Showing posts with label development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label development. Show all posts

Monday, February 26, 2024

Parks group challenges soccer stadium under state constitutional right to environmental conservation

A Boston lawsuit pits parks against soccer, tying in knots fans of both such as me.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy on February 20 sued the City of Boston and Boston Unity Soccer Partners to stop the redevelopment of White Stadium to host a women's professional soccer team. 

(UPDATE, Mar. 25: The Superior Court on March 22 denied injunction of the redevelopment project. E.g., WBUR.)

What's compelling about the case as a matter of urban redevelopment arises from the fact that a stadium is already there. The conservancy is not trying to get rid of it. Though there is tentative objection to the footprint of the redevelopment project in Franklin Park, the complaint focuses on the repurposing of the stadium for the benefit of private investors, to the exclusion of public use.

Everyone agrees that White Stadium is in sore need of refurbishment. The 1945 construction has a storied history going back to Black Panther rallies in the 1960s. Its present state of deterioration for age is evident. Naturally, local government is keen to link arms with private investment. Boston Unity makes a heckuva pitch (pun intended) in a town willing and able to support an entrant in the expanding National Women's Soccer League.

Site plan in complaint exhibit.

However, the project, which Boston Unity characterizes as "a first-of-its-kind public/private partnership," will exclude the public from the redeveloped area on game days. That includes the expulsion of local high school times for their 10 to 12 games per year, according to the Dorchester Reporter. At the same time, city officials say other stadium uses, such as a track, might see more public use. 

The conservancy and residents say that the project has been moving too fast for them to study and comment, and that the headlong rush violates article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.

That's another eyebrow-raising point in the story. Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution is worth a read:

The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of the people in their right to the conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources is hereby declared to be a public purpose.

The general court shall have the power to enact legislation necessary or expedient to protect such rights.

In the furtherance of the foregoing powers, the general court shall have the power to provide for the taking, upon payment of just compensation therefor, or for the acquisition by purchase or otherwise, of lands and easements or such other interests therein as may be deemed necessary to accomplish these purposes.

Lands and easements taken or acquired for such purposes shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of except by laws enacted by a two thirds vote, taken by yeas and nays, of each branch of the general court.

Voters approved Article 97 in 1972. That's the same year as the federal Clean Water Act, and about halfway in between the Clean Air Act and Love Canal.

The "right to a clean environment" is a hallmark of contemporary human rights discussion, sometimes grouped in with "third generation" human rights. In this sense, notionally, Massachusetts was ahead of its time.

But like statutory expressions of environmentalism, Article 97 was not understood to ground an affirmative right, rather a negative right to prevent government from repurposing conserved land without legislative approval. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) entertained the constraint of Article 97 in cases in 2005 and 2013, but didn't find that the local governments in those cases had dedicated land to public purposes. The SJC did constrain local government in a 2017 case. 

The 2013 and 2017 cases might prove instructive in the White Stadium matter if the case progresses. In Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection (Mass. 2013), the court distinguished land taken for "conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources," which triggers Article 97, from land taken urban renewal, that is, "for the purpose of eliminating decadent, substandard or blighted open conditions." In that case, the Boston Redevelopment Authority was able to commit a part of Long Wharf in Boston Harbor to a private redevelopment project without legislative approval under Article 97.

In Smith v. Westfield (Mass. 2016), the court decided that the City of Westfield had dedicated a parcel of land, 5.3 acres comprising a playground and two little-league baseball fields, to serve as a park, so was constrained by Article 97 before the city could build a school there.

In Smith, the court opined that Article 97 would attach only "there is a clear and unequivocal intent to dedicate the land permanently as a public park and where the public accepts such use by actually using the land as a public park." The court also acknowledged that the analysis fact intensive.

On the face of it, Smith looks like the better fit with Emerald Necklace. The land is clearly dedicated to park use and has been used as a park. The baseball fields and playground in Smith show that a recreational use can include a structure, such as the stadium.

At the same time, there's a viable counterargument in the re- of the White Stadium redevelopment. The city will argue, I expect, that it's not changing the purpose of the land, i.e., its dedication to recreation. A stadium is and will remain. The city is just improving the land to do recreation better.

The problem then boils down to that "first-of-its-kind public/private partnership": whether the private end of the partnership means that the land is being "otherwise disposed of" within the meaning of Article 97.

I've written about transparency and accountability in foreign development specifically amid the challenges of privatization and quasi-privatization. So it's fascinating, if it shouldn't be surprising, to see this problem arise in my own backyard. I wonder as well whether there ever might be a future for Article 97's purported "right to clean air and water" that amounts to more than a procedural hurdle in property development.

See more about Boston's remarkable 1,100-acre Emerald Necklace park system, designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted, with Will Lange on PBS in 2014.

The case is Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Inc. v. City of Boston, No. 2484CV00477 (filed as 24-0477) (Mass. Super. Ct. filed Feb. 20, 2024). Emerald Necklace asked for a temporary injunction. Hat tip @ Madeline Lyskawa, Law360 (subscription).

Friday, November 3, 2023

Court quashes $19m side deal in casino creation

Encore Boston Harbor, shiny and new in 2018.
Photo by Pi.1415926535 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
A $19m side deal in a major casino real estate transaction is invalid and unenforceable as a matter of public policy, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled this morning.

The ruling demonstrates the rarely seen hand but overriding importance of public policy in the law of obligations. The state high court was answering a certified question from the First Circuit.

First, some context.

For the record, nobody does corruption in America like northeasterners. It's been eye opening for me, living in this part of this country for the first time in my life, since moving here in 2011: the weird way roads and bridges remain perpetually under construction for decades—the orange barrel is said to be Rhode Island's state flower; the revolving doors that shuffle politicians between corporate boards and regulatory bodies and back again. Everywhere I've lived—"developed" world or not—I've seen the continuum of corruption that runs from smoke-filled rooms to the open-and-legal-yet-shocking. But you have to take your hat off to the New York-Boston corridor, where milking the system is a way of life. If the taxpayer is a cash cow, then this is Big Ag.

It's for that reason that I have found myself strangely attracted, like a rubbernecker to a car wreck, to everything having to do with the creation of a Wynn-operated casino complex, the Encore Boston Harbor, in the once rusty, quaint, and relatively sleepy Boston suburb of Everett. 

I liked Everett when I discovered it. It's rough around the edges, but genuine. I had to be there now and then, and I found both a corner bar and a gym I liked. Everett reminded me of the working-class neighborhoods of my hometown Baltimore. First news of a casino project in Everett broke when I arrived in New England in 2011, so I became interested in the natural social science experiment that ensued.

A piece of the development of the Encore project landed in the courts. When Wynn enterprises sought to site a casino in Everett, they offered to buy land from an outfit called FBT Everett Realty, LLC, for $75m. And because Wynn also was looking for a casino license, the real estate transaction drew the attentive oversight of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

As anyone who studies development will tell you, these major land acquisitions are always suspect. I remember when Baltimore announced plans to build the twin Ravens and Orioles stadiums in the heart of downtown, and there were rumblings, however futile, about the strangely coincidental land rush that had occurred in the area prior to the announcement. Too many buyers had political connections, and they profited handsomely by flipping their deeds over to the quasi-public stadium projects. That's how economic opportunity works in America, at least for people who pay the lower tax rates for capital gains.

In Massachusetts in 2011, the commonwealth had newly opened itself to big-time, Las Vegas-style gambling, so the commission was under heavy scrutiny to do its due diligence. Though it couldn't prove the precise relationship, as the Supreme Judicial Court explained, the commission suspected that an FBT co-owner was "a convicted felon with possible connections to organized crime": naturally, a red flag in gaming regulation. To its credit, the commission put the brakes on the real estate transaction and conditioned its casino approval on a renegotiation. FBT had to buy out its suspicious stakeholder, and the purchase price was dramatically reduced to $35m.

One minority owner of FBT was unhappy with the new deal and demanded compensation for the reduction. It happened that the same minority owner had bought out the interest of the problematic co-owner and still owed him money. To quell the quarrel and get the deal done, Wynn made a side deal in which it would pay the minority owner $19m, a proportional share of the price reduction that had satisfied the commission.

Wynn didn't pay, and the minority owner sued, alleging breach of contract, common law fraud, and unfair trade practices under the commonwealth's powerful and wide-ranging consumer protection statute, "chapter 93A." Ultimately resulting in the instant case, the First Circuit asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to assess the enforceability of the side deal.

The high court opened its analysis with the supreme public policy of America, "The general rule of our law is the freedom of contract" (quoting Massachusetts precedent that in turn quoted the U.S. Supreme Court in Smith v. The Ferncliff (1939)). "However," the court qualified, "it is 'universally accepted' that public policy sometimes outweighs the interest in freedom of contract, and in such cases the contract will not be enforced" (also quoting state precedents).

I just finished a unit of 1L torts in which the class sees the interaction of tort with contract and equity principles in the assumption of risk. Specifically, we see how theories in equity, if rarely, can quash a cause of action or vitiate an affirmative defense. I hasten to clarify that public policy, like equity, is not a rule of law. It's like someone saying to the court "I should win, despite the rule, because that's what's best for society." It's why the judge gets to wear a sharp black robe, sit on a dais, and wield a gavel: to bring human judgment to bear when the usual operation of law would defy common sense. It's why judges cannot be replaced by AI. Yet.

Gaming regulation is among the "core police powers" of the political branches, the court reasoned. And the legislature clearly empowered the gaming commission to ensure "the integrity of the gaming licensing process" with "strict oversight" and "a rigorous regulatory scheme." The $19m side deal was within the scope of the commission's broad mandate. The deal had not been disclosed to the commission and it was inconsistent, the court opined, with the property sale that the commission approved.

The court had little trouble concluding: "Secret deals in violation of the public terms and conditions required for gaming licensure are unenforceable violations of public policy. They place in grave doubt the integrity of the public process for awarding the license, and thereby defeat the public's confidence in that process."

The Encore project has been a powerful economic boost to communities north of Boston, including Everett, delivering an infusion of business in the billions of dollars. The construction phase especially yielded social and economic benefits, creating jobs and opportunity.

Of course, the secondary effects of "sin" businesses such as casinos don't turn up until the projects have been in operation for awhile, and then especially as they age and decline in high-end commercial appeal. To date, there is conflicting evidence on the social impact of Encore with regard to factors such as crime and the environment. For me, the jury is still out on whether north Boston will see a net benefit from Encore in the long term. I hope it does, but I'm skeptical.

Game on.

The case is Gattineri v. Wynn MA, LLC, no. SJC-13416 (Mass. Nov. 3, 2023). Justice Scott L. Kafker wrote the unanimous opinion of the court. The case in the First Circuit is Gattineri v. Wynn MA, LLC, no. 22-1117 (1st Cir. Mar. 22, 2023) (referring questions).

Monday, October 23, 2023

Bahamian development, identity stall between Columbus, Atlantis; tourist dollars seem not to land

Columbus is absent from Government House, Nassau.
Bowen Yang's amusing portrayal of Christopher Columbus on the Saturday Night Live "Weekend Edition" season premiere in mid-October reminded me of an empty pedestal I saw in Nassau, Bahamas, recently: a sight sadly symbolic of stalled development. 

(All photos and video by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

I was in Bahamas on the country's National Heroes Day on October 9. Bahamas replaced its Discovery Day, recognizing Christopher Columbus, with Heroes Day in 2013. The idea is to honor homegrown Bahamian heroes and shed the cultural domination of the islands' colonial past.

I've written before on my conflicted feelings about Columbus Day. So I was curious when my Lonely Planet told me that I would find a Columbus statue presiding over the capital at Government House in Nassau. Indeed, my pre-pandemic Planet was outdated. The statue was vandalized just in advance of Heroes Day in 2021 and moved into storage in October 2022. 

I found not only an empty pedestal with a crumbling top, but closed gates at Government House. Neglected surroundings, outside the gates, unfortunately spoke to my overall impression of economic development in the Bahamas.

Two bridges connect Nassau to Paradise Island.
Infrastructure is in a sorry state. Roads are a mess, and signage is almost non-existent. Business outside Nassau and island resorts is minimal. I tried walking to a purported national park on New Providence, and I gave up the effort halfway for the lack of walkways alongside merciless speeding traffic. Later, I drove to the park to find little more than a set-aside green parcel walled by chain link.

K9 Harbour Island Green School subsidizes most students' tuition.
Besides the country's relentlessly cheerful people, little thrives on the islands, economically. There is the tourism sector, the stunning natural beauty of the islands, and expat enclaves such as Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. To walk from grimy downtown Nassau across either bridge to the touristic sector known as "Paradise Island," where the famous Atlantis development is located, is to transport oneself between worlds. 

A Disney ship departs Nassau before dusk.

I wondered what shop workers on Paradise Island think when they leave the artificiality of the plaster-and-paint retail village, with its Ben & Jerry's and Kay's Fine Jewelry, for dilapidated, rat-infested residential buildings in the city's corners. I wondered whether tourists see the contrast when they are whisked through downtown en route from the airport to Paradise.

The heart of the city undergoes an equally striking transformation almost daily. Cruise ships pull into the port and unleash a legion of passengers into the downtown district. Western stores such as Starbucks and Havianas open up alongside overpriced jewelers and T-shirt purveyors.

(Video below: A funeral procession for Obie Wilchombe, Parliamentarian, cabinet minister, and tourism executive, proceeded through the heart of the tourist district while cruise passengers were in port on October 11. I watched, I admit, from the balcony at Starbucks. Tourists who didn't see the coffin must be forgiven for assuming the lively music signified joyful festivity. Embodiment of the tourism-government complex himself, Wilchombe likely would have approved.)


Bahamas declared independence from Britain in 1973.
Then in the late afternoon, the passengers return to their ships, and the downtown becomes a ghost town. I walked the streets at dusk and came across a few port workers commuting by foot, a few teens joking about, and a scarily ranting homeless man who caused me to cross the street. Every business was shuttered. It was hard to believe the same space had been dense with vacationers only hours earlier.

A night street party in Nassau reverberates.
Walking Nassau at night, the relative silence was punctured by a raging street party. A man told me that it was an anniversary celebration of the most popular local radio station, and entry, food, and drink were free. He invited me to join, and I did. It was a raucous party inside with a rapper dancing wildly on a stage, flashing lights, and, he was right, free drinks and heaps of homemade local eats. I felt like I was crashing an after-hours cast party at a Caribbean Disney World. I was having fun, but I must have looked out of place—I couldn't help but attract attention as the only person not of color—as a couple of well meaning partygoers asked if I was all right or needed help finding my way.

Signs all over Eleuthera Island promise happy Disney jobs to come.
Determined as it purports to be to carve out a national identity free of colonialism, there is a painful dearth of evidence that the Bahamanian government is accomplishing that. The government imposes a hefty 12% VAT on goods and services, and I'm sure the port fees are substantial. Where is the money going?

The International Trade Association (ITA) well described what I saw: "The World Bank recognizes The Bahamas as a high-income, developed country with a GDP per capita of $25,194 (2020) and a Gross National Income per capita of $26,070 (2020).  However, the designation belies the country’s extreme income inequality, as statistics are driven by a small percentage of high-net-worth individuals, while most Bahamians earn far less." The only evidence of infrastructure investment I saw was that which directly benefited tourists and expats.

True to form, on a ferry between Eleuthera and Harbour Island, I overheard a couple of Americans in golf outfits discussing the plusses and minuses of potential investment in an island hotel. They seemed oblivious to the fact that the hotel name they bandied about was sewn into the breast of the short-sleeve work shirt of a local commuter sitting right beside them.

The historic "British Colonial" hotel, Nassau, lost its Hilton affiliation,
but is under renovation with plans to reopen under independent operation.

 
The one-two punch of Hurricane Dorian and COVID took a heavy toll, to be sure. And tourism income is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Still, that can't fully explain the development stagnancy I saw in and among local communities.

Perhaps naively, I expected to find the Bahamas more a reflection of the western sphere of influence than of the developing world. It's only a 30-minute flight from Miami to Bahamas, and 85% of imports come from the United States. But on the ground on New Providence and Eleuthera Islands, the Bahamas reminded me less of Florida and more of Guinea-Bissau—a country plunged into darkness last week for failure to pay a $17m debt to its exclusive power provider, the offshore ship of a Turkish corporation.

Two years since Columbus was vandalized and one year since he was packed away, the solution to native identity at Government House is a rubble-topped pedestal and closed grounds. The people outside the gates have embraced National Heroes Day. But there is little information in circulation about who the Bahamian heroes are or why they should be celebrated. 

The government owes its people better. And I wouldn't mind seeing American- and British-owned tourism companies taking some corporate social responsibility—if that's still a thing—to ensure that something of what they pay into the country is reaching the people and lands that truly give life to today's Bahamas.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Wide-ranging social commentary in Peele's 'Wendell & Wild' pillories privatization, school-to-prison pipeline

Released by Netflix in October 2022, Wendell & Wild is a delightful stop-motion horror animation and none-too-subtle commentary on the school-to-prison pipeline.

Jordan Peele and Henry Selick co-produced and co-authored Wendell & Wild, which is based on an unpublished book by Selick and Clay McLeod Chapman. Comedic genius Peele was fresh off Nope (2022), which I thought was much better than the confused Get Out (2017), though the newer film won zero Academy nods to the earlier's screenplay win and three noms in 2018. Selick is a Hollywood legend, but doesn't perennially produce new work for our pleasure. He co-masterminded The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996) in the animation vein, and he did the visual effects for a favorite film of mine, the quirky and underrated Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).

Wendell & Wild follows teenager Kat (Lyric Ross, Déjà on This Is Us) as she battles demonic forces, including an eponymous demon pair (voiced by Peele and comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key), intent on evil works, including construction of a prison, in the down-on-its-luck earthly town of Rust Bank. Critics harshed on the film for jamming too much social commentary into one vehicle, and, admittedly, Wendell & Wild fires head-spinningly at innumerable targets.

To me, that's the fun of it. Race, education, employment, the institutional church, and the criminal justice system only outline the low-hanging fruit. Through subtleties such as plot device, semantics, and imagery, the film digs deep into nuances, even the socioeconomic layers of natural hair.

Whatever your pet peeve of social dysfunction, you can find it in Wendell & Wild, which is why I first saw the film as a commentary on transparency and accountability in urban development. The demons and their mortal allies are in the privatization-of-state-services game. They plan to build a prison that will do nothing in the way of rehabilitation alongside schools that will do little in the way of education, as building each institution to serve its purpose would be bad business for the other.

What I was inclined to see as a problem in freedom-of-information law, informed as I was by a former student's recent publication on private-prison abuse in Arizona for The Journal of Civil Information, to be fair, is just one angle on the broader problem of the school-to-prison pipeline. In this vein, I shared a scene from Wendell & Wild with my law students.

It happened that Jose Vazquez, communications director for the ACLU of Alabama, keyed in on the same scene and posted it to Twitter (embed below). In the scene, mean-girl ringleader Siobhan (Tamara Smart) starts to put together the evil plot of her parents, urban development power couple Lane and Irmgard Klaxon (David Harewood and Maxine Peake), owners and directors of Klax Corp. How sweet is that multiplicitous naming?

Wendell & Wild is worth the watch. As Vazquez wrote of the above clip on Twitter, "I really hope it can be used in classrooms."

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Fighting shatters peace, rips at progress in Sudan

"Our tea lady" and me in Khartoum, November 2020.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
I'm saddened by the outbreak of conflict in Sudan, threatening to set the country back decades in development and economic opportunity.

As I wrote in 2020, Sudan was on a promising trajectory for peace and normalization of relations with the United States. The Trump Administration settled tort litigation over the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings; the attackers were alleged to have planned the operation from Sudan. And in December 2020, after a secular legal reform, Sudan was at last removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The State Department instructed that U.S. businesses could again trade there, cautioning only that state-owned Sudanese companies ought be regarded warily, as corruption remained a problem.

I was in Sudan in November 2020, and the people bore a palpable optimism. Khartoum was littered with the worn and abandoned husks of American enterprises, such as KFC, and there was expectation that they would come back to life soon. One could imagine that the ruddy cola sold in glass bottles bearing Arabic script might give way to authentic Coca-Cola, for better and worse. From an eager local entrepreneur, I bought ground Sudanese coffee in haute paper packaging printed in anticipation of a new market for exports.

Now military factions are fighting in the streets of Khartoum. Civilian sites, including hospitals and the airport, are under fire. Ordinary people, struggling with food insecurity and climate-change-related dust storms and flooding in the best of times, are caught in the middle.

My associates and I in Khartoum frequented "our tea lady," who ran a thriving street business near a hospital entrance. With unfailing cheer, she brewed tea and fried snacks over hot coals for healthcare workers and passersby. On the sidewalk, she carved out an unexpectedly welcoming space amid the chaos and grime of the city. In a makeshift circle of motley seating on plastic stools and buckets, people from different walks of life and all corners of the world paused, chattered, and laughed.

I hope our tea lady is safe.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Chinese aid in foreign development, Taiwan's dwindling number of allies warrant Western concern

Honduras severed ties with Taiwan and doubled down on ties with China just days before House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met in California with the president of Taiwan.

The severing of diplomatic relations between Honduras and Taiwan is an important sign for global security, well beyond the bilateral significance. The People's Republic of China (PRC) has been executing a methodical campaign to isolate Taiwan from the world, a potential preliminary step to an assertion of control that would test the U.S. pledge to defend the disputed territory.

Chinese development policy is a fascinating subject; I take it up each year in one hour with my Comparative Law class.  Evidence abounds to support disparate theories on what the PRC means to achieve with its foreign aid packages. From well meaning humanitarian goals to Machiavellian world domination: it's anybody's guess what's being said in the highest levels of Beijing briefings. I'll paste below the reading list my class used this year to get a handle on this wide-ranging sub-subject. The discussion always is the best of the course.

Around the world, I have seen the vast reach of renminbi. The infrastructure projects alone are simply stunning. Chinese flags boast of telecommunication investment in distant and dusty towns in West Africa and South America. Bridges soar in Croatia and Montenegro; dams in Thailand and Sudan. Glassy government buildings adorn capitals such as Windhoek and Harare. And then there are the ports, from Togo to Sri Lanka to Peru. That's just a sampling of what I've seen with my own eyes.

A Dutch friend working in the aid sector in the Middle East was puzzled when I first asked for his appraisal of Chinese objectives. It's obvious, he opined. They just don't say it.

He and I were in the remote Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives in March, where I witnessed Chinese-funded projects: a shining national museum, a bridge connecting the capital to the airport island across open ocean, and a massive new airport under construction. 

The Sinamalé Bridge, or China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, links capital Malé to Hulhulé Island.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Velana International Airport at left; the new Maldives airport under construction at right.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The Maldives National Museum, Malé, opened in 2010.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The list of countries that have severed ties with Taiwan upon PRC quid pro quo has grown so long that it's difficult to track, and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are well represented. I was in Paraguay last year not long after it asked Taiwan for $1bn to remain friends. Typically of countries in the mix, Paraguay is trying to play both sides for the best deal, which, in the end, probably means just using Taiwan as leverage to get the best deal from the PRC. Heritage reported in late February that Paraguay was one of only 14 remaining countries, then, still maintaining ties with Taiwan. 

Last week, Honduras renounced that club. NPR contextualized the move:

Honduras had asked Taiwan for billions of dollars of aid and compared its proposals with China's, Wu said. About two weeks ago, the Honduran government sought $2.45 billion from Taiwan to build a hospital and a dam, and to write off debts, he added....

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said her government would not "engage in a meaningless contest of dollar diplomacy with China." ....

For decades China has funneled billions of dollars into investment and infrastructure projects across Latin America. That investment has translated to rising power for China and a growing number of allies.

In Honduras, it has come in the form of construction of a hydroelectric dam project in central Honduras built by the Chinese company SINOHYDRO with about $300 million in Chinese government financing.

Honduras is the ninth diplomatic ally that Taipei has lost to Beijing since the pro-independence Tsai first took office in May 2016.

Taiwan still has ties with Belize, Paraguay and Guatemala in Latin America, and Vatican City. Most of its remaining partners are island nations in the Caribbean and South Pacific, along with Eswatini in southern Africa.

As Reuters put it in a headline yesterday, "US, Taiwan seen powerless to stem island's diplomatic losses in Latin America."

When Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with McCarthy in California, she was on her way back from visiting Belize and Guatemala. Media reports tended to spin the meeting as a show of tough-on-China Republican policy. I rather assumed the view I heard from one commentator, that meeting in California was a way not to meet in Taiwan, thus, not to poke the dragon as Nancy Pelosi did.

Schooled on 1970s détente, I'm not much of an American imperialist, and these days, I'm not much of an American exceptionalist. But I do worry that we will one day wake up to find ourselves a quirky outpost of remnant democracy in a world of purported harmony under authoritarian paternity.

Here's your Comparative Law homework for two hours on law and development, including a discussion of the PRC.

Historical and theoretical:

Policy:Cheeseman here summarizes his remarks at a University of Birmingham debate in 2019. The whole debate is on video on YouTube, so you can watch it if you like (cued to Cheeseman, who spoke first).

PRC:

If you'd like to dig into the numbers of Chinese development aid, have a look at the Global China Initiative at Boston University, especially its recent (Jan. 2023) policy brief.

The older BRI exists alongside more recent, if less extravagant, Chinese policies in the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Development Initiative (GDI).  The GSI and GDI raise analogous questions. If you would like comparable overviews, I recommend Michael Schuman for The Atlantic (July 13, 2022) on the GSI; Joseph Lemoine and Yomna Gaafar for New Atlanticist (Aug. 18, 2022) on the GDI (pro-Western perspective); and Professor Amitrajeet A. Batabyal for The Conversation (Aug. 4, 2022) on the GDI.

If you would like to learn more about the Chinese debt cancellations in Africa mentioned in the N.Y. Times article, there's a good and fairly even-handed article from Voice of America News (Aug. 25, 2022). One thing I have not given you here is any of the abundant statements from Chinese authorities and state-sponsored media defending Chinese policy; you can find them readily online yourself if you wish to get a flavor.

Conclusion:

Engage with this compelling perspective piece authored by a Harvard law student in 2018. Attorney Sabrina Singh is now an associate in the ESG group at Latham & Watkins in New York City.

A thanks to my Dutch friend (whom I'm not naming for security) for joining the class from the Middle East via Teams to discuss the delivery of humanitarian aid in conflict zones.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

EU leverages trade for sustainable development

Attorney Cyprian Liske presents at the University of Bologna.
Used with permission.
"Sustainability" is the word of our times, and the European Union has more than a decade's experience building sustainability expectations into trade agreements.

At the University of Bologna in October, for a program of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, doctoral candidate Cyprian Liske, my friend, colleague, and former student, presented his research on sustainable development provisions in EU trade agreements concluded from 2010 to 2020. Here is the abstract:

On 27th November 2019, Ursula von der Leyen, at that time President-elect of the European Commission, delivered a speech in the European Parliament, in which she set a concise programme for the next 5 years of her term of office. "Sustainability" was mentioned in this speech no less than 8 times. "We have to bring the world with us and this is already happening," Ms. President said. "And Phil Hogan [at that time Commissioner for trade] will ensure that our future trade agreements include a chapter on sustainable development."

Indeed, the EU has been including trade and sustainable development (TSD) chapters in new-generation trade agreements since the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea (2010). However, such TSD chapters, devoted to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals, including environmental protection, preventing resource depletion, or protecting workers' rights, differ substantially in agreements concluded with particular countries....

The goal of the project was to comparatively analyse TSD chapters in trade agreements concluded by the EU in 2010-2020, pointing out common elements and differences. The analysis will let us critically explore what the reasons for those differences may be (e.g., the course of negotiations, economic dependency, trade partners’ level of development) and whether the EU is consistent in its sustainability requirements set towards its trade partners. It will also allow us to depict the current tendencies in the way how such TSD chapters are shaped by the EU in comparison with the global trends. The comparative analysis of the EU TSD chapters was conducted by the researcher qualitatively and quantitatively with the use of software (MAXQDA 2022).

The research parses the interests advanced by EU agreements..
© Cyprian Liske; used with permission.
The Biden administration lately has redoubled the U.S. commitment to the developing world, announcing at a December summit, for key example, an investment of $55bn in Africa over the next three years.

Development aid is often viewed skeptically by American taxpayers. That's understandable when the homeland is plagued by homelessness and financial insecurity. Isolationism streaks run through both libertarian and conservative ideologies, evidenced lately by Republican skepticism even of aid to Ukraine. But development aid can be justified with reference simultaneously to socioeconomic benevolence and to the donor's national security, thus, appealing to priorities both liberal and conservative.

Literal signs of Chinese investment are ubiquitous throughout Africa, as here,
in the rural community
d'Oukout in the Casamance region of Senegal, 2020.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The United States has a lot of catching up to do. With hotly debated motive, China has invested heavily in the developing world, near and far from its borders. Chinese presence in Africa is ubiquitous, from massive infrastructure projects such as ports and bridges to telecommunication access in the remotest of villages. Russia, too, has lately gone all-in on Africa: a "charm offensive," researcher Joseph Siegle wrote last year, and "[t]he reasons aren't pretty."

Incorporating sustainable development into trade agreements allows western powers to facilitate development goals at less cost than direct investment, and even with potential gains through free trade. There's still a lower-common-denominator problem when competing against proffered Chinese and Russian agreements that attach browbeating strings only on the back end. But access to Western markets brings some incentive to the table.

A practicing lawyer and legal translator, Liske is pursuing his doctorate on the nexus between sustainable development and international trade law in the context of EU external policy. He graduated in law from Jagiellonian University and in business linguistics from the Tischner European University, both in Kraków, Poland, and both with distinction. He also is an alumnus of the American Law Program of the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America, and of the English Law and Legal Methods International Summer Programme of the University of Cambridge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Politics complicates football: Sympathy for ... Iran

As advertised, last week in Kraków, Poland, I had the great privilege to talk law, development, and the FIFA World Cup, with the group stage under way in Qatar.

Students and faculty of the American Law Scientific Circle (KNPA) and American Law Program at Jagiellonian University (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego TBSP UJ and Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego UJ), in collaboration with the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, generously hosted me.  The talk kicked off a KNPA lecture series on "Law and Sustainability." My especial thanks to KNPA President Zuzanna Maszniew and her leadership team.

Photo © Zuzanna Maszniew, used with permission.
I was no John Oliver, to be sure, but I hope I stimulated thinking about the Gordian Knot of sport and politics and its implications for the Middle East and North Africa's place at the table.

Today, November 29, the United States will round out its play in the group stage in Qatar with a match against Iran, simultaneously with a high stakes stand-off between England and Wales. It's a big day, football fans.

Meanwhile, coming home to the States this week, I've been disappointed that Americans are not more in tune with the fascinating stories of geopolitics that are unfolding under the sporting tents of the Qatar World Cup. I admit, what's happening now in China dangles meritorious distraction. But with the USMNT facing Iran today, I want to mention one of the stories from Qatar that has gripped me.

In Iran's opening match with England last week, Iranian footballers refused to sing their own national anthem (BBC).  Stony faced, the players apparently chose to stand in silent solidarity with rights protestors against the government at home (N.Y. Times). Subsequently, Iranian authorities arrested a former national-team footballer known for occasional anti-regime sentiments (Guardian). At Iran's second match, the lads toed the line.

The anthem stunt was extraordinarily courageous. The players had to have known the disgrace they brought on the regime would have consequences when they go home, if not sooner.

Iranian footballers in 2018.
Mahdi Zare/Fars News Agency via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0
More, though, I was struck by the reminder that people and their governments are not the same thing.

I'm a reasonably bright person, as people go, and I've seen a lot of the world. I come from an immigrant family myself. I grew up with a dear Iranian friend. Her stepmother taught me how to make tahchin, and her dad eagerly gave me his own well worn copy of All the Shah's Men. I shouldn't need to be reminded that people are just people, much the same around the world, just trying to make the best of things and find some joy where we can; and that it's wrong to ascribe the Machiavellian motives of states, whether others or our own, to their citizens. The protests now in China say the same.

Yet, I admit, I had followed the USMNT into the World Cup with something of a Cold War mentality, maybe because of the era when I grew up. Yellow ribbons, burning effigies, and "Death to America" chants all bounce around my long-term memory. I was determined that we and our Group B compatriots from England and Wales should beat Iran to make some kind of political point. A Miracle on Ice or Rocky IV situation.

The Iranian men's demonstration unsettled my unconscious prejudice. As a result, a part of me has been pulling for Iran in their last matches, even while, still, I had to favor the England squad, which features some of my beloved Manchester City stars, and Wales, which invokes Lasso-esque Wrexham affections. And even while, of course, I support my home USMNT today, there will be a part of me that wants to see the Iranian side make a pride-worthy showing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

With FIFA World Cup under way in Qatar, law students study sport and soft power, law and development

I'll be talking law, development, and the World Cup today in Kraków, Poland.

Thanks to the American Law Scientific Circle (KNPA) and American Law Program at Jagiellonian University (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego TBSP UJ and Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego UJ), in collaboration with the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, for hosting me. This talk kicks off a KNPA lecture series on "Law and Sustainability" and begins at 3 p.m. CET at Pałac Larischa 203, Bracka 12.

I'll share some of the subject matter later.  Too much football to watch!

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Qatar World Cup opens Sunday; meanwhile, Netflix series stokes embers of FIFA corruption scandal

I visited CONMEBOL HQ in Asunción, Paraguay, in October.
The South American angle on the FIFA corruption scandal
was engagingly fictionalized in El Presidente in 2020.

(Photo by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

The sport world is abuzz over the Netflix documentary series, FIFA Uncovered, dropped November 9, just weeks before the FIFA World Cup opener in Qatar.

Many in Qatar are crying foul by filmmaker Miles Coleman for dredging up the ugliness of the FIFA corruption scandal, the focus of this docuseries, right now. But in an interview with renowned MENA scholar James Dorsey, Coleman, who created This Is Football for Amazon Prime in 2019, said he had no motive other than historical documentation. The timing of the release, Coleman said, is to bring football fans up to speed on the facts, so they can have informed conversations around the Qatar World Cup.

FIFA was rocked by scandal in 2015 when investigators led by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) arrested top officials in Zurich and issued an avalanche of indictments. It was revealed then that corruption practically poisoned every part of world football governance, especially the bidding process for the world's top sporting event and its 2010 award to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

Qatar narrowly edged out a bid from the United States in 2010, and disgraced FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his allies accused the United States of spite. Purportedly relieved of corrupt process, FIFA in 2018 awarded the 2026 World Cup to the joint bid of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

When issues remain controverted, the docuseries presents all voices, Coleman told Dorsey. Indeed, the interviews are what makes the series worthwhile. Most of the story has been told already and well; I read and reviewed a number of books on the subject in the first pandemic summer. The docuseries, though, includes interviews with just about every key player, including Blatter himself, as well as Qatar bid chief H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi; "Qatar whistleblower" Phaedra Al-Majid, featured recently on Norwegian television; and Mary Lynn Blanks, romantic partner of corrupted American football official Chuck Blazer, who died in 2017.

Among the revelations, or at least confirmed suspicions, arising from the docuseries interviews is the fact, borne out by evidence besides his own testimony, that Blatter favored the United States rather than Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. For all Blatter's failings, he was outmaneuvered by the colossal corruption machine that he helped to create. African Football Confederation President Issa Hayatou, a rival of Blatter's within FIFA, was key to securing the Qatari win. Hayatou was joined in his efforts by Jack Warner, president of the North, Central America and Caribbean Association, whose defection infuriated Blazer.

On Wednesday next week, November 23, at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, I will lead a discussion, "Law, Development, and the World Cup."  The program, in English, begins at 3 p.m. local time at Pałac Larischa 203, Bracka 12.

The World Cup opens Sunday night in Doha, Nov. 20, at 1100 US EST/1600 GMT, when Qatar hosts Ecuador in Group A. The United States MNT plays its Group B opener against Wales on Monday, Nov. 21, at 1400 US EST/1900 GMT. Poland plays its Group C opener against Mexico on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 1100 US EST/1600 GMT/1700 CET.

Hat tip to Alessandro Balbo Forero, an alum of my Comparative Law class who wrote his final paper on football and Brexit, for alerting me to the drop of FIFA Uncovered. He's an Arsenal supporter, but nobody's perfect.

Here is the trailer for FIFA Uncovered:

And here is the Dorsey interview of Coleman:

Friday, July 29, 2022

Scholars seek to stimulate socio-legal studies in Africa

At the global meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA) in Lisbon earlier this month, scholars in the collaborative research network dedicated to Africa ("CRN 13") agreed to move forward with an independent Africa Law & Society Network.

Working alongside but apart from CRN 13, the "Africa Law & Society Network" has a web page and for the time being claims a mailing address at the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The aim, in time, is to build a vibrant organization that is representative of scholars throughout the continent. 

The network thus hopes to stimulate the coordination of socio-legal studies by African scholars in two respects in which previous efforts have floundered: to have African scholars charting their own direction for research, rather than being coordinated by Western-dominated organizations; and to decentralize and diversify leadership, overcoming the tendency to lean exclusively on South African institutions.

CRN 13 leaders at the meeting sported the slogan "#CiteAfricanScholars" on T-shirts. Citation to African scholars often is limited by structural constraints that Western researchers might not even be conscious of, such as the simple availability of the work. With limited institutional resources, African academics cannot always enter their works into the subscription databases on which researchers often over-rely. And academic writers not backed by well known institutions are disproportionately unable to negotiate copyright and access terms with publishers that favor long-term pay walls over open source.

Professor Dee Smythe (LSA, UCT, LinkedIn) addresses the CRN 13 meeting in Lisbon.
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Communication policy figures as factor in U.S.-India business development after pandemic

From the Summit newsletter, with me at lower left
As promised, on February 24, I joined a panel of "INBUSH ERA World Summit 2022," an international business and policy conference organized by Amity University, India, through its flagship campus at Noida, Uttar Pradesh, near Delhi.

I delivered remarks arising from my paper, "Communication Policy as a Factor in Post-Pandemic U.S.-India Business Development," available on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

For better and worse, we live in the age of the transnational corporation. That corporate landscape is dominated by a very few actors, namely the five-trillion-U.S.-dollar oligopoly of Amazon, Apple, Meta/Facebook, Alphabet/Google, and Microsoft. That market dominance has proven to be counterproductive to countless priorities, including social and economic development, civil rights, and environmental sustainability. And the problem of Big Tech’s market dominance was dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic. Now national governments are trying to figure out what to do. Today, in the context of a program about how the United States and India can move forward together to facilitate transnational business development after the pandemic, I offer observations in two dimensions. One dimension is the jurisdictional relationship of the United States and India. The other dimension is the nature of the legal challenges in the global post-pandemic business environment. These challenges range from the broad level of the competitive marketplace to the narrow level of the information ecosystem, and, en route, pass through the problem of communication regulation, which is my own area of research.

The hosts generously presented me with an "Amity Global Academic Excellence Award."


Monday, June 27, 2022

Rwanda preens in Commonwealth spotlight, while genocide trauma, Congo conflict smolder just offstage

June 22, KIGALI—The usually biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, "CHOGM 2022," postponed from 2020, is under way in Kigali, Rwanda, marking both a sign of pandemic recovery and a possible Commonwealth pivot to reemphasize development.

The Commonwealth of Nations is an association of 54 states, ranging from island nations such as Dominica and Nauru to larger nations such as Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa. Constitutional origins in the British Empire, and, thus, shared history, language, and legal systems tie together almost all of the Commonwealth member states.

Notionally, the Commonwealth dates to the late 19th century; it was formalized in the early 20th century. The Commonwealth really took off functionally to fill the governance gaps left by decolonization and World War II in the mid-20th century. With the Crown as titular head, the Commonwealth mission today emphasizes rule of law, democratic governance, and human rights. Historical ambitions in the vein of common defense were largely displaced by Cold War realignments and the rise in power of the United States and NATO.

To sport fans, the Commonwealth might be best known for the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, to be hosted this summer by Birmingham, England. In contrast with the Olympics, the Games highlight sports that the United States has weakly or not embraced, such as cricket, netball, and rugby.

Commonwealth participation is not quite a multilateral treaty obligation, because membership is voluntary and terminable at will. Members can be suspended, but not expelled. In Africa, members such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe have had off and on-again relationships with the Commonwealth with waning and waxing commitments to human rights. Members such as Gambia and Maldives have left and rejoined the Commonwealth.

All photos by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Rwanda's membership in the Commonwealth is an unusual case, adding to the significance of CHOGM 2022 taking place here. The precarious Kingdom of Rwanda was forcibly superseded by German colonization in 1884, then passed into Belgian hands from World War I until 1959. Revolution led to 1962 independence and cycles of tumult. The infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which up to one million ethnic Tutsi were brutally slaughtered in about 100 days, was not a singular horror, rather a climactic installment in decades of violence, as power shifted among competing factions.

Rwanda's 2009 accession to the Commonwealth, the culmination of a six-year campaign, was therefore controversial. Varied factors motivated Rwanda to apply, despite its lack of constitutional ties to the British Empire. The Francophone country stood to gain global prestige and to strengthen foreign economic ties, both intercontinentally and with Anglophone neighbors in East Africa, as well as social development opportunities in youth, education, and sport. 

Rwanda also had a sour relationship with France over French support for the Hutu government responsible for the genocide. France played an active role in Rwanda after independence, politically and militarily, effectively treating the country as its own former colony, for better or worse. Rwandan membership in the Commonwealth therefore represented a deliberate rejection of Francophone heritage. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron apologized for France's role in precipitating and failing to stop the genocide, as well as subsequent resistance to investigation. Rwandan President Paul Kagame accepted the apology.

Both intergovernmental and nongovernmental human rights groups, including the Commonwealth's own investigators, found Rwanda wanting in the 20-aughts, its record on human rights still not up to snuff. They warned that Rwandan membership would degrade Commonwealth standards. Commonwealth purists objected to Rwandan membership for the country's lack of British colonial history. Rwanda looked to the example of Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony and Lusophone nation that had been admitted in 1995. In the 1990s and 20-aughts, Commonwealth members disagreed internally over whether to retain the requirement of "historic ties" to Britain. Mozambique had made a strong case upon its valuable support for Commonwealth opposition to South African apartheid. Expansionists prevailed again in 2009, and Rwanda won its membership.

In Africa, CHOGM, which has met since 1971 in Singapore, has been hosted by Zambia (1979), Zimbabwe (1991), South Africa (1999), Nigeria (2003), and Uganda (2007). Queen Elizabeth attended in Uganda, her first visit there since 1954, when Queen Elizabeth National Park took her name. The Prince of Wales is in Kigali now. So bringing CHOGM 2020/2022 to ostensibly Francophone Rwanda is a noteworthy achievement for the Kagame government.

But human rights groups have never abated in their discontent. Especially the recent abduction and imprisonment in Rwanda of "Hotel Rwanda" hero and human rights activist Paul Rusesabagina casts a shadow over CHOGM 2022 that the government would like delegates to ignore. I have written previously about the Rusesabagina matter and a related pending lawsuit in the United States by the Rusesabagina family.

My family and I arrived in Kigali last weekend to find a rush-hour traffic jam aggravated by road closures for CHOGM 2022. The formal CHOGM meeting of dignitaries happens Friday and Saturday, but delegates are here all week to do the real diplomatic work. The black, brown, and white faces of the Commonwealth circulate in the CBD, and plastic-encased CHOGM credentials dangle from lanyards. Heavily armed police and private security monitor every corner; the last thing Rwanda needs is a black-eye security breach. The CBD is plastered with posters in the vein of "Visit Rwanda" and "Invest in Rwanda," bearing images of the country's legendarily hills, green terrain, and exquisite fauna.

Last night I walked through a night-market showcase of life and culture in Rwanda (and in smaller sections, Uganda and Mozambique), from agricultural supplies and textiles to food and dance. Smiling representatives eagerly promoted their wares.  I succumbed to the hype and bought some green—literally and figuratively—cosmetic products for my wife, as well as some Rwandan coffee. (I'd already bought Rwanda and Musanze FC kits for myself.) I took a selfie in front of gigantic letters spelling "KIGALI."


Food stalls offered delights from East Africa, including Rwanda-based restauranteurs in foreign cuisines, such as Indian and Ivorian. An aside: The highlight of the showcase for me was Kigali-based "Now Now Rolex," which makes gourmet ethnic variations of the classic Ugandan street food. A rolex is an egg omelette rolled in chapati, usually with other ingredients, such as diced tomatoes and onions, added to the taste of the buyer. Typically for no more than a dollar or two, the wrap is cooked quickly in a hot skillet, crepe style, at a roadside cart or stall. The name "rolex" derives from "rolled eggs," but for its quick preparation also plays cheekily with the name of the watch brand. Now Now's gourmet options incorporate ingredients for variations such as French, Italian, and Mexican, still just $2 a pop; I had "the Rwandan," featuring minced beef. Oh, and a delectable vodka mule to wash it down.

Notwithstanding the festive atmosphere, the genocide is never far from mind in Rwanda. CHOGM 2022 takes place against the backdrop of Kwibuka 28, a three-month remembrance of the genocide sponsored by Rwanda and the African Union. With the theme "Remember-Unite-Renew," Kwibuka is recognized with its own gigantic letters at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Newscasters on Rwandan TV (English-language for me) and videos at the cultural showcase readily recognize the genocide, but reiterate a forward-looking "never again" message. They refrain from revisiting gruesome atrocities and scarcely acknowledge the ongoing public health problem of post-traumatic stress.

Personally I've been skeptical of Rwanda's reconciliation with the genocide and purported triumph over ethnic conflict. The mantra one hears throughout Rwanda today is that "we are all Rwandan now," meaning ethnic differentiation is a thing of the past. But how does a people turn that page so quickly, even in the span of one generation? Nothing I learned about the genocide at the Kigali Memorial gave me solace. The way that nationalistic leaders and opportunistic, wanna-be warlords manipulated information and exploited mass media—sound familiar?—to turn ordinary people into torturers and murderers of their friends and neighbors; decades of violence and 100 days of carnage to rival the Holocaust; and then it all just evaporated, never to happen again? I noted that the impressive and truth-rendering Kigali Genocide Memorial, which houses the remains of a quarter million people and where Prince Charles laid a wreath today, was constructed in the 20-aughts by a UK NGO, not by the Rwandan government.

To President Kagame's credit, Rwanda looks and feels peaceful. I found only warm and welcoming people traveling in the country's lush northwest. I walked around Kigali day and night with a comfort level I've had in no other African capital (though I am not recommending being carefree here; I take precautions). Kagame brokered Commonwealth membership and landed CHOGM.

Kigali

At the same time, Kagame has been president since 2000. He was a leader of the domestic military force that ultimately quelled the genocide, and many say he has been running the country de facto since then. For perspective, that's since Bill Clinton was President of the United States.

In a recent book, journalist Michela Wrong unflinchingly painted Kagame as a wolf in sheep's clothing.  (I've read about the book, but not read the book.) She charged him with political assassination of a rival and dictatorial repression of dissent. According to descriptions of Wrong's portrayal, a "sinister" and "chilling" head of state lurks behind the rendering of peace and promise that the West is so eager to embrace.

"Hotel Rwanda" today: the Hotel des Mille Collines

Wrong's take squares with details alleged in the abduction of Rusesabagina. Assiduously avoiding return to Rwanda, Rusesabagina persistently criticized the Kagame regime and alleged failure to reconcile meaningfully with the genocide. The Rusesabagina family lawsuit alleged that a covert Rwandan intelligence officer lured Rusesabagina away from his Texas residence for a purported speaking engagement in Burundi, then orchestrated his abduction to Kigali from a Dubai layover. Rusesabagina's subsequent criminal prosecution in Rwanda on terrorism charges had every hallmark of a show trial. The Kagame administration denies involvement in the abduction and any impropriety in the prosecution.

I wonder whether Rwanda's enthusiastic embrace of Kwibuka, the annual genocide commemoration, represents genuine engagement with reconciliation or mere lip service to human rights platitudes that gratify western leaders and smooth the pathways of foreign investment. I haven't seen a single mention in Rwandan media of demands by human rights groups that Rusesabagina be released. Such as I've seen, discussion of human rights in Rwanda, besides recognition of the genocide as a historical event and cause for unified patriotism going forward, has been limited to the promotion of innovations in public health and sustainable agriculture.

Meanwhile, violence and unrest in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo casts another unwanted shadow over CHOGM 2022. Like Rwanda, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has convulsed with violence since its Belgian decolonization in the 1960s. Millions have died just since the 1990s. Since 2015, the eastern border region, which shares Lake Kivu and the Virunga mountain range with Rwanda, has been the site of a bloody confrontation, costing thousands of civilian lives. Supported by UN peacekeepers, the Congolese army has been locked in conflict with "M23" revolutionaries. Making matters worse, Kinshasa accuses Kigali of funding M23 in a bid to expand Rwandan territory. Rwanda denies involvement.

I know next to nothing about the political situation in the DRC, so my perceptions are informed only by experience on the Rwandan side of the border.  The establishment of a Tutsi government after the genocide propelled Congolese Tutsi into Rwanda, and nearly 2 million Hutu left Rwanda for the DRC. More than once in the Lake Kivu region, I met Congo-born 20-somethings—the average age in Rwanda is a remarkable 19—whose Rwandan families relocated there after the genocide, only to return later to Rwanda as refugees of war in the DRC. Though born to Rwandan families, the persons I met identified as Congolese and lamented that they could not go home.

I came close to the DRC border twice. The first time, in the Virungas, I had an escort of four soldiers with automatic weapons. Armed escorts are common in East African parks to protect tourists from wild animals (ideally to scare them with gunfire, not to shoot them). But this was more than animal deterrence. The soldiers acknowledged that Rwandan officials are worried about incursion from the DRC, especially while CHOGM is ongoing in Kigali.  I was encouraged not to linger at the summit of Mount Bisoke, whose crater lake straddles the border.  (I was not allowed to photograph soldiers or border posts.)

The Virunga volcanic range sits at the junction of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

I came close to the border as well in the lakeside town of Gisenyi. A Rwandan official invited me closer to the line than I cared to be. I could see where queues, asphalt road, and orderly buildings on the Rwandan side gave way to dirt road, a shantytown, and a colorful, chaotic, and predominantly pedestrian marketplace on the Congolese side.

As of this writing, CHOGM 2022 is progressing without incident, and Rwanda is availing of the opportunity to put its best foot forward in the world. Surely for the sake of everyone I've met here, I hope that Rwandan participation in the community of nations affords, for every Rwandan who wants it, opportunity for more than subsistence living.

However, for that to happen, Commonwealth delegates will have to see past colorful souvenirs, product pitches, and reconciliation rhetoric. Rwanda needs a plan for infrastructure, educational opportunity, and an improved standard of living for all its people. Rwanda does not need recolonization through the finance sector.

For an indulgent exploration of the contemporary aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the precarious relationship with the DRC, I highly recommend the television series Black Earth Rising (2018), a co-production of Netflix and BBC Two, written and directed by Hugo Blick and starring Michaela Coel and John Goodman.  The story is fictional, but the riveting expression of social and political tensions is spot on. HT @ Jason Peura.

For a moving documentary on the plight of the gorillas in the Virunga mountains amid the chaos of war in the DRC, see the Oscar-nominated Virunga (2014), also available on Netflix.