Sunday, September 29, 2013

Anti-Poaching & the CGI

Its great that the Clinton Global Initiative wants to stop poaching in Africa.  I want it to stop too but it takes a lot of money, time, and effort especially as the poachers are often more motivated than the government troops sent to stop them.  For example, some of the poachers in Southern Chad/Central African Republic have been Sudanese military troops on leave who took their gun trucks with heavy machine guns and RPGs to hunt some elephants.  The also had radios and GPS units that allowed them to spread out and avoid the park police and local military units.  In some cases they killed the elephants with an RPG or chopped them up with their heavy guns.  

So will the Clinton plan train and equip troops and put them into battle with heavily armed poachers?  Will it provide air intelligence as in small-UAVs as despite being a dedicated and important asset in the fight against poaching, the Africa Parks Network of aircraft is a small force with limited assets and coverage? Perhaps they have deep pockets like the Clooney network and can provide satellite surveillance but once the poachers are detected can they action troops in a timely manner to catch the poachers in the act?  The areas where poachers operate are vast and the road networks are very poor.  In many places even on the roads you can only travel 30 miles per hour, cross country is much slower.  It will also be hard to distinguish from the air (or space) what is a poacher, rich farmer, local politician, NGO vehicle, or military truck.  Also in some areas the forest canopy is nearly impenetrable except by sophisticated sensors.

Many African military troops don’t get a lot of time on the range practicing their marksmanship.  Ammunition is expensive and a luxury that most regular army troops can’t afford.  Plus in many places ammunition is strictly controlled so the troops don’t run amok and try to seize power in a military coup d’etat.  Some militaries have GPS and high-tech radios but most units don’t have these expensive items, and again it is often in the best interest of the ruling powers to keep the military poorly equipped and untrained so they don’t become a threat to the state.  The units that get all the toys and funding are usually the ones most loyal to the head of state or assigned to protect the government.  

Some of the resources that will be needed will require new export licenses for the sharing of technology that is currently banned due to fears of abuses by the regimes.  For example certain weapons, aircraft, and night vision goggles are prohibited by Congress for export to many African nations.  If new toys are authorized for export or acquired from other sources it is not likely that the toys will end up in the hands of the anti-poaching forces but more likely in the hands of the elite presidential guard units.  Training up other units will upset the delicate political balance in the country where the power is centralized in order to protect the head of state.  If an outside power were to suddenly develop high tech capabilities, advanced marksmanship, and be able to maneuver they would become a legitimate threat to the state as they may be the most capable military unit in the country.

The actual troops that get committed to the fight will likely not be well trained, well armed, nor able to maneuver to engage the poachers.  In which case they will likely be slaughtered if they can find the poachers.  Many elite African military units don’t even have detailed maps of their country where they operate.  

Developing a military force in Africa is a very complex proposition especially in dealing with regional military forces that have basic capabilities.  Social, economic, and domestic as well as international political considerations need to be taken into account.  Everybody hates poaching and wants to do something about it and its easy to take a pledge or make a commitment and throw money at the problem.  There are plenty of people out there who are willing to take money and develop training programs.  However, many of these programs may only absorb cash and leave an ineffective program behind or immature forces that aren’t really prepared for the intended fight.  

The process of finding poachers in the act, relaying the message to troops on the ground, maneuvering them to engage and defeat the poachers is a highly complex challenge.  Given that these poachers operate in forested areas that cover thousands of square miles this mission to defeat poaching can be more difficult than tracking extremist fighters across the deserts of northern Africa.  The US, France, and other western powers have dedicated hundreds of millions in dollars and immense task forces to this mission and have achieved limited success even with using their sophisticated resources and highly trained forces.  

The CGI says it is taking a three-pronged approach to fighting poaching: stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stopping the demand but I think stopping the killing may be the hardest thing to do.  The easier places to impact poaching is in the international transport/trafficking of the items as they leave the continent and when they arrive at their destination.  But then again, the global war on drugs isn't going so well either.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Faya trip

I had a great 24-hour trip to Faya this past week and I wish I could have stayed longer.  Some friends that were going up there to check out the clinic invited me along as they had room on their private plane and I was lucky enough to be able to escape the office.
The first thing I noticed when we took off from N'Djamena was how green the region was.  The river was full and the neighborhoods were flooded, but it was so green- a huge change from when I arrived here in March.  Its hard to believe this is part of the Sahel desert.  Once we got out of the city we flew above a rain storm and the clouds extended until about 15 mins before we landed and the harsh Sahara desert landscape was revealed.  

The orange sand dunes looked soft but between the dunes was the crusty brown and white hard-pan ridges.  Faya, however was an oasis in the the desert.
My friends had arranged for some rental cars that drove us out into the desert and then around to an oasis that makes life possible in Faya.  

The groundwater in the city is only a meter-deep in most places and in some places it bubbles to the surface.  

The locals built small canals to channel the water to their date farms and gardens and a wide variety of local produce was available.  

After our tour of the desert we settled into a nice vila for the night and enjoyed stable electricity and the quiet of the desert (no generator noise!).  Our hosts slaughtered a goat for us and we stayed up late eating from the large platter side by side with our Chadian friends.  The next morning we had the rest of the goat for breakfast and I think it tasted better on the second day!

After breakfast we packed up our bug nets and sleeping pads and headed out for the obligatory courtesy call with the provincial governor before starting to talk to the local officials.  The governor was a nice guy and he said he had came back during the night to meet with us and insisted we come back to see him after we visited the clinic.

 The clinic was nice building with lots of people, a couple ambulances, a pharmacy, and a local doctor. The doctor from the French base also was reported to come by from time to time to help out.  The said they needed more equipment and trained staff, but those shortages are not unique to oasis's in the desert.

Our last stop was to check-in with the governor again and he invited us to lunch before we left for the flight back to N'Djamena (ground meat in a red sauce, roasted chicken, and flat bread).  It was a great trip, but much too short.  I sincerely hope I can return to Faya again in the future for a longer trip!

Wifi antenna issues

The rainy season in N'Djamena takes it toll on everything.  I am one of the lucky ones in the city that have a solid house and a roof that doesn't leak.  I can't complain much because most of my neighbors have dirt floors and many of their compounds have been under a foot or more of water for the past month.  
I haven't been able to blog much because my wifi antenna was destroyed by the rain.  It was supposed to be all-weather and had a warranty (in the USA)  but it wasn't Africa-Proof.  The first time it died (in July) I assumed water dripped onto the powersupply that was indoors and shorted it out.  Fortunately I had a second powersupply that I was able to use and this time I had it covered and off the ground to prevent another short-out.  

It worked fine for a couple weeks but then quit working again in a torrential rain storm.  When I went to check it out the next morning I found the powersupply box again was full of water.  The only thing that made sense (since the box was elevated 3 feet off the ground and the CAT-V cable to the box made an upward sweep from the ground to the box is that somehow the cable was penetrated at the top and the cable had been acting like a straw.

To test my theory I disconnected the cable (after getting a shock because it was still plugged into the wall outlet) and water started pouring out.  I nicked the cable at the low point and more water streamed out.  

Since I had already used my backup powersupply (i thought i was planning ahead with one spare) it took me a while to find another one of the same voltage, but I vented the wire and the low point & so far its been working!