Global Observatory Piece on Chad and Its Western Allies

I’m up at Global Observatory with a piece on Chad. Here’s an excerpt:

The Chadian government is also asking Western and African donors for more development funding. Chad will hold a roundtable in Paris in September to seek contributions for its newly adopted national development plan. Potential partners have already shown a willingness to participate: Deby recently hosted the vice president of the African Development Bank, which is financing projects in Chad’s electricity sector; the Bank confirmed that it will attend the Paris roundtable. The adoption of the development plan was one factor in the IMF’s decision to grant a new loan. The IMF did not make any allusion to Chad’s role in regional security, but other actors are clearly aware of the bargaining power that Chad has with donors because of its security role. Meeting the committee organizing the roundtable, France’s ambassador to Chad asked the Chadian government—according to the paraphrase of a Chadian news site—“to avoid playing the security card.” But the card has already been played, and with effect.

I welcome any comments you may have.

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Recent Journalism on Boko Haram

A few recent journalists’ articles on Boko Haram caught my eye, and probably those of many readers as well. But in case you missed them, here they are.

Sarah Topol, “The Boys from Baga,” New York Times Magazine. An excerpt:

The rhythm of camp life enveloped the new abductees. Activity was concentrated around the palace, everyone working to fortify the heart of the base against the Nigerian military, which periodically probed their defenses, trying to retake Malam Fatori. Boko Haram had declared itself a caliphate and pledged its alliance to ISIS. A tug of war for the arid earth had ensued. Every morning, the deputy emirs, whose units lived in the surrounding villages to protect the center, would come to greet the babban emir, entering his building for a private audience. Directives from Shekau may have been conveyed by satellite phone. There was coordination with the other babban emirs as well, but the boys of Malam Fatori never interacted with neighboring fiefs. Though Boko Haram was hierarchal, it was also fragmented, each division preoccupied with ensuring its own survival.

In the morning, groups set out on patrol in their trucks, checking the areas around Malam Fatori for traces of movement overnight — new tire prints, footsteps or animal tracks. Mustapha would quietly accompany the insurgents on patrol. He wanted to see how everything worked. Throughout the day, women who had been captured from nearby towns cooked food, which the insurgents ate from communal troughs. At night, the boys could sleep in any room in the palace compound, so long as it wasn’t in a room where women were kept. They barely prayed, and no one knew what day it was — only Fridays stood out, because on that day, they were fed rice with meat stew.

Le Monde‘s Joan Tilouine is releasing a five-part series (in French) of reporting from Maiduguri. Here are links for parts one, two, three, and four. I found the first part, about life in Maiduguri, the most interesting. Unfortunately, these reports are paywalled.

My Latest Journal Article: “Salafis and the Prophet’s Sermon of Necessity”

The Islamic studies journal Die Welt des Islams has published my latest academic article, entitled “Coded Language Among Muslim Activists: Salafis and the Prophet’s Sermon of Necessity.” The abstract is available here; the full article is paywalled. The article deals with a short text called the Sermon of Necessity that Salafis around the world use to introduce their lectures, sermons, and books. The text’s widespread use speaks to the enduring influence of Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani (1914-1999), one of the luminaries of contemporary Salafism. Al-Albani popularized the Sermon of Necessity starting in the 1950s. One interesting thing about the Sermon’s use is that even though al-Albani is widely classified as a “quietist” by Western scholars, today one can find the Sermon being used by both jihadi and non-jihadi Salafis. That makes it a kind of unifying tool for Salafis, despite their many internal political divisions. That also makes it a useful tool for scholars, including in the ongoing effort to decide when Salafism really became a cohesive movement.

In a way, the article is an outgrowth of my book Salafism in Nigeria; I first got interested in the Sermon of Necessity after I noticed many Nigerian preachers using it. The article, however, only deals with Nigeria briefly and is more focused on developments in the Arab world.

If you are able to access the article, I welcome any feedback you may have.

Nigeria’s First Sukuk

This month, the Nigerian government will issue a $328 million (100 billion naira) sukuk, a kind of sharia-compliant bond that avoids Islamic prohibitions on interests. The government will use the bond “to help fund road projects.” As the Financial Times explains,

Sukuk represents undivided shares in the ownership of tangible assets relating to particular projects or special investment activity. A sukuk investor has a common share in the ownership of the assets linked to the investment although this does not represent a debt owed to the issuer of the bond.

In the case of conventional bonds the issuer has a contractual obligation to pay to bond holders, on certain specified dates, interest and principal. In contrast, under a sukuk structure the sukuk holders each hold an undivided beneficial ownership in the underlying assets.

Consequently, sukuk holders are entitled to a share in the revenues generated by the Sukuk assets. The sale of sukuk relates to the sale of a proportionate share in the assets.

Reuters reports on how the bond will work in Nigeria:

The Islamic bond with a 7-year tenor will go on sale on June 28 for three days via book building, the [Debt Management Office, DMO] said. The bond will be tradable on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and on FMDQ over-the-counter platform.

[…]

The DMO said the issue was “part of the plan to fast track the development of infrastructure and engage in … project-tied capital raising.” It said Nigeria has challenges with road, railway and power infrastructures.

In 2013, Nigeria’s Osun State issued 10 billion naira worth of sukuk, but no other sukuk transaction followed.

The latest issuance is part of plans to develop alternative funding sources for government and to establish a benchmark curve for corporates to follow, the debt office said.

If you’re financially illiterate like me, you can learn about “book building” here.

Worth noting is that the DMO is experimenting with other types of new bonds, such as the recently issued diaspora bond. The sukuk is part of the DMO’s 2013-2017 Strategic Plan (p. 21), which mentions the goal of using “non-interest debt financing instruments (e.g. Sukuk) for investment in critical national development priorities and sectors.”

The Nigerian press is predicting that the sukuk will do well, given the past experience in Nigeria’s Osun State and given global trends. Here is This Day:

The likely success of the N100 billion Sukuk may not be an issue considering the huge booming international market for the product. Besides, Osun State, which issued N10 billion Sukuk in 2013 had a successful outing as it was 120 per cent subscribed…Currently, Sukuk issuances across the globe stand at about $120 billion, up from just $15 billion in 2008…By the end of 2015, total assets under management in the global Islamic finance industry surpassed $2.5 trillion as more and more investors continue allocating their funds to Shariah compliant instruments across the globe. There is therefore a huge, unmet demand for Sukuk issuances from high-potential economies like Nigeria, especially in view of the fact that similar issues by peer countries were oversubscribed.

Islamic finance has a relatively short history in Nigeria. The country’s first Islamic/non-interest bank, Jaiz, opened in 2012. So Nigeria is an experimental phase with regard to instruments like the sukuk. It will be interesting to see how the sukuk does, and what reactions it elicits from different religious communities in Nigeria.

 

Nigeria: The Anatomy of How Osinbajo Projects Competence

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari remains ill in London amid his second prolonged medical leave of 2017. In his absence, Acting President/Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has continued to win domestic acclaim for his management of the government and his engagement with different crises in Nigeria.

Reading the transcript of Osinbajo’s June 8 speech in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, I was struck by how the speech showcases the elements of his approach to being acting president. All of these elements are extremely basic, but that is part of the point – I think Osinbajo has received so much praise partly because he is doing these basics and doing them in combination. Here are a few of the things he does:

  1. Showing up: Osinbajo physically goes to troubled areas such as Maiduguri, the birthplace of the Boko Haram sect. (He has also visited the Niger Delta and southern Kaduna, two other conflict hotspots, in recent months.) He proceeded with the visit to Maiduguri even after an attack by Boko Haram there the previous night. By physically showing up, Osinbajo communicates a sense that the Federal Government cares about troubled communities.
  2. Mediatizing his activities: Osinbajo uses media, particularly Twitter and Medium, to communicate directly with the public, or at least with those segments of it that are regularly online. He makes heavy use of photographs and some use of videos, meaning that Nigerians literally see him working or, if you want to be more cynical, they see images that may or may not correspond to the actual work.
  3. Acknowledging ordinary people’s difficulties: Osinbajo sometimes speaks with considerable candor about the problems ordinary Nigerians face. For example, in a recent speech on the economy, he said, “Often our economic development plans and budgets assume a trickle down approach, namely; that if we put resources in promoting industry and commerce, jobs would eventually be created and the poorest will be reached. The other premise is that GDP growth should translate to jobs. But both premises are flawed. First the trickle down model has proved far too slow to stem the tide of poverty in one of the fastest growing populations in the world. Secondly, most of the growth was on account of the oil sector which is capital intensive but not labour intensive. So, while we were recording growth levels of 7% because of the high oil prices, unemployment figures grew.”
  4. Explaining government programs: Osinbajo regularly provides updates and explanations concerning new Federal Government programs, of which there are currently many. In his Maiduguri speech, for example, he launched and explained the government’s new grain distribution program for internally displaced persons. He did so, moreover, in a way that conveys a sense that the government is using individual programs to advance multiple, interlinked objectives – in this case, meeting needs, giving people more dignity, reducing corruption, and boosting local agriculture.

These habits are, or should be, unremarkable. But I would say it’s been at least a decade since Nigerians have regularly seen their head of state deploy all these elements routinely and in combination. Of the most recent three heads of state, two – Umaru Yar’Adua (2007-2010) and Buhari (2015-present) – had/have serious health problems that prevented them from steadily projecting an image of activity and energy. The other, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015), came to seem increasingly disconnected from key problems the country was facing, especially the Boko Haram crisis, widespread poverty, and endemic corruption. I am also not aware of any of those three figures undertaking the kind of diverse in-country travel schedule that Osinbajo has pursued this year – it is rare, at least from what I can remember, for a Nigerian president to conduct multiple widely praised, high-profile visits to multiple hotspots within just a few months. Jonathan appeared reluctant to visit the northeast, and Buhari appears reluctant to visit the Delta. So Osinbajo, with this combination of travel, media, candor, and clarity, is giving Nigerians a different view of what the presidency can be.

Now, with all that said, crediting Osinbajo with successfully managing the optics and theater of the presidency does not mean that the Buhari/Osinbajo government is successfully addressing Nigeria’s challenges. Optics count for a lot, however: the line between optics and policy is quite blurry, especially in the case of a presidential visit that calms tensions, intimidates malefactors, or inspires new efforts at accountability and good performance by local officials.

In terms of the country’s main problems, the economy remains in recession but may be poised to turn a corner, and the Buhari/Osinbajo administration could benefit politically from that – although the problem of jobless growth, as Osinbajo himself has pointed out, is real, and unemployment actually seems to be getting worse. On the security front, the trend is concerning – Boko Haram remains a degraded but still significant threat in the northeast, conflicts involving pastoralists are causing widespread tension, and things in the Niger Delta seem to still be tense. In this context, if Osinbajo is doing the basics well, that sets him up to succeed, but does not constitute success in and of itself.

Finally, the issue of Buhari’s health hangs over Nigeria. I have written before that if Buhari dies suddenly, that might dry up the goodwill that many Nigerian elites, particularly northerners, currently show toward Osinbajo. And to voice a note of pessimism, perhaps Osinbajo has the space to project this kind of image of a hard-working, honest, competent administration precisely because the uncertainties around Buhari’s future free Osinbajo, temporarily, to concentrate on the work of the presidency rather than on the politics of the office.

Recent Writings on Nigeria

I’ve written two pieces on Nigeria recently, addressing very different topics. One, at The Maydan, looks at Shi’ism and anti-Shi’ism in Nigeria. The other, at World Politics Review, looks at the politics surrounding the question of President Muhammadu Buhari’s health. If you read either or both, I welcome your comments below.

A Few Posts Related to My Book “Salafism in Nigeria”

In September, Cambridge University Press published my first book, which is called Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching and Politics. I haven’t written much about the book here on the blog, but I have written a few posts elsewhere that deal with issues covered in the book. The most recent post is a conceptual “introduction” to the book, which went up at the Social Science Research Council’s The Immanent Frame blog yesterday. That post deals with the idea of “canon” – the main argument of the book is that Salafism, in Nigeria and around the world, is animated by a canon of texts that includes not just the Qur’an and the hadith literature, but also a great deal of relatively recent material.

Other posts related to the book include:

  • A post outlining part of the history of (non-jihadi) Salafism in Nigeria, published at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa in Transition blog
  • A post on Saudi Arabia’s influence in Nigeria, published in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog
  • A post discussing the Salafi-jihadi thinker Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s influence on Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf, published at Jihadica

I’m hoping to write a bit more here on the blog about the book soon, but these posts treat some of the key themes in the book.