Tag Archives: violence

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.

A Peaceful Handover of the Presidency in Nigeria

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This month’s Presidential election in Nigeria, in which Mammadu Buhari defeated sitting President Good Jonathan, showed the best of what Nigeria can achieve. After his PDP party had been in office 16 years, Jonathan publicly conceded defeat to Buhari, offering to Nigerian a rare peaceful transition of Presidential power.   Much of the world had been anticipating post-election violence in reaction to Buhari’s victory amid allegations of election fraud.

Not to detract from Nigeria’s accomplishment, but there were certainly conditions in place conducive to a non-violent concession of power. First, Nigerians tend to vote along ethnic lines, and Jonathan is an Ijaw, the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, and so there is not a critical mass of Ijaw voters to defend his rule.  Second, Jonathan came to office in the first place because President Yar’Adua died in office, so some felt Jonathan lacked legitimacy as President to begin with (although he won his 2010 election, which included defeating Buhari). Third, Jonathan’s Presidency had upset the agreed upon alternating Presidencies between Christians and Muslims since he filled in for a Muslim President. Some northerners felt it was a Muslim’s turn to be in office. Buhari was already in office for 20 months in the 1980s as a military ruler, so his victory is certainly not a story of a new candidate coming out of nowhere and unseating an elected President peacefully, which would be a fair grander tale. Lastly, Buhari’s victory was clear, as he gained the votes of 21 states over Jonathan’s 15, demonstrating a clear and difficult-to-contest victory. Let’s hope the well wishes last until Buhari takes office on May 29.

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MILITARY ESCALATION IN THE FAR NORTHEAST OF NIGERIA ; STATUS UPDATES (IV)

Beegeagle's Blog

A Chinese-built BigFoot MRAP of the Nigerian Army on patrol in the Far Northeast.

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BBC reports that bodies of Nigerian police found after an ambush in the Niger Delta

April 10, 2013

A view of the Niger Delta (file image)

Nigeria’s Deadly Delta

“Nigeria’s security forces have recovered the bodies of 11 of the 12 policemen killed after an ambush in the oil-rich Niger Delta on Friday, police have said.

Some of the bodies had been mutilated and burnt beyond recognition, AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying.

Last week, a militant group said it would it resume attacks after its leader, Henry Okah, was jailed for a bombing campaign in 2010.

However, many people are poor, fueling resentment towards the national government and oil companies.

At the weekend, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it had ambushed a police boat in the creeks and waterways of Bayelsa state, killing the policemen.

Police spokesman Alex Akhigbe said 11 bodies had been recovered, while one was still unaccounted for.

The bodies were transported by boat to the regional capital, Yenagoa, while relatives waited at a morgue, Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports.

At the weekend, police denied the attack was linked to the jailing of Okah.

They said it involved a dispute among militants over amnesty payments given by the government.

Police boats were escorting an ex-militant to a funeral when one of the boats broke down and became a “soft target” for gunmen, a police spokesman said.

MEND had been fighting to gain a greater share of the oil wealth from its part of southern Nigeria, but had been inactive since a 2009 amnesty was put in place.

Okah, its leader, was sentenced to 24 years in prison last month for masterminding bomb attacks in the capital of Abuja in 2010.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer.”*

*Note: By accounts with which I am familiar, Angola may now be Africa’s largest oil producer.

Remarks on social services in the Niger Delta

A newborn in the Niger Delta

A newborn in the Niger Delta

 

An NGO researcher just conducted an interview with me regarding the state of service delivery, i.e. social and government services, in the Niger Delta. Below are a few of the transcribed questions and answers.

 

1. How would you describe the current state of service delivery[1] for most communities in the Niger Delta? 

Service delivery is non-existent in most areas, and sporadic or haphazard in the remaining ones.  I think that part of the reason communities so often look to oil companies to offer social services and build basic infrastructure is that the state has been so wholly unable to do any of these things since independence.  It is as if communities have given up on their own government ever acting as a government should, which requires providing basic services to its population. As is common in countries with rampant corruption, projects often begin but then are abandoned because funds disappeared or there was a change in management of that project. In the Niger Delta there are half-finished bridges, classrooms without roofs, and empty hospitals that don’t even have electricity. Additionally, a lack of human capital and maintenance of services mean that as soon as any project is finished, it will only be a matter of time until it is useless because no one can perform maintenance.  It seems that almost as soon as a road is finished, poor construction materials mean that it needs to be fixed again but there is mechanism in which to have that road repaired. This lack of maintenance is an issue that only capacity-building can address.

2. Whose responsibility do you believe it is to improve service delivery in the region, e.g. government agencies like MNDA or the NDDC, or oil companies operating in the region?

It is responsibility of government agencies to improve social services.  The basis of democracy is that citizens pay taxes to their government, vote for their leaders, and then those leaders use those taxes in a responsible manner to provide necessary collective goods that improve everyone’s lives.  Because the Nigerian government can rely on oil profits rather than taxes, and corruption makes elections less meaningful, there is no accountability of state actors towards the citizenry. Part of this government duty is to monitor the behavior of private economic actors like oil companies. Although I believe staunchly in corporate responsibility, it is impossible for a corporation to fully monitor itself; by definition monitoring must come from an outside party, like a government agency.

3. What impact do you think the current state of service delivery has on peace and conflict in the Niger Delta region? 

Lack of service delivery has increased rates of poverty and negatively impacted quality of life, which gives people “nothing to lose” when it comes to engaging in violence.  It also creates a dynamic in which too many people are competing for scant social services and resources, leading to increased tensions. Poverty and lack of services drives rural dwellers into cities like Port Harcourt and Yenagoa, where they may come into conflict with residents already living there, be forced into crime out of necessity, and and don’t have kinship or community networks that would otherwise mitigate their propensity for violence.

 4. Do you think that improved service delivery would increase security in the region?

Yes. Mostly obviously, it would remove violence caused by need, in other words, conflicts over obtaining basic goods.  Additionally, it would remove the incentive for rural Nigerians to move to new areas in search of such services, thus minimizing the conflict that occurs among internally displaces populations and between new urban dwellers and older ones.


[1] “Service delivery” means the quality and availability of essential services, such as health care, primary education,  and basic infrastructure such as reliable access to water, electricity, and road networks.

Further remarks on Niger Delta violence and amnesties

The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:

1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?

Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence.  In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.

2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?

To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.

3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?

From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement.  Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.

 4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?

No.  From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.

5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?

When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.

The Council on Foreign Relations tracks security in Nigeria

Council on Foreign Relations

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:

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Renewed attention to the Biafran Conflict

The BBC has reported that at least 100 people have been charged with treason in south-eastern Nigeria after a march supporting independence for Biafra, their lawyer says. Igbo members of the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) declared independence from Yoruba- and Haused-dominated Nigeria, raised the Biafran flag and then marched through the region’s main town of Enugu over the weekend, the Igbo stronghold during the Biafran War. Most of those arrested were young men, many sons of former Biafran fighters, but some were veterans of the war themselves. They were all remanded in custody.

More than one million people died during the 1967-70 Biafran conflict – mostly from hunger and disease. Political scientists debate whether the term “war” accurately describes the conflict. To be a “war” a certain percentage of deaths must occur on each side, and nearly the all the deaths occurred among Igbos and nearly all were due to the national government and its allies cutting off food and medical supplies to Igbo communities.

The BZM first gathered on Sunday to mark the birthday of former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who died in November 2011 and was buried in Enugu in March. His burial revived some cries for independence. The BBC (from Lagos, and not Enugu mind you) says that 45 years after the Biafran flag was first raised – an action which sparked Nigeria’s civil war – a small number of separatists still keep their dream alive, despite the threat of being charged with treason.

Biafran War 1967-1970

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  • 1960: Nigeria gains independence from the UK
  • 1967: South-eastern portion of Nigeria secedes as Republic of Biafra on 30 May
  • Biafra dominated by Igbo ethnic group
  • Home to much of Nigeria’s oil
  • Nigerian army blockades Biafra and more than a million people die through famine, disease and fighting
  • 1970: Biafran government surrenders

Some recently released books and films have increased attention to Biafra. The war has been put back in the spotlight as the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, arguably the greatest male writer in Nigeria with Wole Soyinka, has just released his memoirs of the conflict. Igbo-American Chimanada Adichie’s amazing novel  Half a Yellow Sun is being made into an American film, as this traumatic period of Nigeria’s history is set to reach a wider audience. The title refers to the flag created for the shortly independent republics of Biafra. The film stars Thandy Newton and was filmed primarily in Calabar, with my friends working as extras on set. Far less impressive, the Jeta Amata’s movie Black November is soon to be released starring Mickey Rouke, Viviva A. Fox, and Kim Basinger, which is an effort to take Nollywood mainstream to Hollywood.  Based on the ridiculous trailer I almost hope no one goes to see the unrealistic portrayal of the oil conflict. Oil was a key impetus to the start of the Biafran War and control over reserves undergirded much of the struggle over Nigerian territory in the late 1960s, but I doubt the average viewer will think enough about the movie to be able to link natural resources to conflict.

Pro-Gbagbo Rally Outside of the International Criminal Court

Laurent Gbagbo, Président de la République (Cô...

Last week was historic for the International Criminal Court. It marked the pre-trial of the case against Laurent Gbagbo, the first former head of state to ever face charges in the ICC. I arrived on Tuesday simply hoping to see the inside of the building, but instead spent the afternoon watching demonstrators clash with Dutch police, and each other.

I was familiar with the Gbagbo case before I arrived and it was a simply a coincidence that my visit coincided with the first day of his pre-trial, which he did not attend. I knew that Gbagbo was installed as President of Cote d’Ivoire in 2000 and was in power during the 2002 civil war that split the country into politically contentious north and south regions. He served for a decade, based mostly on his continual stalling of his second election, and when Alassane Outtara was declared the winner of the 2010 elections Gbagbo refused to step down. He and his supporters argued that Outtara rigged the election (which is really hard to do unless the candidate is the incumbent) and Gbagbo swore himself into office again, despite that international observers called the voting more-or-less fair and that Gbagbo had already serve the equivalent of the constitutional limit of two five-year terms. Cote d’Ivoire became an even more volatile place in November 2010 when both Gbagbo and Outtara began to use violence to ensure their respective presidencies. The post-election conflict received the most media attention when a mass grave was discovered containing the bodies of known Outtara supporters.

According to the Case Information Sheet on “Situation in the Cote d’Ivoire: The Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo” provided to me at the ICC’s front desk, pro-Gbagbo forces purportedly used widespread and systematic attacks against specific ethnic or religious communities that were supporting Outtara. The ICC is alleging that murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts were committed over an extended time period and over large geographic areas (I’m using the ICC’s wording). Gbagbo is being called an indirect co-perpetrator for four counts of crimes against humanity. Although Cote d’Ivoire is not party to the Rome State that founded the ICC, it accepted its jurisdiction in April 2003, which was ironically under Gbagbo’s regime. Outtara reconfirmed the country’s acceptance of this jurisdiction and at the end of last year the former President was arrested in the capital of Abidjan and transferred to The Hague. He has been fit to stand trial, and after being found indigent, the Court has borne the cost of his Defense.

Based on the violence that has occurred in Cote d’Ivoire over the last decade and the 2010 election strife, I was not totally surprised to see a rally outside the ICC on Tuesday. I became confused though when I approached the demonstration to see participants wearing t-shirts saying “Free Gbagbo” and holding banners calling Gbagbo a political prisoner. I initially assumed the 200+ demonstrators were there to see justice served against a tyrant, but on the contrary, they were loyal to Gbagbo and had come to support him.

I spent an hour or so talking with various protesters. Although a good number lived in the Netherlands, most seemed to have come from all over Western Europe, telling me they spent the night on buses from London, Paris, Berlin, and Milan to attend and would turn around and get back on the bus that same afternoon. I heard a litany of reasons for their presence there, with the most simple being that Gbagbo was a family friend or that he was born in the same community as the protester. Some said they came out because they felt he would be a better ruler than Outtara, while others felt he had been a scapegoat for an out-of-control military that acted of its own accord. Many voiced anger that Gbagbo’s inner circle have all been imprisoned under Outtara, including the former First Lady Simone Hehivet Gbagbo, his son, Michel Gbagbo, and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan. Many chanted about one-sided justice, in which both sides had committed violence yet only Gbagbo was arrested. I was handed a leaflet calling the 2010 election a France-backed coup, a form of neocolonialism. A different leaflet I received showed graphic photos of dead bodies from a massacre that allegedly occurred on July 20, 2012, captions stating that Ouattara used the military to burn opponents alive and that he had established concentration camps. Another Ivorian-French man at the rally gave me an information sheet that had nothing to do with the 2010 election violence at all, but rather was demanding an answer as to who was responsible for the November 2004 bombing of a French military camp in Bouaké, which killed 9 French soldiers, one American civilian, and injured 38 others. The pro-Gbagbo demonstration simply gave him an audience and platform he needed to get his message across.

Here is some footage I took of the rally in its early hours when it was at its calmest: