When the deep dark winter sets in always remember this beautiful fall color and know that nothing in our life is permanent; everything in life comes and goes, the good times, the bad times and the ugly times.
May is that time of the year in the northeast of maybe spring or summer
It is the peak of spring and the beginning of summer. It sometimes plays in our mentality.
Maybe its rains today, sunny tomorrow or cloudy the next. It is warm today and maybe cold.
I start with peak clarity and deep confusion, then I pick up to decide because what I invested in May will determine my June. May is beautiful, hopeful confusing but also a time to be decisive and seek clarity. May time to plan for the remaining year.
Africa the motherland
Oh! Africa full of beauty and gem, luscious and alive
The sun rising majestically. I’m in awe of its beauty,
The red, yellow sky big goodnight and blue in the day
It ushered magnificent moon for light at night
Innumerable stars are ever bright in African sky
Sparkling like a diamond in the African night
Oh Africa! What can be compare to your beauty?
The river runs deep and shallow ever flowing
The blue oceans meet at the tip of the south
The Ubo spring ever fresh and sweet
Food still grows from nature, and delicious
As I lay in bed I hear the whistle of the wind
That gives great melody to the tree whispering
And birds singing as cock crow at dawn
Stretching out with a smile, as the sun floods in
The day begins. What a wonderful way to wake in Africa
My heart, my home and God’s grand design. My Africa!
What happen to you oh Africa?
Men of power eating your children while trodden on you
How long would you survive this wickedness?
Your children are being preyed upon for money and greed
Since 1999 when Nigerian transitioned once again to democracy, the country's political crisis has deepened in every presidential election circle. Last month – January 2019, while in Nigeria on fieldwork, I had the opportunity to observe the pre-election activities in four regions of the country. I traveled to the Southwest, Abuja, Northeast, and the Southeast interacting with people of different backgrounds on their political views and the state of the country. Compare to the 2014/2015-election season in Nigeria; a lot has changed in the political landscape.
First, the Nigerian national political imaginations and cleavages – religion, region, and ethnicity are not as salient as it was in 2015. This is understandable given that in the last election, it was a context between the sitting President, a southern Christian, and a northern Muslim. This year, the two major candidates are both Fulani Muslim from the north. The current President (Muhammed Buhari) is from the northwest while AtikuAbubakar is from the northeast.
Second, there is a lot of lethargy. People do not think their vote will count. Unlike four years ago whereby there were a robust civic engagement and the confidence that every vote counts. This time, there is a general belief that this election will be rigged, which is not new in Nigeria. However, there is a regression in political freedom as oppositions claim of suppression. Some activists I spoke with confirmed that they have been threatened when their report is not favorable to the government.
Third, in addition to the suppression of opposition voices, political violence has escalated in the country as never before. Some people said that they are not voting for fear of their lives. Just a few days ago, President Buhari ordered the police and the military to be ruthless with vote-riggers. The problem is that this is emboldening the police and the military that are already known for their recklessness and operating outside the law. Many have condemned the President's order and rhetoric. The opposition calls it jungle justice and licenses to kill. They accused the President of politicizing and using the military to further his political interest. The two major parties will commit election fraud. It is a matter of who will be more ruthless?
Fourth, there is a problem with voters card as many, especially in the south, complained of inability to collect their voter's card. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) confirmed the voters' ID problem and also noted that election would not be held in some areas due to PVC problem and ballot allocation. Despite postponing the election for one week, these problems have not been solved. The INEC insisted that the election will be held on Saturday 23rd February. It is very likely it would hold, but the legitimacy of the election will be in question.
Generally, the improvement that was made four years ago in the Nigerian democratic process has been erased. Nigerian elections have always been a zero-sum game, and the winner takes it all. In the absence of a better word, I say, this election is an absolute-zero-sum game. This is why many have resigned to whatever outcome would be. It is now 'a wait and see situation'.
I traveled to Nigeria this January for follow-up research on my study of Boko Haram insurgency. This is my fourth field trip on the same topic, but for the first time, I was able to visit Borno State. I think it was well overdue. I have been writing on two different angles of Boko Haram insurgency –examining civil/military relations and the use of female suicide bombers. I had to put them on hold because of the gap in data. The last time I was in Nigeria in 2016, I was not allowed to travel to Maiduguri due to security reason. Despite having a research assistant, I needed to travel to the epicenter. Another motivation for the trip was to observe the upcoming Nigerian election and Nigerian political behavior. I will be writing more about the election.
I arrived Lagos on Wednesday night and take the first flight to the Enugu to visit some part of southeastern Nigeria for three days. From there I traveled to Abuja. I had the opportunity to interview some key people that have been working with Boko Haram and have had direct contact with the would-be and failed female suicide bombers. Information from the Abuja interviews shifted my perspectives, and I had to revaluate my questions before traveling to Maiduguri.
My trip to Maiduguri was not without fear, especially from family and friends. However, I got much encouragement from people that have visited and those living there. The fear of Borno is like an epidemic in Nigeria. At the airport, I found that two major groups are traveling to Maiduguri – people living there and International Non-governmental Agencies with their security personnel. There were a lot of first timers like me. However, for some reason, people come to me for questions about Maiduguri. I met a young banker posted to Maiduguri. He was also frightened on the prospect of working and living in Maiduguri. He noted that he is only going there to change his posting back.
It was surreal when I arrived Maiduguri. First, there were many foreigners. I have not seen such number foreigners in military gear anywhere in Nigeria. I met with my driver Usman (not real name). He was a very nice man proud of his city – Maiduguri. He knows his city very well. He told me stories of every street we passed, new constructions going on — the renovated school buildings with full air-conditioned classes. We drove through what he described as the most affluent area of the city and possibly the entire state — pointing at different magnificent buildings and their owners. Then we got to a large golden-gated estate that took half of the street. He said, this owned by the former governor. He had just a wife and couple of kids. What would he do with this? Along this quiet street are about five ragged, hungry boys begging for money. The first thing that comes to my mind was the Almajiris.
I asked Usman about them. He explained that there are possibly more of them in Borno state specifically in big cities like Maiduguri because historically Borno was center of Islamic education. He further explained - before the insurgency, truckloads of Almajiris are regularly dumped in the state from neighboring states and countries (Chad and Niger). The role of the Amajiri in the insurgency is a big debate. I learn a lot about Maiduguri and Borno state in general from Usman. I will use him when I go back.
However, the best part of my visit was gathering information on various aspect of Boko Haram insurgency. My contacts were very generous with their time. They were open and spoke freely. Some did not mind to be recorded, but people are more open without recording. I was able to visit different training centers for the Joint Civilian Task Force (JCT). I was surprised to find the number of women members of the JCT. I also visited a newly established school for girls that takes in the most vulnerable affected by the insurgency. Female education and women empowerment are now being promoted. Some women activists observed that there is more interest in female education than ever before. Generally, state and national government may not be doing much, but the citizens are. It is heartwarming to see the resilient and the work of local citizens in rebuilding their city and state. They gave me hope. I will take time in subsequent blogs to profile some of these local NGOs and their works.
There is a real and imagined fear of northeastern Nigeria. The real is the Boko Haram insurgency, while the imagined is that no one lives there and stepping your feet in the area is a death sentence. Contrary to general perceptions Maiduguri was peaceful and quiet during my visit. People were friendly and receptive. Even the banker acquaintance, changed his mind about his reposting. However, the economy is not doing well. On the surface, it seems like business as usual, but my interaction with the residents show that the city is feeling the economic impact of Boko Haram. Despite its relative peace, many people left the state with their businesses at the peak of the insurgency in 2014. The Borno state major agricultural produces are millet, wheat, rice, and peanut. Borno is also known for its fishery and beef.Unfortunately, about 2.5 million of the population are now displaced and are not able to go back to their communities and farm. Due to the declining economic activities, the cost of living at least for the visitor is astronomically high. Hotel accommodation, food, and taxi are more expensive in Maiduguri compared to major cities like Abuja and Lagos.
I am pleased to have made this trip and thankful to those that helped me.I am planning on traveling again pending funding. It has been very enlightening. I don’t think anyone could write about Boko Haram without visiting Nigeria, but one's understanding of the group insurgency will be more robust and authentic by visiting northeastern Nigeria. I cannot wait to review my data and start writing again.
There is ongoing question about the USA African policy. In 1964, Rupert Emerson’s Foreign Affairs article observed that despite that the US is fully engaged in pursuit of active engagement with other regions including the Middle East there is lack of commitments in Africa, south of the Sahara. As the world leader with military and economic tentacle across the globe, concrete and identifiable American interest was sparse in Africa. However, since 9/11, the American policy towards Africa has been strongly influenced by national security interests and in particular by the fight against international terrorism and Islamic radicalization (see Gorm Olsen, 2017). This motivated the establishment of the United States African Command generally known as AFRICOM in 2007.
As stated by the mission statement, AFRICOM “United States Africa Command, in concert with interagency and international partners, builds defense capabilities, responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity”. Since its formalization and full operation in 2008, AFRICOM has taken both soft power and military strategies in Africa. Its activities includes humanitarian aid and military training.
African countries have been suspicious of AFRICOM. The African leaders and citizens do not see the Command as a force of good in the continent: be it in the promotion of good governance, improved economic investment and even security. Rather the Command is viewed as a deliberate strategy by the US to subvert African sovereignty while protecting American interest through military incursion. Some have gone as far as calling AFRICOM the vehicle for a new American ‘imperialism’ in Africa. This perception is not without merit given that this was established at the height of the US activities in Iraq. And there has been a continuing erosion of the US aid and trade in Africa. Even though the US enjoys goodwill from African countries in general, it has a legacy of helping to prop dictators and dethroning governments that do not serve its interest. American government has also shown limited response to major crises (for example, Rwanda and DRC) and responding militarily where it needs a more constructive response. For examples, the US airstrikes in Somalia and the invasion of Libya. There was also no consultation with any African country or umbrella organization such as the African Union before establishing the AFRICOM. Perhaps, this explains why African countries were united in opposing the US initial plan to establish the Command headquarters in an African country. Furthermore, African countries with the exception of Kenya and Rwanda rejected defense pact with the Africom.
Over the years, the Command has attempted to expand its role and boost its non-military activities (soft power). Accordingly, it has promoted some programs such as the African Partnership Station that provides security assistance, training and humanitarian relief to African countries facing varying degrees of challenges in these areas. One of its noted humanitarian activities yet, is the role the Command played during the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
The major problem with the AFRICOM approach and the general US strategy in Africa is viewing the continent homogeneously as a terrorist and risk-infested region. Africa has its share of problems, but it is still not the most terrorist dominated region. Homegrown terrorism that directly impacts the US is more prevalent in the US, Western Europe and the Middle East. Moreover, the problem of the continent is not a military one, but mostly economics and political. Therefore, many observers have continued to view AFRICOM as yet another imperialistic military engagement. After the Niger incident in October 2017 that led to the death of four American soldiers, there seem to be reassessments by the Command. Most recently, the Command has made some efforts to boost its image and ultimately enhance its relations with African countries especially the regional powers – Nigeria and South Africa. The commander of the US Africa Command Marine Corps General Thomas D Waldhauser visited South Africa in March and noted on the need for deeper engagement in what he called a strategy of “by, with and through” partner nations on the continent. He also acknowledged that African challenges are not necessarily a military one. The Command’s strategy and activities will likely evolve over time to something that would hopefully become acceptable by most Africans. That is yet to be seen. In the meantime, it is important to ask if African leaders, citizens and interested parties’ suspicion of the Command are valid and in order? Is the AFRICOM the comprehensive American foreign policy in Africa or just a military presence?
There is need for an assessment of the Command’s mission, vision and activities. Accordingly, going by the vision and mission of the Command, which states – “ It responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity”. On the US foreign policy, the Command suggests to carry the US foreign policy primarily through military-to-military activities of partnership with African countries at both regional and international level. As would be expected the AFRICOM is to protect the interest of the US and its citizens. However, it becomes a different story when that interest is directly in conflict with the interest of a country and more so a continent it is operating in. AFRICOM is not the first of its kind. Since the end of the WWII, the US has established military base around the globe including the UK, Germany, and Japan. AFRICOM is also the latest of other 10 similar military combatant commands in different regions - United States European Command (EUCOM), The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) etc. The persistent African opposition to the Command is mostly due to the lack of comprehensive concrete American economic policy on Africa.
While China economic relations and investments in Africa is rising, the US established AFRICOM. When focused on its primary role of military activities, AFRICOM is not seen in good light. Ten years after the establishment of the Command, the record merely confirms the negative perception that welcomes its inception. Its core goal of fostering regional security has produced an opposite effect. For example, the American led NATO bombing campaign of Libya that brutally killed Gaddafi was the most single biggest impact of AFRICOM till date. The destabilization of Libya without a concrete plan to build the country opened a door to mass influx of weapons, aimless mercenaries and rise of insurgencies in the Western Sahel of Africa. The result was civil war in Mali, a peaceful and relative stable country before then. There was also the enhanced military capacity of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad and destabilization and armed conflicts in Central African Republic. The response to the crisis was an increase US troop to Africa, - over 700 military missions across Africa: an increase of 300 percent since the launch of the AFRICOM. Despite the increased presence of American military through AFRICOM, there is yet to be any visible impact in terms of security or otherwise. So it is understandable that African leaders and citizens see the Command as a military incursion and military imperialism. This action of the Command merely confirms conspiracy theorists that claim it is on an imperialist mission in Africa.
Clearly, AFRICOM was never for the interest of Africa. As stated by the Command webpage, “United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) advances American interests in Africa by deploying elements of U.S. national power in a persistent manner”. It is rather, a means to establish American military might and deter other countries that poses a threat especially China and Russia.
It is also wrong to view AFRICOM as a totality of American foreign policy on Africa. Rather, AFRICOM is an American military strategic outpost in Africa. The difference is that foreign policy is perceived as mutual engagement and relations with other region or country. AFRICOM does not represent such a relationship. There is yet to be a well articulated American foreign policy on Africa. Each American administration tends to formulate its own African policy. For example, there is no concrete structural US/Africa trade agreement. US trade with sub-Saharan Africa has been facilitated mainly through trade preference programs US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Perhaps, Africa as a region is not a priority in America's sphere of interest. The only country in Africa that American government recognizes as significant in its interest is Egypt, which is treated as part of Middle East rather than an African country. African leaders and citizens had a high hope of American positive engagement in Africa especially in area of development during the Obama administration. Ironically, it was during the Obama Presidency that American militarization of Africa was amply expanded, while its’ economic engagement was declining.
Perhaps, AFRICOM could be a force for good for both the US and African countries in which it operates on. There is a critical need for deeper partnership between African countries and the AFRICOM. The world is more complex and no country is insignificant more so a continent. There is a shift in the global political economy. Africa has little to lose in the sphere of this shift given that most countries in the continent are already at the bottom. However, it has a lot to gain as the global powers shift to equalization and possibly tip to another side. While, Africa should continue to be suspicious of the military engagement of any Command or countries including AFRICOM, it is also important for the continent to take control of its destiny and dictate the pace and substance of engagement with the other countries. The rise of China has shown, that countries gain respect at the international stage when they can manage their own political economy. AFRICOM is not a wholistic American foreign policy in Africa, rather it is a military agency established to protect American interest, but it can also do so in way that benefit African countries.
 See: https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/africom-partners-with-african-countries-to-fight-extremism-13640542
See an article by Nick Turse detailing American military expansion in Africa. http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176272/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_the_u.s._military_moves_deeper_into_africa/
I remember growing up hearing ‘Africa will liberate Zimbabwe’ a song by Bob Marley and the Wailers. The first stanza of the song reads like this:
Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgment there is no partiality
So arm in arms, with arms
We'll fight this little struggle
'Cause that's the only way
We can overcome our little trouble
What was implanted in my head and heart at the time was the chorus “Africa will liberate Zimbabwe” not knowing the full lyric until much later. However, it spurred my interest in Zimbabwe and was a catalyst in writing my Master's thesis on a comparative analysis on agricultural development in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. The song is even more powerful when one pays close attention to the entire lyrics. It aptly captured the situation and mood of Zimbabwe at the time. One would better appreciate the song when you see some documentaries and interviews of events leading to independence. Listening to an important interview granted by Mugabe in anticipation of gaining independence in 1976, illustrated the tenacity of Zimbabweans for a hopeful and bright future. At the time, Mugabe seemed like the thoughtful man who would take his country to the expected future. For example, when he was asked of his role in an independent Zimbabwe, Mugabe declared “for myself, I see a role assigned to me by my people, my party first and foremost. Whatever my party asks me to do I do it”. That was Mugabe in 1976 before he captured the state and the country as his kingdom while squandering the hope and the future the people fought for.
Immediately after Mugabe became the president of Zimbabwe in 1980, things took a different turn from his proposed servant of his people for freedom and pursuit of equality, democracy and progress. First, Mugabe put aside the goal of liberation –freedom, equity and land distribution and embarked on the suppression of the opposition through threats and elimination. One high profile example was several attempts on the life of Joshua Nkomo. The veterans who fought for the independence as guerrilla armies were not spared. After years of neglect and little or no result from their agitation for land distribution and pension, the veterans became Mugabe’s most prominent critics. Their grievances were met with ridicule and coercion. Mugabe dismissed and called them “armchair critics.” He ruled and ruined the country with an iron hand, of which Mahmood Mamdani aptly observed, “There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behavior of his supporters.” Mugabe did not only ruled by coercion but by the strong support of his inner circle including his ousted disgruntled former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa whom with the military leaders led by the Army commander, Constantino Chiwenga orchestrated the coup.
Despite his age, Mugabe tried to hold onto power ‘with his dead cold hand.’ On November 22nd, 2017, Mugabe finally sent his resignation letter three days after publicly refusing to resign. The speaker of parliament read his letter to a special joint session of the assembly. Incidentally, the special session was convened to impeach Mugabe, aged 93 after 37 years of rule. The resignation brought jubilation and celebration in Zimbabwe. Perhaps, there is a need for caution. No one knows what the future holds for Zimbabwe. Is this an end of an era or just a continuation of the same pattern?
So far, the situation has been peacefully managed. And for the sake of the beautiful country, I hope it remains so. The question arising is, why now and where were these people in the past decades? The only reason we are witnessing the current event is that Mugabe is 93 years old and since he is not an immortal being, his demise is inevitable, which explains the struggle for power between Mugabe’s second wife Grace and his former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. Grace with her husband Robert Mugabe took Zimbabwe as their kingdom, of which power must be transferred to the member of the family – the wife in this case. This plan was not a hidden agenda. Before the sacking of the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the catalyst for the current situation, Grace Mugabe had spoken in public that her husband should name a successor while pivoting herself as the one. On the other hand, Mnangagwa viewed himself as the rightful heir to the throne having helped Mugabe’s hold to power and in the pillaging of the country. The sacking of Mnangagwa who felt entitled to take-over for his loyalty towards Mugabe paved the way for Grace's possible succession to the throne. This is what led to the silent coup. Hence, the political drama is merely a power struggle for another state capture and control of Zimbabwe. It has nothing to do with the welfare of Zimbabweans and the beloved country’s fate.
What is currently going on in Zimbabwe is not different from some African countries. We have Kenyatta the son of the first president of Kenya as the president of Kenya. There is Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Father and son duo has ruled Togo for 50 years. In 2015, the country voted in Gnasssingbe for the third time. Gnassingbé is the son and immediate successor of Togo’s fifth president—Gnassingbé Eyadema. There is also President Ian Khama of Mauritius. If one follows current political analysis, there is the likelihood that Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma may be the next president of South Africa. Cases of a political dynasty that guarantees a family member replaces another differ from one country to another. For example, one cannot compare the case of Grace Mugabe whose only credence to power is marrying Robert Mugabe to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who began as an anti-apartheid activist and have been in government since 1994. The case remains; that most family transfer of political power in Africa is not by merit.
Also, a political dynasty is not peculiar to Africa nor is it dominant in the continent, the USA for example, in recent time, had the Bushes. There are similar patterns in South Asian countries like the Philippines and South Korea. These countries had their father-son leadership, but they were not immediate as there were some time gaps. They were also based on actual election competition and not a staged imposed or inherited pattern obtainable in some African countries. So, we hope that the people could see the ouster of Mugabe as a lesson that no one is invisible. There is nothing wrong with political dynasty as long as one gets to power by merit in a free and fair competitive election.
As of the time of this writing, the ZANU/PF party has ousted Mugabe as the party leader, and negotiation is still underway to determine who takes over from him. It is very likely Emmerson Mnangagwa will replace Mugabe. One thing for sure, there is no evidence that any of the interested parties have the interest of Zimbabwe and its people at heart. Power grabbing persists while Zimbabwe and Africans, in general, are yet to liberate itself after more than half a century of independence. For how long would this power struggle at the expense of the country and its people continue so that Africans can freely building their countries. As we wait for the next phase of Zimbabwe, we hope that whoever takes power will preside over a free and fair election and the winner will free Zimbabwe for real this time around so that the country could fulfill its destiny.
As Bob Marley continued …
No more internal power struggle;
We come together, to overcome, the little trouble
Soon we'll find out who is, the real revolutionary
Cause I don't want my people to be contrary