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August 5, 2010 / jeni

And We’re Back!

Greetings, dear readers. Our sincere apologies for the prolonged absence – luckily, I can report that this has been largely due to positive developments!

For one, our team was commissioned to write a report on crime-conflict issues, and their implications for stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction, for a UK government agency. Researching and writing the report was a very interesting and provocative experience, often leaving us with more questions than answers, along with a profound respect for the amount of information and research that needs to be folded into the emerging theories and models in this area. We’re pleased to say we’ve received very positive feedback on the report and our recommendations, and that there appears to be a rapidly growing interest in these issues – and the options for approaching them – within various government agencies.

As well, some of us have been engaged in very productive field research; one of us began a very exciting research project, which we hope to reveal at some point; and one of us welcomed a bonnie wee lad to this earth. All in all, it’s been a busy few months!

Now that things have settled a bit, I’m happy to return to our beloved blog and try to catch up on everything that’s been going on in the crime-conflict arena. Will post on some new issues soon but thought I would start by flagging a few stories I’ve seen in recent weeks that we have addressed on this blog previously.

Let’s start with some good news. Last month saw passage of the world’s first ‘conflict minerals law’, as President Obama signed a US financial reform bill that contained a provision targeting Congolese exports of key minerals. From the Washington Post:

The passage, tucked into the bill’s “Miscellaneous Provisions,” will require thousands of U.S. companies to disclose what steps they are taking to ensure that their products, including laptops, cellphones and medical devices, don’t contain “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The sale of such minerals has fueled a nearly 15-year war that has been marked by a horrific epidemic of sexual violence.

The issue of “conflict minerals” was barely mentioned during congressional debate on the Wall Street bill. But it has attracted growing concern from an unlikely alliance of conservatives and liberals — from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to feminist Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues.” Activists hope to ultimately see an international system for curbing the trade, such as the one that has slowed the sale of “blood diamonds” from West Africa.

Another potentially positive development: recent elections in Somaliland. Chris Albin-Lackey of Human Rights Watch provided an optimistic brief on the elections and what the future may hold for this breakaway region:

Last month, Somaliland–an impoverished sliver of territory that has maintained de facto independence from Somalia since 1991–held elections that put the democratic pretenses of its neighbors in the Horn of Africa to shame. The presidential election was described by independent observers as free, fair, and peaceful…

None of this has come easy. These elections were supposed to have taken place more than two years ago, and at various points along the way it seemed that they might not happen at all. The government has not always chosen the democratic path either. It has regularly used illegal “security committees” to imprison people without fair trials, and it has at times harassed independent journalists and government critics. Government institutions are weak, and the rule of law is often more of an aspiration than a reality. But for all that Somaliland has been a peaceful and comparatively democratic place for 19 years now, against great odds and with precious little support from the outside world.

Of course, bad news continues to roll in. June saw the release of a US congressional report titled Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the US Supply Chain in Afghanistan.

The findings of this report range from sobering to shocking. In short, the Department of Defense designed a contract that put responsibility for the security of vital U.S. supplies on contractors and their unaccountable security providers. This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others. Not only does the system run afoul of the Department’s own rules and regulations mandated by Congress, it also appears to risk undermining the U.S. strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan.

Logistics generally do not receive enough scrutiny and attention in conflict scenarios, and the consequences of this are especially deleterious when flawed provision arrangements end up aiding one’s adversary. In this case, the report notes that ‘the logistics contract has an outsized strategic impact on U.S. objectives in Afghanistan’. As I wrote in an earlier post on this subject, we are for all intents and purposes paying insurgents to let us practice counterinsurgency. It’s good to see some official attention being lavished on this problem.

Finally, we’ve talked about timber smuggling before, in relation to Taliban funding, but a recent Guardian article on Kashmir reveals a different crime-conflict link with respect to this practice:

The insurgency that has wracked the [Kashmir] region for two decades is at a low ebb and an economic boom, in part fuelled by cash poured in by central government to win hearts and minds, has meant a voracious appetite for wood for new homes, hotels and other construction. Although there is officially licensed government wood available, a huge black market of “timber smuggling” has sprung up as a result.

The law of unintended consequences seems to be repeatedly invoked on this blog – but this is another good example of it.

Just a few nuggets of recent news… undoubtedly, we will have much more to share in the coming weeks and months.

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