Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free book: "Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa the Tragedy of Endowment" by Abiodun Alao

Abiodun Alao Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa the Tragedy of Endowment Rochester Studies in African...
From the conclusion:

"the tendency to see natural resources either as a “curse” or a “blessing,” or the conflicts emanating from them as being rooted in “scarcity” or “abundance,” is inherently flawed" [...] neitherscarcity nor abundance has been a consistent factor as a cause of conflict [...] oil has, to a large extent at least, beena blessing to Libya while many Nigerians consider the same resource as acurse [...] The prevalence of violent conflicts over natural resources in Africa is due largely to the management of these resources.


despite the euphoria surround-ing the ongoing calls for transparency and good governance in Africa, theseefforts, though commendable in themselves, will not put an end to conflictsover natural resources in the continent. Although some of the conflicts arerooted in corruption and lack of democracy, a far greater percentage of theseconflicts have emerged because these resources are not distributed and man-aged in ways that benefit the population, especially the resource-producingcommunities, even in so-called democratic countries.


virtually all conflicts over natural resources in Africacan be linked to the governance of the natural resources sector [...] African countries do not have structuresto manage natural resources in ways that can prevent conflicts.

Haven't read it yet but it looks like a thorough overview of natural resource conflicts in Africa up to year 2007 although a bit simplistic in playing down the role of natural resources because other factors appear more important. Also, the Libya argument is kinda outdated...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blood and soil!? Scarcity and conflict re-revisited

Inspired by the growing body of literature linking natural resource scarcity to conflict, dating back at least to the 1960s but gaining momentum in recent years, Norwegian Ole Magnus Theisen published a review of the statistical literature on this link in 2008. In short, his conclusion was that large scale violence was generally not linked to scarcity of natural resources; but in stead to poverty and poor governance.

The literature reviewed have argued resource scarcity was the main cause of the Rwandan genocide, violent local clashes in Kenya, South Africa, Assam, Chiapas, Sudan and elsewhere. With varying significance land degradation, freshwater scarcity, population density (growth), deforestation, youth bulges, deviations in precipitation and similar factors have been shown to increase the risk of violent civil conflict. The problem is: when updating and expanding the datasets of two of the previous studies, Theisen was unable to replicate the statistical results.

Performing a re-computation of two statistical studies Theisen found most links previously found to be significant now fell out of traditional intervals of interest (P<0.1, at least). In the first evaluation high levels of land degradation still set off the alarm bells as it appears to significantly increase the risks of conflict onset. In the second evaluation the existence of oil resources were confirmed to increase conflicts. (The two studies didn't test for the exact same links and did also show links to non-natural resource causes, i.e. political stability.)

Theisen points out some of the problems with the studies he revisit (and with his own): Statistics have problems with investigating complex interactions such as those from natural resource scarcity to conflict, ecological fallacies are easily committed when calculating on national averages, which area is degraded and which is a rich land is sometimes determined by the eye of the beholder.

Since 2008...
Much has happened and much has been written in the three years since Theisen published in Journal of Peace Research. He himself have co-authored a chapter, Implications of climate change for armed conflict, in the book Social dimensions of climate change: equity and vulnerability in a warming world, in which he calls the warnings of climate change possibly leading to more conflict "alarmist" (as "exaggerated"). The point is, climate change and/or resource scarcity caused by climate change or other factors are never the primary cause of conflict. But it may add yet another unbearable burden to already struggling societies and through complex social and political pathways it can contribute to conflict risk.
Global warming linked to conflict - not really. Post Cold War dynamics are clearly different. Social dimensions of climate change, page 80.

In climate change related political news (not academic research) the CIA has established a climate change office from which all research is top secret, Russia is expanding with two Arctic brigades of marine infantry and the notion of climate change already causing conflict is spreading. And that's just some recent reports, much more is to be found here at Ecowar.

Early 2011 the risk of riots was statistically linked to food prices. A food price spike in 2008 led to many food riots which in turn inspired increased "land grabs" - multinational corporations or corporations from non-poor countries buying up land in poor countries with the intention of growing food products (and biofuel) for the world market. In fact, since 2008 areas about seven times the size of Germany have been scooped up. In Guatemala hundreds of indigenous villagers have been chased from their rural homes, their huts burned as the military clear the area for richer farmers or agricultural businesses. In Nigeria, some villages have just clashed over disputed lands. Again, just some recent news.

I suspect Theisen's 2008 study would come out a bit different if done today just three years later?

ResearchBlogging.orgMagnus Theisen, O. (2008). Blood and Soil? Resource Scarcity and Internal Armed Conflict Revisited Journal of Peace Research, 45 (6), 801-818 DOI: 10.1177/0022343308096157

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Watch 'The Ambassador' first chance you get

Mads Brügger - whose last documentary consisted entirely of ultra rare recordings from deep inside North Korea - is releasing a new documentary; this time about corruption in the Central African Republic (CAR). Not posing as a diplomat, but having bribed his way to actual diplomatic immunity, Mads travels to the capital Bangui to set up a consulate and mingle with shady businessmen and poor, clueless locals.

Check out the 2 minute trailer...

A lot of the footage has been captured with hidden cameras, hence of less than perfect quality, the rest with a Canon 5D which no-one in the entire country recognized as a film camera. Real life crooks exposing themselves include European dealers of diplomatic passports, local criminals / businessmen, the now dead chief of the CAR secret service and some international diplomats.

It appears corruption is more widespread than most would assume. Illegal trading in diamonds is much more widespread than most could imagine. And that France, the former colonial master, is still meddling in affairs there - in a completely amoral fashion.

A must-see for anyone interested in foreign aid, blood diamonds, international diplomacy, the exploitation of Africa or just how to do a documentary. Genre-wise it is related to the works of Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen, I'd say. Don't miss it.

Listen to Mads Brügger talk and answer questions for half an hour - in Danish:

You need these links: The Ambassador at IMDb, Wikipedia entry about the Central African Republic.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

As on Helgoland, so in Cambodia

Once upon a time...
Forsete, son of Balder and Nanna, grandson of Odin, was a Norse and Frisian god of justice. The isle of Helgoland off the coast of what is now Schleswig-Holstein, Germany was sacred in his name. It was customary to settle disputes of all kinds by arranged battle on islands; the term for this, holmgang, means "walk on the isle". But Helgoland could have been the historical site of Glitnir, home of Forsete, a sacred spring and/or an ancient court. The Northumbrian missionary saint Willibrord (born year 658, dead 739) destroyed numerous "pagan" sites, including any related to the worship of Forsete on Helgoland.

The invention of bronze around year 3500 BC in the Middle East reached Western Europe and Scandinavia around 2200 to 1800 BC. Bronze consist of 90% copper and 10% tin - and one of the main sources of copper was the isle of Helgoland where the cliffs have a high copper content. People all over Scandinavia would pay in dear for bronze knives and jewelry with mined flint stone, collected amber and animal hides.

Perhaps the dispute between Forsete and Willibrord might not have been a religious one only. Perhaps it was Christians claiming both judiciary supremacy as well as mining rights? During the about 900 years following Willibrord's raze of Helgoland the island shrunk to a tiny fraction of its original size as copper mining accelerated.
Helgoland shrinking. Maps from year 800 (largest, white area), year 1300 (darkened) and year 1649 (two small isles, white areas) superimposed.
Helgoland today. Satellite photo via Google Maps shows remaining isles even smaller than in 1649.

Helgoland Acantilado 2

Right now in Asia...
Singapore, the success story of Asia, is growing. Not just economically: its land area has increased by about 20% in recent years and a further 100 square kilometers are already in planning. This is possible only by importing vast amounts of sand - 14.6 million tons in 2010. Malaysia banned sand export already in 1997. Entire Indonesian islands have been deleted from the world map so they too banned exports in 2007 but smuggling is said to continue. Vietnam followed with a ban in 2009.

Today sand companies have their eyes on Cambodia. Although sand export being partially banned since 2009 both corruption and poverty allows plenty of exports to continue. Nearly 800,000 tons a year is said to move from the area of Koh Kong to Singapore alone. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars the local governor (and businessman) is currently defying a temporary government ban to allow further research.

Besides the coastal lines being weakened, leading to loss of land, the destruction of the sea bed has caused about 85-90% drops in catches of fish, crab and lobster and a near 100% drop in tourism where digging machinery and sand carrying boats ruin the atmosphere day and night. An NGO had just successfully established a culture of catering to ecotourists, to discourage locals from poaching.

Koh Kong, Cambodia.

Singapore prides itself in environmentally responsible city planning. Cambodians joke about going there to plant a Cambodian flag.

 Sources: Nordiske guder og helte, Politiken; Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for folket, 1. del, C. Deleuran; Wikipedia (multiple entries), Forbes, August 2011 / Sand for sale; environment ravaged, DredgingToday.com / Cambodia: Controversial Sand Dredging on Tatai River Continues.

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