Tag: Nigeria

#BringBackOurGirls, Feminist Solidarity & Intervention – Part Two

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.52.27 PMMy first post on the Duck focused on the emergence of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and campaign, pointing also to the ease with which hashtags can get appropriated and campaigns derailed. Yesterday, #BringBackOurGirls Nigeria (@BBOG_Nigeria on twitter) started a one week campaign to mark 500 days since the abduction.

Given the continuation of the campaign, in today’s post I want to dig a bit deeper in examining the urge to do “something”: Why do some events capture our attention while others fail to produce any kind of reaction? What kind of reactions are helpful? And – for whom?

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#BringBackOurGirls, Feminist Solidarity and Intervention – Part One

As a new Duck, who (like Cai & Tom) took a while to consider what to blog about, I finally decided – long-winded academic that I am – to write a series of posts on the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign. To this end, I draw on materials for a keynote I  just delivered at the University of Surrey’s Center for International Intervention‘s conference on “Narratives of Intervention: Perspectives from North and South” (#cii2015). Here I go:

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On April 14, 2014, 276 girls between the ages of 15-18 years were abducted from a school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria, days before they were set to take their final exams. A group named Jama’atu ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the abduction. The girls’ kidnapping, despite its spectacular scale, initially received sparse attention in the media. However, after local activists took to twitter with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on April 23, within a matter of days (by May 1, 2014), the hashtag was trending globally and the mainstream media began to cover the event putting increased pressure on the Nigerian (but also the U.S.) government to ‘do something.’

The impulse to demand that ‘something’ be done is of interest in the context of campaigns of global feminist solidarity in particular, because presumably well-meaning efforts often have adverse effects. The attention provided by global campaigns, such as the hashtag campaign for #BringBackOurGirls, brings greater awareness to the plight of women and girls around the world, but at what cost? Is awareness, even if it is based on simplistic narratives and promotes ‘solutions’ disconnected from the reality on the ground, helpful? Does it matter when celebrities hold a #BringBackOurGirls sign – or do we need a more critical stance, as Ilan Kapoor has argued? What does it mean for the first lady of the U.S. to remark on the abduction during her 2014 Mother’s Day address and to call for action?

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What is to be Done in Nigeria?

This is a follow-up to my earlier post, “Why Foreign Intervention in Nigeria is a Bad Idea.” That post focused on larger issues that make Nigeria a particularly problematic context for foreign involvement of any kind; this post focuses on what policies — mostly domestic — might work.

In the past week, things have not gotten better with regard to Nigeria and the effort to #Bringbackourgirls. On the US front, the administration began a blessed crawl away from direct US military involvement in Nigeria the day of my earlier post. In last Thursday’s hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a succession of military and State Department officials provided a needed reality-check:

  • It will be very difficult to find the girls. Specialists now guess that the girls have been split into smaller groups. For more on the logistical difficulties of an extraction, see here and here.
  • The Nigerian military is not a suitable partner. Pentagon and State officials noted that, even if the political will were present, the Nigerian military may not have the capacity to find the girls. The U.S. is significantly hampered in its efforts to help by the Leahy Law, which bars U.S. assistance of any form to foreign military forces that systematically violate human rights (in force in various forms since 1998). Said one Pentagon official, finding Nigerian military units that had not engaged in gross human rights abuses has been “persistent and very troubling limitation” on US assistance to the Nigerian Government.

This is why the Obama administration deployed 80 US military personnel to Chad, which borders Nigeria’s far northeast, rather than to Nigeria itself. By basing US surveillance and assistance efforts in Chad, we may help in the tasks of both closing the porous borders that have bedeviled the fight against Boko Haram and also disrupting the flow of small arms into Nigeria. These are good things, but they leave open the question of what to do inside Nigeria.

 

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Why Foreign Intervention in Nigeria is a Bad Idea

This is the first of two posts about Boko Haram & possible US involvement in Nigerian counterterrorism operations. For the second, see “What is to be done in Nigeria?”. Note: two sentences added shortly after publication to clarify that my concerns encompass the full range of foreign intervention, from direct intervention to operational support to limited strikes to an expanded role in shaping Nigerian policy.

Yesterday, American drones began flights over northern Nigeria in hopes of locating the 276 girls abducted a month ago from a school in Borno State. American and British counter-terror experts are on the ground; Nigeria will attend a French-convened regional security summit. Continued foreign involvement seems likely, especially as the US has confirmed that Boko Haram is a top US foreign policy priority. This kind of concrete international action is an emotionally satisfying response to a particular narrative, one that stresses Nigerian government inaction as the heart of the Boko Haram problem. In this context, the example of the speedy and successful French intervention against Islamists in Mali in 2013 looms particularly large: could foreign intervention work similar magic in northern Nigeria? Might a more limited intervention provide the same kind of low-risk, high-reward opportunity?

There are powerful forces pushing both foreign and Nigerian decision-makers toward action, perhaps limited, perhaps more substantial. As with other advocacy campaigns, the #Bringbackourgirls movement has stressed the solvability of this problem: if “serious” investments were made or if the Nigerian government were “serious” about taking action, Boko Haram would be easily countered. This narrative elides the very serious – and very flawed — counterinsurgency campaign that has been waged in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. But it also likely overstates the likelihood of success even for the most well-implemented, well-coordinated military campaign. And, since more limited intervention is almost certainly what is being considered, the likelihood of concrete gains or definitive successes against Boko Haram is even smaller.

Here are three inconvenient facts that make Nigeria rocky terrain for interventionism.

The Nigerian military is part of the problem.

In addition to garden-variety problems of capacity, training, and provisioning, the Nigerian military has serious human rights problems. Since its deployment to the three states of northeastern Nigeria (Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa) in 2009, reports have consistently documented the military’s involvement in disappearances, masses of extrajudicial killings, and general terrorizing of the civilian population. On top of these clear and widespread human rights abuses, there are sanctioned counterinsurgency tactics, such as the military’s cordon-and-sweep operations in Maiduguri in late 2010, that likely sew local resentment and boost Boko Haram recruiting.

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The Problem of State Capacity

The question of state capacity might be one of, if not the, most important question that academics and policy makers can tackle. When we talk about local, regional, and international stability, failed states, etc, often times the major problem is a lack of capacity by a state to control what goes on within its borders. State capacity is the product of numerous variables, including legitimacy, material resources, government coherence, coercive capacity, and autonomy vis-a-vis international actors. And while state capacity is seemingly a critical issue in global politics, policy makers and academics alike have found it one of the most intractable problems to solve. How do you build capacity? What are the proven techniques? Are techniques portable or replicable in other states and regions?

I think the short answer is: we don’t really know

The Financial Times ran a story this morning chronicling the continuing degeneration of the Nigerian state’s ability to maintain control over the oil rich Niger Delta. While conflict with rebels in the region is nothing new, militants have expanded and refined (no pun intended) their activities over the past decade to include the tapping of oil pipelines for sale on the black market. However, the militants have recently began refining the crude being siphoned for local sale.

The article goes on to discuss how the state is struggling to determine a course of action that will reestablish it’s authority and control in the region. (John Robb over at Global Guerrillas has commented for some time on the role of super-empowered individuals and their ability to disrupt states, in particular rebels in Nigeria). For the state, control over crude is key for capacity, as it provides economic resources with which to exert control and influence. By slowly losing control over that key resource (along with refinement and its distribution) the state suffers in at least two ways:

1) It further depletes its fiscal resources through which it maintains stability within society and has less funds to distribute to key players in exchange for political support;

2) It reveals that the state doesn’t have the capacity to control key parts of its territory. As some have argued, this kind of signaling can potentially lead other separatists/militants/rebels in other parts of the country to determine that they too can encroach on the state.

There are many ideas about how to build state capacity–charismatic leadership, leveraging large fiscal reserves and/or natural resources, increase public goods and social welfare programs, etc.

The question I have is whether we truly know how to build state capacity (i.e. have we fully developed a science of state capacity) or whether the problem is simply one of implementation (i.e. conditions on the ground rarely allow for known, effective policies to be implemented).

Interested to hear readers thoughts.

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