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Game Changing Global Education

Posted in Africa, Democratic Development, Education with tags , on June 5, 2013 by michaelkeating





Conzolo Migliozzi

Think of students around the world who have limited exposure to the Internet as passengers on a captainless ship. They have no idea where they are going, and they’re unaware of the  perils that lie around them.

Then think of the most recent version of free college courseware, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as Knowledge Islands. Not only are they safe places to land and learn, but they also point you toward other Knowledge Islands – resources like gapminder, khanacademy, free statistics software, free ebooks, and soon they’ll even grant you access to copyrighted textbooks. After visiting enough of these islands, the passenger understands how to navigate the sea, transforming from passenger to captain.

Sounds nice, but the infrastructure needed to take a MOOC doesn’t exist in the places where these courses could be most beneficial (i.e. least developed countries). You can’t take online courses with inconsistent electricity, unreliable or non-existent hardware, slow or no Internet access. The students are on leaky rafts, not ships.

To address these issues, local government and aid agencies should support MOOC initiatives. There are many ways this could take shape. For example, existing colleges could create blended courses – use MOOCs to supplement courses already being taught. This model would allow instructors to adapt the MOOC to the local context and use the college’s computer labs and technical support. Retention, which is at less than 10% for MOOCs overall, should improve because students would have an instructor to engage with and keep them on track. And students could earn college credit.

Alternatively, by-pass the traditional college model and create workforce investment boards to analyze trends in the local job market, develop certification exams based on skills sets local businesses request, and recommend MOOC courses for applicants to prepare for the exams.  Add an internship program, a computer lab with someone to assist with technical issues, and you have a mini-MOOC university.

Either approach, or a combination of the two, would allow more people to build strong educational foundations, develop problem solving skills, and access research that pushes on the edge of human knowledge. Ultimately the goal isn’t just to go from passenger to captain, but all the way to Knowledge Island creator.


Conzolo Migliozzi is an international education consultant. He is a Center Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development and a graduate of the M.A. degree program in international relations at UMass Boston.

NAM 16: Still Non-Aligned Together

Posted in Africa, Foreign Aid, Fragile States, Human Rights, Non-Aligned Nations with tags , , , on January 12, 2013 by michaelkeating






by Joshua Pritchard


The sixteenth meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which concluded in late August 2012 in Tehran, earned mention in the Western media for procuring RSVPs from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi. Yet the involvement of the UN and Egypt in the NAM summit is nothing new. In 2009, Ban addressed the organization’s fifteenth summit, which took place in Egypt. Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, spoke at the 2006 NAM summit in Cuba. As Sri Lankan ambassador and journalist Ernest Corea states in a report on the Tehran meeting, Ban’s attendance followed tradition, and served to reaffirm “the interlinked relationship between the UN and NAM.” The location of the August summit should not have surprised anyone, either. Tehran’s turn as host city, which rotates between NAM members, was known at the conclusion of the 2009 meeting.

Nevertheless, much about the sixteenth meeting of the NAM was different. Changes made to NAM’s standard guest list, engendered by the Arab Awakening, affected the atmosphere and purpose of the 2012 meeting. (Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi were not in attendance.) In addition, the ongoing dispute between Iran and the West over its development of nuclear technology informed the event proceedings and the media coverage surrounding it. Although it is undoubtedly a talk shop and a stage for political theater, the modern day NAM has attempted to evolve its purpose and mission. The West’s dismissal of the NAM as a Cold War relic speaks to how geopolitics continues to inform macro-level policy related to global development.

NAM: Organizational History

The first NAM meeting took place in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. Guests included Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, Indonesian President Sukarno (Kusno Sosrodihardjo), and China’s Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. As Phillip McMichael notes in Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective (2011), the aim of the NAM was to serve as something of a bunker from the geopolitical rivalry between the US and Russia. In order to counter the spread of communism and expand their access to natural resources and commodities, Western leaders were enlisting countries of the Third World into the development project. Meanwhile, Russia and China were working to spread their own political ideals and influence, and foment pre-existing skepticism regarding the aims and intentions of the West. “Cold War rivalry,” writes McMichael, “governed much of the political geography of the development project. So long as the Third World was under threat from a political alternative, First World security was at stake.” According to McMichael, the NAM was established to counter “the model of development embedded in the multi-institutional world order.”
  Post-Cold War

Since the end of the Cold War, the purpose and mission of the NAM has been widely debated, both by observers and its member states. In addition, globalization in its modern form, augmented by technological advancements in communication, production, and transportation, have caused the conversation about global politics to move beyond Cold War-era constructs such as territorial sovereignty and economic nationalism.

The US and Europe leveraged the resources and human capital of developing countries in their creation of the global market system, and both readily welcome the consumer dollars of Asian countries that have successfully ascended the development ladder. Nevertheless, regional political relationships, even if formed in congruence with the development initiatives delineated by, for example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are ignored if they are not otherwise in sync with the West’s larger geopolitical agenda. As Sally Morphet writes in the journal Global Governance, “neither the Western media nor Western scholars pay much attention to the multilateral policies and practices of the states variously described as the South, the third world, or developing countries. In particular, patterns of cooperation among these states in pursuit of common interests at the UN are often ignored or dismissed as of little consequence.”

Indeed, far from being a principle of cooperation, development aid has routinely been used by the West as an implement of statecraft and a tool to achieve the best possible outcome from otherwise treacherous or complicated political conundrums. Writing about development in his native Burma in his book Where China Meets India, Thant Myint-U writes, “As part of an official sanctions regime [against the ruling junta], all development aid was denied, making any moves toward greater economic reform much more difficult.”

Prioritizing Development?

“Heads of government expressed particular concern over the economic situation in LDCs, the majority of which were still located in Africa. They noted further that economic underdevelopment, poverty, and social injustice constituted a source of frustration and a cause of new conflicts, and that stability, security, democracy and peace could not be consolidate without rectifying growing international inequalities.”

The above statement is not a description of the 2000 Millennium Summit that established the MDGs, it is an excerpt from official documents published after the NAM Summit in Durban, South Africa in September 1998.

The West is right to endorse improvements in human rights in China, and right to stand against absurd comments made by Iranian officials questioning the historical legitimacy of the Holocaust. Moreover, Western officials should be judicious in their offering of military and development assistance to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (an NAM member), which is enduring a civil conflict involving unabashedly brutal warlords.

Questions posed by the traditions and agendas of geopolitics are at play when considering the range of challenges facing global development, which include poverty, hunger, and disease. Nonetheless, the mission of UN development organizations and Western aid groups would be better served through increased cooperation with the NAM’s working groups and committees. NAM criticisms regarding the implementation of the MDGs should be considered, not least because every country in Africa (with the exception of South Sudan) is an NAM member states. Commonalities of purpose regarding human development are as good a reason as any to move beyond the dictates of an outmoded world order, and a good pretext to foster cooperation where none exists.

Joshua Pritchard is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at UMass Boston.








The Fight To Take Conflict Out of Minerals

Posted in Africa, Conflict Minerals, Education, Globalization with tags , , , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating


by Kylie Millbern

As a fellow blogger recently highlighted, the demand for new electronics, such as cell phones and computers, is insatiable and has numerous, serious side-effects.  Congress took notice and passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt a rule pertaining to transparency in the supply chain of electronics.  The SEC made the rule final concerning conflict materials on August 22, 2012.  The ruling calls for any company (who reports to SEC) requiring the use of gold, tin, tungsten, or tantalum to create a public report identifying the minerals’ countries of origin.  On May 31, 2014, companies using these minerals in any product are required to issue the first annual report.  The specific requirements of the ruling can be found on the SEC website here

Let’s focus on the cell phone, the iPhone in particular, as we discuss the minerals identified in the ruling.  Dave Gilson of Mother Jones magazine compiled a list of components making up a 16GB iPhone 3GS.  This is what he came up with: The phone uses 12 parts that are gold-plated.  Circuit boards within the phone are fused with tin. Tungsten is used in the vibrate functions.  Last, but certainly not least, inside the phone is a tantalum capacitor, which stores electricity.  (Once broken down, the mineral coltan, as discussed in the previous blog, creates two elements: niobium and tantalum.)  Many consumers are unaware of the presence of these materials in their goods, and even if they are cognizant, electronics companies aren’t required to provide that information.  Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the companies could guarantee the origin of the minerals used to create their products.

Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast wrote an article in 2009 on behalf of the Enough Project examining the supply chain of these minerals.  The chain is broken down into six steps starting at the mine, ending with the electronics companies, but gets more obscure along the way.  The mineral is extracted at the mine, and taken to the trading house, which may or may not be registered.  At this point it is apparently still easy to tell mineral origins according to striations and color.  Next come the exporters and the murky water.  The transaction between the exporter and the trading house do not include official documentation of mineral origins.  At best there may be verbal confirmation.  During the fourth step the minerals are moved to transit or neighboring countries where the starting point is further forgotten.  On to the refiners, usually in Asia, to create metals from minerals sourced from a variety of locations.  Lastly, the electronics company received their product and hand them out to unsuspecting customers.  It sounds like globalization and the world supply chain fast at work; however, the countries with the mines and others along the route are suffering.

These minerals come from a variety of places, such as East Asia and Africa.  With the popularity of smartphones and other electronics, these minerals are in extreme demand.  One would think that with such a highly sought after natural resources the countries would be rich and thriving, yet they are in conflict.  This unfortunate paradox has coined the term conflict minerals.  The Democratic Republic of Congo is an un-lucky example.  Violence, poverty, and human rights violations are the past and present of the DRC, and can be largely attributed to these resources.  The minerals finance the war, as armed groups use violence to control the mines as a way to support their troops, pay for supplies, and gain economic and political power. The 2012 Enough Project Report  states that recent effects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act have decreased the ability of armed groups to acquire finances from conflict minerals by 65 percent in the past two years.  However, with the renewal of the M23 rebellion in the Congo, there may be an increase in the smuggling of conflict minerals to neighboring transit countries and beyond.

Now is the time to enforce transparency in the global supply chain of electronics, starting with raw materials.   The recent rulings have made an impact, but during the rise of armed conflict in the area, pressure needs to continue from consumers, SEC, companies, and governments.  Although I doubt that we can curtail the demand for such electronics in our technology-focused world, there needs to be focus on the demand end of the supply chain.  This means that consumers need to be conscious and companies held responsible.  Engaging the public will help the SEC to enforce it’s ruling, and forces the electronics businesses to comply.  The Dodd-Frank Act is a first step in encouraging certifications and regulation levels.  It is hopeful that movement in this direction will spur other countries and policy makers to adopt miner safety and empowerment guidelines.  With the current situation in the DRC specifically, there is a need to maintain current advances in conflict materials.

There are plenty of limitations to the current ruling beyond armed rebels groups such as M23 in the DRC.  Some skeptics claim the electronics companies are not ready for these changes, and won’t be able to produce a product with traceable resources. Others say that the electronic product is too complex and made of too many parts to be traced back to individual locations.  There is worry that production could stop with a lack of available and appropriate resources .  On the other hand, there is also a fear that legitimate mines may suffer as the crackdown takes place .  What do you think?  As a consumer, do you think you would be more apt to buy a conflict-free electronic?  Are electronics companies ready and capable to implement this change?


Kylie Millbern is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at UMass Boston.

Liberia’s Efforts to Avoid the Resource Curse

Posted in Africa, Democratic Development, Education, Foreign Direct Investment, Liberia. Oil Industry, Rule of Law with tags , , , on December 10, 2012 by michaelkeating





Tara Conklin

Earlier this month, Robert Sirleaf, son of Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf, came forward to defend his appointment as head of Liberia’s nascent oil industry. Admonishing critics for their charges of nepotism and corruption, Robert declared that he has the competence and experience necessary for him to serve as Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), adding, “I owe Liberia me.”

If it seems suspect to you that President Sirleaf could find no other competent, experienced individual to serve as NOCAL Chairman, (perhaps someone less related to her?) you are not alone. The appointment of her son has raised eyebrows in Liberia and throughout the international community. She no doubt exacerbated the situation by appointing to another top NOCAL spot someone currently being prosecuted for fraudulent transactions of $2.5 million USD.

These recent appointments are just the tip of the iceberg. Liberia’s oil industry has been plagued by charges of bribery, corruption, and fraud since its inception, with companies paying off legislators and their staff for votes on oil contracts. Since these allegations were brought by Liberia’s main auditing and watchdog organization, the General Auditing Commision (GAC), no one has been prosecuted, no bribes were returned, and the deals that the GAC recommended be invalidated have remained in place. (Read details about the allegations here.) Just last month, amidst the appointment of a controversial new Auditor General, NOCAL has become embroiled in a scandal at GAC, where massive layoffs have just taken place. Allegedly, NOCAL played an instrumental role in the dismissal of GAC staff in an attempt to thwart the ongoing audit of the oil sector.

While these reports are disconcerting, it is important to note that the Sirleaf administration has been ostensibly dedicated to fighting corruption and improving accountability, vowing to improve life in the country currently ranked 182 out of 187 by increasing greater transparency. By some accounts, the administration’s anti-corruption policy stance has been widely successful. This apparent contradiction hints at the complex history of Liberia, and begs the question: how did things get this way? Perhaps more importantly, what are the steps to making the oil industry translate to development in Liberia?

Liberian citizens and officials are well aware of the “resource curse”, the paradox through which countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to do worse economically and developmentally than countries without natural resources. Discussions on how to avoid becoming the “next Nigeria”, where oil has caused conflict and stagnated development, take place often in government circles. However, it is immensely difficult to overcome a past history of corruption, resource dependence, and conflict. With natural resources including iron ore, gold, diamonds rubber, and timber, Liberia’s economy is already lacking diversification and is too heavily reliant on these resources, none of which have led to development. Under the presidency of William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971), the iron ore industry propelled Liberia to being one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This growth, rivaled at the time only by Japan, was purported to be a miracle, but in reality it did little for the vast majority of Liberian citizens. In fact, this growth without development set the stage for continued political and social instability, contributing to a bloody 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.(1) The timber trade is said to have helped finance Charles Taylor’s regime, and in recent months, renewed reports of corruption and mismanagement with the country’s timber industry have sparked environmental, economic, and governmental concerns.

With pervasive corruption, an institutionalized culture of wealth grabs, and an economy overly reliant on natural resources, it is high time to ensure that the oil industry not follow in the footsteps of the timber and iron ore industries. Entrenched politicians and powerful private interests are key players in the future of the country’s oil business, so strong political will from the top is necessary to curb “business as usual”. President Sirleaf must fulfill her campaign promises and live up to her reputation as a recent Nobel Prize winner by getting tough on corruption. To do this, watchdog organizations like the GAC and the Anti-Corruption Commission must be fully funded and fully staffed. Abuses discovered must be followed up and prosecuted by the judicial branch. The culture of impunity for elected officials must become a thing of the past. Prosecution and conviction of government officials found guilty of corruption would send a powerful message. In addition, a code of conduct for elected officials must be passed into law delineating job descriptions and methods of performance assessment.

Though Liberia is already part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), reporting is delayed and spotty. Independent audits should be conducted to ensure accountability and revenues from the resource should be put into dedicated funds, perhaps a sovereign wealth fund (like Botswana’s Pula Fund, or perhaps more ideally, Norway’s SWF) to reinvest in other industries in Liberia and encourage diversification in the country’s economy. In addition, Liberia should utilize good judgment when deciding which companies to grant oil concessions. Companies with a reputation of transparency and based in countries that will hold them accountable back home with strong foreign anti-corruption laws are good choices.

Some measures are currently being undertaken. In November, NOCAL put forth a competitive tender for general audit of its operations, seeking a “reputable international firm”, with bids from Deloitte & Touche, Ernest & Young, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers being reported. Dr. Paul Collier, expert on the resource curse and its contribution to a country getting stuck in the “Bottom Billion”, was in Liberia in September, where he observed some promising aspects of Liberia’s oil industry. These rays of hope provide a path for Liberia to break the cycle of corruption, move past its troubled history, and dodge the “resource curse”. The administration and legislature, private sector, and watchdog groups in civil society must remain vigilant if they want Liberia’s oil wealth to make a positive change for the country. There is a way, but it will require political will that we have yet to see. Here’s hoping for a transparent, accountable, and prosperous 2013 in Liberia.

Tara Conklin is a graduate student in International Relations at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

US Policy in Africa : Through the Lens of Anti-Terrorism

Posted in Africa, Education, Mali, Peacebuilding, Terrorism, Tuaregs with tags , , , , on November 26, 2012 by michaelkeating


Michael Keating


Here is a rare public presentation by the leader of the US Military’s Africa Command (Africom), General Carter F. Ham. While there is nothing surprising here there is commentary on the U.S. military’s position on the upcoming effort to oust rebels from Northern Mali.  The General makes no bones about the fact that it is a very complicated situation given the intertwining of criminal, terrorist and political actors.

I think you are right to identify the presence of illicit networks, illegal trafficking in persons and drugs and weapons, financing – this is certainly present in the same region and the networks upon which that illicit trafficking is conducted are the same networks that support the terrorist organizations operating in northern Mali. One of the efforts that I think is important in an overall campaign plan – not just military – are to find opportunities to separate out the criminal aspects, separate out the politically motivated entities, and focus specifically on the terrorist presence and deal with the political in different ways.

The General goes on to say that he views the planning as an African affair with strategic inputs from the Americans and Europeans, presumably the French. He makes no mention of Special Forces involvement of the kind that is underway in Central Africa in the pursuit of Joseph Kony, but then again he is unlikely to telegraph strategy at a public gathering.

While the opportunities for a negotiated settlement seem dim, it is not at all clear that a force of ECOWAS alone troops will be trained and equipped  enough to oust a band of heavily armed determined fighters who have had two years to dig in. Furthermore, as the discussion reveals, there is still no plan for the after-battle.

Winning the peace is not yet on the ECOWAS drawing board.

Debating Boko Haram: “A Foreign Terrorist Organization?”

Posted in Africa, Boko Haram, Nigeria, Peacebuilding, Terrorism on November 25, 2012 by michaelkeating
Darren Kew
Republicans in the US House and Senate have recently called on the Obama administration to designate Nigeria’s Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  CPDD’s Prof. Kew testified in July 2012 (testimony was earlier posted on PaxBlog) that the FTO designation would not help at this time, and would likely make matters worse.  Recently, he engaged in an online debate on the matter with Pastor Laolu Akande of the Christian Association of Nigerian Americans (CANAN), who is strongly in favor of FTO.  See their debate, and commentary from other Nigeria scholars on Boko Haram at:!topic/usaafricadialogue/Jo0H895BCLU
And add your comments here at PaxBlog!

Mauritania’s Slavery Problem Needs International Attention

Posted in Africa, Education, Humanitarianism, Mauritania, Rule of Law, Slavery with tags , , , on November 19, 2012 by michaelkeating


Titilope Osunkojo

Who would have imagined slavery still existed anywhere in the world in this century?

Why should state sovereignty mask human rights abuses?

We had hoped that mankind had gone beyond this act of bestiality. If anyone, like me thought this aberration had been abolished from society then you are in for a shocker! John D Sutter’s CNN report, ‘Slavery’s Last Stronghold’ shows that this practice still persists in Mauritania.

Mauritania is a West African country bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and a multiethnic society of more than 3 Million citizens of which sadly up to 20% are still said to be slaves. Slave raiding and trading has been a feature of the Mauritanian society since slave trading first occurred with
Europe and America. The descendants of these slaves are still enslaved by the descendants of their forefathers’ masters; the Beydane or white Moors, the ruling caste in Mauritania.

There have been different attempts to abolish slavery in Mauritania since 1905. It was in that year that the Colonial French Administration abolished slavery in Mauritania. Subsequently in 1961, after its independence, the constitution further again declared that slavery had been
abolished. In 2007, the country made slavery criminal with a jail term of 10 years but since then only one person has been successfully prosecuted.

The Mauritanian government denies the presence of slavery within its borders but the testimony of escaped slaves tells a different story altogether. Stories of rape, starvation, poverty, death and degradation flow out of this place.

This horror is not limited to Mauritania; it exists in varying degrees in other places. Take for example, the ‘Osu Caste system’ in the Eastern part of Nigeria which still negatively influences many courtships and marriages. Additionally, in India, especially in the rural areas, violent clashes still occur because of the caste system.

There have been various suggestions to ending human bondage situations:

1. Allowing the international community to carry out a survey of slavery;

2. Rehabilitating freed slaves and

3. Providing legal representation for victims.

All these suggestions are valid but they are dependent on the cooperation of the Mauritanian government who in many parts has denied the existence of slavery within its territory. The doctrine of State sovereignty gives any government the authority to govern itself and
maintain law and order within its territory; it also protects it from invasion from any other state. The few exceptions to the general rule of non-intervention in the affairs of a state include cases of genocide. Should this veil of sovereignty that covers a state not be lifted in situations like this to restore some dignity to these people whose hope has been stolen, and whose fundamental human rights have been violated even though there is no outbreak of violence? The sovereignty of a state presupposes that the sovereign authority will protect the interests and rights of
every citizen. If this duty is not being discharged by the government how can these people be protected without the help of the international community?

I believe this issue in Mauritania falls within the provisions of the Genocide Convention and an intervention from the International Community is needed to put an end to it.

Titilope Osunkojo is a graduate student in the International Relations program at UMass Boston.

Paxblog’s Darren Kew Testifies on Boko Haram

Posted in Africa, Boko Haram, Democratic Development, Fragile States, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Nigeria, Terrorism with tags , , on July 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

The following is a transcript of Darren Kew’s testimony in front of Congress.

The Crisis in Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria

Testimony before the US House Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights

July 10, 2012

The recent escalation of violence between Nigeria’s Muslim and Christian communities is not a single conflict between these two great religions.  Rather, the crisis is a series of local and regional struggles, some of which feature religion as a strong motivation for conflict, while others ignite the Muslim-Christian fault line as a secondary or circumstantial matter.  Recently, however, several actors have seen interest in trying to frame these localized conflicts as a single religious contest across the Christian-Muslim divide.  US policy in the region should continue to support efforts to promote religious tolerance and improved governance in Nigeria, while avoiding actions that could feed the perception that the United States is ready to take sides.

A Complex, Explosive Context

With over 150 million people belonging to over 200 nationalities, and nearly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims in a federation of 36 states, Nigeria poses a difficult environment for peace and development under the best of circumstances.  Several contextual factors are particularly important for understanding the recent escalation of violence igniting the religious divide:

Nigeria has undergone a dramatic demographic shift in its number of Christians over the last 20 years.  Heavy Christian proselytizing in the minority-dominated regions of the “Middle Belt,” in the northeast, and in the far Northern regions of the country has won numerous converts in these areas, fueling resentment among some members of Muslim communities.  Some Islamic sects also proselytize in Christian majority regions, but they have been far less successful.  Initially, both religions focused their expansion efforts on practitioners of traditional religions, but now that most of these have been converted, Christians and Muslims have largely turned the proselytizing race on each other.  Ethnic minorities that were once alone and dominated by majority groups, particularly by the largely Muslim Hausa, have found new political power in being part of a larger Christian community, giving them increasing leverage in the struggle over scarce resources.

The leading contenders for the April 2011 presidential elections were President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, and retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, giving the race religious undertones.  Widespread perception among supporters of Gen. Buhari that President Jonathan’s ruling party rigged him the victory led to outbreaks of violence in key cities of the north, particularly Kaduna, which is evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.  The election left enduring frustrations across the north against the Jonathan government.  President Jonathan’s campaign also actively courted Christian minorities across the Middle Belt and northeast, which further framed the contest in religious terms and fueled the growing Christian political awakening in these areas.  These northern frustrations are certain to resurface if President Jonathan runs again for office in 2015, as expected.

Massive poverty amid a conspicuously corrupt political elite on both sides of the religious divide fuels widespread anger at the Nigerian state and increases the attractiveness of radical movements of all types.  Economic growth on average of over 6% annually for the last decade is encouraging, but much of this growth has been concentrated in the south.

Growing militarization in the Middle Belt and northeast is increasing the destructiveness of violence and the pace of escalation.  Christian and Muslim militias across these areas, particularly in Jos/Plateau state, are increasingly well armed, and occasionally benefit from informal relationships with police and military units.  Numerous atrocities are alleged to have been committed by both sides against the other in reciprocal acts of violence.  This spread of loosely organized paramilitary activity has exacerbated an array of local conflicts, with several particularly noteworthy trends:

Pastoralist-farmer conflicts across the region are aggravated by desertification, which is reducing the size of arable land just as Nigeria’s rapid population growth creates greater demand.  In locales where predominantly Christian farmers have moved into traditional grazing lands for Muslim Fulani herders, conflicts have aggravated religious tensions.
Jos/Plateau state remains the main religious flashpoint in the region, where longstanding disputes over control of scarce land and local government resources have sparked numerous bouts of violence over the last 15 years, particularly during local election cycles.  Politicians from local Christian majorities in the state, seeking to build political capital, have often appealed to religion and systematically excluded the local Hausa minority from access to state resources.  Although the Hausa are a minority in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, they are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria overall, fueling fears among the other groups of a Hausa influx and political dominance.
Numerous pockets of internally displaced persons from previous bouts of violence across the region have been largely ignored by the government and forced to fend for themselves.  Youth from both religions living in these desperate conditions have proven to be extremely susceptible to militant activity.
Christian and Muslim clerics in recent years have been preaching hate messages – ranging from the subtle to the blatant – from the pulpit largely unchecked by religious or government authorities.  More decentralized sects such as Pentecostal churches or itinerant imams loosely affiliated with the Izala movement among Muslims have been particularly prone to these messages, which contribute to escalation.

The Boko Haram Challenge

These factors alone have heightened religious tensions across Nigeria, but the recent rise of a militant Islamic movement, known as Boko Haram, has aggravated the entire Christian-Muslim fault line and provoked reprisals from Christian communities.  For most of its existence, Boko Haram was little concerned with Nigeria’s Christians, and focused its attentions on spreading its interpretation of Islam within the nation’s Muslim community, particularly in the northeastern states of Borno and Bauchi.  Its shift to military operations in 2008-09 occurred with a devout Muslim, President Yar’Adua, as head of state, and its primary targets were the Nigerian security forces – the police, military, and the internal intelligence operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) – and the Borno state governor at the time.

Consequently, Boko Haram’s move to targeting Christian churches and communities over the last two years appears to be largely a tactical shift in its operations in order to take advantage of growing northern frustrations with the Jonathan government, in order to situate itself as the Islamic alternative to the corrupt status quo, and to consolidate its recent gains.  This shift raises several matters of concern:

Boko Haram is a collection of groups, some of which are well armed and organized, particularly the hardliners, and others that are less organized and less interested in using violence to pursue the movement’s goals of establishing an Islamist state in at least the northern half of Nigeria.  Several of the more moderate factions of the movement have sought to initiate peace talks with the government in recent years, some of whom have been killed by hardliners for their efforts.  Initiating a religious conflict with the Christians thus strengthens the position of the hardliners, forcing the moderates to choose sides and possibly creating more sympathizers for the movement when Christian militias counterattack.  In most Boko Haram attacks on churches, the movement has cited previous attacks on Muslims as validation for its acts.  The movement justified its Christmas 2011 church bombings, for instance, as reprisals for Christian militant killings of Muslims during the Eid celebrations earlier in the year.
Given that President Jonathan is a Christian and his supporters appealed to these sentiments in the 2011 campaign in the Middle Belt and northeast, targeting Christians allows Boko Haram to try to situate itself as the protector of northern interests and the embodiment of the region’s frustrations.  Until June 2012, all Nigeria’s military chiefs were southerners, fueling perceptions even further that the Jonathan government was antagonistic to the north.
The conflict in Jos and Plateau state offers an ideal cause for Boko Haram to play to Muslim senses of victimhood, so the movement has actively sought to insert itself in the conflict.  Religiously charged Kaduna, which for the first time in its history now has a Christian governor, poses similar opportunities for Boko Haram, where it has also become more active.
Heavy-handed responses from the Nigerian police and military to Boko Haram attacks in the past have tended to increase local support for the movement, as state security forces often use indiscriminate force resulting in numerous civilian casualties with little effect on Boko Haram itself.

In light of these issues and the general inability of the Nigerian government to stop the movement, Boko Haram currently holds the military initiative and faces an important political choice.  It could continue its military offensive in the unlikely pursuit of total victory, or it could seek to build alliances in order to create its own political movement or some form of parallel party with which it is affiliated or which seeks to capture its message.  The latter is likely preferred by moderates in the movement, some of whom have requested an amnesty process much like that in the Niger Delta.

Implications for US Policy

In June 2012, President Jonathan took an important step toward changing the terms of the struggle with Boko Haram by firing his National Security Advisor and replacing him with retired Col. Sambo Dasuki, a northern Muslim with family ties to the Sultan of Sokoto, the highest traditional ruler in the north to whom the more moderate factions of Boko Haram had appealed for mediation in the past.  Col. Dasuki immediately announced his intention to engage both Boko Haram and the Christian militias, an important first step.

US engagement is particularly complicated by Boko Haram hardliners’ efforts to situate themselves as Nigeria’s Islamic vanguard and protector of northern interests and to portray the Jonathan government as a Christian bulwark.  An invasive US policy presence could be framed by hardliners as the Christian superpower supporting its local affiliates, and hand Boko Haram a useful recruiting tool while further delegitimizing the Jonathan government in the eyes of many northerners.

US policy, therefore, needs a subtle approach that seeks to isolate the hardliners in Boko Haram, strengthen the opportunities for dialogue with the moderates, and support Nigerian government reforms that can address the root causes of conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.  Several elements in such a strategy are recommended:

- Encourage the Nigerian government’s new efforts to engage militant factions on both sides of the religious divide, in order to provide moderates in Boko Haram and other militias a clear alternative to the violence promoted by hardliners.  Special effort should be made to encourage the moderates to steer Boko Haram (as well other Christian and Muslim militias) into the political process, where they can pursue their goals in a peaceful fashion with the promise of a broader audience.
- Target anti-terror efforts on key hardliners and factions to isolate them from the rest of the movement and from the moderate Muslim mainstream overall. The Obama administration’s singling out of key Boko Haram hardliners as terrorists rather than the whole movement is a helpful approach in that regard.
- Continue US support for religious tolerance and Muslim-Christian dialogue efforts that engage local religious leaders and communities, building bridges and reducing the acceptability of hate speech.  Where possible, the US government should also encourage Nigeria’s national religious leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue that sends messages of tolerance and accommodation.  In that regard, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs should be encouraged to restart their interfaith reconciliation efforts.
- Unrest in the north is extremely likely if President Jonathan seeks reelection in 2015.  US policy should continue to insist on further Nigerian election reforms that include the primaries of the ruling party in particular, to increase the likelihood of a fair contest and help to dampen perceptions of rigging by any candidate.  The leader of Nigeria’s political opposition in a race against President Jonathan is likely to be a northerner, and should be engaged by US policymakers as a legitimate opposition leader.
- Encourage the Jonathan administration to undertake a broad-based national development policy and serious anti-corruption efforts that address the underlying conflict drivers of poverty and poor governance.
Encourage the Nigerian federal government to press its state governments to address local religious disputes and to prosecute crimes against humanity.  Plateau state politicians in particular should be investigated for their roles in recent bouts of violence.
- Press the Nigerian government to make police reform a priority and to retool its military for more responsible crisis response capacity.

Here are some video links for the session:

So What’s a Tuareg?

Posted in Africa, Mali, Tuaregs with tags , on April 11, 2012 by michaelkeating

So what is a Tuareg? If you are like most of the world you might know Tuareg as a brand of SUV put out by Volkswagon. If you are a jewelry aficionado you might have seen or purchased some of their intricate silver and stone designs which are currently very much in vogue. If you are a world music lover you may listen to Tuareg musicians like Bambino, who performed last week in Portsmith, NH and before that in  Paris and elsewhere, or the group Tinariwen who are something of an international sensation and have performed with groups like Carlos Santa and TV On the Radio. If you are a French nuclear power plant operator you may know the Tuaregs as the people inconveniently living in the outback of Niger where France gets a great deal of its uranium from. If you are a Libyan you may know Tuaregs as mercenaries fighting on both sides of the recent rebellion. If you ever wondered where Timbuktu is, it’s right in the Tuareg catchment inside Mali and it is now part of the nascent Republic of Azawad which was declared last week by the political wing of National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

In short, Tuaregs are not very well known but here are a few facts about them. They are a non-Arabic nomadic Berber pastoralist tribespeople spread out across at least six African countries. For the most part they practice a very specific, non-fundamentalist form of Islam that allows a great deal of freedom for women and they have absolutely nothing in common with the folks at Al-Qaeda or any other Islamic sect intent on imposing their views on others. In the Malian conflict certain radical Islamic groups have sought to undermine or even co-opt Tuareg leadership and this has led to confusion and an inaccurate pairing of Tuareg political goals and radical Islamic jihad fantasies.

Most westerners are probably unaware that the Tuaregs have been fighting low-level insurgencies in  Niger and Mali for the past several decades and the events in Mali are a culmination of a long process of attempted negotiation, broken promises and attempts by successive regimes in Mali and Niger to smash Taureg resistance. Like the Kurds in the Middle East the Tuaregs have been marginalized and in some cases oppressed in each of the countries where they live and the attempt to establish an independent country for themselves in Mali should not necessarily be dismissed as either quixotic or without justifiable reasoning.

Michael Keating

Embattled Liberian Journalist Was At UMB

Posted in Africa, Freedom of the Press, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Liberia with tags , , on March 21, 2012 by michaelkeating

Every once in awhile a news item really hits home. I just received this concerning my very good friend Mae Azango. I first met Mae in 2006 when she  came to UMass Boston as part of a contingent of journalists who were doing internships at various media outlets around town.

Since her stay at UMass Mae went on to be one of Liberia’s most famous and fearless journalists who took it as her mission to tell stories about the sufferings of ordinary people. Her coverage of the persistence of female genital mutilation in Liberia has obviously outraged supporters of the practice and we can only hope that she receives the full protection of the Liberian government. To its credit, the government has recently issued a statement in defense of Mae after public campaigns by the Committee to Protect journalists and Amnesty International,  but let’s hope they follow-up with decisive actions.

Another controversy riling Liberia this weeks concerns legislation targeting gays. Despite her recent Nobel Peace Prize, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has come down strong against the rights of homosexuals in Liberia saying, “we like ourselves just the way we are.” Check out this video exchange between the President and a very uncomfortable looking Tony Blair

Michael Keating

photo: New Narratives