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Category Archives: Democracy
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.
Although Nigeria has little potential (at this point) to make the U.S. travel ban, Trump’s Executive Order signed last week is bad news for everyone. There is great potential that it will last beyond the initial 90 days. I don’t believe Nigeria would ever be considered for the ban, despite the coverage of the 2012 “Underwear Bomber” and Boko Haram’s activities. The oil-based trade relationship between the countries is too important (5% of all U.S. oil comes from Nigeria). Trade in oil is also the reason that Saudi Arabia is not on the travel ban list, despite the large role of Saudi attackers in 9/11. Additionally, the travel ban gives preference to visas for Christians, which comprise a large number of Nigerian applications.
However, about a quarter million Americans claim Nigerian ancestry. Some of those may well be trying to bring family members to the U.S. There are tiers of prioritization of family-based visas, from Family First (minor children of citizens) to Family Fourth (brothers and sisters of citizens). I found a report from last year showing that Africans make up just under 4% of all family visa requests, far eclipsed by those from Central America. Here is the list by region:
To visually show you African applications compared to other regions:
Although this may seem like a low number of application, Yomi Kazeem points out that Nigeria “may be caught in diplomatic cross-hairs of Trump’s ‘America First’ visa policies. In 2015, Nigeria accounted for 32% of the nearly half a million non-immigrant American visas issued to nationals of African countries and received more visas than the four other countries that make up the top five in Africa when combined.”
He also argues that with the understanding of reciprocity, Nigeria and any other country has the capacity to treat American visa applicants in the same manner that the U.S. treats their foreign citizens. Securing my Nigerian visas was an incredibly difficult feat several years ago, and I can’t imagine what it will be like if there are any more demands on applicants.
Why the Travel Ban Makes No Sense At All:
Although The Executive Order currently only includes three African countries—Somalia, Sudan, and Libya—it is disastrous on so many levels across the globe. It endangers U.S. citizens by fostering animosity among those who are already anti-American, and alienating potential Muslim allies. (Why would pro-democracy Afghanis or Iraqis support our cause on the ground now?) It stokes the irrational fears of Americans who fail to recognize that less than 70 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorism (attackers included) since 9/11. Most clearly, it denies refugee status to those who would otherwise become important actors in the U.S. economy, and instead created furthers the burden on our ally countries in already-taxed Europe. Or worse, it forces immigrants and refugees back to the very countries that are an environment that is ripe for radicalization. It is much safer for Americans to have teenage boys from Syria trying to build a life in the U.S. than leaving them to the Aleppo streets, where their options for radicalization are infinitely greater.
Did I yet mention how the travel ban creates a “brain drain” for us as we lose thousands of talented PhDs, scientists, engineers, and technology experts from the Middle East? The U.S. is now turning away people who could find the cure for cancer, create more energy efficient buildings, and revolutionize the way we understand the world. Even if the ban is lifted after 90 days, many may not want to return to a hostile environment.
Ethical and legal implications aside, the travel ban is inherently…irrational, in both the everyday and the economic sense.Then again, no one ever claimed that a politics of fear makes sense.
The number of African immigrants arriving to the United States has roughly doubled each decade since the 1970s. There are almost 2 million African immigrants currently living in the U.S., accounting for about 4.5% of the immigrant population. Although this is not a large number, they have the fastest growth rate of any immigrant group. Almost half of all Africans are Muslim, which means a notable portion of the African immigrants arriving to the U.S. each year are too. This is significant considering Trump’s stance on Muslims in the United States.
Under a Trump administration, there would certainly be a reduction in the number of refugee and asylum statuses granted, including to Muslims seeking protection from fundamentalism in their home countries. The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, almost 40,000. Most of them were from the Middle East, however, and I have not been able to find numbers on African Muslim refugees. Trump argues that allowing Muslims into the U.S. puts the country at risk for terrorist attacks, although there is no evidence that this is true. Anecdotally, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been perpetrated by those on student visas or those with long-time ties, including citizenship.
Cutting off a safety route to Muslims who are seeking to separate themselves from the homelands that have oppressed them is exactly the opposite of what a security-minded Trump should be doing to minimize terrorism. By allowing Muslims to enter the U.S., we strengthen ties to global Islamic communities, improve our image, and separate disaffected Muslims from the places that foster malcontent towards Americans. African countries from which the U.S. would be wise to accept more immigrants include those with growing extremist tendencies, e.g. Sudan, Nigeria, and Mali. Barring such individuals’ entry into the U.S. system keeps them in fundamentalist locations, where they can then live with a much more jaded view of the West.
These are all hypothetical concerns because, although Trump will be arguably the most powerful head of state in the world, bureaucracies are still bureaucracies. He will (hopefully) still have to make such inhospitable immigration changes within the confines of a government slow to change. He will be bolstered by a Republican Congress, but it is yet to be determined how much GOP support he will enjoy. Since he is divisive among his own party at this point, he may very well get in his own way when it comes to realizing his goals of isolating Muslims from the American mainstream. Let’s hope that is actually the case, that he, and his ill-chosen words, is his own greatest obstacle. If not, if he does what he claims he wants to do, American-Muslim relations can only become more precarious.
Most Africans don’t seem to find great hope for their continent in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. I’m not convinced that Africa is of much concern to the future American President, but his win creates direct and indirect economic effects across the continent beyond just the disrupted world markets following the election results.
Africa may be much more on its own economically under Trump than it has been under previous American administrations. It is unclear what Trump will do with the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act, which offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets. As of now, he appears only interested in fostering relationships with world economies that can benefit the U.S. immediately through trade. This may be good news to Nigerians, who enjoy the largest economy on the continent, but less promising for growing economies such as that of Ghana.
Trump’s probable business-like emphasis on what the U.S. can gain from African relationships does not bode well for human rights practices. I would presume that American financial gain would be foremost in Trump’s mind during negotiations, far more than concerns over human rights practices. This is troubling since the U.S. benefits economically from some African countries with disturbing human rights records. Equatorial Guinea is the 6th largest oil producer in Africa and 3rd largest supplier of African oil to the U.S. Yet, President Obiang has been in office since his coup in 1979, and the country has been plagued by reports of underground torture of dissidents, extrajudicial killings, repression of the press, and high level corruption. Similar human rights challenges exist in Angola, Algeria, and Sudan, which are also top ten oil producers in Africa, and with whom the U.S. has trade arrangements. I am also concerned for human rights standards in Central Africa, which are large mineral producers, if the robustness of their economies is more valuable to Trump’s administration than their human rights practices.
This potential fostering of relations with countries with dubious human rights records would come at a troubling time, when African countries are withdrawing or threatening to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
In terms of humanitarian aid, it certainly wouldn’t increase under Trump, and would most likely fall into decline. The U.S. currently gives around $12 billion per year in aid to Africa. It is less than 1% of the U.S. annual budget, which is very little and less than many European countries donate. To his credit, Trump has spoken in favor of the Bush-era PEPFAR program, which has given millions to help fight communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria across the continent. These funds have been wide spread across countries, and I helped put some of that money to good use as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique in 2005. We implemented a nationwide girls’ empowerment conference in Maputo using much needed PEPFAR funds.
For most, a reduction in aid to Africa would be unequivocally bad. There are nations that rely for almost 100% of their national budgets on international aid, producing nearly nothing, e.g. Central Africa Republic (CAR). Conditional economic aid to Africa has been heralded as helpful to democracy in some places, e.g. Uganda. U.S. aid also acts as a potent antidote to the immense investments that China is making in the continent, investments which certainly do not come with conditions. (Many blame China for allowing Sudanese genocide under Omar al-Bashir, as China has great business investments in Sudan and thus blocked UN intervention that could have stopped the Darfur killings.) Trump would certainly not take the time or effort to fight for conditions to American economic aid.
However, there are anti-aid advocates who highlight the lack of evidence that economic aid actually helps pull countries out of poverty at all. In fact, Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize winner in economics, represents a growing body of scholars and policymakers who believe the developed world may actually be corrupting those more impoverished nations’ governments and slowing their overall growth. They say that economic aid allows lackluster leaders to stay in power when they would otherwise be ousted for their performance; also, aid replaces revenue flow that should come from taxes, which are a fundamental building block of strong democracy. These folks argue that economic aid simply creates dependency. If you agree with this idea, then a Trump presidency may be a positive. His disinterest in the continent could create the conditions for self-sufficiency.
What is your forecast for Africa under a Trump Presidency?
The African Union is still considering a mass withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would be disastrous for human rights. The ICC can prosecute individuals for international crimes such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly in circumstances in which the country of the crime is unable or unwilling to do so.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on testimony against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at the ICC in the Hague, Netherlands. He is the Congolese former Vice President and ALC leader who ordered mass rapes and killings in the Central African Republic from 2002-2003. His trial was historic because it was the first time that an individual was charged with sexual violence as a stand alone crime. Previously, charges of mass rape have been embedded under the umbrella of other wartime violence in general. It was an important step forward for women’s rights.
This sort of progress would not have occurred outside the framework of the ICC. The AU currently demands that sitting heads of state be immune from ICC charges, but such actors are exactly those who are least likely to face justice in their home countries. The ICC is most relevant precisely for them. Are such leaders making a bid to withdraw simply in anticipation of their own potential bad behavior in the future?
This is an excellent post by a friend that touches upon the lack of women in leadership as a whole, whether it be in the U.S. or Nigeria. I would add that because men have historically held positions of political power, they enjoy the “incumbent advantage,” which is well studied in the U.S. Those (male) politicans currently in office enjoy a more expansive socio-professional network, a potential ability to time elections in their favor, and greater name recognition (regardless of performance). Additionally, incumbents also have easier access to campaign funds and state resources that can be used to bolster their own campaigns, if even indirectly. These dynamics would make for an uphill battle in changing the gender ratios of government seats.
How would the incumbent advantage take form in African politics?
Sociologists and economists try to explain why the people choose such poor leaders. They argue it’s due to the appeal of the narcissist, or because we’re really not self-aware, or because leaders have always been men and men are just deficient at important leadership qualities. While these all contribute, I think evolution offers the most intriguing insights.
First, let me give these other views a fair hearing.
Groups do tend to choose people who rate high on the narcissist scale, in part because those people are the most aggressive self-promoters, and contend that they are the most qualified of all, a prediction that more competent leaders would be unable to refute. Narcissists to seek leadership positions because they are obsessed with having power. Yet in a variety of studies, narcissistic leaders do no better or worse than any one else as leaders. That helps explain our…
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Where does Nigeria fit into a discussion of how states are made? It is weak by nearly all measurements, and Foreign Policy magazine even labeled it a “failed state” based on its poverty and governance in 2010. To answer the Nigeria question, we might look to the institutional approach of state theory. It asserts that institutions—the way societies are organized—are the fundamental cause of countries’ underdevelopment. This traditional institutional explanation, built mainly on case studies in European countries, offers a helpful but incomplete framework for analyzing current conditions in Nigeria. It is deficient due to Nigeria’s unique human geography, colonial history, and resource endowment.
To remedy this weakness in institutional models, Jeffrey Herbst makes two key arguments about African state formation. First, he identifies population density as the causal factor behind institution building and a source of institutional comparative statics, not institutions themselves. His story is that Europe was scarce in land and high in population, whereas Africa had abundant land and fell short in population. This meant that Africans did not have to wage wars of land seizure or land defense that led to state-making and institution building, alá Charles Tilly. Furthermore, colonization in the name of resource plunder replaced the phase when institution building should have taken place. Colonization was followed by the Cold War in which the Western and Soviet powers were vying for allies in African countries, and this Western or Soviet financial support also replaced what would have been a period of institution building.
In Robert Bates’ state-centric mixed method analysis, he argues that the collapse of the state causes war and then violent political disorder, and not vice versa. The author focuses on what he identifies as the three keys to state failure in Africa aside from the destructive force of colonialism. The first is ethnic tensions, which are the result of state failure and not of ancient hatreds, and the second is natural resources, which he finds to be a correlate but not a cause of war (as opposed to Collier and Hoeffler, or Fearon and Laitin). The third cause for failure is a lack of strong democracy, and he maintains that competitive parties are required but not sufficient for order. Lastly, he concludes that public revenues matter more than private income, which is essentially an issue of poverty levels (Bates 2008). Bates and Barzel both think that strongly democratic states have greater productivity because individuals enjoy residual claims, thus giving individuals an incentive to be efficient (Barzel 2002). Conversely, without rule of law the government keeps residual resources for itself, giving individuals no incentive to be efficient. Propositions by the two can aptly be applied to a reading of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s current economic, political and social conditions are best explained by research on oil politics specifically. For one, the stimied capacity of the state to raise revenues and its growing reliance on powerful interest groups conspire to limit the range of policy choices open to the government, paralyzing the process of institutional development. Thus, most extractive states like Nigeria develop similar institutional frameworks that encourage political leaders to pursue politically painless policy solutions. The end result is an institutionally weak state reliant on oil rents and beholden to rent seekers (Karl 1997).
Some argue that oil revenues interfere with state evolution—the competition for the survival of the fittest country. Most of Europe’s states did not survive because most of them were weak and unorganized; those that still exist today were simply better than the others. Conversely, all of Africa’s modern states have survived, even bad ones. Foreign influences and oil revenues has allowed weak states that should have died out continue on (Herbst 2000). Soares de Oliveira claims that oil may very well be the single factor allowing weak African nations to survive despite failing to meet Weberian criteria for stateness. He calls these “successful failed states” because they have immense amounts of money and can at times use ample force, yet are barely functional (with functionality defined by their institutionalization, legitimacy, and degree of rentierism). Their failure is a continuation of politics by other means (Soares de Oliveira 2007, 56).
Such a portrayal of African oil-rich countries accords with that of Scott, who conceives of the state as being an inherently extractive entity (Scott 2009). He adds to the discussion by describing how countries will use resources, e.g. oil revenues, to invent development schemes that inevitably fail because they ignore the complexity of practices, processes, and relations present in those environments, the value of everyday local knowledge. They continue to push forward these improvement plans because of their ongoing attempts at being more modern, which means greater “stateness” that justifies their own governance (Scott 1998). Oil actually exaggerates the phenomenon that Scott describes by providing almost limited resources. Nigeria has engaged in these modernizing development projects and virtually of them have been a failure.