Rosebell Kagumire: Male survivors of rape in northern Uganda and Ongwen trial

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Some really interesting information on sexual and gender based crimes during Uganda’s civil war. Every now and then a story like this about male rape survivors surfaces, making clear that this is a much more common feature of conflict than is generally known. The public (and to a certain extend the victims) are increasingly outspoken when it comes to sexual crimes against women, but male victims still have to fight tremendous stigmatization. In Uganda’s case, this is compounded by the fact that one of the conflict parties (the National Resistance Movement/Army) is still in power:

The question of justice at home is the biggest. Yes Ongwen’s trial is key and but for most survivors like Okidi, a trial of one side of the conflict will not bring him peace and justice. Many of the crimes committed before the ICC came into force and especially those by NRA (later called UPDF) have remained unaddressed. Uganda government is still yet to deliver on reconciliation, reparations and real tangible reconstruction and healing of the survivors of the conflict in northern Uganda.

via Rosebell’s Blog.

Uganda Opts for Tanzania Over Kenya for Important Pipeline

The writing has been on the wall for a few days, but today came the definite announcement: Uganda will partner with Tanzania, not Kenya, to build a pipeline and export its crude oil production.This is devastating news to the Kenyan government, which had hoped to use the same infrastructure to export its own oil production and will cost both Uganda and Kenya a lot of money:

Uganda will lose $300 million every year due to an increase of $4.07 in tariff per barrel, and Kenya will lose $250 million per year due to the increased tariff of $6.96 per barrel.

The reasons for Uganda’s decision are complex. Some concerns voiced about Kenya’s proposal relate to the difficult terrain in the Rift Valley, which can be avoided by passing through Tanzania’s Lake Victoria Basin. But the most important factor seems to have been limited confidence in Kenya’s government.

Kenya’s northern and Eastern provinces are notoriously insecure, due to intercommunal violence and conflicts in South Sudan, southern Ethiopia and in Somalia. Militants linked to Al Shabab regularly stage attacks with high casualty rates in areas that the pipeline will pass through, for example. The pipeline’s financing is still unclear and the designated export port at Lamu is still far away from completion.

In addition, Kenya’s delegation to the final negotiations seems to have inspired little confidence that they are on top of these problems in their Ugandan counterparts:

However, it has also emerged that the Kenyan officials participating in the Kampala talks may not have had all their facts right as they tried to address the concerns raised by Uganda over the northern route for the pipeline.

In contrast, Tanzania can offer an existing port, Tanga, and a very stable political environment. French oil giant Total has offered to finance the construction costs of the pipeline, as well as 40 percent of the planned Ugandan refinery at Hoima, while Tullow oil, the UK company which runs the Ugandan oil fields, seems to prefer the northern route through Kenya because it has interests along that pipeline corridor as well.

For the Kenyan government, this decision is about more than just the pipeline. The pipeline project is linked to a whole slew of infrastructure projects, ranging from a standard gauge railway to a high-capacity power transmission line linking Kenya and Ethiopia. Uganda’s decision will make it even harder to finance these ambitious projects and keep them on schedule.

From Uganda’s perspective, short-term profit seems to have trumped long-term decision making. President Museveni has recently been reelected in a contested election that turned out to be the most expensive in the country’s history, largely due to the plundering of state coffers to finance Museveni’s campaign and his outsized security apparatus. Uganda’s economic and human development performance has been lacking behind neighboring countries in recent years and the frustration among the overwhelmingly young population with the government is palatable. Uganda is broke and Museveni needs a lot of money quickly.

This is not to say that Ugandan worries about the Kenyan government’s reliability are unfounded. President Kenyatta and Vice President Ruto have presided over a disastrous military intervention in neighboring Somalia and have been unable to curb intercommunal violence, especially in the cost area.

From a regional point of view, the decision as both its pros and cons. On the one hand the competition between Tanzania and Kenya has a potential to produce future political rivalry. But as Ken Opalo points out

All else equal, this is probably a net positive development for the future of the East African Community (EAC). It is obviously a big financial and political loss for Kenya (and for that matter, Uganda) but it will dampen the idea of a two-speed EAC — with Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda in the fast lane and Tanzania and Burundi in the slow lane.

Podcast: Who will win Uganda’s 2016 elections?

Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire and Crisis Group analyst Magnus Taylor join us to discuss Uganda’s upcoming elections.

Published on African Arguments.

ADF retaliates against Tanzania, kills two peacekeepers in the DR Congo

The Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces has ambushed a column of Tanzanian peacekeepers in the DR Congo. According to the United Nations, two peacekeepers were killed, thirteen are injured and four missing.

It is safe to assume that the attack comes in retaliation for the arrest of ADF’s leader Jamil Mukulu last week in Tanzania. Uganda has asked for Mukulu to be extradited and there was no reason to suspect that the request would not be granted.

With four Tanzanian soldiers now possibly in the hands of the ADF, the situation might have changed. It is unlikely that the Tanzanian government will push ahead with the extradition until the fate of its servicemen has been confirmed. This could in turn strain relations with Uganda.

Conflict minerals in the Congo: a look at the new GoE report

The United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is maybe the authority on anything conflict related in the central African country. Tasked with briefing the Security Council twice a year on all developments related to the extensive sanctions against various actors in the DRC, their reports offer a wealth of information on everything from conflict financing to outside intervention. The upcoming report has now been leaked to African Arguments. This blog post explores the information it offers regarding the use of resources in the context of conflict in eastern DRC and elsewhere in the country.

Conflict minerals are important aspects of every GoE report, the current one being no exception. In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the GoE states that

Many armed groups in eastern DRC have derived funding from the production and trade of natural resources. […] The Group estimates that 98 percent of the gold produced in DRC is smuggled out of the country, and that nearly all of the gold traded in Uganda – the main transit country for Congolese gold – is illegally exported from DRC. […] While initiatives by OECD and ICGLR have advanced the validation of mining sites and improved adherence to conflict – free and child labor – free international standards, armed groups and the FARDC [Congolese army] continue to control many mining sites and to profit from mining and the minerals trade.

The limits of the concept of “Conflict Minerals”

It should be noted that the GoE never speaks of “Conflict Minerals” itself. The term is the invention of advocacy groups* and its implication that the occurence of minerals can prolong or even cause conflict and violence is contested.

A critical perspective on the concept of conflict minerals is supported in some parts of the GoE report. For example the group notes that the M23 – the most prolific armed group in eastern Congo during the year of 2013 – didn’t derive any income from direct involvement in the minerals trade (§32). Rather, the M23 concentrated on levying taxes on property and transport (which of course may have included mineral transports). The territory controlled by the M23 had no major mineral deposits, despite being the site of major violence and fighting during the eventual defeat of the M23 at the hands of the FARDC and U.N. troops.

This is not to say that resources, including minerals, are unimportant factors in the development of conflicts and violence. But their relevance clearly depends on the local context and this should be reflected in advocacy work and policy.

Dirty Gold

Coltan may be the best known conflict mineral from eastern Congo, but presently gold may be more important when it comes to the financing of armed groups. The GoE puts the sum lost in taxes due to smuggling of the precious metal and the corresponding profits for armed groups in the millions of Dollars – of the estimated 10,000 kg of gold mined in the DRC per year, only 180,76 kg is declared to government authorities (§170). Some of the most violent attacks by armed groups described in the report were targeting gold mining sites (for example §65).

For some armed groups, like the Rwandan FDLR and Raia Mutomboki, their involvement in gold mining and trade is their main mode of financing (§95, 168). The  limited traceability and high mobility of the mineral has resulted in an extended trade networks that reaches from small scale mining operations in eastern Congo to the Ugandan capital Kampala and onwards to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (§198).

Gold mining is of course also an important source of income for many artisan miners who have little choice in who is benefiting from the downstream trade. With regard to this group, the myriad ways the GoE lists that are employed by gold traders to fraud their way to a larger share of the profits are highly interesting ($177ff).

That armed groups and criminal actors are able to profit from the gold trade is attributed by the GoE mainly to the reluctance of the Ugandan and Congolese governments to engage in a effective regulation of the sector. Existing laws are not enforced and known actors are allowed to act openly in eastern Congo and Uganda alike.

The three Ts

Tin, tungsten and tantalum (which can be found in the mineral coltan) are the best known conflict resources produced in the Congo. They occur mainly in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and northern Katanga. Their production and trade is one of the most profitable sectors of the economy in eastern Congo and a large part of the production is smuggled out of the country via Rwanda (§200).

At several points in the report the GoE indicates the involvement of Rwandan authorities in the smuggling activities (for example §204). Smuggled ore from the DRC is tagged in comptoires in Rwanda, which hides it true origin and dramatically increases its selling price (§200). This should make clear that any certification mechanism based on “tagging and bagging” can not rely on measures solely controlled by the Rwandan government.

The lure of ivory

Showing that the use of resources to finance conflict is highly opportunistic, at least one armed group switched from poaching for ivory to attacks on gold mines, according to the GoE (§65).

Nonetheless, at least 310 elephants (and likely many more, §225) were poached in 2012 and 2013. Poaching is often done by locals in close cooperation with corrupt members of the security forces (§229). South Sudanese nationals are also heavily involved in poaching activities in Congo’s Garamba national park.

The main transit country for ivory from Congo is Uganda, its destination are usually markets in eastern Asia.

Oil: the new kid on Congo’s conflict block

Like many other countries straggling Africa’s enormous rift valley, the DRC is hoping that this geological formation may feature crude oil deposits. Uganda is already preparing to start production, while the DRC is still in the early stages of exploration. These activities are controversial mainly because of the environmental threat they pose, but the GoE also mentions some connections between the exploration activities and armed groups in eastern Congo.

Parts of exploration Block III, owned by French company Total, are for example in the area of operation of the FRPI, an armed group responsible for considerable displacement among the local population. The report (§59) mentions that Total has demanded from the government to resolve the security issues posed by the presence of the armed group, but the company declined to discuss how the situation has been reflected its social and environmental assessment of its exploration activities.

Recommendations

The GoE recommends that companies

Conduct due diligence in minerals purchase in the Great Lakes region, in addition to investing in traceability schemes.

This is mainly in accordance to the demands of many advocacy organisations. In addition, the various governments are asked by the GoE to strengthen their laws, the application of these laws and their cooperation to limit the smuggling of natural resources from the DR Congo.

My take on the information on resources in the context of conflict provided by the report is that activities of policy makers and advocacy organisations should focus on realising the potential associated with natural resources in the Congo. While minerals and other resources can be used to finance conflict and in some cases their presence contribute to specific acts of violence, they also provide much needed economic opportunities for many people in the DRC.

To achieve this goal, governments in the region as well as in Europe and America need to enforce stronger regulations regarding the circumstances under which these resources are produced and traded. Transparency is key here and companies should be forced to provide information about the conditions under which their raw materials were produced to consumers.

What are your thoughts on the report?

*According to google, “conflict minerals” were first mentioned online in 2009

 

Rich Links: Oil and Uranium across Africa

Quite a long list of noteworthy reading material this time around:

Falling gold prices lead to job cuts

Mining company AngloGold Ashanti Limited will lay off 400 miners in Ghana, reacting to falling prices for gold on the world market. Gold has fallen by $500 over the last months, coming down from a historic heigh point. The lay-offs in Ghana are the first signs of wider repercussions for gold miners around Africa. Mining Review

Oil – a blessing or a curse?

A series of articles from different media look at the benefits and drawbacks of petroleum exploitation for African societies. AllAfrica/This is Africa | AllAfrica/NewVision | AllAfrica/Deutsche Welle

Uncertain times for Somalia’s oil and gas business

Recent finds bring hope for new revenues for Somalia’s embattled government, but the recent attacks on a Kenyan shopping centre also put the remaining challenges for foreign investment under the spotlight. AllAfrica/Sabahi | Africa Confidential (subscription required)

Uranium mining around Africa

There is a rising interest in uranium mining across Africa. Recent articles look at projects in Tanzania and Botswana. Mining Review | African Mining Brief | AllAfrica/Tanzania Daily News

Petroleum exploitation in central Africa

The Jeune Afrique takes a look at the fortunes of the petroleum industry in central Africa. Jeune Afrique

East African states take stake in Ugandan refinery

The planned refinery project in Uganda, which will be provided with oil from the country’s nascent oil fields, has been given another boost with neighbouring states Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi agreeing to take a 40 per cent stake in the project together with the host country. The remaining 60 per cent will be financed by private companies involved in the exploitation of oil reserves. Engineering News | Africa Energy Intelligence

Benefication laws in Zambia lead to growing backlog for copper stocks

After the Zambian government has enacted laws forcing copper mining companies to process a larger part of their production in the country itself, those companies complain over limited smelting capacities. Stockpiles have been growing, according to the industry and threaten to block operations at the mines. Some observers allege that the bottleneck has been created intentionally by investors, to force the government to loosen the new regulations. Mining Review

Oil theft in Nigeria

A look at the origins and consequences of oil theft in Nigeria. Baobab | the guardian

Rich Links: Mining in Kenya, Child Labour and Oil in Uganda

As usual, the best articles from around the internet:

Kenya revokes mining licences, plans new mining policy

The Kenyan government has revoked all mining licences given out between January and May this year, citing “questionable circumstances” in their allocation. With high hopes for the mining sector, the government also plans to put in place a new mining policy soon. Mining Review

Legalization vs. child labour in mining

In an interesting article, author Dan Paget argues that advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch are focussing too much on the practice of child labour in mining to the detriment of pushing the agenda for legalizing small-scale artisanal mining. Reports by these organisations, according to his argument, have tremendous power to shape the debate and policy around artisanal mining in Africa and give incentives to governments to keep these practices illegal or in a legal grey zone. Pushing for legalization, on the other hand, would give governments the power to effectively regulate the sector, providing a sustainable way to end child labour in the long-term. Think Africa Press

Uganda issues oil production license to Chinese firm, wants to start producing crude in 2016

Chinese company CNOOC has received a licence to start crude oil production at the Kingfisher field from the Ugandan government, with the first crude expected to flow in 2016. Uganda has put high hopes on its oil reserves, with several refineries in planning to satisfy local fuel demands. Successfully bringing oil online is a cornerstone of current president Museveni’s bid to stay in power. AllAfrica/The Independent

For further reading on Uganda’s oil sector, I recommend a recent report by Dutch research organization IPIS, “Business, Human Rights and Uganda’s Oil”.

A way forward in Uganda

Joseph Kony. Zeit.de photo.

The internet has erupted over the Kony2012 video, produced the advocacy group Invisible Children. It has gone viral instantly, collection over 75 Million views until now, but has also drawn vicious criticism from other NGOs, researchers and (perhaps most importantly) Ugandans. While everybody agrees that the video is an incredible piece of marketing, the critics argue that it distorts the realities on the ground, advocates for a military (non)solution and disregards Ugandan agency.

I’m squarely on the side of the critics after seeing the video. But this won’t be another post explaining you what’s wrong with this publicity stunt (others do this just fine).

Instead, I want to ask what an alternative strategy to end this misery might look like. Mahmood Mamdani is certainly right in arguing for a peaceful solution. I myself have argued as well, with respect to Somalia and al Shabaab, that demonizing an enemy and escalating violence against him has the potential to make the situation much worse instead of better.

But the fact remains that Kony is on the loose in the Central African Republic and in Congo. While we can be happy for the people in northern Uganda that they got rid of him, we shouldn’t forget that he is still a threat to many people in other countries.

And in difference to Mahmdani, I’m not a fan of a general amnesty for Kony and his inner circle. These guys have committed unspeakable atrocities and if there is any way that they could be brought to justice (before an impartial judge and with the benefits of due process, of course), one should take it.

And such a way exists, I think. It is more complicated and expensive than taking Kony out with a drone and will take more time than sending in the SEAL team six, but I think it will be worth it.

The general idea would be to approach the problem from two sides: 1. provide meaningful security to the population living in areas with LRA presence and 2. degrade the operational capacity of Kony and the LRA by peaceful means.

The first part of the strategy would require a peacekeeping force with sufficient resources to deny the LRA easy attacks on civilians. As others have pointed out, the LRA is neither well equipped, nor highly trained. Their main advantage is the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area they are active in. Taking away this advantage will require a far more sophisticated and better equipped force than the current peacekeeping mission in the Congo has to offer, but maybe Invisible Children could convince the US government to pick up the tap for this …

The second step would be to pick the LRA apart, but not by killing as many of its members as possible. The rank and file of the LRA are probably mostly abducted minors and as much victim as perpetrator. Instead, one could take demobilization efforts like the one targeting the FDLR in the Kivus as inspiration to convince the normal fighters of the LRA to come out of the bush voluntarily. Once the rank and file lays down their weapons, Kony himself will be a much smaller threat and much easier to catch alive.

What do you think? Is this a strategy that could work?

Microcredits revisited

In 2008 I entered the microcredit business.That year I discovered the peer-to-peer lending platform MyC4, which lets you lend money to entrepreneurs in various African countries. My initial views on the platform were published in the German weekly “Der Freitag” but for those who don’t speak German or don’t like klicking links, here is a short round-up on MyC4:

Open loans on MyC4

As “investor”* you can open an account with MyC4. The platform then let’s you choose from a number of open loans, which have been vetted by local partner organizations, the so-called “providers”. The lending itself is competitive – it uses the “Dutch” auction system. You can place a bid (say 20 € at 15%) on an open loan. Once the total loan amount has been funded, new bids need to be better than the existing ones. The worst bid of a loan will be kicked out if another investor makes a better offer, thereby reducing the average interest on the loan. Once the interest passes a predetermined threshold (usually between 10 and 15%) the provider can close the loan, but most loans end up several percentage points below the asked interest. This system is supposed to ensure that investors with varying doing good/making profit expectations can participate in the platform.

Over the years, I dedicated a total of 1000 € from my savings to MyC4. My objective was to make a modest profit, which would render my investment sustainable. Sometimes during the last year I realized that my approach was not working out and I stopped reinvesting. Now almost all my loans are either paid back or defaulted and I can try to draw a conclusion.

The good

As of today, I have invested a total of 2070.12 € through the platform. This is double the amount of money I actually put into it. This is possible, as MyC4 loans are repaid on a monthly schedule, thereby opening the door for rapid reinvestments. From a social perspective, I think this is far better than donating money, as this way I can give again and again and again, all while leaving a maximum of responsibility with the borrower, who after all knows best what he needs the money for.

The bad

While the social aspect of the experiment certainly worked out, the idea of making a profit sure didn’t. 17 of the 97 loans I participated in defaulted (an unacceptable  20% default rate), which resulted in a total loss of ca. 200 €. Worse, even the 73 loans that were fully repaid only barely broke even, because of massive currency deprecation.**

This criticism has to be qualified though. First of all, 73 hard-working entrepreneurs honored their contracts and repaid loans that asked for interest rates far higher than those common in the EU or USA. They deserve applause. Of those who didn’t repay in full (the average defaulted loan resulted in a 50% loss of the invested capital) we don’t know the stories and it may well be that some of them are not personally responsible for what happened.

Also, a part of these losses is due to beginner mistakes made by myself. Especially in the beginning, I did not spread the investments over enough borrowers, providers, countries and industries. I also didn’t calculate currency risk correctly, which resulted in the bad result for the repaid loans.

Most importantly though, a huge part of the losses is due to a Ponzi Scheme run by one of the providers, which gave rise to huge criticism on how MyC4 was run:

The ugly

I don’t want to examine the whole story, but fact is that one of MyC4’s Kenyan providers put up fake loans on the platform, raked in the money of the lenders and subsequently made off with it. MyC4 itself did not participate in this criminal behavior, but  they certainly neglected their duty to check on their business partners and ensure compliance to transparency standarts.

I guess at least half of my losses are due to this racket. As far as I know, there are still court proceedings going on in Kenya relating to this case, but I doubt that I will see any of the money I lost again.

MyC4 has made several changes to its procedures as a consequence, but I doubt that anything safe of a total makeover of the legal framework in the respective countries could fully mitigate the risk of such a thing happening again.

The long and the short of it

Investing in MyC4 has been a mixed experience. While it was certainly more effective than simply buying a goat through a donation to a large NGO in terms of “helping”, the promised profits have not materialized. As I said, I have transfered practically all of my remaining investment as a consequence of this.

But I will return! I am still convinced that micro-lending is a great way to combine supporting entrepreneurs in the developing world and making a small profit. While MyC4 had to fight many problems over the last few years, the changes they have made seem to result in a much more stable platform which reduces (though not eliminates) the risk of defaults and outright theft. Also, countries like Uganda and Ghana will join the ranks of oil-exporting nations this year, which will likely reduce the volatility of their currencies.

My new investment in MyC4 will reflect my experiences. I will adhere religiously to a doctrine of spreading my loans over various countries, providers and industries. I will limit the value of a single investment to a maximum of 20 €. And I will be more rigorous in calculating my asked interest rate to make sure that I ideally realize a profit around 3%.

Are you investing in microloans, either thorugh MyC4, kiva or other organizations? Which experiences have you made?

 

  • While competing platforms like kiva focus on the “giving” aspect of microcredits, the approach of MyC4 focusses on “profit” for both the borrower and the lender.

** The main culprit for this one was the weakness of the East Africa Shilling currencies over the last years. This seems to be normalizing now.