Posted by: micahalbert | July 9, 2008

What do Saudi Arabia & Tennessee have in Common?

Over at the very, very compelling Strange Maps Site (warning: do not click unless you have an hour to kill) is a map of the U.S. with each state renamed for a country with a similar GDP.

Even though in actuality, Iran’s annual GDP is nearly $34 billion larger than Alabama’s, it is still an interesting way to look at the world.

Posted by: micahalbert | June 30, 2008

Commodities to Hoard in 2008 – Cobalt

Used for centuries to beautify glass and ceramics, the mineral is also tough enough to be used in drill bits and steel belted tires. Cobalt’s current popularity however stems from its use in fuel-efficient jet engines – such as the state-of-the-art Boeing 787, rechargeable batteries and the ever-growing telecommunications hardware market. With jet fuel costs skyrocketing and personal electronics in high demand, the price of cobalt tripled in 2007 and climbed to a high of $52.50 per pound.


Annual production rarely exceeds 65,000 tons and over half of all cobalt reserves are in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). What’s more, tech-hungry China’s cobalt consumption is expected to climb at least 7 percent each year through 2009 – and at least four leading mobile phone producers contain cobalt from DRC. These companies run the likely risk of supporting illegal export through Rwanda and Angola and unfair mining practices which often involve sever human rights abuses. It was estimated that in 2005, 75 percent of all cobalt exported from the Katanga provice were illegally exported.



In 2007 alone, 1.15 billion mobile phones were sold worldwide and by the end of 2008, half of the world’s population will own a mobile phone.


With over 3 billion people encountering cobalt on a daily basis what impact will this have on the already fragile political and economic arena of eastern DRC? What are the current work conditions, environment within DRC and will this be changed with quadruple prices? What environmental impact does this have to subsequent communities? Will export rents contribute to DRC’s GDP or will it fuel the existing civil war and cause the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – formerly Interahamwe) to gain an upper hand in the war? Will cell phone manufacturers address this issue and if they do will it put enough strain on the global supply to cause the Congolese cobalt market to snowball out of control?


Posted by: micahalbert | May 29, 2008

4 Reasons You May Need A New Atlas… Soon

The newest category edition – Policy

South Sudan

A 21-year civil war concluded in 2005 with a peace agreement between the North and South of Sudan; the accord included a referendum on independence for the South, slated for 2011.

Why it will become a state: The vast majority of people in South Sudan almost certainly favor independence from Khartoum. According to Sudan scholar Alex de Waal, the people of the South are “waiting patiently” for 2011.

Why it won’t: Little has been done to prepare for a split. Contentious issues of border placement remain unsolved, and no census has been taken in the South for decades. If it doesn’t go their way, lawyers in Khartoum could cook up any number of reasons to invalidate the referendum. The biggest deal-killer, however, is Sudan’s oil, much of which is located in the South. Given that Khartoum depends on oil for 70 percent of its export revenues, it will be loath to part with so much as a drop of crude.

Odds: Not great. The referendum will probably happen; and it will probably come out in favor of independence; and Khartoum will almost certainly find a way around the results.


Since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991, this former British protectorate has stayed free of the violence and mayhem that has plagued the rest of the country over the past 16 years. Meanwhile, Somaliland has developed its own government, army, and currency; all it lacks is recognition from the rest of the world.

Why it will become a state: Somaliland’s de facto independence is hard to ignore. The territory has been a model of stability in a chaotic region for over a decade and a half, and most Somalilanders have left the possibility of unity behind them.

Why it won’t: Southern Somalis are still attached to the idea of a united Somali Republic, so the recognition of Somaliland by the international community would likely lead to greater instability in the South and possibly war. Hence, there isn’t much reason for third-party states to extend recognition.

Odds: Very good. But don’t count on it happening any time soon. The African Union and other international bodies plan to establish peace and stability in the South first and worry about the status of Somaliland later.

Iraqi Kurdistan

Spread out across four different countries, the Kurds have never had an independent country of their own. Yet as the rest of Iraq burns, they are closer than ever to statehood in their autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Why it will become a state: Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly support independence, as they made clear in a mock referendum in 2005. And as the rest of Iraq continues to degrade, the chances rise that the Kurds will strike out on their own.

Why it won’t: In a word, Turkey. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan might rejuvenate Kurdish separatism in Turkey, home to 14 million Kurds. Turkey (along with Iran, which also has a healthy population of Kurds) doesn’t want to take that chance, and it might use force to forestall a change in the status quo. For now, it won’t have to, as the United States maintains pressure on Kurdistan to remain in Iraq.

Odds: Fair. While expanding its trade ties with the autonomous region, Turkey has softened on the idea of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. And if Iraq falls apart and the Kurds declare independence, Ankara may have no choice but to accept a new southern neighbor.


With their territory currently in flux, it’s hard to know what to expect for Palestinians in the short term. One thing is certain: After decades of control by Israel, people in the West Bank and Gaza yearn to be in charge of their own destinies.

Why it will become a state: The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians are reconciled to a two-state compromise solution. There is plenty of disagreement over the details—border placement, right of return, Jerusalem—but ultimately, they are just that: details.

Why it won’t: Both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have extreme radical wings that will prevent any compromise from ever succeeding; get close, and debilitating violence is sure to erupt. What’s more, with the recent Hamas-Fatah split, it’s very unclear what the future holds for the relationship of the West Bank and Gaza.

Odds: Good. Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat came very close to an accord at Camp David in 2000, and it’s only a matter of time before the two sides will be at the negotiating table again. Given the weakness in both camps, it probably won’t happen soon, but we won’t be waiting forever, either.

Posted by: micahalbert | May 12, 2008

Rent Luxury

That’s it… I’ve seen it all now. Why even try anymore. As I read the day’s world news this morning, shocked by the news of the quake that has killed at least 8,500 people in Western China and MSF (Doctors w/o Borders) reporting over 220,000 missing in Myanmar (usually overshadowing the potential death toll), I am almost even more shocked by the advertisement that came up as I read the story.

Do advertisers really think that the people reading up on international news are actually going to click on an ad to rent a luxury hand bag? Come on people. If the advertiser paying for the ad, in this case, Bag, Borrow or Steal, thinks that If a person can read a story about how 900 school kids are instantly killed from this earthquake, and go on to spend over $4 a day renting a hand bag, let alone click on their ad, well… go ahead and waste your money then.

“Hey, cool handbag,” “yeah, I rented it, and it only cost me $5 bucks a day!” “Oh yea, did you hear about all those people who are dying of hunger and preventable disease, and that cyclone?”

Does this rub anyone else wrong? Rentable luxury? Even by our own culture’s standards this seems to be an oxymoron. If you’re renting it, you probably can afford it in the first place. So really, one is renting status; in a form of a handbag. The rub comes with the knowledge that over 2 billion people would consider a luxury item something along the lines of maybe a mosquito net, or access to water, or doubling their daily income to $2, or two meals a day, or a cow; pretty much anything under the sun other than a handbag.

This is obviously my sarcastic nature coming out. Advertisements that reflect how absurd our society is becoming really seem to get my goat. Actually, with that in mind, you too can ‘get your goat.’ Over 500 farmers in a remote village area in South Kivu province of DR Congo have formed themselves into cooperatives to take advantage of a micro-loan program offered by Empowering Lives International (ELI). This program enables an individual or family to receive a goat loan as well as training on animal care and use of manure for growing food. They keep the goat’s offspring and return the original goat to ELI to be passed on to another family. Only $50 bucks. Now that is luxury.

For more on this, visit



Posted by: micahalbert | May 7, 2008

Empowering Lives International Fundraiser

May 4th we had a fundraiser for Empowering Lives International and had a really good turnout. Our friends the Bartels let us use their house for the event. Also, my friend David, from Rwanda, happened to be in the U.S. and he was able to speak at the event. Even though the rain came, it ended up being an amazing event.

Posted by: micahalbert | April 21, 2008

Sudan census to start amid widespread skepticism

Sudan’s census, a vital step in the deal that ended decades of civil war in Africa’s largest country, will begin on Tuesday but many Sudanese are skeptical results will be accurate and fear they may spark new disputes.

No one underestimates the significance of the census. It is the first in Sudan since 1993 and is seen as a prerequisite for the country’s first democratic elections in 23 years in 2009.

It will also be used to determine power and wealth sharing; including proceeds from Sudan’s half a million barrels per day of oil.

The former north-south foes signed a 2005 landmark accord creating a national coalition government and paving the way for democratic transformation. But progress has been slow, creating bad blood between the partners in peace.

The census has been delayed at least three times and months of debate on whether to include questions on ethnicity and religion or how millions of war-displaced Sudanese will be counted, ended without agreement.

The danger remains that anyone disagreeing with the results will simply deny them, causing further room for dispute.

Last week Southern leaders reluctantly agreed to a start date of April 22 with the count concluding on May 6 but said they would not be bound by the outcome.

And outside of the south, in western Sudan, the census has created a rare united platform for Darfur’s fractious rebels who have all agreed to reject it.

That in turn has prompted a similar reaction from hundreds of thousands of Darfuris who fled their homes during the fighting to squat in miserable camps.

Protests in the camps against the census have ended violently with one Darfuri killed and another injured for advocating for the count.


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged no further delays, which analysts say could affect the timing of the 2009 election.

“The Secretary-General expresses the hope that the census will not be further delayed, as it could have considerable political and financial implication,” he said in a statement.

The most recent U.N. estimate for Sudan’s population is 37.8 million but the numbers are difficult to verify because of Sudan’s huge internal displacement and also tens of thousands of Sudanese who have fled fighting over the years to neighboring countries.

Southerners say they were undercounted in the last census in 1993 at the height of the civil war with millions displaced and vast swathes of the south inaccessible, and there are concerns that despite peace in the south numbers in the upcoming census may not show a big increase.

The 2005 agreement gave the south just under one third of representation in central government but only a few hundred thousand southerners have returned home since then.

The United Nations has said insecurity in Darfur meant 19 percent of administrative areas and 34 percent of the displaced camps may not be counted, a large part of the region’s population.

Seasonal rains could also present a problem. They have come early to some parts of the south, rendering them inaccessible and the disputed Halaib triangle on the border with Egypt will also not be counted.

But the head of the census monitoring and observation committee, Abdel Bagi Gailani, said technicians can extrapolate numbers from missing areas.

Some 60,000 census staff will be involved in the count from April 22, which will be a national holiday.

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