Tag Archives: Africa

Sounds of Silence: The Security Council Endorses Ambitious Disarming, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Mar

Guns at Rest

Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?  Lawrence Durrell

And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.  Audre Lorde

People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging, leaping from their mouths.  Silence? No. Alison McGhee

Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.  William Faulkner

The UN this week, much like the world at large, was replete with motion and “talk” on a variety of related fronts.  From dueling Security Council resolutions on Venezuela with acrimony to match, to renewed resolve (under the Kimberley Process) to turn remaining pockets of “conflict diamonds” into “peace diamonds” (as Romania and others insisted), the UN and those seeking to cover its many events had our collective hands full.

We of course welcomed all of this week’s interest by diplomats in security in all its diverse manifestations.   From a Norway-sponsored event to honor the 20th anniversary of the highly effective Mine Ban Treaty to a Japan-led event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of “human security” –an integrative concept beyond “hard security” preoccupations with weapons and alliances — we support (as most of you already know) holistic initiatives that seek to impact both over-produced weapons and under-inclusive governance; initiatives that seek to reduce weapons-related threats in part by addressing complementary challenges related to state corruption, climate-induced disasters and the persistent rights abuses and social inequities that provide too-easy rationales for so many to acquire and use weapons in the first place.

We urge states to address, as Poland mentioned this week in the Security Council, the “destabilizing acquisition” of weapons by states which cannot easily control their movements nor guarantee that weapons replaced by such acquisitions will not fall into the hands of non-state actors.  But we also urge action on the “destabilizing production” of weapons, the shiny new toys that are unlikely to provide any more “human security” than the toys states have already grown tired of.  To these ends, we have doubled down on support for efforts such as the Peace Angel’s “USA Weapons Destruction Campaign,” an initiative which seeks to repurpose weapons used to kill into works of art that can both inspire more peaceful communities and help identify ways to address the “triggers” of conflict that lead too many in these unsettled times to believe in the power of weapons more than in the power of the human spirit.

From the standpoint of a more secure world, this week’s main event was Wednesday in the Security Council where many delegations and a few civil society voices addressed the successes and gaps of the “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” initiative.  Under the leadership of the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea, the Council session was noteworthy for its verbal and active support of an aspiration that has proven to be more ambitious and complex than was perhaps originally envisioned, but which has inspired actions likely to accrue lasting benefits for more secure African societies going forward.

As 2019 reaches the “quarter pole” it would be foolish to suggest that gun-related “silence” across this large continent is likely to occur in nine months’ time.   Armed violence in many forms continues to impact African states from Burundi and Cameroon to Libya and Somalia. Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram insurgents are among the non-state actors indulging regularly in armed threats against civilians and government forces, and governments themselves have been responsible for armed attacks in South Sudan and elsewhere.  Moreover, the Security Council has authorized responses to insurgent threats, including the G5 Sahel Force, which have resulted in the importation of yet more weapons into theaters of conflict, albeit weapons lodged in the hands of “legitimate” authorities.  Whatever the merits of such supplemental and robust coercive measures – whether in Mali, South Sudan or DR Congo – at the end of the day these guns must also eventually go silent if the goals of this African initiative are to be fulfilled.

And yet, despite some notable setbacks, we have seen over these past few years an awakening of cross-regional capacity and resolve among Africans and their leadership which, together with UN and other supporters, have shifted at least part of the playing field regarding our responses to threats of armed conflict.  As evidenced by Wednesday’s Security Council meeting, the African Union and regionally-focused organizations such as ECOWAS and IGAD have undertaken a series of important measures to help ensure fair elections, mediate disputes within and between states, promote inclusive sustainable development, uphold the rule of law, and provide incentives for state leaders reluctant to share or relinquish power to rethink their alleged “indispensability.”

In Liberia, Eritrea, Guinea and elsewhere, threats of armed violence and rights abuses have given way to a welcome “silence” of sorts that must be fully utilized to consolidate gains and ensure that such abuses once renounced are not allowed to return.  These and other successes, perhaps even now in the Central African Republic as well, are in part a function of rapidly-evolving security architecture across Africa that will increasingly be able to “flag” emerging conflicts, mediate active conflicts, protect those displaced by conflict, and call attention to the many development and “human security” benefits that could well accrue in societies that have succeeded in finally silencing the guns.

Noteworthy for us in Wednesday’s Council debate were the pointed warnings from ACCORD’s Gounden and even a few diplomats about the need for vigilance in defusing the “time bombs” that tick loudly when guns proliferate in environments characterized by limited employment, governance challenges, unplanned urban growth and criminality.  The Council must, Gounden insisted, remain strongly engaged on the causes of armed violence in Africa.  The danger, he rightly noted, is that the guns will not be silenced but only the active and supportive voices of Council members.

And yet across seven “talkative” hours, it was apparent to most diplomats that “silencing of the guns” must continue and in concert with other “silencings” – of rights abuses and neglect of the rule of law (Belgium); of  discriminatory practices affecting the safety and access of women and cultural minorities (Ireland); of the constant march of development-desperate persons displaced by drought, flooding and conflict threats (Equatorial Guinea); of economic inequalities and illegal efforts to exploit natural resources for criminal gain (European Union); of the failure to include youth in policy decisionmaking, especially on conflict and employment (Botswana and Kenya); of impediments to education and health access (Angola), and much more.   Silencing the guns remains the essential condition that makes these other “silencing” tasks more likely to succeed.  Thus the key, as noted by South Africa, is to ensure that “that countries exiting conflict do not return to conflict conditions,” that guns once silenced are not permitted to roar again.

As the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea noted during his opening remarks, “a conflict-free Africa will likely remain a utopia unless we promote inclusive development and put to use all available conflict prevention and resolution tools.”   This is, of course, sound advice, especially as the year 2020 inches closer.  Through this commitment to “silencing,” African states have sought to move mountains, and in fact have moved a few.  But as Namibia’s Ambassador reminded the Council, “if we want to continue moving mountains” on armed violence in Africa, we must begin by “lifting stones,” by engaging any number of smaller actions that set aside the “stupidity” of too many policy words and set about to build societies that can fulfill more conflict-related promises, end more social inequities, promote more trustworthy governance, and allow the displaced a safe and dignified return home.

As we sit here in March 2019, Africans are unlikely to meet their 2020 “silencing” goals at face value, but they have surely embarked on a path (albeit uneven at times) that offers hope both to their own peoples and to others watching across continental borders.  As this new peace and security architecture for Africa continues its evolution, we must all pledge to stay engaged.  This is simply not the time for the rest of us to withhold our own practical contributions or silence our own supportive voices.

Reflections on a Summer UN Sojourn, Ruth Tekleab Mekbib

11 Jul

Editor’s Note:  Ruth came to us from the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program as a somewhat last-minute but most welcome member of our summer cohort.  An Ethiopian by birth, she has shown great interest in the African issues that often punctuate the UN’s agenda, especially in the Security Council.  Ruth’s perspective on the UN has proven highly valuable to us.  Indeed, seeing the UN through a fresh lens of those who will inherit the successes and failures of this system gives purpose and energy to our work. 

This past month, I’ve had the opportunity of attending high level meetings at the U.N. covering a wide range of topics including peace and security, human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to name a few. These meetings gave me a new insight and deeper understanding of the U.N. system and how it functions as an organization made up of more than 190 countries. On my first day, I witnessed a historical moment as the next president of the General Assembly, the current foreign minister of Ecuador, was elected. She becomes the fourth woman to hold this position since the creation of the United Nations and it was indeed a cause for celebration. I was surprised to see that the U.N. uses a paper ballot system for general elections but with all the technological advancements, they should be using an electronic voting system because it would be time efficient and environmentally friendly. Despite the archaic way of conducting votes, it was interesting to see how the vote of each member state proved crucial in determining who the next president should be.

During my time at the UN, I have been especially interested in attending meetings addressing concerns on the African continent in part because of my family connection to Ethiopia. I attended numerous Security Council meetings concerning the continent including countries such as South Sudan, Mali, Rwanda and Central African Republic (CAR) to mention a few. In my opinion, the Security Council is the most interesting place at the U.N. because you can see how the diplomats interact with one another closely. Before meetings starts, you can see diplomats hugging each other and conversing amicably even though that they may have opposing views. Once the meeting starts, each representative reads out a prepared statement that argues for one cause or another. However, after the meeting ends you can see the diplomats go back to being friendly to one another and maintaining close ties with not just their allies but also their “enemies”. This showed me the importance of diplomacy in maintaining peace and security and how it is important to foster friendly relations even with those who may not agree with your position. It is a great lesson to learn and I only hope that more people would choose to act similarly.

There were also interesting side events to participate in on a diverse range of topics including a recent meeting on the reintegration of child soldiers. One of the panelists in this meeting was from Sierra Leone who himself was a child soldier and discussed the difficulties of reintegration into society due to stigma and discrimination. I learned a lot about the efforts by U.N. agencies such as UNICEF in creating programs to help children reintegrate into society despite the permanent psychological trauma they may face. Another panelist highlighted how girls are particularly disadvantaged because of sexual abuse and other gender-based violence. In this meeting, there were conversations in the impact of race, gender and socio-economic background, all of which are important topics to discuss in an organization such as the U.N.

I also attended a meeting on financing the SDGs where several private sector companies were invited to speak about how their resources could help achieve the SDGs by 2030. What intrigued me in this meeting was the fact that some representatives were claiming that there was no lack of money for sustainable development while others refuted this, arguing that governments alone cannot achieve the SDGs and that they need the help of the private sector and multi-lateral lenders. Interestingly, most of the panelists in this meeting were from Europe with a clear lack of representation of speakers from regions such as Africa or Latin America who might have been better able to demonstrate the current disparities in wealth that must be overcome. One member from the audience voiced this concern with inequalities, posing the question “Why are we not redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor?” to which none of the panelists were able to fully answer his question. In my opinion, his question was valid and shows how, at the U.N., these issues are often overlooked and not prioritized, which only threatens to weaken the credibility of the institution among the world’s peoples.

All in all, through my experience I was able to see that despite the lack of inclusivity in some policy discussions, the U.N. still tries to be an organization responsive to the needs and concerns of all. It is actively working towards closing the gender gap, which was demonstrated by the election of the female PGA, and it gives sustained and priority attention to some of the most critical challenges facing our planet. There is still a long way to go to achieve balanced representation in U.N. policy discussions, but I am encouraged by current efforts to achieve equality. If such efforts continue, I might see a female Secretary General in the fairly near future which will inspire many young people around the world to achieve their full potential.



Land of Promise:  The UN Takes Stock of an Underestimated Continent, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Oct


Where a woman rules, streams run uphill.  Ethiopian proverb

Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can.  Ashanti proverb

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.  Nelson Mandela

There is always something new out of Africa. Pliny the Elder

This was “Africa Week” at the UN, a time for this entire community to stake stock of our debts to African peoples but also to celebrate the many ways in which Africans are truly developing and then implementing home-grown solutions to their own problems.

Despite the many responsibilities associated with the six General Assembly Committees that meet all this month, most all UN hands were “on deck” for all or part of this week long assessment of the roads that African states have tread and what they might still become.  This included as well the UN Security Council, which bears the brunt of responsibility for resolving conflicts from South Sudan (on which it met this past week) and Mali to Nigeria and now Cameroon. The Council is currently in the Sahel region (today in Mali) on mission to assess the status of the P-5 Sahel Force which it authorized and which is intended to bring stability to a region threatened by a “cocktail” whose ingredients include insurgency, climate stresses and food insecurity.

The stated goals for Africa week, “an integrated, prosperous, people-centered and peaceful Africa” draws heavily on the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda as well as Africa’s own Agenda 2063.  These goals were articulated in a thoughtful manner throughout the week, avoiding clichés and “quick wins” in favor of clear sighted examinations of what African states and their peoples need and what stands in the way of their progress.    Part of that discussion is related to finance, not only to the preservation of essential remittances, but to the ways in which states can better protect their own natural resources from exploitation and increase sources of domestic revenue, including through reducing “tax avoidance and profit shifting.”

Beyond finance, the week highlighted a variety of challenges, including forced migration patterns exacerbated by climate-related drought and multiple iterations of armed violence.   There were also important discussions on creating more opportunities for affordable credit and “decent work” — in many instances highlighting the degree to which the African labor force is now both robust and youthful  — as well as on the challenges in harnessing Africa’s unprecedented “demographic dividend.”

The implications of this “dividend” go well beyond employment. Over the years at Global Action, I have been blessed to visit and work in most every region on the continent, including Egypt in the north, South Africa in the south, Senegal in the west, Kenya in the east, Cameroon in the center.   And while all of these countries have much cultural and ecological diversity to commend, one of the things they seem to have in common is young people who are anxiously and even impatiently prepared to assume mantles of economic and political leadership.   There is a “leadership dividend” across Africa as well, people who hope to soon turn their aspirations into higher offices, people who refuse to choose between integration and sovereignty, between economic development and environmental protection, between reliable governance and local participation. These are people with the fresh ideas about how Africa might be and are prepared to make the changes needed to ensure that the goals enumerated in the UN’s Africa Week are more than just another set of multilateral promises.

The Concept Note for this Africa Week highlighted two particular challenges for this new generation of African leader.  The first of these is “integration” of a continent divided by deserts and jungles, but also by culture and language, even at times by levels of openness to continent-wide initiatives focused on security, trade and other matters essential to sustainable development.  Despite positive efforts by the African Union on security and sub-regional entities such as the Southern African Development Community on African trade, optimal levels of integration remain impeded by a series of issues that have long resisted resolution, including providing dependable access by land-locked countries to seaports in neighboring states and creating a more reliable transportation network linking those states.   In this regard, the ambitious (and costly) proposal floated this week for an Integrated High Speed Train Network is welcome, especially by persons who have long struggled to move themselves (and their agricultural products and other commodities) around Africa’s vast spaces.

And then there is the security (threatened by both insugencies and excessive state responses) on which all intra-and inter-state development depends.  On numerous occasions, reference was made this week to the African Union initiative Silencing the Guns by 2020, with outcomes considered by many (rightly in our view) as essential to a sustainable future.  Many African states are now awash in weapons both licit and illicit.  And as the AU’s “Silencing” report notes, “the continent has hosted, and continues to be home to, a number of deadly conflicts that jeopardize human, national and international security and defy efforts to resolve them.”  Such conflicts involve state and non-state actors, and often draw on sources of weapons located far from the scenes of the violence.   The “fuel” for these conflicts often takes the form of governance that is unfair or even unjust; food, water and health insecurities that force families into heartbreaking choices; exploitative employment in sectors such as extraction that provide little economic relief and poison local ecosystems;  and rights violations that keep so many women, youth and indigenous persons locked into senseless, disempowering social roles.

The “leadership dividend” which we have seen first-hand in many African regions seems capable of both drying up access to weapons and healing many of the social and economic causes that cause people to reach for weapons in the first instance.  This “dividend” must remain at the center of any UN discussions on African issues and capacities going forward.

The World Economic Forum noted this week the strong possibility that by the year 2100 one third of all people on earth will reside in Africa.   Assuming that we don’t bomb or melt ourselves into extinction before then, this is a staggering statistic, one that will impact every aspect of African governance, security, economy and ecology.   The “strongly intertwined challenges” that currently characterize areas such as the Lake Chad Basin, the Horn of Africa, and the Central African states will evolve in unforeseen ways across the continent, calling for gender and culture-balanced leadership that can inspire hands and hearts that “know what they can do” and commit to doing it.

For the rest of us — during Africa Week and every other week – we must do what we can and all that we can to ensure that Africa has every opportunity to be at peace and, as Mandela noted, to be at peace with itself.



Do African Lives Matter for African Leaders? By Hussein Solomon[1]

31 Oct

Editor’s Note:  Later this morning (10/31), the president of the International Criminal Court will address the UN General Assembly.  A high priority for her presentation is sure to be the recent decision by South Africa to withdraw from the Court.  Here, Professor Hussein Solomon, one of our most insightful colleagues, offers reflections on the contexts and implications of South Africa’s decision. 

Africans have grown accustomed to the West ignoring their suffering. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Consider the fact that Belgian King Leopold II’s atrocities was historically ignored in Europe at the time and barely gets a footnote in recent European books on its African colonies. To be clear, 15 million Congolese were murdered and numerous others were mutilated by this ‘civilized’ European king as he sought to extract rubber from this blighted country. More recently, more than 6 million Congolese have been killed since the 2nd August 1998. Once again, there is scarcely a mention on the front pages of The Washington Post or the New York Times.

At one level, perhaps, this is understandable. According to psychologists one is supposed to have greater empathy for one’s in-group as opposed to the proverbial “other.” What is particularly galling for Africans, however, is when their own leaders display such callous disregard for their lives. Worse, still, is the hypocrisy accompanying the callousness on the part of Africa’s leadership. Consider for instance the events surrounding the 7 January 2015. This was the date of the brutal terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices which resulted in 17 people being killed on the streets of Paris. The world rallied with the French and a mass march of 1,6 million people took to the streets of Paris. This march also included 40 world leaders, including several African leaders who mourned the lives of the innocent savagely cut short. This is as it should be.

At the same time, of the Paris killings, however, there was another atrocity taking place. In the dusty town of Baga, northern Nigeria, Boko Haram militants slaughtered 2000 innocent people. There was no similar Paris march. No African leader took to the streets to commemorate the lives of those lost. Even the Nigerian President at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, did not immediately respond to the tragedy which took place on his own territory where his own citizens lost their life in such a cold-blooded way. This prompts the question: Do African lives matter to African leaders?

I asked this question several times following the decision by my own government – South Africa – to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The South African decision may well be related to domestic politics. According to Anton du Plessis of the Institute for Security Studies, the Zuma administration is attempting to protect itself from an imminent Constitutional Court hearing in relation to the 2015 visit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when Pretoria refused to arrest him as it was obligated to do under the Rome Statute. Instead Bashir and his entourage were whisked out of the country by the South African authorities.

To be clear, the arrest warrant for Bashir was based on the charge that he oversaw the war in Darfur which resulted in the deaths of between 200,000 and 400,000 people and the displacement of a further 2.5 million people in Darfur out of a population of 6.2 million. The so-called leaders of Africa denounced the ICC decision ostensibly because heads of state should have immunity of prosecution. The counter-argument is simply this: as Head of State should the buck not stop with him? Do not forget that Bashir was not merely Commander-in-Chief by virtue of him being President of Sudan. He was a military man who staged a coup in 1989 to come to power. The second charge levelled against the ICC was that it was unfairly targeting Africa. Let us be frank: many of the ICC investigations were initiated by African countries themselves since they did not have the resources to conduct an investigation and engage in a trial themselves. Do not forget, too, that the ICC is a court of last resort. The attack on the ICC is simultaneously taking place at a time when Africa’s own domestic and regional judicial mechanisms have come under threat from Africa’s self-serving leaders who desire to escape accountability at all costs whilst they simultaneously steal from and brutalize their citizens.

Perhaps the most powerful response to these objections put forward would simply be this: Do African lives matter to African leaders? Their deep concern for Bashir is akin to sympathizing with the aggressor as opposed to the victims. After all who speaks for the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims who needlessly lost their lives in Darfur?

[1] Professor Hussein Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State, South Africa.

Boat People:  The Security Council Considers Options for Safe Passage, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 May

On Monday May 11, the Security Council under the leadership of its current president Lithuania convened a briefing in chambers that managed to set a tone different from what some of us had feared prior to taking our seats.

Several Council members – including the UK and other members of both the SC and the European Union — had apparently been discussing a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, that would allow – in a manner still unspecified as of this writing – the boarding and/or destruction of vessels accused of smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean.

This resolution-in-waiting apparently has many measures still to be worked out, including the degree to which the ‘recognized’ government of Libya needs to be consulted, what protocols need to be established to guarantee that those boarding boats under whatever circumstances have their safety and security protected, etc.   It was also clear from conversations beyond the Council chamber that the European Union has been contemplating some type of ‘boarding policy’ with or without Council approval.

Certainly those working on security at UN headquarters understand both the challenge and responsibility of the large number of men, women and children who brave a long sea journey in substandard craft in an attempt to escape the grave humanitarian and security crises affecting Libya and at least some of its neighbors.  Italy has rightly won praise from the international community for its efforts to rescue damaged craft that have threatened even more mass casualties, but Italy is not the only destination for these overloaded boats. Moreover, concern has been expressed that ‘terror groups’ might well be profiting from what is deemed to be a lucrative trade focused on people who have some access to funds and feel that they have little choice if they are to protect their families from what seems to be endless violence in the post-Gaddafi era.  As more than one UN official has noted recently, no one would choose to subject their families to such a voyage if there were other, viable options to escape the misery and violence.

Behind this crisis is a robust, system-wide effort, led by the High Commissioners of Human Rights and Refugees, to highlight the plight of migrants and their humanitarian and human rights interests.   We have been to more UN events focused on migrants in the past two years than in the decade previously.  It is now widely recognized that migrants and internally displaced – on the move due to armed violence, water shortages, climate-related changes or other factors – represent a grave peace and security concern.  But more than that, such displaced persons – largely women and children – have humanitarian and human rights expectations that the international community is morally and legally bound to honor.  People don’t forfeit human rights protection simply because conditions force them on to boats to seek refuge elsewhere – this is true whether those boats are operated by smugglers in Libya or Carnival Cruise Lines.

Indeed, the Council briefing seemed to be an ample confirmation that the work of OHCHR and other key UN players to ‘institutionalize’ a growing concern for migrants has taken root.   The EU’s Frederica Mogherini, while soliciting support from the African Union and UN Security Council to “disrupt human trafficking networks,” took a careful and balanced tone in her remarks, noting the need to “do more to address root causes that push people to take dangerous risks.” She also called for a “unity government” in Libya, an aspiration which the Council has recently addressed on several occasions with full awareness of its high degree of difficulty.

Other briefers were a bit clearer than Ms. Mogherini in their articulation of the international community’s responsibility to protect the Libyan boat people.  For instance, SRSG Peter Sutherland –without citing the proposed resolution directly – called for “root solutions to root problems” that do not further isolate asylum seekers in poverty and violence.   He described trafficking allegations as largely a matter for law enforcement and urged the EU to work towards more “resettlement destinations,” “more visa options” for asylum seekers and, as noted, more law enforcement capacity in situations calling for such a response.

Mostly supporting this line of argument, the African Union’s Ambassador Tete António cited the many push factors – including armed violence, drug trafficking and chronic unemployment — that cause people to seek out the tiny spaces on these boats in the first place.  He also noted that much of the migration in North Africa is within region rather than outside of it, perhaps in part due to the high costs (as well as risks) of a sea voyage.  He urged the Council to embrace a larger picture of migrant needs and rights beyond the immediate and limited concern of boat trafficking in persons.

While none of the briefers took up the alleged value of a potential militarized operation in Libyan territorial waters nor the challenges and potential mis-steps of such operations in open waters, one came away from this briefing with a clear sense that numerous reservations existed both regarding militarized response and with regard to a single minded policy focus that cannot possibly, as Sutherland rightly noted, solve the migrant problem alone.

Perhaps this was the plan by current president Lithuania all along – create a briefing event that was much more about the rights and needs of previously neglected seafaring migrants than it was about stifling the economic benefits of their escape crafts’ recruiters and pilots. In either instance, the briefing seemed kinder and more humane than the controversial resolution that formed its backdrop.  Let us hope that the lives of often-desperate boat people are not put further at risk by ill-considered policy priorities designed principally to block income streams of alleged traffickers.

Working Assets: Development Infrastructure Worthy of Development Aspirations, Karin Perro and Robert Zuber

1 Feb

The UN’s final working day of January featured an odd mix of events, including a seminar dedicated to teaching about the UN, a full-day event promoting social media, and the Security Council’s debate on the Protection of Civilians with a special focus on women and girls.

The last of these is particularly germane to GAPW’s work and, as noted by the UK, represents perhaps the singular lens through which outsiders view the value of the United Nations. And there was much of value in the discussion which we attempted to capture through @globalactionpw. Not surprisingly, some of the presentations represented a mixture of now-familiar POC assumptions and a few needlessly repetitive political grievances.  And despite some passionate and convincing articulations on the common theme of Women, Peace and Security and its implications for protection, a number of delegations noted that 15 years after the WPS norm was consummated, it still ‘feels’ more ornate than embedded.

This lament is relevant to what could well have been the most far-reaching event of the day, held in Conference Room 2, a surprisingly small venue for a discussion as potentially significant as this one could turn out to be.  ECOSOC’s “Dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system” attracted a roster of high-level presenters including UNDP’s Helen Clark, Timor-Leste’s Amb. Sofia Mesquita Borges, and Colombia’s Amb. María Emma Mejía Vélez, vice president of ECOSOC.

GAPW’s Karin Perro spent the morning listening to UN officials and others discuss ways to make the full UN system more accountable to and engaged in the fulfillment of development goals, another one of those ‘core lenses’ for public assessment of UN effectiveness. Among the insights she gleaned were Helen Clark’s ‘delivering as one’ approach.’  Such an approach includes what Clark referred to as a ‘relevant and nimble’ institutional structure for SDG implementation. This warrants more sustained attention with caveats to ensure room for innovation (as the US suggested) and also to guarantee (as Albania noted) that UN development priorities avoid policy silos and fully embrace national contexts.

Perro also reported some echoes of skepticism in the room that went beyond caveats.  Amb. Borges wondered aloud about the ability of states with fiscal, security and governance limitations to successfully coordinate implementation of what will likely be wide ranging development goals.  And several African states bluntly questioned the UN system’s ability and effectiveness in coordinating with other development partners, including states.  Ghana was perhaps the boldest of these states, intimating that development ‘competition’ indulged by UN agencies can result in disrupted development flows, duplicated efforts, disempowered (or frustrated) non-UN development partners, and neglect of legitimate, country-specific needs.

As it turns out, space for this important and even innovative discussion was a non-factor as perhaps 2/3 of the seats in CR 2 were filled.  Apparently ensuring a robust and responsive development infrastructure isn’t as sexy for some in the UN system as formulating text outlining largely normative goals and objectives. Or perhaps state and NGO representatives were busy sharpening their twitter messaging in another conference room.

Regardless, the implications of this event for fulfilling the new goals of the UN’s development pillar were clear to all who participated.  All seemed to recognize that there is limited value to establishing development goals in the absence of viable development infrastructure. On this point, GAPW noted a general, if guarded optimism from delegations, including from those seeking more attention to national context, but also from those wondering if structures of governance in some states are sufficiently fair and robust to handle our new and expanded set of development commitments.

It was also clear that unless all relevant institutional and national assets can find complementary service in our development workplaces, our SDG efforts are likely to create the equivalent of lovely sprinkles on an ice cream cone that itself is not fit to be eaten. We are all the ‘responsible parties’ here, responsible to guide implementation of fair and transparent development priorities, but also responsible to prevent possible damage to the UN’s reputation from development goals and objectives that could regrettably turn out, once again, to be as ornate as substantive.

Boko Haram: What is to be Done? – Professor Hussein Solomon

18 Jan

Editor’s Note:  Hussein Solomon, a longtime friend of GAPW, is a sensitive, nuanced, highly-respected commentator regarding many of the current mis-steps in African counter-terrorism policy, including an over-reliance on decontextualized military ‘solutions.’  This piece on the grave situation currently unfolding in Nigeria, Cameroon and neighboring states originally appeared as a policy paper of Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa

Even by Boko Haram’s own depraved standards, this month’s attacks by the Islamist group have gone beyond the pale. In one case, a woman in labour was shot dead. In another, a ten year-old girl was strapped with explosives and used as a human detonator in a crowded market[1]. Beyond the brutality of the terrorist atrocities committed is the sheer scale of the attack. In the case of the most recent attack on Baga, where 2,000 civilians were killed according to Amnesty International, heavily armed Boko Haram fighters arrived in trucks and motorcycles[2]. Following an initial attack with grenade launchers on the hapless citizens, survivors of the initial assault fled into the forest only to be gunned down by other Boko Haram fighters on motorcycles. The savagery of the assaults has even motivated the moribund African Union (AU) to act – calling for an AU force to intervene and defeat the insurgents[3].

I am convinced that Abubaker Shekau and his Boko Haram terrorists can be defeated. But what would a strategy of victory look like? First, is the issue of regional and international co-operation. Boko Haram is not only a Nigerian problem but a transnational one – consisting of fighters from as far away as Libya and Somalia[4]as well as having ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Somalia’s Al Shabaab (The Youth), the Movement for Unity and Oneness in West Africa and Mali’s Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Moreover, there is a discernible Boko Haram presence in Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Niger. Currently each of these countries is trying to unilaterally take on Boko Haram. Whilst some successes have been achieved, for example, when Cameroon’s military killed 143 Boko Haram fighters after they attacked the Cameroonian military camp in Kolofata[5]; it is clear that neighbouring states need to think along the lines of joint military operations, sharing intelligence, coordinating border crossings, as well as starving Boko Haram of its financial resources emanating locally and abroad to conducts its terror campaign. The latter would necessarily entail greater help rendered to these states by the West as well as the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.

Second, three caveats are important when discussing the employment of military force. In the first instance, the employment of force should not be at the expense of the political and developmental responses to counterterrorism. Rather the military should complement these other legs of a holistic counterterrorism strategy. In the second instance, where force is deployed it should take on board the African context. The focal point of African armies should be highly mobile 600 troop battalions as opposed to bigger brigades of 3,000 troops or a corps of 10,000 troops. This would allow for a more flexible force more in keeping with the counter-insurgency battle they have to wage. Finally, such a military force should take cognisance of the plethora of local militia groups which have sprung up amongst local communities in an effort to protect themselves from the ravages of Boko Haram. These could be useful force multipliers and working relationship could be established between the intervention force and these militia groups. Moreover, the intervention force could also provide training to these groups in the face of a common enemy.

Third, as any medical practitioner knows, prevention is better than cure. Whilst a military solution is needed in the short term, the underlying extremist ideology driving Boko Haram must also be addressed. Radicalisation among Nigeria’s Muslims is also growing[6] apace as a result of the internet and jihadi chat forums.[7] Boko Haram’s founder – Mohammed Yusuf – himself was a trained Salafist (a school of thought associated with jihad and the austere Saudi tradition of Islam known as Wahhabism).[8] Yusuf was also a great admirer of fourteenth century jihad ideologue, Ibn Taymiyyah.[9] Yet the government has done little to curb the spread of radical Islamism. This is surprising considering that the group seeks to convert Nigeria into a Muslim Wahhabist state[10] and the fact that it recruits from the Ibn Taymiyyah network of schools that Yusuf had set up.[11] This, in turn, also contributed to the difficulty that the state’s intelligence apparatus had in penetrating Boko Haram: recruitment seems to be taking place among disciples of a particular religious leader in a particular area.[12] These bonds of loyalty between disciple and religious leader are notoriously difficult to break.

Fourth, counterterrorism efforts are hobbled by the incapacity of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to gather intelligence and undertake scientific investigations. According to Amnesty International, most police stations do not document their work. There is no database for fingerprints, no systematic forensic investigation methodology, only two forensic laboratory facilities, few trained forensic staff and insufficient budgets for investigations.[13] Under the circumstances police tend to rely on confessions, which form 60 per cent of all prosecutions.[14] However, it often appears that such confessions are extracted under torture. In the process the guilty often escape punishment while the innocent suffer. In terrorism cases, it means that despite the multitude of arrests of alleged Boko Haram members and sympathisers, it hardly impacts on the sect’s endurance and capacity to carry out fresh atrocities. In addition, corruption within the NPF is rampant,[15] further undermining counterterrorism initiatives.

Such corruption has also become endemic within the Nigerian armed forces, resulting in widespread demoralisation and at least two mutinies in 2014 by soldiers against their commanding officers. While Nigeria’s armed forces are allocated US$6 billion of the annual budget, this hardly benefits the ordinary Nigerian soldier whose monthly pay was suddenly halved to 20,000 Nigerian naira (approximately US$130) in July 2014.[16] Ordinary soldiers have to go into battle against Boko Haram rockets and mortar rounds, in ‘soft’ Hilux trucks, since the money for armoured personnel carriers inexplicably dried up. In addition, each soldier engaging in frontline duty is supposed to receive a 1,500 Nigerian naira daily allowance and food is to be provided. However, this allowance does not get to them and often, neither does the food. Under the circumstances, desertions are increasing.[17] Worse still, soldiers accuse their superiors of leaking their plans and movements to Boko Haram in exchange for payment. In May 2014, 12 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Borno state. Angered by what they perceived as plans leaked to Boko Haram, the remaining soldiers returned to base and turned their guns against their commanding officer.[18] This situation cannot be allowed to continue if one wants to seriously end Boko Haram terrorism.

Fifth, counterterrorism efforts are also proving counterproductive because of the brutality unleashed by the security forces – in the process, losing hearts and minds. The Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, for instance, has resorted to unlawful killings, dragnet arrests and extortion and intimidation of the hapless residents of Borno. Far from intelligence-driven operations, the JTF simply cordoned off areas and carried out house to house searches, at times shooting young men in these homes.[19] Similar tactics were pursued by the JTF at homes searched in the Kaleri Ngomari Custain area in Maiduguri on 9 July 2011. Twenty-five people were shot dead by security services, women and children were beaten, homes were burnt and many more boys and men were reported missing.[20] Such excesses on the part of the security services can only contribute to the further alienation of citizens from the state and its security forces – something that Abuja can ill afford. This situation is compounded by the fact that the Nigerian soldiers and police patrolling in northern states are national, not local, and therefore are unlikely to share either ethnic or cultural backgrounds with the local population[21] who view themselves as being under siege in an occupation by `foreign forces’.

Sixth, counterterrorism efforts fail as they do not recognise the wider context – the potential assets that extremists groups have at their disposal. A case in point is the existence of armed gangs throughout northern Nigeria. These number in their thousands and include such gangs as the Almajirai, Yan Tauri, Yan Daba, Yan Banga, and Yan Dauka Amariya. These gangs provide a ready pool of recruits for extremists.[22] The authorities therefore need to neutralise these armed groups as part of the broader fight against Boko Haram.

Finally, counterterrorism efforts suffer as a result of the credibility gap between promise and performance, rhetoric and reality. While promising to curb or eradicate the scourge of terrorism, government actions do not seem to reflect this urgency. As Abimbola Adesoji has reflected, ‘… the government response to Islamic fundamentalism seems neither adequate nor enduring. The prompt trial of arrested culprits, bold and firm implementation of previous commission reports, and a more devoted handling of security reports and armed gangs, as well as better handling of known flash points and hot spots, would, in addition to serving as a deterrent, portray the government as a responsible and a responsive body.[23] Unfortunately none of this has occurred.

This is a failure both at the political level and at the level of the security forces. Political mandarins have failed to adequately arm their security services or provide sufficient funds to engage in long-term intelligence operations to penetrate Islamist organisations in the country. Nigeria’s federal structure has unfortunately contributed to the poor coordination among the different security organisations. This is further exacerbated by, ‘…the inability of state governors as the chief security officers of their states to control the security forces, which are under the control of the federal government.[24]

There are however, failures on the part of the security services as well. The skill sets of those in the Nigerian intelligence community do not provide an adequate ‘fit’ to the challenges posed by sects like Boko Haram. Indeed most of those in the intelligence community seem to have a background in VIP protection – the protection of senior political officeholders – as opposed to intelligence proper.[25] A consequence of the lack of skill sets was evident in December 2011in the northern city of Kano, when security police were keeping the home of a suspected militant, Mohammed Aliyu, under surveillance. Arriving at his home, Aliyu immediately realised that his home was under surveillance and called members of his sect. Within minutes they drove up in three vehicles and fatally shot three undercover police officers.[26]

In addition, there is the on-going problem of nepotism within the security services – people being appointed on the basis of who they know as opposed to what they know. Agekameh[27] captured the sorry state of Nigerian security services by noting that, ‘Standards have fallen due to political partisanship. People now occupy sensitive positions in the security agencies not because of their ability to perform, but because they are either from one geographical location, simply wield some influence or know some people at the top who will nurture their career. The twin evil of godfatherism and favouritism has eaten deep into the entire gamut of the security agencies. Sycophancy rather than professionalism has been elevated as the most important criterion for career advancement.’

These failures help to explain why Nigerian security services were caught unprepared when Boko Haram made its vicious appearance on the scene. The fight against Boko Haram will therefore be a long one but it can be won with the requisite political will garnered to fix these problems and in the process protecting the innocent from the scourge of terrorism.

[1] Barbie Latza Nadeau, “Nigeria is Letting Boko Haram Get Away with Murder,” The Daily Beast, 13 January 2015. Internet:http://www.thedailybeat.com/articles/2015/01/13/nigeria-is-letting-boko-haram-get-away-with-murder.html. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[2] “Boko Haram may have killed up to 2,000 people in Nigeria: Amnesty International,” IBN Live. 15 January 2015. Internet: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/boko-haram-may-have-killed-up-to-2000-people-in-nigeria-amnesty-international/522297-2.html. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[3] “South Africa warned against fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria,” News 24, 15 January 2015. Internet: http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/SA-warned-against-fighting-Boko-Haram-in-Nigeria-20150114-2. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[4] Will McBain, “Nigeria plays down Baga bloodbath,” Mail and Guardian, 16-22 January 2015, p. 11.

[5] Krishnadev Calamur, “143 Boko Haram fighters Killed in Clashes with Cameroon’s Military,” NPR, 13 January 2015. Internet: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/13/376963249/143-boko-haram-fighters-killed-in-clashes-cameroons-military. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[6] Zalan Kira, ‘Assessing Terror Threats’ US News Digital Weekly, 3, 49, 9 December 2011, p. 10.

[7] Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, pp. 99-100.

[8] Toni Johnson, ‘Boko Haram,’ Council on Foreign Relations. 27 December 2011, <http://www.cfr.org/africa/boko-haram/p25739.&gt; (Accessed 21 January 2012), pp. 1-2.

[9] Ibid., p. 2.

[10] Ioannis Mantzikos, ‘The Absence of the State in Northern Nigeria: The Case of Boko Haram’, African Renaissance, 7, 1, 2010, p. 61.

[11] Ibid., p. 58.

[12]Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, p. 101.

[13] Amnesty International, Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015. London: Amnesty International, 2011, p. 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., p. 9.

[16] Monica Mark, ‘Uphill battle for Nigeria’s ailing army’, Mail and Guardian, 30, 31, 1-7 August 2014, p. 19.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Amnesty International, Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015. London: Amnesty International, 2011, p. 30.

[20] Ibid.

[21] ‘Boko Haram: Nigeria’s growing new headache’, Strategic Comments, 17. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), November 2011, <http://www.iiss.org/publication/strategic-comments/past-issues/volume-17-2011/nov.&gt;, (Accessed 9 January 2012).

[22] Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, pp. 112-113.

[23]Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, p. 100.

[24] Ibid., p. 114.

[25] Ibid., p. 114.

[26]David Smith, ‘Boko Haram suspects held after Nigerian shootout’, The Guardian, 19 December 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/19/boko-haram-suspects-nigeria-shootout?newsfeed=true&gt; (Accessed 28 January 2012), p. 1.

[27] Omede  J Apeh, ‘Nigeria: Analysing the Security Challenges of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration’ Canadian Social Science, 7, 5, 2011, p. 94.