The End of Boko Haram (Part Two)

The End of Boko Haram (Part Two)

 

Since the fight against Boko Haram began, millions of people have been affected. Within the last year, there have been some military victories, on the part of the governments fighting Boko Haram; however, within the same period, Boko Haram has began to use a new tactic that has further exacerbated the lives of millions of people. Suicide bombers are becoming a common strategy used by the group within Nigeria and it’s neighboring countries. At the moment the attacks have no clear end in sight. As part of the End of Boko Haram series, Paxcely Marquez investigates what is known about deployed suicide bombers and what is being done to curtail their impact.  

Generally speaking, the utilization of suicide bombers has occurred when there’s a weakening and/or lack of soldiers on the ground. At the moment, that seems to be the case for Boko Haram. Within the last year, they have lost controlled territory – of almost the size of Belgium – to Nigerian and other governments’ military forces. Their desperate attempts to regain dominance, has forced the proliferation of mostly female suicide bombers. Since most women in the region dress conservatively, they can travel with more ease with a bomb strapped onto them, compared to men. However, this opens them to becoming further susceptible to physical harassment by security forces. In order to end the continued worsening situation, we need to look into who these female suicide bombers are.

Who are they?

There are multiple answers to this question. What is currently known is that the suicide bombers the group is using are mostly young women and children, some as young as 10 years old. However, that seems to be the main consensus between those on the ground. Since the matter is still developing, there are multiple conclusions as to who these young women and children are.

Jeff Attaway / Creative Commons License
Jeff Attaway / Creative Commons License

 

Based on interviews with former hostages, some of the potential suicide bombers are women and children kidnapped and held hostage by Boko Haram. Once kidnapped, they are psychologically manipulated into relying on their captures. It begins by being forced to forget who they were, receiving gifts by Boko Haram members, and pushed to convert to Boko Haram’s interpretation of Islam. Recent examples as the February 9th bombing of  Dikwa refugee camp illustrates that some suicide bombers are in fact former hostages and aware they are carrying bombs, as indicated by the third bomber. However, not all hostages are designated to be suicide bombers. Many of them are married off to militants, used as sex slaves, and forced to do manual work for the group.

Other reports indicate that the suicide bombers are women and children donated to Boko Haram for this specific purpose. On December 10, 2014, Zaharau Babangida was sent to Kano, Nigeria to detonate her bomb with two other suicide bombers. She decided not to, but the two other girls did, which later resulted in Babangida’s arrest. She explained to the authorities that her father donated her to Boko Haram to serve as a suicide bomber. When she initially refused, she was threatened with death if she did not complete the assignment.

Babangida’s experience is consistent with what Mausi Segun, a researcher of Human Rights Watch, said when asked by NPR if Boko Haram’s suicide bombers were originally abducted, “It’s very doubtful, from our own research, that the group would be willing to use youth that they have abducted – one, because I think that in their warped thinking, the place and the reward of a suicide bomber is martyrdom.”

Garry Knight / Creative Commons License
Garry Knight / Creative Commons License

 

For survivors, what is being done to help them?

Unfortunately, besides having to recover from their inhumane experiences, survivors are now experiencing stigmatizing by their families and communities. Many of them believe that the women have become radicalized and the already existing stigmatization of rape has hindered survivors’ abilities to return back to their previous way of life.

As a result, the Nigerian government has implemented the Countering Violent Extremism Programme of the Office of the National Security Adviser. The program is designed to de-radicalize former captives primarily through trauma counseling. So far, only one Nigerian activist has been able to visit the facility near Abuja and speak with the staff and former captives. At the moment, it is unclear how affective the program is and if the women and children are free to leave or are obligated to stay.

Other approaches, such as those made by Choice for Peace, Gender and Development, an NGO, primary focus is to help the family members of those taken and/or killed to cope with their situations. Hafsat Mohammed, the founder, has also worked on a grassroots level with other community leaders, of multiple religions, to help promote peace within the region.

A continued emphasis on peace to youth and reintegration of survivors is needed. Potentially, this solution can deter future suicide bombers from completing their task.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The End of Boko Haram (Part One)

The End of Boko Haram (Part One)

In 2015, the Internationally-based Institute for Economics and Peace released their Global Terrorism Index, which identified Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorist group in the world. However, all existing strategies – up to now – have not hindered the group’s ability to continue its expansion throughout the Lake Chad region. Paxcely Marquez’s analysis on Boko Haram’s ability to continue using its current recruitment and financial tactics, while hindering multiple governments’ responses, will help shed further light on potential solutions to ending the insurgency.

When President Muhammadu Buhari ran for the Nigerian presidency in 2015, he ran on a platform to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram. Once he was elected, even people that did not vote for him, expected concrete results from their newly elected President, regarding the fight against Boko Haram. The fact that he’s Muslim, originally from Nigeria’s north, and has a military background were factors they believed would help end Boko Haram’s insurgency. His self-imposed deadline to eliminate the group by December 31, 2015 has come and gone; yet, Boko Haram continues to exist and attack villages, towns, and regional capitals within and outside of Nigeria. One of the most recent attacks was the quadruple suicide bombing in Bodo, a Cameroonian village in Far North region. Before trying to tackle this issue, it’s important to understand the origins of Boko Haram and the impoverished vacuum that has helped the group’s expansion throughout the region.

Boko Haram has roots dating back to 1995 as a non-violent movement, but that changed in 2002 through their leader Mohammed Yusuf. The group has used multiple names throughout the years, including its official Arabic name Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” However, locals began to use the name Boko Haram, which in Hausa can be loosely translated to, “Western education is forbidden,” because of the group’s initial focus to oppose western education. In Maiduguri, Mohammed Yusuf began to preach his radical form of Islam, which helped to build the groups’ strength in numbers. He did this through his mosque and Islamic school, while keeping in mind the group’s ultimate goal of establishing its own caliphate. In 2009, Yusuf was killed by Nigerian security forces, which paved the way for his more radical deputy Abubakar Shekau to lead Boko Haram. Since 2009, Boko Haram has expanded its scope of attacks and influence throughout Nigeria and in neighboring countries Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Throughout its existence, Boko Haram has taken advantage of the impoverished northern region by using tactics, unfortunately, already seen in other conflicts.

European Parliament / Creative Commons License
European Parliament / Creative Commons License

 

Boko Haram’s recruitment tactics have primarily focused on disaffected youth, unemployed high school and university graduates, and destitute children. Unfortunately, this focus is a result of social and economic problems that are continuously seen throughout Nigeria, where 110 million people live in extreme poverty, while the country’s wealth is held by a small portion of the population, and corruption is widespread. Of course every country has their problems, however, Nigeria’s lack of opportunities and social services for youth are exasperating young peoples’ abilities to live successful lives. According to United States Institute of Peace’s Special Report on Boko Haram, a few young people chose to freely join Boko Haram for multiple reasons Some of the most common reasons indicated in the report were, “ignorance of religious teachings opposed to violence, unemployment and poverty, difficult upbringings, and illiteracy.” At the same time, others have been forcibly conscripted and/or kidnapped, such as the over 200 Chibok school girls that were kidnapped in 2014 and reportedly forced to marry fighters.

Besides having some wealthy members, Boko Haram has used multiple methods to finance its operations including, “membership dues, donations from politicians, financial assistance from foreign terrorist groups, raiding of banks, and ransom from kidnapping. It also has extorted money from residents of areas it has controlled, as well as from wealthy persons whom they have intimidated into paying protection fees to avoid being attacked by them.” At the same time, they have increasingly focused on neighboring Cameroon for both recruitment and financing since many of their initial financial support from individuals stopped once Boko Haram began to increase their attacks. Increasingly, Cameroon’s Far North region has not only become an important supply line for weapons from Libya and Chad, but has historical significance to a potential caliphate.

Michael Fleshman / Creative Commons License
Michael Fleshman / Creative Commons License

 

Cameroon and Nigeria’s northern regions are similar culturally, religiously, and linguistically. At the same time, their woes with their southern capitals link the northern regions closer to each other. Although my experience in Cameroon was limited to just two years in the Grand North, I saw and experienced those woes through multiple facets, including a lack of infrastructure, extreme poverty, a lack of social services, and illiteracy, which can prevent people from living safe and successful lives. Although military intervention is necessary – at this time – all affected countries need to work on providing social services to all and relocation services to all IDPs, providing youth with access to quality education and job opportunities, and collaborating with community leaders to stop Boko Haram’s influence. Otherwise, Boko Haram will continue expanding and thee groups demise will take even longer.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Future of Public-Private Partnerships in Nigeria

The Future of Public-Private Partnerships in Nigeria

Many questions loom around the  impact  of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) on the poor. Here, Zoe Nutter provides an analysis of  the future of PPPs in Nigeria.

 
PPP projects require more substantive evaluation. In Nigeria, investment in the transport and housing sectors should demonstrate a direct impact on the poorest communities – not only the middle- and high-income portions of society. The World Bank Group’s financial support needs to align with its foremost goal of fighting poverty. And data collection and project evaluation measures necessitate improvement. Avenues for growth in Nigeria must involve the entire population, regardless of income.

The PPP label lacks a universally accepted definition. Generally, it involves a wide scope of “intersectoral initiatives”. In line with the purposes of the World Bank Group, which has yet to adapt an explicit definition of the term, PPPs are referred to as either formal or informal – either long-term or short-term – depending on the type of arrangement and the extent of engagement. Informal, short-term projects may join nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and/or government agencies in a shared objective, while formal projects may involve either short-term or long-term private sector engagements for the provisions of specific services or even full privatizations.

Despite inconsistencies in defining the term, the most crucial explanations specify a clear alignment of the government’s service delivery objectives with private investor’s profit objectives – in relation to long-term commercial contracts between municipalities and private businesses. For instance, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) insists tha PPPs require the private party to bear significant risk and management responsibility in the provision of public services or assets. Making sense of how PPPs operate helps to explain the principle reasons for their application. In Nigeria, understanding what they are and determining their significance is crucial. PPPs play a significant role in the overall development framework.

 

8666655054_5d7b43327e_m
IMF/Creative Commons License

 

Nigeria has experienced some of the highest rates of urbanization in Africa. By 2020, the urban population is set to reach 68% of the total population. And this rapid level of growth has put added pressure on the provision of services and infrastructure. For the most part, available statistics support the argument that it is low-income earners who suffer the most. While public funds favor the allocation of housing units for middle- and high-income earners, low-income people in Nigeria “are left to fend for their housing need”. The process of urbanization in conjunction with “poor funding, bureaucracy, and politicisation of public housing programmes” – as well as a variety of additional contributing factors, like that of economic crisis – has resulted in the “proliferation of slums, shanty developments and deteriorating living conditions”[1].

In recent years, PPPs have been put on the agenda to address the housing crisis in Nigeria. This marks a general trend across many African countries. It represents a new approach to the housing provision: a response that does not depend exclusively on the public or private sector – a collaboration among stakeholders in the housing sector. And international institutions, like the World Bank, promote this innovative approach in newly liberalized, developing economies. But there is a caveat: it is still unclear whether PPPs serve the interests of the urban poor. Although this is not necessarily the main objective of private enterprise, it is of critical importance to determine whether PPPs produce a “proven poverty impact” – especially when the Bank Group continues to support them. If PPPs are not contributing to the Bank’s foremost goals – most notably combating poverty and promoting shared prosperity – their approach needs to be revisited.

One of the key issues is scant data. The PPP literature and research as well as the majority of project evaluations are inadequate. Simply, the effect on the poor is negligible. And the IEG’s July 2014 report confirms this worrying conclusion. The assessment revealed that the World Bank’s upstream support is delivered through “broad based and complex” sector reform efforts with low success in achieving their objectives. In this case, how are developing countries like Nigeria supposed to invigorate essential sectors like transport and housing if the indicators of success are highly questionable? Moreover – if the support for PPPs rests on a “highly questionable trickle-down effect assumption”, insisting that economic growth will eventually impact the poor, then more needs to be done in order to spur a substantive managerial response. Among other things, there needs to be more transparency and accountability: for instance, better surveillance of the fiscal management of PPPs, such that public sector liabilities are minimized and the chances for hidden debt runs are avoided. Moving forward, the PPP tradition must evolve.

The potential for PPPs is great. Dual federal and state regimes in Nigeria strive to increase the number of PPP projects in order to stimulate growth. The government aims to consolidate an attractive and encouraging investment environment by reducing the extent of government regulation, promoting strict adherence to the rule of law and preserving the sanctity of contracts. If PPPs are to succeed in not only supporting growth but also improving the conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable portions of society – ensuring that they are not left behind in the pursuit of wealth, both private and public bodies should be bound by this provision.

[1] See Ibem 2011; see Mustapha 2002; see UN-HABITAT 2006d; see Coker et al. 2007; see Daramola & Ibem 2010.

 

Zoe Nutter has a degree in International Studies with a focus on Political Economy from the University of London: Goldsmiths College. She is currently pursuing a masters of law and international development at the University of Sydney. She has worked at Full Fact and the Bretton Woods Project.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Paradox of Corruption: Can there be ‘good’ corruption? Part 2 (Country Studies)

The Paradox of Corruption: Can there be ‘good’ corruption? Part 2 (Country Studies)

The importance of healthy institutions is a center piece of successful development policies. Everyday citizens are effected by corruption because it takes money from the public treasury that could be spent on maximizing everyone’s well-being, to private bank accounts. In Part 1, Alexei Ivanov discussed the nature of corruption and how it’s one-tailed definition is hurting our abilities to treat it at the source. Using case studies, this part aims to discuss unhealthy institutions and healthy institutions in order to exemplify the equivocal nature of corruption.

Nigeria

A recent major corruption scandal has been the $1 billion oil exploration case by the Nigerian Government against Shell and ENI. These companies were taken to court for supposedly bribing officials in order to get access to an exclusive highly profitable oil block called, OLP235. From the total $1bn fees paid by Shell and ENI to the Nigerian government, $800 million from this deal went to the private accounts of various government officials. What was left of the remaining  $1bn, went to a small off-shore oil company belonging to the oil minister of Nigeria, Dan Etete.

©Marcel Oosterwijk/Creative Commons License
©Marcel Oosterwijk/Creative Commons License

While the finer details of the case is in the hands of the Nigeria Judicial System, we can make light assumptions. From the 2009 Worldwide Governance Survey, Nigeria had one of the lowest rankings for accountability, rule of law, violence, and other indicators to signal the health of Nigerian public institutions. Unhealthy practices within the Oil Ministry have allowed for situations such as this, the Head of the Nigerian Oil Ministry, to award his personal company oil fields.

 

We can make the connection that since the quality of institutions is low and economic freedom is high, this type of corruption has hindered the growth of a country. The role of the Oil Ministry as an institution is vital in this certain case and has obvious economic outcomes. In a country where 2/3 of the population live on $1.25 per day, a billion of dollars into the hands of one man isn’t fair. This money shouldn’t just be given out to people, but spent on social programs.

What could be done?

Bangladesh

Textiles and garment are one of Bangladesh’s biggest exports. Informal transactions are a type of corruption, but searching through Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’ (BGMEA’s) history, not one case of major corruption has ever shown up. BGMEA more importantly has set out goals of: ‘a healthy business environment for a close and mutually beneficial relationship between the manufacturers, exporters and importers’.

A closer look shows:   ‘…foreign buyers were aware of these arrangements and happily participated in them. This meant that arbitration using formal procedures would have been difficult in these cases anyway, and informal arbitration had a great deal of credibility because industry insiders had the knowledge to find acceptable solutions.’

These ‘informal’ dealings of the BGMEA are corrupt by definition. However, from the same 2009 World Governance Survey that rated Nigeria so badly, Bangladesh considerably did better than Nigeria. By allowing for informal ‘talks’ at the BGMEA, the economy has grown through bypassing inefficient regulations, ‘greasing the wheels’. This has made BGMEA to play a major role in rising Bangladesh’s economic development.

Uganda

Despite the Ugandan government scoring 96 out of 100 on legislative framework for governance and corruption control, 8 out of 10 citizens think that corruption is the countries biggest problem. A recent step taken by the Inspectorate of Government (an NGO) in Uganda was to address the ghost worker problems, people having fake jobs for real salaries(would be nice wouldn’t it?). After a public audit on this payroll, the government first decentralized payroll system to be given to each government agency this power.

©futureatlas/Creative Commons License
©futureatlas/Creative Commons License

This was reinforced by the salaries being put up online and on boards displaying who works for what and for how much. Through this type of transparency, corrupt individuals can’t make up job rolls for their peers anymore, as well adds to the cost of getting caught, making it less appealing. Furthermore, this will save the government at least $20 million in revenue. Uganda has fought corruption by employing technology, but more can still be done.

Conclusion

The effects of corruption can be felt by everyone. From bribing doctors to get better medical care to millions and billions of public money going into private bank accounts. Since corruption is so diverse and depends on the country, the case can be made for the importance institutions. Furthermore, ‘corruption can’t be generalized on all levels in emerging market’s’ because the evidence shows mixed results on corrupt practices, some are beneficial to better business, some are not good and harm the public via the restriction of economic development.

In Nigeria, the evidence suggests that companies and government agencies are involved in shady contracts, but steps are being taken to address these problems. In Bangladesh, we saw that informal negotiations are actually driver of better economic activity. And lastly in Uganda, corruption is strong, but being tackled through technology, opening up to new ways of dealing with corruption. By creating a dynamic understanding of corruption, we can adopt technology and other methods to eradicate the problem at it’s source, the institutions.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Hashtags in International Development and Politics- Powerful or Pointless?!

Hashtags in International Development and Politics- Powerful or Pointless?!

The last year has seen an explosion of hashtags related to tragedies or big campaigns. Many of these hashtags seem to reflect events related to natural disaster, conflict or human rights, but the limited longevity of these campaigns leads to the suggestion that their impact is severely limited in the real world. Lorraine Patch questions raises the moral dilemma in the technology age- is social media outpouring really creating awareness or are we naively thinking we are making a difference?!  

This month saw one year passing since the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, in reaction to the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. This is just one example of a notorious hashtag campaign which has rarely made a re-appearance in the year since its creation. Hashtags though do have a place in development work and politics, and can bring about positive social change but they should not be considered a cure-all.

©pascal/Creative Commons License
©pascal/Creative Commons License

 

Clicktivism and Remaining Realistic

The role of social media in campaigning is often given the term clicktivism; “the use of social media and other online methods to promote a cause” or slacktivism; “people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change”

However, the idea of clicktivism does also have its positives, especially for charities when it comes to engaging audiences with their work internationally. Arguably, clicktivism is helping provoke more people to become global citizens, actively interested, engaged and informed about international issues; even if it is behind a screen.

Although not applicable to all, in some cases, raising awareness about one key development issue may provoke interest in others. So much of what happens in the world we feel powerless to control or help, so discussing or supporting a campaign online can make us feel a little less hopeless.

Closer to home, clicktivism is also becoming increasingly prevalent in UK politics and it is easier to see the successes as a result of these campaigns. Discussing politics and political views online allows people to express their views in a way which appeals to them. Groups which have not been listened to previously are turning to social media to make their voices and opinions heard. What started out as a joke with memes and dedications to Labour leader Ed Miliband, #Milifandom has become a hugely popular hashtag campaign, bolstered by real political views. Some may suggest that political hashtags and online trends like this are a fad which belittles politics, but this accessibility is increasing engagement and is offering a gateway into politics. A record-breaking 469,000 people registered to vote online on the 20th April,the last day to register; 152,000 aged 25 to 34, and 137,000 aged 16 to 24.

In contrast, when the #BringBackOurGirls campaign was created, it was the only way people realistically felt they could make any difference, no matter how small. As well as expressing collective outrage and condemnation about the atrocity, the campaign brought about awareness of the need for education and women’s rights. Central to campaigns like this however, is ensuring unrealistic expectations are not placed upon the power of this form of activism. Yes, it is powerful in raising awareness, creating debate and expressing solidarity; however, we should not assume that our contribution will result in direct improvement or aid to those in need.

©Elijah van der Giessen/Creative Commons License
©Elijah van der Giessen/Creative Commons License

Hashtags to Actions

The biggest challenge for charities in the field is transforming hashtags into actions. Ritu Sharma suggests that this impact is somewhat expected of the form “without necessarily meaning to it has served as a very powerful tool in imparting democracy, education and justice, both at home and abroad.” They may communicate solidarity for those who have witnessed or experienced the effects of a disaster; be it natural disaster or conflict related. However, there is always the possibility that such exposure can bring about negative change too, resulting in scepticism and a backlash concerning the point of hashtags.

This is especially applicable to #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign resulted in a lot of press attention and many celebrities being involved, but according to some, the impact was minimal. In an article written just after the campaign started, Jumoke Balogun even suggested that the campaign was doing more harm than good by encouraging military intervention at the expense of more subtle and nuanced responses.

Sustaining Interest

The problem with hashtag campaigns is their short lived impact and the selective nature in the way which many topics can be treated. This is particularly noticeable when a disaster occurs, which can be trending for several days but subsequently discussion reduces and in many cases the topic does not hit our feeds again. Rightly or wrongly, it is the highly trending campaigns which bring others to the cause.

In many cases, international development work needs to be long term to be sustainable, and this is something that is not reflected in how we pay attention to online campaigns. Ultimately, we are selective in the way we campaign online, often giving preference to the most emotional, shocking or most efficiently promoted posts. This can be successful in forms of activism such as politics but raises complications with further detached issues which we cannot realistically impact or contribute to on a long term basis.

Despite the shortcomings, online activism, namely hashtags are positive as long as we remain realistic about their power. Raising awareness and improving engagement are some of the greatest positives of the hashtag movement, which arguably outweigh the negatives.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Hebdo and Baga: a tale of two massacres

Hebdo and Baga: a tale of two massacres

With the outrage surrounding the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Katie Wand discusses the value western media outlets places on a human life in different parts of the world. Katie also considers how the narrative of Islamic extremists as solely against the West and not also against people of their own faith and cultural background is limiting and serves to feed growing Islamaphobia in the West.

Sunday, 11 January: a day of mourning in France, and across the western world, as thousands gathered in Paris, Edinburgh, London, Tel Aviv, Dhaka, and Delhi, to honour the lives of 17 French nationals killed in the tragic terror attacks in Paris. More than 40 of the world’s leaders flocked to Paris to show their respect, solidarity and unity with France, and to pledge that civil order would not succumb to terrorism.

Friday, 9 January: Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist organisation that has wrought to establish a de facto caliphate in northern Nigeria, attacked the village of Baga. Most of the causalities were women, children, and the elderly. Reporters from Amnesty International hesitate to give an exact figure for the death toll, as there were simply ‘too many to count’ but estimates range to upwards of 2000. A further 30,000 people are thought to have been displaced as a result of the attacks.

Both these events occurred at the hands of Islamic extremists, both resulted in the loss of life.

Whereas those killed in Paris have been globally heralded as the martyrs of freedom of expression, the attacks in Nigeria were largely ignored by the press. The Charlie Hebdo attack alone generated 50 times more global media stories than the attack in Baga. The victims in Nigeria were not even deemed worthy, initially, of a clicktivist movement or a ‘hashtag of solidarity’.

©francediplomatie /Creative Commons License
©francediplomatie /Creative Commons License

Why is there such a vast imbalance in western media outlets’ coverage of the two attacks, and what does it signify?

Firstly, in rural Baga, access to the internet is scarce, this hinders the spread of news. Furthermore, journalists have been targeted in recent years by Boko Haram, possibly deterring others from reporting such an incident. A lack of internet and willing journalists in the area explains to some extent the initial delayed media response to the massacre. However, it is salient that even once the news did break, the media coverage remained strikingly underwhelming.

Of course, western developed liberal democracies share much with France: a similar political structure, economic ties, cultural heritage and an overlapping history. It is therefore understandable that western media outlets demonstrate a level of outrage to these vindictive attacks in Paris. However, Nigeria was a colony of the United Kingdom until as recently as 1960, providing a clear link between the two nations and, its new found position as the biggest economy in Africa has led to a growing interest from prospective global partners.

Objectively comparing the death tolls and the respective media coverage, one is confronted by the uncomfortable truth, that the disparity in media coverage lies in the discriminative nature of Western empathy that places higher value on the lives of Westerners than on those of Africans. The perceived worth of the lives lost in the Baga attack makes for a far less compelling story than an attack on French journalists.

Sadly, the notion that life is somehow cheaper in Africa is not unique to the West; the President of Nigeria sent his condolences to France over the Paris attacks, whilst somehow failing to acknowledge events that occurred in Nigeria that very day. It is tragic that human equality remains a utopian ideal rather than a tangible reality.

Institutional racism exacerbating islamaphobia

The lack of coverage of the Baga massacre has deep knock on effects outside of its racist tendencies. In failing to acknowledge events outside of the Western sphere, an incomplete and inaccurate picture of Islamic fundamentalism is painted. In focusing attentions on the attacks in Paris, especially those on Charlie Hebdo, the media is consolidating the growing divide between the West and the rest.

© European Commission DG ECHO /Creative Commons License
© European Commission DG ECHO /Creative Commons License

The selective media bias that ignores the impact of global jihad outside of the Western sphere distorts public understanding of Islamic extremism, and rouses the islamaphobic notion that Islam is at war with the West. However, in Baga, and in countless others casesthe victims were Muslims. Forgetting the Muslim causalities of Islamic extremism creates a misalignment whereby Islam, and hence its 1.6 billion followers, are posited as the ‘other’ against a backdrop of a Western prejudice.

Only once the global scale of Islamic fundamentalism and its victims is taken into consideration does it become clear that enemy lines lie not between East and West but between innocent civilians and the terror-inciting few. In drawing a line elsewhere, the media induces a generic typecast of all Muslims that is highly catalytic and serves to antagonize the very roots of religious extremism.

The first month of 2015 has seen Islamist terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the Philippines, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, France, and Nigeria. I suggest not that we downplay the tragedies that occurred in Paris, but simply that we pay homage to all those who have fallen victim to Islamic terrorism.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Lessons from the Pursuit of Polio Eradication in Northern Nigeria

Lessons from the Pursuit of Polio Eradication in Northern Nigeria

In the new millennium, polio has become a prominent disease within global health discourse, particularly with regards to the Millennium Development Goals. Amelia Worley provides a historical, social and geopolitical perspective on the fight to end polio. 

Polio today has become synonymous with severe poverty, instability and conflict. The presence of polio can be considered a product of historical, social and economic processes.  The quest to eradicate polio by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) over the past few decades has become a controversial endeavour.  Undoubtedly, the GPEI has significantly reduced the number of polio outbreaks globally. However, as billions and billions of dollars continue to be invested, it begs the question as to why there remains such a dearth of investment in long-lasting primary healthcare systems.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gatesfoundation/5296658521
©Gates Foundation/Creative Commons license

Geopolitical Factors

The GPEI’s mission became intensely political in 2003 when groups in Kano (Northern Nigeria) initiated a boycott against the polio vaccine, claiming it contained anti-fertility agents and the HIV/AIDs virus.  The claims were backed by the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, who warned the vaccines were a being used as a tool by Americans to wipe out Muslim communities. The boycott emerged during a time of unstable relations between the USA and Muslim regions, and the revelation of a fake vaccination campaign carried out by the CIA in 2010 as part of their mission to locate Osama Bin Laden further increased the vulnerability of vaccination teams in their ability to stand independently from geopolitics.

The GPEI initiative has been tainted irreversibly by wider international conflict and politics and as a result, polio vaccinators are now a major target for the Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Pakistan. Given the heightened vulnerability of polio teams in Northern Nigeria to terrorist attack, the ethics of completing the eradication of polio has become infinitely more complex.

Can and should polio eradication be maintained as a priority over issues of security?

Historical Factors

Regardless of geopolitics, Kano’s colonial heritage, modern history and healthcare infrastructure curated an environment in which the rumours about the vaccines were able to thrive.  In 1996, the multinational pharmaceutical giant Pfizer conducted unethical clinical trials for the meningitis drug Trovan in the Kano area, which resulted in the deaths of 11 Nigerian children.  It took 15 years before Pfizer faced the justice system.  These incidents, coupled with the tainted imageries of the GPEI team, leave little ground for trust attitudes towards ‘unknown’ drugs.

The Question of ‘Glory’

William Muraskin argues that the West are committed to eradicating polio because of the  ‘glory’ success would bring.  Polio was perhaps chosen as a focus due to the flawed belief that it would be relatively easy to eradicate after similar success with the smallpox vaccine.

©Gates Foundation/Creative Commons license
©Gates Foundation/Creative Commons license

The channelling of expenditure and effort into one specific vaccine meant Nigeria failed to build on the capacity and effectiveness of necessary,  basic health institutions.  Furthermore, the polio-focused funding provided by the GPEI failed to recognise the inequality and pervading disparity between health outcomes that should have been addressed and recognised prior to the imposition of top-down campaigns.  Building effective primary healthcare systems is long and arduous, and unlikely to fulfil any elements of ‘glory’, but is essential for any future health campaigns to be effective and reach the most vulnerable populations.

The pursuit to eradicate polio in Kano reveals the complexities and growing difficulties within global health campaigns.  The Ebola outbreak reveals perhaps most significantly the flaws within the ideology of eradication which has been so vehemently pursued by the West.  The association of polio vaccines as a product of the West will continue to have implications for wider health security in Nigeria and beyond.  The complexities discussed here show that vaccinations alone are not enough, future health campaigns must take into consideration the importance of culture and history within regions, as well as geopolitical struggles.  Nigeria’s  success in controlling the spread of Ebola does not mean that the lessons taught by the polio campaign should be discarded or forgotten.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Preaching hatred: US evangelicals and homophobia in Africa

Preaching hatred: US evangelicals and homophobia in Africa

As the crackdown on LGBT communities intensifies in many African nations, Konstantinos Chatzigeorgiou discusses the contribution of certain U.S. evangelical Christians and vote-hungry politicians to the continent’s attitudes towards homosexuality.

 

Ancestral Elders:  Decolonizing the Mind
Clipping from Out Magazine, 1990s. © Climbing Kilimanjaro/Creative Commons licence

On 13 January 2014, Nigerian president Jonathan Goodluck signed a bill condemning homosexuals to 14 years in prison, banning gay marriage as well as same-sex non-marital relationships and, lastly, prohibiting people from joining gay rights groups. One month later, Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni signed a similar bill, which goes even further by instituting life imprisonment and allowing the government to prosecute as ‘conspirators’ those who are aware of an individual’s homosexual activities but fail to inform the authorities.

By African standards these laws are not unique. In a continent where 38 out of 54 countries have outlawed homosexuality they might even seem like a natural progression. However, some view this recent escalation in legislation to be the result of an ever-increasing involvement of U.S. conservatives in African politics. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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