Category Archives: Occupy Nigeria

Four Cases of Conflict Over Resources: #1 Rwanda

In reviewing some cases of conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, I was reminded that I could not name a single one in which some form of natural resource, e.g. land, precious metals or other tradable commodities, did not undergird the fighting. I was fascinated anew in rereading about the histories of four conflicts in particular and will be making various posts that describe these in a nutshell. This is the first, and it will cover the issue of land scarcity in the Rwandan Genocide.  The other four cases to follow—Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Niger Delta—are about overabundance rather than scarcity. For a great narrative about land scarcity’s role in the 1994 genocide, you can also read Chapter 10, “Malthus in Africa,” of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse.” This title refers to the Malthusian dilemma in which human population tends to exceed the capacity for food production to feed that population.

The cases demonstrate four possible hypotheses about what might cause, sustain, and give form to civil conflicts in Africa. No conflict is ever driven by a single factor and conflict is always the interaction of many factors. Note that these conflicts arose in the era after the Cold War of comparably informal warfare and thus were quite different from most previous conflicts in the 20th century. As opposed to traditional wars, these are examples of “new” or “hybrid” conflicts because they A) involve many non-state actors, B) were based on identity more than ideology, C) used fear to garner political control, and D) were financed through predation rather than taxes. Modern conflicts in developing countries, particularly in Africa, can often be partially explained along these lines.

Rwanda and the “Green War” ExplanationThis points to environmental degradation and scarcity as a source of poverty and cause of conflict. For example, rising population pressure and falling agricultural productivity may lead to land disputes. Lack of water may provoke conflict, e.g. Sudan. Environmental stress like that in 1990s Rwanda tends to make people prone to violence as they seek alternatives to desperate situations. In the Rwandan context, lack of access to farming land—necessary to food production and even securing marriage for young men—helped impel the violence (in combination with other historical and geographic factors).

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My Relatively Quick Summary of the Rwandan Genocide:  The mountainous country of Rwanda in Central Africa was controlled first by Germany and then after WWI by Belgium until its independence in 1962. Belgian rulers systematically favored the minority Tutsis over the majority Hutu groups, which sowed the seeds of ethnic tensions that were a significant factor in later conflicts for Rwanda. A 1959 Hutu revolution forced 300,000 Tutsis to flee and Hutus officially took over when they ousted the last Tutsi monarch in 1961. Ethnically motivated violence ensued in the following decades, including after the installment of a moderate Hutu, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, as head of state. He ruled through his party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD), for the next two decades as he ossified his power in elections in which he was the sole candidate. During this time, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis refugees were living in Uganda and attempting to re-enter the country through the forces of their Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). From 1990-1993, PRF fighters attempted a takeover of the capital of Kigali until Habyarima agreed to the creation of a transition government that would include the Tutsis, an agreement inflaming Hutu extremists.  In this context, the Rwandan Genocide was a single three-month phase of the larger Rwanda Civil War (1990-1994).

Environmental conditions were ripe for conflict by the spring of 1994. Rwanda was a landlocked and impoverished country that relied, as it does today, on agriculture. Fluctuating world prices for coffee on the world market in the 1980s began a sustained economic crisis that peaked in 1990 with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) structural adjustment program for the national economy. The average Rwandan farmer was earning less for their crops in one of the most population dense countries in Africa. There was not enough farmland or resources to sustain working-age Rwandans, including large swathes of unemployed and unpropertied men, and land disputes arose along ethnic lines. Conditions of environmental stress and poverty were extreme.

The single incident that inflamed the genocide occurred in April of 1994, when the plane carrying Habyarimana and the Burundian president was shot down over the capital city of Kigali, killing all occupants. Some blame the RPF and others the Hutu extremists for the assassination. Quickly thereafter on the same day, the Presidential Guard, the Rwandan armed forces (RAF), and Hutu militias–the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi—began indiscriminately slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Kigali. The Rwandan media, specifically government-sponsored radio programs, played a pivotal role in spreading the rallying crying for violence across the rest of the country. Radio broadcasters called for the killing of Tutsi “cockroaches” and encouraged all Hutus to take up arms. This was particularly dangerous in a population-dense environment in which neighbors lived so closely together. Pressure among Hutus to engage in killings quickly spread in clusters within tight-knit communities.

An estimated 850,000 Tutsis were individually killed by hand in a 90-day period, which exceeds the per-day killing rate of any other genocide in world history. Around ¾ of the Tutsi population was killed, along with 1/3 of the Batwa Pygmy population, while ¼ of Hutus engaged in violence. Family members were forced to kill their own family members and join the violence. Génocidaires systematically targeted Tutsi and moderate Hutu women for sexual violence as a weapon of war with the goal of sexual mutilation and spreading AIDs. The sexual violence was so extensive that it became the first event in which rape as a weapon of war would later be prosecuted as an official war crime by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.

The End of the Genocide: The genocide came to an end in July 1994 when the Tutsi-led RPF finally took military control of Kigali and the rest of the country and installed a coalition government. Over 2 million Tutsis were refugees across the border in what is now DRC (then called Zaire) and many returned. Only after the killing ended did the international community respond, and the Rwandan Genocide is often cited as the worst example of global apathy in the face of a clear humanitarian crisis. There were some UN and European peacekeepers on the ground but their mandate did not permit them to use force against the Hutu extremists and there is evidence that some humanitarian zones they created were used a gateway for génocidaires to escape the country. Because of the logistical challenges of prosecuting thousands of violence participants, the RPF established community justice courts called Gacaca courts, a form of transitional justice meant to aid communal healing, closure, and forgiveness on a grassroots level after a collective trauma.

Today, Rwanda is perhaps the greatest example of a country that chose to rebuild positively after mass violence and is an example of constructive change. It has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world, outlawed reference to tribe or ethnicity (even in casual conversation) to avoid discrimination, hosts a monthly community service day nationwide, was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags as a green initiative, and hosts the most expensive building on the continent. It is a land of surprises today.

Dissertation on Niger Delta women and the oil movement published

My dissertation is available online. If you are unable to access it because you are outside the academic network, please feel free to contact me for a copy. I am an avid supporter of open, author-permitted access to publications.


Since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1958, there has been an ongoing low-level conflict among foreign oil companies, the federal government, and rural community members in southern Nigeria. Armed insurgents and small cadres of male protesters have resisted oil activities, demanding environmental cleanup, employment, and local compensation for extractive operations. In 2002, however, large groups of women began engaging in peaceful protests against oil companies and the state, making the same demands as men. Current work describes these women as coming together autonomously to assert their rights in the face of corporation exploitation.  This project challenges such accounts and investigates how common perceptions of law and politics inform women’s role in the oil reform movement.

Employing constructivist grounded theory, this dissertation argues that women’s protests were largely a product of local elite male politicking among oil companies and federal and state governments. The first finding is that local chiefs, acting as brokers engaging in “positional arbitrage,” urge women to protest because it reinforces their own traditional rule.  In this sense, women have not implemented new tactics in the movement but instead are the new tactics. Secondly, Niger Delta women see law as innately good but identify individuals as the corrupting force that thwarts law’s potential for positive change. Women also perceive a binary between local and state law, thus allowing chiefs to act as gatekeepers between women and the state. As a qualitative case study, the project uses in-depth interviews, direct observations, and archival documentation to analyze a series of all-female demonstrations that occurred around oil extraction sites in Rivers State from 2002-2012. Ultimately, these findings welcome a more critical look at social movements by identifying ways in which apparent episodes of resistance may actually be reconfigurations of existing power arrangements.




grounded theory

For a link to my final dissertation, please see:

Gender Essentialism (Part I)

An encyclopedia entry of mine, “gender essentialism,” was just published in the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice (2015) by Rowman & Littlefield. The entry stemmed from my research on the motherhood trope common in African women’s protests. During Occupy Nigeria in January 2012, women’s reverberating chants were always about needing jobs to provide for their children, or how they needed oil spills cleaned up so they could grow food for their children.  They regularly framed their resistance in terms of their role as mothers, thus essentializing their gender and their role in the resistance. Here is the text of the encyclopedia entry to offer further background:

Gender essentialism is the view that people have inherent and immutable personal characteristics based on their sex, and that these characteristics give rise to gender-specific experiences. This notion is often linked with the “difference” model of feminism (contrast with the “equality” or “social constructivist” model), both of which posit that fundamental dissimilarities between men and women explain their material and social differences.  Some gender essentialists may argue that women are naturally more peaceful, nurturing, communicative, and moral than men, thereby affecting their personal relationships and careers. Other essentialists focus on women’s shared social conditions rather than their attributes, and emphasize their marginalization within the economy and family unit, e.g. the gender wage gap. More specifically, some essentialists find that women’s childbearing alone fundamentally defines their social role and status.

Gender essentialism has been espoused by those who wish to undergird and explain role differentials among men and women, as well as by gender-equality activists wishing to create solidarity among women. The latter claim that certain generalizations can be made about “womanhood,” “motherhood,” and “the family,” and that these serve to further global standards for the status of women. Gayatri Spivak unintentionally began a movement towards “strategic essentialism” when she speculated that marginalized groups may find it advantageous to temporarily act as if their identities are stable and homogenous in order to achieve their political goals.

In response to essentialism, anti-essentialists maintain that all aspects of gender are socially constructed. Particular contexts create the class, race, and cultural differences among women’s interests. They charge that essentialism is marred by ahistorical, racist, classist, and heterosexist elements. Postmodern and particularly Black feminists emphasize that every perspective is socially situated, and charge that essentialists fail to see the “intersectionality” of discrimination.  Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the study of “intersectionality” examines how biological, social, cultural, and economic categories interact on multiple levels in order to create inequality; intersectionality is at odds with gender essentialism. Some Postcolonial/Third World feminists have charged that, in trying to avoid gender essentialism, anti-essentialists have in turn actually engaged in a form of “cultural essentialism,” defining women’s identities and experiences not by their gender but rather by their nationality or culture.”

The encyclopedia can be found on google books.


Wealth Distribution

My friend, Marc Maxson, has a gift for aesthetically-pleasing visual representations of complex data. In this blog post, he shows the inequality of wealth distribution across the globe. “Where does the Money Go?” would indicate how broken the international aid system is. As an example, the Nigerian state has lost more money lost to graft and corruption since 1960 than it is has ever received total in international donor funds. Clearly, Nigeria does not lack money, it lacks an accountable system with responsible leaders that stop politicians from looting it all.

Another great source of artful data display can be found on “What are the Wall Street Protesters so Angry About?” shows that the U.S. ranks just under Cameroon and Iran in terms of fair distribution of wealth. Many developing countries without the American institutions of financial regulation actually have far greater wealth equality than the United States, e.g. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, Burundi (and yes, Nigeria too). The paradox is that these countries listed are all ranked by Transparency International (TI) as the most corrupt in the world. Although one could argue that it is easy to have equal distribution of wealth when everyone in a country lives on a dollar a day, there is also something very wrong when the top 1% have 43% of financial wealth, and actually get richer during an economic meltdown. Somehow, I think that runs counter to the ideals of American democracy, a country purportedly “very clean” on the TI index.


Here are some of my favorite infographics to explain the real gaps between wealthier and less wealthy, and our collective misconception about it:

Same data, but shown with different sized people.

XKCD: Where money comes from, and where it goes.

Where aid money goes in the world.

The best, and clearest infographic on the subject, from Dan Ariely.

Here is the same data, but made far less clear by some infographic idiot who believes bar charts are the only way to present quantitative data:

Where aid money goes in the world, 2011.

Last: My own global wealth infographic.

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MEND Attacks Resume

On Saturday, the oil pipeline of the Italian-owned oil company ENI was attacked by MEND fighters.  The company says it has lost 4,000 barrels per day but this attack has not had a noticeable impact on global oil prices so far. A MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, publicly claimed credit for the attack on the oil pipeline in Bayelsa, as well as for a separate attack on the home of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe.  He said, “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta understands the negative impact our assault on the Nigerian oil industry will have on the ordinary citizen in a country which relies almost entirely on one source of revenue. Unfortunately, the extremely irresponsible, floundering government of Nigeria is more concerned with enriching themselves and family members than attending to the problems of the Niger Delta and the continuously depreciating standard of living of the ordinary Nigerian.” Gbomo warned that  “traitorous indigenes of the Niger Delta” need to be careful.

The very same day a popular hotel near Warri in Delta State suffered a bombing after ex-militants staying there protested perceived poor treatment by the national Amnesty Committee’s consultant responsible for their rehabilitation training and living quarters.

Last week’s violence is important because it is the first flare of violence since the Niger Delta Amnesty Program, created under the late Preside Yar’Adua, was implemented. Managers of the amnesty program claim that over 26,000 ex-agitators have already been demobilized and that over 7000 are currently being trained in Nigeria and abroad while 12,000 are being processed in order to do so.  The major educational reintegration camps within Nigeria are located in Cross River State in the East and in Lagos State in the west.  There are a number of women who have accepted the amnesty program and are living with their children at the Cross River State camp. Additionally, ex-militants have reportedly been sent all over the world, including to Malaysia, Russia, India, South Africa, and the Philippines. Not surprisingly, it is a fairly common belief that people who were never part of the agitation have emerged to claim amnesty in order to enjoy its benefits.

So, MEND is back, at least for now. Does this mean the amnesty has failed?

The Spillover Effect of Occupy Nigeria

The powerful emergence of Occupy Nigeria could have profound implications for the human rights mobilizations that previously existed here. There is an extensive women’s health movement that focuses on lowering maternal mortality rates through building women-only hospitals and conducting public health education campaigns (a darling cause of several First Ladies here). Child rights campaigners have aligned with government agencies to try to stop the use of child labor, namely families sending young children to work as vendors and beggars. Several civil society groups focus on improving accountability and transparency among state officials, a challenging feat in a country where corruption pervades the highest levels of the federal government. To a lesser extent, there is also a nascent LGBTQ rights campaign by groups such as The Initiative for Equal Rights that have received virulent criticism, creating an anti-gay rights legislative backlash over the last year. How will Occupy Nigeria, far more poignant and widespread than any of these other movements, impact previous human rights causes?

The strength of the anti-oil campaign in the Niger Delta has fluctuated since it emerged twenty years ago. It was at its strongest in the mid-1990s under the direction of Ken Saro-Wiwa, but it then faded after his execution and with the increased repression of the Abacha regime. After the implementation of the new democratic constitution in 1999, it revived itself when women in Rivers and Delta state became increasingly involved in largely peaceful protests against oil companies. The most well-known is the occupation of Chevron’s Escravos site by 600 Itsekiri and Ijaw women who halted production there for 10 days in the summer of 2002. The following January dozens of Ijaw women in Warri blocked a river leading to a proposed Naval base in protest against government neglect and as recently as 2010 Shell closed two flow stations for several days due to a women’s sit-in. In January 2012, women from the Kolu-Ama community protested by setting up a roadblock to a Chevron office, demanding the company put out an offshore platform fire.

Although these women’s anti-oil movement has been overshadowed by Occupy Nigeria in the last month, I think that ultimately the Niger Delta mobilization benefits from collective action for other causes because of a “spill over” effect.

The Spillover Effect of Occupy Nigeria II

No social movement exists in isolation. Social movements constitute and are constituted by sympathetic and oppositional mobilizations. One movement can alter subsequent movements externally by affecting cultural and political conditions, and internally by changing the individuals, groups and norms within the later movement.  Organizations with hybrid identities – those whose organizational identities span the boundaries of two or more social movements – are especially vital to creating this spillover.  Thus, Occupy Nigeria is in part a product of the anti-oil movement and a comprising force of it as well.

Social movements cannot be labeled as “successes” or “failures” aside from their impact on policy.  Even when a movement is inactive like Occupy Nigeria, it may still function as a training ground for activists and as well as an engine for shaping ideologies. First, all collective action allows participants to “practice” resistance. Organizing for various related social changes over several decades is the rule rather than the exception for activists, as studies of the American civil rights and African independence movements illustrate. Not only do movement veterans continue to mobilize at higher rates than nonveterans for other causes throughout their lives, they carry their political lessons and perspectives that shaped their collective identity with them. An early social mobilization may act as a training ground for participants and leaders who bring their experiences and expertise to a later mobilization that may enjoy success as a result of their know-how. Additionally, an early mobilization not only teaches participants, it can also refine new leaders who become key players later on.  A low-level participant in an early movement may become a leader in a subsequent one, e.g. Malcolm X was a member of the anti-Korean War mobilization before leading the radical wing of the civil rights struggle. Such spillover in expertise furthers tactical innovation as well, as activists learn which methods of activism are most useful. The 2002 peaceful takeover in Escravos led to oil labor strikes by men in various sites of Delta State, as activists had learned that impeding production was the most powerful tool in gaining the attention of the state and oil companies.

When several different campaigns necessarily interact, even those that eventually end or become dormant, a stronger social movement community emerges. In Nigeria, the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center has programs for environmental protection, local conflict resolution, and human rights awareness campaigns, with the idea that all three causes help to improve the status of women in southern Nigeria.  Hybrid organizations such as Kebetkache are well-positioned to use inter-organizational networks in order to allow activists from one movement, e.g. environmentalism, to participate in another, e.g. peacebuilding.  This transfer of individuals reifies a collective identity and serves the organizational maintenance needs of the movement. This social movement community also gives activists a more structured way of staying involved in future campaigns.

Second, nearly all collective action shapes both internal and external ideologies to some extent. An early social mobilization may make intangible but important strides in altering participants’ consciousness about the salience of its cause and the causes of other movements. Even a mobilization that does not stimulate policy change can still heighten prospects about what sort of change is possible; the act of shared rights-claiming can raise expectations of future success.  This rights-claiming is also a process through which activists ossify their shared identity and relationship with one another, relationships that are pivotal in other mobilizations.

Aside from affecting the consciousness of movement members, even short-lived movements alter popular consciousness about reform on a larger scale. They have an ability to alter public discourse regarding their cause and frame the way outsiders view their issue. A series of challenges to the status quo, even challenges that have no direct effect on policy, may make some outside of the movement more open to change. Additionally, collective memory is such that contemporary ideology provides us with the lens through which we view the past. A later success for the same or similar cause may lead us to believe that a past “failed” movement was more “successful” than it really was. This can be seen in the way that history may heroize movement leaders, Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni rights mobilizations for example.

Lastly, for two social movements that co-exist simultaneously, the emerging salience of one may leave the struggling other with more time to devote to re-assessing strategy and resources. In other words, it can take the heat off a movement that has received backlash. LGBT activists in Nigeria have said that Occupy Nigeria has beneficial to them because it has shifted attention away from their cause as they still try to recover from the passage of a federal anti-gay marriage bill last year, one that enjoyed widespread support across the country. The Executive Director of the Improve Male Health Initiative has called Occupy Nigeria a “blessing” because it has bought the organization more time to shore up resources while attention is focused on the fuel crisis.

So, simply because Occupy Nigeria is not on the streets does not mean that it is not functioning.  Those who have “practiced” resistance will carry with them those experiences in future political activism. They constitute a larger community of activists with a collective identity. Ebbing overt activity and influence is sometimes helpful in giving movements the opportunity for re-assessing strategy, tactics, and collective identity. Moments of inactivity provide special impetus for movement-to-movement linkages as beleaguered activists and organizations pool their strength against powerful opponents. Even during periods of low activity, movements both endure and impact other movements through organizational forms that maintain culture and ideology.

Occupy Lagos Day 1 Images [video]

Protesters Bury Jonathan in Lagos During Occupy Nigeria:

Okonjo’s Subsidy Interview [video]

I understand her to be arguing that lifting the fuel subsidy is a form of wealth redistribution. About three minutes into the video she argues that the poorest segment of the population doesn’t purchase fuel and thus doesn’t benefit from the subsidy. However, the poor do purchase food, and the cost of food partly depends on the cost of fuel used to transport it. The poor do sell goods to passing cars, and the number of cars that can pass them on any given day depends on the cost of fuel. The poor do spend their days working and sometimes their evenings in school, and a school’s capacity to have generator-powered light after dark depends on the cost of fuel. The price of this single product negatively impacts the poor more than any other segment of society in fact. They are the ones who will suffer most over the next few years as they wait for hypothetical social services (which will realistically never come) that will make the removal of the subsidy “worth it.”

One of her more paradoxical arguments is that lifting the fuel subsidy will help fund programs to improve maternal and infant mortality. The reality is that hospitals in Nigeria depend on generators. Those generators power incubators, sterilizers, water pumps, and light bulbs necessary to for health care providers to do even the bare minimum that they are able to now. Within homes, families need to be able to power fans and air-conditioners to reduce the chances of malaria infection among pregnant women and children under the age of five. Ultimately, because there is no reliable source of electricity in the country, lifting the fuel subsidy will make running generators prohibitively expensive and will actually worsen maternal and infant health.

All in all, not a shining example of a quality interview on the part of Okonjo.

Strikes Over, Nigerians Still Unhappy with Fuel Prices

Strikes Over, Nigerians Still Unhappy with Fuel Prices.