Category Archives: Democracy

First-Time Podcaster: “Just a Chat about Africa”

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Consider this podcast a quirky bucket list item completed for me. Another international relations scholar and I recorded a conversation we had about African history and politics, largely about history, and here it is. Discussion spans most of the continent south of the Sahara. It runs for an hour but we actually ran out of time before we could talk about gender and some other social issues, so perhaps another episode will be in the works. Fair warning that I have no podcasting or editing experience, so it really is just two friends chatting. I am a first-time user of this platform, so please let me know if the link below doesn’t work for you. Happy listening.

 

 

 

Also, you can find the podcast on Spotify, RadioPublic, and Breaker.

Four Cases of Conflict Over Resources: #3 Group Motivation in Liberia

This is the third of four case studies of African conflict.  There is no single driver of fighting, but the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1997) can be used an example to understand how groups become incentivized to violence. In Liberia, the sense of group deprivation of indigenous Liberians led them to seek resources from descendants of Americo-Liberians. The neighboring civil war in Sierra Leone can only be understood fully by learning a bit about Liberia, as Liberia (and the leadership of Charles Taylor) had a “spillover effect.” I wrote about Sierra Leone as an example of individual motivation in conflict, but these explanations are not mutually exclusive and one can find both group and private incentives in both civil wars.

Liberia and the “Group Motivation” Hypothesis (Stewart, 2002): The first Liberian Civil War was rooted in the founding of the nation in 1822 as a colony for former slaves from the U.S. and the Caribbean. As a solution to the perceived incompatibility of the races in the West, around 5000 former slaves arrived, intermarried with local populations, and became dominant social figures within a few decades. Despite only constituting 5% of the Liberian population, Americo-Liberians (or Congaus) ruled Liberia as a dominant majority over the indigenous people until 1980. They were able to maintain power for so long through a combination of U.S. support, mastery of political strategy derived from their past as Americans, tight and self-benefitting social networks, and a degree of lighter skin privilege. The higher social status of Americo-Liberians instilled a sense of horizontal inequality with other groups in Liberian society.

In 1980, a non-commissioned military officer named Samuel Doe came to be the first indigenous head of state after staging a violent coup and killing President Tolbert. As a member of a small, rural ethnic group, Doe initially enjoyed widespread popular support from indigenous Liberians who had been marginalized by American-Liberians, but quickly turned violent and repressive. Political opponents were jailed and killed, some even having their bodies put on public display. Doe survived an attempted counter-coup and in response held fraudulent elections to justify his rule in 1985. The attempted coup only emboldened his targeting of the ethnic groups seen as the plotters of his overthrow.

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Samuel Doe on the left.

A former member of Doe’s government ousted for embezzlement, Charles Taylor, assembled and trained a rebel force in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire to take over the Liberia in the late 1980s. Taylor’s National Patriotric Front of Liberia (NPFL) invaded Liberia on December 24, 1989, and soon received much support and volunteer fighters from the ethnic groups most violently targeted by Doe, the Gio, and the Mano peoples. Doe’s Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) quickly responded with scorched earth campaigns against these rural communities in the territories occupied by Taylor’s army, massacring and displacing hundreds of thousands. Many soldiers on both sides were children. In this milieu, ethnic Krahn, Doe’s ethnic group which was sympathetic to him, soon came to be pitted against those victimized by him, the Gio and the Mano.

The capital of Monrovia was the stage of a takeover in the summer of 1990 when the AFL tried to fight off both Taylor’s NPFL as well as soldiers of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), founded when a NPFL fighter named Prince Johnson broke away from Taylor to start his own ethnically-based rebel group.

At this point in 1990, the conflict became a regional concern because of Liberia’s strong ethnic, linguistic, and political ties to neighboring countries. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led by Nigeria, attempted to negotiate with the besieged Taylor to convince him to give up his position in Monrovia but he refused. In unclear circumstances, Samuel Doe was lured an ECOWAS headquarters building believing that it was a diplomatic call, and then Prince Johnson’s soldiers tortured and murdered him. This left the NPFL and the INPFL to battle over the country after initial ECOWAS peace talks with the rebel groups failed. Johnson soon fled to Nigeria and various other warlords emerged to try to control Monrovia.

From 1990-1991, ECOWAS, religious leaders, and other international actors attempted to get Taylor and Johnson to agree to peace talks in neutral West Africa countries but these efforts were unsuccessful. The Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was established in during a peace conference in the Gambia in 1990, but enjoyed only limited control over Monrovia since Taylor refused to attend the conference and which rebel parties saw as illegitimate. In June 1991, Doe’s former supporters reemerged, in collaboration with former AFL fighters, in the form of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). After training in neighboring Sierra Leone’s civil war (rebellion funded and supported by Taylor), ULIMO forces then took over Taylor’s diamonds and mining strongholds. After three years of committing extreme violence, the ULIMO fell apart by 1994.

From 1992-1996, Monrovia continued to host intense fighting among Taylor’s NPFL, Johnson’s INPFL, and ECOWAS troops attempting to quell the other two groups. In 1994, the United Nations established the UN Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) after a peace agreement among factions in Benin in order to monitor elections planned for March 1994, and also deployed its own troops to support ECOWAS. The security situation continued to only worsen in 1994 despite the Contonou and Akosombo peace agreements that rebels were party to. Almost 2 million Liberians were in need of humanitarian aid but aid workers, diplomats and other government officials were unable to function in the country. The UN reduced its troop numbers and fighting among rebels led by warlords Taylor, Alhaji Kromah, and Geroge Boley continued to flare.

Taylor agreed to disarmament and demobilization in 1995, yet heavy fighting broke out again the following year only for Taylor to then agree to peace again in the Abuja Accord. Taylor agreed to elections for July 1997, in which his National Patriotic Party swept the polls under widespread intimidation and fraud. Most reported that they voted for him only as a means to end the bloodshed. While President, Taylor supported rebel factions in neighboring countries as a means of securing access to lootable natural resources, e.g. diamond, clamped down on dissidents, engaged in immense corruption and self-profit, and was later found guilty of war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2012.

The End of the War: By the end of the First Liberian Civil War in 1996, the country was completely destroyed. All economic infrastructure developed since the country was founded had deteriorated, a million Liberians were refugees in neighboring countries, and 200,000 Liberians had been killed. In response to these conditions, former ULIMO soldiers founded Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) to oust Taylor and gain control of his diamond mines in northern Liberia, which led to the Second Liberian Civil War in 1999.

Eritrean refugees are a humanitarian emergency

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Eritrea is regularly ranked as the most repressive countries in Africa. There is essentially no internet and absolutely no free press, and Freedom House ranks it as the 3rd “least free” country in the world. There are no elections, no legislature, and no non-profit organizations. Uniquely, obligatory military conscription, starting in the last year of high school, can last for decades. The harsh conditions during service coupled with brutal punishments for evading it constitute nationalized slavery. Poverty is grinding and, aside from remittances, immune to international bolstering now that sanctions have been put in place against the government for human rights abuses.

Eritreans flee their country at rates unmatched by any other country not actively experiencing war (e.g. Syria)—making it an “emptying nation“. Over 5000 Eritreans flee each month to then make up the 7th largest migrant population in Europe, despite the small country only having a population of 6 million.

Their trek is one of the deadliest in the world. A quarter million Eritreans occupy crowded refugee camps across the border in Sudan and Ethiopia, from which Eritrea gained independence in a civil war in 1991. They travel by foot north across the Sahara. They then constitute the majority of migrants to arrive in Italy.

But, they don’t stay.  Only 1 in 100 Eritreans in Italy applies for asylum there, most continuing on to Switzerland or Germany. There are obvious reasons for this: Italy takes a harsher stance on immigrants, has less developed infrastructure for immigrants, and works with a smaller budget.

However, there are also reasons to expect them to stay once they get there. They arrive in Italy mentally and physically exhausted, and with very little money with which to proceed onward. (This might be why arrivees in Italy are now being flown to other parts of Europe.) Also, one might expect a historical link to play a role in where Eritreans settle, as Italy occupied (but did not colonize) what is now Eritrea to create Italian East Africa before WWII. Refugees and members of the diaspora often seek out developed countries with which they have a historical connection. We see this with the Nigerian population in the UK and Algerians in France. Eritreans are not doing this. Perhaps the connection with Italy was too weak and is too far past, or perhaps they understand that other European countries are better able to meet the needs of African refugees.

Consider that Germany is concerned enough with refugee well-being that it now hosts a gender/sexuality-sensitive refugee center to help protect those with minority LGBTQ status. Too often, especially when migrants are housed with others of their same nationalities, discrimination and harassment that occurred in their home countries can also be reproduced in welcome centers and government housing. As I found in my ethnographic research on transgender Pakistani migrants, violence based on gender expression was reproduced by other Pakistanis awaiting asylum applications along with them. Gender stereotypes and differentiated roles between men and women also take root because changing a person’s location doesn’t necessarily change their ideology and culture.

Italy also cannot offer Eritreans the housing options of other European countries. Albeit with the benefit of finances impossible elsewhere, Luxembourg has managed to place many refugees with host families to support them (and after Syrians, Eritreans constitute the most asylum cases there). Italy also has a more encumbered immigration system in which cases languish longer than in the rest of Western Europe.

The good news is that immigrants now have easier access to employment in Italy, which they want. Most Eritrean immigrants are teenage boys escaping conscription who are eager to work and build a life. Previously asylum applicants had to wait six months to hold a job, and now its just 60 days.  Boredom is a mental health issue for many who await an asylum application, and the Italian government hopes that putting them to work will also help Italians to be more accepting of their presence in the country.

To try to stem the tide of Eritrean migrants, the EU and the UN have invested in a job creation program based on building industrial parks that would make 100,000 new jobs. This would change the opportunity cost for Eritreans seeking to make the dangerous land crossing across north Africa followed by the equally perilous boat ride across the Mediterranean. Ostensibly, these jobs would likely go to men, and there has been no discussion of how to improve economic security for Eritrean women. It is debatable if industrial parks can off-set widespread human rights abuses and plaguing poverty, but it is worth trying.

Idrissi Artfully Addresses Perceptions of Africa

 

What is the Population of Nigeria? Maybe 182 Million, Maybe.

The Economist published a comprehensive and clear piece on Nigeria’s struggles to understand it’s own population numbers. It is a more concise version of my previous post on what even makes Nigeria a state at all. It is something we may not think about often, but an accurate and up-to-date census is vital to a strong democracy.  It helps determine which representatives get power, where social and public services need to be implemented, and, truly, it separates a well-functioning government from the Wild West.

Nobody knows how many Nigerians there are.

No census has yet arrived at an accurate figure.

NIGERIA is Africa’s most populous country, a designation it wears with pride. It had more than 182m citizens in 2015, according to the World Bank, and is poised to have the world’s third-largest population, behind India and China, by 2050. But that figure and the extrapolation are based on Nigeria’s 2006 census, which was probably exaggerated. Parliamentary seats and central government money are handed out to states based on population, giving politicians an incentive to inflate the numbers. In 2013 the head of the National Population Commission (NPC), Festus Odimegwu, said that neither the 2006 census nor any previous one had been accurate. He resigned soon after (the then-government said he was fired).

Counting Nigerians has caused controversy since the colonial era. The country was stitched together from two British colonies: a largely Christian south and a Muslim-dominated north. In the lead-up to independence in 1960, the British were accused by southerners of manufacturing a majority in the north, which they were thought to favour. In 1962 unofficial census figures showed population increases in some south-eastern areas of as high as 200% in a decade. The full data were never published and northern leaders held a recount, which duly showed they had retained their majority (their region had apparently grown by 84%, rather than the originally estimated 30%). This politicking led to coups, the attempted secession of what was then known as the Eastern Region and a civil war.

The north-south divide has remained salient; there is still an unwritten rule that the presidency should alternate between a northerner and a southerner. Allegations that the north has manipulated its way to a majority continue. The censuses of 1973 and 1991 were annulled. In 2006 arguments flared when 9.4m people were counted in the northern state of Kano, compared with just 9m in Lagos, the commercial capital. The Lagos state government conducted its own, technically illegal, census and came up with 17.5m (probably a vast overestimate). A new national census has been repeatedly delayed. It is now scheduled for 2018, but the NPC’s estimate that it will “gulp” 223bn naira ($708m) may mean the count is put off indefinitely.

Even by other methods, Nigeria’s population has proven tricky to pin down. Africapolis, a French-funded research project, used satellite mapping to estimate the population of towns and cities in 2010. It found several cities, mostly in the north, had hundreds of thousands fewer people than the 2006 census counted. But even those data are not entirely trustworthy: it later transpired that the researchers had underestimated urbanisation in the densely populated Niger delta. Until there is an accurate, impartial census it will be impossible to know just how many Nigerians there really are. That means government policy will not be fully anchored in reality and it will not be possible to send resources where they are most needed.

Homi Baba: Why We are Still Afflicted by Colonialism Everyday

For Bhaba, would internalized oppression be a form of mimicry? Or, can someone engage in mimicry outwardly while still be unaccepting inwardly of their inferior status? I have observed Nigerians engaged in what seems to be mimicry, while still maintaining intense tribal pride, e.g. the Ogonis.

The paragraph on revolting against “doubling” in India, or indigenous clerks realizing they no longer wanted to perform colonial functions, is also applicable to Africa. It is a catalyst for self-emancipation when men go away to foreign wars as soldiers. Anglophone West Africans who fought for the British during WWII returned to their countries after fighting side-by-side with White European comrades; they had been brothers in battle. Those African men reclaimed their homes with a new sense of autonomy that contributed to the golden year of independence later on—1960. I would argue that WWII helped to end some of Bhaba’s manifestations of oppression, like doubling, in that sense.

The Conversation Room

Author: Anand Bose

Homi Baba is one of the foremost thinkers of Post Colonial Criticism and belongs to the school of thought known as Post Structuralism.

Homi Baba has made intrusions into the philosophy of language where texts become constructs for post colonial criticism. For Baba Colonialism has not been a straight forward clique between the oppressed and the oppressors but an evolving semantic machine marked by psychological anxiety and tension between the oppressor and the oppressor.

Here in this article I would like to articulate some ideas of Homi Baba on Post Colonial Criticism. They are hybridization, mimicry, uncanny, doubling, difference, ambivalence and anxiety. For Baba, a nation is always in the process of evolution and a nation is not a fixed entity.

Hybridization is a process through which cultures interact, mix and develop new cultural and evolutionary tendencies. A common example can be taken is that of the…

View original post 650 more words

Peace Corps’s Grassroots Diplomacy Done Right in Africa

The above video is an example of the finest of volunteers produced by the U.S. Peace Corps. I served with Baktash Ahadi (Mozambique 2004-2006) and saw him embody the three goals of the organization: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of peoples served, to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. As his TED Talk demonstrates, Mozambique was a better place, and he was a better person, because he was there. So, why isn’t the program everywhere in Africa?

Although Nigeria has a domestic Peace Corps staffed by young Nigerians, the United States has had a very tenuous relationship regarding PC since the founding of the American program in 1961 under John F. Kennedy. The international outreach program was plagued by a problems in its first year in Nigeria, when anti-colonial sentiment was running high. In the first months, a young volunteer dropped a postcard to her friend describing squalid living conditions there. A fellow student picked it up and upon its release, University of Ibaban students accused the volunteers of being American spies intent on a neocolonial agenda. Such political tensions remained until the program was then closed down in Nigeria in 1976. It again operated briefly from 1992-1995. Since then, there have been no substantive talks to reinstate the volunteer program there.

There are certainly challenges that the Peace Corps faces that must give us pause.  It does not tend to go to the neediest countries, hence its continued programs in Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Romania, etc., and a lack of presence in most of central Africa. Volunteers are young and inexperienced (for who else has the luxury of giving up their entire U.S. life?). I can personally attest to the disappointing medical care available to volunteers. I witnessed volunteers who faced mental health challenges living out in the bush all on their own. (However, admittedly, our 20s are often not the most stable of times anyway, and many a post-graduates in the U.S. faces their own personal stumbling blocks even at home.)

But, ultimately, I do believe the pros outweigh the cons, if only for the immeasurable and profound symbolic force that is the Peace Corps. Development and measurable impact aside, it says an immense amount about the American psyche that we can even produce thousands of young people willing to go live in poverty of their own volition. It says an immense amount about U.S. values that we spend tax money on such a program. I truly believe that Peace Corps helps improve the view of Americans in most countries that it operates in, reducing potential military expenditure based on potential tensions. In Mozambique, it makes rural villagers feel good that they are worthy of a college educated American’s talents and time. It makes them feel they matter.

I have heard the sentiment that Nigeria is too corrupt to host a U.S. Peace Corps program, and that the rate of kidnapping for ransom of foreigners is too high. There is the argument that Nigeria is too far removed from independence, that if the U.S. doesn’t implement a program in the years following independent statehood, then the country becomes intractably entrenched in its ways.

My feeling is that if the Peace Corps doesn’t go exactly where the challenges are, exactly where it is most needed, what is the purpose of the program at all?

 

What If You Held An African Summit And No Africans Could Come?

From NPR’s 

Photo illustration by David Malan

The African Global Economic and Development Summit took place at the University of Southern California from March 16th to 18th.

None of the approximately 60 invited guests from Africa were able to attend.

The problem was that none of the African delegates were able to get U.S. visas.

Humphrey Mutaasa from the mayor’s office in Kampala, Uganda, had organized a delegation of 11 business leaders from Uganda to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit at the University of Southern California.

He says it was a very high level group of leaders from private businesses, the Ugandan ministry of trade, chambers of commerce and the Kampala mayor’s office.

“The delegation that was coming from Uganda to that summit was very, very disappointed,” he says.

The conference was first held in 2013 and seeks to strengthen business ties between U.S. investors and African companies, says summit chairwoman Mary Flowers.

Visa problems have been an issue before, she says. In the past, she says roughly 40 percent of African invitees are unable to get the papers they need to attend, mainly due to a combination of red tape and bureaucracy.

“This year we were thinking there are going to be some rejections but some will still come,” she says. “But it was 100 percent blocked across the board.”

It’s hard to find out exactly why.

Delegations were invited from 12 countries across the continent. None of them were from the three African nations (Libya, Somalia and Sudan) covered by President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from 6 majority Muslim countries.

Flowers speculates new vetting procedures put in place by the Trump administration are discriminating against travelers from Africa.

“Obviously because this has never happened before,” she says of the inability of anyone to come.

The White House has called for “enhanced screening and vetting of applications for visas” worldwide as part of stepped up efforts to keep out terrorists.

A State Department official on background tells NPR that they can’t comment on any individual visa applications but says all applications are screened on a case-by-case basis. And the eligibility requirements for getting a visa haven’t changed.

Some of the African delegates to the summit say their visa applications were denied because they didn’t show a compelling reason why they would return home after the event. Others say bureaucratic hurdles were so big that they were not able to submit a visa application in the first place.

Humphrey Mutaasa in Kampala says the online application is complicated. You can’t even see how long the process will take until after you’ve paid a $160 application fee at a local bank. Then you have to wait a day to get a confirmation code to book an interview at the U.S. embassy.

“Then when you’ve finished that and you have the codes from the bank … there are the challenges of internet connectivity,” he says. “When you get online then the calendar [from the Embassy] will tell you the whole of February, there are no appointments, You can only secure an appointment after the 15th of March.”

Which meant he wouldn’t have a ruling on his visa until after the three day conference had concluded.

The end result of this year’s visa outcome, says Flowers, is going to be fewer connections between American business and the continent.

“I don’t know whether there’s some secret message going to the U.S. embassies in these African countries but it’s ridiculous,” she says. “The [visa] process was already somewhat discriminatory against the African nations in the past. We don’t know what the story is now but I do hope that America remains open to the world.”

One of My Presentations on Women’s Protests

Below is an excerpt from part of a talk I gave on women’s role in Nigerian protests against oil extraction. Oil activities are blamed for environmental destruction, police violence, corruption, and lack of economic growth.

One of my research findings on Niger Delta oil politics was what I termed “positional arbitrage.” This means that local chiefs and male elites used their positions to help incite protests against oil companies and the government at times, as they were well positioned to gain from women’s demonstrations.

The talk also covers some other details about the oil reform movement in the region.

Are U.S. border officials really qualified to test IT knowledge?

The following story has just emerged about a Nigerian software engineer who was made to answer computer engineering questions at New York’s JFK airport, as a way of testing the validity of his work visa to enter the U.S. This is a bizarre and untested way of confirming the validity of a visa, a product of the new “Wild West” of U.S. immigration policy.

It is troubling because it targets a highly skilled professional with the ability to fruitfully contribute to the American economy and human capital. To have been hired by this American firm, Celestine Omin must have valuable IT acumen. To impede his work for a U.S. company is a detriment to the American IT sector, the  spread of knowledge across borders, and the millions of consumers who benefit from IT development. The story is below.

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US immigration officials force Nigerian software engineer to complete written test to prove his computer knowledge

It looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: ‘Questions to ask a software engineer’

US immigration officials forced a Nigerian software engineer to complete a written test on binary search trees to prove his computer knowledge.

Customs and Border Protection officers, took Celestine Omin, 28, into a room for further

He told them he worked for Andela, a tech start-up with offices in New York, Lagos, Nairobi and San Francisco, which claims to take “the most talented developers on the African continent” and link them with potential US employers.

The firm has offices in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, San Francisco, New York and the Nigerian city of Lagos, which was visited by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the  officers then presented him with  a piece of paper and a pen and told to answer these two questions to prove he is actually a software engineer:

“Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”

“What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?”

In computer science, binary search trees are a particular type of data structure that store items such as numbers or names.

Omin told Linkedin that he thought the questions could have multiple answers and looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: “Questions to ask a software engineer.”

After spending about 10 minutes working on them, he handed in his answers only to be told they were wrong.

As time passed, he said that he expected to be sent home to Nigeria, only for the official to let him go.

“He said, ‘Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me,’” Omin said. “I didn’t say anything back. I just walked out.”

It later emerged that the officers had phoned Andela to verify his story.

Nigeria is not one of the included in US President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.