Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ivory Wars

I have an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune today arguing against militarized anti-poaching as a response to the increasing slaughter of African elephants.

Among other things, the op-ed was inspired by Bryan Christy's excellent article in this month's National Geographic about ivory consumption in Asia and beyond. Christy shows how easily ivory can be procured in markets in the Vatican, the Philippines, China, Thailand, and elsewhere and how easy it is to circumvent the international legal architecture that in theory bans the trade. Given such burgeoning demand for ivory and such innovation on all levels of its sale, going after the hunters, already a fraught enterprise, is doomed to fail.

Christy opens his article with a description of a recent elephant massacre in Cameroon. He stops short of labeling the hunters, but more credulous sources -- such as Jeffrey Gettleman in the NYTimes -- have repeated the accusation that they were "janjaweed," which has a flimsy foundation in fact. It's convenient for governments and conservationists to demonize ivory hunters as "LRA" or "janjaweed," but we really need more study of who the hunters are and the networks involved in the ivory trade. Ammunition tracing like that done by the Small Arms Survey would be a good place to start.

One final note: the Paris-based editors changed some things while I slept here on the West Coast, including deleting the name of the fellowship I hold. I'd like to acknowledge the generous support of the Ciriacy-Wantrup Fellowship and my colleagues in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands

My dissertation, titled Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands, is now available for public download.

Rather than swaddle it in caveats, I'll let anyone with the stamina to plow through nearly 450 pages on CAR take a look for themselves -- pdf here -- and I'll be happy to discuss more with anyone who is interested. In the coming months I plan to post more on how my thinking is changing.

And for those who prefer the digested version, here is the abstract:

This dissertation focuses on raiding and sovereignty in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) northeastern borderlands, on the margins of Darfur. A vast literature on social evolution has assumed the inevitability of political centralization. But these borderlands show centralization does not always occur. Never claimed by any centralizing forces, the area has instead long been used as a reservoir of resources by neighboring areas’ militarized entrepreneurs, who seek the savanna’s goods. The raiders seize resources but also govern. The dynamics of this zone, much of it a place anthropologists used to refer to as “stateless,” suggest a re-thinking of the modalities of sovereignty. The dissertation proposes conceptualizing sovereignty not as a totalizing, territorialized political order, but through its constituent governing capabilities, which may centralize or not and can combine to create hybrid political systems.

The dissertation develops this framework through analysis of three categories of men-in-arms—road blockers, anti-poaching militiamen, and members of rebel groups—and their relationships with international peacebuilding initiatives. It compares roadblocks and “road cutting” (robbery) to show how these men stop traffic and create flexible, personalized entitlements to profit for those who operate them. The dissertation also probes the politics of militarized conservation: in a low-level war that has lasted for 25 years, European Union-funded militiamen fight deadly battles against herders and hunters. Though ostensibly fought to protect CAR’s “national patrimony” (its animals and plants), this war bolsters the sovereign capabilities of non-state actors and has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the last few years alone, many of them hidden in the bush. The dissertation then shows how CAR’s recent cycle of rebellion has changed governance in rural areas. Though mobile armed groups have long operated in CAR, they used to work as road cutters and local defense forces and only recently started calling themselves “rebels”—a move that has landed in them in new roles as “governors” of populations. Throughout these various raiders’ projects, the idea of the all-powerful state serves as a reference they use to qualify themselves with sovereign authorities. But their actions as rulers undermine the creation of the unitary political authority they desire and invoke. Failure to appreciate these non-centralized micropolitical processes is a main reason peacebuilding efforts (such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) have failed.

My First Job a Ph.D.: 

I'm now a Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. I've been here since I defended at the end of July and am still pinching myself daily over my good fortune at landing out here. 

I encourage anyone whose research focuses on political economy and natural resources from a qualitative perspective to apply for the CW Fellowship. The terms of the fellowship are blissfully open-ended -- basically, to keep working on one's research and writing -- while backed by an incredible network of colleagues throughout the Bay Area. 

Writings, con't

An addendum to my mention of my recent article in Politique Africaine ("Rébellion et les limites de la consolidation de la paix en République Centrafricaine"): it has been pointed out to me that some who might not be interested in/have the time for the whole article might nevertheless like to read the abstract. So, here it is:

"This paper examines the cycle of rebellion that the Central African Republic (CAR) has fallen into over the past decade and the weaknesses of the internationally-led peacebuilding efforts that have been mustered in response. Rather than a unified state, the space maps delineate as the CAR is home to two governing tendencies, both of which take advantage of broader regional dynamics: (1) capital rentiers and (2) hinterland raiders with non-centralized modes of operating. The rebellions represent the instrumentalization of the latter by the former. But these temporary alliances have not unified the two modes of rule. An ever-tighter circle around the president controls capital politics, and rural residents remain marginalized. This paper argues that understanding insecurity and rebellion in CAR requires analysis of the specific dynamics that fostered their creation. In contrast, the peacebuilding structures advocated by international donors are founded on an ideal-type conception of the state that ignores the workings of politics on the ground. In this gap between vernacular and ideal-type politics, capital-based leaders have been able to pay lip service to the state ideals while actually pursuing their own prerogatives, with little fear of sanction. The example of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) provides a case study of how these processes work."

I wrote those words a year ago, and there's much I'd like to tweak now as my analysis of these processes has evolved. But I guess that's the nature of this line of work, and it's what keeps us writing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


My article "Rébellion et les limites de consolidation de la paix en République centrafricaine" just came out in the current issue of Politique Africaine. If you don't have access to the text, email me (louisa.lombard at gmail) and I'll send you a pdf.

Many stories to tell in future posts, but with two separate trips to Africa (two-month-old in arms) in a week and a half period and only two weeks left before dissertation submission, I'm afraid revisions must take precedence. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On Good Fortune, and an Introduction

Readers of this blog know that though I frequently opine on Central African politics and muse about the workings of witchcraft, I rarely write much about myself. The self-absorbed psychological wreck that a final-throes grad student becomes is not much fun to experience, much less read about. But events of the past week put me in touch with the tragedies I sometimes write about in a new, personal way.

About a year ago, a Central African friend of mine, Berenice, passed away, as I explained here. She had started hemorraging during a c-section and both she and the baby died. When I heard what had happened, it seemed a story from another century. Berenice was not a rural villager without access to health care; she was a university lecturer in Bangui who went to the (admittedly awfully shabby) hospitals of the capital. I knew the odds were against her, and yet the question remained: how could she simply bleed to death?

One week ago, I learned how. A truly last-minute c-section led to major tearing of my uterus, and, as a result, massive bleeding. Surgeons roused from their beds spent three hours figuring out how to stanch the flow and put me back together. Before they switched from epidural to general anaesthesia, I remember the surreal feeling of endless tugging on the inside of my abdomen, and the counts of the nurses as they placed sponge after sponge.

Not being in Bangui, where a move to the surgery is nearly always a move to the morgue, I woke up that morning with my daughter in my arms. And though major surgery takes a while to recover from wherever in the world one finds oneself, last week’s trauma is quickly fading under the inundation of small joys and steep learning curve of the new parent.

Still, I find myself thinking often of Berenice, and of the luck of the draw that led her to interment and me to a recovery presided over by angel-like nurses and soothed with painkillers. I don’t pretend to have unearthed profound new thoughts on western privilege. I simply feel fortunate. And less quick to take that for granted.

With baby Zuleika, day 2 on the outside. Photo credit Z's dad.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dr. Bozizé and his ilk

Central African President François Bozizé has been known to boast that neither he nor any of his children -- including those who now serve as ministers in his government -- have ever set foot inside a university. This did not stop him from awarding himself an honorary doctorate from the University of Bangui last month. (From the pictures, it appears he was able to obtain the degree while retaining claim to this dubious distinction -- the ceremony was held out of doors.)

As someone who came of age, academic- and professionally-speaking, around the time people like Bozizé took power, I must admit to nostalgia, perhaps naive, for the intellectual African heads of state of old. Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president, obtained a doctorate in anthropology from the London School of Economics, studying under none other than the originator of the ethnographic method, Bronislaw Malinowski, and wrote several well-received books published by actual presses (as opposed to vanity presses). Will Reno has argued that in the pre-independence and early independence years universities, perhaps especially Makerere and the University of Dar es Salaam, served as intellectual hotbeds for emerging leaders. In West Africa, Mali's Alpha Oumar Konaré had a full, international intellectual career before taking on the presidency.

But others, like Bozizé, prefer the easy route: the honorary doctorate. Consider Namibia's President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who received an honorary doctorate from the University of Namibia last year. Now, as the country debates the features of its new banknotes, the president is insisting that his portrait be graced with the title "Dr." Critics' reminder that, despite holding tens if not hundreds of honorary degrees, Nelson Mandela refuses to use the title (he reasons that he has not properly earned it), have so far not dissuaded Pohamba from his quest.

If I were an economist, I'd do a regression to see what correlates with 'real' and honorary doctorates, respectively -- something along the lines of the famous study showing that the number of diplomatic parking tickets a country racks up corresponds to its level of corruption. What can we say about the governing styles of those who studied for doctorates, as opposed to those who received honorary doctorates, as opposed to those who gave themselves doctorates?

In the case of Bozizé, his honorary doctorate is yet another punch landed squarely on the dreams many, if not most, Central Africans have that their country will become more meritocratic. Centrafrique Presse copes by taking a light tone: "The country is going really badly, but it's still necessary to entertain the people and joke a bit" ("Le pays va très mal mais il faut quand même divertir le peuple et rigoler un peu.") Maybe so. And maybe my harping on this point owes in part to jealousy as I struggle to crank out the never-ending pages of my dissertation. But I see shades of Emperor Bokassa's coronation in Bozizé's hooding, and I wonder what that comparison portends.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A day at the zoo

South Sudan’s only zoo is in Wau, in the vicinity of its biggest national park. The zoo shares a sprawling compound by the river with the state’s anti-poaching guards, a force perhaps a thousand strong. Why, I wondered, did the zoo exist, and for whom?

After passing through the rhino-painted gates, I approached a group of milling officers, nearly all of whom sported uniforms with South Sudan Wildlife Service epaulettes. I squeezed as much as I could out of my year of classical Arabic study in my attempt to communicate my interests. Eventually they ushered me to the base commander, who sat in a large office adorned only with a portrait of President Salva Kiir and a vase of plastic and nylon flowers. I explained -- now in English, for someone had located a translator -- that though I had long studied conservation in Central Africa never had I come across a facility like a zoo, and that I was curious to see how it was done.

The commander summoned a uniformed young woman, Theresa, to show me around. South Sudan boasts one of the largest armed wildlife service in the world, with some 14 - 18,000 guards (because they work on a sliding scale of formality, and because they are organized on a state-by-state, rather than a federal, basis, overall tallies of their ranks are imprecise). Shunting the less-experienced SPLA fighters into the wildlife services was one way for the new army to unburden its rosters of those ill-equipped for a military life, or those higher-ups would rather push out of the way. I suspect this is why I saw so many women on the wildlife service bases, though I didn’t manage to corroborate this hypothesis. Some state governors use the wildlife forces as a kind of home guard, that is, as a rural police force. In other places, the guards are more left to their own devices. These are dynamics I hope to explore further in my upcoming research projects.

By the time we’d reached the animal cages, a distance of some 50m, Theresa and I had picked up an entourage of three men: a boy of about eight, a young man who looked eager to overhear some English, and a stooped-yet-spry older man. We stopped at the crocodile pit. I saw nothing lifelike inside the concrete kiddie pool that the creatures had been forced to call home. Eventually one lifted its head enough that a few warty patches were visible above the mucky water.

Next up were the monkey cages. As we crossed the compound, a herd of pigs of all sizes cantered past us. Pigs filled the tree-dotted yards. Some lay in the dirt and mud, and others sauntered in search of a patch of grass or scraps of food left behind by the women selling tea and fried cakes. I asked, in Arabic, who of our group would eat a pig. Theresa shook her head no and seemed to give an involuntary shudder of revulsion. The older man nodded an emphatic yes. The other two watched the responses of their compatriots but stayed silent themselves.

The first monkey flung himself around the perimeter of the wire mesh cube that penned him in with an intensity unmatched by even the most energetic hamster on a wheel. Who would eat that? I asked, pointing at the frenzied creature. Theresa again offered an immediate “No, no!” The older man said yes and began licking is lips. The hands are the best part, he said. “You slice them” -- he indicated slash marks on one palm -- “and grill them with onion and oil.” The recipe recitation called to his mien a reverential satisfaction familiar to me from countless excursions with New York foodies. By this point Theresa had already reached the furthest monkey cage, where a calm grey fellow with shaggy fur greeted her by sticking his arm through the wire mesh. Theresa began stroking him, her fingers working through the fur in a combination massage/nit-picking session. The little boy moved to touch the monkey, but the jerky thwap he struck out with met a reciprocal bop from Theresa. She yelled at the boy to leave.

Next up were the hyenas. The zoo houses two, each in its own cage not much larger than the average professor’s office. The first we met was pacing back and forth manically. Theresa walked up to the wire mesh and began speaking in soothing tones. The hyena stopped near her and pushed its snout through a hole in the grille. Theresa stroked the animal’s nose as one might greet a horse. The hyena occasionally pulled back and bared its impressive mouthful of teeth and then returned for more petting. The two men still present seemed to be debating whether to offer their rubs as well but thought better of it upon sight of the teeth.

The conditions at the Wau Zoo could only be wished on non-sentient creatures, as cramped and devoid of stimulation or natural elements as they were. But in Theresa I saw a glimmer of interest in communicating with the inmates, and as I left the zoo a surprising lightened, heartened feeling accompanied the pit-of-the-stomach soul-wrenching I’d prepared myself for. Of course, I still had no idea why such a zoo should exist. But I’m glad Theresa was there to watch over.