Monday, March 28, 2011

Arab Unrest: Worthwhile Reading

Libyan rebels have recaptured much territory in recent days, and have been recognized by Qatar and Kuwait, which will allow them to export oil and gain revenue. The lightly armed rebels may find taking Sirti and Tripoli harder than they expect. While airstrikes are effective in destroying tanks sieging cities, they will not be able to convince the significant percentage of Gaddafi loyalists to lay down their arms.

A slow advance will give the rebel council a time to consolidate their management structures, and figure out what they will do if they ever to capture Tripoli, Libya needs serious investment in public institutions, from Alex de Waal's excellent article on Libya:
Gaddafi deliberately refused to build institutions in Libya, reflecting both his own Bedouin background and his philosophy of people’s government. His Africa policy was similarly pursued by through the instruments of monetary patronage and ideological solidarity, strictly on the basis of personal relations with counterparts....Between eleven and seventeen African countries—to be precise, African heads of state—have benefited from his largesse. Many rebel groups, especially in neighbouring countries, have also been the recipients of extraordinary Libyan giving sprees. Not only Gaddafi but his lieutenants possess large reserves of money and enormous stores of weaponry.
Much of Libya is now ungoverned. That is particularly true of southern Libya. There has been little attention to the towns of the south, such as Sebha and Kufra, with no international correspondents there. These places are matters of great concern to neighbouring governments such as Niger, Chad and Sudan, because these towns have served as the rear base for armed rebellions in their countries, and rebel leaders still reside there. Gaddafi’s opening of the Libyan arsenals to anyone ready to fight for the regime, and the collapse of authority in other places, means that such rebels have been able to acquire arms and vehicles with ease.... Mercenaries, freebooters and rebels from across the Sahel, and even beyond, are heading for Libya to take advantage of this open-entry, take all you can arms bonanza.
For a different impression of Gaddafi, it is interesting to read a piece by Ugandan President Museveni, who discusses some redeeming points of Gaddafi, such as his investment in infrastructure, his demand for a higher oil price and his nationalism.

Writing in the NY times, the ever optimistic Jeff Sachs asks us to remember that democracy alone will not solve the underlying economic troubles of some arab nations, he asks the west to
...respond to the economic hardship that has fueled discontent. Youth unemployment is disastrously high, perhaps 40 percent of those under 25 years of age. The systems of vocational education, on-the-job training and skill apprenticeships are in disarray. Both Egypt and Tunisia are natural hubs for youth employment — in information and communications technology, business processing operations, light manufacturing, construction trades, public health, education and many other fields. But the ramp from school to jobs must be made, along the lines perhaps of the successful models of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

This week also saw a rare piece from Kofi Annan in the FT about what these uprising mean for democracy and elections:
National leaders must learn that to provide democratic legitimacy, elections must be free and fair. The international community must understand that every time it turns a blind eye to electoral abuse, it becomes complicit in degrading democracy’s potential. Short-term expediency cannot be allowed to overshadow the longer-term impact on security, development and human rights. We have to raise the costs for those tempted to rig or steal polls.
Meanwhile, Yemen and Syria are having their own troubles. In Yemen talks have stalled, and the presidents repeated promises of reform, stepping down in the future, or immediately handing over power appear less credible. In Syria there appears to be uncertainty about who is responsible for some of the violence, the Economist writing that many believe the government is not responsible for the gangs and armed thugs, however, the army has clearly been responsible for some killings. So far the Syrian government have only hinted at reform, and the BBC does not believe the administration is in any serious danger, then again, people said the same about Egypt.

The opposition movement in Bahrain has been significantly weakened after the arrest of key leaders, and the lack of international response to the violent crushing of protests, the foreign minister has declined their invitation to talk with Kuwait as a mediator. Egyptians voted in favour of a new constitution, but Kristof reminds us that there is still much work to be done. Jordon has also had a few protests.

The Economist is kind enough to explain why the US spends more on fighter jets then foreign aid, but the article is essentially a rehash of the Bill Easterly v. Jeffrey Sachs (v. Paul Collier) debate.

And I know that no one cares, but the Ivory Coast is also having troubles....


  1. Link fixed, thanks for the heads up :)

    I have been meaning to write a full review of Shake Hands with the Devil, or at least an analysis of the failures - how the UN is only as strong as the international community allows it to be.

  2. Yeah, I'd like to write something like that too. Maybe on my blog one day. But at least for the moment I don't want to think about the Rwandan genocide any more than I have to. I am in a foul mood for hours after I read anything from that book.

  3. The problem with the Libyan intervention is that it now looks like the West is going to be stuck (again). That is, as long as they continue to bomb (causing unavoidable collateral damage to civilians) without giving arms to the rebels - which pisses the rebels off, but the alternative is to repeat mistakes of past times - they're not going to come out of this well.

    Why are we not intervening in areas with a viable opposition? Zimbabwe for starters: get rid of Mugabe, and install the democratically elected leader Morgan Tsvangirai...