December 07, 2013
December 06, 2013
Webster's Dictionary will have to seek and create new words to describe the greatness of Nelson Mandela. Existing words seem so inadequate to encompass this man's remarkable journey. One searches and searches for sentences, expressions or memories that somehow will capture the spirit of Mandela and each and every one fail to rise to what his death demands.
How fortunate in our lifetimes we will have witnessed his work.
This was a man who spent over two and a half decades in prison and came out filled with love and forgiveness for his oppressors. We watched as he created a powerful nation out of the horrors of apartheid that prospered in that atmosphere of forgiveness. One only has to contrast Zimbabwe and South Africa to measure the impact of his presence.
Although I was a small part of the fight against apartheid and spent time in jail over it, what is most important is that he taught me forgiveness, love in the face of oppression and the need to lift people up in the end. For the LGBT community, as we emerge from our own journey of oppression, the lesson is clear. We must enter this world as a free people with all of our gifts, talents, energies and joy to make it a better place. To rest in the bitterness of the past with misplaced righteousness would mean we have lost the lessons of a Mandela.
The young of South Africa owe their future to Mandela. The citizens of the world will learn from him for generations to come. In my lifetime, lived Gandhi, King and Mandela. This makes me the most wealthy man in the world to know of their work and their lives. Such great persons walk among us rarely and we must cherish them and their teachings.
December 04, 2013
The moral of this story is don't plant a mango tree next to your home because each year a herd of elephants will be walking through it! At Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia, each year when the mangos ripen, a herd of elephants crash through the hotel lobby for their annual treat.
To believe that Americans thinking that swallows returning to the Inn at San Juan Capistrano is a big deal is overshadowed by the 'elephant in the room'!
Mail Online reports:
The moment was photographed by general manager of the lodge Ian Salisbury, 62, after he decided to capture the extraordinary event.
'This is the very unusual, and quite unique phenomenon of an annual elephant trek through the lodge's reception/lobby area,' explains Ian, who is originally from Bacup, Lancashire.
'From late October every year, families of elephants visit the lodge grounds to feed on the fruit of a 'wild mango' (Cordyla africana) tree which grows in the lodge courtyard.
'Whilst the elephants can access this tree by a variety of routes, they often choose to take a shortcut through the actual building.
'They climb the steps at the lodge entrance and trundle through the lobby, giving the lodge guests a real treat with their antics.
'Whilst the tree is fruiting, through November and into December, the elephants visit at all hours of day and night.
Taking the trek to and from the tree at least once a day, the elephants usually take the journey in herds of three to six.
Mr Salisbury explains: 'There is usually great excitement when the elephants walk though, but we try to keep everyone calm and allow them to best view.
'The elephants are usually very relaxed and pay little attention to people.
'On occasions they have demonstrated how relaxed they are by falling asleep!
'We have had one mother elephant bring her new born calf to the lodge when only two days old, that same baby is now four years old, but still confidently returns each year, which is great to see.'
With a 10 ft tall reception, the lodge can only accommodate the female and younger male elephants, as well as the calves.
Although, one regular large bull, nicknamed 'George' by the lodge, manages to squeeze his way through the lobby every year.
Mr Salisbury added: 'This unusual behaviour demonstrates a trust of humans that is quite rare in the wild.
'These elephants are by no means tame, and past generations have suffered from illegal hunting and poaching, but their behaviour clearly shows that mother elephants teach their offspring about the world and pass on their behaviour traits.'
'For most of the year the elephants wander over a wide area, but the same elephants return each year as soon as the fruit is ready.'
November 25, 2013
The entire international human rights community seems to be focused on the horrible epidemic of anti-LGBT actions happening in Russia. The horror of watching Putin's Punks launch a reign of terror against Russian LGBT citizens is disgusting to witness and must be stopped. Around the world we have seen concerts, demonstrations, official expressions of outrage by governments and people traveling to the nation to confront the horror.
However, let's remember Africa.
The continents LGBT citizens are literally being killed, beaten, set afire and placed in nightmare prisons where the odds of them emerging alive are slim. In numerous nations across Africa, there is a war of terror and attrition against its LGBT citizens. In many ways, the hate rising in Africa against their LGBT citizens is an American export. The organizations fighting us here in the United States are increasingly using their missions in Africa to push for the death penalty and other repressive laws.
Since Moscow is Eurocentric, we hear of the news because of better access to news organizations. Because Putin Punk's see the need to put their videos on the Internet we actually witness some of the horror. And let's be honest, because the Russian victims are white we hear more about their stories.
While fighting for our Russian brothers and sisters, we must not forget the same in Africa. They have even less resources to fight back, almost no one is hearing their pleas for help and even our governments don't seem to care as much as they do about Russia.
Where to put resources and energy is not an 'either or' situation.
Global citizens who love liberty, justice and human rights must fight for all LGBT citizens rather they are in the more accessible Russia, in Africa or in the Middle East. Our obligations to fight for full equality for LGBT citizens doesn't stop with a skin color, an economic status or boundaries.
Please don't forget LGBT Africans.
November 13, 2013
"There is no sovereign power at all outside the urban areas, leaving two-thirds of the country's estimated 75 million people beyond the purview of a central government."
-'The Invisible State'
This blog over the years has attempted to bring to your attention the crisis of increasing number of 'failed nation states'. They become places of genocide, rape and endless suffering. As a result, they are also breeding grounds for terrorists both ideologically and economically.
America has not yet developed a sound long term policy to deal with failed nation states that would protect our national interests and isolate the terrorists in these geographic areas.
ForeignPolicy.com has an article by Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst that examines the failed nation state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo which was written before the recent military victories against rebels in the Congo.
While government troops have in recent week overrun the rebels in the Eastern part of the Congo, it would be a huge mistake to think that after six million dead, mass rape and destruction that suddenly the Congo is a whole healed nation again. The government has simply stopped the violence for now but still can't rule and govern outside major cities.
Here is 'The Invisible State'.
The international community needs to recognize a simple, albeit brutal fact: The Democratic Republic of the Congo does not exist. All of the peacekeeping missions, special envoys, interagency processes, and diplomatic initiatives that are predicated on the Congo myth -- the notion that one sovereign power is present in this vast country -- are doomed to fail. It is time to stop pretending otherwise.
We wrote those words on ForeignPolicy.com four years ago, and they ring even more true today. Congo is not a failed state; it is a nonstate, incessantly at war for the last 17 years, and home to some of the world's worst violence. Perhaps as many as 5 million people (no one really knows, given the chaos in the country) have died since President Mobutu Sese Seko's removal from power in May 1997, and the horror continues with "children murdering in gangs, civilians massacred by the thousand, rape as common as petty thievery," as the Economist described it more recently. Not only does Congo rank second (behind only Somalia) on this year's Failed States Index, but it ranks 186th (tied with Niger for dead last) on the U.N. Human Development Index; 229th out of 229 in GDP per capita (behind even Somalia and South Sudan); 160th out of 176 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index; and 171st out of 177 countries on the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom. If there is a prize for the worst place on Earth, Congo has a strong claim.
Unfortunately, the international community's response to the Congo myth has been to continue to support the existing government, despite an astonishing record of failure, while avoiding any consideration of an alternative. Even though Congo has received an enormous $27 billion in development assistance since 2000 -- making it perhaps the world's largest recipient of international assistance after Afghanistan -- the state remains mostly irrelevant outside Congo's capital, not for lack of money but at least in part because donors have continually rewarded the central government's failure to rule, ignored corruption, and dismissed concerns about questionable elections. It's as if the world wishes to believe in the idea of Congo rather than engage with the actual place that exists -- a certain prescription for disaster.
But why? The Congo myth persists for several reasons. First, African leaders in Congo's neighborhood who should be most concerned about the country's catastrophe dislike any questioning of state sovereignty, given that many of them do not have full control of their own territories. The international community, reluctant to devote anything like the diplomatic energy and political capital that would be necessary to think about a real solution in Congo, is happy to oblige. Despite all the protestations about the horrific war, systematic violence against women, and regional instability, Congo hardly gets attention from the powers that be in Washington or Turtle Bay, where worries about sovereignty tend to be discussed only when they happen to fall on a geopolitical fault line like the Middle East (see: the Palestinian territories) or right in the heart of Europe (like Kosovo). Finally, there are a great many people inside and outside Congo who profit immensely from a large, barely governed territory full of minerals and opportunities for extortion, trafficking, and smuggling. They have a profound interest in ensuring that Congo doesn't become anything more than the pseudo-country it is today.
And in today's Congo, let's be clear: There is no sovereign power at all outside the urban areas, leaving two-thirds of the country's estimated 75 million people beyond the purview of a central government. In November 2012, the M23 rebel group (widely thought to be backed by Rwanda, something Kigali vehemently denies) seemingly walked past U.N. peacekeepers to occupy Goma, capital of North Kivu province and generally seen as the gateway to Congo's east. After mocking the Congolese state, the rebels left 10 days later and melted into the forest. But they clearly showed they could return at will. This past March, in the province of Katanga, fighters of the Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga (whose name in Swahili aptly translates as "Dividers of Katanga") briefly entered Lubumbashi, Congo's second-largest city, and clashed with government forces before surrendering. The attack rattled many as it harked back to old fears that the province would try to secede, given that it broke away from the newly independent Congolese state for three years in the early 1960s and foreign allies had to intervene twice in the 1970s to help maintain Kinshasa's rule over the mineral-rich area. There are many other such insurgencies elsewhere in the country, from the Mai-Mai Morgan in Congo's Eastern province to the Mai-Mai Raia Mutomboki in North Kivu and South Kivu.
But U.S. policy toward Congo seems to ignore this widespread lawlessness. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's brief visit to Congo underscored all the facets of the Congo myth. The very agent that the secretary hoped would solve the outrages of rape and appalling living conditions -- the Congolese state -- is in fact at the core of the problem. U.S. backing of Kinshasa inevitably became associated with the cruel dysfunction of the Congolese state three years later, when members of a Congolese army battalion trained by the United States were accused of raping 130 women and girls last fall -- a charge corroborated by a recent U.N. investigation. The U.S. Defense Department, of course, duly condemned the crimes and said that its training had included respect for human rights, especially for women. But such training is designed for militaries that function as hierarchical structures in which soldiers are motivated to protect their fellow citizens. In Congo, nothing could be further from the reality. The U.N. special representative for sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, couldn't initially determine who in the military was responsible because, she said, "The military was in disarray. There was no command structure." This is what Washington has reaped from aiding the Congolese state.
Yet, still determined to try to preserve Congo, the U.N. Security Council this past March authorized a 3,000-strong "intervention" brigade with an unprecedented "offensive" mandate to tackle rebels in eastern Congo. An expression of African resolve, these troops are nonetheless too few and the territory too vast to ensure peace. Instead, they are more proof that the international community is merely pretending that a state exists, a dangerous mistake that leads inevitably to pathologies that do the most harm to the defenseless.
At some point, the world must recognize that trying to aid the notional government of Congo in the hope that something will change is a bad play. Until now, the world has either turned a blind eye or, worse, for strategic or commercial advantage, indulged Kinshasa by providing aid, meanwhile taking on ever more of the responsibilities that should be the central government's preserve.
Granted, there are no easy or quick solutions. And despite Congo's almost uninterrupted record of failure, there is no strong consensus about developing alternatives to the current government. But that is largely because the world has not provided any incentives to think about alternative scenarios: a Congo divided into different states, a Kinshasa with varying levels of sovereign control over different regions, more formal responsibilities for the international community in the provision of security and services, or any other idea that might move away from the 50-year fixation on aiding a failed state. Simply bowing to the facts on the ground and admitting that there is no such thing as Congo would be a good start.
November 10, 2013
The Africa Report has disturbing new information that a second Islamic insurgency group called Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)is emerging as a powerful force in the battle to divide Nigeria. The increasingly bitter battles between central government troops and the better know Boko Haram seems to have increased the fighting in the northern states. The government had hoped for a quick massive military strike that would have taken out Boko Haram.
This has not happen. Instead more groups are forming and the insurrection appears to be spreading to a wider geographic area. Nigeria could be two quick steps from a major civil war.
The Africa Report writes:
Nigeria could face another terrorist threat posed by the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), whose apparently deepening ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah signals further danger for a region that is already unstable. According to the Combatting Terrorism Centre at Westpoint, the IMN serves as an extension of Iran's foreign policy in Nigeria.
IMN has reportedly been working with Iran's Qurds forces and Lebanese Hizbollah to gather intelligence on United States and Western expatriates in Nigeria amid fears the group is plotting violent attacks.
The Shiaa Muslim-dominated IMN upholds the ideologies of Khomeinism, a fiercely pro-Sharia and anti-Western creed, which forms the basis of the enmity that exists between Iran and America and its ally Israel.
State Security Service broke up a terrorist group backed by Iranian handlers who wanted to assassinate a former military ruler
The group has fuelled increased extremism among Shia muslims (globally) due to calls by its proponents for 'Jihad' against perceived oppressors.
The group commands thousands of ready-made martyrs known as hurras, a uniformed, regimented wing of the IMN modelled after Iran's Revolutionary Guard, according to IMN's website.
Nigeria is currently battling Boko Haram, a violent Islamic terrorist group that has killed thousands in the crusade against Western education.
Jacob Zenn, a consultant on counter terrorism, said Boko Haram and the IMN shared a common enemy in the opposition to Western domination.
The two groups blame poverty and suffering in Nigeria on Westernisation, and while its clear that Boko Haram wants Sharia law to be introduced across the entire country, the IMN's objective in this regard remains vague.
A World Bank Country report released in May revealed that 63% of Nigeria's population live in abject poverty, with the phenomenon more prevalent in the North of the country.
Of the 19 states recognised as being in the North of Nigeria, Sharia law is practiced fully in 9 and partially in 3.
According to intelligence sources, some radicalised members of the IMN, who are typically uneducated, impoverished Muslim youths, have joined the battle-ready movements of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram's founder, Mohammed Yusuf was a follower of IMN's leader Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky.
In a recent operation, Nigerian security forces intercepted ships smuggling ammunitions and heroine from Iran to IMN operatives in Nigeria.
And in February, officials arrested three members of an Iranian-backed terrorist cell plotting to murder military and religious leaders.
"The State Security Service broke up a terrorist group backed by Iranian handlers who wanted to assassinate a former military ruler and gather intelligence about locations frequented by Americans and Israelis", Secret Police spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar told Reuters in February.
In May, soldiers in northern Nigeria uncovered an arms cache that belonged to members of the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah.
There are suspicions that the IMN like Boko Haram, obtains arms illegally from foreign sources in the Middle East.
Experts say as Nigeria searches for the illusive Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, it should also keep an eye on on Al-Zakzaky. Al-Zakzaky, was leader of the Nigeria's Muslim Brotherhood and an advocate of Islam as an alternative to capitalism and socialism.
Adopting the ideologies of Iran's Ayatolla Khomeini, Egypt's, Hassan al-Banna, Al-Zakzaky has often questioned Nigeria's secularism- asserting that the country should be more like Iran.
Zenn further argues that Nigeria must take note of the IMN leader. In 1979, Al-Zakzaky burnt the Nigerian constitution to protest against secularism.
His rhetoric today is one of Islamic fundamentalism which capitalises on poverty, unemployment, and violence in Nigeria's north.
By painting the West as a symbol of anti-Islamic oppression, Al-Zakzaky appeals to Nigerian Sunni Muslims, and creates a fertile ground for radicalisation.
Al-Zakzaky transformed IMN from a student group to a mass movement that called for a jihad and Sharia across Nigeria.
The IMN, Al-Zakzaky and his understudy Mustapha Lawan Nasidi, a.k.a Yakubu Yahaya, a more radical and violence-prone Imam must continue to be of interest to the Nigerian authorities, analysts say.
According to the 2013 Combatting Terrorism Center report, Iran is promoting Khomeinsm through the IMN so as to influence Nigerian Muslims to revolt against Westernisation.
IMN would also become a recruitment base and offer ideological development for Shia and non-Shia extremist groups in Nigeria.
November 04, 2013
Two handsome young men in Botswana are fighting to save the lion from extinction in Africa. One particular cub named Sirga has developed a close attachment to Valentin Gruener and Mikkei Legarth who saved her from dying.
MailOnline has a report on the work of these young men:
Sirga treats the two conservationists just like she would other lions and with their help she can now hunt for prey on her own.
She is now a beacon for hoped success of the Modisa Wildlife Project, founded in Botswana, Africa, by Mr Gruener, from Germany, and Mr Legarth, who is Danish, with the hope of saving the lion population.
Botswana is two and a half times the size of Britain and has vast areas of wilderness - but already increased farming is bringing lions and man into more and more conflict.
From a base camp in the African bush the Modisa Wildlife Project has been working with local farmers to find a way to keeps lions and man apart. T
he plan is to relocate the lions which are coming into contact with farmers to one large protected area where they have enough wild prey to feed on.
As these amazing shots show Mikkel and Valentin has an incredible affinity for the lions they rescue and not just Sirga. '
We didn't want Sirga to become like other lions in captivity, constantly fed by streams of tourists. She only interacts with me and Valentin.
'She hunts her own food, taking antelopes and she will let us be near her when she eats it which is remarkable.
'Sirga doesn't mind people, but she doesn't pay them any attention. Wild lions are scared of people, the problem comes if you release a lion that is used to people in the wild, that can cause problems
October 29, 2013
"Adding to the pressure to act is growing evidence that terrorist groups have entered the black market, paying poachers to kill the animals and selling their horns and ivory at a premium to middlemen in the United States and Asia to fund operations ...."
In an article in the Washington Post, conservationists proclaimed that the United States government is not a powerful leader in the battle against poaching around the world. In fact, The Clinton Foundation will be raising eight times the amount that the entire United States government will be allocating for the battle to save the rhino and elephants. The Foundation is raising $80 million to fight poaching and create new wildlife parks.
The Washington Post reports:
Although conservationists view the new U.S. action as not going far enough, they welcomed it as a step forward.
“We are getting to the point of no return,” said Richard G. Ruggiero, a former nongovernment conservationist who is now the Africa branch chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of International Conservation.
“We lacked political will in the U.S., overseas and in consumer nations such as China,” he said. “Without political will, there’s nothing.”
Time is rapidly running out.
This month over 300 elephants were poisoned at one time at a watering hole in Africa. In the first three months of 2013, over 150 elephants had been killed in South Africa alone. In the last decade, 11,000 elephants have been slaughtered in Gabon.
Soon American children will never be able to see an elephant or rhino in the wild unless the government does more.
The Post reports on the link between terrorism and poaching.
Adding to the pressure to act is growing evidence that terrorist groups have entered the black market, paying poachers to kill the animals and selling their horns and ivory at a premium to middlemen in the United States and Asia to fund operations such as the deadly Sept. 21 attack on a Kenyan shopping mall by the Somali group al-Shabab, a wing of al-Qaeda.
The nonprofit Elephant Action League (EAL) “found very concrete connections . . . [between] al-Shabab” and poaching in a two-year investigation that ended this year, Executive Director Andrea Crosta said.
Between one and three tons of ivory, worth $200,000 to $600,000, entered Somalia each month through al-Shabab, according to the EAL. It disappeared in the dark hulls of ships and airplanes bound for points worldwide.
“We managed to interview dozens of people, and all implicated them,” Crosta said. “We met poachers, traffickers, big traders, businessmen, ex-Somali warlords. Slowly we began a puzzle, piece by piece. We feel quite comfortable regarding our specific investigation.”
Although the EAL claims to have funded excursions to extract information and relied on Somalis with close contacts in the terrorist network, the report containing anonymous sources is not fully trusted, even among fellow conservationists.
But it says there’s enough evidence to show that the connection between poaching and terror groups is real. Last year, ivory was found by Congolese police who raided a camp of the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army, which uses children as soldiers.
October 20, 2013
“To live a day in Nigeria is to die many times.”
This site has extensively covered the increasingly bitter internal divisions in Nigeria. Africa's most populated and oil rich country could be on the verge of a bitter civil war that could lead to it being the largest 'failed nation state' so far.
National Geographic has a rather long article, 'The War for Nigeria', by James Verini and photographs taken by Ed Kashi. It is such an important topic and an excellent article that despite its length, I am publishing all of it here today.
The ticket taker, who worked at Kano’s bus station, had his back to the blast. Before he heard it, it knocked him to the ground, and flame licked his head. He lay facedown, dazed, his ears ringing, blood streaming from a shrapnel wound in his leg, but still he knew instinctively what had happened: There was a bomb in the car.
The driver of the Volkswagen had acted strangely. After pulling into the dirt lot of the station, he and the man in the passenger seat had been approached by touts—ticket salesmen who compete for fares—and had told them, “We don’t know where we’re going.” But when the ticket taker went up to the car, the driver said, “We already bought tickets.” Not thinking much of it, the ticket taker walked away.
As his ears stopped ringing, the screaming grew louder. He got up, and through the thickening black smoke he saw people staggering away from the buses. Burning bodies hung from what had been their windows. Moments before, they had been sleek, new 60-seaters waiting to head to points south. Now they were a pyre, like some awful ancient ritual offering. On the ground around him the ticket taker saw the corpses and remains of passengers, of the touts, his colleagues, the women who sold boiled cassava and roasted fish from plastic tubs carried on their heads. Friends he saw every day were now “separate people parts,” as he put it to me.
He looked down at his leg and saw that he too was on fire. Frantically, he pulled off his clothing. Then he made his way out of the lot, one in a crowd of unclothed people stumbling out of the clouds of black smoke billowing from the station. “I walked naked to the hospital,” he said. He lost consciousness along the way. Someone, he doesn’t know who, carried him on.
The ticket taker came to in a nearby hospital. Then he was transferred to Kano’s National Orthopaedic Hospital, where, the following week, I met him. (The hospital’s director would not allow me to ask his name.) His ward and two more were filled with victims of the bombing, and their wounds were eerily repetitive. For those lucky enough to have escaped the worst, faces were singed, and skin was missing from arms and waists, stripped off with burning clothing. Those not as lucky were no longer visibly African; the outer layer of flesh had been burned from their bodies, leaving them looking—as some joked to each other, when it wasn’t too painful to move their mouths—like beke, the Igbo word for a white man. It was as though their identities had been taken.
One such man sat on his bed staring at the wall in an effort to withstand the pain, while nurses wrapped him in gauze. He turned and looked at me with an expression of such kindness that I smiled. I asked—the stupidity of my question apparent immediately—“Are you OK?”
“No,” he said calmly, and returned to staring.
When the car exploded, the same two words occurred to him, and to the ticket taker, and to every other person who saw or heard the blast, which could be heard on the other side of Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city: Boko Haram. That neither they, nor practically anyone else in Nigeria, knew what Boko Haram was exactly or why it would want to bomb a bus station was beside the point.
Officially, according to the Nigerian government, Boko Haram is a terrorist group. It began life as a separatist movement led by a northern Nigerian Muslim preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, who decried the country’s misrule. “Boko Haram” is a combination of the Hausa language and Arabic, understood to mean that Western, or un-Islamic, learning is forbidden. In 2009, after Yusuf was killed—executed, it’s all but certain, by Nigerian police—his followers vowed revenge.
The world is coming to the unwelcome realization that, 12 years after 9/11, violent Islamist extremism and the conflicts it ignites aren’t going away. Accompanying that is the equally unwelcome realization that these conflicts afflict, more than ever, Africa, a continent still unequal to the challenges of the 20th century, never mind this one. In the Sahel, home to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and to the jihadists who until recently controlled northern Mali, Boko Haram has emerged as the nastiest of a nasty new breed. Calling for, among other things, an Islamic government, a war on Christians, and the death of Muslims it sees as traitors, the group has been connected with upwards of 4,700 deaths in Nigeria since 2009. And although Nigeria, with 170 million inhabitants, is the continent’s most populous country (one in six Africans is Nigerian) and has sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest economy, even by its immense standards the carnage attributed to Boko Haram is immense.
So much so that unofficially, in the national collective consciousness, Boko Haram has become something more than a terrorist group, more even than a movement. Its name has taken on an incantatory power. Fearing they will be heard and then killed by Boko Haram, Nigerians refuse to say the group’s name aloud, referring instead to “the crisis” or “the insecurity.” “People don’t trust their neighbors anymore,” a civil society activist in Kano told me. “Anybody can be Boko Haram.” The president, Goodluck Jonathan, an evangelical Christian, wonders openly if the insurgency is a sign of the end times.
After the bus station bombing I twice traveled to Atakar, a hilly area in Kaduna state, where mass killings had been reported. Before the first visit I consulted officials. They hadn’t gone to Atakar and wouldn’t, because they believed Boko Haram was behind the killings. Everyone killed had been Christians, they assured me. “It’s not unconnected with the quest for the Islamization of the north,” one official said. “They want as much as possible to annihilate the Christians.”
In the first village I visited, I met a family huddled by their roofless, charred homes. They were, in fact, Fulani Muslims, and they claimed they’d been attacked by marauders from the other side of Atakar—Christians, they presumed. Some of them said the attack had been ethnically motivated, others religiously. A young man told me that the original incitement had to do with a poisoned cow. “We were attacked because we are Fulani—and because of the cow that died,” he said. He wasn’t being facetious: Northern Nigeria has endured decades of ethno-religious slaughter, often enough touched off by peccadilloes. In 2002, after a journalist remarked that the Prophet Muhammad would have approved of a beauty contest, riots left hundreds dead.
Later I traveled to the other side of Atakar and found that villagers there, Christians from the indigenous Ataka tribe, had also been attacked. They’d assembled in a refugee camp in a schoolyard. One man told me that he was in his home when he heard gunfire. He went outside and saw men dressed in black shooting “powerful guns.” He barely escaped with his life, he said. He was certain the attackers were Fulani, as was a neighbor who joined our conversation. When I asked the neighbor why, he said, “My people don’t wear black.” Both suspected the attackers were also Boko Haram, though why that group would want to assail this remote place they couldn’t say.
“We want to believe it’s Boko Haram,” a local aid worker told me, in such a way as to denote that life had become so incomprehensibly frightful in northern Nigeria that wanting to believe Boko Haram was involved was enough to make it so. “We don’t have any other information,” he said, expanding on the thought, “so we want to believe it’s Boko Haram.”
In his autobiography Ken Saro-Wiwa, the son of the Nigerian activist of the same name who was executed by the state on trumped-up charges in 1995, writes that “Nigeria should be God’s own country in Africa.” This could be dismissed as just more of Nigeria’s famous nativist braggadocio if its neighbors and its despairing partners in the West didn’t agree. That braggadocio—and a fierce ambition—are matched by the country’s resources, among them gas, minerals, good harbors, and fecund soil that once helped propel the British Empire. Nigeria boasts an educated middle class, industrious cities, a rowdy, if not exactly free, press.
The most lucrative of its resources, however, since its discovery in the 1950s, is crude oil. Nigeria is the world’s fifth largest exporter; yet nearly two-thirds of its citizens live in absolute poverty, meaning that they have just enough to not die. Oil has made government the best business venture in Nigeria, and because oil, and not taxes, accounts for most of the state’s revenue, it also makes politicians unanswerable. A newspaper last year estimated that since President Jonathan entered office in 2010, $31 billion have disappeared. “There’s been a failure of government at all levels historically in Nigeria,” a Western diplomat working there told me.
This failure is everywhere apparent, but nowhere as much as in Kano, once one of the great cities of Africa and of the Muslim world. Islam arrived with merchants and clerics in the 11th century (giving it a much longer history there than Christianity); the Hausa king of Kano adopted it in 1370. In 1804 a caliphate was established. The British toppled it in 1903 but retained its pliant emirs. Kano, the heart of regional trade since antiquity, became an industrial and agricultural hub. So well was the arrangement working for him, the Emir of Kano opposed Nigeria’s independence, gained in 1960. A half century later roughly half of Nigerians are Muslims, the vast majority living in the north.
The emir and the British kept out Western education and other advances but allowed in Christians from the south. Kano’s fortunes began to slide in the 1970s, and as they did, its lack of development—and the lack of oil in the north—grew more apparent. Current statistics are unnerving: More than half of children under five in northern Nigeria are stunted from malnutrition. In the northeast, where Boko Haram started, only a quarter of homes have access to electricity, which would be a bigger problem if more than 23 percent of women could read. In the 1980s, 1990s, and again in the early 2000s ethno-religious conflicts killed thousands. Then Boko Haram came in.
Today Kano feels like a weary garrison. Approaching it, you come to checkpoints every few hundred yards. Between them you pass farms left fallow by neglect and desertification and through the half-alive villages they used to support. In the city, urban desertification: streets, parks, plazas empty. Signs are gone from any place deemed vulnerable to attack, which, since the bus station bombing, is any place. At police headquarters the only notice, spray-painted on an exterior wall, instructs, “Do Not Urinate Here.”
The most visible figures of authority in the city, the only visible figures of authority, are the Joint Task Force units (JTFs)—paramilitary teams made up of police, soldiers, and agents from the State Security Service, Nigeria’s equivalent of the FBI, who patrol in reptilian armored vehicles and canopied pickups. They’re known for their brutality and venality and have become as feared as the insurgents in some quarters, particularly in poor Muslim districts.
The real power in Kano is hidden, conspicuously. Behind tall walls in the city center is the state government’s sprawling seat. In his office there, the governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, greeted me from an archipelago of leather sofas. On one wall was a life-size painting of Kwankwaso; against another, a life-size stand-up cardboard cutout of him. In both he was wearing exactly what he had on when I met him: a white babban riga robe and red brimless cap, emblems of his Kano revitalization campaign, which he calls the Red Cap Revolution.
“I have no doubt in my mind that one day Nigeria will overcome it,” Kwankwaso told me, referring to Boko Haram. “How it will happen, it is difficult to say now.” A trio of aides nodded. “This is the time to listen even to foolish people, to hear what they are saying, because we don’t have answers.” Kano hasn’t upgraded its power grid in years, and as he talked, the lights went out. They came back on, and he continued. “You have to prevent violence. On the other hand, government has to do so many other things. What we are seeing is just a symptom of what has happened in the past.” After Kwankwaso’s first term in the governor’s office ended in 2003, he was indicted for embezzling $7.5 million in state funds. He was not prosecuted and in 2011 was elected again.
In Kano’s old walled city is the emir’s palace. Amid the poverty of his subjects, the emir, now 83, still lives very much like an emir. I wasn’t granted an audience with him, but one morning I was invited to look around the palace, a rumpus of alcoves and anterooms. I arrived alongside a busload of Gulf-state visitors filing in with gifts in duty-free bags. After convening with them, the emir emerged in a meringue of robes, mounted a horse, attendants shielding him with a giant, tasseled umbrella, and rode to his mosque. It used to be that anyone could come and watch these rituals. That ended in January, when men drove up alongside the emir’s Rolls-Royce, pulled out guns, and opened fire. Two of his sons were shot, several of his entourage killed.
The assurance of violence hangs in the air. While I was in Kano, there were near-daily reports of shootings and a series of botched bombings, including one at the palace. On Sunday mornings police park water-cannon trucks outside churches, and preachers inside talk about the “Lord’s battle” against Boko Haram; in nearby mosques clerics condemn Goodluck Jonathan’s “war on Islam.” On Easter a TV reporter friend of mine got a call. JTFs had raided a suspected Boko Haram hideout. He returned a few hours later with familiar footage: an orderly array of guns, bullets, and homemade bombs, and near it an orderly array of bodies of slain “militants.” Among the dead on this day I could see at least one woman and a child. The position of the bodies suggested that the people had either been piled together after being shot or were killed en masse.
There are various creation stories for Boko Haram. The most common I heard in Nigeria is this: In the early 2000s in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Mohammed Ali, a preacher fed up with poverty and disorder, embarked on a hegira, a Muhammadan withdrawal from society. He and his followers created a commune and practiced sharia. After a dispute with authorities, the Nigerian Taliban, as they’d become known, attacked a police station. The army laid siege, and Ali was killed.
Survivors regrouped around a promising contemporary of Ali’s, Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf built a bigger commune, described in a report as a “state within a state, with a cabinet, its own religious police, and a large farm.” He called his group Jamaa Ahl al Sunna li al Dawa wa al Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Possibly deriding Yusuf ’s religiosity, someone called it Boko Haram. Yusuf was carrying out forced conversions to Islam, according to reports, and likely ordered the murder of a rival. Nonetheless he gained sympathizers around Nigeria, not all of them Muslim. “Boko Haram is a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group,” one bishop said. Yusuf, a Maiduguri reporter told me, “was so charismatic. He could talk to people very gently, very simply,” but “when he preached, he acted. Overacted.”
In 2009 Yusuf’s followers clashed with security forces. The army shelled the commune. Yusuf had predicted that if he was ever arrested, he would be killed without trial, and that’s exactly what happened. Surviving devotees went into hiding. Some traveled abroad for training with other militants, and some regrouped in Kano around Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf ’s deputy. They set out to “liberate ourselves and our religion from the hands of infidels and the Nigerian government.” Northern Nigeria was overtaken by bombings, arsons, and shootings—at police stations and government offices, then at churches, mosques, schools, and universities—and by assassinations of officials, politicians, clerics, and others. The federal police headquarters in Abuja was suicide-bombed, then the UN compound. A residence of the vice president’s was shot up.
A deadly attack hit Kano on January 20, 2012. Waves of gunmen set upon police stations and State Security Service offices. The official estimate of the dead was 185, but according to Kano residents I spoke with, the real number was much larger. I was also told that some people risked their lives to gather outside police stations to cheer on the attackers, so despised are the authorities in Kano.
The resentment that impelled those residents is summed up in a favorite saying of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s, which his son likes to quote: “To live a day in Nigeria is to die many times.” The smallest tasks in Nigeria sap one’s dignity. En route to Kano, I flew through the Lagos airport, where the guard at the bag scanner shook me down for a bribe in front of his expressionless superiors. I refused. He negotiated: “Money for water?” I told him that if he really was thirsty, he could meet me in the snack bar. A half hour later he arrived, uniform gone, now in natty denim, two mobile phones in hand, and leaped into a chair with a “Here you are!” We talked for an hour. I ended up buying him water and lunch. He in turn called a friend who picked me up at the Abuja airport. “Anything you need,” the guard said as we parted, and he meant it.
Such is the polyphony of interaction in Nigeria—“affectionate extortion,” I heard it called. In a country that’s endured a civil war, six military coups, two assassinations of heads of state, and at least three crippling domestic insurgencies in just over 50 years of existence, and where contempt for leadership has hardened into a perverse kind of civic responsibility, this mixture of menace and generosity, officiousness and humor—the attitude that allows a man whose skin has been burned off to joke that he’s been turned white—is indicative of a certain flippancy, part of that Nigerian braggadocio. It’s also a way of keeping sane. And to that end it orders Nigerians’ complex perspective on sedition. They condemn Boko Haram and see its hypocrisy. As one soldier, a Muslim, said to me while guarding a church on Palm Sunday, “They say Western education is wrong. But that book you’re reading, how was it made? That pen you’re using, how was it made? That gun you have, where was it made?” But they pay Boko Haram a grudging deference too. They know well the frustration that would drive someone to take up arms against the state.
This deference takes subtle forms. On Kano street corners vendors sell DVDs of insurgent attacks downloaded from the Internet. Saying Boko Haram aloud is discouraged, but you can refer to the Boko Boys, or BH, as though it were some hot rap act.
The extent of the insurgency’s strange effects on the Nigerian psyche became apparent as I looked into the bombing at the bus station. Unlike Boko Haram’s signature attacks, this one was indiscriminate, meant to kill as many as possible, whoever they were. But theories about its meaning vary. Kano is majority Hausa and Fulani, but Sabon Gari, the district where the station is located, is home to many Igbo. They tend to be Christian, and they operate the bus lines. So the most widespread theory is that the bombing was an attack on Igbo Christians. “To me it’s an extension of killing Christians in their churches,” a security officer in Abuja told me. A traditional Igbo leader in Sabon Gari who goes by Chief Tobias said, “Igbos were the target.”
But this theory goes only so far. The bus operators are Igbo, yes, as were many of the passengers and station workers who died. But many others were not. Some were Hausa or Fulani, some, possibly, Kanuri, the majority ethnicity of Boko Haram’s originators. Sabon Gari is home to most of Kano’s churches, but it also has many mosques. It is the most diverse part of Kano, a throwback to the city’s old cosmopolitanism, and on a given day any number of the 250 or so ethnic groups that make up Nigeria might be represented there.
A prominent former Kano parliamentarian, Junaid Muhammad, a Muslim, told me that Chief Tobias’s claim was ridiculous. “You cannot tell your bullet or your bomb, ‘Go and hit an Igbo man’ or ‘Go and hit a Hausa man.’” I went to see Boniface Ibekwe, the supreme leader of the Igbo in Kano and a Christian, and was surprised to find he agreed. “It’s not a direct attack on Igbos,” he said. “Boko Haram’s objective is to get where people are gathered together and destroy it.”
Some people believe the bus station was bombed because it is a center of commerce. It represents the influx of foreign goods, foreign ideas, impious ideas. Others wonder if the bombing was meant to protest the economic dominance of the south over the north. Perhaps what Boko Haram really wants, one theory holds, is regional equity or a new northern nation. Among northern politicians, secession is an oft talked about, if impracticable, idea.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that when the authorities got involved, the confusion increased. Take what ought to be the most basic fact: how many died. I spoke to one reporter who put the total around 30; another said around 40. Chief Tobias said 75. The real number will never be known, because no official account of the incident has been given. The government’s tally—22 dead—is a fiction.
The government won’t say who it suspects the bombers were, aside from Boko Haram; how the car bomb was made; or even whether there was only one bomb. Some witnesses claim there were two. Most people agree the car was a Volkswagen, but some—including the ticket taker—say it was an Opel. Some witnesses claim there were two people in the car, others three. According to local journalists, security forces removed corpses from the station as quickly as possible and moved survivors from one hospital to another in an effort to keep reporters away from them. The authorities “don’t want the public to know what is actually happening,” Nasir Zango, a Kano reporter, said.
Why? There are varying theories about that too. To head off reprisal attacks. To protect their jobs. Because they deceive a lot. The most common explanation offered to me, and the most troubling, is that security forces didn’t properly investigate the bombing because they can’t. They don’t have the training or the experience, not to mention the interest. They don’t have the equipment to analyze bomb fragments or the intelligence networks to lead them to the bombers. Often police don’t even bother taking statements from witnesses after attacks, I was told.
Still, the government and the press are equally quick to pin any violence in the north on Boko Haram. For the former, it distracts from mendacity and ineptitude. For the latter, it provides copy. Privately many people agree that criminals have found in Boko Haram a perfect cover. The result of all this no longer stops at confusion. “You begin to think it’s as though someone’s hellbent on seeing these problems continue,” Lawan Adamu, another Kano reporter, said. “The conflict, the crisis, is taking a very big dimension that is really making many of us start thinking or believing that there is a conspiracy. Many people have said this before, and I didn’t want to believe, but now I’m starting to.”
Ken Saro-Wiwa the younger, who now is (in a perfect Nigerian irony) an adviser to President Jonathan, told me that Boko Haram is “typically Nigerian, in that it started as an ideological movement. Then it was co-opted by political opportunists. Then it was mixed with economic issues. And now it’s muddied, so that you can’t tell what it’s about.”
When I asked a local community leader in Atakar why no state officials had come to the attacked villages there, he said, “Why would they come? They are the sponsors of these things.” And was Boko Haram involved? “Why not?” he said. “What is the difference?”
It was a sentiment I heard again and again. Almost no Nigerian I spoke with believes Boko Haram is just Boko Haram. Some claim it’s the creation of Wahhabis from the Gulf states; others, of “the West.” Still others believe Boko Haram is backed by northern politicians vying for power; or by southern politicians who want to destabilize the north; or by people in President Jonathan’s party who want to unseat him; or by Jonathan himself, in an effort to cancel elections in the north; or, if not by him, by the people around him. In fact, Jonathan apparently believes the last. In a moment of unbuttoned paranoia at a church service last year he said, “Some [Boko Haram] are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police, and other security agencies.”
And some Nigerians say that Boko Haram doesn’t exist at all. “We believe Boko Haram is a political expression,” Chief Tobias said. “We don’t believe there is an organization Boko Haram.”
As I continued reporting, it became apparent that the insurgency’s gravest toll on Nigeria isn’t physical. It’s existential. Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed. Those anxieties touch on the most elemental aspects of Nigerian life—ethnicity, religion, regional inequities, the legacy of colonialism—and not least is the anxiety that Nigerian leaders are wholly incapable of facing this insurgency, indeed unwilling to face it, much less the social fissures beneath it. Or worse, that the leaders are no better than the insurgents. That the state is Boko Haram.
It’s not an entirely unreasonable supposition. Of the more than 4,700 killings associated with Boko Haram to date, almost half have been at the hands of security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. Many of those killed have been civilians who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the insurgency gets more vicious, so does the government. In July suspected Boko Haram militants set fire to a boarding school in Mamudo, killing 42 students and teachers. In April the military assaulted the village of Baga, claiming militants were hiding there. At least 200 were killed. Witnesses described soldiers gunning down people as they ran from their homes.
I interviewed people in Kano who claimed they’d been harassed, beaten, or shot by security forces. In my last days in Nigeria I went to Abuja, where I recounted their stories to a general, one of the main architects of the campaign against Boko Haram. He wasn’t moved. In fact he wouldn’t concede that there had been any abuses. When I pressed the point, he began yelling and pounding his desk. He said such stories were invented by journalists sympathetic to Boko Haram, including, he intimated, me. “We know there are some journalists deliberately siding with Boko Haram in this war!” said the general, who did not want to be named. “I have found some journalists, and they confessed to me they were deliberately siding with certain sides. Deliberately! Some based in Western countries.”
Calming down, he went on, “Look, it’s a shadowy war we are fighting.” To prove how shadowy, he showed me a video found in a raid. It showed Abubakar Shekau. Bushy-bearded, muscular, with a bit of a gut and a limp, the Boko Haram leader is training three young men to wield an AK-47. They’re in the closed courtyard of a residential building somewhere, maybe Kano. Children can be heard playing inside. Suddenly there’s a knock at the gate. Shekau lurches to a wall, as one young man lifts the rifle unsteadily, ready to fire. A man comes in, carrying a shopping bag. They know him. Everyone laughs with relief.
“You see, they could be anywhere, anywhere!”the general said. “Not only in the north—in the whole of the country! [Nigerians] still don’t understand the challenge—the real challenge—we’re facing, the seriousness of the situation. They don’t understand.”
As he said this, I thought back to the hospital in Kano and to a woman I met there. She’d been selling water in the bus station the day of the bombing. Her young daughter had been helping her. When the car exploded, the girl vanished. In the darkness the woman called out for her. When her daughter didn’t respond, she began looking for a body. When she couldn’t find a body, she looked for an arm, a leg, clothing, a shoe, anything. She found nothing. She told the police what had happened, but they didn’t care and ordered her to leave. The woman’s husband went to every hospital in Kano, to no avail.
“I never saw my daughter since that day,” she said. Dominant in her cracking voice as she said this were grief and confusion. But when she spoke of the police, another note took over. It was anger.
October 12, 2013
The country is small, the oil reserves large and the human rights record is appalling. Thanks to the BBC for this country profile.
-Full name: The Republic of Equatorial Guinea
-Population: 740,000 (UN, 2012)
-Area: 28,051 sq km (10,830 sq miles)
-Major languages: Spanish, French
-Major religion: Christianity
-Life expectancy: 50 years (men), 53 years (women) (UN)
-Monetary unit: 1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
-Main exports: Petroleum, timber, cocoa
-GNI per capita: US $15,670 (World Bank, 2011)
-Internet domain: .gq
-International dialling code: +240
Equatorial Guinea is a small country off West Africa which has recently struck oil and which is now being cited as a textbook case of the resource curse - or the paradox of plenty.
Since the mid 1990s the former Spanish colony has become one of sub-Sahara's biggest oil producers and in 2004 was said to have the world's fastest-growing economy.
However, few people have benefited from the oil riches and the country ranks near the bottom of the UN human development index. The UN says that less than half the population has access to clean drinking water and that 20 percent of children die before reaching five.
The country has exasperated a variety of rights organisations who have described the two post-independence leaders as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.
Francisco Macias Nguema's reign of terror - from independence in 1968 until his overthrow in 1979 - prompted a third of the population to flee. Apart from allegedly committing genocide against the Bubi ethnic minority, he ordered the death of thousands of suspected opponents, closed down churches and presided over the economy's collapse.
His successor - Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo - took over in a coup and has shown little tolerance for opposition during the three decades of his rule. While the country is nominally a multiparty democracy, elections have generally been considered a sham.
According to Human Rights Watch, the ''dictatorship under President Obiang has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country's people''.
The corruption watchdog Transparency International has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of most corrupt states. Resisting calls for more transparency, President Obiang has for long held that oil revenues are a state secret. In 2008 the country became a candidate of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative - an international project meant to promote openness about government oil revenues - but failed to qualify by an April 2010 deadline.
A 2004 US Senate investigation into the Washington-based Riggs Bank found that President Obiang's family had received huge payments from US oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Amerada Hess.
Observers say the US finds it hard to criticise a country which is seen as an ally in a volatile, oil-rich region. In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed President Obiang as a "good friend" despite repeated criticism of his human rights and civil liberties record by her own department. More recently President Barack Obama posed for an official photograph with President Obiang at a New York reception.
The advocacy group Global Witness has been lobbying the United States to act against the President Obiang's son Teodor, a government minister. It says there is credible evidence that he spent millions buying a Malibu mansion and private jet using corruptly acquired funds - grounds for denying him a visa.
Equatorial Guinea hit the headlines in 2004 when a plane load of suspected mercenaries was intercepted in Zimbabwe while allegedly on the way to overthrow President Obiang.