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A Perilous Peace in Sri Lanka

Posted in Conflict Resolution, Democratic Development, Disarmament, Human Rights, South Asia, Sri Lanka with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating

by

Mukesh Chandra Baral

March was a muddled month for Sri Lanka. In the capital, Colombo, a Sinhalese Buddhist mob was filmed hooting and clapping around a destroyed clothing warehouse owned by a Tamil Muslim. The mob pelted stones on a vehicle while policemen stood by. After a week, in Kilinochchi, reportedly a mob damaged the party office of Tamil National Alliance and smashed vehicles belonging to the party. The party accused the police of not taking any initiative to quell the attacks.

The lawlessness in the country trails the three-decade long civil war that ended in May 2009. Thousands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) fighters, along with their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, were killed. The death toll is estimated to be eighty to one hundred thousands. The civilian casualty is believed to be around forty thousands. The civilian death has been the most contentious issue since the beginning of the war.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, at the 22nd session of United Nations Human Rights Commission, which ended on 22 March 2013, world powers were pressing Sri Lanka for accountability. They wanted an investigation of horror and the atrocities allegedly carried by the government forces against Tamils during the Civil War. The session concluded with a US-sponsored resolution on human rights seeking an adequate progress in investigating killings and disappearances, mainly the brutal months at the end of the Civil War. The government spent most of March denying the past atrocities and legitimizing the ongoing mobocracy.

The call for accountability is not new for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshya. The UN resolution in 2012 had asked him to investigate and prosecute the violators. He had also agreed to implement the findings of Report of the Secretary- General’s Panel, which had found the allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and the government credible. But, ‘accountability’ does not look like a priority for President Rajapaksa.

His response towards any report on human rights violation by his administration has been ‘denial’. ‘Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) focusing on restorative justice, did just that. The Commission formed by the government started the investigation but quickly cleared the military from the allegation of deliberate attack on the civilians. Other human rights group pointed out that the investigation was flawed but the LLRC took no further steps.

Accountability peddlers

The United Nations is not the only one asking Sri Lankan Government for meaningful action. EU has long joined United Nations for accountability. United States, India, Canada, and Britain are some other powers on board. While speaking during the UN resolution, the Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated US’s demand for accountability. The resolution was backed by India, one of Sri Lanka’s close neighbors, exerting further pressure on Sri Lanka. Indian government seems very concerned. It has historical reasons to be reluctant. But, it is constantly pushing Sri Lankan government for accountability.

The Commonwealth Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in November 2013 has become another headache for Sri Lanka. David Miliband, a powerful MP from the British Labor Party, is lobbying publicly to shift the venue of 23rd Commonwealth Summit. Canada is one of the toughest Sri Lankan critics among the Commonwealth nations. It has been demanding independent investigation of the atrocities since 2011.

There are other organizations like International Monetary Fund which have demanded accountability on part of the Rajapakshya administration. Sri Lanka needs to show results along the line of accountability, unless it wants to stick with countries like China for all support. No doubt, the issue has turned into an agony for Sri Lanka

Dictator in the making

The Daily Mirror, one of the prominent newspapers of Sri Lanka, in March printed pictures of an inauguration of a memorial museum by the president. The museum restored a bus and depicted monks killed by LTTE. The pictures published were disturbing and provoking. Above all, the pictures were approving the Civil-War narration of the Sinhalese majority, the victor. One could only imagine the mass impact of the museum in the long run. The war is over, but the conflict, it seems, still exists. Three decades of war has solidified an enemy image that needs to be addressed. But instead, the president himself is inaugurating the sites of one-sided narrations. That is not only intensifying the injuries but also creating further divisions between Sinhalese and Tamils.

But, president does not seem concerned about it. Probably, he is paying back for the landslide victory of 2010. Thanks to the election, his party holds clear majority in the parliament. His close relatives who constantly conform his moves are in power. His older brother Chamal Rajapaksa is the Speaker in the parliament. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa is the Minster for Economic Development. Another brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the defense secretary. His niece Nirupama Rajapaksa is the Minister for Water Supply. He has already a 24-year-old son in the parliament. No wonder, he is blamed for promoting nepotism in the country.

Analyzing the power distribution and the chain of events, it can be argued that he is seeking more power. This January, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke was impeached and forcefully removed from office. The Supreme Court later ruled the Parliamentary Select Committee’s presiding unconstitutional. But the president did not appear to be concerned about the ruling. He appointed his legal advisor Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice, in the midst of the Bar Association protest. The Parliament has long removed the presidential term limits. All these developments suggest that he is going for the third term. But, does he have a plan to remain in power even after? In other words, is there a dictator in the making? Well, the developments suggest, the probability is high.

 

Nature’s Calling Plan

Posted in Education, Human Rights, Sanitation with tags , , on April 9, 2013 by michaelkeating

by Charles Fisher-Post

 

How many people in the world do you think own a cell phone, but don’t have access to a toilet?

Not that having a toilet is a prerequisite for Nokia ownership, but it seems strange that someone could have a long-distance communication device but no place to safely defecate.

Well a recent study by the UN reports that there are over a billion people struggling with unsanitary living conditions who nevertheless have access to a cell phone.

The World Bank took note of this fact in organizing the Sanitation Hackathon App Challenge 2013 in March. More than 1000 app developers simultaneously gathered for two days in 40 cities worldwide to program virtual tools in response to 134 identified sanitation problems. Among the event’s sponsors is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, because no one can muster an international regiment of the socially-conscious ones-and-zeroes literate like Mr. Windows.

Unfortunately, there will never be an app which can conjure a safe and functional latrine. Instead, one finalist app uses games to teach children sanitary behavior, while another monitors the state of sanitation facilities in schools, and one helps users find nearby toilets, even allowing them to vote for a “Toilet of the Week.” The winning app will be announced ahead of the World Bank’s conference in mid-April.

There’s no doubt that apps which teach best practices or turn anyone with a cellphone into a data collector can contribute to improved health in communities. But it’s also clear that in the field of sanitation, before improvements can be made on (or “in”) the ground, people’s hands need to get dirty–infrastructure must be built.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes this fact. Their Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in the summer of 2012 awarded grants to several teams who designed innovative lavatories, including Eram Scientific, a technology research and development company from Kerala, India.

Over 60% of the people in the world who do not use a toilet reside in India. Eram is the company behind the Delight, an electronic public toilet launched first in Kerala, although units have subsequently been installed in Delhi and the company claims 10,000 units will be installed in the next year. Models are designed to be self-sufficient, while costs can be defrayed by placing advertising on the unit’s exterior.  Doulaye Koné, Senior Programme Officer of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene wing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believes that with advances being made by companies like Eram and others, the 5-cents per-user benchmark will be achieved for a sustainable toilet design within the next couple years.

Hopefully some of these units will make it outside of urban centers as well. While it’s amazing that many impoverished people in rural India have the luxury of playing solitaire while they defecate, it is hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t trade that opportunity for a clean latrine and safe source of water.

Charles Fisher-Post graduated with a degree in History from Harvard University.

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.

 

 

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

Making Sense of the Coup in Mali

Posted in Democratic Development, Education, Human Rights, Mali with tags on March 27, 2012 by michaelkeating
The promises of the Malian coup sound all too reminiscent. The plotters have claimed their actions are based on the incompetency of the present Malian government to address the insecurity in the northern region of the country. In their address to the nation, the coup plotters claimed that their objective was “not in any way aimed to confiscate power”, but “to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity is established”. But most African nations that have experienced military regimes know too well how these promises are rarely kept. The coup plotters have suspended the Malian constitution and dissolved all democratic institutions in Mali, yet the group refers to themselves as the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State. Is the military in Mali telling its people that it decides how democracy is practiced in Mali? We thought that democracy is about expanding frontiers of freedom and that no one can draw the line and say this is democracy… period.
              In all this mayhem, the most disturbing aspects of these acts act are that: 1) Mali is the longest serving democracy in the West African region and 2) the country was just set to hold an election next Month when the present president, Amadou Toumani Toure, would likely have handed over power to the next elected president of the country. The coup plotters have claimed to address the issue of the insecurity in the northern region in the country; however, we do not see the new military regime achieving that without the impunity and violation of human right  that characterize so many military regimes. The plotters claim seems to suggest that the president doesn’t know how to govern the country as far as the security question in the north goes. In other words, it’s not for the people to determine who can govern Mail but the military. Of course, it is too soon to assume that the coup plotters already have control over the country judging by the ranks of the officers who executed the coup. The actions by these officers are a threat to the Malian armed forces  as many senior army officers  will have to look for new employment should the coup succeed. This will definitely lead to a conflict that might escalate to warring factions within the military in Mali and it is the Malians who will bear much of the impact, both on their security and development.
             Thus, Mali is faced with two bad options: one, having their democratic institutions violated by a small group of persons who, if they succeed, will have their human rights and basic human needs in jeopardy which has generally been the characteristic of  military regimes or, two, ambushed into a violent confrontation within its armed forces that will be fought on the streets of Mali in the midst of ordinary citizens having the most impact on women and children. Either outcome will significantly impact the development in Mali, though Mali is still one of the poorest countries in the world; development has been significant in the region primarily due to the democratic institutions in the country.
Should Mali escape this quagmire this situation highlights the need for African countries to enact better laws to ensure civilian control of the military. There is the need to change people’s mindsets that the army is the major force in Africa and somehow they can just intervene into the internal workings of the legislative bodies.
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Afis Alao and Denis Bogere are graduate students in the Dept. of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance at UMass Boston.

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