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Deaths in the Mediterranean are a direct result of ongoing crisis in north Africa

22 April 2015

Paul JacksonPaul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.

The rapid escalation this year in the numbers of people drowned as they flee in leaky boats across the Mediterranean is a direct consequence of the conflict in Iraq, Syria and north Africa, specifically Libya – where the implications of the Western intervention are playing out in the deaths of thousands, whether from the violence itself or as they try desperately to escape to safety.

Four years ago NATO member states and Arab allies began launching airstrikes that contributed to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Now, those same powers are discussing further action in Libya if the UN sponsored peace talks do not end in consensus, but this time the target will be the growing Islamic State movement linked to similar groups in Iraq and Syria.

The legacy of the fall of Gaddafi is the continuing lack of any state institutions coupled with a fragmented security architecture that has divided in to a myriad of armed groups, militias and rival factions that have left the army weak and the country subject to a civil war that has claimed more than 3,000 casualties and numerous human rights violations.

At its heart, the civil war is a conflict between two rival governments in Tripoli and in Tobruk, with only the Tobruk government having UN recognition as legitimate, but left controlling less than half of the country and half of one of the three main cities. This Tobruk coalition contains several former Gaddafi state officials, secularist and federalist elements along with the remains of part of the military.

The UN-recognised government headed by Abdullah al-Thinni, who was appointed by Libya’s House of representatives last year, is opposed by the originally legally installed government, the General National Council, which existed prior to elections held last year. The GNC is backed by a coalition known as “Operation Libya Dawn”, comprising a loose federation of Islamist groups, militias from Misrata and “Berber” groups. In November 2014, Libya’s Supreme Court cancelled the outcome of elections that brought the House of Representatives to power, essentially making its legal mandate void.

The country is also affected by the growth of Islamic State-affiliated groups, which hold territory in the cities of Sirte and Derna, and were responsible for a massacre of 21 mainly Christian labourers in February.

Last Tuesday, the military chief of the Tobruk forces, General Khalifa Haftar, voiced scepticism at any eventual outcome stating that he was “betting on a military solution”. Even with considerable military support from Egypt and the UAE, the Tobruk-based forces have so far failed to make significant progress against the GNC in Tripoli.

This is a critical problem. There does not appear to be a military winner in sight and among all the chaos, a wide variety of armed groups prosper as the centralised control of the GNC in Tripoli in particular weakens.

Ansar al Sharia, for example, is an organisation listed as a terrorist group associated with Al-Qaeda by the UN and is accused of murdering US ambassador Chris Stephens in Benghazi in 2012, but currently has a temporary alliance with Operation Libya Dawn in order to fight Heftar. But Ansar is losing members to the local chapter of IS.

Islamic State rising

IS has grown very quickly beyond its core in the city of Derna. It has a presence in Benghazi and Sirte and even in Tripoli where it has been responsible for a bombing campaign. There are several reasons why IS has expanded but Libyans have a long history of military service overseas and a key driver has been the return of fighters from anti-Soviet movements in Afghanistan in the 1980s, boosted by further fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.

A worrying aspect of the IS growth is proximity to Libyan oilfields – a favourite source of income for the insurgents. This group has also deliberately escalated the conflict to accelerate the fragmentation of the armed groups and enhance the attractiveness of more extreme Islamist groups.

In early April, for example, IS made a calculated attack in murdering 21 Egyptian police officers, prompting Egyptian airstrikes in support of the Tobruk Government’s air assets. While this did not bring Egypt in to the war, it did make that intervention public, reinforcing the view that Libyan stability is critical to Egypt’s domestic security.

The other main player in potential intervention is Italy, which had offered to lead on any UN-sanctioned action in Libya. However, there is significant disagreement over the method of intervention.

What can be done?

The most obvious intervention would be a peace-supporting mission following a UN-brokered peace agreement. This option, currently being led by Spanish diplomat Bernadino Leon, has some momentum amongst pragmatic elements of both rival governments but would need to create a national government capable of working across of these elements and also of maintaining control over government institutions. This government would be able to command international support, but would also need to develop a national approach to combating the growth of IS.

There is hope for this first option and it could command some of the most powerful military groups in Libya, but any UN force could be asked to take control of contested and politically sensitive installations across Libya to prevent those groups taking sole control.

However, this is an option that is likely to take time – and the international community, led by Italy, is unlikely to be very patient over this. With increasing disasters in the Mediterranean involving refugees fleeing the hardships of Libya, the threat of IS reaching Italy looms large – and a more likely approach would be to take the campaign against IS to Libya sooner rather than later.

The most likely outcome, therefore, would be that a UN-brokered peace agreement would be tied to fighting IS and not necessarily tackling the underlying issues fuelling the civil war. Egypt’s involvement in the civil war further complicates this, since any government in Tripoli is unlikely to sanction Egyptian support in any campaign against IS. Such an intervention could eventually exacerbate the conflict rather than solving it through creating new allies for the IS forces that already exist.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The Conversation

Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa

1 April 2015

fisher-jonathan01Jonathan Fisher is a lecturer in IDD. His research is focused on the relationship between Western aid donors and developing states. He is particularly interested in how donors construct perceptions of foreign governments and key concepts, and the extent to which these knowledge construction processes are influenced by external actors and bureaucratic structures as well as by policy-makers themselves. He has research interest in Africa and wrote his doctorate on the Ugandan-donor relationship between 1986-2010.

Jonathan Fisher and David M. Anderson published the article Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa in International Affairs in January.  Pamela Atanga interviewed Jonathan about what drives his research interest in this field and about some of the issues covered in the article.

What made you interested in researching this topic?

It came out of my PhD work. I have always been interested in why Western governments are supportive of undemocratic, semi-authoritarian militarised governments in Africa and how those regimes try to gain that kind of support through various strategies. Lots of scholars of international relations tend to look at Africa as a passive entity that accepts what it can get and doesn’t have any kind of negotiating strength. This, however, is not always the case. The work David Anderson and I have done for this article suggests that some of the relationships are to an extent led by African states, especially around security agendas. The article seeks to fill that gap in the literature by looking at the agency and negotiating capacity of African states.

How did you choose the countries for your case studies?

We sought to look at the concept of securitisation at a broad level, looking at different regions and countries. The countries were chosen because they are prominent examples of states that are part of the securitisation phenomenon. All four make significant contributions to peacekeeping missions in Africa and all four have benefited from western support in the form of military aid. These regimes also share a common origin, having all evolved from guerrilla movements.

What do you think about ‘African solutions to African problems’ as a stance taken by some African leaders?

Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia Source: flickr

Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia
Photo credit: US Army Africa

On the one hand, African leaders may have sincere motives for pursuing this stance. There is a genuine feeling among African societies and elites that a lot of what has gone wrong in Africa in the past or post-colonial era in terms of security and governance has been due to over-reliance on and interference by international actors and allowing international actors to bring in their militaries and set terms. On the other hand African leaders could be using this stance to pursue nefarious activities. They use the concept as an instrument to justify military spending, interventions in neighbouring states or actions that the international community, domestic or neighbouring citizens may not approve of. It is difficult to disaggregate the two motives for pursuing this stance.

What can donors do to mitigate the negative consequences that may arise from securitising development?

Donors should look at the political implications of the decisions they make. They should pay more attention to what they are funding and what the consequences of their activities may be. There is a tendency among donors to assume that militaries are predictable and independent of their political environment and that by funding them you will be able to professionalise them, transfer norms and move them in a particular direction. However, this is not the case: militaries are not static but are part of political and economic processes. By funding these militaries you are also fuelling these processes which may be negative, positive or a bit of both. Donors need to carefully analyse how support is going to affect these circumstances.

Donors also need to be more honest with themselves and the Western public about the potential consequences of providing this form of support. Supporting these regimes can be justified under certain circumstances, but it is important to acknowledge that problems can arise. My colleague Danielle Beswick, for example, has shown how Rwanda has been both a significant contributor to peacekeeping in Africa, but also a contributor to instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What is the take-home message from the article?

Securitisation of development is not necessarily driven solely or primarily by Western donors. There is a need to think more carefully about how African states engage with the process and how they drive it forward, in order to get a more rounded picture of the situation.

He’s back — but the power struggle around Vladimir Putin continues behind the scenes

19 March 2015

Adrian Campbell is an organizational theorist with longstanding interests and experience in leadership and human resource management and he has researched, taught and consulted in these fields for over thirty years.

The apparent disappearance of Russian president Vladimir Putin between March 5 and 16 provoked a festival of Kremlinological speculation on a scale not seen since the temporary ousting of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the abortive coup of 1991.

Underlying the speculation have been rumours of a power struggle between the security services (primarily the FSB) and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. Neither are allies Putin can afford to do without, but little love appears to be lost between them. And although Putin is an FSB officer by background – and the security services have become powerful under his rule – as president he also may seek allies to balance the power of his service colleagues.

Russia has never been a simple nation state. Below the ruler there has rarely been a tightly integrated government. Indeed, successive Russian rulers carefully avoided this. Instead there are quasi-autonomous power blocs, sometimes known as “clans”. These compete for resources and favour but it is in the ruler’s interest to make sure no one bloc becomes too powerful.

The rules are not that different to those in Western political systems, except for the fact that the blocs are administrative rather than party-political or ideological. A closer analogy would be with the office politics of a large corporation.

In his first term, Putin’s regime succeeded through the ability to bridge competing institutions and ideologies. It involved a paradoxical alliance of economic liberals, statist St Petersburg lawyers and current and past members of the security services.

As the regime’s competitors – notably the business oligarchs – were overcome, security services such as the FSB increasingly filled the power vacuum. Soon the security services – or siloviki, as they are collectively known – became so powerful that the president struggled to maintain a balance of interests at the centre of power. The problem was not just between the siloviki and others but between the different siloviki factions themselves.

In 2007, for example, the head of the president’s own security service, Victor Zolotov, was deployed to defend one of the smaller security services against marginalisation by the powerful FSB. The FSB won the battle but soon after, Zolotov was appointed by the president to head the internal troops of the Ministry of the Interior. Since that ministry and the FSB are traditionally seen as rivals, the decision was interpreted as a move to redress the balance of power.

However, with the slowing down of the Russian economy in the late 2000s, the last significant bastion of liberalism in the Putin coalition – the state-owned Gazprom group which had previously provided such a strong power base for Putin’s once-closest ally Medvedev – began to to lose ground to the siloviki, so that the original coalition of forces became less balanced.

By this time, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman president of Chechnya, was emerging as a key Putin ally. Having fought for independence in the first Chechen war of 1994-6, Kadyrov and his militia supported the Russian government in the second Chechen war that began in 1999. It was through the transfer of power to Kadyrov that the war in Chechnya was brought to an end.

Putin and Kadyrov pictured in 2004. EPA Putin and Kadyrov pictured in 2004. EPA

Under Putin’s presidency, regional leaders have kept a lower profile than they used to but Kadyrov has been the exception to this rule. Kadyrov’s power is based on the consensus that, without him, Chechnya and indeed much of the North Caucasus would be lost. His presence is seen as preventing the region from being plunged into instability and extremism.

After Nemtsov

The assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February, appeared to bring matters to a head. After the FSB investigators arrested the suspects – apparently loyal members of the Chechen interior ministry forces – a series of newspaper reports, leaks and blog comments created the impression that there was now a power struggle between the FSB and Kadyrov and even that Kadyrov and the FSB were now “at war”.

Combined with the president’s unexplained absence, these signs of a high-level power struggle in the wake of the boldest political assassination for decades, against a backcloth of economic pressures and international tension, created a febrile atmosphere.

Hard evidence of a rift between the FSB and Kadyrov is not easy to come by, however. At a meeting in Pyatigorsk in the North Caucasus on March 11, Nikolai Patrushev, former FSB leader and chair of Russia’s Security Council, even praised Karydrov’s contribution to security in the region. The meeting did not give the appearance of two sides in a bitter dispute.

Meanwhile there may be signs of a new pragmatism within the Russian security elite. In a speech on January 15, former prime minister Evgeny Primakov (long regarded as associated with the FSB) called for more power to be handed to Russia’s regions and businesses and for co-operation with the West, especially on terrorism.

As if in response, FSB head Alexander Bortnikov, visited Washington the following month and spoke about the need for renewed co-operation with the US on terrorism.

In contrast, Putin’s return coincided with a dramatic order, via defence minister Sergei Shoigu to mobilise and test the battle-readiness of the entire Northern Fleet in response to new threats identified by Shoigu (presumably recent NATO deployments).

Putin and Shoigu visit Crimea in 2014. EPA

Putin and Shoigu visit Crimea in 2014. EPA

One possible reading of what has occurred is that a rift has grown between Putin and the FSB over what the next steps in the growing confrontation with the West should be.

Some signs suggest that the FSB is potentially looking to re-establish co-operation and reduce international tension. At the same time there were signs that FSB or its allies may have been putting pressure on Putin’s key ally Kadyrov.

Putin would be concerned that if Kadyrov falls, the Caucasus would be lost. In a bid to avoid being dictated to by the FSB, the president may have enlisted the support of the now-powerful Ministry of Defence.

However, just as the FSB may have an interest in returning to stability, the military may have an interest in escalating tension with the West rather than defusing it, at least in the short term. Thus the chess game of power relations within the Russian government has become enmeshed with Russia’s confrontation with the West, with unpredictable results.

All that said though, Putin’s visible discomfort during his public appearance on March 16 could suggest a far simpler interpretation of what has happened. It may be that Putin is indeed seriously ill and that this has been known to his immediate circle for some time.

If this is the case, the Nemtsov shooting and the subsequent in-fighting and rumours of a coup may not have been about Putin but the post-Putin world. This could be the start of a succession crisis and a power struggle. The FSB may have been trying to sideline Kadyrov as potential successor. Who their candidate would be and whether they will support or compete with Shoigu as a potential successor it is too early to say.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.
The Conversation

International court upholds Srebrenica massacre verdicts

2 February 2015

Louis Monroy SantanderLouis Monroy Santander is a PhD student in IDD, focusing on issues of reconciliation, post-conflict peace-building and social reconstruction in the Western Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo).

In 1995 the Bosnian Serb army killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in what was known as the Srebrenica massacre. And after nearly 20 years and a ten-year legal battle, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has upheld its guilty verdicts against five of the men involved, confirming sentences of between 18 years and life for what has been judged to be a crime against humanity involving genocide.

Despite being declared a “safe area” by the United Nations and protected by around 450 Dutch UN peacekeepers, Srebrenica became the stage for a nine-day attack against mainly men and boys. As women were forced into buses and sent outside the enclave, men were left to face their death.

The memory of Srebrenica has been difficult to handle as Bosnia-Herzegovina tries to rebuild in the wake of its conflict. It has been particularly challenging for the different ethnic groups living in the country.

Not only does it emphasise the need for extensive efforts in truth-telling and fact finding, but also the need for a political commitment to acknowledging the atrocities committed during the war. It has equal implications for the role of justice and the legal system in the country.

The original trial

As part of the strategies for dealing with genocide and grave violations of human rights in the country, ICTY was established as a transitional justice mechanism to investigate and prosecute those responsible for atrocities such as the ones committed in 1995.

It issued its first judgement on the Srebrenica genocide in 2004. Radislav Krstic, deputy commander of the army of the Bosnian Serb forces, was charged with “aiding and abetting” genocide and given 35 years in prison.

Then in June 2010, five more men – Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara, Drago Nikolic, Vinko Pandurevic and Radivoje Miletic – were found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Nikolic was sentenced to life imprisonment and Nikolic to 35 years. Pandurevic was sentenced to 13 years, Miletic to 19 years and and Gvero to five years. All five had played central roles in the military operation that led to the massacre.

The defendants all appealed their sentences, arguing that errors and misjudgements had been made in their indictments, and that the credibility of some of the witnesses against them was shaky. They also questioned evidence about the number of people killed in Srebrenica.

Firm stance

But now the court has upheld its ruling and reinforced its conclusion that Bosniaks, as Bosnian Muslims are also known, in Eastern Bosnia were victims of a strategy of genocide and ethnic cleansing planned and implemented by the Bosnian Serb forces during the war.

Due to the role of the ICTY in the transitional justice process of Bosnia and its impact on judicial institutions established in the country, the decision opens up questions around issues of truth, justice and reconciliation and their impact in the rebuilding of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Back in 2012, the European Union condemned statements by Serbian president Tornislav Nikolic, who openly rejected the existence of a Serb genocide strategy during the war in Bosnia. The decision by the international court in these cases can be interpreted as a further blow to regular attempts by politicians in the region to deny that genocide took place.

It can also be seen as a push for rethinking transitional justice mechanisms in the country as it reopens debates at the local, national and international levels around the need for truth-telling mechanisms and discussions on justice and reconciliation between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks.

The decision is important in the ongoing process of post-war reconciliation between the different ethnic groups that live in the region. These groups are still divided and mistrustful of one another. This ruling is a reminder that dialogue about the past and future is needed at all levels. The different groups need to agree on what happened during the war and what type of justice should be pursued. Then there are issues such as missing people, mass graves and the return of refugee and internally displaced minorities to the country after the war.

The message from the court is that genocide took place and that those responsible will not get away with it. Now that message needs to be heard by politicians and people back home.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Typhoon Haiyan One Year On: Reflections on Disability Research in the Philippines

17 December 2014

David CobleyDr. David Cobley is a teaching fellow in IDD where he has established a module focused on disability and development.  Previous research has examined economic empowerment strategies for disabled people in Kenya, India and Sierra Leone.  David has worked in the field of disability for 23 years, including setting up a care home for adults with learning disabilities.

Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda), the strongest typhoon on record ever to make landfall, ripped across the heavily-populated central Philippine provinces on 8th November 2013, leaving a trail of death, devastation and shattered lives in its wake. According to official sources, over 6000 lives were lost, over four million people were displaced and over 16 million people were affected by the destruction of infrastructure and breakdown of basic services across 44 provinces. For the Philippines, a country once described by its former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as a ‘laboratory of major disasters’, this was a natural disaster without precedent in terms of scale and impact.

Typhoon Haiyen, Philippines, Yolanda, Coastal Settlements

Photo Credit: Dr David Cobley

One year on, at the time of my visit to the Philippines, many people were still struggling to cope with the catastrophic consequences of Haiyan. Much of the devastation occurred in the Eastern Visayas region, with Tacloban City bearing the brunt, at least in terms of casualties. I arrived in Tacloban to discover that, despite worldwide attention being focused on this city for several weeks immediately following Haiyan and the inevitable influx of humanitarian agencies, the reconstruction efforts appeared to have been piecemeal and painfully slow. Far from ‘building back better’, many people were still waiting for building back to begin at all. This was being widely attributed to the Government, as many of those that lost their homes were still awaiting long-promised Government rebuilding grants and relocation land. Local media were highlighting the issue, estimating the numbers still living in tents and temporary shelters, often located in hazardous ‘no-build’ areas close to the shore, at close to one million across the Visayas. The precarious nature of their situation was highlighted just a few days ago, when Typhoon Hagupit caused considerable damage to these coastal settlements, although thankfully there was no accompanying storm surge this time around.

My objective was to investigate Haiyan’s impact on disabled people, as well as to examine the extent to which they have been able to actively participate in recovery and community rebuilding processes. The strong desire of disabled people to participate in my research was quite staggering at times. One morning I travelled with an interpreter to the coastal town of Tolosa to interview two beneficiaries of an NGO ‘cash for work’ programme, which had provided 18 days’ paid work clearing storm debris. When we arrived at the bus stop, we were met by the two beneficiaries together with several other disabled beneficiaries of the programme that had heard about my visit and also wanted to be included. Consequently, the whole day was spent conducting interviews, under the shade of a nearby wooden shelter, with some participants waiting several hours for their turn. All appreciated the opportunity to participate in the relief operations, enabling them to bring much-needed cash into their households as well as supporting their communities at a time of crisis. One even commented that he considered it a challenge to show that he could work harder than his non-disabled colleagues. Importantly, those that were unable to cope with hard physical labour had been assigned alternative duties, such as office work, carrying water to the other workers or watching over the store room, demonstrating that ‘cash for work’ programmes can be inclusive if designed flexibly.

I came across other examples of meaningful participation, including one project in Iloilo Province in Western Visayas, which involved members of a disabled people’s organisation setting up and running their own relief operations, with fairly minimal technical assistance from an international NGO. The group had carried out a range of activities, from an initial mapping exercise and recruiting volunteers (including many disabled people) to organising the delivery of relief aid packages and providing referral services to nearly 4,000 vulnerable households. With the relief phase drawing to a close, they were now turning their attention towards longer-term development activities in the areas of livelihoods and health.

Memories of the typhoon (referred to by one interviewee as ‘the monster’) were still very raw, so I kept my questions as general as possible, in order to avoid opening up wounds that were still healing. Some wanted to talk about their experiences when the typhoon struck, however, and a number of harrowing survival stories emerged. One wheelchair user, for example, described how he had floated in the rising water clinging to a water can for over an hour, until his nephew found him and carried him on his back to the Barangay Hall, where he lived for one month before moving into a tent close to his destroyed home. Community interdependence is strong in the Philippines, as in many countries of the Global South, and many of those interviewed had survived only due to the support of their relatives and neighbours.

The interviews also highlighted particular difficulties that disabled people may face when they are displaced from their familiar surroundings, as in the case of one young lady with a visual impairment, who had moved to a neighbour’s two-storey house when her home was badly damaged:

                “We stayed in the big house for one month, sleeping there at nights and going back to our house in the day. It is hard to lie in a house that is not yours, especially as a blind person. I   was disorientated and could not move around freely”

Haiyen, Yolanda, Philippines, Disaster, Hurricane, Settlements

Photo Credit: Dr David Cobley

Those with mobility impairments also experienced particular discomfort when displaced from their homes. This was highlighted by a visit to one of the many bunkhouses which served as emergency shelters following Haiyan, and which were still inhabited by many families as they await permanent resettlement. Each of these plywood bunkhouses are split into 24 family units, with a communal kitchen and washroom, and it was clear that very little thought had been given to accessibility. Entrance doors were routinely three steps off the ground, due to the risk of flooding, and the washrooms were far too cramped to enable a wheelchair user to comfortably make use of them.

As well as demonstrating that disabled people can actively participate in disaster recovery processes at various levels, ranging from individual participation in relief operations to the planning and delivery of relief and development services for others, this research helped to reveal some of the particular issues faced by disabled people in the aftermath of a major disaster. These will be among the themes to be explored in a future journal article.

Ebola – where are the governments?

21 November 2014

Andrew Nickson

Andrew Nickson is Honorary Reader in Public Management and Latin American Studies in IDD, with 30 years’ experience of teaching, research and consultancy on public administration reform, local governance, decentralization and urban water supply. He has particular interests in Sierra Leone, Nepal and Paraguay, countries where he has had long-term work assignments.

The terrible Ebola tragedy has spawned massive coverage in the world’s media of Sierra Leone and Liberia – with harrowing images of victims, relatives, health workers, doctors, and aid agency staff. Yet one key ‘stakeholder’ in the fight against Ebola has been notably missing from this coverage – the government of both countries. Most of us would be hard pressed to name the presidents of either country* as they have been almost invisible, and the same goes for their respective health ministers. For anyone who did not know them, they would think the countries were like Somalia without any central government. Far from it, both are politically stable and have had a series of democratic elections ever since the civil wars that ravaged them in the 1990s.

A shipment of equipment arrives in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in October 2014. Photo credit: James Fulker/DFID

A shipment of equipment arrives in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in October 2014. Photo credit: James Fulker/DFID

The politically correct explanation for this “invisibility of the state” is the prejudice of a western media that still views Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as a basket-case that can only be saved by well-meaning outsiders. While it is true that this paternalistic post-colonial mindset still exists (witness BandAid’s resurrection of the insulting “Don’t they know it’s Christmas” song), unfortunately there is something else going on here.

Ebola outbreaks have been occurring intermittently since 1976 in Central Africa (DRC) and East Africa (Sudan, Uganda) and thankfully, until now, they have either been contained or fizzled out. We need to be asking some difficult questions about just why this latest Ebola outbreak has spiralled out of control in these two small countries, when much larger neighbouring countries like Nigeria and Ghana have been able to quickly halt the spread of the disease into their countries. The conventional and trite argument, regurgitated daily in the world’s media, is that these are both poor countries with “weak health systems”. But this simplistic explanation does not tell the whole story. Since the civil wars ended in Sierra Leone and Liberia, both countries have become the darlings of the Western aid effort, receiving inflows of grant aid that are way above the SSA average on a per capita basis, thanks to their “historic ties” with the UK and USA respectively.

So why has the response to Ebola been so weak in both countries? The answer is crystal clear – the appalling governance that has characterised Sierra Leone and Liberia for decades, with governance so weak and corruption so venal that both contributed greatly to the outbreak of their civil wars. Both have hardly improved since then.  As numerous ‘political economy’ studies have amply shown, this particularly weak governance is closely connected to the deep ethnic, class and linguistic cleavages in both countries, with small elites (called “creoles” in Sierra Leone and “Libero-Americans” in Liberia) imposing an exclusionary style of development over the mass of the rural population through their control of the political, administrative and economic system. What this means, in practice, is that the public health system for the poor majority is appalling, especially in rural areas. This is why Ebola has spread so quickly.

Historically, a major source of wealth of the elites in both countries has come from their deep involvement as intermediaries in the foreign aid business. They have always displayed a strong desire to deepen the ties of dependency on foreign aid as a way of feathering their own nests, particularly through the rental of land, buildings and vehicles to aid agencies. For this reason, and although it may sound harsh in the current context, in the same way that successive governments lobbied hard for UN peacekeeping missions to stay in both countries long after the civil war had ended, so powerful elite groups in Freetown and Monrovia are today in no hurry whatsoever for the global media obsession with the Ebola crisis to come to an end.

Workers in Sierra Leone engage in social mobilisation, contact tracing and body management. Photo credits EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre Workers in Sierra Leone engage in social mobilisation, contact tracing and body management. Photo credit: EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre


* The President of Sierra Leone is Ernest Bai Koroma. The President of Liberia is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The respective health ministers are Miss Miatta Kargbo and Dr.Walter Gwenigale.

The Boko Haram ceasefire and violence in Nigeria

23 October 2014

Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. Core areas of interest include decentralisation and governance, conflict analysis, and security sector reform.

Amongst the violent international groups vying for our attention, Boko Haram in Nigeria has been one of the most persistent. Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate in Gwoza, along the Cameroon border, in August 2014, and the group has been raiding several cities across the north.

The group promotes a version of Islam which makes it ‘haram’ (forbidden) for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society and frequently attacks schools and colleges, which it sees as ‘westernisation’. In October alone around 185 churches have been torched in Borno and Adawama states, and seven civilians were beheaded in Ngambu.

The core of the insurgency covers Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, and they have been under a state of emergency since May 2013. Founded in 2002 by a cleric who believed the earth was round, the group has killed more than 5000 civilians, with Human Rights Watch estimating that at least 2,053 civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2014.

Hudreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City on May 3, 2014, to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria.

People gathered in New York City on May 3, 2014, to demand the release of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. Photo credit: Michael Fleshman

Boko Haram gained worldwide infamy after it kidnapped 220 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State in April 2014.

Given the sorry record of the Nigerian state in locating the girls, and the inability of the Nigerian military to fight the insurgency, it is therefore welcome that last week the Nigerian Government announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram that included the potential release of these girls.

Discussions held between Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, the Chief of Defence Staff, and a fighter called Danladi Ahmadu, who identified himself as the ‘Secretary-General’ of Boko Haram, have been held in N’Djamena in Chad. The Nigerian government claims it has agreed a ceasefire with the group Boko Haram and is negotiating the release of more than 200 schoolgirls. Boko Haram negotiators assured the Government that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well, controversially contradicting the evidence of four escaped girls who claimed they had been raped every day.

However, this deal raised as many questions as it answers. For a start, this is not the first such announcement by the Government. An earlier deal for 19 Boko Haram commanders stalled and the Government refuses to say what the price for this deal is. A similar deal between the Cameroon Government and Boko Haram last week saw the release of ten Chinese workers and the wife of the Vice–president amongst 27 others, in return for around US$400,000. We await details of this deal, which are to be announced later this week.

There have also been questions raised about Ahmadu, said to be Boko Haram’s representative at the talks and who gave a radio interview broadcast on Friday morning. Many Nigerian analysts cast doubt on Ahmadu’s credibility as a Boko Haram envoy, and question his relationship with the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.

At the same time, no-one really understands the internal command structure of Boko Haram and so determining who is responsible for negotiating and on behalf of whom is difficult. Such groups are usually loose federations of different groups, and it is not clear if Ahmadu represents the group as a whole or a faction.

The timing of the agreement is also interesting, raising suspicions given that the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, is expected to declare his re-election bid, and positive news about the hostages and insurgency could give him a significant political boost. This also comes on the heels of local speculation about close links between some Boko Haram groups and Nigerian politicians. The factionalism argument was also given some credibility since on the same day as the ceasefire, more than 1000 fighters were reported as arrested in Lagos with the aid of local Arewa chiefs.

Continuing violence following the ceasefire where suspected militants killed dozens of people in five attacks on Nigerian villages, has led the Government to label these groups ‘criminals’ taking advantage of the chaos in the north, but they could be part of an ongoing violent convulsion of which Boko Haram is one part and not the whole story.

Boko Haram has grown in to such an amorphous entity that it is difficult to know exactly who is representing whom. This has important implications for both Nigeria and also regionally.

The insurgency has not only affected Nigeria but large parts of the border with Cameroon, where around 400,000 Nigeria refugees have moved across the border followed by the same style of violence. It is likely that Cameroon will become a major area of Boko Haram militancy in the next few months.

Aside from this, the inability of the Nigerian military and the reported demoralisation of Nigerian troops claiming poor equipment and training and unreliable pay, has led to a reduced faith in the security services, bolstered by a general belief across Nigeria that many politicians are somehow involved with either Boko Haram directly, or in undermining the military.

An inability of the state to project meaningful power has effectively lost a large area of the north, where Boko Haram freely controls territory and declared a Caliphate. It is notable that the only announcement the Government made under the ceasefire was that no territory was being handed over. However, the fact that the Government has negotiated and in effect recognised Boko Haram – and indeed differentiated them from criminal elements – has given the group valuable recognition and with it, credibility.

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