Good Governance and Community Improvements in Nepal


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Authors: Joseph Sany and Alex Levy

Development practitioners know that governance matters, but what is good governance and how can it be measured? FHI 360’s Good Governance Barometer (GGB) is a social accountability and development planning tool designed to bring together stakeholders, ranging from local government officials to community members, to jointly identify problems – such as improving the management of a health clinic – and determine the actions needed to resolve them. In addition, the GGB process produces action plans that strengthen and help measure the effectiveness and performance of local governance.
FHI 360’s Civil Society: Mutual Accountability Project (CS:MAP), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, partners with civil society and media organizations to foster an accountable, resilient Nepali civil society. The project team is using the GGB to achieve this goal.
Recently, we traveled to six villages in three rural districts in Nepal – Sindhupalchowk, Rukum and Gulmi – to learn how these communities are using the GGB to improve their public services and achieve this goal. Though the communities we visited were different, we saw some commonalities. Local officials often encountered service delivery challenges for reasons such as limited capacity or resources. When citizens and public officials were empowered to work together using the GGB, however, solutions were more likely to be identified.
For example, the GGB helped a community in western district Rukum recognize that some of their members, namely women and people with disabilities, faced barriers to accessing the health clinics. After identifying this problem, the community prioritized the need for disability-friendly structures and separate toilets for men and women.
In Gulmi, one farming community cultivates coffee, rice, millet and oranges, but only the wealthiest individuals had been receiving seeds. The GGB helped a diverse stakeholder group decide to organize a farmers committee to ensure the equitable distribution of the seeds. Now, the entire community is able to grow crops for sale or consumption.
In Sindhupalchowk, a village that was severely affected by earthquakes in 2015, the GGB helped the community to identify important deficiencies in the local education system. The GGB’s stakeholder group developed an action plan that resulted in five secondary schools installing machines to check the arrival and departure times of teachers and staff in response to complaints about absences. This new system significantly reduced teacher absenteeism. The stakeholder group also installed complaint boxes in the schools, which are reviewed regularly by a joint group of teachers, students and parents.
One of the GGB’s greatest strengths is its adaptability to different cultures and contexts. The GGB has also been used in Guinea, Mali and Senegal, where each country modified it to fit local needs. The tool enables communities, regardless of location, to better understand the root causes of service delivery challenges, identify common goals and develop plans to achieve them. Most importantly, the GGB supports efforts that are sustainable because they are locally owned and led.

This blogpost was originally posted in FHI 360 Degrees

Trends in Civil Society Organizations — A Visual Perspective on Data



To view the original article with infographics visit:

Excerpts posted here with the permission of the author – Ashwed Patil from

How do we assess and evaluate how well a country’s civil society sector is performing? What factors are strongly affecting the progression or regression of a country’s civil society? Using Keshif’s interactive data dashboard for the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) data, we searched for answers in the journey of civil society environments across seventy countries and five regions.

It’s not just the government and businesses that define the fabric of our neighborhood, city, or country. Civil society organizations (CSOs) — including non-profits, community organizations, faith-based organizations, labor unions, charity groups, youth movements, indigenous groups, and professional associations — contribute significantly to our society in critical areas by providing educational, health, food, social and legal services, giving voice to the vulnerable, assisting during disasters and conflicts, advocating for public rights and citizen engagement, working against corruption and holding institutions accountable, and enhancing transparency and good governance.

An active and independent civil society is essential for sustainable development. Given their broad impact into creating a vibrant civil society, CSOs are frequently called the ‘third pillar’ of a democracy. To play an essential role in a healthy democracy, active and independent CSOs require sustainable environments that foster their operations and growth. However, this environment is dynamic across countries, with progress and regression intermixed across countries and thematics. Several societies are also experiencing a ‘shrinking civic space’ — environments where public institutions curb freedom of association and expression through repressive laws, suppressing political opposition and dissenting opinions and crackdowns on independent media
For reliable analysis of the CSO sector, we turn to the Civil Society Organizations Sustainability Index (CSOSI), which provides annual assessment data on seven dimensions of the state of civil society for many studied countries since 2001, when it was conceived by the USAID. In each study, a panel of experts coming from diverse CSO sectors assess the sustainability across key dimensions, coming up with a numeric score, and a sustainability category. This annual source of data has become a key metric to track the strength and viability of the CSO sector globally. (You can learn more about the CSOSI methodology and how the indicators are scored at USAID’s CSOSI website). Also Visit CSO Sustainability Index Dashboard

Recent Global Trends
Around the world, civil society organizations are operating in environments ranging from extremely challenging to highly sustainable.
Overall, countries in Europe and Eurasia have fared well in terms of CSO sustainability with a majority of them having high scores overall, followed by Asia where most of the assessed countries have shown willingness to improve their civic spaces. However, CSO sectors in Africa and the Middle East continue to struggle with hostility and restricted opportunities, with few exceptions such as South Africa and Kenya.

CSO sectors across the world continue to struggle with financial viability. However, advocacy scores across the world have been strongest of all CSOSI dimension.
With financial viability appearing as the weakest dimension in almost every country, many CSOs are facing barriers with access to funding opportunities and strong financial systems. A global look reveals that most of the countries had impeding financial viability sustainability in 2017. Among the study, only three countries (or just 4% of the countries assessed) were considered to offer enhanced sustainability for financial viability. However, even with strong financial challenges, CSOs across the world continued on their mission to advocate for greater accountability and influence public policy. We can observe the strong advocacy sustainability of CSOs globally, even in fragile and conflict-ridden countries such as Iraq and Mali.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s Big Problem: Scarcity of Financial Resources
While financial viability scores for CSO sustainability remain low across the world, the problem of dwindling funding for CSOs is particularly severe for Sub-Saharan Africa. From 2010 to 2017, financial viability was the weakest dimension in all the 31 studied countries in the region, often by a wide margin.
Based on the trends over time, nearly all the countries in this region have experienced a net deterioration in the CSO sector’s financial viability from 2009 to 2017. In 2017, 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had impeded sustainability in their financial viability for CSOs. Even South Africa which traditionally has been the best-performing country in the region for CSO sustainability, the financial viability score dropped by 0.4 points between 2010 and 2017. Ethiopia saw the biggest drop in its funding, with its score deteriorating from 5.9 in 2010 to 6.5 in 2017. In contrast, only 5 countries (The Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone) reported a modest improvement in their CSO funding scenario, but these improvements were not enough to boost their overall CSO sustainability.

Financial Viability has been deteriorating in Sub-Saharan Africa, while Service Provision in most of Sub-Saharan Africa has remained high or mostly stable throughout the last few years. An interesting observation to notice is that service provision doesn’t seem to be affected by the decrease in financial viability across these years. Typical, civil society organizations often struggle with provision of goods and services due to dwindling financial resources but the overall service provision scores in Sub-Saharan Africa have remained strong even in countries with impeding sustainability such as Cote D’Ivoire and Madagascar.

A Declining Legal Environment in Central and Eastern Europe
While Central and Eastern Europe countries have traditionally shown high sustainability, CSOs operating in several countries have seen increasing impediments from 2008 to 2017, especially concerning their legal environments.
Even countries with highly sustainable CSO sectors such as Poland and Bulgaria have seen continuous declines in their scores in the last few years. Ukraine and Moldova stand as exceptions where CSOs saw modest improvements in legal provision of services, registration, funding, and operations.

Central and Eastern Europe’s legal environment for CSOs has been declining, with Russia and Azerbaijan demonstrating major downward shifts after 2013.
Additionally, we noticed that there was a correlation between legal environment and public image — countries where CSO sectors faced legal challenges and shrinking operating spaces also saw a decline in their public image. It is known that the 2015 refugee crisis and economic uncertainties brought a wave of nationalism and xenophobia in Europe. As legal restrictions for pro-migration CSOs, NGOs receiving foreign funding and organizations critical of governments increased, the accompanying negative rhetoric by pro-government media discrediting their work and sometimes portraying them as a threat to national security significantly affected their public image.

We observed that CSO sectors across the world have seen vastly different developments, with some countries and regions showing remarkable achievements in their CSO sustainability but a number of other countries facing alarming situations. Despite numerous adversities they face, particularly with financing, CSOs across the world have striven to meet the urgent and often challenging needs of the populations they serve. Greater government scrutiny and oppressive constraints loom behind civil society organizations as they continue to be resilient, advocate for development and influence policy decisions.

To see and explore the CSOSI data in depth, visit


New research aims to understand how positive youth development interventions facilitate resilience


By: Joseph Sany, Diana Rutherford and Kristin Brady

Originally posted on FHI 360’s R&E Search for Evidence blog.

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Photo caption: Programa Para O Future, Mozambique
Photo credit: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

Youth resilience is a major focus of youth development policies and interventions and a key topic of discussions among donors and implementers. Development conferences such as the Global Youth Economic Opportunity (GYEO) Summit and the SEEP Conference profile interventions that aim at building youth resilience in the face of sudden shocks, such as orphanhood, natural disaster, and violence, or protracted stressors, such as long-term unemployment, chronic poverty, marginalization, and discrimination. At the same time, the increasing use of holistic and multi-dimensional youth development approaches illustrates that donors and implementers believe that strengthening youth resilience requires focusing on more than one aspect of a young person’s life. Positive youth development (PYD) approaches integrate multiple aspects of youth development including a focus on youth empowerment vis-a-vis their environment. Evidence supporting the effects of PYD-based interventions on youth resilience, however, remains thin.

In this post, we describe an ongoing FHI 360-funded study designed to provide new evidence on the relationship between PYD-based interventions and youth resilience using a mixed methods approach to analyze program data from two very different contexts: violent extremism in Tunisia, and orphanhood and extreme poverty in Mozambique. This research examines the contributions of PYD programming to youth and adult outcomes and will provide findings that can be used for designing evidence-informed projects intended to build youth resilience.

Research question and concepts

The primary research question is: What are the effects of positive youth development (PYD)-based interventions on youth resilience?

We hypothesize, as depicted in figure 1, that the PYD-based interventions strengthen youth resilience under conditions of adversity. The programs under study include PYD-based interventions that were designed using the USAID programmatic framework for PYD. This framework includes three domains: 1) agency and assets; 2) youth contribution, or engagement as “a source of change for their own and for their communities’ positive development”; and 3) an enabling environment “that maximizes… assets, agency, access to services, and opportunities, as well as… [the] ability to avoid risks, stay safe and secure, and be protected.”

Our conceptualization of resilience focuses on the aspect of internal competence – in other words, resilience as a “capacity for adapting to changes and stressful events in a healthy way” (Lee, Cheung and Kwong, 2012). While our focus is internal competence, we recognize that resilience is also affected by interactions between the individual and his/her environment, that is, people are affected by the environment in which they live and vice versa, making them inextricably linked. As seen in figure 1, this link to the environment contributes to resilience when it provides youth with access to protective factors. Therefore, our hypothesis is that all three domains of PYD (agency and assets, contribution, and enabling environment) can contribute to the development of youth resilience both by building self-efficacy and increasing access to protective factors.


To address the research question, we will explore the following sub-questions:
a. How do youth and adults in the targeted communities define resilience?
b. How and what aspects of PYD were implemented and to what effects?
c. How do youth approach challenges? (According to the youth themselves and to the adults in their environment)
d. Have youth changed the way they address challenges since program participation? Why?


Our study employs a mixed method design that relies heavily on qualitative methods that include in-depth interviews and key informant interviews – life stories – supported by quantitative pre- and post-tests with nonequivalent comparison groups. Both projects are collecting pre- and post-test data related to the General Self-Efficacy (GSE) scale (119 participants in Tunisia and 194 participants in Mozambique) and social network data as part of their monitoring and evaluation. Both projects use the same survey tool asking about who project participants communicate with and where they spend their time.

In both Tunisia and Mozambique, we purposively selected 12-16 youth who have faced significant obstacles for mini-case studies to identify why some youth have succeeded despite obstacles and why others are struggling – and whether the interventions have anything to do with their success or lack of success. Targeting “extreme cases” to study is particularly useful for understanding complex phenomena, such as the relationship between PYD interventions and resilience, especially when the number of cases studies is limited (Patton, 2015).

In the case of Tunisia, significant obstacles include those that increase the vulnerability of youth to join violent extremist groups. Youth selected for mini-case studies have experienced or are still experiencing at least two of the push or pull factors that increase this vulnerability:

Push factors
• Experiences with violence in the hands of security forces, domestic violence or abuse
• Economic despair or deprivation, e.g., long-term unemployment despite high levels of education
• Grievances due to feelings of injustice, e.g., repetitive unfair treatment by government institutions
• Lack of connection or feelings of not belonging, e.g., mismatch between youth aspirations and the values or expectations of the community or family

Pull factor
• Exposure to violent extremist groups, recruiters or radical ideology

In the context of Mozambique, project participants are orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) who were or continue to be experiencing one or more of the following factors:
• Unemployment
• Chronic health issues (mental or physical)
• Extreme poverty

In both contexts, interviewers will ask questions about the following topics: youth experience with adversity and their sense of opportunity; youth perceptions of the impact of the intervention in their life; youth assessment of their own resilience; and access to protective factors such as supportive families, caring adults, schools, etc.

The study’s quantitative analysis will employ propensity score matching or entropy balancing, to estimate the effects of the interventions on youth resilience. We will use demographic characteristics such as gender, age, first language, ethnicity/religion, educational attainment, enrollment status, and socioeconomic factors like employment status, number of dependents, etc. to achieve balance between treatment and comparison groups. This type of analysis will not establish causal relationships between the intervention and outcomes. The analysis may find correlations that will help unpack a smaller group of possible mechanisms by which the interventions are affecting youth resilience.

Projects in the study

The two projects that serve as case studies for this research are the USAID Sharekna project in Tunisia under the Countering Violent Extremism in the Middle East and North Africa (CoVE-MENA) Task Order, and the Mozambique Programa Para O Futuro project under YouthPower Action.

The Sharekna project (Sharekna is Arabic for “participate with us”) is a 28-month pilot activity designed to mitigate drivers of violent extremism and strengthen resiliencies by targeting demographic groups and geographies that are vulnerable to violent extremist recruitment and radicalization. As a community and youth resilience program, Sharekna aims to change behaviors, improve capacities, relationships and actions in a dynamic, complex environment. In each of the four Sharekna target communities, two intertwined pathways will contribute to strengthen resilience: one focused on individuals (youth ages 14–29), and the other on the broader community, or community stakeholders. (Read about how Sharekna uses youth video diaries here.)

The Programa Para O Futuro project is a youth development and employability program designed to help orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and youth ages 15–17. The intervention enables youth to gain an integrated set of employability and technical skills and improved basic education competencies so that they can build better futures through quality livelihoods, improved health and civic engagement. It also provides parent support groups that improve youth-parent communication and relationships, “e-mentors” and an internship to help build a professional network and positive adult role models and an opportunity to practice employability skills, and peer education and youth-led clubs to support youth to contribute to their communities.

We anticipate that our findings will help understand how interventions for youth that use a PYD approach affect youth resilience. Our research continues through September 2018 and we plan to have a completed manuscript by December 2018.

We will share our findings in future posts!

Conflict management training for peacekeepers – Lessons and recommendations


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Since 2008, USIP’s Academy has trained more than five thousand peacekeepers in more conflict management skills of conflict analysis, negotiation, mediation, and the protection of civilians. Based on interviews with returned peacekeepers trained by USIP, community members in mission areas, and trainers, this report assesses the relevance and effectiveness of this training program—and offers key recommendations to improve the content, design, and delivery of conflict management training more broadly.

To download the report click here:



  • USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding has conducted conflict management training for peacekeepers since 2008. In 2014 the Academy began an assessment of this training to determine its relevance and effectiveness.
  • The assessment reveals that USIP’s training on communication, negotiation, and mediation is relevant to the needs of peacekeepers and helps them defuse conflicts in mission. In dealings with the civilian population, peacekeepers recognize the intersection between communication, respect, and cultural understanding.
  • Peacekeepers see negotiation skills as key to effective peacekeeping. They use these skills in a range of contexts, including with the local population, with parties to the conflict, and within their battalion; and they often continue to use negotiation skills in personal and professional contexts when they return home.
  • Community members seek a better understanding of peacekeepers’ mission and more constructive engagement with peacekeepers.
  • To engage with communities, peacekeepers must develop a mindset that is conducive to problem solving, as well as relevant knowledge, skills, and attitudes, during their pre-deployment training.
  • Peacekeepers’ performance in protecting civilians is inconsistent.
  • The UN’s ambiguous language around sexual exploitation and abuse creates confusion for peacekeepers and poses challenges to compliance.
  • Peacekeepers benefit from the practical exercises, role plays, and simulations included in their training, which give them plenty of opportunity to apply skills. In general, a participant-centered approach whose focus is not primarily military adds value to pre-deployment training.



Conflict sensitive education: A brief conversation


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What is conflict-sensitive education and why is it needed? Joseph Sany and Anne Smiley, FHI 360 technical advisors, outline the components of this way of looking at education in specific contexts and highlight considerations for increasing the positive effects while decreasing the negative effects of education in conflict settings.

Islam and Terrorism: A Risky Topic of Conversations.


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The terrorist attacks in Paris, Belgium, and Turkey, not to mention dozens of previous such attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, etc. have sparked a very intense debate in the West on trans-national terrorism and trans-national violent extremism. In America, there are those who directly connect Islam, Muslims with terrorism. While others, will not dare to put Islam and terrorism in the same sentence.

Between these two positions, it is becoming quite risky for well-intentioned researchers and policy-makers to raise some hard questions regarding Islam and the current form of trans-national terrorism. Doing so without directly accusing Muslims and Islam for supporting terrorism is seen as disingenuous in some circles. Meanwhile, on the other side, they are accused of promoting Islamophobia or simply not being culturally sensitive.

Caught in the middle of this debate is no other than President Obama himself. His reluctance, rightly so, in my opinion, of not using the term “Islamic” terrorism, has provoked the ire of a segment of Americans, who bizarrely accuse him of, at best, being weak on the war against Trans-National Violent Extremist Organizations (TVEOs) and at worst, supporting them. President Obama is right from a semantic and symbolic standpoint, not to use “Islamic” terrorism to describe the current trans-national terrorism. Let’s consider a situation where someone says “American values”, “American wars” or “American cars.” The use of the adjective “American” immediately associates the entire country  (or continent ) with the aforementioned values, wars or cars and furthermore, it gives ownership of these notions to America. Words create realities in people’s minds. Using the term “Islamic terrorism” immediately associates terrorism with the entire community of Muslims, which is misleading and dangerous. While understandable and even justified, the President’s stance on this matter and the reasoning behind it, have unfortunately been used by some to shut down any discussion about Islam and terrorism, and to cast doubt on the motives of pertinent questions such as:

  • How does the current inter-Islamic ecumenical debate, and the related power-struggle between Sunni and Shiah leaders, facilitate the recruitment by TVEOs?
  • Why is Islam being used by TVEOs, such as Daesh (ISIL), Al Qaeda, Boko Haram to legitimize their narratives, rituals and actions?
  • What are the effects of the current fight against trans-national terrorism led by western countries on the diverse global Muslim community of faith?

Of course, these are not the only questions we should be asking. But they are essential pieces of a complicated puzzle, and therefore should not be avoided or ignored.

What opportunities could be missed by avoiding these questions and many others in that vein?

Currently, there is a failure to fully appreciate and leverage the healthy debate that is going on in the Muslim world between reformists/progressives and conservatives on the role and place of Islam in the globalized modern world. This debate is a window into the potential confusion that young Muslims searching for religious meaning could experience; a confusion quite often exploited by TVEOs. But by recognizing and disseminating these type of debates in the public sphere, there is an opportunity to show alternative non-violent ways and that different opinions within the Muslim community co-exist. These types of internal conversations can be important educational tools for youth in particular, who are searching for answers and forming their religious identity. A couple of years ago, I came across a radio program in Chad during which two Muslim clerics were having an intense debate about the extent to which a modern society can apply the Sharia Law. The program was part of a donor-funded project. After the broadcast, there was a facilitated discussion among youth of the listeners’ group I was observing. I was impressed and encouraged by the quality of feedback and the constructive learning that occurred.

That experience highlighted to me the importance for example, of leveraging technology to encourage and connect the hundred million youth and women who are faithful Muslims, and who faithfully and humbly honor their relationship with God in the spirit of tolerance and love of others, to share their stories. They may not have the skills to craft moderate and politically correct messages suitable for conferences and western donors’ wishes; but if given the opportunity, they could share in their own words the experience of their own Jihad grounded in their daily reality and legitimized by their Muslim faith. These could be relevant counter-messages to TVEOs’ narratives, and maybe more appealing than messages crafted by clerics who do have the knowledge of Islam, but may lack the legitimacy to appeal to people targeted by TVEOs for recruitment.

Transnational terrorism since 9/11 attacks in the US cannot be fully captured from a secular analytical perspective alone. TVEOs such as Daesh, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram feed in part, not entirely, on the ecumenical and doctrinal ambiguities of Islam. By the way, these ambiguities are not true of Islam alone; all major monotheist religions have them. They raise internal debates and tensions, and have led in some cases to major schisms.

Governments, policy-makers and practitioners who have made it their goal to counter or prevent trans-national terrorism, cannot afford to shy away from asking the types of questions raised in this blog. However, answers to these questions should be analyzed in relation to other factors and within the different contexts in which they’re being asked. Discussions and analyses around transnational terrorism and violent extremism should not be reduced to debates about the effects of Islam, but should be informed and enhanced by frank discussions on the role that Islam and Muslims can play in perpetrating or preventing Trans-national violent extremism.  Essentially, those worried about fueling Islamophobia should take control of these conversations rather than ignore them, because by avoiding these questions they are not only missing the opportunity to benefit from the answers they might get, but also presenting an opportunity for the other side to manipulate and define the answers in ways that could be far more damaging.

Terrorism can be supported and perpetrated by people of different religious and ideological leanings; it is not unique or restricted to Islam, nor does it characterize or represent Muslims or their faith. However, the fact remains that the deadliest and most far-reaching TVEOs today ground themselves in Islam specifically and target Muslims around the world in their recruitment and killings (Muslims account for the highest numbers of victims from terrorist acts). We should be ready to ask difficult, but important, questions about the role of religion and ideology in extremism irrespective of what that religion or ideology is. Again, the key is to ensure that they are asked for the right purpose, in a constructive way, and with open mindedness.

It is a fine line to walk on, a difficult challenge, but one worth taking!

Integrated development through the prism of governance (audio)

The births of almost half the world’s children are not registered, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Without a birth certificate, children will face barriers in accessing health care, education and other basic services.

Source: Integrated development through the prism of governance (audio)

Ménage à Trois: Boko Haram, Oil Prices and Climate Change


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The confluence of violent extremism, drop in oil prices and climate change is profoundly changing socio-economic dynamics in the Lake Chad region, consequently our understanding of violent extremism and how to respond to it. Boko Haram is taking notice, but can the same be said of governments and international donors engaged in the fight against violent extremism in the region?
Boko Haram – Last week, Boko Haram (BH) made news by killing more than 80 people in the village of Dalori in Borno State, Nigeria. I have lost count of Boko Haram attacks in Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. These attacks have taken place despite increasing military pressure from countries of the Lake Chad Basin region with the support of Western Powers including the United States.
Since 2015 Boko Haram has lost a good number of villages and towns, but not its lethality. It has gone on to become the deadliest terrorist group in history (more than 20,000 killed between 2009 and 2016). The loss of territory has in fact mislead some analysts and officials including President Buhari of Nigeria, to announce the defeat of Boko Haram. It is fair to say that the Nigerian army has achieved some military successes such as, seizing major towns and cutting supply routes, among other things. But it is too early to claim victory. The organization has temporarily shifted from a territory-centric strategy (control of territory) to increased targeted suicide attacks on soft targets, the use of female suicide bombers, harassments of local businesses, and propaganda. As previously discussed in this blog, BH hopes that governments of the region will respond to its spectacular attacks with brutal and indiscriminate military offensives, which will inevitably create abuses and victims among innocent populations and eventually de-legitimize security forces and play into Boko Haram’s advantage. Boko Haram has used this tactical shift in the past with noticeable success.

In sum, the multiplication of Boko Haram attacks amidst loss of territory should not be necessarily considered a sign of despair or agony, but rather a coping mechanism, a Machiavellian plan to push governments and military of the regions to recreate the conditions both “pull” (grievances, illegitimacy, discredit of security forces) and “push” (poverty, corruption, communal tensions) that have propelled BH in the gruesome circle of violent extremist organizations. In addition to this shift in strategy BH has its job cut out for it by two unexpected bedfellows: The drop in oil prices and climate change.

Drop in oil prices – Three of the countries waging the fight against violent extremist groups (Boko Haram, Ansaru and other local groups) in the lake Chad neighborhood are also oil producing countries and revenues from oil constitute an important revenue stream for these governments. For instance, in Nigeria, the oil and gas sector accounts for about 35 percent of gross domestic product, and petroleum exports revenue represents over 90 percent of total exports revenue, roughly 70% of government revenues (according to Government and OPEC data). In Cameroon, oil revenues represent roughly 40% of export revenues and 20% in government revenues. In Chad oil revenues constitute about 48% of government revenues. These countries were forecasting in their 2015-2016 budget an average price of 70 $US a barrel, with a barrel currently below 40 $US and future prospects not looking good, these countries will experience some cutbacks, and possibly worst. They will have to make difficult choices between sustaining their military engagement against BH and keeping their promises of addressing humanitarian, economic and infrastructural projects in regions mostly affected by violent extremism and terrorism amidst dramatic loss of revenues. But this difficult dilemma may also be a blessing, as it could push these countries to review their strategy and strike a smart balance between military approaches that take into consideration the new BH strategy and much needed non-military interventions that are structural in nature but targeted to community needs, for example, the adoption of so much needed land administration reforms policy (structural change) in Cameroon that secure and provide easy access to land ownership for local farmers in North Cameroon.

Climate change –Climate change is a brutal reality in the Lake Chad region. The region is experiencing radical and erratic weather conditions with longer periods of drought that are affecting food production. The adverse effects of climate change are destroying most local economic value chains including: fishing, agricultural, dairy and meat products. Local farmers, cattle owners and fishermen are caught between increased Boko Haram taxes and decreased revenues due to loss of productivity. Entire communities are witnessing the gradual erosion of their livelihood and resilience. Herders’ and farmers’ communities are fighting over shrinking arable land. For some young people in communities in Northern Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad, joining Boko Haram has become a viable option to ensure one’s livelihood and family’s survival.

The drop in oil prices, albeit temporary (hopefully) is eroding capacities of government to respond comprehensively (military and non-military responses) to the threat posed by violent extremism. The effects of climate change are aggressively destroying communities and people’s livelihoods and pitching communities against each other (pastoralists vs. farmers; IDPs vs. host communities, etc.). Boko Haram is exploiting these dynamics. BH clearly has a regional strategy with the end goal of building a caliphate in the region of the Lake Chad basin. While its strategy is regional, its operations are decentralized and local. BH leverages its good knowledge of local contexts and local loyalties to, on one hand, exploit communities and individuals’ frustrations due to government’s unresponsiveness and deficiencies (corruption, abuses, etc.), and on the other hand, exacerbate communities’ vulnerabilities aggravated by climate change among other factors.

Understanding violent extremism in this new context requires exploring the complex links between the traditional hypothesized drivers of violent extremism (grievances, perception of injustice, sense of belonging, poverty, corruption, among other factors) and micro and macro phenomena that affect governments’ capacities and actions, local communities’ vulnerabilities and resilience and violent extremist organizations (VEO) adaptive and coping mechanisms. It means integrating macro phenomena at regional level with local experiences of these phenomena at the levels of communities and individuals. Personal stories and experiences become powerful mediums of information and understanding. Boko Haram uses them to build its appealing narrative and inform its actions.

Therefore, to effectively address violent extremism in the region and effectively defeat groups like Boko Haram, governments and international actors should recognize the complexity of the situation from a regional perspective, commit to sustained multi-sectoral efforts, informed by local realities. While smart and targeted military interventions are still necessary, integrated or multi-sectoral non-military interventions informed by ongoing assessments of both regional and local communities’ aspirations, vulnerabilities and resilience are crucial. Yes, it is fair to say the situation in the region is complex, involving many diverse, yet interconnected elements. That is why a military solution or a development approach alone is no match.

Governments from the region and international actors will have to think regionally, design comprehensively and act locally. We are in for a long haul!

Boko Haram: Will Nigeria and the Neighboring Countries Win the Fight but Lose the Peace?


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Since March 2015 there have been noticeable military successes against Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The most important victory in my view is the liberation on April 2015 of hundreds of women and children held captives in Sambisa forest, Northeastern Nigeria and used by Boko Haram as sex slaves, porters and even human bombs. Today, the terrain-centric strategy that helped Boko Haram control a territory larger than Belgium (about 15% of Nigeria), has been limited by the military coalition composed of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, causing the violent extremist group to lose ground. Its latest decision to rename itself “Islamic States’ West Africa,” an affiliate of DAESH (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), may be a sign that things are not working in their favor, but it could also announce a change of tactics and heightening in lethality and brutality, mirroring the horror we are constantly seeing in Syria, Iraq and Libya where the so-called DAESH is in control.

In his inaugural address last Friday, May 29, 2015, the newly elected president of Nigeria, President Buhari showed his resolve to defeat Boko Haram by announcing the relocation of the Military command and control center of the counter-insurgency against Boko Haram to Maiduguri, the group’s birthplace. This move demonstrates the President’s intention to bring military leadership closer to the point of action, while also grounding the military decision-making process in the realities of the battlefield. This move also sends a symbolic message to the terrorists, which states: “We are bringing the fight to you…” But Boko Haram did not wait long to respond. Before the last guest to the inaugural party left the capital city, Abuja, Boko Haram conducted several attacks in Maiduguri, killing more than 20 people and destroying buildings, including a Mosque.

While the resolve of the president and his willingness to work with neighboring countries is commendable, his exclusive focus on security and military responses is limited. Nigeria has been down that road before, specifically in 2009, when the group was crushed by the Nigerian military and some of its hard core members forced into hiding, only to come back stronger, more determined and blood thirsty than ever. Unlike other conflicts West Africa has witnessed in such countries as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, etc., which offered possibilities of peace agreements, followed by Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs, fights against terrorists groups do not generally lead to DDR. In the case of Boko Haram, a military victory like the one in 2009 will likely mean that Shekau and some of his lieutenants are killed, forced into hiding or captured but the majority of foot soldiers will vanish into neighboring towns and villages in the Lake Chad region. These combatants will more likely constitute local criminal groups, moving on to terrorize truck and bus drivers and their passengers on major roads, steal from cattle raisers and farmers throughout different towns in the region, while awaiting their next recruiters, be they disgruntled politicians who’ve lost elections or charismatic religious leaders with a political agenda.

George Santayana, the Italian philosopher once warned the world a century ago: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I hope our leaders remember!

Military victories in the fight against violent extremism can only provide narrow windows of opportunity for peace and development work. They are not solutions. Defeating Boko Haram and winning lasting peace in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region will require a fundamental shift in the thinking of leaders. A shift that gives equal focus if not, priority to nonmilitary interventions that address reasons why Boko Haram’s leaders are able to mobilize, train, pay and equip so many combatants, some of whom were learning to operate weapons for the first time. Nigeria nor any of the countries fighting Boko Haram cannot militarize his way out of the issues Boko Haram is thriving upon, including socioeconomic exclusion, systemic corruption, poverty, abuses by security forces and a general sense of abandonment that leads some young men and women to radicalization.

There is no shortcut to the painstaking yet crucial work of socioeconomic reconstruction, restoration of rule of law, and local participation in decision-making. Leaders of the Lake Chad Region will have to commit and show resolve in the reconstruction front as well. Some private organizations are already implementing development projects in the Lake Chad region. However, without clear commitment and support from regional leaders, these projects may just be Band-Aids, rather than sustained, comprehensive and integrated reconstruction initiatives that are needed at both local and regional levels.