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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.

On Ebola

Susan Shepler on Ebola:

In Monrovia, I was told that there have been real impacts on the health system. People are afraid to go to the hospital and health workers are refusing to treat people. So, I was told, even a small sickness can kill you because there is no one to treat you. [...]

I feel like a lot of the coverage of the Ebola crisis has been about the heroic health workers and the ignorant locals. I don’t dispute the heroism of the health workers, but I do want to dispute the ignorance of the locals. People on radio call in shows have asked: Why can’t they understand what needs to be done? Why they need to submit themselves and their loved ones to quarantine? When someone has the symptoms—fever, vomiting, diarrhea—they are supposed to report to the health center, where they will be taken away from family, and if they die, be buried by men in protective gear with no family present. You can see why people might be loath to turn over their loved ones. Really who among us would want to turn a sick loved one over to a hospital staffed with foreigners, knowing we might never see them again? [...]

Some folks standing outside JFK Hospital in Monrovia told me that there is a spray, a chemical spray, that if they say you have Ebola, they spray it on you and that’s what actually kills you. They explained that the health ministry is using it so they can report more deaths from Ebola and get more money. They said the government already got $1.8 million in March so they know there is money in it.

Costly communication, prison gangs, and organization

From The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern America’s Penal System by David Skarbek:

The difficulty of corresponding between prisons makes reaching agreement especially costly. Officials forbid inmates from sending mail to or calling each other. They can use pay phones, but officials often monitor and record these conversation. Many gang members learn obscure languages to obfuscate their discussions, such as the ancient Aztec language Nahautl. Inmates use “micro writing,” letters written smaller than a quarter of inch. [...] Officials are not allowed to read legal paperwork, so inmates often write letters that appear to be legal work and slip the messages in with legitimate documents. [...] A creative inmate might also write a message in his own urine. After it dries, it becomes invisible, but once the recipient heats the paper, the hidden message returns. Though effective, these forms of communication are costly.

Because of the high cost of communication, even a supreme gang leader who wants to direct all activity at all prisons would find it useful to decentralize command to some degree.

Alicante: make business with Obiang conditional on a free radio station

The Guardian interviews Tutu Alicante, a prominent Equatoguinean human rights activist based in the US. Excerpts:

Do any organisations like EG Justice exist within Equatorial Guinea?

There is not a single human rights organisation or anti-corruption organisation in the country. [...] If you were to try and register one, your paperwork would lie in the ministry of interior forever. You wouldn’t get authorised to exist.

Inside the country you can register NGOs to do children’s education work, women’s empowerment work, anything the government perceives as non-threatening. Anything involving democracy or human rights will get you beaten or harassed. [...]

Although there is an official opposition party, its influence is negligible [...]. Civil society too is neutered. Are there any other organisations or institutions – perhaps religious, cultural or labour – that could instigate change?

It’s a very small country. Any group that the government perceives as sufficiently powerful is immediately co-opted. [...] So churches, for instance, which in many other places have provided an avenue for people to gather and discuss issues and organise, are completely co-opted by the government. There are no unions or labour organisations. So you don’t have spaces for citizens to come together and organise, or even assemble – any meeting you want to hold in Equatorial Guinea with more than five people, you have to have a permit from the government.

So where will change come from?

Change must come from a few different places, one is young people. We have to find creative ways of organising them. In Egypt for example, social networks played a key role in getting people to the street at the right moment, getting messages out, not just to people in the country but outside the country. So finding creative ways of organising people who still have very limited access to internet but still have a mobile phone is something we are looking at. How do we get to these young people inside the country? There are a growing number of young people using Facebook and other forums to discuss issues that inside the country you cannot discuss, and people are starting internet-based radio [stations].

Another avenue is supporting the decrepit political opposition group that exists. The US for instance has a long history and tradition of supporting political parties, in places like Cuba, Venezuela. Equatorial Guinea needs that. Equatorial Guinea needs [organisations like] the National Institute for Democracy and International Republican Institute to find creative ways of working with the opposition inside… if you are going to continue to do business with Obiang, you should be able to make that contingent on having a radio [station] or something that allows for freedom of expression inside the country.