Senegal, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen

In early April, Senegalese President Macky Sall returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia and indicated that he would support the Kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen (find some basic context on the war here). Yesterday, Senegalese media reported that Sall will soon deploy 2,100 soldiers to Saudi Arabia. Senegalese Chief of Defense Mamadou Sow has already left for Saudi Arabia at the head of a delegation of senior officers, in order to make preparations and begin working with Saudi counterparts. Senegalese troops have served in Saudi Arabia before, namely during the Gulf War. Sall’s administration framed the upcoming deployment as a contribution to protecting Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity and defending Islam’s two holiest sites – indeed, it was interesting how strongly language of Muslim solidarity featured in the administration’s language, which also referenced Senegal’s membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and in the global Muslim community or umma. Sall’s message to the National Assembly, delivered yesterday by Foreign Affairs Minister Mankeur Ndiaye, can be read here in French.

The decision has occasioned some domestic criticism. A former chief of defense, retired General Mansour Seck, told a Senegalese newspaper that the deployment “could give us problems with our potential enemies, that is to say, terrorists.” Seck also said that the deployment will strain the country’s limited military budget and put some of the country’s best soldiers overseas at a delicate time. Opposition politician Mamadou Diop Decroix also criticized the decision, saying that Saudi Arabia “is not the victim of external aggression” and asserting that the National Assembly was not properly consulted. Even one member of the National Assembly who belongs to the president’s coalition said that “we must not exchange the lives of our soldiers for petrodollars,” alluding to the assumption that Senegal’s support in this military venture will ensure further Saudi investment in the country. So far, though, it looks like the deployment will proceed without major political obstacles.

Partial List of Recent Attacks in Mali

The past few weeks have seen a number of attacks in Mali, especially in the north. This post provides some brief information on some of these attacks. Key parties include the Malian military, the United Nations peacekeeping mission, the Tuareg rebel alliance the Coordination of Movements of the Azawad (CMA, which include the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA), the pro-government militia Self-Defense Group of Imghad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA in French), and the pro-government wing of the Arab Movement of the Azawad (MAA in French). The Malian government and the CMA are being pressured to sign a peace agreement in Algiers on May 2015, but the CMA has been delaying and asking for additional provisions relating to Tuareg self-rule in the north, and the UN is starting to seem openly nervous about the prospects for a signature – let alone implementation.

  • May 1: CMA fighters kill one person (apparently a civilian) and take six others hostage in Bintagoungou.
  • April 29: Rebels (apparently CMA) kill nine Malian soldiers, wound six others, and take six more hostage in a fight in Léré.
  • April 29: Unknown gunmen, possibly CMA, kill three (two soldiers and one civilian) in Goundam.
  • April 28: CMA fighters shoot at UN peacekeepers in Timbuktu.
  • April 27: Pro-government GATIA and MAA fighters take Menaka from the CMA.
  • April 20: Unknown gunmen kill a UN driver/peacekeeper in an ambush 30 kilometers west of GAO.
  • April 17: Unknown gunmen kill two civilian drivers during an ambush on a UN convoy outside of Gao.
  • April 15: Suicide bombing by al-Murabitun at a UN base in Ansongo.

Writings Elsewhere, April 2015

I’ve written a few things that have appeared elsewhere in the past few weeks:

  • A new collection came out last month called Shaping Global Islamic Discourses: The Role of al-Azhar, al-Medina and al-Mustafa, edited by Masooda Bano and Keiko Sakurai and published by Edinburgh University Press. I have a chapter in the volume that deals with non-violent Salafi networks in contemporary northern Nigeria – i.e., not Boko Haram, but a rather more influential group of graduates of the Islamic University of Medina, many of whom have staunchly and publicly opposed Boko Haram.
  • I discussed what Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet might look like at World Politics Review.
  • I analyzed Boko Haram’s brand of religious exclusivism for Oxford University Press’ blog.
  • I wrote for Global Observatory about hunger in Niger, especially as the hunger crisis relates to displaced persons and Boko Haram.
  • I couldn’t hold back from writing something about ISIS, even though it’s a bit out of my lane. I talked about ISIS’ intellectual genealogy for the Social Science Research Council’s The Immanent Frame blog.

Resources on the PWC Audit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

In 2013, the Nigerian press obtained a letter from then-Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to President Goodluck Jonathan. In the letter, Sanusi stated that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria’s state oil company, had failed to “repatriate” some $49 billion to the Federation Account. The ensuing controversy resulted in Sanusi’s suspension by the president, and became one of the major scandals associated with Jonathan’s presidency. In an attempt to demonstrate transparency, in early 2014 the government asked PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to audit the NNPC.

This week, after President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s team vowed to release the full report of the audit and probe the NNPC, the Jonathan administration publicly released the report (.pdf), which covers the period January 2012-July 2013. Its contents have occasioned major comment in Nigeria. For example, one important finding is that “forty-six percent of domestic crude oil revenues for the review period was spent on operations and subsidies.” That’s a lot of overhead.

Here are a few resources for understanding what’s going on.

Background:

  • Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s letter (.pdf) to Goodluck Jonathan (dated September 2013, leaked December 2013)
  • Bloomberg on Jonathan’s suspension of Sanusi (February 2014)
  • Nigeria’s The Nation on Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s announcement that the PwC audit would go forward (May 2014)
  • PwC audit report (.pdf) on the NNPC (dated February 2015, leaked April 2015)
  • Statement from Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati
  • Comments by the Auditor General of the Foundation to the effect that Jonathan interfered with initial efforts to publish the report
  • Websites of the NNPC and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a key entity in the affair

Current commentary and analysis:

  • BudgIT infographics one and two on the PwC report (essential reading)
  • Aguntasolo (the best commentary I’ve seen so far)
  • Vanguard (another great examination)
  • Reuters (an excellent summary)

Buhari’s Potential Balancing Acts on Corruption

Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari won a decisive victory in large part because voters expect that he will reduce government corruption. The political survival of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), could depend on the new government’s ability to show progress against corruption and demonstrate corresponding success in redirecting public money toward job creation.

It will not be easy. Buhari’s image as an anti-corruption reformer derives from his time as military head of state from 1983-1985, but the “converted democrat” will face a different political environment after he takes office on May 29. Here are two balancing acts he may have to perform:

1. Balancing Coalition-Maintenance and Anti-Corruption

The APC is a big tent. Buhari brings his own personal popularity, especially at the grassroots level in northern Nigeria, but there are other components. One major portion of the party is the Action Congress of Nigeria from the southwest, which includes a number of reformist governors but also, like other parties, a number of “godfathers.” Another portion comes from the All Nigeria People’s Party, a primarily northern party. Another portion represents disaffected politicians from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the outgoing ruling party. Some of those who have defected from PDP to the APC were motivated by conviction, but others were motivated by opportunism. The APC is not just a meaningless collection of self-interested individuals – it does have a coherent leftist economic policy framework and an ethos about the future direction of Nigeria – but not all members of the big tent share the same attitude toward public monies.

It has been to the APC’s political advantage to build a diverse coalition – it helped enable Buhari’s victory this year (whereas in 2011, he won only the far northern states). But when it comes to fighting corruption, the coalition will complicate matters, because some people have joined the APC expecting to profit, both politically and financially. If those people don’t get the rewards they expect, that could cause political problems for Buhari, whether in the legislature, with the states, or on the road to 2019.

There may be a way to strike the necessary balance. One question will be whether Buhari and his southwestern advisors can transfer any models from the southwest, especially Lagos, to the national stage. That wouldn’t necessarily mean an end to all corruption, but it could mean better governance, more tax collection, higher employment, etc. On this topic, it’s worth reading Diane de Gramont’s paper on governance in Lagos, where she highlights how former Governor Bola Tinubu – now a key leader in the APC – pursued improvements in trash collection and security not just out of technocratic idealism, but out of political calculation. The Lagos model has proven politically effective, as evidenced by Tinubu’s ability to pick not only one but two successors as governor.

On the other hand, the southwest also offers an example of a reform program that faltered politically, namely in Ekiti, where an incumbent APC governor lost to an infamous PDP politician in 2014. Reforms necessarily generate enemies; the question for Buhari is whether he can make reforms that deliver what he promised to ordinary Nigerians, while not fatally antagonizing key allies.

2. Addressing Both Personal and Structural Causes of Corruption

For many of his supporters, the “theory of Buhari,” if that phrase makes sense, is that his personal integrity and toughness guarantee that he will eliminate corruption. A corollary, sometimes articulated and sometimes not, is that he will initiate a domino effect within the government: he will select the right people for senior positions, who will in turn select the right people and eliminate scoundrels, all the way down the chain, until corruption declines.

There is something to be said for this theory. Individuals can make a huge difference in terms of both practice and tone within an organization. Reformist ministers and committed senior staff could eliminate “ghost workers,” refuse to pad contracts, ensure that bidding is truly competitive, and so forth. But if Buhari relies primarily on personalities to fight corruption, structural factors could complicate even the best of intentions, especially at the middle and lower levels of the civil service, the military, and the police.

Why does the policeman take bribes? Why does the civil servant embezzle money, or ask for a kickback on a contract? Is it because they are bad people? Moral degeneracy cannot be the only factor – there are also the pressures of supporting dependents, the anxiety about losing one’s job, the norms set by peers and superiors and institutional history, and the specters of debt and intimidation.*

These are not all problems that toughness or integrity can solve, especially not quickly. Skilled and experienced bureaucrats can find ways to freeze out and undermine a reformist boss. Reformers don’t always get to pick their own staffs, who sometimes answer ultimately to other powerful individuals whom the reformer cannot gainsay. Finally, political calculations emanating from the president, the party, or other influencers can throw a wrench into reform efforts inside bureaucracies.** This dynamic leads us back to my first point above, about the need for coalition-maintenance.

In any case, if Buhari’s government cannot address some of the structural factors – for example, if they cannot ensure that civil servants’ salaries are adequate – then personalities alone may fail to eliminate corruption.

Buhari’s Plans on Corruption

So far, Buhari’s discussion of his plans on corruption has been politically pragmatic, though not entirely consistent. Perhaps most famously, he and his team have repeatedly stated that they will “draw a line” (see here, starting at 13:30) – meaning that they will consider past offenses off limits for investigations and prosecutions. That attitude could have the benefit of making Buhari’s opponents feel that their situation now is not life-or-death, and that they can walk away from nefarious activities without going to war with the new president. On the other hand, drawing a line could mean that grievous financial crimes go unpunished.

There are already indications that the “line” may not exclude all parts of the past. Buhari recently said he would open a “fresh probe” into allegations that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) mis-allocated $20 billion under outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. (This issue has been in the public eye again with the release of an audit on the NNPC, which raised as many questions as it answered.) Political pressures may mean that “drawing a line” proves impossible.

Beyond these issues, however the dominant rhetoric about corruption coming from Buhari still focuses on personalities. In one interview (14:10), he compared Nigeria to a fish: “If the head is rotten, the rest of the body will go rotten as well.” But given how many hooks are in this fish, simply replacing the head may not be enough to restore the health of the body.

**********************

*My thoughts on this point have been influenced by a recent talk I heard by M.A. Thomas on her new book Govern Like Us: U.S. Expectations of Poor Countries, though I am still thinking through my reactions to her overall arguments.

**My thoughts on this point have been influenced by Nasir el-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant.

Varieties of Selecting Muslim Leaders in West Africa

When it comes to Sahelian countries such as Mali and Niger, I tend to think of strong national-level, top-down Muslim clerical bodies as a phenomenon of the period before liberalization, and especially as a phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s. There are still bodies like the Islamic Council of Niger, but they don’t seem to have the monopoly over religious decision-making that their predecessor organizations enjoyed.

That’s why this link from Ghana caught my eye, especially the role of the National Chief Imam:

Sheikh Abdul Wadud Haruna, a Kumasi-based Islamic cleric, has been appointed the President or Zaeem of the Tijaniyya Sufi sect in Ghana.

The conferment of the title and the presentation of a certificate of honour were performed by the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, during the 47th annual birthday of Prophet Mohammed held in Kumasi last weekend.

Until the elevation, the appointee was the regional head of the Tijaniyya sect in the Ashanti Region.

The appointment was done with the consent of clerics responsible for such decisions and based in Madina Kaolak, Senegal, according to a release.

President John Dramani Mahama, who was the guest of honour at the activity, promised to promote religious tolerance in the country after making a presentation of GH¢12,000, 50 bags of rice and 10 bags of cooking oil to the organisers.

Also present were Sheikh Tijani Aliyu Cise, the Grand Imam of the Tijaniyya sect worldwide, who is also the Imam of Madina Kaolak.

The Tijaniyya is one of the most important Sufi orders in West Africa. Although founded in North Africa in the early nineteenth century, the Senegalese Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975) was responsible for much of the order’s spread in places like Ghana. Kaolack was Niasse’s home and is the seat of his successors. Worth mentioning is that Ghana’s Chief Imam is himself a member of the Tijaniyya. So it’s interesting that the selection of a new representative of the Tijaniyya in Ghana is a decision made jointly by the National Chief Imam and the shaykhs in Kaolack (presumably with some input from other Tijanis, but nevertheless presented as a top-down selection).

I’ve been strongly influenced by Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori‘s notion of a “fragmentation of sacred authority” in the Muslim world, a concept Ousmane Kane uses quite effectively in his book on Nigeria. But this Ghanaian example reminded me that top-down selections of new Muslim leaders are not always a thing of the past. On the other hand, some Ghanaians are worried that when the current National Chief Imam passes (he is over ninety years old, and has served since 1993, when he succeeded his cousin), the Ghanaian Muslim community will divide bitterly over the question of succession – not all Ghanaian Muslims are Tijanis, to say the least. So perhaps further fragmentation is in store.

More on the Economic Vision of Nigeria’s All Progressives Congress

As observers try to anticipate the economic policies of Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC), I’ve repeatedly mentioned APC bigwig Bola Tinubu’s November 2014 op-ed “Slump in Oil Prices: A Progressive Way Out.” That piece advocates running deficits and decoupling the naira from the dollar in order to fund massive, job-creating infrastructure projects. I don’t want to naively assume that an op-ed will become a blueprint for policy once the messiness of governing begins, but I wanted to flag a recent speech by Tinubu where he reiterated many of the same ideas. In a convocation address last week, Tinubu said:

A progressive government must turn its face from the austerity policies of the outgoing administrative that tried to manage poverty, but not end it. Such policies serve only to deepen and prolong the hardship of the average person. Such policies would lock us in a room without hope or safe exit. We dare not go in.

In response to the downturn in private sector activity, a progressive government must exercise the creative boldness to generate economic growth, productive and equal opportunity. Under the circumstances that now confront us, government must use fiscal and monetary policy to enlarge the economic space by embarking on ambitious infrastructural development, housing and agricultural programs.

These programs will provide jobs directly. Moreover, the enhancement of our infrastructural base and sharpening of our productive capacity that results from these programs will initiate multiple rounds of job creation. This is how economic growth and employment are sustained over the long term.

This is what the APC manifesto pledged to you. This is what an APC government will seek to deliver.

So again, Tinubu comes out against austerity and in favor of using infrastructure projects to create jobs. The APC’s political survival may ultimately depend on its ability to alleviate poverty, so it will important to see whether and how these ideas translate into policies and projects after Buhari’s inauguration on May 29.

The speech, and the reference to the manifesto, bring up another important point. The trope of “African politics is not about issues” is so deeply entrenched in international media coverage that you can frequently watch Western journalists reflexively assume that Buhari and the APC have only vague policies, despite evidence to the contrary. Thus, at the link above, we read that “in lieu of a detailed policy platform from Mr. Buhari, who was short on specifics during his campaign, his vow to defeat Boko Haram amounts to a national security strategy, while fighting corruption has become an economic one.” Tinubu’s speeches and op-eds could of course include more details (as could all pronouncements by politicians!), and the manifesto is by turns general and specific, but the idea that Buhari has no economic vision beyond fighting corruption is demonstrably false.