Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brilliant blog on Sudan

De Waal sends readers to Rebecca Hamilton, whose "investigation" of Darfur policy will be a wonderfully entertaining read, given what is already on the blog.

The straighttalk "get over it" express did come into the station...

And it's name was Scott Gration... and now he left the station... where to!?!?!  Another IDP camp?  "Time to look to the future, guys!"  Ironically the whole thing is a great rebuttal to Collier's "greed vs. grievance" because here are the finest minds of U.S. diplomacy telling the rebels and the IDPs, "There's more satisfaction of greed in peace".... and yet they keep insisting on not following them down the path to peace... so they are dastardly clever or grievance-deluded... must be latter, hence the "psychological stuff"...

If I get a cookie I'll start blogging again. Honest.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No difference? What do Lubna Hussein and Alan Turing have in common?

And there things might have remained, an appalling story of injustice rapidly fading into the depths of the past. Might have, except John Graham-Cummings, a programmer of some repute, decided to mount a petition to try and get the British government to apologize for its treatment of Turing. He did not expect to succeed in this obscure and perhaps quixotic quest, but he pushed hard at publicizing the petition, and last week, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, called him:
A few minutes later the phone rang and a soft Scottish voice said: “Hello John. It’s Gordon Brown. I think you know why I am calling you”. And then he went on to tell me why. He thanked me for starting the campaign, spoke about a “wrong that he been left unrighted too long”, said he thought I was “brave” (not sure why) and spoke about the terrible consequences of homophobic laws and all the people affected by them.
That same day, the PM released a statement of apology
Read more....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Roads, roads, roads."

That is what John Garang famously (or apocryphally) answered when asked about development priorities for South Sudan. I've always been a skeptic... of course roads are good, but the question really is the opportunity cost of paved roads. Driving around Burkina Faso, I'm more than ever convinced of the low value of paved roads. The NGO I direct here in Burkina Faso, Friends of African Village Libraries (, has a library in the village of Sara, and the village is now at the midway point of a new 300km paved road between the regional towns of Bobo-Dioulasso and Dedougou. During our two hour visit to the library, no cars came down the road. When asked, everyone jokes: "One bus leaves each town in the morning, they cross near Sara, then they drive back in the evening." It's an exaggeration, but makes the point. The road isn't changing anybody's life.

Driving this weekend to Ghana, on the paved road from Ouagadougou to Po and then Bolgatanga, again, very little traffic. In fact, what I really noticed once again was the massive pileup of trucks at the border, all sitting idly while the customs men went about their Byzantine work. it struck me that here was the real opportunity cost of paved roads: what if instead of paving the road, it had been left as an improved graded gravel road, and the money for the asphalt had gone to build up the border infrastructure to expedite customs and enable trucks to get through in an hour. The time savings (and heck, maybe even the maintenance on the trucks- a rolling stone gathers no moss?) could easily be greater than the time savings by driving on a gravel road. And the gravel road might then be better maintained, and be made wider, so there would be fewer accidents than on the narrow paved and potholed roads (though the Burkina's credit, every year I see improvement in road maintenance).

And if it is this way for Burkina, how is it for South Sudan, clearly 20 years behind in terms of truck commerce? No, I say, a six-lane border crossing with transparent customs for a paved road! Or at least some more cost-benefit analysis along those lines.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Are there two Mr. Platitudes in the house?

I am having a hard time keeping up with the blog while in Burkina Faso... too many meetings and places to be. Plus playing tennis with my Burkinabè tennis buddy! But there's always time for some gentle poking fun at Alex de Waal, whose latest blog entry over at Making Sense of Darfur is a recap of a "press conference" with Thabo Mbeki who is leading a panel of AU eminient persons, writing a report on Darfur after their listening tour... the summary statement is almost as interesting as a Scott Gration press conference. Are they trying to outdo each other with the platitudes? Come on... this is hardly worth posting on a blog. It's like the fawning sycophantic stuff on official state television... the dueling gilded armchairs... that leads people to tell each other the obscene jokes that Achille Mbembe writes about... the banality of power. One example paragraph:
General elections are scheduled for April 2010. The position of the Panel is that in any national elections, such as those of next year, the population of Darfur should be able to participate. The elections must be free and fair. So the necessary conditions will need to be created for that to be achieved.
Gosh I'm glad that is clarified. For a nanosecond I thought he might have read Paul Collier's new book and was going to say it would be better to have a quick fradulent election victory of al-Bashir which would be more conducive to political stability... President Mbeki's STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS BRINGS GET OVER IT TO DARFUR. Would be more interesting.