Archive for June, 2006

Friday June 23, 2006

June 23, 2006 - 10:48 am 1 Comment
Ah, the problems of the DRC never cease. I am anxious for election results!

June 23, 2006
New York Times

In Congo, Hunger and Disease Erode Democracy

AVEBA, Congo — The first time the Congolese Army tried to take this village back from the militias that have fought for it since the civil war supposedly ended in 2002, the government soldiers cut and ran. That was January.

The second attempt, a month later, also failed, despite heavy backing from United Nations peacekeepers trying to stabilize the nation before elections in July, the first in more than four decades. Instead of fighting the militias, the soldiers mutinied and looted the peacekeepers’ base here.

It was only after the third try, in May, that the militia was finally chased away, deep into the equatorial forest.

But while the state may have wrested control, for now, the push to do so has spawned a crisis of its own. Thousands of people have flooded the village, exhausted and haggard from waiting out the battles in the bush, perpetuating the hunger and disease that has continued to grip Congo in the aftermath of its deadly five-year civil war.

In less than a decade, an estimated four million people have died, mostly of hunger and disease caused by the fighting. It has been the deadliest conflict since World War II, with more than 1,000 people still dying each day. For many here, survival, not elections, is the milestone.

“We run because we are afraid to die in our houses,” said Ngava Ngosi, one of the thousands caught in a deadly pattern of flight from village to jungle and back again in the seemingly endless chaos of eastern Congo. “But in the bush we also die.”

The battle for Aveba, one of a string of small but strategic villages in the mineral-rich Ituri district, illuminates the perilous road ahead for Congo as it struggles to set upon a path of peace and democracy.

The presidential and parliamentary elections in July will be the first moment of self-determination for most Congolese; the last multiparty election was in 1965. Congo was ruled for 32 years by Mobutu Sese Seko, who named it Zaire and held the country hostage by his rapacious and iron-fisted rule.

Since Mr. Mobuto was deposed in 1997, the nation, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been caught in the murderous grip of rival militias, both homegrown and backed by neighboring countries.

The war has officially been over since a peace agreement between the factions was signed four years ago, but the transition to peace has yet to come. Fighting has continued intermittently in the confusing and complicated conflict, which began when Rwanda and Uganda backed a rebel movement to overthrow Mr. Mobutu, who died in Morocco in 1997. The war spun out of control when that rebel movement turned against its foreign backers.

The election is meant to draw a line between that chaotic past and a more hopeful future. But the process of preparing for the election has been extraordinarily difficult in the troubled and violent eastern regions, where militias have battled government troops over control of lucrative industries like diamond and copper mining, and in the short term the election may cause as many problems as it solves.

“We broke the back of the militias, but still a kind of uncertainty prevails,” said Maj. Obeid Anwar, commander of a company of Pakistani peacekeeping troops stationed in Aveba. “It hampers people from resorting to their normal lives. This uncertainty has many faces and it brings a lot of suffering.”

Thousands of civilians have fled the operations to clear out militia strongholds by escaping into the jungle, where they face hunger and disease. At times it was unclear if they were fleeing the militias, who raped and looted their way through their villages, or Congolese soldiers, who did pretty much the same.

Ill discipline in the army, an amalgam of former rebels and government soldiers fused into a national force under the peace agreement, has been another problem. Their official salary is less than a dollar a day, and even that does not come regularly. Long accustomed to living off loot, government soldiers are frequently accused of human rights violations, including rape and murder.

In Aveba, where Major Anwar’s company is based, civilians have begun trickling in from the jungle, hoping to find food and safety. Most are from surrounding villages, so they have taken up residence as squatters, occupying the houses and eating the crops of those who fled.

In the Evangelical Assembly Church in the center of the village, hundreds of people sleep crammed together, head to toe, trying to stay warm in the frigid mountain air.

Aproline Avurasi arrived in Aveba in early June with her five children. They brought with them only what they could carry: a metal bowl filled with rags and what little food they had, and a few cooking implements tightly wrapped in cloth. They took up residence in the church, hoping to find help here. They found nothing but more misery.

“We were starving in the bush,” Ms. Avurasi said. “We are also starving here.”

Three nurses, themselves displaced by the fighting, have set up a clinic in an abandoned house. A medical aid organization gave them several boxes of basic supplies, and within three days, they were inundated by patients, almost 300.

One man, sick with what the nurses believed was meningitis, lay nearly motionless on a ragged mat of reeds. A man shot in the foot while fleeing soldiers lay on the floor in the crammed waiting room, covered by a filthy scrap of cloth. A line of women clutching their sick babies stretched out the door.

“We don’t have the equipment to do very much, but at least we try to comfort people,” said Adirudu Yanga, one of the nurses in the impromptu clinic.

Major Anwar said he had begged for more help from aid agencies for the families gathered here, but none had arrived.

“I even feel ashamed to go and see these people living in the church,” he said. “I promised them help will arrive, but nothing comes.”

Aid agencies in Bunia, the regional capital, have struggled to work in the area. The militias and bandits remain in the countryside even if they have been pushed from their hilltop redoubts, and they prey upon aid convoys for food, medicine and money.

The need is enormous: One Italian agency, Cesvi, tried to take food to Aveba but found so many displaced people in Geti, along the way, that it emptied its supplies there.

In Geti, 10 miles east of Aveba, hundreds of people arrive each day, searching for food and safety. The Kanoya family, some two dozen people, sat beneath a banana tree waiting for Tchoni Mugero, its patriarch, to build a makeshift shelter out of grass and sticks. It had taken three days for the family to gather enough materials to build a house, and in the meantime they had been sleeping outside.

“We have never suffered like this,” said Djimo Charles Kanoya, a member of the family. “We spent one month in the bush. The children are hungry and they are so cold.”

Even more than food, the people need blankets and plastic tarpaulins to shelter them from the cold mountain air at night.

At the hospital in Geti, Ngele Anyodi, a nurse, said children were dying of disease and malnutrition every day because they could not get to a better equipped hospital.

“This place was looted in the fighting,” he explained, showing the ransacked offices, laboratory and pharmacy, stripped clean of microscopes, medicines and medical equipment. “We cannot care for the sickest people here. We don’t have the means.”

Indeed, the nurse in charge — there are no doctors here — was also a patient, sick with malaria.

An election may be around the corner, but voting, he said, is the last thing from his mind. Dead people, he said, cannot vote.

“We need help,” Mr. Anyodi pleaded. “We need to survive first.”

Wednesday June 21, 2006

June 21, 2006 - 9:45 am 3 Comments

Despite being in Hong Kong for a little less than two weeks, I feel that time has stretched itself in the most elastic of manners. Training has ended; work has started – reality has settled. Slowly, I’ve adapted to the jargon of the investment banking profession, and surmounted the initial hurdle of accepting the fact that I am in a situation of extreme knowledge differentials. Although I only have a cursory understanding of various fixed income instruments and structures, I am responsible for work which directly addresses these concepts. Although a full understanding of the content is not requisite for the work I do, I sometimes find it frustrating that I simply don’t know where to begin learning – the process is no longer linear, as it is at school. Playing around with Bloomberg has been an exciting experience – the program is amazingly useful and powerful. Moreover, I’m certainly sharpening my PowerPoint and Excel skills…you’d be surprised at the level of attention to detail in even the simple construction of a graph. It’ll take a while until I am trusted enough to take on more thought provoking projects, but I suppose this extended process of gradual trust building applies to every situation. Patience is a virtue, I remind myself, and in the mean time, I’ll acquire knowledge through diffusion/osmosis.

In my first weekend, I managed to pack in perhaps a week’s work of sightseeing. In no particular order, I did the following:

1. Enjoyed the night sky line view from Victoria Peak after taking the famous peak tram up the mountain.

2. Visited Hong Kong’s newly constructed 190 million HKD History Museum. This museum is truly well organized with engaging, visually spectacular exhibits. I will definitely return since my group pushed me to leave before I covered even 25% of all the exhibits. I was pleased to discover a museum district in Hong Kong, consisting of a science museum, cultural center, history museum, and an air/space exhibition. I will certainly return, even if I have to go by myself.

3. Strolled through the streets of Mong Kok, Hong Kong’s most famous street market. Since I went on a weekend, the market was absurdly crowded. To be honest, I’m highly wary of crowds. Perhaps it’s my intellectual disdain for the folly and conformity of the masses. The pure volume of people in Hong Kong takes much adjusting to.

4. Ate lots of delicious Cantonese and East Asian delicacies. Since I often eat with other interns or company employees, I’ve spent a ridiculously large amount of money on food. It’s no longer uncommon to spend $40 US per meal. I suppose ample food/drink constitutes an essential element of the investment banking lifestyle, indulged as compensation for less appealing lifestyle demands. But over time, the value of such comforts, derived mainly from its rarity, will inevitably erode. To me, the ability to continue in any profession stems from being able to understand the value of the work in context to one’s long-term goals.

It’s a bit lonely here in Hong Kong – there is a quiet sense of resignation and bewilderment. I am indifferent to the potentially long hours at work. Alone in this city, work constitutes a wonderful form of anesthesia. The sky is always gray. The individual is dwarfed by the extreme height and arrogance of the skyscrapers – perhaps a tribute to the folly of development. In my dreams, I attempt to reconcile the fishing village photos from the Hong Kong history museum with the modernity of the cityscape. In my spare moments, I often ruminate over the idea of unidirectional progress, ending my thoughts with no concrete conclusion.

I anxiously wait for my darling little sister to come visit. Congratulations Grace on your graduation! You make us so proud. You will shine wherever you go, my little sister. And wherever you go, your big sister will always be behind you 100%.

Monday June 12, 2006

June 12, 2006 - 9:33 am 6 Comments

My first day at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong passed quite smoothly. After listening to a series of speeches by senior executives, I have a good general impression of the functions and strategic position of the company, though I realize I have much to learn in terms of products and lingo. I expect the beginning to be a bit rocky as I familiarize myself with the different financial instruments and learn the methods and rationale of pricing, but I look forward to the challenge.

The cityscape in Hong Kong is very impressive. Credit Suisse is situated near the International Finance Center – a gloriously modern sprawling skyscraper complex. The steep roads are very narrow, but taxi drivers speed nevertheless. People are jammed in every position along the street; it is nearly impossible to walk a few blocks without rubbing elbows with a fellow pedestrian. Developed to the point of complete saturation, the city makes each individual feel very miniscule relative to the tightly jammed skyscrapers.

From the height of the office, one can see far into the bay, though visibility is impeded by air pollution. Foreign land without my family and close friends…I’m a bit homesick…


Saturday June 10, 2006

June 10, 2006 - 2:03 pm 1 Comment

Odd time for a xanga entry, but I have a rare moment of reprieve in my travels. I’m writing from the British Airways Executive Lounge at JFK Airport New York, and it’s very nice. This morning has been nothing but stress…I’m glad that slowly, things are finally settling down.

Mishaps this morning:

1. Went to the wrong airport – I’m supposed to leave from Reagan, not Dulles! Ah, assumptions will nearly always go wrong. Thankfully, we left early enough, but I wish we found out earlier. There was no one serving the international flights line so we weren’t told that we made a mistake until 30 minutes later, by a very snooty attendant.

2. Almost ran out of gas when getting from Dulles to Reagan. Literally, the car was lurching, mom was screaming, and dad blaming people. My father has yet to learn that it’s not reasonable to cut things so close!

3. Line for American Airlines at Reagan was ridiculously long. Even if someone had gotten there 2.5 hours in advance, it would have been impossible to get on the flight by normal means due to the incompetence of the staff and poor queue management. Waiting there, hoping desperately I would not miss my flight to NYC…I do not wish to repeat such an episode ever again. It’s pretty much a push-shove fest – no order, no rules. Somehow, I managed to get to the front of the express line, but a lot of people in front of me booked on the same flight did not make it.

4. Met the meanest flight attendant on the American flight to NY. Seriously, the lady screamed at her customers for “annoying her with silly concerns” (direct wording). To the woman next to me, she said, “Don’t make me mad. I’m already stressed out as it is” before the woman even started to open her mouth…no wonder American Airlines is pretty much bankrupt.

5. Got horribly confused upon arrival at JFK. This airport is organized oddly and quite difficult to navigate. After asking two incompetent airline security guards how to get to Terminal 7 (they had conflicting answers, none which matched my recollection from the map I glanced at on the plane), I finally made it to the right terminal.

…All this is behind me now.

I’ll be in Hong Kong Sunday night, approximately 8 PM (their time). I have to figure out how to get to my place of residence, and then plan for getting to the company bright and early tomorrow morning. I’m certainly looking forward to all there is to learn!

Friday June 2, 2006

June 2, 2006 - 2:29 pm 1 Comment

To reference the oft-quoted Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The US military has ordered a round of ethics training, but how efficacious will this symbolic gesture truly be? What is more damaging to US military credibility – to continue to deny and withhold reports or to fully admit wrongdoings? Since America is considered the champion of human rights causes, the preservation of legitimacy in the area of human rights is critical. To obscure and to obfuscate, in my opinion, is the worst possible transgression.

The concept of the banality of evil explains how people can reject their core standards and values when placed in a foreign environment that normalizes violence and cruelty. In such a circumstance, the portrayal of American soldiers as guardians of democracy and individual freedom shatters. Continual hysteria, fear, and the omnipresent sentiment of anxiety can cause even the most principled person to submit to base actions.

It was only a few days ago that I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. After visiting the “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” Exhibit, which documents the war of independence to the current ‘wars of freedom’, as the exhibit calls it, I was surprised by the hindsight portrayal of the wars of expansion and Vietnam. (I was also surprised by the fact that there was almost nothing for World War I) Moreover, the last few exhibits on Iraq and Afghanistan were clearly pro-Bush with a multitude of convincing movie footage that could be construed of as propaganda (EX: 9-11 footage set to dramatic music with the voice of a soldier stationed in Iraq preaching about the significance of fighting for freedom). Ah…what a world we live in!

Excerpts from the Associated Press [Kim Gamel]

“It looks like the killing of Iraqi civilians is becoming a daily phenomenon,” the chairman of the Iraqi Human Rights Association, Muayed al-Anbaki, said Friday after video ran on television of children and adults slain in a raid in March on the Iraqi village of Ishaqi north of Baghdad.

Al-Anbaki’s comments came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki upbraided the U.S. military over allegations that Marines killed two dozen unarmed civilians in the western city of Haditha, calling it “a horrible crime.” They were his strongest public comments on the subject since his government was sworn in last month.

U.S. commanders have ordered new ethics training for all troops in Iraq. But the flow of revelations and investigations threatens to undermine Iraq’s new government and public support in America. 

Iraq’s government also began its own investigation of the deaths in Haditha.

In addition to the Haditha case, in which Marines are alleged to have gunned down 24 civilians in a rage of revenge for a bombing that killed a Marine in November, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman could face murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges as early as Friday in the April shooting death of an Iraqi man in yet another incident, a defense attorney said Thursday.

Military prosecutors plan to file the charges against the seven servicemen, who are being held in solitary confinement at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine Corps base, said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men.

The Iraqi man reportedly was dragged from his home west of Baghdad and shot. The Los Angeles Times and NBC News said troops may have planted an AK-47 and a shovel near the body to make it appear as if the man was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb. Neither suggested a possible motive.

The U.S. military had no additional comment Friday on the accusations stemming from a raid March 15 in the village of Ishaqi, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

In March, the U.S. military said four people died when they attacked from the ground and air a house suspected of holding an al-Qaida operative. The house was destroyed.

But video shot by an AP Television News cameraman at the time and aired on March 15 shows at least five children dead. The video shows at least one adult male and four young children with obvious entry wounds to the head. One child has an obvious entry wound to the side caused by a bullet.

The March report spelled the village’s name as Isahaqi.

Local Iraqis said there were 11 total dead, and charged that they were killed by U.S. troops before the house was leveled.

The video includes an unidentified man saying “children were stuck in the room, alone and surrounded.”

“After they handcuffed them, they shot them dead. Later, they struck the house with their planes. They wanted to hide the evidence. Even a 6-month-old infant was killed. Even the cows were killed, too,” he said.

The video included shots of the bodies of five children and two men wrapped in blankets.