Who is supporting Boko Haram?

I’m fascinated by the investigative work that goes into uncovering the funding sources of rebel groups.  The M23 graph I wrote about last month shows the complex web of connections between the group and its funders.   Shelby Grossman recently blogged about a similar chart for Boko Haram, which focuses on the types of support that the group has received from different sources.

bokoharamThe chart comes from a June 2012 World Policy piece by Carlo Davis.  It would be fascinating to see an update to account for changes in financing sources over the last two years, especially from established political parties.

Update, 23 April: Zainab Usman and Archit Tiwari have pointed out that some of the sources cited in thie chart, especially 247ureports.com, are not considered reliable.  I’ll post additional updates here if it becomes clear that any of the information in the chart is obviously inaccurate.


Peacekeeping by proxy in Uganda

The ever-insightful Ken Opalo had a great post last week about why the US has been putting so much military aid towards the hunt for Joseph Kony in Uganda, even as it’s tried to avoid getting involved in the much more pressing humanitarian emergency in the CAR.  Key point:

The US recently announced new military aid to Uganda, including four CV-22 Ospreys and an additional 150 Special Operation troops (to join the 100 deployed in 2011) in an effort to step up the hunt for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony is suspected to be in hiding in the border regions CAR, the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan. Of course this rather bizarre decision (is Kony really that much of a priority right now in the Great Lakes Region?) is motivated by the need to keep the Ugandan military in top shape and ready to fight in places the US doesn’t want to set foot.

I tend to assume that US aid to other countries’ militaries is always driven by foreign policy concerns.  In this light, assisting in the hunt for Kony doesn’t make much sense.  But it’s quite interesting to consider that the Defense Department might be concerned about stability in Africa more broadly, beyond the immediate threat they see (xenophobically) from Muslim armed groups.

(Thank you to Scott for pointing out that I forgot to link to Ken’s post!)


Property and political order in Africa

I recently finished Cathy Boone’s excellent new book, Property and Political Order in Africa: Land Rights and the Structure of Politics. She’s motivated by the observation that, while disagremeents over access to land are endemic in Africa, some areas see the issue become highly politicized or spill over into violent conflict, while others end up with low-level disagreements that never escalate.  In seeking to answer this, she looks at the way that different types of land tenure systems created by the colonial and post-colonial state tend to “bottle up” land conflict at the local level, or encourage it to escalate to the national political realm.

A very brief rendering of her argument is that land tenure systems in which chiefs or lineage heads are given the right to allocate land (often along ethnic lines) tend to keep conflict local, because no one above this level of regional governance has the right to challenge the chief’s allocation of land.  Thus, people who are unhappy with their access to land can’t make claims about it within the national political system.  Examples of this type of system include western and central Ghana, northern Cameroon, and western Kenya.

A chiefly or lineage-based land tenure regime contrasts with statist systems of land allocation, where the government directly assigns land to farmers, often for the purpose of raising cash crops (and frequently involving the importation of labor from elsewhere in the country).  Because access to land isn’t mediated by any type of local government, people with complaints about their allocation take the issue directly to the national government.  Examples of this type of system include southwestern Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya’s Rift Valley, eastern DRC, and southeastern Rwanda.

I found this analysis very useful in understanding some of the persistent conflict dynamics of the Great Lakes.  In both the DRC and Rwanda, government policies led directly to the displacement of thousands of people from the colonial period onwards.  This seems to have created lasting grievances in both countries that have played off each other in very harmful ways, from cycles of ethnic violence in Rwanda to the way that persistent insecurity of land tenure in eastern Congo has led to the creation of an endless array of militias.  In Ghana, by comparison, chiefly land tenure systems prevailed, relatively few people were forced off their land, and land allocation does not seem to be a highly salient national political issue today.  To be clear, Boone is not claiming that land tenure regimes are the only or even the primary explanatory variable for violent conflict, but her analysis of the ways that land tenure arrangements can mute or amplify tensions within a political system is insightful in ways that simple claims about ethnic rivalries are not.

What’s the right analogy for Rwanda?

As the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide approaches on April 7, people who don’t usually pay much attention to African politics will be seeing two main types of commemorative stories about the country.  The first will focus on the incredible progress that Rwanda has made in areas like fighting corruption, promoting economic growth, and rolling out universal health insurance.  The second will acknowledge these domestic policy achievements, but note that Kagame’s government has also been repressing political expression, physically attacking its opponents, and fostering rebellions in the neighboring DR Congo.   Underlying some of these concerns about domestic repression is the fear that ethnic grievances from the genocide era have only been partially addressed, and that these could spill over into renewed conflict in the future.

These two sets of stories present such diametrically opposed visions of the country that I think many people will feel that they can’t both be equally true.   One must trump the other in the final analysis, right?  Either the big development goals are being met, at the short term cost of lesser goals like freedom of speech, or these gains are secondary to the threat posed by the RPF’s willingness to use violence to achieve its ends.  I too find myself struggling with this tendency to weigh the two narratives against each other.  I am generally concerned about the patterns of repression that can be seen today, but I’m also aware that this leads me to discount some amazing development achievements that I’m sure I would be endlessly commending if they had took place in, say, Ghana.  It feels uncharitable at best and dishonest at worse to look past these accomplishments.

Since it’s hard to weigh the situation in Rwanda on its own merits, it’s common to try to explain it through analogy.  Kagame himself is fond of saying that he’d like Rwanda to be the Singapore of Africa – a tiny country that punches far above its economic weight.  Singapore, of course, has achieved its own growth through a similar combination of good governance and repression of dissent.  However, when most foreigners think of Singapore today, I suspect they’re contemplating its role as an international financial hub, its insanely expensive rents, and its great culinary diversity rather than its freedom of the press.  The obvious conclusion here, if you believe that Rwanda really is on a path to emulate Singapore, is that in 50 years no one will care about a spot of repression today, because it won’t have any negative long term effects.

On the other hand, there are analogies which express more concern over the RPF’s authoritarianism.  Laura Seay tweeted last month that “Rwanda today is terrifyingly like Rwanda circa 1992.  Power held by a tiny minority, no real freedom.  Development is better, but fragile.”  The point here is not that Kagame’s government is using its power to start planning a genocide, as the Habyarimana government was doing in 1992 – whatever its faults, the RPF is definitely not out to kill every citizen it perceives as a threat to its power.  Rather, the point is that extreme concentration of power can be politically destabilizing, and potentially lead to renewed conflict.  In 1992, Rwanda was in the middle of a civil war between the Hutu-led Habyarimana government and Kagame’s RPF, at that point a rebel group based in Uganda.  Kagame and many of his companions were the children of Tutsis who had been driven out of Rwanda when a Hutu government came to power at independence in 1962. Lacking any impartial or democratic means to redress these ethnic grievances, they formed an armed group instead, and invaded in 1990 after a series of economic crises had weakened Habyarimana’s authoritarian control.

There are several implications of this analogy.  Most obviously, it suggests that there’s a problem with the RPF’s ban on discussions of ethnic identity, which means that ethnicized grievances among both Hutu and Tutsi can’t be openly resolved.  At this point both sides have complaints about everything from the RPF’s behavior during and after the genocide to contemporary land policy.  It’s by no means guaranteed that these issues will spill over into violent rebellion, of course – they might simply simmer at a local level, or even fade away as shared economic growth and the passage of time reduce some of the sting of current grievances. However, the other lesson of this analogy is that conflict doesn’t always happen immediately.  After 1962, exiled Tutsis made a handful of attempts to invade Rwanda, but it was nearly 30 years before the RPF succeeded.  Authoritarian stability today doesn’t necessarily predict stability in the future.

So which is the “right” analogy?  I still don’t really know.  For a number of reasons, I think it’s harder to finance a violent rebellion in most African countries today than it was in the mid-1990s.  The RPF’s control of the countryside is strong, as is the Rwandan military.  It’s hard to imagine how they could become sufficiently disorganized that other armed groups could form within the country, or even pose a real threat across its borders.  Of course, if a severe schism formed within the party (as happened with the SPLM in South Sudan recently), this could change the balance of power.  Ultimately, the analogy you prefer may come down to your tolerance for risk.  Mitigating the chance of a worse-case outcome under the “Rwanda in 1992″ analogy may seem like a better policy choice for some people than trying to maximize the chance of high economic growth under the Singapore scenario.

Updates from PacDev

I had a great time at the Pacific Conference for Development Economics this weekend.  Sendhil Mullainathan really stole the show with an amazing keynote on his new book, Scarcity (which looks like essential reading for anyone interested in poverty issues), but there were also a number of fascinating studies on the political economy of conflict and post-conflict recovery.

  • Tarek Ghani presented some of his joint work with Michael Callen and Josh Blumenstock on the use of mobile money for salary payments in Afghanistan.  Given the amount of violence ongoing in the south of the country, there’s a premium on liquidity in case one has to suddenly flee, and the authors were interested in whether cash or mobile accounts better met this need.  They found that respondents who believed that higher rates of violence would occur in the future were less likely to hold a balance on their mobile accounts, preferring cash instead.  For all the potential of mobile money, there’s still a lot that implementors don’t understand about why people do (or don’t) decide to adopt it.
  • Bilal Siddiqi discussed results from a justice sector intervention in Liberia (joint with Justin Sandefur).  They framed the study with the observation that, while most Liberians prefer customary forms of dispute resolution to (expensive, inefficient) state courts, women are actually more likely to go to state courts when they’re suing men.  The implicit idea is that customary courts are less likely to rule in their favor.  The authors look at the effects of a legal aid program which made it easier for people to access state courts, and found that respondents who participated in the program were happier with their judicial outcomes and had better food security.

Subnational conflicts in Africa

The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research just released their annual yearbook on civil wars, the Conflict Barometer.  Instead of the standard country-year format, this year’s version includes information on conflicts at subnational levels.  How do your ideas of what it means for a country to “have a civil war” change when the information is presented regionally instead of nationally? (Click for full size.)

Subnational Wars in Africa.001

There’s also some interesting data on conflict intensity by month for certain countries, such as Nigeria.  Notice how much it moves around:


How to behave around rebels

I just came across a thought provoking article in the March 2011 edition of Forced Migration Review called “How to Behave: Advice from IDPs.”  The author, Stine Finne Jakobsen, summarizes advice from internally displaced Colombians living around Cartagena into four “modes of behavior” intended to lower the risk of living in a war zone.  To quote her summaries of them:

  • Passivity: In a situation where an illegal armed actor is controlling the local population and imposing order through terror, not to talk, not to know and not to see may be essential coping strategies.
  • Invisibility: [This] implies to duck and hide, to melt into the rest of the population and avoid actions that can draw attention to you. Certain daily activities should be restricted or abandoned but total invisibility is never possible since everyday life has to go on.
  • Obedience: [This] implies following the rules and orders of the [non-state armed groups] – a first step towards securing survival. However, obeying the orders of one group is inevitably perceived by their adversaries as supporting that group. And in obeying, the principle of passivity is violated.
  • Mobility: In wartime, mobility is restricted and regarded as suspicious by armed actors and groups.  Unnecessary movement should be avoided – but moving away can be the ultimate solution to secure survival through anonymity in an urban setting.

I found this a very moving depiction of the impossible choices people make during conflict, and would like to revisit some of the other academic literature focusing on civilian life in wartime (such as Zachariah Mampilly’s Rebel Rulers) with these precepts in mind.

Who was supporting M23?

If you haven’t seen the interactive graph of support for M23 by foreign states (Rwanda/Uganda) and individuals that was published in Stability Journal recently, it’s worth a look.  The data comes from an article by Cathy Nangini, Mainak Jas, Hugo Fernandes and Robert Muggah.

Here’s a still shot of the interactive version.  One thing that strikes me in looking at this is that running a rebellion is actually an intensely diplomatic endeavor.  Think about the challenges of negotiating relationships with all of these sponsors and allies while also trying to take territory and (in at least a minimal sense) govern it – formidable!


Did war really make the state?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson are doing a series of posts about Balinese politics in the 18th – 20th centuries, and make an counterpoint to Charles Tilly’s famous phrase “war made the state and the state made war” in their latest:

The truth of the matter is that all polities fight wars, and some centralize while others do not.

Looking at centralized ones and observing that they fight wars, therefore warfare creates states does not seem very sensible empirically.

It’s a very interesting point.  Under what conditions does the threat of war lead polities (not just states) to centralize?  Is the bias here that only polities which have survived an initial war are around to centralize later, while losing groups, who faced exactly the same risk of war, get swallowed up by their opponents and never build a centralized administrative structure?  In which case war would be expected to create and destroy in roughly equal measure.  (Granted, I haven’t read Tilly’s original paper in detail, so if these questions are addressed there or in his other work I’d be happy to hear about it.)

Kudos to Acemoglu & Robinson as well for the use of the word “polities” instead of “states” in the first sentence quoted here. It’s a small thing, but a good step towards moving away from ideas of power and governance as the exclusive province of the state.

How can the CAR be rebuilt?

Louisa Lombard had an excellent article which touched on this issue last month.  Key suggestions:

Since the change in power, diplomats in the region and in the international community have pushed for rapid presidential elections. This is a mistake. In the fighting, voter registries (both paper and electronic) have been destroyed. Re-establishing them will be a massive undertaking that risks exacerbating the tensions around nationality described above. It will consume scarce resources when necessary emergency humanitarian aid is underfunded.

To satisfy the widespread desire for democracy (Bozizé’s electioneering made Central Africans very unhappy), it would be better to start with local elections, which have not been held in the CAR for decades – Préfets and their adjuncts have been appointed by the president, and chefs de village have assumed their roles through a variety of means, such as informal elections — often involving only men — and heredity. These elections would lay a foundation for more substantive national elections, and might also help establish trust in communities riven by looting and brutality.

Also immediately valuable: more money. The levels of violence got as bad as they did in part due to the weak economy and the piling-up of arrears in civil servant salaries, especially over the second half of 2013. Market purchases and bar sociality cultivate a day-to-day ‘getting along’ no less real for being bred of practical necessity, and the drying up of money removed any such possibilities for social lubrication. An injection of cash, such as by paying those salaries, would do much more for people’s well-being and the establishment of security than a strictly ‘humanitarian’ distribution.

The CAR, an improbable country on a variety of levels, has never had a tightly-woven social fabric. It’s always been more of a loose netting that has become dangerously frayed over the last few years. But it can be mended, and these small-scale processes, plus technocratic governance from President Samba-Panza, are good ways to start.

In general, I find Louisa one of today’s most interesting thinkers on power and governance in weak states.  Keep an eye out for her work, and follow her on Twitter.