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Charles Taylor and Firestone

The part of the PBS/ProPublic documentary Charles Taylor and Firestone that was really shocking was the extent to which Firestone supported Taylor in the early 1990s. They could not operate without his permission, so (in hindsight, I guess, though the decision seemed pretty black and white at the time too) they really should have just not operated until things stabilized. Instead, they chose to cooperate with Taylor, who was of course at the time a warlord and not president. From the accompanying article:

The company signed a deal in 1992 to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government. Over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor[...].

While Firestone was operating:

Taylor used [Firestone] for the business of war. Taylor turned storage centers and factories on Firestone’s sprawling rubber farm into depots for weapons and ammunition. He housed himself and his top ministers in Firestone homes. He also used communications equipment on the plantation to broadcast messages to his supporters, propaganda to the masses and instructions to his troops. [...]

For Taylor, the relationship with Firestone was about more than money. It helped provide him with the political capital and recognition he needed as he sought to establish his credentials as Liberia’s future leader.

The effect of Firestone’s cooperation with Taylor on the war is unknowable. After all, Firestone needed to cooperate with him precisely because he already controlled so much of the country in 1991. In the short term, though, it seems clear things would have been more difficult for Taylor had they just stayed out of the country for a few more years.

Africa Confidential on Ebola

From a gated Africa Confidential article on Ebola, h/t to Nicholai:

So, early this year, [Samantha] Power drew up a list of about 60 senior Liberians, including the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Lewis Brown, who will not be granted US visas because of their wartime ties to warlords. Although this issue was so dear to the Ambassador, it has been overshadowed by Ebola, which has now killed close to 2,500 Liberians and infected thousands more. [...]

While in New York in September, [Defense Minister Brownie] Samukai, a former UN humanitarian worker, was warned by Power’s office to prevent his soldiers from misusing the emergency measures any further [after the West Point incident]. He was also reminded that the 5,000 UN forces in Liberia had a Chapter VII ‘protection of civilians’ mandate, which meant that if the situation got bad enough, they could engage the Liberian army. Few outside the country know how nearly this came to pass. The harassment of civilians all over the country continued but no further army shootings were reported. Yet in early October, the government imposed strict censorship on the media regarding all Ebola-related incidents. [...]

Johnson-Sirleaf’s supporters continue to boast that the US response dwarfs anything that Guinea or Sierra Leone have been able to muster and that only she can attract such a gesture in Africa. Indeed, the intervention has helped to stabilise her regime as well as the Ebola situation. This is an established pattern. She has always been more popular abroad than at home, yet her legitimacy in Liberia is tied to her international clout.

Human Rights Watch report on Boko Haram violence

The new Human Rights Watch report on Boko Haram violence against civilians is devastating. Some excerpts:

On the increased abduction of women:

The increase in the number of abductions since mid-2013 appears to mark a change of strategy by Boko Haram. From 2009 through early 2013, the group did not appear to target women and girls specifically. Instead, it primarily launched assaults against those it considered part of an unjust and corrupt system: members of the security services, politicians, civil servants, and other symbols of authority. By early 2012 schools and students became increasingly targeted for attacks [...] From 2009 to early 2013, according to Human Rights Watch’s research and monitoring of abuses, Boko Haram abducted individual women and girls from their homes or from the street during attacks on their communities. In most of the documented cases, married women were abducted as punishment for not supporting the group’s ideology, while unmarried women and girls were taken as brides after insurgents hastily offered a dowry to the families, who feared to resist. [...]

Videos released by Boko Haram’s leaders in January and May 2013 suggest three key motives for the initial abductions: to retaliate against the government for its alleged detention of family members, including the wives of the group’s leaders; to punish students for attending Western schools; and to forcefully convert Christian women and girls to Islam. Some of the victims and analysts interviewed by Human Rights Watch have suggested women and girls are also being used for tactical reasons, such as to lure security forces to an ambush, force payment of a ransom, or for a prisoner exchange.

[...] Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has [said] “Since you are now holding our women, (laughs) just wait and see what will happen to your own women … to your own wives according to Sharia law.”

Post-Chibok support seems to benefitting only former Chibok abductees, and even them not that much:

The federal and state funds, set up with support from international agencies and foreign governments in the wake of the high-profile Chibok abductions, have targeted the escaped Chibok girls but appear not to have widely benefitted the many other victims of Boko Haram abuses. [...]

However, the young women and girls interviewed described the counseling received as religion-based; they said the Borno State government had arranged for pastors and Muslim clerics to speak with about 30 of them in a group at the Governor’s office. One girl described the counseling she received:

“We were all in a big hall, with many people that we did not know. It was when one of the speakers quoted from the Bible that I knew he was a pastor but I cannot remember what he said. As he finished his talk, the microphone was handed to a man dressed like a Muslim preacher, who also recited some Islamic words. Some other people also spoke. No one asked us any questions. I don’t think any of my school mates realized either that we were being counseled.”

I didn’t know all schools in Borno have been closed:

In March, federal government-run secondary schools in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states closed and their students were transferred to schools in other northern states, while all schools in Borno, the worst-hit of the states under emergency rule, have been closed since then.

On Chibok:

[...] the lack of security [at the Chibok school] made it easy for the fighters to overrun the compound, seize the young women and girls from their dormitory, and organize their transport. Boko Haram did not arrive with a sufficient number of vehicles, and tried to arrange for more. The students said they believed the primary objective of Boko Haram’s attack was the theft of a brick-making machine as well as food and other supplies. However, this apparently changed once the men realized they had access to the young women and girls and faced little resistance.

The relative ease with which it carried out the Chibok abductions appears to have emboldened Boko Haram to step up abductions elsewhere.

On motivations for abductions:

Other men appeared to have been targeted for abduction because of their specific skills or occupation, which filled a need in the insurgents’ camp. This was the case of a 46-year-old pharmaceutical salesman abducted from Buni Yadi in March 2014 while he sitting outside his shop with a group of friends. [...]

A 19-year-old girl who was held in a Boko Haram camp in Gwoza told Human Rights Watch that she was offered thousands of naira as dowry to marry one of the insurgents:

“I refused the dowry, asking them to go pay to my father if they wanted to marry me. An insurgent who knows my family accepted it on my behalf. He told me he was afraid I would be killed if I continued to refuse. I became confused at the implication of being married to a Boko Haram member, so I pretended to be very ill, and the wedding was postponed until the return of the camp leader, who was travelling to meet the group’s overall leader in the Sambisa camp. He ordered that I should be taken to the hospital [in the local town] for tests before his return. It was the break I’d been praying for. I threatened the woman sent to take me to a hospital in town that I would scream and expose her to Civilian JTF. She quickly walked away as I made my escape.”

Insurgents later took revenge on her family for her escape, arresting her brother and burning her family home and the churches in her village.

On accountability:

[A 22 year old woman said] “I did not bother to report to security or police after my escape because they are aware that these abductions have been happening. And even when others had reported to them in the past, they did nothing.”

Moments when things are not as they seem

I had a driver take me to Kaduna this morning. On the outskirts of the city I see police and military checkpoints approaching. But we get stopped by a man in plain clothes before the checkpoints. He has my driver step out of the car, and he sits next to me in the driver’s seat. He goes through every single compartment in the car. I am convinced we are being robbed. He opens up the middle container thing between the two front seats and finds two packages the size of baseballs. He takes them both, and I think he has taken my driver’s money. Then he demands more money from my driver. My driver pulls out from his pocket a big wad of 500 Naira bills and he lets us go.

My whole body is shaking, and I’m convinced my driver has just been robbed. I’m angry that the police and soldiers are so close and obviously know what’s going on. I feel that my presence in the car probably caused the robbery, so I pay my driver back for the cash he lost, 9,500 Naira, about $60. We complain together about the state of security in Nigeria.

I tell this story to people I meet with in Kaduna, and they say that it couldn’t have been a robbery. If it was a robbery they would have taken my money as well. They ask me to describe the location of the “robbery” and when I do, they tell me it’s an undercover drug enforcement checkpoint. The packages were almost certainly drugs, and the agent demanded money as a fine of sorts.

New details on Chibok negotiations

A fascinating interview with Stephen Davis, one of the government-supported negotiators for the Chibok girls, is here. H/t to Jonathan. Some claims Davis makes:

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  • Former Borno state Governor Sheriff is a main Boko Haram sponsor. Davis is mystified as to why Sheriff has not yet been arrested. Sheriff recently switched to the PDP in the hope of getting state protection, Davis claims.  Arresting Sheriff along with the other main sponsors will–at least temporarily–take Boko Haram out of action.
  • There are Boko Haram leaders who want both a peace deal and to hand over the Chibok girls. They can’t do this because their sponsors will kill commanders who enter into peace negotiations.
  • Davis says they got an agreement where about 20 Chibok girls would be released. Boko Haram released the girls to a village, notified the negotiators an hour later of the location, giving them time to flee, but by the time the negotiators arrived the Boko Haram sponsors had ordered for the girls to be re-kidnapped.  The negotiators were able to get 4 girls released, but after this happened more girls were kidnapped to compensate for the loss of girls, and in the process 60 or 70 people in the village were be killed. So the negotiators stopped negotiating.
  • In one case girls were released, but 24 hours earlier the police had offered a large reward for the girls. Some individuals within Boko Haram re-kidnapped the girls from where they were dropped off, hoping to reap this reward. Boko Haram commanders told Davis these people were “taken care of.”
  • Some things Davis said didn’t make sense. He said the Nigerian military doesn’t know when Boko Haram is heading to a village until the rebels are too close for the military to take preventative action. He thinks the international community should share aerial data with the military to allow for air strikes as Boko Haram approaches village. He says because the area is so arid, and the Boko Haram convoys are so large–often 40 to 60 vehicles–this should not be difficult.  But framing this as an information problem seems to go against what Amnesty and others have documented, where villagers report to the military that Boko Haram asks for directions to a village but the military does nothing.
  • More generally, Davis describes the emergence of Boko Haram and Niger Delta rebel groups as a result of politicians heavily arming civilians to win votes, and then abandoning the gangs they created immediately after elections.
  • Overall, Davis makes a compelling case for the importance of arresting the Boko Haram sponsors.



PDP-APC clashes in Port Harcourt

From Control Risks:

Clashes between supporters of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) party on 13 August in Port Harcourt (Rivers state) underline the credible risk of politically motivated unrest. Activists fired shots and threw stones and bottles during the disturbances, which began in the Rumuepirikom area and spread to other areas of the city, including Rumuokwuta and Rumuigbo. At least eight people were injured, several shops damaged and traffic disrupted in the affected areas. Riot police were deployed to quell the violence.

It is unclear what triggered the clashes. However, some reports indicate that the deposed traditional ruler of the Obio-Akpor local government area (LGA, Rivers) shot his son, who is a member of the PDP, and supporters of the party confronted APC activists who had gathered in Rumuepirikom to attend a meeting held by Governor Rotimi Amaechi as part of a tour of Rivers state that began in mid-July. The police arrested the former Obio-Akpor chief and several members of the APC.

“Piecemeal urbanization at the peripheries of Lagos”

Lindsay Sawyer (who has a great Twitter feed) has a new article in African Studies [gated] called “Piecemeal Urbanisation at the Peripheries of Lagos.” An excerpt from a section on Ogun state as a Lagos periphery:

[I]ndustries, institutions and manufacturers have been relocating from Lagos state and into neighbouring Ogun state, although staying within the urban footprint of Lagos. They are leaving Lagos state to avoid the multiple taxation, high land and rental rates, and lack of space. In the past two years 35 companies have relocated to Ogun state including pharmaceuticals, large cement plants, steel manufacturers and a power-generating plant. There are also a significant number of institutions relocating there including megachurches and university campuses. In response to and due to the increased Internally Generated Revenue, Ogun state has been investing in significant developments such as road infrastructure, security and industrial estates, and is promoting itself as a ‘Gateway state’.

Amongst these groups of actors, the state is perhaps notably absent. In fact, due to the fact that most of the periphery falls in Ogun state yet is clearly contiguous with the urban fabric of Lagos, it is unclear who is supposed to take responsibility for these peripheral areas. For example, in Nigeria roads come under a hierarchical structure of jurisdiction with the federal government responsible for national highways, the state government for main roads and local governments for smaller roads and tributaries. This division of responsibility is contentious even within Lagos state, as federal roads are in a notoriously poor state of repair but the state government is powerless to do anything about them as part of its fairly comprehensive road-upgrading scheme. In the peripheral areas the matter becomes more complicated. As most residents are employed in Lagos but residing in Ogun state, if they pay tax at all it will be to Lagos not to Ogun state. Thus Ogun state government is unwilling to invest in the residential roads under its jurisdiction. This is compounded by the fact that federal funds are allocated to the different states of Nigeria according to population figures derived from the shaky 2006 census. It is unclear whether the peripheral areas of Lagos were included in this census, and under which state. In either case, the population has increased significantly in the last eight years since, meaning that neither Ogun nor Lagos state is receiving federal funds to support this additional burden, leading to further reluctance to invest in residential areas.

Ebola transmission and politics

Africa Confidential on the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone [gated]:

Sierra Leone’s leading virologist, Sheik Umar Khan, and a handful of trained nurses were based at the Kenema hospital yet the government made no effort to move him to Kailahun [where the outbreak was]. Ebola patients were instead driven by ambulance from Kailahun to Kenema. Many died, so people began to view ambulances and the hospital as bearers of death.

MSF set up an emergency clinic in Kailahun in June but several nurses had already died in Kenema. By early July, over a dozen health workers, nurses and drivers in Kenema had contracted Ebola and five nurses had died. They had not been properly equipped with biohazard gear of whole-body suit, a hood with an opening for the eyes, safety goggles, a breathing mask over the mouth and nose, nitrile gloves and rubber boots.

On 21 July, the remaining nurses went on strike. They had been working twelve-hour days, in biohazard suits at high temperatures in a hospital mostly without air conditioning. The government had promised them an extra US$30 a week in danger money but despite complaints, no payment was made. Worse yet, on 17 June, the inexperienced Health and Sanitation Minister, Miatta Kargbo, told Parliament that some of the nurses who had died in Kenema had contracted Ebola through promiscuous sexual activity.

Only one nurse showed up for work on 22 July, we hear, with more than 30 Ebola patients in the hospital. Visitors to the ward reported finding a mess of vomit, splattered blood and urine. Two days later, Khan, who was leading the Ebola fight at the hospital and now with very few nurses, tested positive. The 43-year-old was credited with treating more than 100 patients. He died in Kailahun at the MSF clinic on 29 July. President Koroma had flown to Kenema two days earlier but not to Kailahun, where Khan was hospitalised.

Obiang has former military officer abducted from Nigeria

In advance of Equatoguinean President Obiang’s trip to Washington DC for the US-Africa Leaders Summit, and to be a guest of honor at a Corporate Council on Africa dinner, Human Rights Watch has released a short report highlighting recent egregious human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea. Here’s one I just learned of:

Cipriano Nguema Mba, a former military officer who was granted refugee status in Belgium in 2013, was abducted while visiting Nigeria in late 2013 and illegally returned to Equatorial Guinea, where he was secretly held by government authorities and tortured. He remains in custody and reportedly was transferred to solitary confinement on July 26, 2014. This is the second time Nguema was kidnapped from exile abroad. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he has not been able to visit him.

The report also includes a detailed update on the situation of Roberto Berardi, an Italian businessman who is considered the personal prisoner of Obiang’s son.