Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nasty, brutish and very long

In Conservation alone 'is not enough', Richard Leakey (about whom I have previously blogged here) makes a good case that the recent 'execution' of gorillas in eastern Kivu in the Democratic Republic Congo is "fundamentally a human tragedy, with very human solutions". He recommends a "focused global initiative to end the conflict, introduce alternative sources of household fuel, and create alternative livelihoods".

Certainly, Leakey cannot be accused of underestimating the scale of the challenge, noting that the gorillas live "at the epicentre of the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War". But what are the prospects for solving it?

Congo is a textbook example of a country caught in three of the four traps that impede development identified Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion: the 'conflict trap'; the 'natural resource trap'; and 'landlocked with bad neighbours' (the DRC is not literally landlocked, but its littoral is small and inaccessible from most of the country). And it half meets the criteria for Collier's fourth trap, having bad governance. Extreme violence and exploitation have characterised the country for much of the last 120 years, with growing consequences as the population grows.

In his latest commentary on Iraq, Planning for defeat (which is worth reading for several reasons), George Packer notes that Things Fall Apart, an influential examination of the history of civil wars around the world, concludes that "[civil wars] usually last a long time, spill over into other countries, and end only through the military victory of one side, or through massive external intervention."

Given that a military stalemate looks likely in Congo, a solution will probably require outside intervention -- vastly more than the 'international community' (the rich Western powers, at best hobbled by lack of domestic political will, and self-regarding in their tokenism) -- has shown to date. From where might the determination to get serious come, given the profitability of the status quo to vested interests and the few near term benefits for most external players with capacity to act of doing so (be it 'the West', some of the more developed African nations or other players such as the Chinese)? If Tony Blair had been serious about his Commission for Africa would he not be flying around the world on its behalf rather than the Middle East Quartet? Global public opinion? How long are we talking about?

Meanwhile, the prospects for gorillas look grim and they remain among the one in four mammals under threat. Still, surprising things can happen. There may be more bounce in a 'dead species walking' than the evidence sometimes seems to indicate, as this report about tigers India apparently suggests.

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