Whistleblowers in the government leak results confirming claims by the Catholic Church that the announced result was false. A cache of data leaked from the state’s electoral commission points to an overwhelming victory by opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, reinforcing earlier calls by regional organisations for a recount. The leaked data starkly contradicts the official results announced […]
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.
For a link to my final dissertation, please see:
Bye-bye Big Men
Governance in much of Africa is visibly improving, though progress is uneven
LEAVING THE IVORIAN commercial capital, Abidjan, at 7am, you run straight into what is known as the civil-servant rush hour. The president has decreed that administrators must be at their desks by 7.30am, and most are. A Western ambassador says disbelievingly, “If you are five minutes late for a meeting, you have missed the first five minutes.” Having travelled to the office on elevated dual carriageways, civil servants leap into lifts and ride up to their desks on the upper floors of modern glass towers. Some sneakily keep an iPad or some other electronic gadget with which to while away the time.
Governance in Côte d’Ivoire is rarely as good as it looks. Bribes still solve problems faster than meetings. The opposition spitefully boycotted the most recent elections. Deep cleavages run across the political landscape. And yet the national accounts are in order, debts are coming down and new roads are being built. This is the picture in much of Africa. The allocation of power is becoming fairer and its use more competent, as in Ghana, though there is much more to do, especially in resource-rich nations like Nigeria.
African governments are beginning to accept the importance of good governance, not least for improving the lot of the poor. Rulers travelling on presidential planes strut their stuff at the World Economic Forum in Davos and declare their undying interest in “capacity-building”. Behind the jargon a remarkable change is taking place. The default means of allocating power in Africa now is to hold elections, and elections are generally becoming fairer. Sceptics rightly bemoan voter fraud and intimidation, and plenty of polls are still stolen. But the margins of victory that autocrats dare to award themselves are shrinking. Indeed, quite a few have discovered, in forced retirement, that by allowing notional democracy they have started something they cannot stop.
Until 1991 it was almost unknown for a ruling party to be peacefully ousted at the polls. Since Benin ticked up a first in that year it has happened almost three dozen times. In many countries such an event cements tentative gains, as it did in Ghana in 1992 and again in 2000. Crossing the border from Côte d’Ivoire into Ghana, the visitor immediately becomes aware that democratic expression here is unrestrained. An election is under way and supporters of the ruling party and the opposition cheerfully line one side of the road each, holding megaphones and waving banners. Opinion polls put the two main parties neck-and-neck even though the present government has achieved impressive economic growth: GDP increased by 14% in 2011.
After a few hours on the road, just past the city of Takoradi, the country’s economic turbo-charger comes into view. Pipelines run along the road and diggers make huge holes for storage tanks. A vast oilfield has been found nearby, but celebrations were muted. Ghanaians know that a resource bonanza can be dangerous and politicians may get greedy, so administrators are now being trained in handling a large influx of oil revenues. At a leafy campus with neatly trimmed grass on the outskirts of Accra, the capital, they learn about transparency, accountability and the intricacies of transfer pricing.
This stuff matters. Some of the biggest obstacles to better governance are not murderous tyrants but a lack of bureaucratic competence and a divided opposition. Ageing autocrats die eventually, but bad habits will not go away of their own accord. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator, now aged 89, could be deposed if rivals, with whom he has been forced to share power since the most recent election, were better at their jobs. Still, in neighbouring Zambia opposition politicians outmanoeuvred a tired government in 2011 and took office.
Luckily, competence is on the rise in Africa. White elephants are still being created, but are now generally designed to serve larger and more inclusive groups of people. South Africa’s football stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup (pictured) are in that category, as are many new dams and airports.
Politicians and officials are learning new skills to run such projects. It is hard to quantify the change, but traipsing in and out of ministries across the continent builds up a measure of confidence. There are plenty of shortcomings and allegations of corruption, but in a fair number of African countries the bureaucracies are not far behind standards in, say, India.
Transport management in particular has become much better. A bus ride from Accra across three African borders in one day is instructive. Departing at sunrise, the 15-seater easily crosses into Togo where it passes well-run port installations and warehouses. An hour later it arrives in Benin. The driver ignores the outstretched hands of traffic policemen. After a few more hours the bus reaches Nigeria amid throngs of packed lorries on their way to Onitsha, Africa’s largest market. Most of the bus passengers are professionals, including several telecoms engineers who commute weekly. All four countries have sensible transit policies and trade actively with each other.
What has brought about this change? Across Africa both voters and leaders are better educated than they were even half a generation ago. Many of those in power are the first in their families with a university degree. Standards of political debate have risen thanks to better schools, modern media and the return of diaspora members who bring new ideas with them.
One lesson in particular seems to have sunk in: the need for solid and durable institutions. In the past, good practice all too often lapsed quickly after a change of incumbent. Foreign advisers ram home the need for institution-building. “Everyone is nagging us about it, from TB to Mo,” says an Oxford-educated official, referring to Tony Blair, a former British prime minister who now runs an African governance initiative, and Mo Ibrahim, an Anglo-Sudanese telecoms billionaire who awards prizes for political leadership.
Size matters here. Benin is nicely democratic—it has more political parties than cities—but with a mere 9m people it carries little weight. Nigeria, on the other hand, has 160m, so along with Kenya and South Africa it sets the tone in regional meetings and institutions—and it still struggles to get things right. When the parliament’s speaker needed a bit of extra cash before leaving office in 2011 (on top of more than $1m a year he got in pay and expenses) he gave himself a $65m government loan. He was charged but later acquitted.
Nigeria is famous for corruption, yet at issue is more than thievery. Members of the elite systematically loot state coffers, then subvert the electoral system to protect themselves. Everybody knows it, and a few straight arrows in the government talk about it openly. Perhaps half the substantial (but misreported) oil revenues of Africa’s biggest oil producer go missing. Moderate estimates suggest that at least $4 billion-8 billion is stolen every year, money that could pay for schools and hospitals. One official reckons the country has lost more than $380 billion since independence in 1960. Yet not a single politician has been imprisoned for graft. The day that Nigeria works properly, the battle for Africa’s future will have been won.
One step at a time
Such an outcome is not inconceivable. Take Lagos, the commercial capital, long a byword for chaos and skulduggery. The bus from Accra inches forward on an eight-lane bridge in dense traffic. The last 30 miles take longer than the previous 300. The city is choking. Roads jam up daily. Commuters sometimes sleep in their cars. Businessmen schedule at most two out-of-office meetings a day. Built on a swamp by the Atlantic, Lagos spreads out unplanned. Two out of three residents live in wooden slums. Already home to 20m people, the city is expected to double in size within a generation. When most of the public infrastructure was built in the 1970s, the population was perhaps 2m.
But help is on the way. The governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, has begun an impressive campaign to clean up the city. Yaba bus station, where the bus eventually arrives at 9pm, used to be full of pickpockets and rowdy vendors. Now there is an orderly queue for taxis. The Chinese are building a vast urban rail network. Public buses have been assigned separate lanes. When the governor heard they were being used by unauthorised vehicles, he strode out one morning and made a citizen arrest of a stunned colonel.
The governor is playing to the crowd, but why not? The transformation of Lagos is worth trumpeting. Its economy is now bigger than the whole of Kenya’s. Tax revenue has increased from $4m to $97m a month in little more than a decade. Tax rates have stayed the same but the amounts being collected have risen dramatically thanks to the deployment of private tax “farmers” who get a commission.
Better governance is creeping beyond the metropolis. When your correspondent e-mails the governor of Ekiti state in impoverished central Nigeria he gets a reply within minutes, with the entire cabinet copied in and being told to assist with a visit. After a six-hour drive north, seven interviews across the capital, Ado Ekiti, are arranged in the space of a few hours. Cabinet members are mostly foreign-educated and highly motivated and have private-sector experience. A new employment agency sends out job advertisements by text message. All secondary-school pupils are getting free laptops with solar panels. All civil servants, including teachers, are tested annually; those who fail stand to lose their job.
To be sure, this sort of governance is still the exception. A visit to the capital, Abuja, another six-hour drive north flanked by red earth dotted with filthy shacks, is sobering. The seat of government moved here two decades ago to escape swampy Lagos; now it is as chaotic as the former capital. A programme to subsidise fuel alone cost the government $6.8 billion in theft in three years (on top of the billions wasted on the market-distorting subsidy itself). Shady deals between officials and oil companies have swallowed an estimated $29 billion in the past decade. Yet more than half of all Nigerians live on less than $1 per day and get almost no electricity because the grid has collapsed.
Still, even Abuja is not without hope. Inside gleaming ministerial palaces dotted along new ring roads a band of reformers is at work. They are in a minority, but seemingly fearless. The central-bank governor has started cleaning up the financial sector. The finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (who recently published a memoir entitled “Reforming the Unreformable”), is reducing fuel subsidies and thus the scope for theft. A special task force in the president’s office is privatizing electricity assets. The reformers have encountered strong opposition, as much from an understandably suspicious public as from the wily crooks who stand to lose out. The good guys are winning, but it will be a long time before they triumph.
The AP just reported today that Nigerian officials will place $1 billion in their sovereign wealth fund (SWF) in the coming months to better invest some of the nation’s oil revenue. Okonjo and the Finance Ministry said the board managing the fund will be led by Mahey Rasheed, a board member at Nigeria’s First Bank PLC, and Uche Orji of UBS will be the fund’s managing director and CEO.
Nebulous budgeting and corruption means much of the money is siphoned away in the current ECA, which will co-exist with the new SWF until the former has time to become more institutionalized. Some critics are saying that only investing $1 billion out of the $7 billion available is too little, but I think that is plenty for an uncharted venture in a country that already suffers from poor economic decision-making and opaque regulations. Unsurprisingly, state leaders have opposed the centralized SWF, saying more money should go to Nigerian states. After all, how can they skim off state shares of oil revenues if all that money is tied up in investments?
Ultimately, I don’t think changing where revenue is held will make much difference in a country that suffers from such profound structural and institutional impediments to economic development.
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 informationisbeautiful.net. “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.
- Why Do Americans Accept Wealth Inequality? (psychologytoday.com)
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.
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.
Although the deadline for applications has passed, APSA will have its Africa Workshop at the University of Botswana, July 15-27, 2012. The theme is “Local Communities and the State in Africa.” The workshop is targeted principally at university and college political science faculty residing in Africa, who have completed their Ph.D. and are in the early stages of their academic career. Up to 22 Africa-based fellows will be selected. Four advanced Ph.D. students residing in the United States will also be accepted. See: 2012 APSA Africa Workshop.
Here is a ten-minute video summary of Nigerian oil politics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drNX6nQHnzI. I would add that Ken Saro-Wiwa was not publicly executed as stated, but rather secretly hung outside of his prison cell. Also, the video mentions the People’s Volunteer Force but arguably MEND is the most politically potent group in the area. As an update, Nigeria now has a population of 167 million and within the next two decades will be the third most populous country on earth after China and India, according to the The Economist.
Perhaps the possibly pernicious effects of oil are simply explained by looking at human greed. Machiavelli and Montesquieu gave theoretical arguments explaining the sloth of wealthy political elites. A more contemporary notion is of the myopia that oil wealth can cause, that it creates wishful thinking and an unrealistic tendency to optimism in leaders. Rationalists would refer to leaders as utility-maximizers who engage in rent-seizing precisely because their understanding of how oil wealth operates allows them to. Long-term planning is difficult in resource-rich but weak countries because politicians with an uncertain hold on power will spend to the max to improve their standing at the polls, and to ensure they do not leave any financial or political opportunities for the next elected official (See: Humphreys, Sachs, & Stiglitz, 2007). In turn, natural resource wealth can serve to consolidate particular regimes in power, making it seem necessary for opposition groups to pursue power through extra-constitutional means so they can get their rewards. Thus oil would result in the entrenchment of ineffective and corrupt leaders in place who contribute to poor governance.
I am currently working with literature on how oil may hinder democracy. One line of thought is that oil weakens democratic institutions of accountability. Rentier governments are able to use government spending and low taxes to reduce popular pressures for democratization, e.g. by buying off opponents. Lam and Wantchekon have argued that the economic benefits of resource booms are typically concentrated within political elites, thus enabling them to maintain their support and consolidate their power through patronage (2003). In authoritarian systems, this means more a limited scope for democratic change. Similar arguments have been made by Jensen and Wantchekon in relation to resource rich countries in Africa and Ross in relation to oil-rich countries in general (2004; 2001). Another view proposes that natural resource endowments hinder democracy by allowing those governments to spend more on internal security. With stronger internal security governments can limit the scope for political opponents to mobilize to challenge them.
Michael Ross finds that oil definitely inhibits democracy, even outside the Middle East and even when exports are relatively small, particularly in poor states. Also, nonfuel mineral wealth impedes democratization as well. He sees at least tentative support for the causal mechanisms he identifies as key to the anti-democratic force of oil: the rentier effect, repression effect, and modernization effect (1999). In contrast however, Michael Watts says that many of the dynamics noted by Ross emerge not from oil per say, but from centralized resource revenues typical of many extractive economies, and oil’s harmful effects build on pre-oil political dynamics (2004). I am more convinced of the latter, as I would argue that a history of European colonization has played a far more substantial role in stymieing democratic growth than natural resources. Most African countries have weak democracies, all but Liberia have been colonized to various degrees, yet not all have abundant resources.
Nigeria has had unstable, ineffective, and predatory leadership to say the least. It is weak by nearly all measurements except military capacity and exports; Foreign Policy magazine even labeled it a “failed state” based on its poverty and governance in 2010. It has experienced at least six military coups, with some leaders in power for mere days while others died in office, and until 2000 had only experienced four years of civilian rule. It had its first open election followed by a peaceful hand-over of power in 1999, but most elections are still marred in controversy and often incite violence. Furthermore, almost 85% of oil revenues accrue to 1% of the population, and the Anti-Corruption Chief claimed that 70% of the country’s oil wealth was lost or stolen in 2003 (See: Michael Watts, 2008). Transparency International regularly ranks Nigeria among the most corrupt countries in the world (half of Nigerians reported having paid a bribe in 2010). Nigeria’s corruption is highly decentralized in nature, and from my observations an important element in bribery is the role of chiefs existing at various levels in distributing federal funds to their villages. Decentralization allows a large number of leaders and civil servants to skim off the top as funds are passed from the federal down to the local level.
General Sani Abacha is regarded as Nigeria’s most corrupt President.