Category Archives: Violence

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: #4 Social Contract Failure in Nigeria

This is the final case study of four, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, that demonstrates one of many explanations for conflict. Social theory in a nutshell: We follow laws and pay taxes and do what the government says in exchange for protections, services, and good leadership by the government. When the government doesn’t follow through on its end of the deal, citizens don’t follow through on theirs. See more below on how this impacts the Niger Delta oil conflict.

Social Contract Failure Hypothesis (Stewart, 2002): This explanation for conflict derives from the view that social stability is based on a hypothetical social contract between the people and the government. People accept state authority so long as the state delivers services and provides reasonable economic conditions (e.g. employment and incomes). With economic stagnation or decline, and worsening state services, the social contract breaks down and violence results. Hence, high and rising levels of poverty and a decline in state services would be expected to cause conflict. In many African countries, social contract failure takes the form of neo-patrimonalism, which means power comes from a single leader. Corruption, often organized along kinship ties to control networks and resources, destabilizes the state and causes conflict.

The incidence of conflict is higher among countries with low per capita incomes, life expectancy, and economic growth. However, many statistical studies of the association between vertical income distribution and conflict produce differing results. It has been suggested that funding programs from the International Monetary Fund—usually associated with cuts in government services—cause conflicts, but neither statistical nor case study evidence supports this, perhaps because countries on the verge of conflict do not generally qualify for such programs.

My Relatively Quick Summary of the Ongoing Niger Delta Oil Conflict: When oil was discovered shortly before Nigerian independence in 1960, it was heralded as key to the new nation’s economic future. Nigerians living in the fertile fishing and agricultural southern region of the Niger Delta, the epicenter of oil operations and home to ¼ of the country’s population, waited decades for the newfound oil wealth to trickle down and improve their quality of life. Instead, they became slowly aggrieved by oil companies’ widespread environmental degradation in the form of oil spills on farmlands and fishing waters and gas flares that pollute the air. Oil companies also failed to fulfill the contractual promise of employment that had initially been introduced to get local support for oil extraction and the federal government (FG) did little to secure those local jobs. There was little to no improvement in community infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals, or electricity for the average Niger Deltan, despite the government’s campaigns advertising oil as the key to a more prosperous future. The federal government entered into a joint venture with foreign oil companies such as Chevron and Shell, so oil profits went largely into the national coffer and very little revenue trickled down to benefit oil-producing southern states. This continued poverty is seen as an example of the resource curse or the paradox of plenty, in which natural resources do not lead to economic development for democratically-weak states. Niger Deltans, largely of the Ijaw and Ogoni tribes, continued to be politically marginalized while power over oil decisions and profits remained in the hands of the non-oil holding majority ethnic groups such as the Yoruba and the Igbos. So, although the issues being debated have to do with poverty and fair revenue sharing by the government, the conflict is also informed by long-standing ethnic questions of self-determination.

By the early 1990s, many Niger Deltans had concluded that the government and oil companies would not fulfill their promises of employment, infrastructure, or better living conditions. In response, a prominent Ogoni writer and intellectual named Ken Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1992, and his peaceful movement came to be the face of the indigenous resistance against oil operations. They issued the Ogoni Bill of Rights, staged non-violent marches, and began to liaison with international non-profits to garner global attention to their environmental and human rights cause. In 1993, however, General Sani Abacha came to power in a violent military coup and promptly targeted the Ogonis for their oil reform efforts. The Niger Delta became a militarized zone in which soldiers and private security forces committed torture, killing, rapes and pogroms as a means of stifling the movement. Under Abacha in 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was falsely accused of inciting the murder of four chiefs and sentenced to death in a specially convened court widely criticized by human rights observers. He was secretly executed with eight others, known as the Ogoni Nine, in November of that year. The peaceful oil reform movement still exists today among various groups functioning under the umbrella of MOSOP, but it does not have the vigor it enjoyed under Saro-Wiwa.

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Ken Saro-Wiwa.

After 2000, the Niger Delta saw an alarming rise in domestic terrorism against the government and oil companies in the name of oil justice. The U.S. Department of State has identified the region as a “breeding ground” for ethnic militants engaged in kidnapping and ransom for profit, with victims initially being foreign oil workers but today including wealthy Nigerians outside the oil industry. Militants also engage in widespread oil bunkering, or stealing of oil, to sell it on the black market, arms dealing, and destruction of oil infrastructure through explosions. The most notorious among these militant groups are the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV). Although it is often the average farmer or fisherman most endangered by militant activities, the groups claim to be ideologically committed to targeting the key companies operating there: Shell, Agip and Eni. These companies enjoy the staunch support of the military and federal security forces such as the Joint Task Force.

Companies see the militancy as a threat to their business operations while the state, with one of the highest rates of measurable corruption in the world, sees it as a threat to the national economy since 80% of national revenue comes from oil. Indeed, militants have succeeded in diminishing nation oil revenues by 25%, causing a shut in of 600,000 barrels per day. Insurgency is one of several factors that impact Nigeria’s below-capacity oil production. Nigerian oil production is of great concern to Western countries such as the U.S., which gets 5% of its total oil from the country. Since September 11th, Nigeria’s high-quality “sweet crude” has served as a great strategic alternative to more expensive oil from the Middle East.

 

Within the last decade, the government’s peace talks with militant groups have failed. MEND had a voluntary ceasefire with the government in 2006. MEND resumed attacks the following year though when its most prominent leader, Henry Okah, was arrested in Angola. The security situation became so volatile that it threatened a collapse of the oil industry, so President Yar-Ardua offered an amnesty program in 2009. In exchange for turning in their guns as part of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), fighters received university education, vocational training, and stipends. However, there are allegations of corruption and fraud within the Amnesty Office that oversees the program, charges that too few fighters were included, and a view that the very problems of environmental damage and unemployment that undergird militancy remain unsolved. These same issues currently plague the Niger Delta to perpetuate this on-going, low-level conflict.

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.

Four Cases of Conflict Over Resources: #2 Private Motivation in Sierra Leone

This post is the second of four African cases that demonstrates why conflict happens. See the introduction here.

What does “private motivation” in conflict mean? It means that an individual sees war or fighting as a way to get more wealth for him or herself. It is one of the more clear-cut explanations and the easiest to demonstrate.  It is particularly applicable to sub-Saharan Africa where poverty rates are high, and thus where more needy and desperate people are willing to use conflict as a means of being less poor.

Sierra Leone and the “Private Motivation” Hypothesis (Stewart, 2002): War confers benefits on individuals as well as costs which can motivate people to fight. Young, uneducated men, in particular, may gain employment as soldiers. War also generates opportunities to loot, profiteer from shortages and from aid, trade arms, and carry out illicit production and trade in drugs, diamonds, timber, and other commodities. Where alternative opportunities are few, because of low incomes and poor employment, and the possibilities of enrichment by war are considerable, the incidence and duration of wars are likely to be greater. This “greed hypothesis” has its base in rational choice economics.

The view that private motivation plays an important role in prolonging, if not causing, conflict in some countries is well supported by work in the Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Collier and Hoeffler (2004) tested the greed hypothesis and found a significant association with conflict, although this has been challenged. They also found that greater male education to higher secondary level reduced the risk of war. They concluded that “greed” outperforms grievance in explaining conflict. I have written about this in terms of oil’s impact on the history of conflict in the Niger Delta.

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My Relatively Quick Summary of the Sierra Leonean Civil War of 1991-2002: The West African country of Sierra Leone, a former British colony, experienced decades of poverty, economic exploitation, and poor governance by the single political party in power, the All People’s Congress (APC), between independence in 1961 and the start of the civil war in 1991. The state was not weak but nearly non-functional, as the judiciary depended on bribery, parliamentarians bankrupted the national treasury, and the military served primarily as a tool of oppression of political opponents. Despite ample natural resources such as diamonds, gold, and other precious metals, Sierra Leone was one of the poorest countries in the world. Finally, the entire educational system collapsed in the 1980s when the government could no longer pay public school teachers, thus creating a generation of uneducated, unemployed and disgruntled youths who would later be drawn into rebel factions.

In 1991, former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) implemented a rebel campaign against President Momoh by capturing towns on the Liberian border. The RUF enjoyed the support and guidance of Charles Taylor and the NPFL in neighboring Liberia, the latter actors seeking access to Sierra Leone’s diamond mines. Momoh responded by deploying troops to the border region to undermine the RUF and repel the incursion the NPFL. The two insurgent groups attacked Sierra Leone’s army in turn, and the government’s inability to quell the insurgency soon became clear.

The number of insurgents and the number of weapons they held grew faster than the government could react. The Kono and Kenema districts of Sierra Leone were rich with alluvial diamonds that could be gathered by individuals with a shovel and easily transported by hand (as opposed to other resources that cannot be looted by individuals, such as oil). This accessibility of diamonds gave individuals immense reason join the RUF forces as a means of getting diamonds and profit, and also to violently force labor by civilians who would turn over the diamonds they found. A looting phenomenon occurred in which disaffected Sierra Leoneans without access to arable land for farming joined the rebel cause as a means of also extracting cash, household items, food, livestock, cars, and even international aid shipments to enrich themselves.

In April 1992, Captain Valentine Strasser deposed Momoh in a coup, citing the poor conditions endured by the troops engaged in fighting the rebels as one of the reasons. Strasser was made head of state with a National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the ruling party. The civil war escalated under Strasser, with the RUF increasing the amount of territory under its control, including the lucrative mines that were the source of the “blood diamonds” used to fund wartime activities. The ease with which diamonds can be sold on the world’s black market illegally also made it vitally important that rebels use extreme violence to secure their control over these areas and the weapons the natural resources could fund. Soon, RUF, NPFL, rogue insurgents, and some government troops began committing heinous atrocities against the civilian population, including mutilation of limbs and faces, sexual violence, and forced labor on in mining and agricultural strongholds. Forced conscription was common and made many civilians unwilling participants in the conflict, including as many as 10,000 child soldiers.

 

Intense violence continued as Strasser tried unsuccessfully to beat back the RUF until he was ousted in a military coup in January 1996. The NPRC feared that he would back out of his promise to transfer power to a civilian government. General Julius Maada Bio briefly assumed control of the national government with the pledge that elections would soon be held. However, the RUF asked that elections be postponed until a ceasefire or peace accord was agreed upon. The RUF intensified its violent campaign when the NPRC refused. Elections were still held in February 1996 and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected president. He signed a peace accord, the Abidjan Agreement, with Sankoh’s RUF in November which failed to bring an end to the fighting.

In May 1997, Major Johnny Paul Koroma ousted President Kabbah with the help of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which included former RUF members. With Kahhab in exile in Guinea, Koroma quickly suspends the constitution, bans demonstrations, and abolishes political parties. The AFRC fought increasing resistance on all fronts: domestically, its troops were engaged in battle with militia forces loyal to Kabbah’s government, internationally, the British Commonwealth suspended Sierra Leone from membership for bad behavior, and the United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Sierra Leone.

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The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) troops and international supporters helped overthrow the AFRC and restored Kabbah in 1998. ECOMOG and government troops continued to battle rebel forces until July 1999 when the Lomé Agreement proposed a power-sharing plan that included Sankoh and other rebels in the government, and required the RUF and the AFRC forces to surrender. Angry at their exclusion from the Lomé Agreement, AFRC forces began taking hostages; meanwhile, RUF rebels continued their attacks against civilians and UN workers and refused to turn in their weapons as agreed. Sankoh was finally captured in the capital of Freetown and the RUF driven out by government forces in 2000, with the help of British troops and pro-government militias. General Issa Sesay took over commanding the RUF and other heavily armed militias also held power in the country. Throughout 2001, the Lomé Agreement was slowly implemented by the United Nations and some RUF rebels and the pro-government militia members were disarmed. The RUF also released some territory to the UN that had been under its control.

The End of the War: The Sierra Leonean Civil War ended in January 2002, after an estimated 50,000 people had died, with some 2,000,000 people displaced by the conflict. These numbers are staggering in a country with a population of only 6 million people. Foday Sankoh died in prison while awaiting a war crimes indictment in 2003 and Charles Taylor was charged for his role in instigating murder and rape and arming RUF fighters when charged with war crimes in the The Hague in 2007. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone has not made the strides that Rwanda has.

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.

Cameroon: Nigeria’s Crisis Next Door

 

Oil platforms outside Limbe, Cameroon, near the Nigerian border.

There has been little media coverage of Cameroon’s 2016 Anglophone insurgency against the Francophone majority, when separatists declared their own state of Ambazonia. English-speakers near the Nigerian border constitute 20% of the country’s population and have long complained of political and resource marginalization. Now, there are concerns that this civil unrest is causing a potential refugee crisis.

Cameroonian English-speakers have a strong trade relationship with neighboring Nigeria, with large ships and small speedboats regularly traveling between the Nigerian port of Calabar and the Anglophone city of Limbe in Cameroon. I took both these forms of transport during a visit to Cameroon in 2012. Then, the water vessels were stockpiled mostly with raw goods to trade and sell, while passengers tried their best to find a spot to sit or nap wherever they could. Aside from some troublesome mechanical troubles, the journey did not feel terribly dangerous. The border was porous, interactions amiable among passengers, and there was little sense of an impending refugee issue.

Since then, separatists have targeted Cameroonian state agents, and those agents have in turn pursued rebels across the border into Nigeria. Tens of thousands of Anglophone Cameroonians have reportedly fled towards Calabar to avoid violence. So many refugees crossing into Nigeria exacerbates long-standing ethnic tensions in the Niger Delta, even those apart from the oil issue. It also strains resources and is a burden the Nigeria government is not prepared to bear, with much of its focus still on Boko Haram in the north.

Voice of America reported on the political backlash within Cameroon. Some argue that Paul Biya is using the separatist movement as a reason to militarize Anglophone areas even further and cement his 35-year rule. The text of that story is below.

Cameroon’s main opposition party on Thursday accused the government of having “militarized” two regions shaken by unrest among the country’s anglophone minority.

“The Northwest and Southwest regions are heavily militarized,” the head of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), Jean Tsomelou, said in an interview with AFP, describing the situation as “worrying.”

“We have observed troop movements in both regions. The government has spoken of thousands [of troops] who are in the Southwest and Northwest,” he said.

“Abuse has been committed” against local people, he said.

In September and October, “live fire was targeted against people who were simply carrying a message of peace,” he charged.

Since November 2016, resentment has fed demands for autonomy or a separate state to which the government has responded with a crackdown, including curfews, raids and restrictions on travel.

International monitors say at least 20 and possibly 40 people have been killed since late September.

 

Sexual Violence in Africa, Climate Change, and the U.S. Secretary of Energy

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is fending off criticism for comments he made about the relationship between fossil fuels and sexual violence against African women. He said in South Africa that using fossil fuels to generate electricity in Africa would lower rates of rape because, “When the lights are on, when you have light that shines — the righteousness, if you will — on those types of acts.” To paraphrase, the literal light of electricity (and figurative one of God?) would stop some acts of sexual violence. The general feedback in the media has been about his unclear reasoning and the ridiculousness of linking a light bulb to a pervasive social problem. To approach it more moderately though, I believe he was just hypothesizing that light in homes would make women logistically safer. It was a somewhat silly notion that just shouldn’t have been said aloud so flippantly. Here is the text of his statement:

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However, the issues of fossil fuels, climate change, and gender-based violence are actually not unrelated—they’re just related in a way totally contrary to Perry’s comments. This is an opportunity to better understand how fossil fuels are actually bad for women in sub-Saharan Africa, and why it is alarming that one of the world’s most powerful policymakers on energy would miss this.

 

Climate change: Fossil fuels, the Fahrenheit, and female farmers

First, climate change is particularly threatening to poor women in Africa who are assault victims during climate change migrations. As an example, the Sudanese Civil War, including the genocide in Darfur, was due in part to desertification of grazing lands for livestock. As these grazing lands turned to hot desert, ethnic groups were forced to move to new areas to keep their animals fed. This migration caused conflicts with those already present in the area, spurring violence that entailed sexual assaults as military strategy. As the temperature of the earth rises, such conflicts will only increase in pastoral and agricultural societies that rely on the land for their survival.

Additionally, 50-80% of all agricultural workers in developing countries are women, an economically vulnerable group. Thus, they will lose out more from climate change that alters their growing and harvesting conditions more than men, who are more likely to be employed in non-farming or industrialized sectors. Financial vulnerability also forces rural women to work farther away from home and its protections, e.g. moving to a city alone, walking farther each day to access suitable land, or engaging in sex work to survive. Hence, climate change affects the safety of women in developing countries in particular ways.

Perry may have been referring to the boon of fossil fuels across the globe, it’s not clear from his quote, but Africa is pivotal to the natural resource industry in the 21st century. The eastern coast of central Africa, specifically around the Gulf of Guinea, has some of the sweetest crude in the world, meaning it is high quality and requires less refinement than sand-filled oil, thus raising profit margins. We should assume that, as U.S. Secretary of Energy, Perry knows this, and would be aware that expansion of this industry across the globe entails its expansion in Africa.

 

Sexual violence and natural resource extraction

Perry’s assertion that increased extraction of fossil fuels would lower sexual assault rates is probably the opposite of what would happen in sub-Saharan Africa.

In developing countries, there is some evidence to suggest a correlation between militarized natural resource extraction sites and violence against women in the area. There are several explanations for this. One is that jobs in the natural resource sector require men to move away from their families, and thus the kinship ties, social norms, and social boundaries that help regulate their behavior. This is not to say that men need to be socially monitored to not commit gender violence, but that all people rely on authority, rules, and the actions of those around them to know what is acceptable. (Imagine the otherwise responsible American university student acting badly on spring break vacation in Mexico—this is an example of how the removal of norms in a new environment changes how we comport ourselves.) Additionally, valuable natural resources require increased (male) security agents to keep operations running. So, natural resource extraction presents the conditions under which sexual violence can become more common.

Secondly, natural resource corporations can become their own mini-governments and, conveniently, their own law enforcement in developing countries. In line with James Scott’s work on state theory, I found that foreign oil companies operating in the Niger Delta employ their own private security forces, erect clear perimeters around extraction sites, exploit local labor at informal and very low wages, and function largely outside of the control of the Nigerian government. In drawing a comparison to a government, Nigerian oil companies a) employ their own military, b) maintain distinct geographic boundaries, c) draw some form of “taxation” through labor, and d) function autonomously. These are four measurements of state strength. Accordingly, gender violence perpetrated by employees or other affiliates of the company could easily go unpunished, as the company acts as its own police force of sorts. So, natural resource extraction then presents the conditions under which sexual violence can go unrecognized.

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Fossil fuel economies are no help to women

On a larger scale, the fossil fuel industry economically marginalizes women of the global south in nearly every way. First, it is a male-dominated industry that offers few jobs for females, who can earn income largely through the agricultural or informal sectors. Childcare responsibilities and unequal domestic duties make it difficult for women to work far away from the home, which jobs in natural resources call for. There is spurious evidence that such economic disenfranchisement increases rates of prostitution, and the gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS that accompanies that phenomenon. Oil, gas, minerals and other natural resources do not increase employment or economic opportunities for women.

Secondly, the African men it employs often spend long hours far away from their families or live at their work site altogether, as there may be low population density around drilling or mining sites. This only serves to exacerbate the inequality in domestic work in the home.

Third, modern economic investigations reveal that, as a whole, women don’t fare so well when the bulk of family income is in the form of cash paid to men. It separates women from control of family finances, and UN reports indicate that less of that money makes it home to children than if women earn it. Even in historical examinations, there is the theory that the transition from (comparably more gender equal) agricultural lifestyles to (comparably male-based) cash economies, as result of European investment in Africa, hastened the transition from traditionally matrilineal family structures to patrilineal ones.

Although this is just my conjecture, I imagine that Rick Perry has heard of the use of rape as a weapon of war, probably in the context of the Congo. It is doubtful that he was aware that South Africa suffers from a prolific scourge of sexual assault in its townships, and it is just a coincidence he made his remarks from there. He knows so little about the region that he may have been attempting to bring together the issues of fossil fuels and gender violence to further his energy agenda, without realizing that the reasons for gender-based violence in different parts of Africa vary—mass displacement, militarization, ethnic cleansing, geography, etc.

Drawing on the issue of violence against women to further a totally different agenda is misleading and exploitative.

As an aside, from my brief scan, it appears that most news articles on Perry’s comments referred to his “trip to Africa.” He was in Capetown, South Africa to be exact. This ambiguity regarding his location matters. Capetown is one of the richest cities on the continent, a worldwide tourism spot, and frankly, totally unrepresentative of anywhere else in Africa. The fact that Perry discussed development for the whole continent from this city, based on a conversation with a local girl, demonstrates his lack of understanding of the region—one common among Western policy-makers. The media’s description of his trip ignores the fact that Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world (20% of earth’s land mass, with a population of over one billion). It’s ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity is unparalleled. It is unimaginable that reports would refer to his “trip to Europe” if he was in Geneva or his “trip to North America” if he was in New York. Coverage of African politics deserves more nuance than that.

An obvious last thought: Wouldn’t solar panels be the best solution for Africa?

 

 

Some Kidnapped Chibok Girls Released by Boko Haram

Last month marked the three-year anniversary of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 girls from a government school in Borno State in northern Nigeria. The Islamic fundamentalists recently released 82 of those girls who have been missing since April 2014, allegedly after the Nigerian government released five of its fighters from prison. There are 113 girls still living among the fighters who haven’t been returned to their families.

 

 

What major news outlets haven’t shown is why rebels take “bush wives” at all. The coverage has tended to portray the kidnapping as a purely political act. However, for my M.A. thesis I researched the role of both female child soldiers and bush wives in West African civil wars. (For a book review I wrote, click here.) I found that kidnapping of girls goes beyond just the political.

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The civil wars of the 1990s in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast saw unprecedented use of child soldiers. While the boys were often trained as fighters, girls fulfilled various support roles.  They cooked and cleaned at rebel camps.  They acted as porters for goods in and out of camps. They engaged in espionage at times. Some researchers pointed out how the girls helped meet the emotional needs of fighters, many barely adults themselves.

They also had children with the fighters, which entrenched a cycle of dependence on their captors. They had little chance of fleeing the camps with a child on their back, or did not want to endanger their child’s well-being (one Chibok girl allegedly chose to stay with her husband and child in Boko Haram). After three years, we now know that many of those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram have also had “bush babies” (the African term).

The humanitarian community now has the chance to apply lessons from the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs of the 1990s to the Nigerian situation. Then, kidnapped girls were often given a cursory physical evaluation upon their release or cessation of hostilities, with little follow-up care for their children and absolutely no therapeutic care for their mental health. A significant obstacle for girls of the 1990s was also reintegration back into their home communities. After having conceived children with the enemy, families and neighbors were often hesitant or unwilling to welcome girls home. The International Committee of the Red Cross, a leader in helping care for the Chibok girls, must tend to the social and psychological after-care of today’s Nigerian girls in a way that was overlooked twenty years ago in other West African countries.

However, the situation for the returning Chibok girls is more complex than “us versus them” like in previous conflicts. Most people of Borno state come from a more cohesive ethnic group, the Hausas, and share the religion of Islam. The lines between the rebels and villagers may not be as clear as in West Africa. Also, the international attention on the Chibok case may lend families in their home communities a greater sense of sympathy for the girls’ plight. This sense of sympathy will be much needed in the coming years as they rebuild their lives.

Washington Is Unhappy That Burundi Is ‘Very Happy’ to Be Leaving the ICC — Foreign Policy

The Burundian government wants to leave the International Criminal Court. They’re well on their way.

via Washington Is Unhappy That Burundi Is ‘Very Happy’ to Be Leaving the ICC — Foreign Policy. Also see my post on if certain African leaders are anticipating their own bad behavior by leaving the ICC.

Are certain African leaders anticipating their own bad behavior?

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?