Kosovo at 62; still not unique

The Dominican Republic recognized Kosovo last week, which brings the number of recognizing countries to 62. Kosovo has been collecting recognitions at the rate of 1 or 2 per month lately — this is the tenth since the beginning of this year — and while recognition by Palau or the Comoros may not count for much, getting Malaysia and Saudi Arabia on board is no small thing.

That said, 62 is still a lot less than 192, which is the total number of UN member states. And — for reasons I went into a while back — quite a lot of UN members unless either (1) Serbia consents, or (2) the UN recognizes it. Since Russia and China are both committed to a veto of recognition, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

Still, there are a couple of interesting questions. Continue reading

Uganda: So far from Europe

I’m in Uganda this week, and thinking about demographics.

Uganda’s demographics are about as different from Europe’s as possible. Fertility is very high. Birthrates are very, very high. The median age is about 15 years old; most Ugandans are still minors. The “age pyramid” looks more like a Buddhist stupa. Uganda’s current population is just over 30 million, but by 2050 it’s expected to be more like 120 million. At that point Uganda — with a land area a bit smaller than Romania — is expected to have more people than Russia.

There are a couple of ways to look at this.
Continue reading

Senegal: Islam, democracy, sexy

Not Iran this time!

I’ve been in Senegal the last couple of weeks. And, you know? Senegal is (1) 90% Muslim, and (2) a vibrant democracy.

The opposition won the last couple of elections. The press is free — sometimes obnoxiously so. Human rights violations are relatively rare. (Nonexistent, really, by African standards.) Senegal has never had a military dictatorship, a civil war, or a coup. Okay, the first couple of Presidents ruled for twenty years each, but they seem to be past that — the current President won a free and fair election. He’s also term limited, and everyone is already looking forward to a gloriously democratic free-for-all in a couple of years when he steps down.

I don’t want to overstate here. Senegal has all the usual African problems. It’s desperately poor. About a third of the population is still illiterate. There’s spectacular corruption. The President is clearly grooming his son for the succession; this involves putting Junior in the path of some rather large business opportunities. And while Senegal is a democracy, I might hesitate to call it a fully functional liberal democracy. Media that criticize the President too sharply may get hassled or shut down, government money is poured out like water to win elections, and many Ministers and members of Parliament are pretty openly for sale.

On the other-other hand, the opposition won the midterm elections last year, sweeping the President’s party out of almost every local government. To his obvious irritation and dismay. You don’t see that happening in Turkmenistan or Belarus.

So why doesn’t Senegal get any respect? Continue reading

Random thoughts on returning from French Africa

If you’re a human being who speaks French, you’re more likely to be African than European. La Francophonie’s demographic center of gravity is now somewhere around Bamako, Mali.

If you’re a human being who is literate in French — say, at a high school graduate level — you’re probably European. But not for much longer. Demographic growth plus the slow-but-steady rise of literacy rates in most of Africa means that by the next decade, most literate Francophones will be African too.
Continue reading

La Francophonie again

I’m in Senegal for a couple of weeks, on business.

Pretty much everything I wrote about French in Burundi in this post last year applies to French in Senegal. All educated Senegalese speak French; most speak it really well; they’ve also picked up a lot of distinctly Gallic tics of gesture and conversational patterning. The French fascination with their former colonies is a lot easier to understand once you’ve visited; if you’re French, it must be so pleasant to be someplace where French is the language of learning and prestige, where everyone who matters speaks French, and where there’s never a need to break out the English.

There are some differences. Gallicization seems to run deeper here than in Burundi. No, that’s not exactly right. More like: the European influences seems more assimilated. In Burundi, rich and elite Burundians can seem like wannabe Belgians, cut-and-pasting the culture of the former colonists. Elite Senegalese seem to be more comfortable integrating the different influences. It may just be that Senegal is a much less desperately-screwed-up place than Burundi, and so has less of a cultural cringe… I’m not sure. Continue reading

The Greeks of Burundi

There’s a Greek deli in central Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

It’s hard to overstate how odd this is. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Bujumbura, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is… basic. The roads are mostly unpaved. Much of it has no electricity; the parts that do, are subject to regular blackouts. Armed militia groups still lurk in the hills just a few miles from the city. Malaria and yellow fever are issues.

But, you know, Greek deli. Black and green olives floating in tanks. French wine; Greek wine. Good bread and rolls. Spinakopita. Salami. The feta cheese was pretty horrible, but I think that can be forgiven.

Bujumbura also has a Greek consulate. And right in the middle of town there’s a big, really big Greek Orthodox church.

Why? Continue reading

Dans la Francophonie

So now I’m in Burundi for a couple of weeks, on business.

I’ll probably do most of my Burundi-blogging over at my home blog. But here’s a thing: Burundi is part of La Francophonie and, yup, everyone here speaks French.

Okay, not everybody. French is introduced in primary school, but it’s not taught intensively until secondary school. Since only about 10% of Burundian kids finish secondary school, French is very much the language of the educated elite. (Which in Burundi is disproportionately ethnic Tutsis. But that’s another story.) But French is the language of law and government and formal public discourse and, up until now, it’s how Burundi talks to the world. It’s everyone’s second language here; English is, so far, a pretty distant third. Continue reading

Next Up: Northern Niger

Le Monde reports on a fascinating crisis, one that incorporates essentially all the themes of the times. In northern Niger lurk huge reserves of uranium, and the French nuclear power industry covers about a third of its requirements from mines there owned by Areva SA. It was this mining industry that Joe Wilson was ordered to investigate, with fateful consequences. Now, with the price of uranium historically high on roaring demand, a curious confluence of developments twirls across the desert..

For a start, back in June, the chief of security at Areva was ordered to leave Niger immediately. Unsurprisingly, Gilles Denamur is a retired French Army colonel who used to be the French military attache to Niger – one of that very specific type of all-purpose soldiers/spooks/businessmen/crooks France’s continuing involvement in Africa produces. He was accused of colluding with a local group of rebels, the National Movement for Justice (MNJ) – a local chapter of the spreading, water-stressed trouble across the continent from Somalia, this lot are mostly Touaregs. According to the Niger government, he was secretly arming the rebels, perhaps as an alternative to the government troops posted at the mines.

More recently, on the 25th of July, the managing director of Areva in Niger was himself rousted. Dominique Pin is another of those men; a veteran of Mitterand’s Africa policy cell that was at the heart of the vast network of scandals around the Angolan war. He’s accused of intriguing with the MNJ, too – after all, if baroudeur had a job description attached, intriguing would be the first or second item on it. And the Niger government has something to be angry about. After all, their crack commando unit that was (of course) stationed to protect the mines has deserted to the rebels in its entirety.

There is of course something else the government has to be angry about; Areva and its predecessors have had a monopoly of uranium mining in Niger for the last forty years, or to put it another way, ever since independence. Now, Niger would like some more of the money, what with the raging demand from China. And they reckon there may be much more uranium out there; the desert is now positively crowded with prospectors after it. Wouldn’t it be terribly convenient, then, if some of the French execs were caught doing something absolutely intolerable? And, indeed, Niger has announced that the monopoly is over. Although Areva got some five new exploration permits, Niger has secured the right to market some of the production from the existing mines itself.

The French claim that the Chinese are offering arms in return for exploration rights, but this may merely be propaganda. And there is an important fact that is missing from Le Monde‘s story; on the 7th of July, a Chinese mining executive from Sino-U was kidnapped by the MNJ. Their spokesman, who is based in Paris (one can perhaps see why Niger is suspicious of French motives), claims it’s because the Chinese paid for the government to buy a pair of Mi-24 attack helicopters, and also because the Chinese are digging too close to a major traditional gathering-place. He was released soon enough, after some trouble due to the fact he didn’t speak French or English, let alone a local language. At the time, Le Monde was noticeably sympathetic to the Touareg cause; I think they have cooled on it quite a lot, going by the tone of the latest dispatch.

Easter Egg Vlogging: statistics and swords

Well, sort of. But don’t be scared, gentle readers, I’m not torturing you with a video of myself watching Edward Hugh watching Alex Harrowell watching me watching Edward, thus entirely disregarding the possible value of such a video for media theorists and social psychologists as well as the fact that all the cool kids are apparently engaging in such technically mediated low level chain-voyeurism these days

Last December, I saw the Swedish demographer Hans Rosling’s presentation about his project gapminder at the LeWeb3 conference in Paris. Professor Rosling and his team have developed the “Gapminder Trendalyzer”, recently purchased by Google (and now available on http://tools.google.com/gapminder/), a truly stunning tool to flexibly visualize and break down statistical time series, currently particularly relating to UN world development data.

Rosling’s presentation, in which he demonstrated beyond doubt that top Swedish students statistically know far less about the developing world than chimpanzees (who are on par with Nobel laureates), was one of the most interesting parts of the conference, and, as Loic LeMeur mentioned then, eye opening. Professor Rosling’s statistically derived world view is very different from the gloomy preconceptions most people are often mistaking for reality when talking about the state of the world’s development and demographic situation, particularly with respect to Africa, as Bruno Guissani remarks on Lunch Over IP -

My experience in Africa, he says, is that the seemingly impossible is possible. Even bad governments have gone in the last 50 years from pre-medieval situation to sometimes decent infrastructure and conditions. … “You can believe statistics when you can relate them to your grandmother”, he says. By which he means that he has mapped his family history comparing the situation of Sweden in the different years in which his family members lived to that of different nations of the world today. His great-great mother born in the early 1800 lived in a country similar to today’s Sierra Leone; his g-g-mother in one that looked like Mozambique; his g-mother’s living conditions were close to that of Ghana today; his mother lived in the equivalent of Egypt. “And I am a Mexican”, he says, while his kids were born when Sweden was similar to today’s Chile and, in the case of the youngest one, like Singapore.

Luckily, for your Easter Vlogging pleasure, the TED blog has a video of Professor Rosling’s speech at the TED conference 2006, which is basically the one I saw in Paris. Unfortunately, there seems to be no video of his appearance at the TED conference 2007, where he demonstrated that demography and sword swallowing are two rather compatible activities. But there is a picture