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!

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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.

Presidential elections in Nigeria: A lesson of fair-play!

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The election of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari as the new president of Nigeria is an historic event in many ways. Many observers, including myself, were holding their breath as results from different states were rolling in. After all, it would not have been a surprise to anyone, had these elections triggered off post electoral violence of epic proportion. Electoral violence is not an exception in Africa and in Nigeria for that matter (unfortunately).

Thank God, with a trick that only Nigeria has the secret, the worst nightmare was avoided; even better, Nigeria gave to Africa a show of electoral maturity, responsible media coverage of elections, and skillful independent electoral commission. All stakeholders rose up to the historic moment! Starting with Nigerian citizens who showed tremendous political maturity, commitment to elections and courage, despite threats of violence; the security forces who delivered on their promises of a violence free elections; local community and religious leaders who broadcasted messages of calm and peace.

But my hero of this historic night is the outgoing president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan! After learning about his eminent defeat, President Goodluck made a short congratulatory call to the winner Buhari. After this gracious action, he then delivered the emotional and thoughtful speech below. A speech I wished many incumbent African presidents before him had made in order to save their countries a bloodbath. A speech I hope will inspire many current African Presidents who are facing elections in the coming months and year or are planning to change their constitutions to cling on to power.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s short speech will go a long way in securing a peaceful transition in Nigeria. The journey is still long, the next few weeks will be critical in Nigeria, as we are still awaiting gubernatorial elections on April 11, 2015.

I hope politicians in Nigeria and Africa will follow this brave example.
President Goodluck Jonathan… Nigeria was lucky to have you as the incumbent President! Goodbye and Good luck!

Full Text of the :
STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN AFTER THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE RESULTS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2015

Fellow Nigerians,
I thank you all for turning out en-masse for the March 28 General Elections.
I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word. I have also expanded the space for Nigerians to participate in the democratic process. That is one legacy I will like to see endure.
Although some people have expressed mixed feelings about the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I urge those who may feel aggrieved to follow due process based on our constitution and our electoral laws, in seeking redress.
As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.
I congratulate all Nigerians for successfully going through the process of the March 28th General Elections with the commendable enthusiasm and commitment that was demonstrated nationwide.
I also commend the Security Services for their role in ensuring that the elections were mostly peaceful and violence-free.
To my colleagues in the PDP, I thank you for your support. Today, the PDP should be celebrating rather than mourning. We have established a legacy of democratic freedom, transparency, economic growth and free and fair elections.
For the past 16 years, we have steered the country away from ethnic and regional politics. We created a Pan-Nigerian political party and brought home to our people the realities of economic development and social transformation.
Through patriotism and diligence, we have built the biggest and most patriotic party in Nigerian history. We must stand together as a party and look to the future with renewed optimism.
I thank all Nigerians once again for the great opportunity I was given to lead this country and assure you that I will continue to do my best at the helm of national affairs until the end of my tenure.
I have conveyed my personal best wishes to General Muhammadu Buhari.
May God Almighty continue to bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I thank you all.

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR
President,
Federal Republic of Nigeria
March 31, 2015

Is the fight against Boko Haram reshaping regional cooperation in Africa?

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Boko Haram is waging one of the deadliest hybrid wars (both conventional and asymmetric) Africa has ever seen. While the consequences are devastating and costly both in terms of human lives and property; paradoxically, this conflict is also contributing positively to a nascent form of results-driven cooperation between countries of the Lake Chad basin (Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger) in the frontline of this conflict.

As I look at the evolving situation, I can’t help but to think of a book by Lewis Coser, which I read more than a decade ago: The Functions of Social Conflict. In this book, Coser identifies one of the functions of social conflict to be the reinforcement of in-group cohesion in a conflict against an out-group, when there is already some level of order and centralization. Inversely, he continues, conflict can lead to the disintegration of the in-group where there is already despotism and division. I argue that the first part of Coser’s argument can explain the nascent results-driven cooperation Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin; while the second part may predict what awaits Nigeria, if the confusion and lack of resolve this country has shown so far, persist.

A new cooperation paradigm may be emerging out of necessity
The existentialist threat posed by Boko Haram seems to have succeeded in accomplishing what more than two decades of relentless diplomatic efforts have not been able to accomplish that is, a results-driven cooperation between countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) now in the frontline of this hybrid war. Since the beginning of 2015, we have observed an unprecedented coordination of military efforts between Chad and Cameroon, joined by Niger and Benin. Not even the devastating impact of climate change on the livelihoods of communities in Lake Chad Basin, nor the vicious and bloody attacks of cross-border banditry were able to bring these countries together to coordinate the simplest patrols.

The picture of Cameroonian and Chadian soldiers sharing a meal together under tents in Kolofata and Fotokol (two of the Cameroonian towns heavily destroyed by Boko Haram attacks); and of President Paul Biya of Cameroon congratulating President Idriss Deby of Chad during a Summit of The ECCAS (Economic Community of Central Africa held on January 16, 2015 in Cameroon), speak volumes. These moments of communion between armed forces and leaders of the two countries have more symbolic and strategic impact than the dozen of treaties and agreements signed between the two countries on other issues of importance.

Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have engaged more than 7 500 soldiers in the fight. They are coordinating their operations against Boko Haram, sharing intelligence and resources. They may be receiving support from the US, France and other Western powers. However, this outside support while important, is not driving their engagement in the fight. By all accounts, countries of the region are on the front row of this battle. Cameroon is supporting the bulk of non-military supplies and logistics (Gasoline, food, etc.) of the Chadian deployment for example.

During the 24th AU ordinary session in Addis Ababa (January 30th-31st, 2015), in a long awaited move, the African Union endorsed the decision of deploying a regional force of 7 500 soldiers to support countries waging the war against Boko Haram (The plan will be submitted to the UN Security Council). This endorsement is far from adequate; but it has the merit of mutualizing regional resources, and more importantly recognizing the regional threat that is Boko Haram. It brings terrorism in the regional agenda. Africans and communities in the frontline (the borders between Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger) can’t wait for the deployment of the multinational force.

Key questions for the future

Are Cameroon, Chad and Niger re-writing the rules of international security cooperation, particularly the expected role of Western Powers when dealing with regional terrorist groups like Boko Haram?
These countries, Cameroon first, took matters into their own hands. Cameroon deployed thousands troops along the border with Nigeria, dealt successfully with several hostage situations involving Westerners and Chinese in the hands of Boko Haram; while fighting relentlessly against them in border towns with Nigeria. Then Chad joined in to carry the fight to Boko Haram in Nigeria. These countries did not expect nor wait for the West to send in troops or financial resources. They are staying the course in a sort of “pull strategy”, seeming to say: “We will deal with this problem ourselves; we would like you to help us; but we will not wait for your help, nor allow you to dictate the terms of the help.” It is worth reminding that Cameroon, Chad and Niger have a security cooperation agreements with France, the same legal framework that France invoked to act in Cote d’Ivoire and recently in Mali.

Is the fight against Boko Haram helping sketch a new template of how Africa can work together to solve wicked and complex African problems? A template of a results driven cooperation based on neighboring countries working together, and the African Union marshalling resources at regional and international level to support country and sub-regional efforts. Will this cooperation that has started in the military front move to other strategic and vital sectors, such as trade, environmental, transport and free movement of goods? Let’s hope so.

It may be too early to consider this military cooperation against Boko Haram as the emergence of a new template of an African results-driven regional cooperation. It may be too premature to argue that armed forces from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin are midwifing the birth of a new paradigm of African solidarity. A form of solidarity that is born out of necessity sure, but based on African strengths first. In this new paradigm, the US and the West have smartly chosen to stay in the waiting room (maybe out necessity and constraints); waiting to be called in to provide needed resources when requested.

Let’s hope that the labor will not be long and painful, as I am afraid it will be!

Ebola-Fragility Tandem: From Epidemic to Instability…

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The Ebola virus has started a vicious journey in each of the countries at the epicenter of the epidemic: Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. A journey that most likely began in the forest of the Mano river region; resulting in multiple deaths, destruction of families and communities and inexorably destabilizing existing fragile systems (health, education, economic, domestic and cross border trade), as well as state institutions.

The rising human toll of more than 2 700 deaths according to the World Health Organization is worrisome; and the predictions from health officials to contain this virus are not encouraging at the moment. According to most health experts and specialized institutions, the situation in West Africa will deteriorate before getting better (hopefully). Unfortunately, the death toll and to some extent the economic impact are just the visible tip of the iceberg. Currently, the institutional and social impacts of the Ebola epidemic are yet to be understood by government officials and health experts alike.

As I follow reports and comparing the gravity of the epidemic in countries affected so far (Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo), I am beginning to see what I will term the “Ebola –Fragility Tandem.” The Ebola-fragility tandem is the dynamic interaction between Ebola and the inability of a country’s public systems and state institutions to perform and respond to the basic needs and expectations of its citizens. It seems to me that, the Ebola virus will worsen in an environment with a weak public and health system, poor urban planning, less educated citizenry and a weak government presence.

The Ebola-fragility tandem becomes even more apparent when one realizes that the most affected countries are also in the list of fragile states in Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. According to the African Development Bank (AFDB) the mentioned countries are indeed in the list of fragile states in West Africa. There seems to be some correlation (not necessarily causation) between state fragility and the gravity of the epidemic which is impacting many lives and communities.

The scenes of soldiers shooting civilians with real bullets in Mamba point, Liberia, as citizens opposed a hastily decided quarantine; the recent killing of 08 health authorities in N’Zérékoré, Guinea as they were conducting awareness campaigns against the Ebola virus, have become familiar and symptomatic of the insidious effects of this mutually reinforcing Ebola-fragility tandem. While the level of state fragility determines the gravity of the Ebola epidemic; the epidemic worsens state fragility, in a simple but destructive osmosis.
In addition to the measurable impact of Ebola (death toll, economic impact, etc.), the effect on social fabric and state institutions is equally devastating; aggravating the mistrust of citizens towards public institutions health and security in particular, increasing social suspicion and eroding community solidarity. The fact that the epicenter of the current Ebola epidemic is located in the Mano river region, unfortunately reminds me of the Mano river conflict system that wracked that region in 1990s until 2000s with the similar effects on institutions and the social fabric. Today, the Ebola epidemic is merging with factors of fragility; and this collusion is threatening the precarious stability of the Mano river region.

Addressing the Ebola-fragility tandem requires solutions that go beyond the realm of public health to involve other sectors and stakeholders both at the national and regional levels. As money and resources are spent in building health infrastructure and increasing the capacities and number of health workers, it is important to start addressing the underlying structural and institutional factors of fragility that have enable the rapid spread of the epidemic; and which unfortunately have been worsened by it.

So instead of isolating countries affected by the epidemic and stigmatizing their citizens or any traveler who has happened to only transit (few hours) in these countries, as it is currently the case in airports around the world; it is advisable to apply some of the strategies used back in the 1990s and 2000s during the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. During those periods, these countries were not isolated. Instead, neighboring countries, western powers and the UN Security Council collaborated in a momentum of solidarity, interdependence and cooperation, to address what was then considered a threat to international security.

Fighting the Ebola-fragility tandem is a sustained, comprehensive and holistic endeavor that should not be left in the fragile hands of countries at the epicenter of the epidemic!

Boko Haram thriving in an institutional vacuum!

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Boko Haram made a sudden apparition on television screens around the world in April 2014 with the abduction of more than 200 school girls in Chibok. Following the kidnappings, a worldwide campaign “Bring Back our Girls,” was organized to plea for the safe return of these students. The worldwide campaign” as well as other social media outlets inevitably gave Boko Haram undeserved publicity. Today, the transformation of Boko Haram from a marginalized domestic terrorist group initially fighting for systemic changes (end of corruption, impunity, instauration of Sharia Law) in Northern Nigeria; to a terrorist insurgent group controlling swaths of Nigerian territory, exposes the decay and dysfunctions of some key institutions in Nigeria and the region.

Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in Hausa; its official name is “Jamāʿat ʾahl al-sunnah li-l-Daʿwah wa-al-Jihād “ meaning in Arabic “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” Boko Haram started in the 2000s as a Muslim sect under the leadership of the Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf who denounced the corruption of leaders and preached a non-violent way of social change. While advocating for Sharia law; terrorism was not yet part of the group arsenal. The popularity of the leader soared as his criticisms against politicians became louder and resonated with disenfranchised and marginalized youth. In 2009, there were frequent clashes between Boko Haram and security forces. The same year, during a series of raids, the army crushed the group, killed hundreds of followers, destroyed their main mosque, the Al-Haji Muhammadu Ndimi Mosque in Maiduguri, and arrested its leader Ustaz Yusuf who would be later executed without due process. The group’s remaining members went underground to re-emerge later in 2010 under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, now more organized, deadly, and committed to the goal of creating a “caliphate Islamic state” in Northern Nigeria.

Most insurgent groups generally go after two main prizes: territory and populations. Their strategies are terrain centric (conquer and hold territory) and population centric (win over and control population) and in most cases, to win over population, these groups will kill people of their own group and leaders who stand against them and intimidate through public display of gruesome acts of violence; they will also attack security apparatus and symbols of state power.
Let’s look at Boko Haram today:

Terrain centric – The goal is to create an Islamic Caliphate in Northern Nigeria. The towns of Bara, Marte, Gamboru Ngala, Dikwa, Bama, Gwoza, Damboa, and Banki in Borno state, and recently Buni Yadi and Bara towns in Yobe state have fallen and Boko Haram is advancing toward Maidaguri the capital city of Borno State.

Population centric – None of these towns have the type of resources Nigeria is so well endowed with, but Boko Haram is also trying to win the hearts and minds of the local population (in their own way) and regulate social relations and interactions. The fall of these towns was done without the kind of mayhem Boko Haram is known for. According to eye witnesses, instead, Boko Haram combatants were preaching and asking people not to be afraid. However, in order to control populations, they will eventually use extreme violence.

Boko Haram violence is not senseless and blind as people may think. It is purposeful and strategically aimed at: a) degrading the state security apparatus, killing, demoralizing, and intimidating individual soldiers; b) provoking the Nigerian army to overreact and alienate the populations they seek to protect (there are reports of the army using child soldiers, harassing civilian populations, and other abuses); and c) stretching the Army thin by mounting attacks in different cities, suicide bombings, kidnappings, bank attacks, and other activities that require important deployment of Nigerian armed forces without impacting Boko Haram capability.
The metamorphosis of Boko Haram from an obscure Islamic sect to a well known terrorist insurgency led by Abubakar Skehau unclothes many institutions in the region:

The Nigerian Army: a paper tiger – The debacle of the more than half of a battalion of the Nigerian Army who found refuge in Cameroon after the fall of the town of Bama (the second largest town of Borno state) is symptomatic of an Army that is demoralized and underequipped. The retreat of more than 500 Nigerian soldiers following a standoff with Boko Haram in Cameroon is really unsettling! We are talking of the Armed forces of the largest economy in Africa, an army of more than 160 000 men and women, with a budget of more than 5 billion US dollars (20% of the country’s GDP). The only logical conclusion is that long gone are the days when Nigerians and countries of the ECOMOG (Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular) could be proud of the Nigerian Army.
One of the most preeminent senators from Kaduna state and member of the Senate Joint National Assembly Committee and former General Hamed Saleh offers the following explanation, as reported in Allafrica.com : For us to understand why that is happening, we need to go back to the Babangida (Gen. Ibrahim Babangida) era. After the 1990 Okar coup, the Federal Government of Nigeria systematically and comprehensively disarmed the military…All the tanks, all the artillery guns were disarmed and locked up. All the aircraft were parked in Ilorin and other places, flying stopped, training stopped to ensure regime security, not national security…”All the good officers of the Nigerian Army were hounded out of the military…The attendant result was decay. Training was no longer going on at the battalion level, soldiers lost their skills and since then, no additional military equipment was purchased for the Nigerian Army. Even things as little as machine guns were in short supply, ammunition was in short supply…
This analysis of the Nigerian Army can be applied to many countries of the region where politicians’ mistrust of the Army and their own illegitimacy have transformed the mission of Armed forces from protection of the country to suppression of dissenting politicians and unarmed activists.

The African Union (AU): Missing in Action – On May 17, 2014, France organized and held a Summit on Security in Nigeria and the region. While the list of participants was impressive with the presence of head of states of Cameroon, Benin, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and representatives of the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, equally noteworthy was the list of absents, particularly the African Union (AU). The AU was simply not welcomed nor invited. Asked why the AU was not invited, one adviser to the French president gave the following answer: “AU has no intelligence capability”; to my knowledge the EU has none either. Beside the Paris Summit, AU itself did not initiate any summit or action to address the issue. This situation is an illustration of the increased apathy of the AU (not necessarily regional economic communities-REC) towards security issues and more unfortunately the lack of trust some African leaders have in this institution when it comes to security matters.

Regional security cooperation: Elusive catch word! – Should the Boko Haram Caliphate become a reality, it will have as neighbors: Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger. It will be a landlocked caliphate. How will it survive? The answer probably lies on how the current insurgency is thriving. Experts argue that Boko Haram makes money by attacking banks, kidnappings, and other illegal endogenous activities. in addition there are ungoverned spaces, corrupt politicians and military officers, and weapon traffickers in these neighboring countries. These favorable factors build on the weak collaboration between security forces of the region and the mutual suspicion that exists among leaders of these border countries who would rather meet in Paris than in Abuja, Ndjamena, Yaoundé, Niamey, or Addis Ababa.

The response of the Nigerian government and neighboring countries so far has been enemy-centric that is, focusing on killing Boko Haram combatants and degrading their capabilities; unfortunately alienating the populations they are supposed to protect. It is worth mentioning that the enemy-centric approach has been so far productive in Cameroon, for the simple reason that Boko Haram has not shown any interest in controlling territory nor population in that country. Apparently it is well served by ransoms it received from kidnappings in Cameroon and the intelligence it receives from young disaffected Cameroonians, some of whom are joining the group for economic reasons. Hopefully, Cameroon will learn from Nigeria’s mistakes and be mindful of the importance of working for and with the local populations and addressing local grievances and sources of disaffection.
Boko Haram will eventually be defeated; unfortunately many people -many girls – will not live to see that day. A lot of innocent blood will be shed and thousands will be displaced and made refugees. It is time for the AU, particularly the African Union Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) to become proactive and more assertive as far as terrorism is concerned, working closely with other regional bodies; strengthen the collaboration of countries in the region; and rebuild the capacity of the Nigerian military. But in strengthening these institutions to defeat Boko Haram, policy-makers should not forget this principle from the field of medicine and now adopted by development practitioners, that is: “Do no harm” to the populations you are trying to protect. “Do no harm” in this case will also mean implementing “population- sensitive security and military operations” that work with and for the populations, protecting them from physical violence, but respecting their rights and guaranteeing their access to basic services (education, health, shelter, etc.). They should do more than winning the hearts and minds, and leverage local resources so that populations have the means (not only the will) to express their gratitude and support for the Nigerian government and other border countries in the fight against violent extremism.

Conflit en Casamance : Peut-être la lumière au bout du tunnel ?

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Le 14 octobre 2013, les représentants du gouvernement sénégalais et ceux du MFDC (groupe irrédentiste en Casamance au Sénégal) ont tenu une importante réunion. Celle-ci avait pour facilitateur la Communauté de Sant’Egidio. Cette importante réunion a permis de mettre en place un cadre commun des négociations de paix pour mettre un terme à l’un des plus longs conflits en Afrique subsaharienne. Certes prometteur, le processus est néanmoins menacé par des facteurs et des choix qui ont torpillés les précédents processus de paix.

Le 26 décembre 1982, la crise en Casamance au Sénégal a dégénéré en manifestations pour l’indépendance à Ziguinchor sa capitale régionale. Ces manifestations ont conduit à la mise aux arrêts de nombreux dirigeants du mouvement séparatiste casamançais le MFDC (Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de la Casamance). D’autres réactions du gouvernement ont mis le feu aux poudres et déclenché un conflit armé toujours en cours. C’est l’une des guerres civiles les plus longues encore en cours en Afrique. Bien que n’étant pas aussi meurtrier que certains des conflits sur le continent, ce conflit à basse intensité (attaques et affrontements sporadiques à l’aide d’armes légères et les mines) a néanmoins coûté la vie à environ 3 000 à 5 000 personnes entre 1982 et 2010. La situation actuelle en Casamance reste celle de « ni guerre, ni paix » bouleversée de temps en temps par des affrontements sporadiques et meurtriers de la part du gouvernement et de certaines factions rebelles. Cette situation a plombé le développement dans cette région, créé un terrain propice au banditisme, aux conflits communaux localisés et à la contrebande de toutes sortes de produits (drogues illégales, bois, armes légères et autres biens); par ailleurs, cette économie de la guerre est alimentée par l’instabilité en Guinée Bissau, qui est devenue une plateforme internationale du narcotrafic. La population locale est prise au piège dans un système de conflit qui implique le Sénégal, la Gambie, et la Guinée Bissau.

En dépit de la menace régionale que représente le conflit de la Casamance, il n’existe pas d’effort soutenu de la part de la communauté internationale pour un processus de paix. Peut-être cette fois-ci, la donne est en train de changer!

Depuis 1982, il y a eu de nombreuses tentatives pour ramener la paix dans cette partie du Senegal. En outre, de nombreux accords de cessez-le feu ont été signés depuis 1991. La Gambie et la Guinée Bissau ont facilité certains des ces accords. Le premier avait été signé le 31 mai 1991, à Cacheu en Guinée Bissau. Toutefois, le Front Sud (une des factions) du MFDC n’a jamais accepté l’accord du cessez-le feu. De nombreux autres suivront jusqu’au dernier accord partiel de paix signé le 30 décembre 2004 uniquement par une faction du MFDC. Cet accord de 2004 n’a apporté ni paix ni solution au conflit.

Compte tenu de la « factionalisation » du MFDC, la plupart de ces initiatives de paix n’ont jamais reçu le soutien de l’ensemble du mouvement, causant donc l’échec de chacun des accords ou initiatives. Le MFDC n’est pas le seul acteur fautif, car le gouvernement sénégalais également n’a pas apporté son soutien aux solutions fiables de paix en raison de l’absence de coordination et de suivi des engagements politiques et économiques.

Toutefois, le récent processus de médiation commencé en Octobre 2013 et facilité par la Communauté Sant’Egidio est porteur d’espoir. Tous les efforts semblent aller vers la paix, grâce à la conjugaison de plusieurs facteurs donc : la lassitude de la guerre chez les populations, des réunions informelles récurrentes et des initiatives de paix émanant des différents acteurs tant au niveau local que national, le paysage politique en mutation au Sénégal en raison de l’élection du Président Macky Sall, qui a promis de mettre un terme à ce conflit, et le retour de certaines agences internationales de développement. Ces macro tendances sont également appuyées par des actions concrètes telles que : la décision prise par le gouvernement sénégalais d’annuler le mandat d’arrêt lancé contre un des dirigeants du MFDC en la personne de Salif Sadio, la libération par le MFDC de 09 démineurs pris en otage, le rôle actif de médiation joué par la Communauté de Sant’Egidio.
Par cntre, cette nouvelle démarche pour la paix en Casamance n’est pas exempte des décisions et difficultés qui ont plombées les précédents processus de paix :

L’absence d’une approche globale de la part du gouvernement du Sénégal (GoS) – Le risque pour le gouvernement Sénégalais est double : absence d’une approche générale et envoi de nombreux émissaires. Le Président Macky Sall, n’a pas entretenu de secret sur le fait que la paix en Casamance fera partie de son lègue pour le pays. Jusqu’ici, la promesse et probablement la mise en exécution du plan de développement doté de 35 millions d’euros financé en partie par la Banque mondiale et qui donne la priorité à l’agriculture, aux routes et autres secteurs sensibles, permettront de résoudre les problèmes concrets de développement et les griefs qui ont alimentés le conflit pendant si longtemps. Mais en l’absence d’un cadre politique et d’une voie de sortie, les leaders du MFDC pourraient ne pas être motivés à rechercher réellement la paix. Dans sa quête d’une issue politique, le gouvernement du Sénégal devrait éviter le paradigme conflictuel actuel qui est celui d’« Unité nationale ou rien » Vs. « Indépendance ou rien »; mais plutôt recadrer les problèmes en termes de gouvernance participative et décentralisation. Ce cadre offre plus d’options que la dichotomie simpliste d’indépendance vs. intégrité territoriale du Sénégal.
Par ailleurs, l’une des stratégies de l’ancien président Wade était l’utilisation d’émissaires, que l’on appelait communément «Monsieur Casamance ». Cette stratégie a lamentablement échoué et à plutôt favoriser un réseau de corruption. Il est important pour le GoS de limiter le nombre d’intermédiaires avec le MFDC. La responsabilisation de l’ancien Maire de Ziguinchor, Mr. Robert Sagna en tant que chef négociateur pour le gouvernement permettrait de clarifier et de mieux articuler les positions du gouvernement.

Le risque de « factionalisation » continue du MFDC – La division au sein du MFDC a toujours constitué un défi à relever. Le rapprochement entre Ousmane Niantang Diatta et César Atoute Badiate du Front Sud est un signe encourageant. Mais le différend qui oppose le Front Sud (Diatta et Badiate) au Front Nord (Salif Sadio) constitue une grave menace. Le Front Nord souhaite négocier directement avec le gouvernement du Sénégal tandis que les sudistes veulent premièrement un dialogue au sein du MFDC avant de passer à la négociation avec le gouvernement. Si par le passé, le gouvernement du Sénégal a profité de la division au sein du MFDC, cette fois-ci, un MFDC moins divisé favorable à la paix pourrait être profitable à l’instauration de la paix.

Le risque de discuter avec les radicaux en ignorant les modérés – Les discussions à Rome ont commencé avec Salif Sadio, chef de la plus radicale des factions du MFDC. La Communauté de Sant’Egidio doit avoir probablement agi suivant le vieil adage qui dit que « l’on négocie avec ses ennemis et non pas avec ses amis ». Le résultat a été la frustration croissante du Front Sud de Cesar Batoute et Diatta. Il est temps de ramener à la table des négociations toutes les factions ainsi que les pays voisins que sont la Guinée Bissau et la Gambie. Suivant mon argumentaire ci-dessus, le conflit casamançais est le moteur d’un système de conflit qui part de Banjul en Gambie à Bissau en Guinée Bissau, par conséquent, les pays voisins font autant partie du problème que de la solution.

Ce sont là des défis complexes, les aborder nécessitera leadership et créativité de la part de tous les acteurs impliqués ! Mon espoir c’est de voir le peuple de la Casamance connaître enfin le dénouement de ce long conflit.