The White House announced a revised approach towards relations with Africa. Namely, it aims to counter China and Russia’s economic influence on the continent while moving away from humanitarian assistance and troop support. However, revoking humanitarian assistance seems counterintuitive since aid is exactly the comparative advantage the U.S. has over China and Russia. The U.S. is in no position to counter China’s economic investment on the continent, investments which now undergird major transportation, mining, oil, and construction projects. If countering rivals is the goal, it appears to me to be more important than ever to be a generous Big Brother.
Second, he says that increased accountability for donor funds is needed. I am inclined to agree. Indiscriminate donations to developing countries stymie local economic growth, prop up poor leaders, and create a troubling power dynamic between rich and poor nations. I have previously compared such international aid to oil wealth in the way that it adversely affects development. But, I am not sure it is accurate to depict all U.S. aid to Africa as “indiscriminate,” as Bolton did in his statement. There are increasing checks and balances on American aid to Africa, as exemplified in Bush’s PEPFAR initiative for HIV/AIDS.
The announcement also warns that the U.S. will revoke support for UN Peacekeepers. This is troubling at a time when Africa is seeing an unprecedented rise in migration-related clashes, such as those stemming from climate change. (As an example, desertification of grazing lands has forced cattle owners into land clashes in Darfur, etc.) Admittedly, UN Peacekeepers have been less than successful in many, many African milieus, e.g. Rwanda, DRC. However, pulling support doesn’t improve those missions and citing their failures seems to be an excuse for simply pulling economic support for humanitarian initiatives out of economic self-interest.
Pulling support for Peacekeepers comes in the wake of Washington’s decision to cut troops across the continent by 10%, including half of those fighting terrorism in West Africa. This troubles those following the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Overall, we can think of this as a privatization of African relations—pulling humanitarian and military aid in favor of increasing business and trade.
On a final note, it would be odd for the White House to announce an “Asia” policy or a “Europe” policy, for there is clearly too much diversity within those regions to take pan-continental approaches. Yet, that is exactly what President Trump intends with Africa. An overgeneralization of the continent is bad for politics, and for the business relationships the President hopes to build as well.
Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article about the two current narratives on prospects for Nigeria. The first is positive when one notes the last peaceful handover of Presidential power. Events there have unfolded rather favorably since its Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional ‘acting president,’ then as a constitutional successor after Yar’Adua’s death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there.
One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic ‘terrorist group’ Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria’s security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.”
Although it is highly debatable whether the Amnesty Programme can be said to have “ended” the oil insurgency (see Hinshaw’s article), it is true that Boko Haram is by far the most pressing security issue in the country now. It is becoming even more worrisome since the rise of al-Qaeda in post-coup Mali, a country with porous borders that is poised to become an epicenter for fundamentalism not only in the Sahel but West and East Africa as well. The Council on Foreign Relations has created the Niger Security Tracker in order to follow such developments.
The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances. They write, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”
This database on violence is the only one I know of that was updated weekly and the interactive maps on the website can be broken down by state, a feature particularly important when looking at Boko Haram’s geographic patterns. For 2012:
When we think of the colonization of Africa, the British and the French are the key empires that first come to mind, followed by the Portuguese, Belgians, Dutch, and Germans. In the Scramble for Africa, Italy was not considered a key player in comparison to other major European powers. Italy did come to occupy Libya, Somalia, modern-day Eritrea, and later on Ethiopia briefly (although Ethiopia can boast to have had the only army to successfully repel an European force, the Adwa victory in 1896). As a student of Nigerian history, I have spent the last several years analyzing the nature of British rule in West Africa, especially in comparison to the French style. An overly simplified description would be that the British were comparably hands-off, I emphasize comparably, preferring to use indirect rule by bribing local chiefs and maintaining pre-existing structures of indigenous rule. France however took a more top-down approach, centralizing its governments in Africa using officials from France, ousting local rulers, and imposing oppressive law known as Indigenat. Since arriving to Florence to write my Niger Delta findings, I have spent more time thinking about how a European power could have been comparably less successfulin its attempts to colonize African territories. Italy is an example of this.
At lunch with a noted Italian historian yesterday, I asked, “Why was Italy so poor at colonization?” His answer was direct, that Italy simply arrived too late to the colonization game to be able to compete with the firmly established empires that were already occupying most of Africa. He emphasized that Italy did not become united as a country until 1861, and by then European colonizers had already been exploiting African peoples and resources for centuries. At this time Italy barely knew how to govern itself, let alone far away foreign lands.
I would add to his account that there was a resurgence in the idea of an Italian Empire during WWI, a war during which Italy secured its stronghold in Libya particularly. There existed a popular rhetoric of nationalism, in which interlocutors described Libya as still part of the ancient Roman Empire, and by extension of that as being part of Italy. Giovanni Pascoli, a great nationalist writer, stressed the importance both in his written works and speeches of forging an expanded national identity through conquest and praising of the proletariat. Yet still, Italy could never quite “catch up” with other Europeans in the colonization of Africa.
Mussolini‘s regime sought to regain a foothold in Africa starting in the 1920’s, and did so with his conquering of Ethiopia 1936, when he declared an official “Italian Empire.” However, WWI had depleted the resources of the Italian government and Mussolini failed to understand realistically what was necessary to successfully maintain rule over African colonies. It was only a matter of time before his fascism was brought to an end, and WWII created such reverberating changes in the European-African relationship that Italy essentially no longer had any power in Africa by the end of the War.
There is a bridge in Addis Ababa that I have heard about which has Mussolini’s inscription on it, essentially marking it as his future domain. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and apparently makes rulers have totally unrealistic goals for their conquests.
I have been in correspondence with a Polish conflict researcher who has asked me some interesting questions about the Niger Delta Amnesty Program (NDAP) and that in Iraq, called the Sons of Iraq. Drawn from the Awakening Council, the Sons are Sunni former insurgents in Anbar Province who have been paid stipends by the U.S. military and the Iraqi government to now maintain security against both Shiite and Sunni militants who are still fighting against the American occupation and the new Iraqi political leadership. Although it would seem counter intuitive to arm and pay fighters who had been attacking American forces, the Bush administration reasoned that this tactic would both reduce the number of anti-American militants and help curtail the strength of Shiite forces backed by Iran.
There are similarities between the two efforts. Both in Nigeria and Iraq the governments have created “jobs for the boys” programs that aim to turn insurgents into members of a citizens’ patrol, from aggressors against foreigners and the government to defenders of them. Also, both programs are prone to immense instability and fraction, but for different reasons as I explain below.
However, I see immense differences in comparing the Sons of Iraq and the NDAP. These variations between the two seem to be based on 24 years of stable dictatorship, the presence of the American military, the suddenness of political instability, and over millennial religious tensions in Iraq, all of which are not conditions found in Nigeria. In contrast, Nigeria’s political history is one of perpetual coups and constant abnegation of foreign interference, and is defined almost solely by its status as an oil state suffering from the resource curse. Some differences that I can note:
1. Iraqi Sons are ideologically and religiously motivated in (large) part. The Sons must battle anti-American Shiites on a large-scale, and there is also infighting between pro-American Sunnis and suspicious-of-American Sunnis within the employment program itself. ND rebels today are not ideologically nor religiously motivated in that same way, but fight to steal oil and kidnap to get money. As opposed to the Sons, ND militants are more like a mafia that uses violence to make money, i.e. they engage in extortion. There would be security issues in Iraq with or without the Awakening, but ND rebels are the ones actually making the security problems to begin with. So, with that said, ND militants receiving Amnesty benefits are absolutely not maintaining any form of security like the Sons, but rather are being paid to stop stealing oil and committing violence. As one of my interview subjects aptly phrased it, “It reduces crime and since we have the money, it is OK. You pay them to reduce the violence in the country.” In Nigeria, there is perhaps a price on peace.
2. Transparency: Presumable Awakening fighters trust that U.S. forces will pay them when promised, and the program is comparably fiscally transparent. One of the reasons that Nigerians are suspicious of the NDAP is that a) the government cannot be trusted to pay fighters as on time or even at all, and b) exact amounts being transferred are unclear, so there is probably much more corruption in the ND program in Nigeria than that in Iraq.
3. I don’t know exactly how the U.S. pays fighters in Iraq, but a big problem in Nigeria is that the most violent kingpins like Tompolo and Dokubo are being paid huge sums, and then very little is actually being given directly to lower-level fighters. In Iraq I suspect there is more equity in payment amounts among various fighters but in ND the money is concentrated in few hands, and that creates problems when lower-level fighters feel a sense of unfairness that leads to greater violence.
4. In Iraq there is a clear enemy that the U.S. and the U.S.-installed government hope their employment program will weaken: Al Qaeda. In contrast, there is no clear enemy in the Niger Delta Amnesty Program for participants to battle, as the biggest threat is the factitious insurgency itself, the very men being paid and trained in the program.
5. As reported several years ago, the most salient concern for the U.S. and the Iraqi government is that the Sons of Iraq program may backfire and end up just giving newer and better arms to former insurgents who could do an about-face, thus fueling a prolonged civil conflict to a greater degree. They have publicly stated that a priority is disallow the Sons to gain enough power to become an independent authority, which was a possibly after the U.S. made the mistake of disbanding the Iraq military after its invasion. However, although ND militants have firepower that competes with that of the Nigerian military, insurgents there do not seem to have the desire to overtake the military particularly. Relinquishing arms is a large part of the NDAP mandate, with the goal that former fighters gain training abroad to come home as welders, electricians, carpenters, etc. In Iraq the participants receive training to become better fighters against threats to security in Andar, not to have a professional trade that would benefit them after the war ends.
This leads one to wonder about what all the Sons of Iraq (and NDAP participants) will do once their stipends dry up. Years of fighting, and being trained to do so, often do not translate into stability for soldiers when a conflict ends.
Red beret of the Nigeria Police Anti Terrorism Squad
By Maram Mazen and Elisha Bala-Gbogbo
March 26, 2012
Nigerian police detained two suspects after two shots were fired today in the vicinity of the U.S. embassy in the capital, Abuja.
“We refer you to the Nigerian police for further information,” Deborah MacLean,a spokeswoman for the embassy, said in an
e-mailed statement, without giving more information. A spokesman for the police in
Abuja, Moshood Jimoh, said by phone he was unaware of the incident.
Abuja and the mainly Muslim north have seen a surge in violence that has left more than 1,000 people dead since 2009. Authorities in Africa’s top oil producer blame Boko Haram, which draws inspiration from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, for the unrest. Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 suicide-bombing of the United Nations building in the capital…
There have been an unusual number of reports here on eastern-northern tensions recently. This is a terrible oversimplification, but for those new to Nigerian politics this situation is easier to understand by thinking of most northerners as Hausa Muslims and most easterners as Christian Igbos. However, there are many Igbos living in the north and many Hausas living in the east, contributing to the conflict. Other important factors are contemporary worry about the northern Islamic sect of Boko Haram and residual strain left over from the Biafran independence effort.
There is still tension between northerners and easterners over the question of who started the Biafran War. In 1966, several Igbo radicals deposed the first president of an independent Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe (also an Igbo, but one who grew up in the north). Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi was installed as head of the military government for six months until Northern officers staged a much more violent counter-coup that put Lt. Colonel Gowon (a northerner) into power. It was under his administration that Igbos perceived an increase in violence and persecution against both the Igbos living in the north and those who had remained in their historical homeland in the south-east. In 1967, the eastern region declared itself independent, as the Republic of Biafra led by Dim Ojukwu, creating a two-and-half year civil war that killed a million people, mostly Igbos.
So, northerners and westerners tend to view the conflict as being created by Igbos who staged the first coup and then tried to declare independence, while Igbos argue that Gowon declared war on the Eastern region in order to force the region back to Nigeria. They say that Ojukwu and his troops fought in defense, and that he only declared independence under pressure from eastern people who wanted to end the violence against the easterners living in the north.
There remains a pervasive sense of injustice among many Igbos in the east regarding the failed independence movement. There is still the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), led by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, and various association of Biafran War veterans. Ojukwu died this past November and Igbo war veterans immediately called for him to be given a proper state burial by the Federal Government but the Senate rejected the measure because he is not a former Head of State. His body will tour three West African countries and Haiti before he is interred.
Ojukwu’s burial in Enugu has been postponed due to fuel subsidy protests but is scheduled for March 3. The event has been jointly planned by the Federal Government and MASSOB. The South-east and South-south geopolitical zones will be closed down for the day and MASSOB has issued a sit-at-home order. There is a major security concern that Boko Haram will see the burial as key target for attack. Boko Haram has killed almost 300 people so far this year. The security will be even more tenuous since a northern police officer in the eastern state of Anambra shot a man this week for failing to pay a bribe in full. Although the Hausa officer has been arrested for murder, Igbos committed retaliatory violence in Onitsha, Asaba against northerners seen as interlopers in the region. Northern Muslims in Anamabra have fled into neighboring states, and now there is worry that Boko Haram could in turn attack the east. We will have to watch how March 3 unfolds.
There are two major developments today. First, the NLC has asked for a “suspension” (i.e. end) to the nation-wide labor strike and encourages all Nigerians to return to work tomorrow, despite that the price of fuel was not returned to its previous price. The federal government had stated last week that the N141 per liter price was non-negotiable but agreed with the NLC over the weekend on N97. The NLC also reiterated its call for an end to street demonstrations (although the demonstrations began before the NLC became publicly involved and most were planned and implemented independently of the NLC anyway).
Second, although the number and intensity of protests across the country lessened, today saw the strongest suppression of demonstrators yet. Police clamped down harshly on marchers (led by the former governor) in the northern city of Kano and President Jonathan deployed soldiers to disperse the remaining demonstrators in Lagos. Soldiers fired live rounds into the air and around the crowds. There were no fatalities. Additionally, state security forces stormed the CNN and BBC offices in Lagos, presumably to stop those news sources from reporting on the protests.
The Joint Action Front, the organizational force behind Occupy Nigeria in Lagos, has promised to sustain their protests.
Occupy Nigeria is over for the most part I think, and it is due to relative deprivation. Relative deprivation occurs when expectations (e.g. of standard of living) outpace capacities (e.g. to earn an income). In the long-term, the removal of the subsidy pales in comparison to other hardships this country has endured, and cannot be compared to many other injustices under previous regimes. Today’s Nigerians may compare themselves to Nigerians living under the economically inept administration of Obasanjo or the oppressive dictatorship of Abacha and be comparably thankful for Jonathan. Nigerians have low expectations of their government because the government so frequently under performs, thus rising fuel prices are not shocking enough to galvanize prolonged resistance. In the short-term, Nigerians spent last week bracing themselves for doubled fuel prices, making it easier to accept a 50% increase this week. So long as expectations remain low, the state will not disappoint its citizens enough to incite sustained opposition.
Within the rich body of literature that explains the onset, duration, and intensity of conflicts, some scholars have also examined the causal mechanisms linking natural resource abundance with war and levels of violence. According to Paul Collier, mineral wealth both creates and prolongs conflicts (2007). Massive oil rents are used in various ways to finance violence and to foster a predatory political economy. In the worst instances, major actors’ sources of income actually depend on the perpetuation of violence or vice versa, e.g. Niger Delta insurgents. Even in the best cases, where oil rents appear to be successful in propping up some form of centralized authority, rents tend over time to exacerbate state weakness, risking state failure.
There are three prominent accounts for why oil creates conflicts. They are all correct and that they constitute a rent-seeking cycle. In the first, the rentier state’s weak institutions allow for poor governance with an inability to avoid both intra- and inter-state conflicts. This is exemplified by Nigeria’s border disputes with Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea as well as the ongoing North-South divide, the emergence of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, and the Delta violence. The second explanation, geopolitical and quite straight-forward, is that control of oil has meant immense economic and political power throughout the 20th century. This includes the idea that oil companies are likely to fund either overthrows or dictatorships if it is in their best business interest to do so. Highly dependent on the import of Nigerian petroleum, the Clinton administration was criticized for its ancillary relationship with the repressive military regime of Sani Abacha in the 1990s. Third, when rent can be earned from even nominal control of a government, with no political skills required, then there is great incentive for groups to try to secede, e.g. Biafran War in Nigeria, or for non-state actors to try to capture the state, e.g. MPLA’s 1977 attempted coup in oil-rich Angola. Collier and Hoeffler and Fearon and Laitin agree that the tenuous nature of petroleum control coupled with the immense potential gains is a recipe for attempts at overthrowing mineral-rich governments (2000; 2003). Jeremy Weinstein argues that in resource-rich environments, the lure of short-term opportunities to “consume” tends to crowd out and erode the commitment to investing in long-term goals that will benefit a whole community (2007). Although it is difficult to identify which of these explanations is most salient, they can all be seen to some degree in the case of Nigeria.