relationship with the United States. (George Washington University, 2004)   
The U.S. won the war, securing its access to Kuwaiti and Saudi oil, but the establishment of military bases by a western power on Saudi soil became the principal rallying cry of Osama Bin Laden.  “Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam’s holiest sites and the deployment of US forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably Osama Bin Laden,” reported the BBC.  “It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident – blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks – to justify violence against the United States and its allies.” (BBC News, 2003)  Bin Laden’s opposition to US involvement in Saudi Arabia morphed into a terror campaign against the United States, culminating in the attacks of September 11, 2001.  It is against this backdrop that American involvement in Somalia must be understood.  Most notably, American efforts to fight the forces of global jihad led it to intervene in domestic Somali affairs, leading directly to the current conflict.
Since the fall of the Barre government in 1991, Somalia has lacked a central government because “opposition factions failed to fill the power vacuum because no faction…had the power to dominate the other groups militarily…(and) they also failed to reach a negotiated settlement.” (Elmi, page 18)  Thus ensued years of anarchy, civil war, failed peace conferences, and suffering for the Somali people.  Somali warlords, a ubiquitous image in the west, competed for power and land, and western powers and neighboring countries, particularly Ethiopia and Kenya, supported clan militias with arms and other aid.
 “By the beginning of 2006 (if not well before), the…warlords had become universally despised in Mogadishu,” writes Jeremy Scahill for The Nationmagazine.  “Nearly everyone I interviewed in Mogadishu about this period characterized them as murderers and criminals.” (Scahill, 2011, page 15)
For the CIA, however, some of these warlords became very useful criminals, and herein lies the tragedy of U.S. involvement in Somalia.  In an effort to fight the jihadist monster that arose out of U.S. oil policy, the United States allied itself with questionable organizations with their own agendas for combating local Islamic opponents.  In many respects, this dynamic was almost identical to the Cold War American policy of supporting anti-communist regimes regardless of their records on human rights.  With regards to Somalia, the United States had long feared the impact that a “failed state” would have on the ability of Islamic terrorists to find sanctuary, and this fear persisted despite the fact that, in 2006, all of the individuals living in Somalia who were affiliated with Al Qaeda and/or had “global jihadist aspirations” probably did not exceed double digits. (Scahill, page 17)  Nevertheless, the CIA worked closely with the warlords, who gladly killed Islamic leaders regardless of whether or not they had any affiliation with terrorist groups and then reaped the financial support of the American government. 
In 2006, Islamic Somalis opposed to the cruelty and arbitrary rule of the warlords banded together and formed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  Local businessmen helped supply the ICU with funds and it quickly grew in popularity.  The warlords responded by alleging that the ICU was harboring “terrorists” and attacked the ICU. (Elmi, page 83)  And, to the surprise of a lot of people and the consternation of Washington, the ICU won, evicting the warlords from Mogadishu, closing illegal checkpoints, reopening the airport and seaport in the capital, and even “cleaning the streets with the help of local people and school children.” (Elmi, page 84)  Says Somali analyst Abdirahman Ali, “you could drive in Mogadishu at midnight, no problem, no guards.  You could be a foreigner or Somali.  It was at total peace. (Scahill, page 15)  Writes Somali professor Afyare Abdi Elmi, “overall, women, children, the elderly, unarmed clans, and civilians appreciated and welcomed this change.” (Elmi, page 84)
There were thirteen groups in the ICU, and twelve of them were local groups with no ties to or interest in global jihad.  The thirteenth group, al Shabaab, “was the only threat, that was it,” claims Ali.  “And they could have been somehow controlled.” (Scahill, page 17)  Instead, the U.S. gave its support to a brutal Ethiopian invasion on Christmas Eve of 2006, funding the conflict and sending its own special forces to help the invaders evict the ICU.  By New Year’s Day, the ICU had been crushed and the TFG was installed in Mogadishu.  Somalis viewed it as a double insult, given the occupation and alleged war crimes of the hated Ethiopians.  Says Ali, “an insurgency was born out of there.” (Scahill, page 17)
This atmosphere of occupation and anti-western sentiment was of course exactly what a group like al Shabaab needed to gain traction.  “The end result of the US-backed Ethiopian invasion and occupation…(was) driving Somalia into the Al Qaeda fold,” says former Somali Foreign Minister Ismail Mahmoud Hurre. (Scahill, page 18)  Adds Ali, “for Shabab, (the Ethiopian invasion and occupation) was the break that they were looking for…it was the anger that they had been looking for, to harness the anger of the people and present themselves as the new nationalist movement that would kick Ethiopia out.” (Scahill, page 20)  By 2010, al Shabaab controlled more land in Somalia than did the TFG. (Scahill, page 21)
The rise of al Shabaab left the Somali people particularly vulnerable when the drought hit.  Al Shabaab kicked most aid agencies out of the portion of the country it controls in 2009, meaning that when the famine arrived in 2011, roughly two million Somalis were unable to be reached by such organizations.  Meanwhile, U.S. aid groups were severely restricted in what they could do to help starving Somalis because al Shabaab had been classified a terrorist organization by Washington and thus paying bribes to the militants to deliver aid would be legally considered aiding terrorism. 
More than just exacerbate the famine, however, al Shabaab can reasonably be accused of helping it to occur in the first place.  Aside from the chaos sown across the country by the militants, chaos that helped prevent the establishment of democratic institutions that might have mitigated the famine, al Shabaab had a direct role in preventing farmers from growing surplus crops.  According to the UK Guardian, “Somali drought victims who lived in territory controlled by al-Shabab say there was little incentive to plant surplus crops because the militants demanded so much of the harvest as a form of tax payment.” (UK Guardian, 2011)  Added a Somali farmer: “How can you farm if the profits will be theirs?…Our labor was only profiting al-Shabab. We got nothing, except a few sacks they left to us.” (UK Guardian, 2011)
In addition, al-Shabaab’s conflict with Kenya resulted in the Kenyan government sealing the border between the two countries, further trapping Somalis attempting to flee areas of the country controlled by al Shabaab and ravaged by famine.  When al Shabaab launched raids into Kenya, attacking tourist targets and eventually Nairobi, Kenya bombed al Shabaab and invaded southern Somalia, adding to the violence, destruction, and insecurity in the country.
Meanwhile, those Somalis lucky enough to leave southern Somalia to escape the famine are entering refugee camps such as Dadaab in northern Kenya.  The largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab was built to house 90,000 people, but by October of this year, it housed close to 440,000. (Sutherland, The Nation, 2011)  This overcrowding is a consequence of the toll the conflict in southern Somalia had already taken on its civilian population before the famine hit.  “We thought at some point that the situation would improve, but it did not,” said a UN official at Dadaab.  “The congestion in the camp has brought about inadequacy in the delivering of service to people.” (Sutherland, 2011)
Thus a policy of economic domination rooted in the rise of the global oil economy led to a conflict between the United States and Islamic militants which in turn led to a U.S. intervention in Somalia that contributed greatly to the destabilization of the country.  Without this intervention, Somalia might well be a very different country today.
What is illustrated so clearly in the examination of the historical causes of the 2011 famine is the breadth and scope of unintended consequences.  That the construction of suburban communities in New York could in part lead to a war in the Persian Gulf or that the establishment of military bases in Saudi Arabia could lead to the overthrow of a fledgling government in Somalia is a testament to the complex, inter-woven dynamics of international relations.
What is less complex, however, is the correlation between unintended consequences and the demonstrably selfish character of colonialism and imperialism.  When Britain, Italy, and Ethiopia drew lines in the Somali sand to demarcate their respective colonies, they did not do so with the interests of the Somali people at heart.  It is no surprise, therefore, that this partition would lead later to civil strife for Somalia.  When the United States paid warlords to kill Islamic clerics and turned a blind eye to whether or not these clerics were even participants in terrorism, it did not do so with the interests of the Somali people at heart.  And likewise, it is predictable that a military intervention instigated to protect perceived American interests would result in disaster for the Somali people.
Indeed, the fact that these consequences may have been unintended does not excuse the perpetrators of colonialism and imperialism from responsibility.  As Amartya Sen points out, there is an important distinction between intentions and knowledge; “an unintended consequence,” he argues, “need not be unpredictable.” (Sen, page 257)  In other words, simply because the United States did not intend to destabilize Somalia does not relieve it of the responsibility that comes from the knowledge that its actions might cause such an event.
In some sense, this is the heart of colonialism; it cannot end well.  Conquest, Arendt argues, has as “its logical consequence…the destruction of all living communities, those of the conquered peoples as well as of the people at home.” (Arendt, page 137)  This destruction is the ultimate unintended consequence.  That it resulted in a famine is merely a manifestation of this destruction in a particular form.
The tragic irony of the famine in Somalia and the U.S. role in destabilizing the region is that the interests of the U.S. government and the interests of the Somali people are actually aligned.  A stable, democratic Somalia has no place for al Shabaab or global jihad, a fact of which al Shabaab is keenly aware.  In documents found after his killing in Mogadishu, Al Qaeda operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed wrote that al Shabaab’s problem was that “most people in Somalia are not feeling the pinch of Al Shabab.”  Scahill writes that, according to Somali intelligence officers who seized the documents, Fazul argued that al Shabaab should “just wreak havoc, carry out small operations, assassinations, throughout Somalia…that’s his vision, to create a total savagery throughout the country.” (Scahill, page 23)
So while al Shabaab is terrorizing the civilian population, Al Qaeda is increasing its presence in the country, and neither Somali nor U.S. interests are being served.  In a testament to the complexity of Somali politics and the difficulties inherent in foreign intervention, attempts by the United States to rectify its mistake have only led to further complications.  Rather than directly confront al Shabaab, the U.S. has turned again to a Somali proxy group to do so, and an Islamic one at that.  This is clearly a better policy than creating domestic support for al Shabaab through direct and unpopular foreign intervention, as was done in 2006. 
But while Ahluu Sunna Wa’Jama (ASWJ), a formerly peaceful religious organization that is now fighting al Shabaab, “has been among the most effective fighters battling the Shabab,” says Scahill, it is not a simple situation.  Scahill writes that according to the UN: “(some AWSJ militias) appear to be proxies for neighboring States rather than local authorities.” (Scahill, page 22)  These neighboring states are ostensibly Ethiopia and Kenya, the same states who Elmi argues have no interest in the creation of a strong central Somali government.  “They had concerns with the notion of a greater Somalia since they both control Somali regions…(Ethiopia) is interested in gaining access to a sea corridor…(and) wants to create several mini-states that are hostile to each other and have good relations with Ethiopia.” (Elmi, page 23)
Defeating al Shabaab will not be the salvation of the Somali people.  Somalia will only be able to move forward when foreign nations allow the Somali people to pursue their own national destiny in whatever form that may take, free of colonial, imperial, or ideological interference.  As the 2011 famine illustrates so tragically, the grand plans of foreigners lead to misery for the people of Somalia.      

Mobutu’s Disneyworld: Odious Debt in Africa

by Andrew Hanauer
First Published: http://jubileeusa.typepad.com/blog_the_debt/2012/07/mobutus-disneyworld-odious-debt-in-africa.html

During his long tenure as the dictator of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), Mobutu Sese Seko was guilty of many things, but personal frugality was not one of them.
Mobutu's Disneyworld: Odious Debt in Africa
Take, for example, his 1982 trip to Disneyworld; Mobutu invited 100 of his closest friends to join him in experiencing the thrills of the Space Mountain roller coaster and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (in which Mobutu may have been able to help save Piglet from the “Floody Place Falls”).  This trip cost Mobutu roughly two million dollars, an amount offset by the fact that the dictator “made little distinction between the nation’s resources and his personal wealth.”[i]  Or take for example Mobutu’s choice of residences when vacationing abroad, which the Washington Post noted as “a lavish townhouse in Paris, a 32-room estate in Switzerland, and a 16th century castle in Spain.”[ii]  Or even simply his personal salary as “President,” which at one point surpassed total national spending on all social services combined.[iii]
While criticizing the exploits of a kleptocrat is relatively uncontroversial, connecting Mobutu’s actions to the current debt crisis faced by the world’s developing countries raises some uncomfortable questions for the West.  Why did western countries continue to lend money to a regime labeled “the kleptocracy to end all kleptocracies” by a member of Congress?[iv]  Why did Western banking institutions help nearly $18 billion leave the Congo in the form of capital flight during Mobutu’s reign?[v]  Why did law enforcement officials recover only a few million dollars of Mobutu’s purported $8 billion in personal wealth in Swiss banks?[vi]  And what role did the West have in perpetuating Mobutu’s crimes?
Perhaps the most important question, however, is why the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) currently owes more than $12 billion in external debt, when much, if not all, of that money was simply stolen from its people by an unelected tyrant.  Indeed, the DRC offers an incredibly lucid example of a little-known category of debt known as “odious debt.” Redundant?  Perhaps.  But odious debt is not only a particularly abhorrent version of external debt, it also serves to illuminate the truth that is at the core of the entire international debt issue: those people who today suffer the consequences incurred by repaying the third world’s external debt rarely benefited from the loans in the first place.
The term odious debt was first coined in 1927 by Russian lawyer Alexander Nahum Sack, who argued that “if a despotic power incurs a debt not for the needs or in the interest of the State…this debt is odious for the population of all the State.”[vii]  Odious debt in its simplest form is associated with a dictatorial regime that borrows money either to strengthen its hold on power or to enrich its leaders and is then overthrown, leaving the general public to pay off its debts.  A more exact definition would be that debt is odious if the people of a state do not have a say in incurring the debt and are not the beneficiaries of the money.
While the DRC is a textbook example of odious debt (economists James Boyce and Leonce Ndikumana argue that “post-Mobutu DRC could serve as the most important test case for the doctrine of odious debt since its introduction a century ago”), it is certainly not the only country in which a largely impoverished citizenry is being ordered to pay off the debts accumulated by a former dictator.[viii]  Indeed, the most shocking aspect of odious debt, other than the sheer brazenness of the demand that odious debts be honored, is its breadth.  Kenyans, 50% of whom live below the poverty line, are forced to repay the debts of Daniel Arap Moi, who stole hundreds of millions of dollars from general funds and sent the money abroad through a variety of backchannels.[ix]  And South Africans still owe money borrowed by the ousted Apartheid regime, raising the possibility that black South Africans are paying back loans used to fund the security apparatus that enforced their status as second-class citizens.
Despite its clear moral contours, odious debt has its share of gray area.  Both of the terms central to determining the odiousness of debt – the “consent” and “interest of” the people – are open to ambiguity, thus rendering odious debt more of a spectrum than a firm category.  For example, would debt be odious if it were incurred by a regime that won unfair elections?  How “fair” do elections have to be for the government to accept loans with the “consent” of the population?  Similarly, defining the national interest is not always simple, and thus drawing a line to determine whether or not borrowed money was put to use in a manner consistent with that interest can be a difficult task. While some expenditures are certainly on one side of that line (healthcare, education) and some are certainly on the other side of that line (trips to Disneyworld, Spanish castles), there remains a wide range of expenditures that might be more difficult to classify.  Military spending is often in the national interest, but not always.  The same goes for development projects.  And corruption can taint otherwise noble endeavors; if a country borrows money to build a hospital and some of that money is siphoned off by corrupt officials, is the resultant debt odious?
Such ambiguities cannot be dismissed, but when the world’s poorest countries are paying off the debts of former dictators rather than providing health, education, and infrastructure development for the world’s poorest people, it is important not to miss the bigger picture.  While individual loans may be more or less odious than others, the larger importance of the doctrine of odious debt lies in the manner in which it illuminates the nature of the third world’s external debts.  As James Picardo of Jubilee Scotland noted in an interview last fall, it’s important to “keep inverting these terms like debtor and creditor, because they’re historically totally upside down. On so many levels it is we who owe the south, because of slavery, extraction, and now climate, which makes it nonsense to talk about ‘debt forgiveness’ of these countries.”[x]  Odious debt furthers this point by raising additional questions as to who, exactly, is the debtor.  In the DRC, it wasn’t the Congolese people who were borrowing money, it was Mobutu.  Why, then, are the Congolese people being asked to pay it back?
Seen this way, odious debt is just another angle with which to attack the dominant debt paradigm.  Perhaps it is a redundant term, and perhaps this redundancy will serve as an exclamation point that pushes policymakers in the West to move toward debt cancellation for countries in need, and toward a fairer system of lending and borrowing for future generations. 

For more information about Mobutu’s time in power, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17A9i7BWCto

[i] Ndikumana, L. and Boyce, J. (1998), Congo‘s Odious Debt: External Borrowing and Capital Flight in Zaire. Development and Change, 29: 195–217. doi: 10.1111/1467-7660.00076
[ii] Richburg, Keith, “Mobutu: A Rich Man in Poor Standing,” The Washington Post, October 3, 1991. 
[iii] Ayittey, George, Africa Betrayed, St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
[iv] Richburg
[v] Ndikumana and Boyce
[vii] Adams, Patricia, Odious debts: loose lending, corruption, and the Third World’s environmental legacy, Earthscan Publishers, 1991, University of Michigan, 2009ISBN0919849164, 9780919849167
[viii] Ndikumana and Boyce
[ix] UK Guardian, “The Looting of Kenya,” by Xan Rice.  August 30, 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/aug/31/kenya.topstories3
[x] “Third World Debt on Trial,” by Jane Herbstritt, in the Climate Debt Blog of the World Development Movement.  September 26, 2011.  http://www.wdm.org.uk/blog/third-world-debt-trial-peoples-debt-tribunal.

The No-Politics Machine: Rwanda’s Vision 2020

Rwanda’s Development Discourse in the Age of Globalization

by Andrew Hanauer
“I have read about Rwanda’s Vision 2020.  It is very good…the bible says that without vision, people perish.”    -Reverend Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life (Riley, 2007)
“I like listening to what Rick Warren tells me.  It’s about combining three responsibilities that are important to society: the state, business, and religion.”  -Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (Kinzer, 2008)
“At a speech in Boston last year, an American rose during the Q&A time and praised Kigali for being surprisingly safe and clean. Those in the audience recall that President [Kagame] called the guy out. ‘What did you expect?’ he said. ‘Did you expect us to be violent and dirty?’”  (Chu, 2009)
                In The Anti-Politics Machine, James Ferguson dissects the discourse surrounding development in Lesotho, focusing largely on the language used by the World Bank.  “‘Development’ discourse on Lesotho,” he wrote, “tends toward a picture in which the colonial past is a blank, economic stagnation is due to government inaction, and ‘development’ results from ‘development’ projects.”  (Ferguson, 1994)  The World Bank, however, is certainly not the only practitioner of development, and thus the discourse it espouses is simply one version of what Ferguson calls “the anti-politics machine:” i.e. the depoliticization of “both poverty and the state” that comes from propagating the idea that poverty is the result of something other than a lack of political power.  (Ferguson, 1994)  Indeed, in some cases, the state itself has its own development language.
                This paper will focus on just such a case in the African country of Rwanda.  In Rwanda, the story of today’s development discourse began in 1994, when the ethnic-Hutu government committed a horrific genocide in the midst of its civil war with the largely ethnic-Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF); nearly one million Tutsi were killed in a period of just three months.  (Klinghoffer, 1998)  The RPF won the war in July of that year, and has ruled the country ever since.  The first six years of RPF rule were largely marked by transition, two wars in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the wrenching task of sorting through the legal, social, and judicial issue of the thousands of ordinary Hutu civilians accused of participating in the genocide. 
                In 2000, however, the Rwandan government began to look beyond this period of war and transition.  “During [the 1990’s], Rwanda was wracked by war, refugee crises, and all manner of upheaval,” writes historian Stephen Kinzer.  “That made it almost impossible for the country’s leaders to address the urgent challenges of development.  By the time [Paul] Kagame assumed the presidency in 2000, the country was secure and more or less at peace.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  Paul Kagame was the military head of the RPF during the civil war and Rwanda’s vice-president during the transition period, though he remained essentially in charge of the country throughout.  After becoming president, Kagame “convened an intensive series of meetings aimed at formulating a coherent plan for national development.  From these meetings emerged a far-reaching and in some respects utopian program called ‘Vision 2020.’”  (Kinzer 2008)
                Vision 2020 was crafted by the Rwandan government in 2000, and serves as the centerpiece of Rwanda’s development plans.  At the core of Vision 2020 are six key goals:
  • Reconstruction of the nation and its social capital anchored on good governance, underpinned by a capable state ;
  • Transformation of agriculture into a productive, high value, market oriented sector, with forward linkages to other sectors;
  • Development of an efficient private sector spearheaded by competitiveness and entrepreneurship;
  • Comprehensive human resources development, encompassing education, health, and ICT skills aimed at public sector, private sector and civil society. To be integrated with demographic, health and gender issues;
  • Infrastructural development, entailing improved transport links, energy and water supplies and ICT networks;
  • Promotion of regional economic integration and cooperation;
At all times, these will be affected by a number of cross-cutting issues including, gender equality and sustainable environmental and natural resource management, and ICT.  (Rwandan Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN), 2012) 
                Vision 2020 is by no means the only expression of Rwandan development discourse.  On the contrary, Vision 2020 is just one piece of an elaborate and extremely disciplined discourse strategy emanating from Kagame and the RPF government.  What is interesting about Rwanda, however, is not simply the nature of the country’s development discourse, but also whom it targets.  This paper will argue that Rwanda’s development discourse is aimed not at Rwandans, but at a combination of international actors, specifically foreign investors and (Western) evangelical Christians.
                This paper will further argue that the combination of Rwanda’s development discourse, specifically its focus on external actors and its use of language, and its domestic political repression have created what will be called (with apologies to Mr. Ferguson) a “no-politics machine.”  This “no-politics machine” does not simply divorce poverty from politics as the World Bank did in Lesotho.  It removes politics completely from the conversation, both by substituting local empowerment and civil society with notions of hard work and capitalistic individualism and by stifling criticism of Rwanda’s authoritarianism by recalling the ghosts of 1994.  In Lesotho the role of politics in poverty and state action was ignored by the World Bank because “policy makers, experts, and officials cannot think how things might improve except through their own agency.”  (Ferguson, 1994)  In Rwanda, however, it is not for a lack of creative thought that politics is ignored; it is a conscious decision that reflects both a specific notion of how to achieve economic growth and an authoritarian approach to governance.  
                Rwanda’s development discourse centers around three primary concepts. First, that Rwanda is a functioning state led by a competent, pro-western “CEO” (Kagame); second, that this “CEO” has turned Rwanda into a miracle story, an African “tiger” (sometimes referred to as a “lion” or “gorilla” as a geographically-appropriate equivalent to Asia’s “tiger” economies) that has emerged out of the ashes of horror; and third, that the West, which abandoned Rwanda during its hour of need, has no right to question the manner in which the RPF retains power and runs the country.  (Chu, 2009)  What emerges from the intersection of these three themes is a message that makes for a great human-interest story, hardly a coincidence given the importance of the Western media in Rwanda’s development strategy (see following section).  This section will examine each of these three concepts.
                “We want to be clean in everything.  To have people clean in mind, clean just for sanitation, and … investors get clean money.”  -Fidele Ndayisaba, Mayor of Kigali.  (Dagan, 2011)
                 At the heart of Rwanda’s development discourse is the notion that Rwanda is a functioning state with competent leadership. Two parallel tracks thus emerge from this notion: first that Rwanda is functional and second that Paul Kagame is competent (though we will see that the discourse often elevates him quite a bit above merely “competent”).  This dynamic is appropriately brought to the forefront in the very first of the six principal pillars of Vision 2020: “reconstruction of the nation and its social capital anchored on good governance, underpinned by a capable state.”  (MINECOFIN, 2012)
                How is “functional” defined?  First and foremost, Rwanda’s government presents its country as a place where things work, where the trains run on time or, more accurately given the manner in which Rwanda’s development discourse contrasts Rwanda with its neighbors, where there are trains, period.  This notion brings with it the cultural antecedent that there is something about the Rwandan people that enhances this idea.  “There is no higher compliment than to call a Rwandan ‘serious,’” writes Kinzer.  “The most devastating epithet is ‘not serious.’”  (Kinzer 2008)  Rwanda’s reputation as the “Prussia of Africa” epitomizes this idea (while also evoking unfortunate parallels to Germany).  (Kinzer, 2008)  Perhaps the European comparison better fitting Rwanda’s public relations strategy is that referenced by journalist Colin Waugh: “(Rwanda has been) referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ because of its hard-working people…landlocked geographical position and its relative prosperity in the region…”  (Waugh, 2004)          
                This functionality is propagated as being in stark contrast to how many Westerners undoubtedly view the African continent: messy and lawless.  “While I was in Rwanda, a health inspector in Ruhengeri closed half a dozen restaurants because they did not ‘maintain hygiene and cleanliness,” writes Kinzer.  “Drivers who play car radios too loudly are fined.  Those who park illegally are ticketed.  People without shoes are not allowed to shop at markets.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  The message is that the state is functioning, and if the state is functioning, business can thrive.  “The overriding idea in all of this is that there has been a lack of a sense of order…we have existed in an anarchic situation, to the extent that even killing had become normal,” says Kagame.  (Kinzer, 2008)  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) notes the implications of this stability on foreign investment:  “Rwanda has a growing reputation as a place where it is comparatively easy to start a business and where investors are protected and encouraged.”  (IMF, 2011) 
                If Rwanda is to attract foreign investment, however, it also has to attract foreigners.  To do this, it has to add a second key tenant to its definition of functionality: Rwanda is a place where foreigners can enjoy themselves and feel safe.  “Kigali,” an aid worker told journalist Jeff Chu, “is Africa that Americans can handle.”  (Chu, 2009)  The Rwandan government certainly encourages this notion, but for the most part is content to let Westerners spread this aspect of the discourse.  “Kigali is now a place where I could send my predominantly female students, and they’d be fine,” an American doctor told Kinzer.  (Kinzer, 2008)  Foreign Policy Magazine chimes in as well: “Welcome to the capital of Rwanda, where cleanliness and order prevail,” writes journalist David Dagan.  “Trash is hard to find, even on the dirt roads outside the main arteries.”  (Dagan, 2011) 
                To what extent is this “discourse” and to what extent does it merely reflect a truth?  The key to understanding how a safe and clean Kigali plays into Rwanda’s development discourse is in recognizing that it is not merely an end in itself but a means for achieving something else: foreign investment.  And to that extent, the goal of the Rwandan government isn’t necessarily for Kigali to be safe and clean, but rather for it to appearto be safe and clean.  These two concepts, while not mutually exclusive, are certainly not the same thing.  Even Stephen Kinzer, one of Kagame’s advocates in the West, acknowledges this: 
All of this has led some to grumble….[that] Kigali…[is] a Potemkin village where expatriates can walk safely at night to Thai and Indian restaurants while the wretched realities of Rwandan life remain safely hidden. More than a few Rwandans…live on the brink of starvation, but pains are taken to assure that visitors do not have to confront their misery.  Outsiders marvel, for example, that in Kigali they rarely see street kids scrounging in dumpsters or begging for coins.  Not all realize that the police regularly scoop up these kids… [and] hold them in unpleasant detention centers for periods up to several weeks…  (Kinzer, 2008)
The New York Times reported on the plight of these street children, many of whom end up in a detention center on an island on Lake Kivu.  “Nearly 900 beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of children, have recently been rounded up from the nation’s neatly swept streets and sent — without trial or a court appearance — to this little-known outpost,” reported Jeffrey Gettleman. “They will spend up to three years here being ‘rehabilitated,’ learning skills like bricklaying, hairdressing and motorcycle maintenance.”  (Gettleman, 2010) 
In his book Planet of Slums, Mike Davis notes that for slum-dwellers in developing countries, attempts at city beautification ahead of international events (such as the Beijing Olympics) are often accompanied by harsh repression against the poor, lest they spoil the image being crafted by the host country.  “Slum dwellers know that they are the ‘dirt’ or ‘blight’ that their governments prefer the world not to see.”  (Davis, 2006)  What makes the Rwandan situation so perilous, therefore, is that the country is essentially in a perpetual beautification effort; what happened temporarily in Beijing in 2008 is happening permanently in Kigali.
Finally, functionality is defined as the absence of corruption.  Rwanda’s leaders go to great pains to make clear that corruption, that great scourge of African government, is being eradicated in their nation, in no small part thanks to the efforts of President Kagame.  “When I travel to other African countries, the one thing you hear the most, the thing people know and admire most about President Kagame, is the thing about the cars,” a Rwandan businessman told Kinzer.  (Kinzer, 2008)  The “thing about the cars” refers to Kagame’s confiscation by force of government ministers’ luxury vehicles.  “In some places, [corruption] has become systemic, part of the system,” says Kagame, clearly referring to his neighbors.  “We don’t even need to debate that anymore, or the fact that it prevents or works against development.  That’s a fact.  You can’t make a difference if you don’t fight it.”  (Kinzer, 2008)
“Step out of the airport,” writes Dagan “and one of the first signs you’ll see declares ‘Investment, yes.  Corruption, no.’” (Dagan, 2011)  Joe Ritchie, a Chicago businessman, starting investing in Rwanda in part because he found that message persuasive: “He decided that Kagame was open, honest, business-savvy and, unlike some African leaders, serious about fighting corruption.”  (Gunther, 2007)  This image is cultivated painstakingly by the Rwandan government, which hangs signs in Kigali that proclaim: “He Who Practices Corruption Destroys His Country” and, most fittingly, “Corruption is the Enemy of Development.”  (Kinzer, 2008)
Sure enough, the non-profit corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) shows Rwanda has made consistent progress in ridding itself of public sector corruption.  Ranked 121st in the world in TI’s 2006 Corruption Perception Index, Rwanda moved up to 111th in 2007, 102nd in 2008, 66th in 2010, and 49th in 2011.  (Transparency International, 2012)  Discourse, of course, does not have to be false.  And it may be, as is claimed by Kagame’s western admirers, that corruption in Rwanda has dropped because Paul Kagame is personally aghast at the notion of graft and bribery and has changed the culture of government.  But, as is the case with so much of Rwanda’s development discourse, it’s hard to tell.  Rwanda’s declining corruption is first and foremost an attempt to woo foreign investment; all other claims as to its origins (Kagame’s leadership, Kigali’s culture of cleanliness) are thus impossible to verify.
“We think this is an extraordinary place that deserves our support and we feel lucky to be a part of it,” –Dan Cooper, American businessman, speaking about Rwanda.  (Gunther, 2007)
The second aspect of Rwanda’s development discourse is the propagation of a Hollywood story: Rwanda, a tiny nation in Africa ravaged by genocide, landlocked, lacking resources, transforms itself into a secure and prosperous success story.  It is certainly a compelling story, and one that has attracted the attention of a host of foreign actors…which is of course the whole idea.
Rwandan government officials do not gush when telling this story; they leave that for their Western friends.  Rather, Rwanda’s leaders use a combination of humility and plain language in reminding the world of how far they’ve come.  “We will not forget the genocide, but we will not be defined by it either,” said Kagame.  (Chu, 2009)  “Maybe we don’t do it just the way Singapore or Malaysia or South Korea did it [development],” Kagame told Stephen Kinzer.  “But…why can’t we do it?  Why should we be known for being poor or for killing each other?”  (Kinzer, 2008) 
Chu quotes Rwandan Commerce Minister Monique Nsanzabaganwa as saying that “One of the development board’s priority projects is to devise an image-building strategy so that the genocide image is replaced by something else.” (Chu, 2009)  The implication is that the genocide is a barrier to Rwanda’s attempts to spur foreign investment, but Chu notes that in fact the opposite may be largely true.  “Part of Rwanda’s appeal is the compelling story it can (very carefully) tell and sell: Come invest, and be a part of our amazing renaissance,” he writes.  “In the dozens of conversations I had with investors and donors, the genocide and Rwanda’s awe-inspiring recovery from it inevitably came to the fore — and these supporters were unanimously thrilled to participate in the rebuilding of the country.”  (Chu, 2009)
The language used by western admirers of Kagame’s government is marked by effusiveness.  “What Kagame has set out to do…he and his comrades have embarked on a course that is at least as full of risk as it is full of promise.  History suggests they will fail.  If they succeed, they can change the world.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  Businessmen, meanwhile, use phrases not commonly associated with the language of capital investment: “Rwanda is a place [where] we can make money and also make a huge difference,” says German businessman Christian Angermeyer.  (Chu, 2009)  Others use more common business language to express the same concept: “”We came away saying, this is the most undervalued ‘stock’ on the continent and maybe in the world,” said Dan Cooper.  (Gunther, 2007)
The story has caught on among filmmakers and writers as well.  Kinzer’s book “A Thousand Hills” is prominent in the “Rwanda as Miracle” narrative, and is even subtitled “Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  What is notable about Kinzer’s work is that he actually acknowledges the central criticisms of Kagame, including his role in the deaths of several million Congolese, his repression of domestic opposition, and his autocratic tendencies, and yet persists with the general tone and theme of his book: Kagame as savior and hero.  Meanwhile, American filmmaker Deborah Scranton lionizes Kagame in “Earth Made of Glass,” an award winning documentary that critiques France’s role in Rwanda’s genocide.  Kagame, says Scranton, is “warm, patient, and determined to bring Rwanda out from its nightmare.”  (Scranton, 2012)  As we will see, however, that does not mean he is determined not to talk about this nightmare when it suits the needs of Rwanda’s development apparatus.
“I’m really full of contempt, in some cases, for some of these people who try to put themselves in roles where they know better than others about observance of human rights, democracy, and good governance.”  -Paul Kagame   (Kinzer, 2008)
The final major piece of Rwanda’s development discourse is a defense of the country’s authoritarian government; it is in some ways designed to ensure that the public relations messages of the first two pieces of the discourse are not ruined by the simple fact that by the standards of western businessmen, liberal filmmakers, and Christian ministers, Rwanda is not a free country.  Rather than defend its record by disputing allegations or downplaying certain perceptions, Kagame and his government strike back hard on this issue, accusing the West of hypocrisy and paternalism, and evoking the memory of the West’s abandonment of Rwanda during the genocide to shame those who would dare question its leadership.
While the merits of Western-style majority-rule democracy in a country in which a majority ethnic group attempted to annihilate the largest minority ethnic group less than two decades ago are certainly subject to debate, there is no denying an excess of repression in modern day Rwanda.  And while Kagame and his supporters accuse major human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch of singling them out (“Rwanda is free and secure…who is human-rights-whatever to tell me I’m not free?” said one Rwandan restaurant owner), more pro-Kagame actors have expressed concerns about freedom in Rwanda.  (Kinzer, 2008)  Transparency International, for instance, gives Rwanda high marks for public corruption levels, but ranks it 159thin the world in press freedom and in the 11th percentile for governmental accountability to its people.  (Transparency International, 2012)  Kinzer praises Kagame effusively, but openly notes that political opponents have disappeared during his presidency.  (Kinzer, 2008)  In a similarly positive book called Paul Kagame and Rwanda, Waugh notes that Kagame’s main opponent in the 2003 presidential elections received a resignation notice from one of his campaign managers that stated: “I’m sorry, but I have to stay alive.”  (Waugh, 2004)
Kinzer also notes the way in which Kagame responds to such criticisms: “[he] could respond to them by saying he is dubious but will investigate every allegation.  Instead he angrily condemns and rejects them.”  Moreover, he argues that “Rwandans suffered such horror in the recent past, its leaders have developed a quiet but palpable sense of moral superiority.  The ‘genocide credit’ gives them a free pass.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  During the genocide, the West largely abandoned Rwanda.  France actively supported the genocidal government, and its intervention near the end of the civil war allowed the Hutu government to regroup on the other side of the Rwandan-DRC border.  (Wallis, 2007)  The involvement of the United States is summed up in a declassified memo from the office of the Secretary of Defense: “Be Careful…Genocide finding could commit [US Government] to actually ‘do something’” (Cohen, 2007) Belgium withdrew its peacekeepers within the first few weeks of the genocide.  The UN Security Council did the same, leaving only a handful of UN soldiers to try to protect a million Tutsi civilians.
And thus Rwanda’s development narrative is able to proceed as follows: Rwanda is a tiny country in the midst of a remarkable economic and social revival, with clean streets, no corruption, and a business-friendly environment.  Its democratic institutions are in a transition period, as western-style democracy is not necessarily appropriate given the historical context.  And those in the West who would criticize this poor country trying to rebuild itself are hypocrites and worse.  Where were they when Rwanda needed them?
“Some people keep making stupid and unfair noises about us.  They don’t know what we prevented from happening,” says Kagame.  “I don’t know what they are thinking about.  I have contempt for them.  I really have a lot of it.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  This type of criticism, that the West has no right to judge Rwanda, then pivots into an assault on Western paternalism, a tack that sits well with both the corporate world (self-reliance) and the liberal West (anti-colonialism).  “I think the West does some injustice to us.  They don’t want us to be ourselves, to develop into partners…we can’t process our own coffee here, we’re supposed to send it to other countries to be processed and then buy it back from them,” Kagame says.  “Even in politics we are never meant to graduate from being pupils of democracy or governance.  We are always people to be brought up, educated, told what to do, to be consumers of ideas…that come from the West.”  (Kinzer, 2008)
This discourse then extends beyond the response to criticisms of Rwanda’s repression and becomes a standard response to those who might question the feasibility of Rwanda’s “miracle.”  “Rwandan officials often defend decisions not with arguments about merit, but with incredulity,” writes Chu.  “You’re going to question this president? The one who rebuilt a country and created one of Africa’s few relatively corruption-free havens? It’s a clever silencing tactic at that moment. But later, the memory of it only magnifies the enormous daring — and risk — of the venture that is Rwanda Inc.”  (Chu, 2009)  It might be easy to imagine Rwandans cheering on their government as it boldly criticizes and shames the West, and certainly many Rwandans probably are supportive.  But if that helps the RPF at home, it is merely a side benefit; all of this language, and all of the discourse discussed above, is aimed at a very different audience.
“There is a unique gifting in the person of this president [Kagame]…He is a curative to the nation, like medicine.  He is an intended blessing from God to us.”  -Bishop John Rucyahana  (Kinzer, 2008)
Globalization is a term with many definitions.  In its broadest sense, globalization defines this era of human history in which “processes and activities…extend beyond national boundaries…” (Mol, 2001)  Arthur Mol argues that this is not a new phenomenon, but that what sets globalization today apart from the “internationalization” of previous eras is that “in the 1990’s it became generally accepted that nation-states are not the only – and according to some, not even the most important – actors in global processes.”  (Mol, 2001)  As a result, cross-border interaction no longer implies largely state-centered diplomacy; Paul Kagame’s relationship with CEOs and Pastors in the United States is a prime example.  Mol further argues that globalization implies an “accelerating space-time compression;” this dynamic lends itself exceedingly well to a small, land-locked African nation hoping to attract the attention of Western actors.  (Mol, 2001)   
One of the main economic impacts of this phenomenon has been the growth of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  During the current heightened period of globalization, total world FDI has increased from roughly $100 billion in 1986 to more than $2 trillion in 2007.  (Clapp and Dauvergne, 2011)  This exponential increase in FDI and the acceleration of globalization have coincided with the evolution of Rwanda’s development discourse as it transitioned from its post-genocide period to the present era.  The end result is that Rwanda’s leaders aim their development message at a host of actors, all of whom are foreign, and none of whom are states.
Rwanda’s development strategy is centered on attracting FDI.  “President Kagame’s goals are ambitious: to boost GDP sevenfold, find paying jobs for half of Rwanda’s subsistence farmers, nearly quadruple per capita income to $900, and turn his country into an African center for technology, all by 2020,” writes Chu, referencing Vision 2020.  “Kagame’s strategy relies on wealthy and powerful friends to lure private investment, train a new generation of managers, build a globally competitive economy, and wean the country off foreign aid.”  (Chu, 2009) 
These wealthy and powerful friends are critical if Rwanda is to achieve its development goals; after all, Rwanda has very few resources, its people largely live in poverty, and, as Chu points out, “its name still brings to mind death.”  (Chu, 2009)  And thus the path to development is laid out: market Rwanda as a country being reborn and attract investment, which in turn helps the country improve both its image and its economy, which in turn helps to attract more investment.  Before this strategy could take hold, however, Rwanda’s leaders knew they needed to take the first step by stabilizing the country and presenting a vision that could be sold to these foreign actors. 
Vision 2020 was that first step.  In all six of its key points (and in the footnote that follows them), Vision 2020 serves as the centerpiece for a discourse strategy that targets two distinct groups: Western business leaders and Western evangelical Christians.  Point 1 refers to the existence of a capable state, which reads as the stability necessary for businesses to thrive in Africa.  Point 2 notes that Rwandan agriculture (largely subsistence farming) will be transformed into a “market-oriented” sector.  Point 3 is overflowing with the language of Western capitalism (“entrepreneur,” “private sector,” and “competitiveness.”)  Point 4 emphasizes the importance of developing Rwanda’s human resources capacity, which is aimed both at reinforcing notions of self-reliance and letting businesses know that there will be Rwandans capable of serving at various levels of the corporate ladder.  Point 5 reflects the necessity of creating an infrastructure that makes all other types of development possible.  And Point 6 offers investors an antidote to Rwanda’s tiny size; invest here, it beckons, and you can be part of the economic hub of all of East Africa.  (MINECOFIN, 2012)
The footnote is also of interest to numerous foreign actors.  Gender and the environment are attractive issues for Western liberals (Rwanda happens to have the highest percentage of females in a national legislature in the world) and the focus on “ICT” is key for attracting high-tech investment.  (McCrummen, 2008)  All of which speaks to the nature of development discourse in the age of globalization; while governments have always sent messages of various kinds to international actors, never before has there been such a wide array of recipients of those messages.  In defining its path to development, Rwanda’s leaders are seeking to connect with filmmakers, feminists, environmentalists, tourists, liberals, tech companies, journalists, historians, and anybody with the capacity to upload a video to YouTube. 
Without a doubt, however, Rwanda’s development discourse is aimed primarily at foreign investors and evangelical Christians.  The list of powerful western business leaders who have jumped on board with Kagame is impressive:  the CEO of Starbucks, the CEO of Costco, the CEO of Google, and many others have signed on to work with Rwanda.  (Chu, 2009)  All of which has led to FDI, internship and training programs for Rwandans, publicity, and economic development; Costco struck a deal to buy Rwandan coffee, and Google expanded a free internet program to Rwanda after Kagame ate lunch with its executives in Mountain View.  (Chu, 2009, and Gunther, 2007)
Meanwhile, Kagame’s pursuit of powerful evangelical Christians has proved equally profitable.  Mega-church pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) received a note from Paul Kagame in 2003 that read “I’m a man of purpose. Can you come help us rebuild our nation?”  (McFadden, 2008)  Since that time, Warren has been heavily involved with Rwanda, and with Kagame: “God is going to use you to change the world!” he declared to Kagame in front of thousands of Christians at a baseball stadium in California.  “I think God is blessing Rwanda,” he told an interviewer.  (Kinzer, 2008) 
Other Christian groups have jumped into Rwanda as well; what is unusual about their involvement is the zeal with which they support the country’s government.  Missionary work is often apolitical, but “Bridges 2 Rwanda” includes a quote board from Paul Kagame on its website.  The quotes are listed under topic headings, and the topics include: “vision,” “entrepreneurship,” “competition,” and “becoming an African Lion.”  (Bridges 2 Rwanda, 2012) 
For Rwanda, the Christian element brings with it two key benefits.  First, it infuses a moral dynamic to Rwanda’s revival story, reminding the West that Rwanda is more than just a poor country trying to be rich.  Eliane Ubalijaro, an advisor to the Rwandan government, seems to sum up all of the themes of Rwanda’s development discourse in one sentence: “We’re trying to create a new model for fighting poverty. Nobody believes that it’s possible.  How do you take a country that’s been through hell and bring it to security and prosperity? This is about healing, and this is about hope.”  (Chu, 2009)         
Second, Kagame’s government has benefited tremendously from the connections forged through its Christian contacts.  While Warren enthuses about Kagame’s divine destiny, the Rwandan president is slightly more pragmatic about the relationship: “Kagame was able to say that Warren had ‘connected us with a lot of people’ in ways that were ‘extremely useful.’”  (Kinzer, 2008)  Writes Chu, “[Rwanda’s Presidential Advisory Council] is a network of personal relationships – the link in several cases being a shared Christian faith.”  (Chu, 2009)                  
                Rwanda’s development discourse is aimed at these powerful networks of Christian businessmen.  What is equally notable, however, is who it is not aimed at: Rwandans.
                “A lot of people are content to be lazy because they know that in the end, someone will come and feed them.  But we should be able to feed ourselves and even feed others.”  -Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
                What role do Rwandans play in the rebirth of their country?  To answer this question, it is necessary to look not to vague exhortations for civic participation in Vision 2020 (“People’s participation at the grassroots level will be promoted through the decentralization process, whereby local communities will be empowered in the decision making process, enabling them to address the issues, which affect them the most”…the word “decentralization” appears just one other time in the 28 page document) but to the role or lack thereof assigned to Rwandans in those processes deemed critical to Rwanda’s development.
                Those processes are aimed at achieving competent leadership, functional infrastructure, clean streets, and a lack of corruption.  In all of these areas, Rwandans are either asked to play no role, chastised in a manner that suggests that Rwanda’s turnaround will require a change in their work or cultural habits, or required to follow a regime of rules and regulations.  Indeed, in those instances in which Rwandans are called upon to participate in their country’s development, the concepts of civic participation and political engagement are consistently replaced with the ideal of hard work.
                Competent leadership, of course, centers on the abilities of Paul Kagame and his inner circle, and as Rwandans are not truly asked to participate in choosing their government, they are not as such responsible for the competence of their leaders.  On the contrary, Rwanda’s abundant competence at the top is framed as the work of Paul Kagame, and the result of the culture of professionalism he has instilled in Rwanda’s halls of power.  “I make no apologies about pushing people hard.  I wish I had even more energy than I have to push them.”  (Kinzer, 2008)
                A similar idea pervades the discourse around Rwanda’s functional infrastructure (i.e. the idea that in Rwanda, things “function”) and clean streets.  Here, Rwandans are called upon essentially to obey the law and not end up on the wrong end of Rwanda’s cleanliness police.  Plastic bags are illegal, and store owners caught with them face jail time.  (Dagan, 2011)  Kiosks in Rwandan towns appeared too dirty and “offended [Kagame’s] sense of order,” so he banned them.  (Kinzer, 2008)  A health inspector closed 47 restaurants for various minor violations while the education ministry closed schools for sanitation violations.  (Kinzer, 2008)  Meanwhile, street kids or Rwandans looking for work are rounded up and sent to detention centers; the authorities declare that their problem is not poverty, but drugs.  “When you can’t take decisions for your [own] good,” says Kigali’s mayor Fidèle Ndayisaba, “we take it for you.”  (Dagan, 2011)
                These changes could be framed as a form of vast civic engagement in which all Rwandans are called upon to pitch in and help their country achieve its goals; certainly many Rwandans are supportive of the efforts described above.  Instead, the discourse seems to frame the entire enterprise as a paternalistic form of education and discipline.  To what extent does this reflect the true feelings of Rwanda’s leaders and to what extent does it appeal to Westerners who like the idea of an African government chastising its own people for being lazy?  
Regardless of the answer, in the context of Rwanda’s development discourse, Rwandans are mainly called upon to work hard or to work harder.  Development in Rwanda will come, the discourse goes, not when Rwandans empower themselves to make change, but when Paul Kagame succeeds in changing the culture of laziness and mediocrity that pervades Rwandan society.  The following quotes exemplify this idea:
In the people here, there is something that I cannot reconcile with.  It’s people taking their time when they should be moving fast, people tolerating mediocrity when things could be done better.  I feel they are not bothered, not feeling the pressure of wanting to be far ahead of where we are.  –Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
We have to work on the minds of our people.  We have to take them to a level where people respect work and work hard, which has not been the case in the past.  You have to push and push.  I hear whispers of criticism, complaints that people are being pushed too hard.  I have no sympathy with that.  People have to be pushed hard, until it hurts.  –Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
There is a cultural attitude that says you must let people be as they are…there is nothing to be complacent about.  We are poor, and being poor is bad.  If being pushed hurts, it cannot hurt as much as poverty, as much as being hungry and sick.  –Paul Kagame (Kinzer, 2008)
                Corruption, meanwhile, is discussed as a problem beyond the reach of ordinary Rwandans.  Kagame states this plainly: “You can’t fight corruption from the bottom.  You have to fight it from the top.”  (Kinzer, 2008)  This quote serves as a reminder of how Rwanda’s development discourse defines, above all, government.  If the idea that corruption must be addressed at the highest levels of government is true (noted economist Amartya Sen agrees with this, arguing that corruption feeds on a perception that corrupt behavior is normalized, and thus “importance may be particularly attached to the conduct of people in positions of power and authority.”), that does not mean that there is no role to play for the average citizen; in a democracy, after all, those very citizens are responsible for electing leaders who are willing to confront corruption and ousting leaders who are not.  (Sen, 2000)  What Rwanda’s development discourse does, therefore, is not neglect its citizens in an effort to focus on the needs of international actors.  Rwanda’s development discourse aims, on the contrary, to deny the existence of that final link that exists between people and their government. 
                Consider the full narrative of Rwanda’s development strategy, laid out point by point:  Rwanda seeks to be a middle-income country, the regional hub of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and a country free of foreign debt.  It seeks to grow its GDP, fight poverty, and provide health care for every one of its citizens.  Women’s rights will be paramount, and the environment will be protected.  Plastic bags will be banned.  Corruption will be obliterated.  A country known for being the site of one of the worst events in human history will become an oasis of stability and wealth in a poor and unstable region of the world.
                To achieve this, it is necessary for Rwanda to lure foreign investment, as the country has no resources, is landlocked, and is impoverished.  To lure foreign investment, it is in turn necessary to accomplish several key objectives: a functional state, security, a clean capital city, and a reputation for corruption-free governance.  Corruption will need to be fought from the top levels of government, while regulations will be put in place to bring order to the capital and to instill a culture of cleanliness in businesses, schools, and public life.  Above all, however, is security.  In a country known for genocide, “it would take only half a dozen high-profile attacks or bombings to send donors and expatriates fleeing…that would wipe away many of the gains the country has made and devastate its future prospects.”  (Kinzer, 2008)
                But how to maintain such security?  “Only a potent security apparatus can prevent such attacks,” Kinzer argues, and thus Rwandan intelligence infiltrates almost every corner of Rwandan life.   (Kinzer, 2008)  Democracy, meanwhile, is not possible until this vision for Rwanda is fulfilled.  Only when Rwandans “train themselves to think of themselves as Rwandans” (as opposed to Tutsi or Hutu) will “interim measures” no longer be necessary, says one foreign diplomat based in Kigali.  (Kinzer, 2008)  Democracy equals majority-rule, and majority-rule equals genocide.  When political opponents or journalists challenge the government, therefore, even in instances where their motives have nothing to do with ethnic hatred, those challenges must be quashed.  The alternative is that everything falls apart.
                This paper does not intend to cast judgment on the validity of this narrative; what it does note, however, are its implications. 
As stated earlier, Ferguson argues that the World Bank’s development discourse in Lesotho was depoliticized, in part to avoid antagonizing the state and in part because it could not envision that its own interventions could be insufficient to bring about the alleviation of poverty.  This is Ferguson’s “anti-politics machine.”  (Ferguson, 1994) 
                In Rwanda’s development discourse, politics are removed for a different reason, and in a different manner.  Everything that happens in Rwanda’s discourse is part of a normal political process in which governments institute policies intended to ensure certain results.  These policies, as is typical in the age of globalization, are often aimed at attracting the attention, support, or money of a host of foreign actors, most of which are not states.  But where the people of Rwanda should play their part – by choosing their leaders and thus choosing those policies – there is a noticeable hole. 
                The “no-politics” machine fills in this hole by exhorting Rwandans to work harder.  It brashly assumes that a government represents its people regardless of the circumstances involved and therefore speaks for them to the outside world.  It lectures those who question the manner in which it governs, and uses the genocide to deny that this “hole” is even a hole.  On the contrary, it is a necessary “interim measure.”  (Kinzer, 2008)
Where in Lesotho politics was implicitly ignored, in Rwanda it is obliterated.  Where in Lesotho, development was assumed to be independent of politics, in Rwanda, development cannot proceed if politics exist.   Politics is not permitted in Rwanda’s discourse because its very existence threatens the vision laid out by Kagame’s government by implying the possibility of an entirely different government.  A different government might not have the same vision as the current one, a realization that pulls back the curtain of discourse and shows that this vision laid out by Rwanda’s government is the vision of a government, and not a nation.  It is the vision of a President, and not a people. 
This is the reason for the “no-politics” machine.
This surely does not imply that Kagame’s vision is necessarily bankrupt.  Perhaps the tragic irony in Rwanda’s development discourse is that many Rwandans might support their leaders’ vision for their country and actively contribute to achieving it.  The “no-politics” machine reflects a political process designed to ensure that this hypothetical remains just that. 
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