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.
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.
Today’s thought experiment: A foreign national is killed in your state, igniting emotional protests and a road blockade by members of his community. Your state is almost entirely economically dependent on tourism. There’s standard boilerplate for these events, right? You express regret, you pledge to investigate the murder, you vow that locals who violently attacked protesters will also be brought to justice.
Now imagine that it was a Nigerian national who had been killed. And the death may have been linked to rival drug gangs fighting over territory. Does the picture change? Recent events in BJP-governed Goa seem to suggest that it does. Within a few days, one Goan state minister had referred to Nigerians as “a cancer,” one MP stated that Nigerians were “wild animals” who were hopped up on drugs, and another pointed out that Nigerians misuse educational schemes, overstay their visas, and “try to boss over Goans.” The Goan Chief Minister referred to Nigerians as “huge and aggressive” and “seven feet tall.” The state government started a campaign to round up and evict Nigerians without proper documentation, a dragnet that also caught legal immigrants in its wake. Some Goan villages began to ban the rental of housing to “foreigners” (read: Nigerians). Of course, this sparked a nasty diplomatic row, as Nigerian consular officials made unsubtle remarks about the security of Indians resident in Nigeria. Late last week, the Goan Chief Minister doubled down, saying that it was not racism since “you will see that more Nigerians are involved in drugs.”
How might we look at this from an international relations perspective? How many incidents of “we wouldn’t want anything to happen to those pretty nationals of yours” occur between states? How much does being Colombian or Albanian or Nigerian increase one’s risk of xenophobic targeting? And have we adequately recognized the implications of transnational crime networks for the treatment of co-national minorities?
This past week, terrorists struck Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Al Shabaab, a Somali Islamist organization, claimed responsibility. Frustratingly, we still know very little about the attackers, their origins, or the Kenyan security forces’ response. And the news about the last just keeps getting worse.
But there has been some analysis of the attacks – by both journalists and academics. In one of the most widely-circulated pieces, Somalia specialist Ken Menkhaus suggested that the attacks were a sign of desperation, the last gasp of an organization that had run out of an intra-Somalia game (also, here and here). Another strand of argument suggests that the growing ascendancy of a single Al Shabaab leader, Abdul Abdi Godane, has pushed the organization toward Al Qaeda, toward international jihad, toward further attacks on soft targets abroad (here and here and here). The presumption is, again, that we’re at a critical juncture for Al Shabaab, a moment of inflection at which the organization changes its character and its aims. See my AU colleague Joe Young’s piece at Political Violence @ a Glance for a roundup of some of this.
In this post, I’m going to make some empirical quibbley points about Somalia, and then I’m going to make a couple of substantive points about terrorism / COIN analysis in general. So if you’re not terribly interested in Somalia, you still might want to skip to the end.
Polling stations are opening in Zimbabwe, and, if one’s Facebook feed is to be believed, some enthusiastic voters have already spent a few hours queueing (and winter mornings in Zimbabwe are *cold*). Today’s elections are notable for a few reasons: they’re the first elections since extensive state-sponsored violence in 2008; they mark the formal end of the coalition government inaugurated in the aftermath of that violence; and they are the first elections to occur under a brand-spanking-new constitution. Comparisons to Kenya’s March elections have flown fast and furious.
So what’s new? Very little. Indeed, elections in Zimbabwe seem to have taken on an almost eerily repetitive quality. Once again, opposition leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai is facing off against Robert Mugabe, now 89 and with 33 years in power under his belt (as well as some great quotes). Once again, the ruling party, ZANU-PF, has instituted a campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition activists and office-holders. Once again, there is evidence of planned electoral manipulation. Concerns center on the flawed voter registration exercise, which may have left hundreds of thousands of ghost voters on the voting rolls. And once again, conversation within Zimbabwe tends to find its way back to the interminable Mnangagwa-Mujuru succession struggle within ZANU-PF, now over a decade old.
Editor’s Note: This started off as two bullet points, but it’s morphed into a surprisingly lengthy piece about Bikeshares. Blame the easy availability of both picturesque bike rides and cheap wine in Western Europe. This is the first installment; a second will follow.
At the age of 19, I moved to the Netherlands for a summer. Like most tourists, I had read about the famous Dutch “white bikes,” a non-locked bike-sharing system that guidebooks were fond of presenting as proof of Dutch civic-mindedness. The system was simple: see a white bike, take, use, leave wherever. Of course, there was an alternative course of action, perhaps unforeseen by white bike planners: take, use, spray paint, keep.* I never saw a white bike. There are mixed reports on whether the system was ever particularly vibrant; by the 1990s, however, it was gone.**
In the mid-2000s, the solving of the enforcement issue allowed the birth of modern bikeshare systems in western Europe. These systems relied on locking stations, credit card-secured rentals, and heavy step-through commuter bikes. They now exist in major cities on five continents, and we’re inching toward exponential growth in both numbers of systems and riders. Western Europe is increasingly saturated, and bikeshares are spreading to smaller towns, especially in France, Spain, and Italy. North America has been slow out of the gate, but there are established systems in DC, Boston, and Denver. New York’s Citibikes are finally online. Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Diego, and others should be up within the next year. Though information on bikeshares outside the OECD is bikeshares is minimal, they do seem to be a truly global phenomenon. In Asia, Hangzhou currently has the world’s largest bikeshare with 66,500 bicycles, roughly 3 times the number of Paris’s Velib; Beijing’s currently has 14,000 with plans to expand. Several Indian cities have incipient bikeshares, as do cities in several Latin American countries.
For those of you who don’t monitor the front page of the APSA website on a daily basis, you may have missed the online petition for the recognition of a new African Politics section of APSA. I urge all of you — including those who don’t work in Africa — to take a look at the petition and consider signing.
At first glance, this may seem a strange throw-back: area studies has been passé in political science for some time, and it has become typical for Africa-focused job candidates to stress that they are “general comparativists who just happen to work in Africa” (ditto on book marketing). * But there are two good reasons you all should consider signing this petition.
Polls in Kenya closed 16 hours ago, but votes continue to be counted. Those familiar with Kenya and with the electoral crisis of 2007-2008 will know to distrust provisional results. In December 2007, challenger Raila Odinga seemed substantially ahead during much of the early voting, only to see that lead evaporate as returns came in from more remote districts. Despite this qualification, it does look increasingly likely that Uhuru Kenyatta will gain the presidency in the first round of voting.* In the past two weeks, there was some speculation that Kenyatta might struggle to meet new requirements for national distribution of the vote, but he’s already achieved the 25% votes bar in 32 counties. Kenyatta is currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for his involvement in the 2008 post-election violence; if elected, he would be the first democratically elected leader to go on trial at The Hague.
I want to make one quick note before turning off the Twitter feed and going to bed. The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) gambled big with technology this election. The newly created IEBC instituted biometric voter registration, electronic voter rolls, and electronic transmission of polling station results via cellular network. It is likely that the slow pace of processing BVID accounted for some of the enormous lines during the first half of the day. After numerous problems, the IEBC eventually instructed polling agents to abandon the electronic voter roll in favor of the manual roll. Nor has the count proceeded without hitches. There were nail-biting moments earlier tonight, when a server failure and insufficient hard disk space caused the electronic transmission of results to IEBC to halt for several hours.
In case folks have missed it, there is an upcoming deadline (FRIDAY!) for the 2013 ECPR General Conference in Bordeaux, September 4-7th. Unlike many other conferences, EPCR paper proposals are submitted to already-organized panels. This often results in more cohesive panels and, one hopes, more helpful feedback. Paper proposals are due this coming Friday and can be submitted through the various organized sections listed here. … And the conference is in Bordeaux, which is lovely and features nifty, futuristic trams built by Alain Juppé (pre-scandal).
For those of you who work on political violence, I’ve posted that section’s call below. For those working on intra-state violence, please take a look at the abstract for my own panel, “New Methodological Approaches to Local Context & Violence.”
This time last week, international intervention plans in Mali consisted of a rather under-powered African (ECOWAS) force, which was expected to arrive no earlier than September. This force was not backed by overpowering consensus. Nigeria and Mauritania, the two best-equipped militaries in the region, were reluctant to pledge serious troops. The United States insisted that free and fair presidential elections must precede any international intervention, even after a December coup rendered this unrealistic. And the Malian government itself seemed an obstacle. The December coup signaled the resurgence of hardliners within the junta, who claimed that the Malian military – broken and demoralized as it was – could deal with northern insurgents on its own. Tweets out of Mali (and even statements in the press) took a nationalist turn, and international intervention, even by an African force, began to seem fraught.
And now, seven days later, we’re in a brand new world.*
Happy New Year to all. While you’re sticking the bubbly in the fridge and mapping out 2013 resolutions, consider nominating your favorite blogs for the 2013 OAIS awards sponsored by the Duck. Tomorrow is the deadline for nominations. See Dan’s last update on current nominees for more information.
The heavy bias toward counterinsurgency links in today’s post is entirely unintentional. Blame the feelings of impending doom sweeping through the DC streets. For things you might actually want to read on NYE, skip to the end.
First off, this is my first post. Thanks to Dan and the rest of the crowd for inviting me, though I fear they – and Duck readers – may soon tire of hearing about how building effective control over a given territory is just really damn hard. But, then again, why else would one invite an Africanist comparativist to hang out on an IR blog?
So Goma fell to rebels yesterday. In the midst of war in Gaza, the loss of the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo didn’t make it onto All Things Considered, merited a few sentences on Newshour, and, so far as I’ve heard from others, didn’t get mentioned on CNN or the networks. It’s very hard to figure out if that’s just general neglect of DRC, or if we’ve reached the point where the media has just thrown up its hands and declared the place done.
We know little about the motley band going under the name of the March 23rd movement (for what we do know, see here). It’s been around for only 18months, it’s grown from a starting size of 200-300 to a few thousand men, and it’s currently headed by Bosco Ntaganda, who’s under ICC indictment for war crimes and is generally seen as a Rwanda proxy. All are betting that Rwanda and Uganda are behind this most recent offensive. If so, their support likely comes in the form of a big bag of money, as it’s hard to imagine any other way Ntaganda could have knit together a force out of the shattered landscape of rebel bands in eastern DRC. Laura Seay and Jason Stearns are the people to trust for Congo analysis, but I’ll make two predictions: