DRC Country Profile

Overview

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. It is nearly the size of western Europe, and it is home to 79 million people. The country has suffered from armed violence for much of the past fifty years and has not seen a peaceful transition of presidential power since gaining independence in 1960. Currently, there are many armed groups operating in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. The president, Joseph Kabila, defeated one of the most dangerous armed groups, M23, in 2013. Unfortunately, many of its members joined other armed groups shortly after.

President Joseph Kabila

Kabila is 46 years old and has held power in DRC since 2001 when his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila’s current term ended in December 2016, but he has retained his power without holding elections since then. Elections are now scheduled for December 2018 (BBC).

Recent Violence

In December 2017, 15 UN peacekeeper were killed by the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group that originated in Uganda. Throughout 2017, 1.7 million people were forced from their homes due to conflict (BBC). Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation as a result of the fighting (The Economist).

Succession of Power

  • 1960 – DRC gains independence from Belgium
  • 1965 – Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) takes power through a coup; later renames the country “Zaire”
  • 1997 – Laurent Kabila takes power through a rebellion; Rwanda provides support; the country is renamed “Democratic Republic of Congo”
  • 2001 – Joseph Kabila takes power when his father Laurent is assassinated

Additional Sources

“The Economist” – refers to January 6, 2018 edition, “The Never-ending Term”

Advertisements

Net Neutrality Deregulation: An Explainer

In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revoked the “net neutrality” regulations. These regulations prevented internet-service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast and AT&T from prioritizing certain online content. .Without these regulations, some fear that ISPs might slow down, or “throttle,” some websites while putting others in the “fast lane.” For example, Netflix might become slower because another service pays the ISP for faster access. This practice is called “paid prioritization.” Critics of the FCC’s move towards deregulation have reason for concern. If ISPs have a special interest in particular companies, that preference could translate into special access to higher speeds. AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner, which owns HBO. If AT&T were to own HBO, they could give HBO faster access than other entertainment streaming websites.

The telecom companies themselves are in favor of deregulation, arguing that it would allow them to invest more into broadband and wireless infrastructure.

Source: The Economist, Dec 23rd, “Net Wars”

Power and Identity in Governance

Identity and Power

Political power is most effective when the source of power matches the identity that people relate to. In the United States, people identify first and foremost with their country. And most of the power comes from the national level, which is why the federal government is able to govern effectively. If people felt a closer identity to the state they live in, and the state was always being told what to do by the federal government, the federal government would have a hard time maintaining control.

In Sir Paul Collier’s MOOC “From Poverty to Prosperity” from Oxford on EdX, he uses the Roman Empire as an example of the imbalance between power and identity. The Roman Empire was a supranational structure that ruled over many smaller regions and tribes. These smaller groups did not feel loyal to Rome; they felt loyal to their own people. The Roman Empire therefore had to spend a lot of energy controlling these subnational groups. When an entity has power, but not authority, it has three choices in how to attain authority from its people. First is repression, usually by force. This method is expensive, and if the constituents have a strong enough force to fight back, it can lead to open conflict. The second method is to block a group out the way Rome did to Scotland with Hadrian’s Wall. And the third method is just to continue issuing directives and pretend you are in power, even when you and your subjects know you are not. Collier says that Rome actually ruled in this way in much of the land it controlled.

What about in Africa, where many people feel more loyal to their tribe than their nation? After all, the national borders were mostly drawn arbitrarily, whereas people have been loyal to their tribes for centuries. There are two approaches to deal with this imbalance between a national power structure and a sub-national identity among the people. One approach is to shift people’s sense of identity toward their country, rather than their tribe. One way to do this is to heavily promote national symbols like the flag and national anthem. Another approach is to accept the sub-national identity and create a more decentralized power structure. Countries like Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada have all done this very successfully to accommodate their diverse populations. An example of a successful approach in Africa has been Nyerere’s efforts in Tanzania. He combined the two approaches by going on tour around Tanzania to unite the tribes and then creating a presidential system that alternates between a Muslim and Christian leader of the country. Tanzania opted not to allow for different political parties, because Nyerere was afraid the parties would form along tribal lines, which would lead to conflict. This has worked pretty well over the long run. In Kenya, political parties have done just what Nyerere feared. The president in power along with his party usually favor their own tribe, which leads to conflict. In 2008, this conflict boiled over in the presidential election and lead to over 1,000 deaths.

The principle of identity and power explains a lot about supranational structures like the UN and the EU. The UK recently left the EU because the people of the country didn’t like being told what to do by a larger-than-nation entity. This is further evidence that power and identity should be aligned, or else people may reject the power structure. The UN is another supranational structure that receives a lot of criticism and pushback from its member states. Critics argue that the UN does not “have enough teeth,” and is “overly bureaucratic,” and “is unable to get anything done.” These problems all stem from its supranational nature. Although, maybe these characteristics of the UN are not really problems at all. If there UN were to begin wielding more power and enforcing rules and regulations on Member States, they would undoubtedly resist. The imbalance between supranational power and national identity would again get in the way. So the UN really cannot exist as a potent power structure. It must be a convener, a coordinator, a thought leader, and a forum for dialogue. Those who complain does not do enough would probably be the first ones to complain if the UN began extending its control and imposing its influence on Member States.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 9.38.16 AM

Kurdistan: An Explainer

Overview

On September 25, 2017, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) held a referendum for its independence from Iraq. The referendum was called by the President of the KRI, Masoud Barzani. The KRI is known as a “semi-autonomous” zone in northern Iraq. 92% of the 3.3 million voters in the referendum voted or secession, with a turnout rate of 72.61%. The referendum was meant to apply to all of the territory that the Iraqi Kurds currently occupy, which they extended beyond the semi-autonomous region when they won back territory from ISIS in 2016 and 2017. Iraq’s president, Haidr al-Abadi strongly opposed the referendum, along with many surrounding countries and Western allies of the new Iraqi government. Turkey and Iran are home to many Kurds of their own, so they fear the ethnic group gaining more political power in neighboring Iraq. In Iraq, about 15-20% of the total population of 37 million is Kurdish.

KRI’s Preparedness for Independence

Although the people of the KRI clearly want independence, the KRI government is quite ill-prepared for statehood. It is deeply indebted and defended by a fighting force (the Peshmurga) that is deeply divided into multiple family-led factions. Additionally, President Barzani has extended his rule twice and shut down Parliament to when it threatened to limit his powers. There is no mechanism or agreement that enforces the Kurdish referendum, so secession is unlikely. Barzani nevertheless wanted to get the vote off before the KRI’s presidential elections on November 1st of 2017.

History of Kurdistan Political Status in Iraq

At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein allowed Kurdistan to become fully autonomous, though not independent from Iraq. In 2003, following the US invasion of Iraq, the KRI gave up its autonomy and became “semi autonomous,” meaning the US and Iraqi government had more power over the region. Since 2003, the KRI has increased its power by expanding the territory its forces control (which it won back from ISIS), and increasing its oil exports significantly.

Sources

The Economist: Sept 23rd, 2017

The BBC

The Carbon Budget: An Explainer

What is the Carbon Budget?

The carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide the planet can release into the atmosphere before global temperatures raise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (i.e., the year 1870). The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement set this goal of 2 degrees, but also expressed that the preferred goal should be to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to prevent very undesirable changes to our climate. New research determines that our total carbon budget, beginning in the year 1870, is about 2.75 trillion tons of CO2. This is the total amount the planet can release and still stay below 1.5 degrees of warming. By 2015, we had already released just over 2 billion tons of CO2. And the planet’s temperature had increased by 0.9 degrees. The world’s annual CO2 emissions is about 40 billion tons as of now. So we have about 750 billion tons of CO2 left to release in our carbon budget, which will last about 20 years at our current rate of emissions.

What Needs to be Done

To end our CO2 emissions sustainably and stay within our carbon budget, researchers say we should cut annual emissions by about 1.1 billion tons of CO2, or 4-6%, per year. Fortunately, the rapid increase in annual carbon emissions has slowed significant and reached a plateau. We still need to improve a lot in a short amount of time to meet keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, however. The only other option is to develop new “carbon capture” technologies to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. These innovations are still a long way off.

Socialism: An Explainer

There are many different versions of socialism (Leninism, Stalinism, etc.), but they mostly fall under the category of Marxism. Karl Marx was a German philosopher and economist who wrote The Communist Manifesto and other influential texts. Marx’s big idea came at a time when many European countries were transitioning from monarchical systems to democratic and capitalist systems. Under the new capitalist economic system, the owners of the means of production, who Marx called the bourgeoisie, were exploiting the common laborers, or the proletariats.

Marx’s solution to this flawed economic system was to shift ownership of the means of production to the workers themselves, instead of the wealthy managers. To achieve this condition, means of production would first shift from powerful individuals to the state, and then to the general population. When the state owns the means of production, the society can be considered socialist. When the proletariat own the means of production, the society can be considered communist. No societies in our world are or have ever been truly communist. Even societies which we consider communist (China, USSR, North Korea), are socialist in practice. That is, the means of production are owned by the state. One reason that the transition between a socialist society and a communist society is so difficult is corruption. In order for the transition to occur, the government must give up all of its control. No government has ever been willing or able to do this, so a truly communist state has never existed as a result.

The system that exists in most countries of today’s world is a mixture between socialism and capitalism. Capitalism lets private business and the free market provide all of a society’s goods and services, while socialism pools money and resources from the citizens and lets the government reallocate these resources to provide goods and services to the people. If there were a spectrum with capitalism on one side (business leaders control the economy) and socialism (government controls the economy) on the other side, the United States would be close to the side of capitalism. And yet, even the United States government controls primary and secondary education for most of the population, health care for veterans, poor, elderly, and Native Americans, and social services like police, fire departments and libraries. Countries like Sweden and Canada would fall much closer to the socialism side of the spectrum. They manage to succeed economically and provide more services to their people from the state.

Source: NowThis World

Civil Unrest in Togo: An Explainer

Overview

In the month of September, 3 people were killed amidst anti-government protests. One of the victims was a 9-year-od boy. The President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe has been in power for 12 years. His father, Eyadema Gnassingbe ruled the country for 38 years before that, beginning in 1967. These two men make up the longest-ruling family regime in Africa. They represent the Union for the Republic (UNIR) party, which holds 62 of the National Assembly’s 91 seats. When the public began showing signs of unrest earlier this year, UNIR promised to introduce a bill for presidential term limits to the National Assembly. It turned out that this bill would not apply retroactively, and would in fact allow President Gnassingbe to run again in 2020 and 2025. The bill failed, so the country will soon vote on the constitutional amendment in a referendum.

The Opposition

The opposition is made of many different factions, the most powerful being the National Alliance for Change (ANC) led by Jean-Pierre Fabre. Fabre came in second place in the 2015 presidential elections, but he and the ANC have begun to work with the Pan African National Party to defeat Gnassingbe as soon as possible. The politics in Togo are tied in many ways to tribal identities. The Gnassingbes actually come from a relatively small northern tribe called the Kabye, but they have filled the government and military with their tribemates, giving the group an outsized level of influence.

Comparison to The Gambia

Given the increasing levels of civil unrest, citizens of Togo may be seeking help from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was instrumental in ousting Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia. ECOWAS assembled troops at the border of The Gambia when Jammeh seemed he would refuse to give up his office after losing the presidential election. ECOWAS has not responded to the civil unrest in Togo so far. While the situation is not the same as in The Gambia, another complicating factor is that the president of ECOWAS is married to Faure Gnassingbe’s sister.

Source: The Economist, September 23rd

The Civil War in Yemen: An Explainer

For many years, Yemen has been the poorest country in the Arab region and suffered from many armed conflicts. But for the last two and a half years, Yemen has been in the midst of a devastating civil war. In 2014, Houthi rebels from the north overthrew the government with the help of certain sections of the Yemeni army. Other countries joined the fight in 2015 as Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of Arab countries and the United States. The coalition began fighting the Houthi rebels to restore the former government. The two sides are still fighting, without a decisive victory for either side.

The damage to the country and its people has been severe. Bridges, hospitals and factories have been destroyed. The Saudi coalition has closed the Sana international airport, which has made it difficult for supplies to enter and for people in need of medical assistance to leave. Doctors and civil servants are no longer receiving pay. And in addition to the civilian casualties from the fighting itself, 500,000 people have been infected between June and August 2017, resulting in 2,000 deaths.

Cholera is a bacterial infection spread by water contaminated by feces. The sewage systems have failed, so when heavy rains came in April, many drinking wells were contaminated with waste. The disease is treatable with antibiotics, but many malnourished children in Yemen are left more vulnerable and are dying as a result.

The United Nations has labeled the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and requested $2.3 billion to help deal with it. 10 million people are in need of assistance, but only $964 million has been mobilized so far. The UN has also attempted to broker peace talks, all of which have so far failed. As of now, the Houthis are still in control of the capital city Sana. Fighting and the spread of disease continue as well.

Source: The New York Times

The Rohingya in Myanmar: An Explainer

Overview

The current conflict in Myanmar Rakhine’s state involves Rohingya Muslims, who practice a branch of Sunni Islam. Religous tensions developed in the majority Buddhist country in the 1970s, but violence has been on the rise in recent years. Many thousands of Rohingya have fled the country for neighboring countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand).

History

The area that is now Rakhine state was governed by Great Britain until Burma became independent in 1948. The nation changed its name to Myanmar in 1989. Muslims arrived in Rakhine state as early as the 1400s, and continued to move there during British occupation.

Rohingya Status in Myanmar

The Rohingya are systematically discriminated against, and their Rakhine state suffers from deep poverty due to neglect from the government. The government has always refused the Rohingya official citizenship, but offers them temporary “white cards”, which allows for some rights. These white cards were revoked in early 2015 by then-President Thein Sein, and the Rohingya were thereby prevented from participating in that year’s election.

The Government’s Response

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won elections, but they have done mostly nothing to help the Rohingya people. Recently, Aung San Suu Kyi has at least assembled a committee to make suggestions for resolving the Rohingya’s plight in Myanmar. The committee is led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and their report is due to be released in August 2017.

The Recent Violence Began in 2012

In 2012, Buddhist nationals began killing Rohingya after a group of Rohingya men were accused of raping a Buddhist woman. The ethnic violence drove 120,000 Muslims into internment camps, which offered hardly any social services.

January 2014 – May 2015

Large numbers of Rohingya began to flee the country, making dangerous ventures overseas. 88,000 Rohingya left Myanmar by boat during this period.

October 2016 – January 2017

An additional 65,000 Rohingya crossed the border into Bangladesh. Violence against them had increased after they were accused of attacking security posts along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Many Rohingya homes were burned and aid (food, medicine) was prevented from reaching their villages. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Malaysian Foreign Minister both accused the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing, which the government denied.

[Source: Council on Foreign Relations]

August 2017

A group of militant Rohingya attacked around 20 police posts and a Myanmar army base. In response, the Myanmar army and Buddhist vigilante groups are attacking Rohingya villages with fire and guns. Thousands more Rohingya are fleeing to Bangladesh to seek refuge, although food, housing, and medicine for refugees there are inadequate.

[Source: The New York Times]

Venezuela: An Explainer

Venezuela is suffering from severe food shortages, high crime rates, civil unrest, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Many Venezuelans believe that President Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him mismanaged the economy, leading to the current crisis. Oil prices have fallen and business corruption from the business elite are also contributing factors (Council on Foreign Relations).

In January 2016, power in the National Assembly shifted towards the opposition for the first time since before the year 2000. President Maduro has been taking steps to consolidate his own power and strip the legislature from a lot of its power. He is also attempting to revise the country’s constitution by forming a constituent assembly of 500 members who would be responsible for its drafting. In October 2016, Venezuela’s Supreme Court put an end to the National Assembly’s power to control the economy. In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly, but undid this after international outcry. Maduro was successful, however, in preventing his main political opponent from running for office for 15 years.

These autocratic measures from Maduro, along with the economic and social problems civilians are facing, have led to massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States. As of May 2017, 80% of Venezuela’s population wanted Maduro to step down. Frequent protests have turned violent, living 29 people dead since March. The government has taken steps to appease the population without much effect. The minimum wage increased by 60% in May, but inflation is so high that people were still unsatisfied. Despite the protests, any removal of the president would likely come from the military. Maduro has adopted the “chavismo” leadership style from Hugo Chavez, which gives the military a large amount of prestige, power, and responsibility. Until they turn against the president, they will protect him from civilians and maintian his status.

Venezuela’s dependence on oil has made it vulnerable to economic shock following the fall of global oil prices. When prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to $27 in 2016, Venezuela’s weak economy fell into a downward spiral. This led to a 12% drop in GDP and an 800% increase in inflation. Oil accounts for 95% of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25% of its GDP. With such a lack of economic diversification, Venezuela has left itself at the mercy of a single commodity’s performance in the global market.

The current situation in Venezuela stems from the combination of Hugo Chavez’s leadership between 1998 and 2013. Chavez was corrupt and anti-American, but was a successful populist who reduced poverty. He was elected in 1998 on a populist platform. He promised to tackle corruption and use Venezuela’s oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. As President, he helped the poor by expropriating millions of acres of land and nationalizing hundreds of private businesses. These policies, in addition to food and housing subsidies, health care reform, and education reform, reduced the poverty rate from 50% in 1998 to 30% in 2012. Chavez secured consolidated his power by manipulating the Supreme Court and eliminating one chamber of Congress and removing term limits through a referendum. Geopolitically, Chavez tried to align the Latin American countries against the United States. In terms of economics, Chavez unwsisely utilized price controls and import subsidies to keep prices low. Soon enough, Venezuela was unable to sustain this system until it fell into freefall when oil prices dropped in 2016. Despite these mistakes, Chavez remained popular until his death in 2013 and was replaced through an election by the strongest “chavismo” candidate Nicolas Maduro. Maduro’s Venezuela ranks 166 out of 176 on Transparency International’s Perceived Corruption Index. His government still controls over 500 companies, though most of them are operating at a loss.

Venezuela’s failing economy is now creating a humanitarian crisis. 85% of basic medicines are unavailable or difficult to obtain. Infant mortality rates spiked from 11.6 per 1,000 in 2011 to 18.1 in 2016. Maternal mortality also doubled since 2008 to reach 130 per 100,000. 30% of school aged children are malnourished, and to make matters worse, Maduro has blocked the opposition-led Ntional Assembly from seeking international assistance. Crime has also been on the rise. 28,749 homicides occurred in 2016, which is the highest level ever recorded. As a result  of these health and crime issues, 150,000 people left the country in 2016 (Council on Foreign Relations).