Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Ekiti elections

Africa Confidential on the Ekiti elections, ungated at the moment:

The most obvious conclusion is that a well-financed and highly aggressive campaign with a bad policy record backed by state security will trump a decent policy record presented by less ruthless campaigners. [...]

State security also intervened to stop Fayemi’s fellow governors [...] from going to Ekiti on the eve of the poll. Under such security conditions, Lagos State Governor and opposition kingpin Babatunde Fashola questioned whether the vote was really free and fair as did northern activist Shehu Sani. Fayemi had conceded, they said, to avoid a bloody confrontation. [...]

From the effort and finance that the PDP put into the Ekiti vote, it’s clear that its leaders are determined to break the opposition’s grip on the south-west. [...]

Fayose’s team ran a textbook negative campaign – well funded and personally targeted.

Africa Confidential on Liberian presidential contenders for 2017


[Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf] has said she wants the dour Joseph Boakai, 69, to be the candidate of the governing Unity Party in 2017. Many think he lacks charisma but Johnson-Sirleaf has said she will do her best to make sure he wins.

George Weah, the former football star who nearly defeated Johnson-Sirleaf in 2006, has announced that he will stand for the Congress for Democratic Change. [...] Although still popular on the streets of Monrovia, Weah is not adept at making political deals and that has let him down in the past. Money could also be a problem.

No such issues afflict Benoni Urey, who until December was subject to a United Nations’ travel ban and assets freeze because of his past relationship with former President and now convicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Urey has promised to run as an independent. He is a millionaire with a large media empire in Monrovia, including newspapers, and television and radio stations, and is generous with his funds. Everyone knows his name and his past connection with Taylor probably won’t hurt him because the gaoled warlord has wide residual popularity across the country.

Urey is said to possess Taylor’s charisma without his sanguinary ruthlessness and has already attracted huge crowds in the capital and other towns.

“It’s not where you have the rich and mighty people doing their shopping.”

On the attacks on two markets in Jos, from the New York Times:

[Gad Peter, who works in the Jos office of the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program, an activist group] was near the blast site on Tuesday. “It’s a business area, but it’s for the very poor,” he said. “There are women selling tomatoes. It’s not where you have the rich and mighty people doing their shopping,” he said.

Qorvis and its shameful work for Equatorial Guinea

The work by American PR firm Qorvis for the government of Equatorial Guinea is what Teju Cole would call surrealistan.

Qorvis runs the @EGEmbassy twitter handle, and just tweeted the following:

Tweet from twitter handle run by Equatorial Guinea's PR firm, Qorvis.

Tweet from twitter handle run by Equatorial Guinea’s PR firm, Qorvis.





The link is to a YouTube video from the account What is, you might ask? It’s a site run by Qorvis to publish videos like this one.


What shows up on the tab when you open

In the 8 minute video, the interviewer, Chuck Conconi, a Qorvis vice chairman who used to be a legitimate journalist, throws softball questions to the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to the US such as: “Since there has been petroleum there have been many accomplishments. What have your accomplishments been?” The ambassador says that since 1979 one of the biggest accomplishments has been education. What does he mean by this? He means that the country has sent hundreds of people to universities abroad. I will note here that according to UNDP the mean number of years of schooling of Equatoguinean adults is 5.4 years.

Conconi, who honestly should be ashamed of himself, says, at one point, “So I assume you would use this as the kind of advice you would give to other developing countries on what to do?” (As a not-so-random aside: Life expectancy in Equatorial Guinea? 51.4 years.)

Conconi asks: “Your president made legal reform a priority. What have been some of the most significant reforms?” The ambassador says the biggest reform is the new constitution. This constitution, he does not mention, was passed amid wide allegations of voter fraud and lifted the age limit for presidents, which will allow Obiang (who has been in office for almost 35 years) to run again. Conconi, of course, asks no follow ups. The ambassador concludes by saying: “The principal of rule of law is fully observed and respected,” and the interview ends there.

Watch the interview here:

My previous post on Qorvis and Equtorial Guinea is here.

Africa Confidential on Chibok


This week, the government has been trying to extend the state of emergency for another year in the north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, all held by opposition parties. Few think the state of emergency has achieved anything, least of all a reduction in attacks. Yet Jonathan’s advisors, such as veteran Ijaw leader Edwin Clark, want to replace elected governments in those states with military administrators.

The crisis has also wrong-footed Jonathan’s political opponents in the All Progressives Congress. Jonathan’s advisors have convinced him that Boko Haram, a multi-sided organisation with local and regional ties, works with northern opposition politicians to destabilise the government. With the State Security Service closely monitoring oppositionists for any remark or action that gives succour to the insurgents, the APC coalition is keeping a low profile while policy, strategy and tactics change by the day. [...]

Politicians of all parties ask how the counter-terrorism campaign, which on average has cost over US$2 billion a year for the past three years, can have had so little effect. Millions have been spent on high-technology gadgetry procured through no-bid contracts and often useless in local conditions. Training and equipping commandos has come a very poor second, say military insiders.

Much of the blame is directed at the politicisation of the High Command. Major Gen. Kenneth Tobiah Minimah, the Chief of Army Staff appointed in January, replaced Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika: both are reputed to be friends of First Lady Patience Jonathan.

Fashola denounces VIP intros

Not for the first time, Lagos state Governor Fashola has denounced certain Nigerian customs in an article discussing his thoughts on the World Economic Forum in Abuja. (H/t to Lola Shoneyin, author of one of my favorite books)

He praises the Forum for the absence of prayers and VIP introductions. He praises the photographers for not blocking the view of the audience with iPads. And he praises the Transcorp Hilton for getting its act together to meet high hospitality standards: “They must choose whether they want to be part of the global Hilton brand name or a bad imitation where all types of stragglers roam about the reception, lobby and even corridors of what should be a hospitality facility of the highest repute.”

If a non-Nigerian had written this article I would scoff at them for focusing on the length of prayers and not more serious issues. But because Fashola wrote this…I don’t know. It’s hard to know what to think.  Complaining about the quality of one of the most expensive hotels in the country, though, is pretty elitist, whether it comes from a Nigerian or foreigner.

It’s really interesting to read this article. You can hear Fashola letting loose a rant that has clearly been building up inside him for years. Some excerpts:

The reason is that this was not a Nigerian event; it was a global franchise hosting in Nigeria.
Think of how many minutes we have spent on prayers at economic and business meetings that are Nigerian. Now multiply them into hours and days and calculate how much productive time we have lost. [...]

I did not see sessions being interrupted to announce the ‘late arrival’ of a VIP who was being led to a front seat where somebody who is not a VIP, but who arrived on time, will have to yield his seat for a person who at best should have been kept out of the venue for tardiness or, at worst, given a vacant seat the BACK of the hall. [...]

I did not see any Ipad and camera-phone totting Mamarazzi and Paparazzi and their better equipped competitors standing in front of particpants and panellists in the ‘Nigerian Way’ and obscuring the view of the audience in the hall.

Full article.