Author Archives: Shelby

About Shelby


FOIA documents on Lebanese in West Africa

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 10.26.44 PM

In January 2011, when I thought my dissertation might be on Lebanese in West Africa, I filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the State Department. The request was for documents from 2001-2010 about Lebanese living in West Africa. Six months later the request was granted. But after two summers and a winter break of fieldwork in Kano, Kano, and Abidjan trying to interview Lebanese unsuccessfully, I dropped the topic.

I’ve uploaded the first batch of documents here. I’d be curious to know if anyone finds anything interesting in them.


Former governors of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Delta used Hacking Team products

Sahara Reporters has an article documenting additional Nigerian state governors who were spying on people using Hacking Team software. Previously we only knew that Bayelsa was using the technology.

The formers governors were of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Delta.

“They claimed they were using it to track kidnappers,” officials at the office of the National Security Adviser said. “The governors claimed they were carrying out the operations with the SSS, but our investigations showed they were running it from their offices.” […]

A contractor from Akwa Ibom said Governor Akpabio refused to pay him for the project he executed for the state after he tapped his phone and overheard some critical comments he made about the former governor to some friends.

“He once boasted to me that he knew what I was doing and what I was saying about him,” the contractor said.


“Our targets are usually using the most advanced smart phones”: Hacking Team and Nigeria

In early July Hacking Team, an Italian hacking firm, was hacked. (Reply All episode on this here.) Interested to know if your government of interest was a client? You can do keyword searches of Hacking Team emails here.

Below: What I learned from searching “Nigeria,” before tiring on the 7th page of results.

The Bayelsa State Government was a client, contracting through two Israeli firms, NICE and V&V. Sahara Reporters has details here. One email describes the state government’s complaints with Hacking Team services: 1) the speed of 3G in Nigeria was making it difficult to use the hacking platform, and 2) the hacking software worked only on BlackBerry phones, but the VVIPs the government wanted to spy on preferred iPhones. What to do?

We are having a very problematic issue on the supported OS of the IPhone and Android, the new OS versions are not supported and in Nigeria our targets are usually using the most advanced Smart phones and the latest Android and Ios that our system is not supporting.

Many of the Nigeria emails relate to potential Nigerian government clients wanting a product demonstration before purchasing the hacking services, but Hacking Team had an internal company policy prohibiting its staff from going to Nigeria. Selling services to a Bangladeshi death squad? No problem. Let a Hacking Team account manager travel to Abuja? Too risky,

The army, National Security Advisor, and Chief Security Officer to the President were all — if not clients — potential clients.

Sam Igwe of Sahara Bells wrote to Hacking Team:

I can inform in strict confidentiality, under the terms of our NDA agreement, that our client is the President of Nigeria and the person we are dealing with directly is the Chief Security Officer to the President.

Adam Weinberg of NICE wrote to Hacking Team inquiring into pursuing the State Security Service as a potential client:

We have a new opportunity to offer RCS in Nigeria – the customer is SSS,  the local internal security organization. Please advise if we have a green light to proceed with those customers.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery, though, was that the government of Equatorial Guinea does not appear to be a client.


American Warlord

All the advantages of being the president’s son yielded very little in the way of easy profits for Chucky. Even with the deck stacked entirely in his favor, he failed to distinguish himself in the field of hustlers, entrepreneurs, and monopolists in Taylor’s Liberia. In business, as with the [Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU)], Chucky seemed to be the biggest obstacle to his own success.

That’s from American Warlord, Johnny Dwyer’s new book about Charles Taylor’s son Chucky. It’s more than a book about Chucky, though. It’s among the best-researched books on Liberia, and probably the only page-turner. Dwyer offers new details and insight into countless topics of Liberia intrigue.

Chucky’s story starts in Massachusetts, where he was born to a Trinidadian woman named Bernice. Charles Taylor abandoned the family early on and started engaging with Liberian diaspora politics during the Tubman era.


Chucky had an unremarkable childhood in Florida. He made his first trip to Africa as a teenager in 1992 to reunite with his father, who was in Gbarnga. Chucky hung out with Taylor’s fighters and ventured around Bong. Apparently at one point he asked for permission to, and then did, kill a prisoner.

Chucky’s return to Florida did not go well. He tried to kill himself. He got into fights. He was arrested after pointing a gun at a man’s head following a robbery. Facing jail time, Bernice asked Taylor to take him. Taylor placed Chucky in school in Ghana, but he had trouble there. Taylor then moved him to Monrovia, where he was promptly suspended for slapping a classmate.

In 1996 Chucky requested his father’s permission to set up a private security force to protect Taylor and his men, a force that would come to be known as the Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU). Chucky set up a training base in Gbatala, but quickly realized he did not command the respect of the boys and men he was supposed to be training. They had battle experience and he did not. Nor did he compensate for this in exceptional leadership ability. It appears Chucky started committing violent acts to instill fear and respect for his leadership among ATU fighters, and this included horrifically violent hazing, sometimes result in death.

What Chucky did and told others to do is to list some of the most horrific abuses committed during the war. Chucky ordered his own people tortured for small accidents. His father was frequently cleaning up his messes and trying to keep his crimes out of the media; after all, the ATU was (for a while) a secret, unconstitutional militia.

Dwyer’s account of Chucky’s life is remarkable, but American Warlord is equally worth reading for insight into other aspects of modern Liberian events. Did the CIA help Charles Taylor break out of jail in Massachusetts? Based on new details Dwyer provides, my sense is no. Taylor appears to have broken out of prison – a prison that experienced several escapes previously – with a friend. In Ghana he found that people assumed the only way you escape jail in the US is with CIA help. When this narrative worked for him, he used it, when it didn’t, he didn’t.

Did the ATU knowingly support al Qaeda pre-9/11? Here again the answer seems to be no. The ATU seemed to think the two al Qaeda guys at Gbatala were no different from the ordinary sketchy foreign businessmen who found Liberia advantageous for a certain sort of business.

Did the US arm LURD rebels in Guinea? This was a question I always thought was interesting, but now it seems inconsequential. We provided military training to LURD and this training heavily influenced the balance of power between LURD and Taylor. Relatedly, I always used to think America overstated its role in getting Taylor to leave. I now see that our support of LURD and total unwillingness to help Taylor in any way was at least in large part responsible for Taylor stepping down.

There are also stories that I never even knew to be curious about. The only American official left at the US Embassy in Liberia after Tubman’s murder claims (not corroborated) that he simply showed up at the Executive Mansion to see what was going on, and appointed members of the military junta that followed, including Doe.

There’s so much more. Chucky had an American girlfriend who moved to Liberia during the war to be with him. Chucky’s post-war stint in Trinidad trying to record hip-hop is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction things. Dwyer recounts Chucky’s reaction to Lord of War, a film that based a character on him. Dwyer tells us about Chucky’s Florida trial, which is interesting on so many levels not least that the case against Chucky for torture was being prepared during the Bush administration by at least one Justice Department official who was herself allegedly tied up in a scandal related to Abu Ghraib. And just when you’ve finished the book and are feeling sad there’s no more (though of course happy there’s no more because Chucky is in prison) Dwyer offers a moving appendix on his sources.

American Warlord comes out April 7. Pre-order it here.


Governing Lagos

Diane de Gramont has a new report describing and explaining the remarkable reforms Lagos state has made over the past 15 years. These reforms include increasing tax revenue, reforming waste collection, introducing high-capacity buses, and containing area boys or thugs.

The figure below comes from the report. To give you a sense of this revenue in dollars, 200 billion Naira is a little over 1 billion dollars.




From Citizen by Claudia Rankine:

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.


On Immunity

I highly recommend Eula BissOn Immunity, one of the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of the Year.

Biss talks about immunization as a way to contribute to a public good, helping to protect the elderly or people who have compromised immune systems from diseases.

I learned a lot about Robert Sears (“Dr. Bob”), a doctor who wrote The Vaccine Book, which provides lots of fodder for the anti-vaccine crowd.

“This is an important vaccine from a public health standpoint,” [Dr. Bob] writes of the hep B vaccine, “but it’s not as critical from an individual point of view.”

In a section of The Vaccine Book titled “Is it your social responsibility to vaccinate your kids?” Dr. Bob asks, “Can we fault parents for putting their own child’s health ahead of that of the kids around him?” This is meant to be a rhetorical question, but Dr. Bob’s implied answer is not mine. In another section of the book, Dr. Bob writes of his advice to parents who fear the MMR vaccine, “I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the disease increase significantly.”


Crisis Group report on upcoming Nigerian elections

Last month’s International Crisis Group report is pessimistic about the prospect of free, fair, and peaceful elections for Nigeria in February. The report cites ominous statements from political and societal leaders who explicitly threaten violence in response to various possible outcomes.

I thought the part of the report on the politicization of the police and security services was the most interesting. I had not realized the extent to which the police and Department of State Services (aka SSS) have been systematically targeting pro-APC people. Here are some examples.

Recent police conduct, particularly in Rivers state, has raised concerns. Between May 2013 and early 2014, the federally-controlled police in the state (there is no state police) were criticised for alleged bias against the state governor, Amaechi, and his APC supporters. On 16 July 2013, police reportedly stood by as hundreds of anti-Amaechi thugs stoned the motorcade of four northern governors on a solidarity visit to the governor in Port Harcourt. The police were also accused of repeatedly turn- ing a blind eye when groups (including hired thugs and ex-militants) opposed to the governor and the APC paraded Port Harcourt, intimidated residents, while at the same time repeatedly providing protection to pro-PDP groups who attacked and disrupted APC events, including a 12 January 2014 rally in Port Harcourt, at which Senator Magnus Abe, a strong Amaechi ally, was reportedly hit with a rubber bullet.


Similarly, in January 2014, security operatives summoned and interrogated Nasir el-Rufai, an APC official who had warned that the 2015 elections may be followed by violence if the polls are not free and fair. In August, the DSS questioned Joseph Waku, an APC leader who had sharply criticised Jonathan. In contrast, when pro-Jonathan individuals similarly threaten mayhem if Jonathan is not re-elected or criticise opposition leaders provocatively, they are mostly ignored.


In Osun state, just hours before the polls, hooded security operatives arrested the APC’s national spokesman, Lai Mohammed; the media aide to the party’s national leader, Sunday Dare; the deputy chief of staff to Osun state Governor Afolabi Salisu; Osun state’s Agriculture Commissioner Wale Adedoyin; and 96 other party members. Most were freed without any charges once voting was concluded, but no PDP leaders or members were ever arrested.


Managing your Political Godfather

Managing your Political Godfather: Lessons in Conflict Dynamics from the Ngige-Uba Imbroglio by Chris Uwadoka is possibly the most interesting book I’ve read on Nigerian politics. (h/t to Jonathan.) Uwadoka tells the story of an infamous falling out between Dr. Chris Ngige (the godson) and Chief Chris Uba[h] (the godfather — godfather is the Nigerian word for patron) in Anambra state in the early 2000s, and then draws on analytical frameworks from a variety of disciplines to draw broader lessons about how future godsons and godfathers can best manage their relationship.


Uba selected Ngige as PDP nominee for governor of Anambra state. Uwadoka describes strategies Uba used to try to ensure Ngige would remain loyal once in office:

In picking [Ngige] forGovernor, Ubah considered his lack of charisma, political base and his perceived servile disposition to be a great advantage to him […]. Just to make assurance doubly sure, he arranged to have one of his elder sisters, Mrs. Eucharia Azodo, to emerge as the speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly. This would make impeachment of Ngige easy if he became recalcitrant. Ubah also appointed another close loyalist […] who would take over from Ngige if the occasion arose. Then he reportedly took Ngige and other beneficiaries of his overnight political power base to the fearsome Okija Shrine and made them swear an oath of allegiance to him. He made Ngige sign a resignation letter in advance and to voice it into a recorder.

Uwadoka describes a strategy Uba used when trying to convince a reluctant Ngige to run for governor:

By putting Ngige away from other prospective and pretending godfathers, Uba may have been attempting to ensure that Ngige was left with no doubt as to who was buttering his bread. This is important because in the game of political jobbing, it is common for pretending godfathers to rush to a man whom they hear has been tipped for a political appointment and give him the impression that they are in the process of sponsoring him for that very position, whereas, in truth, they had no idea how the appointment came about.

In mid-2003, only one month into his term, Ngige’s relationship with Uba soured. I don’t completely understand what happened, but Uba attempted to formally remove him from office, and there was also a failed abduction attempt. Ngige hired his own security. In 2006 courts overturned his 2003 victory, and Ngige was replaced.

Uwadoka offers some “knockout questions for screening” for prospective godsons and godfathers. Here are my favorites

Knockout Questions for Screening Potential Godsons

  • Is he reasonably powerless without me?
  • Does he look like one that can live with the loss of some of his due privileges?

Knockout Questions for Screening Potential Godfathers

  • Can he muster the funds to bankroll me? (Should you be headhunted by a godfather and asked to be fielded for an elective position, ask for sufficient funds to be made available to you up-front. Many have been enticed out of employments and left to their own means.)
  • Can he offer protection? (If, for instance, my opponent hangs a murder accusation on my neck, how long will it take him to resolve the case by employing pressures from ‘above’?)

To further analyze godfather-godson relationships, Uwodoka brings in discussions of audience costs, the prisoner’s dilemma game, and credible commitments. It’s a really fun read, though I have no idea where one can find this book in the US.