Three Perspectives on Nigeria’s Presidential Elections

Nigeria will hold presidential elections on Saturday, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against former military ruler and four-time opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Here are three perspectives on the election – one from a Nigerian analyst, one from the Jonathan campaign, and one from APC.

  • Zainab Usman: “A changing demographic – 70% of the over 170 million Nigerians are under the age of 30 – has laid bare the ruling party’s dismal record in economic and human development. After more than a decade of sustained economic growth, the number of people living under $1.25 a day poverty line according to World Bank figures, hardly budged from 61.8% in 2004 to 62% in 2010. The PDP’s intimidation of party members, elections manipulation and militaristic political culture are also becoming obsolete…It is within this context that the APC emerged as an alternative platform for reconciling competing elite interests, and whose victory would herald the most unprecedented generational power shift in Nigeria since the civil war in the 1960s. Paradoxically the very forces that give the APC its best shot of unseating the PDP undermine its populist-progressive credentials. Key members including former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and the defacto leader of South-West politics Bola Tinubu are beneficiaries of the current system. To cap it all, the APC’s presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari was a military ruler in the 1980s.”
  • Former Governor Peter Obi, currently Deputy Director-General of Jonathan’s campaign: “Clearly, President Jonathan has achieved more in economic develop­ment than any of his predecessors. All sectors have been positively affected since 2011, when he came into of­fice. The rebasing of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ranked the nation’s economy 1st in Africa and 26th glob­ally; from third and 46th respectively. It also showed that the economy has been more widely diversified than before. It will bear repetition to be reminded that Nigeria successfully hosted a World Economic Forum in 2014, Foreign Di­rect Investments were boosted from US$24.9 million as at 2007 to over US$35 billion by 2014; and virtually all quoted companies doubled in size, assets and profit. The marvels in the road sector show that the Jonathan ad­ministration has rendered over 25,000 kilometres of federal road motorable, from barely 5,000 kilometres as at 2011; work is on-going for a second bridge over the River Niger and on the Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue; Onitsha now has a port and the dredg­ing of the River Niger is opening up our inland waterways; Nigerian Railways has been resuscitated from a 30-year-old coma, with over 3,500 kilometres of lines now operational. In the meantime, 22 airports have been remodelled to meet international standards. He is si­multaneously constructing five interna­tional terminals, as has never witnessed anywhere in the world, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.”
  • Outgoing Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (APC): “As far as roads are concerned, and they are critical to the economic development and prosperity of our people for the movement of people, goods and services, the record of performance offered by the Federal Government is that they have constructed 25,000 kilometers of road. How true that is, is to be measured by the complaints of PDP Governors themselves, who say Federal roads in their States have been neglected. How bogus this is, is the realization that the distance between Lagos and London is approximately 5,025 kilometers. Has the PDP Federal Government constructed roads that go the distance of Lagos to London five times? Is it possible to do this by a Government that has never had a capital budget of up to 40% in 6 six years?”

Chad: A Snapshot of Intra-Muslim Tensions Around Boko Haram

A brief report from a Chadian online source caught my eye yesterday. It relates (French) how a prominent Chadian Muslim shaykh “opened fire on the Wahhabis whom he branded Boko Haram members, even terrorists.” This incident occurs in a context where Chadian forces are fighting Boko Haram, including inside Nigerian territory (read about Chad’s latest advance here [French]). The shaykh’s equation of “Wahhabis” with Boko Haram raises questions about how Boko Haram’s violence and Chad’s involvement could affect intra-Muslim relations inside Chad – an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

The Chadian shaykh in question is Shaykh Hassan Hissene, better known as Shaykh Husayn Hasan Abakar. He serves as president of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Chad, a state-sponsored body that regulates some religious and educational matters in the country. Similar councils exist or have existed in other Sahelian countries.

Abakar has been called one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world, and is a signatory to the Amman Message, a 2004 declaration calling for Muslim unity and tolerance. He is thus a respected figure in Chad and around the world. He has paid particular attention to questions of extremism in Chad; in a 2010 interview (Arabic) with an Egyptian newspaper, he said, “These extremists and zealots don’t appear in a country except through negligence and in the absence of rigorous rules, or when they incorrectly use the freedoms provided. Chad, thanks to Allah, works to prevent the spread of the factors that lead to the appearance of such elements.”

His accusations against other Chadian Muslims have drawn hostility and charges that Abakar plays sectarian and partisan politics (the Council is seen as favoring the Tijaniyya Sufi order, a widespread order in West and Sahelian Africa). Critics (French) in the Chadian online press have called Abakar a stooge of President Idriss Deby, a “hysterical mullah of the MPS [the Patriotic Salvation Movement, Deby’s party].” The piece that triggered this blog post takes a similarly critical tone and suggests that Abakar is using this moment of tension around Boko Haram to “settle his scores” with movements like Ansar al-Sunna, a Salafi organization with branches in Egypt, Sudan, and Chad. (Find one snapshot of the Chadian Ansar al-Sunna in Arabic here.)

It’s important to point out that just because an organization is Salafi does not mean it would support a movement like Boko Haram – there are Salafis around the world who vehemently reject jihadism. Indeed, the most prominent Nigerian Salafis have condemned Boko Haram. Moreover, Ansar al-Sunna is widely considered to represent a quietist form of Salafism. Given that, it will be important to see how Abakar’s accusations play out in Chad, and how the Salafi movement there responds to charges that it is linked to Boko Haram. In any case, this incident sheds light on rhetorical struggles that are playing out far from the battlefield.

Mali: A Disconnect between Algiers Talks and Ground Realities [Updated]

Yesterday, as VOA wrote in its headline, “Mali Government Signs Peace Deal While Rebels Delay.” The deal was scheduled to be signed in Algiers, the capital of Mali’s neighbor Algeria, which has been hosting talks since last July. The talks aim to create peace in the aftermath of a 2012 rebellion in northern Mali led by segments of the Tuareg ethnic group. It is not just the Malian government and Tuareg rebels who have a stake in the outcome in Algiers, however; the rebel side as represented at the negotiating table comprises six factions, including a major Arab-led group. The complexity of the rebel side in Algiers reflects the even greater diversity of interests and factions back home.

The rebels’ delay in signing the deal reflects a disconnect between the talks and what is happening on the ground in northern Mali. Four dynamics reflect the ways in which influential constituencies at home are hostile to or ambivalent about a deal:

  1. Violence: January in particular saw a number of clashes, including between rebels and pro-government armed factions. Even amid talks in Algiers, factions on the ground are expressing different preferences.
  2. Protests against the deal: Saturday saw demonstrations in Ber and Kidal, the latter being the capital of the Kidal Region, the only Tuareg-majority region in Mali. Ber is in the Timbuktu Region, another key northern zone. Tuareg rebels exercise a large degree of de facto control in Kidal.
  3. Ambiguity from leaders about what they want: In recent weeks, Mohamed Ag Intalla, the recently enthroned hereditary ruler of a Tuareg clan confederation, has reportedly come down on both sides of the question of independence for Kidal. Ag Intalla reportedly told one meeting that “Kidal is no longer part of Mali” and told a press organization, “I am Malian. Kidal claims neither independence nor autonomy.” (More here). This ambiguity sends mixed signals to rebels on the ground and to participants in Algiers.
  4. The possibility of behind-the-scenes influence from jihadists: A coalition of jihadists seized much of northern Mali from the Tuareg rebels in mid-2012 and held it until the French military intervened in early 2013. Even though they lost territorial control, jihadists have continued to make their presence felt through guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings and, possibly, behind-the-scenes pressure. Jihadists include major Tuareg leaders such as Iyad Ag Ghali, whose “shadow…hangs over the negotiations in Algiers,” according to one outlet. Ag Ghali may have influence not only through intermediaries at the talks in Algiers, but also through his supporters on the ground in northern Mali. Some sources attribute Ag Intalla’s pro-separatist comments to pressure the ruler faces from Ag Ghali.

These dynamics not only make a deal more complicated to achieve, they also make it less likely that a deal will be respected and implemented in a way that promotes peace. If Ag Ghali’s shadow “hangs over” the talks, so too do the shadows of agreements from the past that were never fully implemented – a legacy that contributed the renewal of conflict in 2012.

Finally, here are two resources on the Algiers talks:

  • RFI (French) and AFP have summaries of the text of the peace deal.
  • Prime Minister Modibo Keita’s statement (French).

UPDATE: Commenter Andy Morgan makes some points that I’d like to highlight here:

I note that your source for Mohammed Ag Intallah’s statement that “Kidal is no longer part of Mali” and the claim that Iyad Ag Ghali’s presence and opinions hang heavy over Kidal and the new Amenokal is the staunchly pro-republican anti-rebel L’Independent newspaper. What they print may be true in this case, I don’t know, but it often hasn’t been so in the past. What’s needed now, and has been needed since the beginning, is some proper on the ground reporting from northern Mali, which gives the chance for the all the accessible protagonists to speak their mind in a formal interview situation and offer a detailed and dispassionate analysis of the nuances within Kel Adagh Touareg opinion, rather than trying to make it seem as every citizen of the Adagh is of one mind. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much I grant you), I found Mohammed Ag Intallah to be decidedly dove-ish and pro-Malian when I met him back in 2009. During our conversation he made no attempt to mince his criticism of Ibrahim Bahanga and his militiamen who were causing serious trouble up near Timyawin at the time. I also know quite a few staunch MNLA supporters who heartily hate Iyad Ag Ghali’s guts and who would turn blue at the thought that he and his ideas were still piloting the rebel cause.

On Weak States and Threats to the U.S.

Stanford’s Dr. Amy Zegart has written an important piece for Foreign Policy in which she argues that the threat of weak states has been over-hyped. I agree with the first half of the piece, in which she takes down the common arguments about why weak states threaten the United States.

To take a brief tangent that goes beyond the scope of this blog, I disagree with parts of the second half, in which Zegart argues that other states – Russia, China, and Pakistan, etc. – are the places with real potential to threaten the U.S. For me, the real threats to the U.S. are (1) climate change and (2) our political elites’ lack of alarm in the face of (a) widespread poverty and suffering, (b) a health care system that is still largely broken, (c) inadequate and crumbling infrastructure, and (d) under-regulated industries that expose Americans to diseases. Of course the thought of nuclear war or wars between great powers frightens me – but the disconnect between our politicians and the ongoing problems in this country scares me more.

Returning to the topic of weak states, Zegart rebuts three arguments often made by those alarmed about weak states. First, she writes, is the argument “that fragile states can become terrorist strongholds that pose existential threats to Western ways of life.” Second is the claim “that poorly governed spaces function as incubators for other global ‘bads,’ like disease, conflict, human rights violations, drug and human trafficking, and criminal networks.” Third is the contention “that globalization connects citizens throughout the world in unprecedented ways, binding the fates of strong states to weak states.”

I won’t rehearse all of Zegart’s arguments, but her counter-arguments to the idea of weak states as terrorist strongholds are worth quoting:

Terrorism experts have found that the vast majority of terrorist attacks strike local targets, not foreign ones. What’s more, the world’s weakest states have not produced the world’s most or worst international terrorists. Foreign Policy’s 2014 Fragile States Index listed five countries in its worst-of-the-worst category: South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. None are major inspiration bases, training centers, breeding grounds, or exporters of terrorism directed at Western cities.

Now, it’s true that Somalia’s al-Shabab recently urged its supporters to attack Western shopping malls, including the Mall of America. I agree with Slate, however, that it’s not that scary of a threat.

While clearly a bid for publicity after a year of headlines dominated by ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the video does comes with some weight, given that al-Shabab actually did attack the Westgate mall in Nairobi in 2013, killing more than 60 people. There’s also evidence that Shabab has actively recruited fighters from Minnesota’s Somali community. But Shabab has never carried out an attack outside East Africa and it seems unlikely that they would warn their targets to step up security before launching the first one.

The U.S. government doesn’t seem that concerned, though with a potential shutdown looming, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson couldn’t help noting that this sort of vague threat is the reason his department needs a budget.

It’s also worth differentiating, as Zegart does, between threats and existential threats. Even Westgate did not pose an existential threat to Kenya.

The idea of weak states as threats to the U.S. has gained such currency in large part because of the structuring metaphor of Afghanistan. Commentators invoke Afghanistan as a metaphor for every country in Africa where a jihadist movement gains ground: Mali, Somalia, Libya, and so on. There’s even a Twitter account called “Bokostan,” referring to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. But the conflicts in each of these places have specific features that are irreducible to Afghanistan’s experience with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. Even Afghanistan’s experience is often misunderstood. It’s worth pointing out, yet again, that the 9/11 attacks were planned in various places, including Afghanistan but also Germany.

Analysts can always come up with ways that terrorism in Nigeria (which I wouldn’t call a weak state, though some do), Mali, or Somalia might threaten the West. And the possibility is always there – after all, even one Western sympathizer could do a great deal of harm. But Zegart is right that the threat of weak states has been over-hyped. For example, in thirteen years of existence as a movement and five years as a consistent insurgency, Boko Haram has not attacked the United States; nor has al-Shabab, in its at least nine years of existence; and although Algerian militants carried out attacks in France in the 1990s, since Algeria’s civil war ended (circa 2000-2002) al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghrib has been a threat primarily to Western tourists in northwest Africa, rather than to Europe itself. It’s worth keeping this background in mind when evaluating the threats that weak states, whether in Africa or elsewhere, might pose to the U.S.

Roundup of Recent Writing on the Humanitarian Fallout from Boko Haram

The violence by and against Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect has had a tremendous impact on non-combatants. Northeastern Nigeria and surrounding countries (Niger, Cameroon, and Chad) have experienced waves of displaced persons. Here is some recent writing on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict:

Accounts about surrounding countries:

  • World Food Program: “WFP Resumes Food Distributions in Diffa, Niger”
  • AFP: “Refugees in Niger Live Under Shadow of Boko Haram”
  • VOA: “Humanitarian Crisis Looms at Cameroon Refugee Camp”
  • ICRC: “Chad: Fallout from Escalating Violence in North-Eastern Nigeria”
  • UNHCR: “As Violence Spills Over to Countries Neighbouring Nigeria, UNHCR Calls for Urgent Humanitarian Access to the Displaced”

Accounts about Nigeria:

  • NEMA: “There Are 981,416 IDPs in Nigeria”
  • BBC: “Doctor on the Frontline”
  • IRIN: “For Boko Haram Victims, Charity Begins at Home”
  • IRIN: “Tackling the Trauma of Boko Haram”
  • Doctors Without Borders: “The Fighting Gets Closer and Closer”
  • ICRC: “Nigeria: ICRC Steps Up Aid as Situation Worsens in North-East”
  • NEMA: “Baga Relief Intervention”
  • Joshua Meservey: “Nigerian Refugees Fleeing Boko Haram are a Crisis in the Making”

Senegal: On the Trials of Karim Wade and Hissène Habré

I have a post at the Global Observatory discussing two ongoing trials in Senegal. An excerpt:

The trials of [former Chadian ruler Hissène] Habré and [former President Abdoulaye Wade’s son Karim] Wade will have implications for elites across Africa. The former’s trial may mark a new, albeit halting, effort to use African judicial systems to hold former heads of state accountable for human rights abuses. The latter’s trial may signal a new effort to crack down on corruption. At the same time, however, the trials may have little impact on ordinary Senegalese and their day-to-day struggles.

If you read the piece, please stop back by here and let me know your thoughts in the comments.