Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

Archive for the 'Fragile States' Category

What Drives Conflict?

Posted in Conflict Minerals, Ethnic Conflict, Fragile States with tags on March 26, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

 

That’s the question being asked by USAID and Humanity United who are jointly sponsoring a contest to see who can come up with the most innovative solutions to identify the drivers of conflict and to help communities prevent or at least prepare for it.  The The Tech Challenge Contest is offering prizes of up to $10,000 for the most innovate project proposals.

Kashmir on the Brink

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 17, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

by

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The Indian subcontinent remained tense after Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was executed by the Indian state on 9 February 2013. Guru was executed in New Delhi’s Tihar jail as his clemency plea had been rejected by the President of India six days earlier. He was convicted by India’s highest court as one of the main culprits behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, which resulted in the killing of 9 people, mostly the security guards at the entrance of the building. As the Parliament was in session with many law makers inside the building, a successful attack could have crippled India’s legislature.

As Guru  was a Kashmiri, the execution was perceived differently by various actors. Had he belonged to a different constituent unit of the Indian federation, the event woulkd not have received such wide attention. Though there is a constituency in India that opposes the death penalty as an antiquated method of retributive justice, the opposition appears insignificant in the context of the contentious nature of Kashmir. As the news spread of Guru’s execution, there were huge protests in Kashmir valley, with protestors clashing with the security forces, leading to death of five Kashmiris. The coming days may witness intense violence, unless India plays an active role in addressing the concerns of the people.

As Kashmir is perched between India and Pakistan, with both claiming  its territory in totality, the event has a larger fallout. They have fought four wars, and now both wield nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson expressed caution and said he “would not want to go into details of the trial process” as the matter is “being discussed and debated by the media and the human rights organizations.” He, however, reiterated Pakistan’s support, “we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express our serious concern on the high-handed measures taken by India in the wake of Afzal Guru’s execution to suppress the aspirations of Kashmiris…” Though Pakistan’s civilian government adopted a cautious approach, the extremist organizations in Pakistan like Jamat-ud-Dawa, one of the affiliates of the extremist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, organized protests in various Pakistani cities. The head of the Lashkar, also the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 that killed about 200 people, promised revenge against India’s act.

India attempted to downplay the execution with its home minister issuing a statement to the effect that the law has taken its course. The execution, he argued, was a matter of justice and there is no politics involved in it. According to him, “this (the execution) was not a political decision. It was done as per law.” Some analysts, however, see it as the government’s attempt to buttress its image as a tough actor in countering terrorism. The rightist political parties, however, expressed jubilation at the execution, while the leftist parties termed it an attempt by the government to appease the rightist parties.  India also undertook harsh measures to control protests in the valley by declaring a curfew, banning media and communication technologies, and detaining prominent separatist leaders of Kashmir. India aimed at preventing another 1984 like situation, which had witnessed the spiraling of militancy in the valley, leading to the death of thousands of people and earning Kashmir the sobriquet ‘the most dangerous place of the world.’ In 1984, a Kashmiri Muslim named Maqbool Bhat was executed by New Delhi in the same jail. His execution fuelled pent up frustration of the Kashmiri people and acquired violent shapes with support from across the border.

In the Kashmir valley, the situation continues to remain tense. Any linkage of the execution of Guru with injustice and suppression of Kashmiris by India may generate further violence and jeopardize the peace process. The militant organizations may use the situation to destabilize the region. The separatist leaders in the valley condemned the execution and argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. One of the prominent separatist leaders, Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, currently on a visit to Pakistan, criticized the execution as a ‘sinister design’ of India, and announced four-day mourning.  The argument of the separatists may have some merit as there are other convicts in Indian jails, who have not been executed yet despite being given their death sentence before Guru. The youth of Kashmir are likely to be mobilized to continue protests unless swift measures for restoring dialogue and trust is undertaken. The youth of Kashmir, born during the heydays of militancy, have witnessed death and destruction with their own eyes. It may not be very difficult on part of extremist leaders to inject in some of the disenchanted youth the spirit of violence and cause havoc in the region. This may be easier than earlier due to spread of communication technology. Some of the separatist leaders also perceive the ongoing protests as a prelude to a ‘color’ revolution in the style of the Arab spring.

The year 2013 so far has not been propitious for peace in South Asia. January witnessed border skirmishes between India and Pakistan with each accusing the other  of violating the ceasefire. The current events will further complicate the already fragile peace process. Recently the Indian prime minister argued that the peace process can not continue unless Pakistan addresses India’s concerns. In Pakistan there also prevails a sense of frustration as, despite a decade of relative peace, Kashmir remains a protracted conflict as both parties are hesitant to give up rigid positions. The radical constituency may get emboldened by the recent developments and revive the old methods of proxy war, extremism and terrorism. Such a development will not be beneficial for India and Pakistan. Perhaps India can take the lead in breaking the logjam in initiating dialogue with Pakistan, while simultaneously addressing the alienation of the people of Kashmir. As advocated by Pakistan’s US ambassador, the US, which enjoys friendly relations with India and Pakistan, can nudge both the countries to foster peace instead of cultivating animosity. Needless to add, peace between India and Pakistan is a major key to peace in Kashmir.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

Food Wars?

Posted in Education, Fragile States, Globalization, Income Equality with tags , , , on January 16, 2013 by michaelkeating

by  John Michael Denney

 

As winter recess comes to an end for American college undergraduates, international relations majors are likely to be choosing between classes with powerful names like War, Peacebuilding, Ethnic Conflict, and Democracy. Imagine the surprise and laughter if one of those classes was named Food or the Stomach and Rebellion. But this might not be too far off, as a growing body of evidence shows that war, regime change, and political upheaval might not be as complicated as we first imagined. Indeed, it could all come down to having enough to eat.

In a paper out of the New England Complex Systems Institute, a group of interested scholars put together a very convincing graphical overlay suggesting that massive global food price spikes caused the uprisings of the Arab Spring and the global political unrest in 2007/2008. They draw their food price data from the FAO’s Food Price Index, which averages five separate commodity price indices.

 

If this graph is to be believed, then there appears to be a very strong case for food prices being at the very least strongly correlated with political instability. But that’s not all; a quick look at the historical record shows that food shortages and price hikes preceded some of the world’s most famous political revolutions, such as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the revolutions of 1848. The idea that food affects politics is actually quite simple when compared to complex analyses involving ideological shifts, economic growth, historical factors, and leadership personalities.

So what then does this mean for policy?  If food is such a strong driver of instability and political upheaval, what does this mean for security studies in the 21st century? At the very least it means that policymakers need to start taking climate change as a legitimate security threat. Policies like massive agricultural subsidies in the United States and Western Europe have worked to enrich Western farmers at the expense of developing world farmers and massive waste. These must, at the very least, be reconsidered given the way the saturate the market with cheap food, outcompeting indigenous competition in the developing world.

It would be easy to dismiss developing world rebellions and revolutions as low on the U.S. security agenda, but conflict in the developing world does affect the West. At the very least, it costs the West money. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the United Nations system, paid for mostly by the West, has spent over 40 billion dollars in the past century on controlling developing world conflict. Much of this conflict, a UNEP report notes, is motivated by environmental factors. Indeed, as the environment continues to deteriorate, especially in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, these conflicts are likely to increase as groups compete for control over vanishing water, arable land, and other natural resources.

Policymakers should also view this information as a better way of understanding how to promote development. Food prices are only going to rise as global climate conditions worsen, and the case of the Arab Spring shows that relying on food imports is an ultimately self-defeating strategy. More attention needs to be paid to fostering sustainable agricultural systems in the developing world, particularly in the areas targeted by international agricultural investors, a topic covered in an earlier post in this blog.  Policymakers have long focused on issues like balance of military power, trade routes, and energy control, but food is an existential part of society. It will come as no surprise to biologists that a group of animals goes into disarray when food resources are depleted, so why should it surprise policymakers that societies need food to function?

 

John Michael Denney is a graduate student in the International Relations Program 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kashmir on the Brink….of Peace?

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Human Rights, South Asia with tags , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

by

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As the season’s first snow falls in Kashmir, the leaders of India and Pakistan deliberate in New Delhi to further build confidence towards transforming conflict in one of most violent regions of South Asia. On December 14 India and Pakistan  signed agreements to liberalize the visa regime to facilitate people- to- people contact and the flow of goods between the two countries. The past decade in Kashmir has witnessed an ‘irreversible’ peace process which has impacted the conflict discourse and reduced the constituency for radicalism in the subcontinent. Though violence remains a challenge — as the  fighting in the Kashmir valley led to death of three militants just before the latest discussions — it has not deterred the parties to the conflict from continuing the peace process.

Since its inception in late 1940s, the Kashmir conflict has caused the loss of at least 50,000  lives, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and the crippling of the economy. The two major players, India and Pakistan,  pursued their rigid policies, fought four wars, and built up arms including nuclear arms, while millions of people lived below the poverty line. The costs of the conflicts, coupled with humanitarian costs in terms of the division of families due to drawing and redrawing of borders, loss of livelihood particularly tourism, militancy, and an all pervasive atmosphere of anxiety has made  the lives of the people living on the borders quite miserable. Both India and Pakistan have claimed the entire territory of Kashmir, currently divided between these two countries and China, and have fought wars while the civilians suffered.

In the context of the Kashmir conflict, two interlinked dimensions can be identified: external and internal. In its external dimension it is the conflict waged between two independent states, India and Pakistan, which emerged after the British rule ended in the subcontinent in 1947. In its internal dimension, an armed rebellion started in Indian controlled Kashmir in late 1980s with the rebels fighting for independence from the Indian control. For about a decade from the early 1990′s to the early 2000′s Kashmir witnessed the daily dance of death and destruction, prompting then US President, Bill Clinton to term it ‘the most violent place on the earth.’  During the cold war Kashmir was entangled in the superpower rivalry as reflected in United Nations Security Council debates and voting on Kashmir issues, but most of the violence and destruction has taken place in the decade since the late 1980′s.

The advent of globalization, increasing emphasis on peaceful resolution of conflicts, emphasis on economic diplomacy in place of political diplomacy, and the softening of borders in different parts of the world have reshaped the conflict discourse in Kashmir. The civil society organizations in India, Pakistan and Kashmir  have also played a crucial role in pressuring governments to think beyond state-centric policies. They organized ‘heart-to-heart talks,’ peace movements and sensitized policy makers about peaceful methods of conflict resolution. In 1999, the Indian prime minister boarded a bus from the Indian capital New Delhi to Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore. In 2003 both countries announced a series of confidence building measures. In 2005 and 2006, two border routes were opened to facilitate people-to- people interaction, and for the reunion of divided families. Since 2008, these two routes were opened for intra-Kashmir trade. Pakistan’s granting of most favored nation status to India in 2011 further enhanced prospects for economic cooperation. The visa agreement signed in New Delhi on 14 December 2012 has many new provisions, such as visa-on-arrival, increase in the number of places-of-visit, extended period of stay, etc. (for details of the agreement see here.)

There have been temporary setbacks to the peace process such as the brief period after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. However, both  countries resumed dialogue within a span of 18 months. There are detractors of the peace process, particularly extremist organizations who seek a violent and religion-based resolution of the conflict. However, their constituency has shrunk with the passage of years. The recent years have also witnessed peace in various important regions, particularly in the troubled Kashmir valley, famous for its tourist attractions. Tourism is the main source of revenue for Kashmir. It is estimated that the valley lost 27 million tourists from 1989-2002 leading to tourism revenue loss of $3.6 billion. However, the recent years have witnessed the rise in number of tourists. The Economist has pointed out the the number of tourists in the valley has recently passed 1.3 million.

The separatist  All Party Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz faction) is commencing its week-long visit to Pakistan on  December 15. This is a positive step — unimaginable during militancy in 1990s –  towards building peace in the region. Its leader emphasized that the main purpose of the visit is to make a ‘process-oriented effort’ towards resolution of the conflict (for details see here.)

Since the civilian government came to power in Islamabad in 2008, the peace process has gathered momentum. The current focus of the two countries is to strengthen the peace constituency by boosting economic cooperation, and promoting people-to-people interaction. The idea of converting the border in Kashmir from a rigid line of control to a flexible line of contact, communication and cooperation has gathered momentum, and India and Pakistan appear to have geared their policy mechanisms to realize this idea.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

 

 

The Challenges for Burma’s Icon of Democracy

Posted in Burma, Democratic Development, Education, Ethnic Conflict, Fragile States, Rule of Law with tags , , on October 6, 2012 by michaelkeating

CPDD’s Aung Tun, a journalist and Burmese activist, reflects upon the challenges facing Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s gradual thaw.

 

 

Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has concluded her two weeks visit to the US, her first visit here in over 35 years. Having been released from over 15 years house arrest, she has proven that she deserved the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can give, awarded to her for her consistent leadership of the democratic movement in Burma. She is also the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

We Burmese are very, very proud of Aung San Suu Kyi’s achievement and her courage as well as her decades long leadership of our so long oppressed country’s democratic movement. She is rightly viewed all over the world as a symbol of democracy.

Though Aung San Suu Kyi is free now, and is touring around the world in her new role as a key legislator in the Burmese parliament as well as a symbol of our struggle for democracy, so many important questions about the transition to democracy in Burma, renamed by the military government in 1989 as the Union of the Republic of Myanmar, remain. We have to be able to differentiate between what’s a real transition to democracy in Burma and what’s a faux transition.  We can’t afford a mistake.

Here are some important issues that need to be addressed.

The Constitution:

The Constitution, which was one-sidedly approved by the previous military regime, reserves 25% of the seats for the military.  The holders of these seats are not elected.   This needs to be changed. Though the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made changing the Constitution a priority, there is currently no way the NLD can change it since her party, though elected, is still not more than 10% of the Parliament.  Changing the Constitution requires approval at least 75% of the members of parliament. For a real democracy to flourish, the Constitution needs to be changed. Will it be possible to change the Constitution before the next election in 2015?  No clue yet.

The Ethnic Issue:

Burma has more than 100 ethnic minorities, most of them speaking their own language and having their own customs. This diversity would be wonderful if Burma was a federal state like the US.   But it is not.  In Burma, the government is highly centralized and the military still has enormous power.   As a result, the government has waged, and is still waging, civil war against many of these ethnic minorities, fighting, for example, against the Karen minority for over 60 years.  Even though a fragile ceasefire has recently been reached with the Karen, intensive fighting is underway in the Kachin state, in the northern part of the nation on the border with China, turning thousands of civilians into refugees. Recently, there has been much publicized ethnic violence in the Arakan state. As long as a reliable federal system cannot be established, ethnic issues will not be resolved, national reconciliation will be hindered, and consequently poverty, social, and economic development issues won’t be solved. Will Burma be able to solve its ethnic problems?  Again, no clue yet.

Education:

Burma’s higher education system has fallen apart. Universities and colleges throughout the country are inadequately staffed, have virtually no facilities, do almost no research, and have few qualified teachers. It is almost a waste of time for students in the universities. To solve this problem, Burma needs to change the educational system to allow educational institutions a healthy degree of local autonomy instead of total government control, as is the case now.   Total government interference in educational affairs is disastrous in terms of producing well-trained public service workers and highly needed skilled workers for the private sector.   Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other parliamentarians, most notably Daw Tin Nwe Oo, have proposed important educational reforms, but they have yet to be voted on. Burma needs a thriving group of intellectuals to help build the country’s future. Until meaningful educational reform is enacted, it won’t be easy to build a healthy and lasting democracy. So, will the educational system be reformed?  We will have to wait and see.

Economy:

Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia during the 1930s and 1940s. The country was the world’s biggest rice exporter at that time. Even today, at least 60% of the nearly 60 million people in Burma live in farming households. The previous military regime seized farmland by force and established crony capitalism.  Now, farmers are holding big demonstrations demanding their land back. It is not clear if the current government and the Parliament will be able to solve the problem.   The economy was also hurt by the sanctions imposed against the military government by the international community.  Now the sanctions imposed by the US will be lifted soon with Daw Aung  San Suu Kyi’s approval.  Will lifting the sanctions benefit the people at large? This, too, on the waiting list.

In sum, Burma is a changed place compared with previous years. No one can deny this. However, whether the Burmese people can create a thriving democracy remains to be seen.

 

 

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:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23901167

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23899451

A New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States

Posted in Education, Foreign Aid, Fragile States, OECD on April 26, 2012 by michaelkeating

 

It’s rare that a major international organization will admit to the general failure of  foreign aid activities in fragile states but that’s exactly what the OECD  (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) ‘almost’ did when it reflected that:

The current ways of working in fragile states need serious improvement. Despite the significant investment and the commitments of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008), results and value for money have been modest. Transitioning out of fragility is long, political work that requires country leadership and ownership. Processes of political dialogue have often failed due to lack of trust, inclusiveness, and leadership. International partners can often bypass national interests and actors, providing aid in overly technocratic ways that underestimate the importance of harmonising with the national and local context, and support short-term results at the expense of medium- to long-term sustainable results brought about by building capacity and systems. A New Deal for engagement in fragile states is necessary.

At the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan South Korea last November over 35 countries endorsed the New Deal proposal. This is what they agreed to:

- In 2012 the group will develop a set of Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals which will be used to track progress towards achievement of the Millenium Development Goals and other objectives.

- The group will focus on developing country-led initiatives to find the ways out of fragility.

- The donor countries will work in a more coordinated fashion and try to bring more accountability into the overall process.

All in all these are laudable goals. It remains to be seen whether they can be brought off the drawing board.

 

Michael Keating

Twitter: @mihailovitch