Monthly Archives: February 2012

The deadends of counting the dead


In his article “The Libyan Model?” Vijay Prashad points out that there has not been yet a forensic mission to Libya, counting the dead before UN Security Council resolution 1973 or after in order to assess if the humanitarian intervention was really humanitarian. This lack of serious counting of the dead is not an exception and any account of dead in armed conflicts remains fiercly disputed. In some cases like the wars in Sierra Leone estimates vary enourmously, ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 (similarly the numbers put forward for the IDPs in Sierra Leone vary from 250,000 to 4.5 Million, the latter meaning that almost all of the country’s population was displaced).

In Congo, the estimates even vary in numbers of millions, with the International Rescue Committee advancing 5.4 million dead while the Human Security Report of 2009 contended that “only” 3.9 million people died (a summary of the debate can be found here). In those conflicts were forensic missions have been deployed, they sometimes have found much lower numbers than those put forward during the conflict by policy makers and observers in NGOs, think tanks or media. In the case of the war in Bosnia, the figure of 250,000 dead circulated for a long time until it was corrected to be rather around 100,000 in 2005 (see notably the works of Ewa Tabeau and others).

Much of the confusion in accounting for the dead derive from the varying methodologies and the conflation of numbers of battle casualties with civilian deaths (see Adam Roberts on this) and in this latter category the conflation of civilians killed in military actions and “war-related” deaths which may include death by diseases, malnourishment or psychological trauma, whether induced by exposure to violence or by the consequences fighting had generally on the lives of people through economic breakdown, expulsion and flight, breakdown of essential infrastructures etc. Counting the dead is by itself an extremely difficult exercise, so does it really matter?

As the Congo disaster neatly shows, the real problem is that numbers actually do not really matter in the decision whether to intervene or not. Rather they appear to be tools in the political battles over the question if an intervention is justified or not. At the times of the Kosovo war, Tony Blair heralded a new age of humanitarian intervention with reference to 2000 Albanians reportedley killed; in Congo we are talking of millions and in Darfur of hundreds of thousands killed. When it arranged the US Department of State under Colin Powell, they swiftly produced the “Atrocities Documentation Survey” in 2004, which, the authors, mainly lawyers of the Coalition for International Justice, claimed to be based on “hard” statistic facts. Subsequently, Powell declared that the situation was well to be called a genocide, yet that this would not change US policy in Darfur. When Colin Powell was replaced by Condoleeza Rice, the State Department changed the assessment team, the assessor’s expertise (public health instead of law) and, surprise, found a much lower number of deaths, leading to the conclusion that the situation could not be labelled genocidal (see for a full account the excellent article by Ron Levi and John Hagan: Lawyers, humanitarian emergencies and the politics of large numbers in Dezalay/Garth 2012: Lawyers and the Construction of Transnational Justice, p. 13-47).

This came in handy as the Bush administration had to fight back extremely high, some would even say genocidal estimates of war deaths in Iraq. Yet, the debate over how many people died subsequently to the military invasion of Iraq has not yielded any slightest change in policy, even though the WHO estimate of 104,00 to 223,000 is appalling enough. All these number games only show that minimum conditions of just war, mass atrocities on the one hand, and the criteria of commensurability of means, are simply irrelevant in the decision making for or against interventions. What seems much more important is the political bartering over military interventions and this can or cannot be based on reliable or unreliable figures.

However, if carefully analysed and cautiously contextualized, those figures and their debates are extremely relevant for our understanding of conflicts. First of all, they demonstrate (of course, one wants to add) how widespread and generalized armed fighting is and the stretch of the social capillaries affected by armed combat. Second, it can give an indication of the social groups affected, the geographic areas and of other characteristics of fighting groups. It is here where careful contextualization is, however, extremely important in order to avoid biased (hence, conflict reproducing) accounts of what happened. Third, as Guha-Saphir and van Panhuis pointed out almost 10 years ago, they can tell a lot about the state of the population’s health before the conflict, which is in turn an important indicator of conflict causes.

If it is not for a thorough examination of world power politics, then it is at least for the sake of research that thorough forensic missions to war zones should be undertaken.

As an example of diverging numbers, I have summarized below the numbers found for the conflict in Sierra Leone:

Death count Distinction combatant/ non-combatant? Displaced/refugees Secondary source Primary source
50000 No Half of population Nnadozie, Emmanuel/ Abdulmelik, Siham, 2009, The role of te private sector in Sierra Leone’s post-conflict reconstruction efforts, in Besada, Hany, From Civil Strife to Peace Building: Examinig Private Sector Involvement in West African Reconstruction, Waterloo, CA, Wilfrid Laurier U.P., p. 146
20,000 No Half of the population Douglas, Ian, Fighting for diamonds, in Cilliers, J., P. Mason, et al. (1999) Peace, profit or plunder? : the privatisation of security in war-torn African societies, Halfway House, South Africa, Institute for Security Studies. p. 175
75,000 No Half of the population refugees, 4.5 Million displaced (adds up to more than the population in 1990) The heart of the matter report, p. 8
No 1999: 600,000 in neighbouring countries; 2/3 displaced inside Reno, William. 2003. Political Networks in a Failing State. The Roots and Future of Violent Conflict in Sierra Leone. Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft(2).
50000 to 75000 No Half of the population Mateos, Oscar, Beyond greed and grievance, in Bowd, R., A. B. Chikwanha-Dzenga, et al. (2010) Understanding Africa’s contemporary conflicts : origins, challenges and peacebuilding, Pretoria, Institute for Security Studies. “some UN agencies”





Was there a war in Iraq? Aaaaah, well, yes, no, uhm, dunno….


Was there a war in Iraq? John Tirman asks in the Huffington Post. Yes, “there was a war, started by the United States, pursued in violation of international law, and resulting in the deaths and displacement of more people than virtually anyone cares to acknowledge. If it’s not mentioned, it just might not have happened, at least for those who urged it on” he pursues in his paper after having looked at many different ways the US public and pundits are trying to forget already what has happened in Iraq. Just another way of forgetting is to endogeneize the fighting in Iraq by presenting it as just again an episode of an ancient struggle between ethnic or religious groups that has just been provisionaly buckled down by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The explanatory pattern is strikingly similar to the one used for the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, in Congo and other places: ancient conflicts which existed since the age of time and which a brutal, dictatorial regime stopped only through force, hence, making them briddle up once that brutal regime is gone.

John Tirman asks why there is this forgetting…and yet, the answer is obvious. By presenting these wars as internal affairs, the barbarian equivalent to the pub brawl of some aborigines in a far away country, responsibility of global and third actors is denied. This endogenization and denial are among others reflected in the data sets used in many quantitative studies. The Correlates of War project lists Iraq once in its Inter-state war set as inter-state conflict “Invasion” in 2003, and once in its “Extra-state war” data set for 2004…and that’s it. Otherwise no Americans, British or others seem to have been involved in any fighting in Iraq (or Afghanistan for that matter) — or at least not to the point to make into the COW dataset.

The PRIO dataset is somewhat clearer here as it lists the United States, alongside the other states of the coalition, as “side A 2nd” next to Iraq (side A) versus diverse groups on side B, and this from 2004 on. This still does not fully account for the particular responsibility of the United States in this mess but it does, at least, point to them and their allies as participating in an armed conflict although the main conflict is seen to be between the government of Iraq and rebel groups (Interestingly, Iran is not mentioned as being “side B 2nd”…). The US responsibility is nicely dilluted in the mass of countries appearing to be participating as secondaries. Yes, there was a war but the US was somehow but maybe not really or just a little involved….



The Economist, India and the Kashmir conflict: And the times when drawing lines was a threat to the state are not over yet…


Some China travellers might have already made the experience that Chinese costums confiscated their “Lonely Planet” travel guide. Reason: on the map of the People’s Republic of China and its neighbouring countries including the South China Sea, Taiwan is drawn in a different colour than the PRC. This could be interpreted, of course, as indicating that Taiwan is independent although it is, always has been, always will be, obviously, without doubts, afterthoughts and conditions or reserve, part of China…Now, it seems that not only vilain autocratic states like China are still itchy about the way borders are drawn in publications…the biggest democracy of the world, India, is so too. As Philippe Rekacewicz reports on his blog for Le Monde Diplomatique, India has blocked last May the delivery of 28000 copies of the Economist which contained an article and a map on the Kashmir conflict. So far for the freedom of information in India.

What is interesting in Rekacewicz’ report on the ensuing debate between the Economist and Indian journalists, is that the latter justify the censoring with the “sensitive” nature of the Kashmir issue and the emotional attachment Indians had to this part of the subcontinent. This is not without recalling Chinese rhethorics on Tibet and Taiwan. It seems that in times where geostrategic justifications just don’t sound good, where claims of sovereignty are not fought over borders but “responsibility”, contested territorial claims have to be defended emotionally rather than rationally. On can literally see the military and political powerholders at the top of the state in Delhi theatrically throwing the Economist on their desk and exclaiming with tears in their eyes “This is such a mean thing to do!”. As all things emotional, it leaves very little room to the other to say or do something that is not inappropriate and wrong in this very situation. Emotionalizing issues is always an excellent strategy to silence topics without having to debate them but also without having to answer to the real issues at stake. “Let me first calm down after this terrible shock, later we can talk… maybe”, is the message of emotional outcries; the hope that “later” will simply never come.

However effective emotionalization is for the protagonist in the short term, it is, in the end, complicating conflict resolution in the long term as it renders those issue indivisible. If the conflicts over Kashmir or Tibet were over natural resources, over land rights, over countable and taxable populations — all things divisible — deals could be found that allow every side to gain from resolving the issue. Emotionalizing is therefore an essential ingredient of escalating conflicts to the point of no-solution and of keeping them exactly there. India’s reaction to the Economist article is therefore not only an indicator for the miserable state of civil rights in the world’s largest democracy, it also clearly shows that the Indian ruling class is far, far, far from wanting a solution for the Kashmir conflict.


It’s not the weather, it’s politics! Mike Davis’ “Late Victorian Holocausts” revisited.


Hsiang’s, Meng’s and Cane’s pompous chatter about El Niño and conflict made me want to read again one of those books they would certainly count among the “anecdotical” accounts: Mike Davis’ “Late Victorian Holocausts”. Far from being anecdotical this is an excellent, extremely well researched and documented historical study of the mismanagement of major droughts and floods in the 19th century India and China, colonies of the British Empire, and in Brazil, equally dependent on Great-Britain at that time, and the complex reasons that led to the probably biggest humanitarian disaster in the 19th century. The droughts and floods were caused by El Niño, all right, but the ensuing famines and hecatombs (Davis speaks of estimates between 12.2 and 29.3 Million for the two Indian famines of 1876-1879 and 1896-1902 alone) were caused by something rather different, much more complex and far more political than the weather: racist mismanagement, imperial arrogance, liberal free market ideologies, colonial interferences in local property rights, agriculture and rural production structures, administrative incompetence, “modernization” and its destruction of traditional patterns of solidarity and inter-communal help, abolishment of the state capacity in India and China where famines had been successfully prevented before…

It well takes the book’s 464 pages to expose the complex path from meteorological misfortunes to widespread famine and death. Yet, the core argument remains simple enough: Climatic vulnerability had always existed in those lands where the famines appeared in the late 19th century; however, it is only when weather hazards combine with the complete remodelling of the political and economic structures of these countries in the wake of their forced and violent “integration” into the world (or more precisely European and American) market that disastruous famines like these wiped out millions of people.

Three major effects of imperialism account for the heavy toll El Niño took in those years, as Davis painstakingly sets out in the third section of his book. “First, the forcible incorporation of smallholder production into commodity and financial circuits controlled from overseas tended to undermine traditional food security” (p. 289), “Second, the integration of millions of tropical cultivators into the world market during the late nineteenth century was accompanied by a dramatic deterioration in their terms of trade” (p. 290); “Third, formal and informal Victorian imperialism, backed up by the supernational automatism of the Gold Standard, confiscated local fiscal autonomy and impeded state-level developmental responses – especially investments in water conservancy and irrigation – that might have reduced vulnerability to climate shocks.” (p. 290).

Through a combination of military force and financial pressures agricultural production in these countries was redirected towards exports at the cost of local food security. Local governments (whether the provinces were under direct or indirect rule) were severed from own resources and capacities to undertake relief measures when disaster stroke. Davis tellingly compares the lack of response to the late 19th century famines with the relief campaign of the Qing Dynasty Governor-General Fang Guanchang who had established graneries all over the province of Zhili in Northern China and successfully combated a threatening famine after severe droughts in 1743-1744, shattering by the way common assumptions about the incapable and passive Chinese Qing state (see for more on Fang Guanchang and famine relief in imperial China, Liliane M. Li “Fighting Famine in North China”). Furthermore, as Davis points out in the gruesome first chapter of his book (which can be read online here:, a hideous melange of free market ideology (no state intervention!) and colonial racism offered convenient excuses for the colonial masters to do as little as possible for relief and to do the little they did as cynically and brutally as only those can do who do not consider people of other skin as humans. Nowhere is the obscenity of British imperial contempt more palpable than in Davis’ comparison of daily calorie rations distributed by the British in Indian “work-for-food” camps (where the starving were forced to heavy coolie labour) with the higher caloric value of food rations in Buchenwald (p. 39).

Davis is first of all interested in analysing the complex interworking of the three factors mentioned above but he does mention again and again how all these features that led to these enormous famines had already before created hardship and provoked armed rebellions such as the Taiping Rebellion, the Great Mutiny or the Boxer rebellion. In the context of analysing causes and reason for political violence, Davis’ comprehensive outline of the destruction the “world market” (which, again, was actually the British or other colonial motherland’s market) brought to India’s, China’s and Brazil’s economy and states points to three major issues that need consideration.

First, rather than poverty as such conflict analysis needs to consider the income land can generate for rural poor. This depends not solely on the productivity of land but also, and particularly in times of crisis, on external circumstances such as tax regimes, world food prices, food security capacities (e.g. irrigation and graneries) and rural finances, notably in terms of cash liquidity to come through times of failing harvests. Long before droughts or floods ruin harvests and income, peasants had fallen victim to vicicous circles of debt, forcing them out of the land or into cash crop production that seriously endangered their subsistence. Similarily, taxes need to be analysed whether they serve to support poor underclasses in times of crisis or, on the contrary, squeeze them to death.

Second, intimately linked but analytically an issue of its own, property rights and usage rights have to be carefully analysed to understand how, in the long term, poverty and exploitation are produced (or abolished). The greatest “innovation” brought by colonialism in the 19th century was the introduction of private property and the transformation of communal, shared land and other property forms into private property claims with the often accompanying dispossession of those who had before born the fruit of land usage. Far from being always the product of explicit violence or laws, dispossession has indeed taken a large variety of financial, economic and political forms.

Third, Davis’ fine analysis of market liberal discourses and “modernization” points to the urgent need of self-reflexive caution when it comes to analysing political and social conflict and struggle in strange societies. The currently so fashionable homo oeconomicus paradigm of conflict analysis (the famous rational utility-maximizing individual), a borrowing from liberal economics, often sprinkled with good doses of neo-Malthusianism, is entirely inappropriate in the light of the complex structural and relational dynamics through which 19th century imperialism has created those Victorian genocides. All the features of the 19th century liberalism are still well alive in global mainstream development politics, from the aversion against state intervention to the unbelievably efficient remodeling, through development assistance, peacebuilding and so-called statebuilding, of local economies to magically fit the business interests of Western and Northern economies rather than local needs.



It’s the weather, stupid! Hsiang, Meng and Cane on El Niño and conflict in “Nature”


Since a decade or so, large-N studies on the causes of war have appeared everywhere. They have this pretention of certainty around them, making believe that we could analyse wars like epidemics and find the cures through so-called “scientific” methods. But, well, yes,  uhm, hm, they might prove things but they are still a far cry from explaining anything as this recent high-profile publication shows.

One common claim of large-N studies is that their evidence goes beyond “anecdotical evidence” by which they obviously mean case studies, historical studies and other qualitative “stories”.  Solomon M. Hsiang’s, Kyle C. Meng’s and Mark A. Cane’s paper in the November 2011 “Nature” (online August 2011) are no exception to the rule. In their eye-catching article, the authors claim to provide a systematic evidence that changes in climate provide a higher risk of armed conflict. Their prove is a significant correlation of what they call “Armed Conflict Risk” with incidences of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affecting local weather. Yet, as commonly the case with over-aggregated, large-N studies the authors are incapable of offering an explanation for this phenomenon beyond highly speculative guesswork. So, their final concluding call is for more detailed, in-depth studies on how ENSO affects local conditions as to heighten the risk of war…to the anecdotes, isn’t it?

This paper epitomizes the fundamental problems of overaggregated, large-N studies. They look extremely sleek and fancy with their large data, colourful tables and complicated statistics but if someone would like to know more about the causes of armed conflict she will not receive an answer. At a closer look, when the glitter comes of, a number of serious questions arise over the methodology, the ontology of conflict and the political implications of such type of research. And most importantly, there remains a shallow taste of disappointment as we do not learn very much we haven’t known already from other studies, usually those diffamated as “anecdotical”.

If we look at the methodology – the alleged strong point of the essay – we can examine a bit closer the claim that the results reflect a global approach to the question whether weather and climate affect civil war risks. The authors argue that they can capture the global effect by grouping all countries over the world which are affected by ENSO climate changes. ENSO spreads indeed all over the world through so-called teleconnections. Yet, in order to construct one group of ENSO affected countries, we need to assume that these countries are affected by it in the same manner, for instance that it creates in all countries a particularly dry weather. However, this is not the case. There seems to be general agreement that teleconnections are non-linear and that El Niño-Southern Oscillation does not affect all regions in the same way.

Whereas in some regions ENSO creates a particularly dry and warm weather, other regions see a rise in precipitations and cold air. If the effects of ENSO on local weather is different in different parts of the world, then it becomes very unclear how we can compare these regions with each other beyond simply saying that their weather changes but it does not do so in the same way, so in the end we cannot know if it is the dry weather (droughts) or the rain (floods) that affect the countries in question (see for instance: Hoerling, Martin P., Arun Kumar, Min Zhong, 1997: El Niño, La Niña, and the Nonlinearity of Their Teleconnections. J. Climate, 10, 1769–1786.doi:<1769:ENOLNA>2.0.CO;2; Vera, Carolina, Gabriel Silvestri, Vicente Barros, Andrea Carril, 2004: Differences in El Niño Response over the Southern Hemisphere. J. Climate, 17, 1741–1753. doi:<1741:DIENRO>2.0.CO;2) . The analysis also does not adequately summarize the many possible differently interacting variables, at least not in this research where different effects of ENSO are lumped together in one group.

This is, of course, not very reassuring as to understanding what actually happens when particularly dry or particularly wet weather hit a country. The authors are, indeed, entirely at loss when they need to twist the correlation into an explanation. The authors present, in fact, a joly shopping list of possible causal mechanism (I absoluteley do not like the term “causal mechanism” as human society does not work like a machine but for the sake of simplicity I will use it here.) In their own words (p. 440):

  • “Generalizing our results to global climate changes other than ENSO will require an understanding of the mechanisms that link conflict to climate. ENSO has a proximate influence on a variety of climatological variables, each of which may plausibly influence how conflict-prone a society is. Precipitation, temperature, sunlight, humidity and ecological extremes can adversely influence both agrarian and non-agrarian economies.” Right! So, ENSO influences potato chip and micro-chip production in the same way? And with the same effects? How very interesting…
  • “In addition, ENSO variations affect natural disasters, such as tropical cyclones, and trigger disease outbreaks.” Well, well, and I always thought that diseases are caused by bacteries and viruses…
  • “All of these have adverse economic effects, such as loss of income or increasing food prices…” Which only matters if you spend more than 2/3 of your income on food and not on your iPhone or Gucci bag…
  • “Furthermore, altered environmental conditions stress the human psyche, sometimes leading to aggressive behaviour. We hypothesize that El Niño can simultaneously lead to any of these adverse economic and psychological effects, increasing the likelihood of conflict.” – of all these suppositions this one is certainly the most outstanding for its unabashed remininescence of good ol’ colonial malthusianist views of the savage…
  • “…and it is thought that economic shocks can generate civil conflict through a variety of pathways” – say, say…
  • “Furthermore, the influence of ENSO may exceed the sum influence of these individual pathways because it is a global-scale process that generates simultaneous and correlated conditions around the world.”

Well, isn’t that exactly the reason why we need micro-studies to know whether ENSO has impacted on cacao crops, potato and cabbage production, micro-chip production, financial markets, the inventiveness of Haliburton to sell their weapons or on the mood of parliamentarians and generals etc.? But if we would find that factor X has only been influenced indirectly by ENSO, let’s say that bad crops are only a problem because there are no other sources of income for peasants because their labour has been squeezed to starvation by extremely inequal landowning and exploitation structures? Wouldn’t that be exactly the kind of “anecdotical evidence” the authors think is not very useful for the study of the impact of climate on civil wars?





Conflicts in standard narratives: The Uppsala Conflict Data Base Application for iPad, iPod and iPhone


The Uppsala Conflict Data Program has created a conflict encyclopedia application for iPad, iPod and iPhone. Potentially interesting for quick reference when teaching or browsing through the web, this application is a huge disappointment. On the outside it does look interesting as the entries are simply presented; yet, if the entry on Sierra Leone is anything to go for than there outrageously simplistic not simple. Conflicts are listed by country and each entry is subdivided into six sections: “Overview”, “War and minor conflict”, “Non-state conflict”, “One-sided conflict”, “Conflict prevention” and “Peace agreements”. The texts are mostly reproductions of the texts one can find on the program’s webpage in the UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia (

The greatest weakness is certainly that the application contains no references whatsoever (just as the web encyclopedia, by the way). Narratives of the conflicts, of the warring parties’ motives, of the reasons and causes of the fighting are simply presented as established facts that need no further scrutiny or discussion. Even in cases where debates are admitted, for instance in the discussion of casualty estimates, no sources are given.

And yet, looking at the case of Sierre Leone for instance the bias of the narrative is obvious to anyone having read a bit more than Paul Richards’ “Fighting for the rainforest”  and Ibrahim Abdullah’s “Bushpath to destruction”. These two seem to have been the major sources for the “overview” and “one-sided violence” section as themes of both writings are reiterated here although the authors clearly decided to follow Abdullah rather than Richards. As valuable both texts are for the understanding of the conflict, they remain limited and are both, albeit in very different ways, biased. Richards’ aim was clearly to build a better understanding of youth despair and exploitation whereas Ibrahim mainly bereaves the revolution that he believes the RUF has stolen from him and his like-minded student unionists.

However, in both sections of the encyclopdia entry what is not said is much more intriguing than what is said. And there is quite a lot that is not said. No mention is made of the Civil Defense forces which, in a (fake) allusion to traditional hunter societies, are also called Kamajor militias. Neither are the private military companies mentioned which were engaged to defend private mining interests and, later on, to “train” (and some would rather say lead) the Civil Defense forces (with the support of the British MI5 as some say but for that we will probably need to wait another 20 years or so until the archives open up). And there is certainly no word about the ECOMOG troops that were supposed to keep the peace that never was.

All three omissions are dumbfounding given that all three groups were equally involved in war crimes, atrocities against “civilians” (with the usual caveat note that civilians and combatants are hard to distinguish in these wars) and diamond exploitation. Private security companies were paid in concessions for mineral, notably diamond mining, and ECOMOG troops were allegedly involved in diamond mining and smuggling with the complicity of the United Nations which did all to suffocate any reporting on this (see The Guardian, Chris McGreal: Sierra Leone peace force accused of sabotage, 9 September 2000. See also on private security companies and diamonds: Douglas, Ian. Fighting for Diamonds – Private military companies in Sierra Leone. In: Cilliers, Jakkie, Peggy Mason, and Institute for Security Studies (South Africa). 1999. Peace, profit or plunder? : the privatisation of security in war-torn African societies. Halfway House, South Africa: Institute for Security Studies, p. 175-200).

Needless to say that the entry also does not discuss at all the role that Sierra Leone’s huge dependence on mineral exports and complete infeodation to multinational companies has played; according to a study from the 1980s the mineral sector constituted 70% of the country export value but employed only 3,5% of the labour force (see Cleeve, Emmanuel A. 1997. Multinational enterprises in development : the mining industry of Sierra Leone. Aldershot, Hants, England Brookfield, Vt., USA: Avebury, p. 35). From the UCDP application one could think that it was indeed only during the war, and only by the RUF, that under-age diamond miners were brutally exploited and not that it still is common that these boys are paid less than 2US$ a day for mining a piece of a mineral that is only of value for the Mr. Bigs of this world who stick it on the fingers of their Manhatten beauties at the Tiffany’s sale price of a couple of ten thousand US$.

And whereas the text follows Ibrahim’s grousing and groaning about the RUF’s “lumpen youth”, there is literally no discussion of how a country that at independence had one of Africa’s best education systems has produced an entire generation of illiterate and uneducated angry young men and women – not that conditioned World Bank or IMF credits would have had to do anything with that…No, according to this conflict encyclopedia it was “corruption” and “autocracy”  as well as “patrimonial cliques” that made “Sierra Leone’s vast natural resources (fall) victim to this ineffective economic system…(the patrimonial cliques and the autocratic political system) collaborated to create a country that lacked a developed industrial and agricultural sector, any effective and legitimate bureaucracy and democratic freedoms.”

It’s-the-Africans-fault is surely always a convenient presentation of the thin and inefficient economic structures of these countries but it only works if the colonial impact is quietly omitted… in this case, the UCDP has found a very elegant way of doing so: it’s data only goes back to 1975…

There would be much more to say about the incredibly low quality of the text on Sierra Leone, about the tons of orientalist descriptions (of course, tribes and ethnicities are not missing in the text), the way rumours are presented as certainties (for instance the support Charles Taylor is supposed have given the RUF but for which the Special Court for Sierra Leone still, after years, struggles hard to find evidence) and stereotypes colported but each of this would merit (and maybe will get) its own blog entry…So if the quality of the Sierra Leone entry is anything to go for, just give my two minutes to deinstall this thing!


And for those who want to have a look themselves: