Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fair Trade Phones: An Idea Worth Spreading

Check out this powerful TED Talk by Congolese activist Bandi Mbubi exploring the importance of developing a plan to make fair trade cell phones:


Since 1996, over 5 million Congolese men, women, and children have lost their lives, in large part due to the extraction of coltan. This precious mineral is found in practically every cell phone, laptop, and gaming device available on the market today. In this Talk, Mbubi tells us more about what the extraction of coltan has meant for the government, economy, and most importantly the people of the DRC.


A Farewell to TOMS

TOMSAs I prepare to embark on three weeks of volunteering in Africa, I can’t help but reflect on some of the ongoing issues with providing aid to the continent. An analysis of the cause and effects of various aid schemes is vitally important if organizations are to understand whether their programs help or harm local people and economies. This article, published by the Matador Network, looks at SEVEN terrible international aid ideas, including the largely touted TOMS one-for-one shoe program. Built on the business model of manufacturing two cheap pairs of shoes for the price of one good pair (using labor and materials from China), author Richard Stupart argues that TOMS has the potential to completely destroy the market for shoes in the towns and villages where truckloads of free shoes are shipped and delivered. Journalist Amy Costello and host of Tiny Spark makes a great point here:

We think that by simply giving people things that we enjoy – like soccer balls or shoes – that we are somehow doing good…And I think that we really need to start questioning that a lot more, and figuring out is there something we can do that is a lot more effective? [Are] consumer products what a impoverished community needs?

Here is what I think….

Like Stupart and Costello argue, giving someone a free pair of shoes does not end their poverty, or provide them a job, it just provides shoes. Yes, I freely admit that shoes are vitally important for improving health standards and cutting down on a number of health issues from communicable diseases to infections that are usually spread by cuts and wounds suffered by exposed feet. And yes, in some areas of the world children are denied access to school without a pair of shoes, so providing them with a pair gets them one step closer to an education. And YES, if you look in my closet I have a pair of well-worn, well-traveled TOMS.

HOWEVER after learning more about the company and the ways in which free “stuff-we-don’t-want” can devastate local economies that are in desperate need of their citizens to invest money and BUY local, I will never buy another pair of TOMS. In all my travels to “developing” countries, the message is loud and clear: “please buy local!” Don’t give to beggars on the street because it disincentives them to go seek real work. Don’t buy $60 worth of school supplies at the Dollar Store and ship them to your orphanage in Tanzania, buy these supplies in town and support the local economy.

buy localEven here in Louisville you see everywhere the huge push to buy local. Places like NuLu actively promote the use of local produce and community gardens have spread across the city. Keep Louisville Weird is another popular initiative for Louisvillians to eat/buy/sell/stay local. Everywhere the message is the same–why pay to have things imported when we can make it/buy it/grow it/ manufacture it here?! And why should it be any different in other cities and towns across the world? If I can buy school supplies from a Zambian market to give to Zambian children to be used in a Zambian school, isn’t that better than importing my cheap Dollar Store crap made in China bought in Louisville?

Regarding the issue of shoes and school– shoes are not the only barrier keeping children from going to school. In countries around the world, particularly African countries like Uganda and Zambia, the school fees charged by government schools are far above what the average family living below the poverty line can afford. In these cases, it’s not a matter of if a child has shoes to go to school, the families cannot pay the fees either way.

So you can buy a pair of TOMS Blue Basket Weave Women’s Desert Wedges for $185.00 and tell yourself you are at the same time in some way abstractly helping a shoeless child, or you can take that money, donate it to an on-the-ground organization like Dream Livingstone Zambia that works directly with orphaned and poor children, and pay over SEVEN months of school fees for a very real, very needy child.

What Really Happened in the Congo?

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, author Stephen Weissman takes us inside the political world of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1960s. Weissman explores one of the most contentious issues of Congolese independence: how big of a role did the CIA play in the death of independence leader Patrice Lumumba? See an excerpt of the article here and follow the link above to read the article in its entirety:

We now know that even though the threat of communism in Congo was quite weak at the time of Congo’s independence, the CIA engaged in pervasive political meddling and paramilitary action between 1960 and 1968 to ensure that the country retained a pro-Western government and to help its pathetic military on the battlefield. So extensive were these efforts that at the time, they ranked as the largest covert operation in the agency’s history, costing an estimated $90–$150 million in current dollars, not counting the aircraft, weapons, and transportation and maintenance services provided by the Defense Department. The CIA had a hand in every one of Congo’s major political turning points during the period and maintained a financial and political relationship with every head of its government.

Grassroots Mediation: Cattle Rustling in Northwestern Kenya

turkana cowherderThis morning I read a fascinating article published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) on the continuing problem of cattle rustling endemic of the nomadic pastoralist tribes in rural northwestern Kenya. Violent conflicts over water and grazing rights between the Pokot and Turkana peoples have resulted in countless raids between West Pokot and Turkana counties. For example, in February of this year, one raid in Turkana South resulted in a village being pillaged and destroyed. A number of villagers were killed—including three women and two children—and over 1,200 cattle pilfered.

This violence has continued unabated for years. In the past, the Kenyan government’s response to this ethnic violence focused mainly on disarmament and taking the offenders to court, but these methods have not stopped the attacks.

However, in response to these more recent attacks, the Kenyan government has partnered with NGOs and the local communities to establish local tribunals where village elders and tribal leaders can mediate this ongoing ethnic dispute. Through the mediation process, led by representatives of the Council of Elders, the Pokot and Turkana people have developed a community-based solution that seems to already enjoy initial successes.

According to IWPR, the tribal leaders force the culprits to confront their victims, compensate them for the killings, and give back stolen livestock. The tribal leaders mete out punishments to the offenders and set the level of compensation they must pay to the families of victims. Furthermore, civic awareness programs are being conducted in the two communities aimed at encouraging a lasting peace.

John Muok, the Chairman of the Pokot Council of Elders, told IWPR:

We needed such a local system, because over the years it has been difficult to implement other strategies aimed at dealing with cattle rustling. Both the government and non-governmental organizations have tried disarmament or introducing alternative means of livelihood for our people, but all that has not worked.

Benjamin Ebenyo, Muok’s Turkana counterpart continued:

Once the communities own the process, then it’s easy to implement, and this mechanism is succeeding because we have so far handled more than 100 cases on both the Pokot and Turkana side with positive results.

news_163755_0However, as IWPR is quick to argue, mediation alone is not a solution. Human rights advocates like Ken Wafula believe that these localized mediation processes must work in tandem with the Kenyan governments overall disarmament scheme. The proliferation and use of firearms in these attacks has resulted in countless needless deaths as gangs of thugs enter villages and spray bullets in all directions. Even elders are killed in the attacks. Therefore, it seems like the optimal solution is to link government sanctioned disarmament programs with the new local mediation initiative. Time is needed to see how these two approaches work together to bring a positive end to cattle rustling.

People Were Not Made to Live in Cages

ROHINGYA-MT-7-622x414The Rohingya are a small Muslim minority forced to live in modern day concentration camps in Myanmar (Burma) along the Thai-Burmese border. Locked within the camps, the Rohingya are deprived of jobs, schools, and basic access to food, water, proper sanitation, and healthcare. This reporter found a young pregnant woman laboring for over 20 hours with a breached baby. There were no hospitals and no doctors to aid her. Driving her across the camp to a small clinic, the only nurse in residence said she could do nothing to help. When asked the nurse said plainly, “Yes, she will die.”

It’s like we are being in jail. Like birds in the cage. Like in the ghetto.

How did this happen? The current ethnic violence plaguging the country can be traced back to the 2012 Rakhine State Riots in northern Rakhine State. Tihs was a series of ethnically charged conflicts between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims. Since June of 2012 there have been more than 200 deaths and at least 100,000 people ahve been displaced.

One of the biggest problems is that the Myanmar government has done nothing to stop the violence perpetrated by the Rakhine Buddhist monks who spread hate and fear of the Rohingya. In fact, a number of government officials actively support the violence and internment of the Rohingya. One official explained:

To me, the situation isn’t so bad. Don’t worry…. The first thing I want to say is that when you are here in [our] state, don’t use the word ‘Rohingya.’ There’s no such thing as the Rohingya ethnicity in our country.

Wirathu-Time-225x300As NYT reporter Nicholas Kristof argues, “How can there be progress for the Rohingya when the officials deny their very existance?” One of the worst perpetrators of hate speech is the Buddhist monk Wirathu. Speaking with Nicholas Kristof, he explained:

Muslims are like African catfish. They breed rapidly. They have violent behavior. And they eat their own kind, and other fish.

You can see how far his ideology has spread throughout the Buddhist monastic order. The abbot of a remote rural temple told Kristof, “When there are a lot of Muslims, they start waging jihad. It happens everywhere.” When asked about his responsibility as a religion leader to stem this violence, the abbot said, “Buddhism is not a violent religion. But if someone attacks us, we can’t just lie down and take it.”

Until prominent government and religious leaders in Myanmar recognize the Rohingya as a people and stop spreading violence and discord, the desperate situation for this country’s nearly one million Muslims who are living in the squalid camps will remain a major concern for peace and stability.


My Article is Officially Published!!

I’ve been waiting a very long time for this….the article I submitted to the Journal of International Peacekeeping is officially published and available online! Check out my Abstract below and click on the title, which is an active link to Brill’s publishing site.

Transformative Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Emily K. Maiden

This article critiques the potential success of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region—signed on February 24, 2013—against the backdrop of the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, which failed to end the Second Congo War. The 1999 Agreement failed because its overall design, coupled with the socio-political climate in the region at the time, resulted in a ‘no war, no peace’ scenario. These failures were furthered by the overall inability of the international peacebuilding community to design and implement a peace strategy in the DRC that aligned with the needs of the Congolese people. If the 2013 Framework is to succeed, what is required is a transformation of the peace process, which will incorporate the Congolese civil society, avoid restrictive timelines, and focus on securing realistic commitments. By critically analyzing both the 1999 Agreement and the broader conflict-resolution and peacebuilding processes, international peace practitioners can learn from the situation in the DRC and use the revised peace model this article outlines to promote true and lasting peace in regional conflicts across the developing world.

1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement,Democratic Republic of the Congo, peacekeeping, post-conflict transformation, peacemaking