Africa Blog Roundup: Polling from Mali, Boko Haram, Lesotho’s Elections, and More

Bruce Whitehouse on some recent polling from Mali.

The United States Institute of Peace has released a report, “What Is Boko Haram?” by the journalist Andrew Walker.

The Moor Next Door on the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA).

Charlie Warren:

History has not borne out [predictions of] “coming anarchy” of terrorism, and West Africa is not rife with international extremism. Alas, the region is not beyond terrorism’s grasp either. This means several longstanding arguments about extremism in West Africa need to be carefully revisited.

Emily Wood, “The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World.”

Focus on the Horn looks at the Islamic Movement in Sudan.

Earlier this month the Shura (Consultative) Council of the Islamic Movement, an extended central committee of four hundred members, held an extraordinary meeting to discuss a draft new constitution of the Movement to replace a set of ad hoc rules to which only its members had access. The new constitution identified the Movement, the parent organisation of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), as a cultural, social and religious organisation and effectively surrendered its political mandate to the ruling NCP. News of the 11 May Shura only reached the media in the form of a concise communiqué. In fact, the Islamic Movement itself can be considered a semi-clandestine organisation; it has neither headquarters nor a legal personality. A private citizen in Sudan can only access the Movement as a member, and it rarely demonstrates its existence when not in crisis.

Baobab on Lesotho’s elections:

IN A blow for African democracy, Pakalitha Mosisili, leader of Lesotho’s ruling Congress Party (CP), agreed on May 30th to step down as prime minister after 14 years in power despite his party’s having won the most seats in parliamentary elections five days earlier. A group of opposition parties, led by Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), is expected to form the mountainous kingdom’s first coalition government.

The 67-year-old Mr Mosisili’s resignation came as a surprise. Many newspapers had already declared him the winner after his party picked up 41 of the 80 constituency seats, an absolute majority. But after a further 40 seats were awarded based on proportional representation, the CP ended up with a total of only 48 seats out of a possible total of 120. That left it still the biggest party, but without the absolute majority required to form a government.

It is not clear to me that this result is indeed a “blow to African democracy.” What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Africa Blog Roundup: Polling from Mali, Boko Haram, Lesotho’s Elections, and More

    • Oh wow, I was/am not up on Lesotho politics enough to catch that. It should be Democratic Congress?

      What is your take on the coalition? Will it be effective?

  1. Most Western analyses of Boko Haram tends to be “Western-centric”. This is perfectly understandable, but such analyses are really besides the point.

    If we are to arrive at a holistic understanding of Boko Haram, we really need to abandon the categories made popular by the “War on Terror”. Emphasising “threats to Western interests” or the “FTO designation” distracts us from the really important question: HOW DO NIGERIANS DEFINE BOKO HARAM?

    The most important thing we need to understand is that Nigerians have never seen anything like this before. Nigerians have never ever witnessed a sustained campaign of terrorism or suicide bombing – an extremely traumatic set of events.

    The second thing is that the understanding of Boko Haram is not uniform, but having said that, the political consequences will define Nigeria for the next few decades. For example, the Nigerian Christian community believes that Boko Haram is a “Jihad against the Christian community”, plain and simple. This view has being reinforced by powerful figures such as Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor (the CAN president) and the powerful former head of the Anglican Church, Peter Akinola.

    Nigerian Christians see Boko Haram as a continuation of 50 year old attempt to “Islamise Nigeria”. To them, Boko Haram is merely the latest in a series of “dirty tricks” by the “Northern Muslim elite” to forcefully Islamise Nigeria – previous failed attempts included periodic anti-Christian violence, the introduction of “political Sharia”, Nigeria’s membership in the OIC etc.

    Today, a suicide bomber rammed a Honda automobile into the “Living Faith” church at Bauchi. At least 14 people died. With every successful suicide bombing on a Christian place of worship, these views begin sound increasingly logical (to them).

    In contrast, many Northern Muslims see Boko Haram as a “deliberate attempt by the administration in Abuja to destroy the North”. This nonsense is being peddled by prominent Northern leaders like Nasir El-Rufai (former minister for the Federal Capital Territory): http://www.thenationonlineng.net/2011/index.php/news/48856-fg-behind-northern-bombings-says-el-rufai.html. This group tends to jump at stories of “Christians attempting (but never succeeding) in bombing Churches”.

    A third narrative is that Boko Haram is driven by “poverty and alienation”. This view is extremely popular with Western observers of Nigeria, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that the most alienated people in Nigeria are Christians in the Muslim far North and there is no evidence that “poverty and alienation” has driven this group to terrorism.

    This view tends to discount the role religious intolerance (both by Boko Haram and host communities) plays in the violence. After all, Hitler’s persecution of the Jews did not occur in a vacuum, it was built on at least a thousand years of antisemitism. The Klu Klux Klan wasn’t driven by “poverty and alienation” it rode on a wave of popular support and it was an expression of the desires of millions of White Americans.

    Why does this explanation tend to be discounted? Is it because it does not make for “polite conversation”?

    Boko Haram’s threat to Nigeria is not physical, but psychological – the total breakdown of trust. Boko Haram is not seen as a problem created by Muslims or Northerners or even Muslim Northerners. It is seen by an increasing number of Nigerians as a HAUSA problem created by the HAUSA elite as part of an attempt to dominate Nigerian politics once again. This view may be nonsensical, but if one realises that virtually all communication from Boko Haram is in Hausa, one understands where it is coming from.

    Why, exactly, did I spend so much time writing this boring post? Western analyses does not tend to be as inaccurate as it tends to be incomplete. The wrong sort of analyses leads one to ask the wrong sort of questions which eventually leads to the wrong sort of policy prescriptions.

    I have illustrated that different groups in Nigeria see the problem of Boko Haram differently. At this point the “truth” isn’t really important. What is important is to recognise these groups, their fears and the reasoning behind their different view points and craft messages to deal with their various concerns.

    Treating Boko Haram as a sterile, intellectual debate doesn’t just cut it. It is one thing to have suicide bombers in predominantly Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a much different matter to have them in religiously divided nations. India and Lebanon come to mind, it does not tend to be pretty.

    Instead of only talking about “reaching out to the Northern Muslim community”, we expect to hear “reaching out to the Igbo community” (one of largest minorities in Northern Nigeria, has borne a disproportionate brunt of the violence) and “reaching out to the Northern Christian community” (which suffers and continues to suffer grievous harm at the hands of Boko Haram).

    I have few concerns as to whether Boko Haram has links with AQIM or even Al Qaeda Central. My major concern is whether Nigeria can survive Boko Haram. If you look at the figures – population of 160 million and GDP on track to exceed that of South Africa by 2020, you’ll immediately understand the nature and gravity of the threat.

    Each successful suicide bombing chips away at the weak foundation holding Nigerians together in an increasingly antagonistic relationship. What will give and when?

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