Thursday, December 31, 2009

King Leopold’s Ghost and Apocalypse Now.

I just read Adam Hochchild’s King Leopolds Ghost. It deals with the exploitation of the DRC (then the Congo Free State) by King Leopold II of Belgium at the end of the 19th century. Not only gives the book an impassionate account of the attrocities commited by the Europeans in order to obtain ivory and rubber, but also of people like George Washington Williams, William Henry Sheppard and especially Edmund Dene Morel who make the world aware of these attrocities.

King Leopold’s Ghost

There were several things that caught my attention; one of them was how similar the situation is now compared to then. Two examples:

First, the Belgians made use of forced labor to obtain ivory and, especially, rubber. The book discusses in much detail how women were kidnapped so that the men had to collect rubber, and the harse punishments if not enough rubber was collected (villages were burned, right hands chopped off, women raped, etc). It shocked me how similar this is to messages we receive today from Voix des Kivus where we consistenty receive messages indicating how villagers are forced to carry loads for FARDC or FDLR troops into the forests. Other reports confirm this as well. In a recent report from Global Witness regarding mining in the DRC they note how “Local human rights organisations have reported cases where civilians have been arrested and tortured for not complying with soldiers’ orders to work for them, for not satisfying their military “bosses”, or for denouncing extortion, theft of minerals and other abuses by themilitary.’ (p. 39)”

Second, Edmund Morel – who a.o. led the campaign against slavery in the Congo Free State – found out about the attrocities while working for Elder Dempster (a Liverpool shipping firm) in Antwerpen. He noticed that ships leaving Belgium for the Congo carried only guns, chains, ordnance and explosives, but no commercial goods, while ships arriving from the colony came back full of valuable products (ivory and rubber). I hope you all saw the movie “Darwin’s Nightmare”...

Apocalypse Now

The book mentioned that the movie Apocalypse Now - a movie about the Vietnam War – is based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. So, yesterday evening I watched the movie; it could not have been more obvious:

Apocalypse is set in a beautiful country, but where conflict is rife (like in the DRC). The US soldier takes a boat up the Nung river [the Congo] to find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz of Special Forces [yes, they even kept the same name] who went insane [Conrad’s Kurtz also went insane and is also lording over a small tribe as a god]. At minutes 1:15 and 2:20 we see stakes with severed heads on it [the same is what Marlow sees when looking at Conrad’s Kurtz's house via his binoculars]. To make things even more obvious, when Colonel Kurtz dies he screams “The horror! The horror!” and shortly after that we see that he wrote in his book "Drop the bomb. Exterminate them All". In Heart of Darkness Kurtz screams the same thing when dying and had written down "Exterminate the brutes!".

The question now is why? Is Francis Ford Coppola indicating that the US regime was like the one of Leopold II? Does he want to show us the darkness of the human psyche: "the heart of an immense darkness"? Or did simply think (correctly) that using Heart of Darkness would bring in lots of money? It is a great movie.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Passports don't like washing-machines.

First, I'm flying on January 5th to the DRC via Kigali where I'm staying over 1 night. I therefore need a visa. Today I was contemplating whether to go through the hassle of going to the Rwandan Embassy in the Hague, do the paperwork, etc. or just to go to Kigali airport and buy a visa at arrival, of course, with the possibility that the latter is not possible. About an hour ago I decided to go for the latter. Second, when we travelled together, my ex-girlfriend would often tell me how badly I took care of my passport. I don't have a protection cover, I just keep it in my trousers, from the outside one can't see it is an EU Dutch passport anymore, etc.

There we go:

I just took my passport out of the washing-machine and spend about 30 minutes with my mom's hairdryer trying to save my visas and stamps. Yep, I had forgotten to take my passport out of my trousers. Luckily, I can still see that it is me on my US visa and the words on it are quite readable. Fortunately, the Dutch part is made of a washing-machine resistant material. And, magically, the DRC visa - which is nothing more than a stamp - also survived soap and bubbles. I do miss 20+ stamps. Especially the stamps one gets at US customs (the ones where they write an "F1" inside the stamp) are noticably absent. At the moment, I have a lot of lonely "F1"s in my passport. :)


First, I think I will be going to the Rwandan Embassy tomorrow. Second, as always, my ex-girlfriend was very right.

Google and the FDLR.

Most rebel groups have a website. Of course, also they have to spread their 'noble' objectives to the wider world. Also, the FDLR (the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda) has a website. In their own words, the FDLR are [things within square brackets are mine, the rest is from the FDLR website]:

"[mainly Hutu-based] Rwandans [living in Eastern Congo] determined to defend their motherland [Rwanda] kept under constant threats of extermination by a tyrannic and barbaric [Tutsi-based] regime [in Kigali, Rwanda]. The FDLR are a response to contempt, arrogance, ruthless and bloodthirsty repression, and fascism of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) [the current Tutsi-based ruling party in Rwanda and led by the country's president Paul Kagame] and to the opposition by the RPF to diverse initiatives taken in favour of a political dialogue, open democratic activities, and respect of fundamental human rights in Rwanda."

Especially the last sentence is informative. I must have been wrong then for all that time; I always thought that the FDLR was accused by many (human rights workers, the UN, and countless Congolese civilians) of mass rape, murder, forced recruitments, child soldiers, using slaves to illegally exploit minerals, etc.

When I typed in "FDLR" into Google this evening I got the following message:

FDLR - [ Vertaal deze pagina ]
Deze site kan schade toebrengen aan uw computer.
FDLR, easy homepage, Homepages erstellen ohne Programmierkenntnisse, site dynamique sans programmation.
- Vergelijkbaar -

The second sentence means "This site can damage your computer" in that beautiful language Dutch. Is Google indirectly telling us something here?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Back in the Netherlands: finally internet again.

After three weeks without decent internet, I am sitting on the couch with a cold Dutch beer and final read - instead of quickly scan - my favorite news sources:

  • Africa is a country; a great source on about everything with regards to Africa; especially the more cultural things.
  • Congosiasa; a great blog with information on Congo.
  • Chris Blattman is professor at Yale, does very interesting work, and he keeps a great blog. How every academic should be.
  • IRIN news; humanitarian news by OCHA.
  • Project Syndicate; lots of commentary by often really good academics.
  • Reliefweb; a UN website that provides information to humanitarian relief organizations.
  • Texas in Africa; blog by Laura Seay; great commentary on Africa.
  • Wronging Rights; brilliant commentary on serious issues.

From these sources (I know, I just recycle), hereby five interesting things:

  • For my dissertation I am, among others, interested in natural resources and it's relation to conflict. I read the solution to Congo's mineral problems... drones! Of course, I should have thought of that.
  • On a much more serious note, last summer Simon and I befriended a very bright Congolese student; he is studying to become a priest. Already some days ago he sent us an email on recent attacks on Catholic priests and nuns in Eastern DRC. The above sources wrote about it as well, one linked to this. Please also read the post by Texas in Africa who discusses the importance of the Catholic Church in Eastern Congo.
  • Some nice pictures and postcards from Africa.

  • In my previous post I had a link to a documentary regarding DRC's gold on CBS' 60 minutes. Please also check this out for three problems with the documentary.
  • Finally, Chinese in Africa. Indeed, last summer when I was in the DRC, each public goods project - although few in number - had at least one Chinese walking around there as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Four things I like (a belated post).

  • A short movie on the DRC's gold on CBS.
  • A recent International Peace Institute event with SRSG Mr. Alan Doss as guest.
  • The UN ends Kimia II. Finally!
  • A recent report by Human Rights Watch on Eastern Congo.


I’m in rural Austria with limited internet connection. It was quite a trip to get here from Montpellier (>24 hours in public transport): 1 tram in Montpellier, 3 busses to get to Munich, and 2 trains to get to Fuegen. As always, the bus part was interesting.

It had snowed for the first time in France the evening before, and the bus’ window-heater didn’t work (the bus came from Spain). Also, we were stopped by German police for passport control. Both made me miss my train in Munich. We drove at night, which doesn’t mean one can sleep because the bus driver has to stop every 2 hours or so for a break; i.e. lights on. On top of this, I had to change bus twice; i.e. waiting in the freezing cold on an empty parking lot praying that the next bus will arrive soon (of course those busses also had delays).

But this is usual for travelling by Eurolines bus; that’s why it’s cheap. And, despite all this, it was not a hellish ride, because there is something else usual about these rides.

I sat next to an interesting German girl my age and we had a long chat; not in English or German, but in French. Right in front of us sat a boy and a girl; she from Germany studying Spanish and he from France studying German. A bit later during the trip I overheard their conversation: she was teaching him "naamvallen".

Some years ago The Economist wrote that (paraphrasing) while the European Commission had done its fair share, it was especially the cheap airlines and buscompanies in Europe –Ryanair, Eurojet, Eurolines, etc. – that benefits European integration. It was that thought that kept me warm while freezing at the parking lot in Lyon and Karlsruhe. ;)

Friday, December 18, 2009


Because I want to be a proper Africanist I have to speak French; not only the language of love, but also the language that is spoken in 31 African countries. I forgot most of my high school French so here I am, taking classes for two weeks in Montpellier, France.

Montpellier is a gorgeous city from the Early Middle Ages first mentioned
in a document of 985. The city - the capital of the "Languedoc-Roussillon" region - is relatively small with around 250,000 inhabitants. Thank you Wikipedia. I've been here now for about two weeks; unfortunately with very limited internet connection. Hereby some pros and cons of Montpellier:

pro: walking
I love to walk around late at night when there is nobody on the street (it clears my head and makes me think). Montpellier is perfect for this with its many small narrow streets, old buildings, etc.

pro: books
I found two really massive bookshops! One of them even has a large amount of second-hand books. This all in addition to many antique bookshops I've seen. Hurrah!

con: pooh
Unfortunately Montpellier kept one bad Medieval habit: there is pooh lying all over the place.

con: closing times
My school here - Accent Francais - closes at 6pm. And the internet cafe - together with most other shops in Montpellier - closes at 8pm. How I miss New York.

Do I have nothing to say about Montpellier's culture, nearby-located villages, etc.? Actually, no. I'm taking the ‘intensive’ package here: class in the morning, (private) class in the afternoon, dinner with hostess in the evening to practice speaking, and homework after that. Of course, work for Columbia continues, so I try to do that at night.

In a few hours I hop on a bus that brings me to Muenchen, Germany (arriving the next morning). From there I take a train to Jenbach in Austria where I plan to meet up with my family (mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, granny, cousins, etc.) to spend a week together in Austria. Can't wait.

Au revoir la France! Hallo Österreich!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Books & All Things Must Fight to Live.

Yesterday morning I arrived at Schiphol airport; first a month in Europe and then finally back to the DR Congo.

In Europe: 1. I'll study French (tomorrow I'll be heading to Montpellier for two weeks), 2. Work on R (I took John Fox's "R and S-Plus Companying to Applied Regression" with me), 3. Work on causal inference (I also took Morgan and Winship's "Counterfactuals and Causal Inference" with me), 4. Prepare for the Congo.

For in the DRC I packed quite a few books (I know I should have bought a Kindle):
  • Adam Hochchild's "King Leopold's Ghost"
  • Ben Okri's "Famished Road"
  • Samual Popkin's "Rational Peasant"
  • Frederick Forsyth's "Dogs of War"
  • Adam Roberts' "The Wonga Coup"
  • Robert Klitgaard's "Tropical Gangsters"
  • Nicholas Shaxson' "Poisoned Wells"
  • Bryan Mealer's "All Things Must Fight to Live"
  • Dambisa Moyo's "Dead Aid"

I finished Bryan Mealer's book already in the airplane from New York. Bryan Mealer worked and travelled for three years in the Congo and wrote about his experiences. A very impressive piece of work! I do hope the other books are not that good, otherwise I am out of books before I arrive in the DRC. ;)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flatland (again).

A short addition to my previous post on Flatland, I just read this on Wikipedia:

"Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is an 1884 satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott. Writing pseudonymously as "a square", Abbott used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to offer pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture."


Visa for DR Congo.

The day after tomorrow I'll leave New York for 2+ months: two weeks in France to study French, one week in Austria to ski, one week in the Netherlands with family, and then for more than a month back to Eastern Congo for work. I can't wait.

Of course one needs a Visa to enter the DRC. Last time I took the official route, which took lots of time and lots and lots of paperwork. For example, the website notes that an invitation from somebody in the DRC is necessary in order to obtain a Visa. The document I obtained in the summer contained 5 stamps (including one of a notary public) and a large number of signatures.

Following the advise of my professor, this time I took a different approach. I went to the DRC Mission at the United Nations myself yesterday. They asked me for a letter of invitation, which I told them I didn't have. They then asked me for information on where I would stay. So, I wrote the following on a document:

[name of a friend]
IRC House #5
Quite close to Lake Kivu
Bukavu, DRC

She took the piece of paper, looked at what I wrote down, thanked me and tomorrow I can pick up my passport with Visa. Awesome!

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I just finished the book "Flatland"; written in 1884 by Edwin A. Abbott. The narrator - himself a square - lives in a two-dimensional world called Flatland. His wife, like all women in Flatland, is a line. The more sides one has the higher one is in the hierarchy. Indeed, the circle is the highest class. In an amazing way the book not only guides one through the implications of life in two dimensions, it introduces the reader to perceiving dimensions.

The narrator, for example, visits Lineland (a one-dimensional word) and while he is a square he is perceived solely as a point because people in a one-dimensional world like Lineland only have north/ south; this in contrast to north/south, and left/right in Flatland, and in contrast to north/south, left/right, and up/down in Spaceland.

Similarly when a sphere from Spaceland (a three-dimensional world) visits Flatland he is perceived as a circle. Indeed, what people from Flatline understand is solely a single plane cutting through the sphere:

People in Flatland (Lineland) just can't perceive the idea of there being more than two dimensions (one dimension). Is there a fourth dimension out there that we as people living in Spaceland just can't perceive?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bono, and Thanksgiving.

A few days ago a great and funny article was posted on William Easterly's blog "Aidwatchers" under the header "African leaders advise Bono on reform of U2". Please click here to read it.

Also, today it is Thanksgiving. Indeed, the day that all the Americans have to eat turkey, have to shop on Friday, and everybody has a holiday. Not for graduate students, they think (I got this from a Facebook post of a collegue in the Economics Department): "sweet, Thanksgiving, four days when I can get some research done without being bothered with other things." It is so true.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gentlemen Of Bacongo.

"A new photo book by Daniele Tamagni explores the phenomenon of sapeurs, a clique of extraordinarily dressed dandies from the Congo. In the midst of war and abject poverty, these men dress in tailored suits, silk ties, and immaculate footwear."

I saw similar pictures about a year ago in IS (the Dutch government's international cooperation magazine), but Chris Blattman recently posted the following link on his blog. Incredible!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

European Union.

While it of course depends on the setting one is in, I feel more European than I feel Dutch. I am a big fan of the European project. Last Thursday, without much fighting among the 27 European Heads of State, the first President and Foreign Minister of the EU were chosen. Together with Pierce (Irish) and John (British) I drank a beer to celebrate this, and to reflect on the quite historic fact that we now share the same President.

I would like the President and the Foreign Minister of the EU to be powerful and charismatic; two people that should bring the European project forward (like Jacques Delorse) and sell it to the people on street (like nobody yet). Unfortunately, I don't see the Belgium Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and UK Eurocommisioner for Foreign Trade Catherine Ashton do that. I really hope they prove me wrong.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Voix des Kivus.

A lot of research on conflict suffers because of poor quality data. Researchers often rely on events data collected by media and official organizations or on recall based questions in surveys. In addition, development organizations - especially those in Eastern Congo - often have a lack of good quality information, which inhibits them to respond to events in a timely and effective manner. We are now running a pilot in Eastern Congo – called Voix des Kivus – to see whether it is feasible to collect systematic data on conflict events through a system in which large numbers of phone holders in remote areas (conditional on phone coverage) register conflict events on behalf of their communities in real time through an automated SMS system. A few days ago a five minute presentation that I gave at the October 16-18 International Conference on Conflict Mapping in Cleveland came out:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weapons to the FARDC.

As ReliefWeb notes here MONUC recently handed over weapons and ammunitions to the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC), which were recovered during the different phases of disarmament and demobilisation of combatants in Ituri. On November 12 they even had a ceremony at the MONUC Bangladeshi contingent camp in Ndromo. So giving weapons and ammunition to the FARDC is a good thing?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lake Kivu, the CIA and collapsing governments.

This December (2009) and January (2010) I will head back to Eastern Congo; I can't wait. Unfortunately, if it is not the fighting it is other things that will keep my mom worried: here a recent story by the New York Times on mazuku; "evil wind" in Swahili. That is, a story about the bubbles of carbon dioxide above and around Lake Kivu that are the product of large reservoirs of methane and carbon dioxide inside the lake.

A few days ago I quickly wanted some general information on the DR Congo. I visited the CIA World Factbook. These guys recently updated their website and each country now has nice dropdown menus - "introduction", "geography", etc. - with the option to expand or collapse these menus if one hovers over them. When hovering with the mouse-pointer over "Government" (try it here) the website gives the option to:

Expand/ Collapse Government

A bit scary knowing we are talking about the CIA and the Democratic Republic of Congo. ;)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Conflict mapping and EGAP 2009.

On October 16-18 the International Conference on Conflict Mapping took place in Cleveland, Ohio. In brief, we discussed: 1. How to get conflict data, 2. How to process this data, and 3. How to present and disseminate this data. Some notes:
- An amazing combination of: people working in the developing world, computer wiz kids, academics, and people from international organizations and government institutions.

I also visited the October 16-17 EGAP 2009 Conference at Columbia University; a conference on experiments on governance and politics. Some notes:
- A closed meeting with the top 20 people in politics on this topic. Because I helped Macartan Humphreys organize the conference, I was allowed to join. It was great!
- Confirmed that I am extremely interested in "experiments" and "causal inference". It is great to see how rigorous academic work can be put to practical use. These techniques will definitely be part of my dissertation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peter goes Cleveland.

From 09/25 - 10/05 I was in the Netherlands. Because I had been flying a lot I told my mom that I experience it as similar as taking a bus. This was a dangerous thing to say.

Last Thursday (10/15) I would fly to Cleveland, spend the rest of the day reading and walking through the city, present at a conference on Friday (more in the next post), fly back in the evening and attend a conference organized by Macartan Humphreys (ibid) on Saturday.

Well, almost.

At 4am I was in the bus in order to catch my 6am flight from La Guardia to Cleveland. At around 5am, just before arriving at the airport, I noticed that I had forgotten my passport! Consequently, I had to wake up my roommate who jumped in a cab and had to race to La Guardia.

But it gets better. In the terminal I tried to obtain my ticket. After several failed attempts at a ticketmachine I agitatedly asked somebody from American Airlines behind the desk. She looked... "But sir, your flight is in 2 weeks". I had booked the wrong flight! Changing it or getting a new flight was $700+; too much for me.

So, at 10am that same day I left the New York City Bus Terminal and after an almost 14 hours busride I arrived in Cleveland exhausted. Unfortunately, I still had to prepare my presentation, and after yet another evening of 3 hours sleep I arrived at the conference at 8am. After my presentation that morning I could only visit one more talk because... I had to leave again; another 13+ hour ride back to New York ahead. I arrived on Saturday around 630am; just in time to take a quick shower and be at Columbia at 8am; Macartan's conference was about to start.

Flying is not the same as taking a bus.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

African condom commercial.

From a colleague with whom I lived with in the DR Congo I got a link to this African condom commercial: Great!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Clowns in the Congo.

I just read this post on IRIN News (a great news source by UNOCHA on humanitarian affairs worldwide); Clowns without Borders touched ground in the DR Congo. I strongly dislike clowns myself, but if it makes people (read: children in conflict zones) happy; I am in! Interestingly enough, on the one picture that comes with the story only one of the around 16 children seems to be smiling. The others seem to think "Who is that weird white guy?".

Windmills in Africa.

In July this year, when I was in the DR Congo, I was surprised that while several villages I visited were located in very windy locations, they did not make use of that fact. That is, there were no windmills in the east of the DRC. Well, one can no longer argue that me thinking about this was one of my Dutch defects. One can also no longer argue that there are no windmills in Africa. A bit belated, but please read this story. It is great to read something positive from the Continent.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Those damn keys.

Last December Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in a coup d’état in Guinea* after the death of the longtime dictator Lansana Conté. Last week Monday (September 28), tens of thousands of citizens gathered in the capital Conakry to protest plans by Camara to run in January’s presidential election, after promising he would not. In response the Captain's troops went on a brutal rampage; shooting, stabbing, and raping in public in broad daylight. More than 157 people are said to be killed and thousands have gunshot, bayonet, or other injuries. Three days after the massacre Camara luckily convincingly explained why he did not stop the rampage. He could not find the keys to his pickup. Those damn keys. I also lose my keys once in a while.

* Ok, don't feel too bad that you do not really know what country Guinea is and where it is located. I have problems with it, and I hope to earn my living one day by working on Africa. Guinea is in West Africa; it used to be called French Guinea until 1958. Don't mix this up with the country French Guiana that lies in Latin America and borders Suriname and Brazil. Also don't mix it it up with Papua New Guinea, which is a country in Oceania that occupies the eastern half of New Guinea. New Guinea from 1949 to 1962 was also known as Dutch New Guinea. The latter should not be confused with Dutch Guinea, which was was a portion of coastal West Africa that was gradually colonized by the Dutch beginning in 1598. Also don't mix up Guinea with the countries Guinea Bissau or Equatorial Guinea. The first is Guinea's neighbor to the north and west. The latter is located on the same continent, but more to the south.

Monday, September 7, 2009

'During-comps-motivation', and is the NL full?

As I noted in a previous post, during August I studied intensely for the comprehensive exams. 4 weeks and 450+ works; books and articles. Luckily we have a group of good friends that are great in motivating each other; I received this picture from Ph.D. Comics about a week before the exams. Thanks guys!

Is the Netherlands full?
Immigration is a hot topic in the Netherlands. Knowing that the Netherlands is one of the densest populated countries in the world this question is often answered in the affirmative by opponents of immigration. In a great post (as always), Chris Blattman had an interesting link that showed maps of the Netherlands with the Dutch population size at LA and Manhattan densities here.

Interestingly, that same day I listened to a great show by one of the better Dutch standup comedians here (sorry it is in Dutch). At minute 9:20 Theo Maassen notes "When we talk about asylum-
seekers the Netherlands is full, but but if someone tells she is pregnant we congratulate her."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The comps, and the (non)usefulness of academia.

Last Wednesday I finished the written part of the comps. In brief, the comprehensive exams are a test about everything you learned during the first two years of the Ph.D. I did mine in comparative politics (CP) and international relations (IR). I now know the name of the author, year of publication, the argument made, etc. of well over 450 works; both books and articles.

I studied for a month; little compared to my colleagues who had more time. Although for many this sounds horrible, it was quite nice. Not only did I read many works I otherwise would not have read, it also makes you think of a diverse set of questions. For CP, for example: What political system is best? Is nationalism good or bad? What leads to democracy? Is democracy a good thing? What leads to a large welfare state? Why are people poor? How malleable is one's identity? Etc. And for IR, for example: Why do countries fight wars? Do nuclear bombs bring stability? Why do countries comply with international law? Etc.

But, all in all, after reading the broad field of Political Science, I am not very impressed with what the academic field has achieved so far. To give a telling example from IR. One of the summaries that we made for a 1998 article by Stephen Van Evera said the following: "This article is based on SVE's PhD thesis, which is probably the most widely cited thesis in IR." It continues saying that the prime argument of the book is: "War is more likely when conquest is easy". That is it! This is the conclusion of one of the most seminal books in the field of IR! If I say this back home to my family I am sure to hear "DUH!!".

Let me give one more example. One of the things we did for IR was the preparation, presentation and then discussion about diverse topics. Most of the topics consisted of many slides and often we discussed the topic for a long time. About one topic, however, we were relatively very brief... "The Causes of Peace". Does this tell something about the field, and the usefulness of academia?

Now, what did academia - especially the social sciences - contribute to the world; not including the many piles of paper? The Democratic Peace Theory (DPT) maybe comes closest to the 'real world'. This theory - going all the way back to Kant - argues that democratic countries do not fight each other. Consequently, democracy should be promoted; exactly what Clinton emphasized in his 1994 State of the Union. But, there is also quite a bit of evidence against the DPT. Moreover, does the US promote democracy because we academics tell the policy-makers it is a good idea, or does it happen simply because hegemons promote always seem to promote their own convictions; like Victorian Britain promoted "free minds, free markets, and Cristian morality".*

Anyhow, all in all, I wasn't very impressed with the Political Science literature. Let's see whether I can contribute something in upcoming years. ;)

* I am currently reading "Africa and the Victorians" by Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher (1961).

Obama's birth certificate.

Most people in the world live in poverty, wars are still being fought, and I can continue with this list ad infinitum. But, what keeps the people of the United States - the country in the world that is best placd to do something about these things - occupied these days... the President's birth certificate! For a great discussion, please see this short part of the Daily Show here. Even in Harlem it is the topic of the day. This sign currently hangs outside one of the major churches here in Harlem:

This is wrong on so many levels. The fact that this is what keeps the people here in the United States - even in Harlem - occupied. What about separation church and state? Etc.

[I published this already on August 12, 2009 at 1024am on]

Back in the hood.

So, I live in Harlem. After being away from my neighborhood for two months what are my first thoughts again? Well, the people are very loud; screaming from one side of the street to the other, and singing (read: screaming) rap-lines while listening to their ipod. Also, people are big; many of them simply obese. The latter is not that strange. After a long day of studying for comps, I wanted to get a take-away. I walked for several hundreds of meters over 125th - the main street in Harlem - and found several Mac Donalds, Burger Kings, Dunkin Donuts, etc. Nothing 'healthy'. So, I ended up at the Chinese and ordered a General Tso's Chicken (mom, I took additional broccoli).

The Chinese there are - with the exception that ones in a while they think I can't count and then keep an extra dollar change - hardworking and friendly. Anyhow, there was this guy there. He wore a multiple-colored, fur hat; despite the fact that today it was over 90 degrees in NYC (don't ask me what that means, I only know Celsius, but I read that in the NY Times today). He had rasta-type hair up to his butt. He wore a multi-color suit, which was too short. And he had a lot (a lot!) of bling-bling; I've never seen such a big, fake, and ugly watch in my life before. His shoes were of crocodile-leather, way to big and they had green shoelaces in them. Actually, all in all, it was a fantastic sight! Anyhow, this guy was clearly drugged and had a fight with the Chinese who were standing on the other side of the counter. He was angry. Very angry! He tried to break the lock of the gate separating him from the Chinese. He tried to kick in the windows several times. In the meantime we were waiting for the police to arrive (and I was also waiting for my food). During all this time the guy just kept on screaming and cursing at the Chinese. I didn't really know what he screamed to the Chinese, but it could not have been very flattering. Anyhow, after about ten minutes, and right after trying yet again to kick in a window, he screamed to the Chinese what are now legendary words for me... "you guys look like clowns".

I just couldn't stop laughing. Picture this shabby Chinese take-away place in Harlem, a guy that is angry and looks like a clown screaming at some Chinese that they look like clowns, and then among the 20 people (who are all quiet and tense) the only white guy just can't stop laughing. Absolutely brilliant; I still have a smile on my face.

A bit less nice, though. There was a mom with four kids between the age of 7 and 12. Once that guy was gone these kids - instead of saying "mom, that was a bad man" - started imitating the man; coppying his words and doing karate-kicks themselves against the gate and windows. They thought the man was cool. Instead of the mom - who was big - saying something to her children, she didn't. She didn't even look at the them, because she was looking at herself in the mirror already for many minutes while at the same time screaming along while listening to her ipod. Yep, I am back in my hood.

[I published this already on August 10, 2009 at 1146pm on]

Spanish, French, Franish, Sprench. Aargh!

Up to several months ago I had a girlfriend from Mexico. Because I was crazy about here I studied Spanish; I took evening classes at Columbia, read Spanish books, made sure to speak Spanish to the shopkeepers here in Harlem, etc. However, only a few months before I would be fluent in the language two things happened: 1. We broke up. 2. Macartan asked me to work for him in the Democratic Republic of Congo; i.e. a country where the people speak French. The DRC, and working for Macartan, was (and is) a great opportunity. Also, wanting to be an Africanist, I have to be fluent in French. Finally, there was nothing that kept me to Spanish. So, I had to study French. But, I only had French at secondary school . Worse, I had forgotten most of it. Therefore, just before leaving to the DR Congo, I went to Montpellier to speed-study French. After two weeks of intensive (private) classes in Montpellier - where with much difficulty I switched from "tambien" to "aussi" and from "y" to "et" - and two months of French in the DRC, I am now at a French-level that is equal to the Spanish-level I had several months ago. That is, not yet fluent. So, what's my point with this post?

Well, it sucks. This evening I bought some bananas at the corner-shop. The shopkeeper recognized me and she said in a friendly tone ¿Cómo estás? I replied "très bien!" She continued in Spanish, and I started talking in Franish or Sprench; whatever you want to call it. Aargh! So, steps ahead: 1. First, kicking ass in the comps at the end of the month. 2. Then, asap after that: get French fluent. From September 1 onwards, I'll reserve two full days a week for it.

[I published this already on August 8, 2009 at 1124pm on]

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I quite enjoyed writing and uploading posts these last two months. Therefore, I'll continue in upcoming years while writing my dissertation at Columbia University:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

HELP ASKED! My dissertation topic.

This is my final post (at least for now), and it is directly addressed to all of you.

Over the last weeks I noticed that this blog is read also by people that I do not already have contact with. Knowing this, and knowing that we live in the digital age where sharing information is both crucial and possible, I would like to ask the following:

Do any of you have a good idea or any suggestions for a dissertation topic?

At the moment I am doing my Ph.D. at the Department of Political Sciences at Columbia University. Being since a few days in my third year I have to start thinking about a dissertation topic.

It is not that I do not have any ideas of my own (on the strong contrary), but knowing that people read this blog with whom I normally do not have contact with and because I am very open for other new ideas, I hereby bluntly pose the above question.

For the people that followed the blog, I am interested in Africa, in poverty, in violence, in natural resources, in economics, etc. Please reply by either leaving a comment below, or by sending me an email at

Whether you reply something or not; this being the last blog post, I would to thank you for reading the blog. I have to say that I enjoyed posting the blogs a lot. It was also a good excuse to keep me away from studying comps; the latter I have to focus on now this month. Oh joy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Penultimate post.

[This post was written yesterday while on the plane from Amsterdam to NYC].

Ok, and I know, it is quite an abrupt end to two months of blogging on the DRC. But, I don't think it will be the end of me and the DRC (and certainly not me working on Africa).

Going back to the Congo.
Why? Well, I think the country, its people and its problems are fascinating. I am sure that there is much to write about for a great dissertation (see my next and final post). Simon and I are not even close to finished with our work; it is likely that one or two more visits are necessary (also for La Voix des Kivus). Also, Macartan 'bought me out' as his RA; I therefore do not have to teach upcoming semester, giving me some freedom to travel. In other words, I'll be heading back to the Congo and its continent; and I am already looking forward.

What a f*cked up world.
Over the last two months I was in the east of the Congo; a region plagued by poverty and violence. Let's put it like this: I have seen my fair amount of shit during that period. Several hours ago I boarded the KLM plane from Amsterdam to NYC, and I was told that my seat was upgraded. At the moment I have a seat in the World Business Class; that is, the second floor in those Boeing 747s. I am sitting next to people that probably paid thousands and thousands of dollars for their seat. My leg space is that of the economy class, but then times 8. I can choose from a collection of champagnes and wines specially selected for us by KLM's experts. There are 12 buttons I can push to electronically change the position of my chair. We are only airbore since 1 hour, but the lady already asked me 9 times whether I want something. The chair is also a massage chair. And I can keep on going like this. F*ck! The day before yesterday, I was in a country where by far the largest majority of its people live below the povertyline, where women are afraid to go to their fields to works because they will get raped, etc. The day before yesterday I visited Jean Pierre; a guy that has worked 6 years straight (no holiday because you get fired) and received no raise in those six years (if you ask for it you get fired) and he gets $150 a month. He has to support his family of 4 children. Let me not start how expensive Bukavu is, the schooling fees he has to pay to get his children to school, etc. It's a f*cked up world!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

From Nairobi Airport, Kenya.

I wrote this post while sitting on a plane from Kigali (Rwanda) to Nairobi (Kenya). At the moment I am in Nairobi; there is WIFI here. :). Yes, Simon and I are on our way back home. Yesterday morning, at 8am, we were picked up by an IRC car, passed the DRC-Rwandan border, got our usual amount of stamps and signatures, and arrived at Kamembe airport.

Breaking rules.
The flight from Kamembe (Rwanda) to Kigali (ibid) was arranged by IRC’s logistics department. At arrival at Kamembe airport, unfortunately, we noticed that my ticket was missing. Of course, my booking should be in a computer somewhere. The question was: Where? The computer at the airport was (of course) old and the network was (of course) down. After a lot of calling around they verified that I had booked a ticket, but they couldn’t find my ticketnumber. The latter was crucial (at least for them), and without it I was not allowed to board. After waiting for a while, the plane standing ready to take off, having slept little, and myself having a tendency not to like waiting, I weighted my bag myself, and told them that I was getting on the plane, and that they can fill out the ticketnumber later on. Also my bags were untagged; following the rules, the security officer couldn’t let me through. I gave her a stern look and I told her that there are only 11 people on the plane and that I would be able to find my bag back. I then walked to the plane and boarded. What is the moral of this story? Westerners constantly complain (me including) that there are no rules in Africa, and if there are rules nobody follows them. Well, in contrast to the DRC there are rules in Rwanda. Of course, who is the first person to break the rules after just entering Rwanda… me, the white guy. :)

After a short flight, and a stopover in Giseny (a big Rwandan city next to Goma), we arrived in Kigali; the capital of Rwanda. There are four things Simon and I immediately noticed: 1. Most roads are paved; incredible! 2. Security agents have shotguns instead of AK47s. 3. There are buildings that are higher than 1 story and are not about to fall down! 4. There are no soldiers on the road, and the police that is around actually seems to know what it is doing.

After passing by the bank (in contrast to Bukavu, we can get money here), and checking into hotel Okapi, we visited the 1994 Genocide Memorial Museum; this was very impressive. We did some work in the hotel’s restaurant (with some Primus and salty peanuts). We had dinner at an Indian place (great food). We watched an episode of The Wire (Avon Barksdale was being shot at). And after a ‘nap’ of two hours, we were picked up at 1am by a taxi to bring us to Kigali International Airport.

Warm shower.
There is a very important thing that I should not forget to mention. We had a warm shower! After two months, we had a warm shower! With warm water! Absolutely brilliant! Just before 1am the following sounds could be heard from our bathroom:
“f* brilliant!”
“I feel alive!”
“This is f* amazing!”
It is a fantastic experience to take a warm shower after two months of taking cold-water bucket showers.

So, today we will be flying from Kigali to JFK. We left our hotel this morning at 1am and are expected to arrive at our apartments on the island at around 11pm. That is, with stopovers in Nairobi and Amsterdam, this will be a trip of around 28 hours! It is 634am now, so 'only'22.5 hours to go. Oh Joy!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Coltan, et al.

Several weeks ago Simon and I were at the UNHCR. We had a chat with the security guard; Jean Pierre. Very nice guy. He had lived in South Africa and did artisinal mining with some friends. I also lived in South Africa, and am very interested in the mining in general. The latter because much has been written on how the mining of coltan, casserite and recently even charcoal fuel the current war in the east of the Congo. on casserite and coltan. on charcoal.

Last Tuesday, just before I left to Kalehe, I met up with Jean Pierre again. We visited an AIDS clinic, met his brother who works in the church and had a long talk regarding mining. This morning at 7am I picked Jean Pierre up from his nightshift at the UNHCR and joined him to his house and family where we had tea, and he gave me several precious metals. Here we go:



Grena Rouge:


And yes, coltan:

And casserite:

So, why do I have these things now? First, I am interested and probably will do a bit of research on civil wars and natural resources, so I should see what I will be writing about. But, having these metals, isn't that a bad thing, knowing that it is fuelling conflict? I gave this a bit of thought, and answer in the negative. It is artisinally mined; by Jean Pierre himself. As the aforementioned report notes:

"Global Witness is calling for actions targeted specifically at those parts of the mineral trade which are controlled by armed groups or military units and has developed the aboverecommendations with this goal in mind. A crackdown on this part of the trade would not have significant negative effects on the civilian population in the long term, as the profits currently derived from it serve primarily to enrich the elite of businessmen, the military and leaders of armed groups.

Global Witness does not take the position that mining activities in eastern DRC should cease altogether. Nor does it advocate a boycott or embargo of the trade as a whole, as such blanket measures would adversely affect the sections of the mineral trade which are not controlled by any of thewarring parties.

The aim of Global Witness’s campaign, therefore, is not to stop artisanal miners from trading, nor to close down mines in eastern DRC, but to exclude the warring parties, and their intermediaries, from the supply chain and trading networks, so that miners are able to sell only to legitimate, civilian buyers who do not have connections with any of the warring parties.Global Witness also aims to highlight, and ultimately stop, the

grave human rights abuses committed by the warring parties involved in the exploitation and trade of minerals."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dinosaurs in the Congo.

On Tuesday morning, during breakfast, I spilled Nutella on the table. But... it looks like a Brachiosaurus. How cool!!

Our last fieldtrip. :(

Last Tuesday and Wednesday we were in the field again. We went to two villages to implement La Voix des Kivus in the third and fourth (and final) village.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A weekend in Goma, and instruments from hell.

At around 3pm – after a comfortable, three-hour boat ride across Lake Kivu – Tracy, Simon and I arrived in Goma. The latter is a plagued city while it should be a paradise. The area around the city is fertile, the city is located next to a gorgeous lake, there are incredible parks with wildlife all around (a.o. Virunga National Park), the weather is amazing, etc. But Goma is far from a paradise. It is fertile because of volcanoes; and in 2002 one of them – Nyiragongo – erupted and sent a stream of lava (200 meters to one kilometer wide and up to two meters deep) through the center of the city as far as the lake shore. The nature reserves are nice, but there is one problem. They are also great hide-outs for rebel groups; and are used as such. Also, Goma is located in the east of the Congo on the border with Rwanda; the city was the hub for the refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, because of its strategic position it saw lots of fighting during both the First and the Second Congo War, and recently it was almost overrun by Laurent Nkunda and his CNDP rebels. Oh yes, I almost forgot. It is located next to Lake Kivu, which is about to blow up (see one of my first posts).


After arrival, being picked up by an IRC car and driver, showing our face at IRC’s Goma-office, and checking into the Caritas hotel, we had a walk through the city. Although Goma is one of the bigger city’s of the DR Congo, there is little to do. The main attraction on our walk was a supermarket. There are – in contrast to Bukavu – several good restaurants in Goma. We ended up at a great Indian place, and I made sure that the leftovers was put in a doggy-bag.

Our hotel with view:


A friend and colleague in our PhD-program is from Goma; his family still lives there, and we wanted to visit them. Of course(!) when we tried to call them on Sunday morning, the Zain network was down. We therefore had to go for another walk through Goma, and then walked back to the docks as our boat left at 2pm.

Instruments from hell.

I am not talking about AK47s; I am talking about our boat on the way back to Bukavu. The boatride was horrible. The boat – with 2x 50hp Yamaha engines – was very small. The boat was overcrowded; instead of 14 people there were about 24. The lake was extremely rough; a lot of wind and high waves. Before we had even left a lady threw up, and shortly after taking off the captain's assistant hit his head again a pin in the sealing and had a well-bleeding headwound. The lady sitting in front of me was well over 240 pounds and, as a result, her seat touched the ground and the back of her seat hit the front of my seat; i.e. my legs (already not made for these types of boats) had absolutely no room and I had to place my legs in Tracy’s legs-place. I mentioned the lake was rough. I spent enough time on boats to know that at those moments – in order not to get seasick – one has to look at the horizon. And so I did. The people in the boat did everything but that. They were talking (read: arguing and screaming), looking inside the boat, etc. However, after several minutes, many of them turned quiet and started looking sick. In addition, when, after about an hour, I looked on my GPS device (great stuff) to see how far we still had to go, we were not even a quarter of the way! Combine all this with what I thought was going to be a mix of the the following odors: vomit, petrol, blood, and… the Indian food I brought on the boat (I already smelled it in my bag while on the shore), this boat was a vomit bomb ready to explode.

Then … Idjwi saved us. Idjwi is the world's tenth-largest inland island and stretches out over almost the whole of Lake Kivu. It took the wind - and therefore the waves - away. The boat picket up speed (the GPS device indicated we were going as fast as 45 km/h), the music went on in the boat, sodas were distributed and there was even a working television in the boat. Brilliant.

The boat on the way back:

In the end we arrived at around 530pm; of course an hour later than what the people at the dock in Goma told us, but we were very happy to be back on shore. An IRC car was waiting for us, and after going through customs (yes, each time!) and a short ride back home, Simon and I could finally... dress up. We were invited by our Voix des Kivus Field Coordinator and his wife to have dinner at their place. After a great Congolese dinner (foufou, fish from Lake Kivu, etc.) we arrived back at around 11pm; finally we could sit on a couch and be tired.

Two final random things:

- This is a great report:

- We asked Macartan to send us some money via Western Union. The latter told Macartan that there were no Western Unions in the Congo. Simon and I beg to differ as we have seen tens and tens of them in Bukavu, Lubumbashi and Goma. Hereby proof: