Author Archives: Dr. Carl

About Dr. Carl

I am an Assistant Professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. I have published articles in Governance, Africa Today, Democratization, International Affairs Forum, and the Journal of African Elections. Prior to receiving my Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California—San Diego, I worked as legislative director for U.S. Rep. John Conyers, and then as the National Democratic Institute’s first Country Director in Nigeria. My research focuses on comparative political institutions, democratization, and political development. I just finished writing a book on Nigerian government performance, and I publish the blog Development4Security.

How would Donald Trump’s Economic Record Measure Up in Africa?

1990 was a rough year for African economies. Most countries were emerging from a decade of Structural Adjustment programs that cut public spending, and a wave of political liberalization and democratization was beginning to chip away at dictatorships across the continent. 1990 was also a rough year for Donald Trump because his financial empire was 3.4 billion dollars in debt.  To give African readers a sense of scale, there were 29 countries with less debt than Donald Trump in 1990. One could argue that Niger, Burundi, and Chad all seemed to be doing a better job managing their money, at least by this measure. The graph below gives us a compelling visual.

African country debt, expressed in 1990 US dollars

African country debt, expressed in 1990 US dollars

Trump dealt with the looming financial catastrophe the way many shrewd American business people do: by not paying taxes. When challenged on this scenario in the presidential debates, he said “That makes me smart.”  In 1995 he exploited (or possibly abused, since one of his lawyers called the trick “legally dubious”) a tax loophole to declare an astonishing $916 million loss on his taxes. One way to compare this “private” loss to a public policy failure is look at federal budget deficits as a proxy for seeing which countries were operating at a loss in 1995. A budget deficit is a ratio comparing spending to revenue. By this measure, at least 13 countries, including Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe!!) and war ravaged Algeria were doing better than Donald Trump. The graph below, using data from the World Bank and converting Local Currency Units to 1995 US dollars, illustrates this point nicely. Nine countries had less loss than Donald Trump, and another four (Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt and Lesotho – not shown) apparently ran surpluses.

This was calculated in two steps: (1) calculated the deficit in Local Currency Unit = surplus/deficit as % of GDP x GDP in LCU, then (2) calculate the deficit in USD = deficit in LCU X (LCU/USD) exchange rate.

This was calculated in two steps: (1) deficit in Local Currency Unit = surplus/deficit as % of GDP x GDP in LCU, then (2) deficit in USD = deficit in LCU X (LCU/USD) exchange rate.

Maybe this is unfair. You can’t really compare budget deficits to corporate income, deficits are usually expressed as a share of the economy’s size, and a nation’s debt is different from corporate debt. However, a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign is that his business “success” qualifies him for the presidency. In addition, a mountain of social science research is premised on the idea that democratic politics is analogous to free markets: competition of ideas is similar to competition of goods, and voters are supposedly just like consumers.

It doesn’t really matter where you fall on this analogy. But how you vote next week matters a great deal for both Africa and America. After all, we could end up with a president who is worse at economic management than the dictators who inspired millions of Africans to leave home.

Many thanks to Erin Kelly for her research assistance and to Prof. Assen Assenov for crunching the numbers.

The Political Economy of Nigeria’s Farmer-Pastoralist Tensions

Pastoralists and Global Terrorism

This summer the Global Terrorism Index announced that Nigeria’s “Fulani militants” were the fourth most deadly terrorist organization in the world. The GTI is based on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. There’s indeed evidence that violence has increased. But it’s hard to pinpoint when and how much, and a goal of this post is to also explore some overlooked reasons as to why.

A shortcoming with the analysis is that according to the Consortium’s dataset, only one attack occurred in 2002 and precisely zero attacks occurred between 2003 and 2009. In 2010, only three attacks occurred and 2011 again saw precisely zero attacks. Since the database otherwise goes back to 1970 this makes it difficult to accurately establish the nature of a trend. This is most likely due to the dearth of online newspapers from Nigeria prior to the early 2000s, rather than coding bias. Another problem is that the Fulani, who are traditionally pastoralists, typically clash with those engaged in settled agriculture. Yet “farmers” never appear as perpetrators in Nigeria in the list of 290 incidents between 2002 and 2015. This made it easy for members of the U.S. Congress to seize on the GTI analysis to paint a picture of Islamic extremists senselessly attacking “predominantly” Christian farming communities.

Pastoralists and the Global Economy

My recent road trip through Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, and Adamawa states with Matthew Page adds important layers of nuance and raises a number of questions ripe for PhD theses research that could clarify latent sources of tension — and help inform a balanced US policy.

(1) Farms regularly violate the boundaries of Federal Grazing Reserves – Cattle herders in Gombe argued that farms often encroach on federal grazing reserves. A visit into the forest about two hours outside of Yola in Adamawa State confirmed this; the grazing reserves are marked by small monuments (pictured below).  One cause of this, according to Pastoral Reserve (PARE), is that the government has not maintained the maps for the federally established cattle routes.  Moreover, federal officials have supposedly geo-tagged the boundaries but the data have not been made public. This could help defuse tensions between farmers and herders simply by formalizing where planting is permitted and where grazers have the right of way.

Crops in South Yola violating the federal grazing reserve demarcations. (Photo by Matthew Page)

Crops in South Yola violating the federal grazing reserve demarcations. (Photo by Matthew Page)

For the pastoralists, this also means that staying on route is increasingly difficult. We walked down paths so narrow that it is impossible for even small herds to pass. Some pastoralists in Adamawa allege the farmers do this is on purpose in order to precipitate the inevitable error of animals straying from a narrow path. This then entitles farmers to (modest) financial compensation for trampled crops. It also opens the door to collusion with local police who allegedly inflate the fines imposed on cattle owners in order to take a cut.

Map of Adamawa pastoral routes.

Map of Adamawa pastoral routes.

(2) Breakdown in conflict resolution-mechanisms

In 1997, during Nigeria’s military years, the Adamawa state government issued an edict establishing a conflict resolution committee that formally remains on the books. Unfortunately, the state legislature has been mired in corruption and party switching for the last several years, rendering the committee inactive. The committee could generate missing institutional trust as well as institutional memory. Several cattle herders further explained that the lag time between a provocation by farmers and a response can be a year or longer. This makes a pastoralist retaliation appear like a random attack, or perhaps motivated by other causes such as religion. Naturally, this in turn makes it easier for the Global Terrorism Index’s “Fulani militant” label to stick. Organizations such as Chatham House have appropriately called for a “balanced response” that does not “securitize” existing tensions.

Unlike other states in the northeast and the Middle Belt, in Gombe the police have convened community meetings with a broad range of stakeholders that have helped diffuse tensions. According to a pastoralist association we met with there, the government sent detailed information about the grazing boundaries to all the Local Government Areas to help prevent farms from spreading onto federally protected pastures. The government also established ranches where cattle can get water in strategic locations, so it is easier to stay on route. If federalism is an incubator for successful policy experimentation, and the accounts from Gombe are verified, then there may be an opportunity for replication.

(3) Demand for beef is rising 

Should we should think about the pastoralists as a wave of Islamic capitalists, responding to a rising demand? The price of beef has gone up (see below) while the lifestyle of those who provide the beef is proving increasingly difficult to sustain. Nigeria has one of the fastest growing populations in the world, and urbanization has been stimulating demand for meat for decades, according to the United Nations. (I also note in my 2014 essay in African Affairs that Abuja, on the edge of the north, is the fastest growing city in West Africa). Food supplies are experiencing added stress now from millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). This could increase the risks of food shortages, beyond the initial wave that hit the northeast when farmers abandoned their crops, sellers left Maiduguri’s market, and fishermen fled Lake Chad in Boko Haram’s violent wake (and not to mention a collapsing currency).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the price of meat from cattle has gone up while key crop prices have remained flat. (No cattle price data available after 2008. Why?)

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the price of meat from cattle has gone up while key crop prices have remained flat. (No cattle price data available from FAO after 2008. Why?)

(4) Pastoralists are planting crops – Mixed farming, whereby herders settle and sometimes trade commodities such as manure fertilizer for harvested crops, was noted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a phenomenon a decade ago. I met IDPs and Fulani who are now engaged in farming in South Yola. This is important because it indicates a departure from traditional economies and also suggests (based on very limited observation) peaceful co-existence between the “new” farmers and existing ones. This too may prove difficult to sustain over time, as the legal status of these farmers as “strangers” becomes salient in a competition for scarce land.


Research Agenda:

Is there an African start-up that wants to create a smart phone app with geo-tagging that helps the pastoralists avoid straying from their routes? This could help increase livehoods, match supply with demand, and defuse local conflicts. Perhaps organizations such as the Open Government Partnership and Enough is Enough Nigeria can also generate pressure for greater transparency of federal grazing boundaries as another source of data-driven peacebuilding. Publicizing the grazing boundaries would also clarify where farmers can legally plant.

In none of our interviews did pastoralists bring up religion. Even when prompted, cattle herders insisted it was irrelevant to the conflict. What is the contemporary basis for inter-ethnic harmony and intra-ethnic conflict in agrarian communities of the northeast?

What’s the price of cattle? Naturally it varies based on quality, and is influenced by supply and demand. But it also varies based on the location, and herders say close proximity is more important than migrating for a higher price. And how does demand relate to conflict triggers over time? Are the “new” farmers growing mostly for subsistence or for surplus? If you know of any subnational data on cattle prices, please post a comment. And if you know of any funders who would like to support a small collective of college students in Adamawa willing to gather data on these issues, send me an email.


Boko Haram took our children, the government took our votes

I have just returned from a road trip through Kogi, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, and Adamawa states to conduct research for my new book, The Party’s Over: Transition, Terrorism, and Turnover in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. I met with the former Vice President, rural cattle herders, local chiefs, the Emir of Bauchi, bureaucrats, displaced persons, scholars, political party officials and civil society activists. Here are some of my preliminary reactions along with some of the questions posed by my field notes.

Displaced persons from Yobe, who have been living in an informal "host community" in Gombe State for two years. They have never been visited by any government officials.

Displaced persons from Yobe, who have been living in an informal “host community” in Gombe State for two years. They have never been visited by any government officials.

The millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the northeast are becoming an institutionalized humanitarian crisis.

Government officials have different interests with regard to the IDPs, and the government and community responses to IDPs vary from state to state. According to a variety of Nigerian government and non-governmental sources, some emergency management officials and local governments see humanitarian assistance (especially foreign aid) as an economic boon that arrived just in time to cushion the shock of the country’s deep recession. By contrast, some state governments, such as Adamawa’s, would like to send the IDPs home. With 270,000 IDPs around the city of Yola alone, according to an enumeration conducted by the American University of Nigeria, we are talking about large numbers of people who could become a drain on state resources and the current local goodwill.

Not only is this a recipe for an ineffective response to one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises, absent much stronger and more coherent coordination it is also a recipe for corruption. According to one example provided (not yet verified), Borno’s State Emergency Management Agency counts more camps around Maiduguri than the United Nations does; the camps transcend Local Government Area borders so officials see this as an opportunity to inflate aid demands.

The humanitarian crisis outside Maiduguri requires urgent attention, and the assistance within Maiduguri begs for more scrutiny.

Displaced children living in Gombe.

It’s good to see more reporting coming out of Maiduguri, once the center of Boko Haram’s violence in Borno State. But news stories coming out of Dalori and other areas would benefit from shift from human interest to governance. Allegations of wastefulness by donors and corruption by government officials need to be investigated. Much of the humanitarian corruption is also intertwined with military malfeasance. We spoke with the family of a colonel who refused to falsify weapons procurement contracts and was sent to the front lines, where he was shot by Boko Haram. Positive stories about clever innovations and solutions for efficient allocation also need to be highlighted – and verified if they come from official sources. This is difficult to do with the limited access that Nigerian journalists have had to budgets, planning, and much of the northeast.

Any reconstruction plan for the northeast needs transparency and democratic input commensurate with the scale of the spending.

The plan that exists, prepared by the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiatives, has not been widely shared and is stalled within the cabinet, according to sources in Abuja.  (Click here to read the executive summary.)  Funding and a coherent implementation strategy, with oversight, are essential both for the livelihood of the displaced and to maintain long term harmony in states that hope to send their visitors home someday.

Returning from the fields - ethnic groups that traditionally avoid settled agriculture are planting crops in southern Yola,

Returning from the fields – ethnic groups that traditionally avoid settled agriculture are planting crops in South Yola.

Those who refuse to return (“I am never going back to Maiduguri,” an old man told me in the forest in South Yola) will eventually face discrimination unless federal citizenship laws concerning indigeneity are resolved. The IDPs who stay – Muslim Fulani who are now planting farms in Adamawa – risk becoming unwelcome “strangers,” with possible comparisons to settler communities in northern Jos that have been conflict flash points.

The legal status of IDPs in host communities is also important because it could potentially lead to a perpetual state of political disenfranchisement. In both Gombe and Adamawa, IDPs said that their vote “did not count” or they were unable to vote through the temporary voter registration mechanism established by the Independent National Electoral Commission. When asked what they wanted to “teach” the government, most said they will not vote again at all. This disillusionment is the first step down a road to deeper feelings and acts of resentment and alienation.

Displaced children and almajiris in Yola. Many analyses argue they provide fertile recruits for Boko Haram, while some studies question that evidence (see Hannah Hoechner 2014).

Displaced children and almajiris in Yola. Many analyses argue they provide fertile recruits for Boko Haram, while some studies question that evidence (see Hannah Hoechner 2014).

Mozambique: Free speech or insulting the President?

On July 22, 2015, Amnesty International issued an action alert about a crackdown on free speech in Mozambique. In this guest post, Gary Littlejohn provides context. Join the call to action from the Association for Concerned Africa Scholars here, or post a comment below.

A well-known public intellectual Dr. Castel-Branco and a national newspaper editor Mr. Mbanze are due to go on trial in Mozambique at the end of August, charged with insulting the then President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza in 2014.  It is illegal to insult the President. A new President was elected last year, but the remarks by Castel-Branco on Facebook prior to the last election, remarks which were reproduced in a national newspaper and elsewhere, are not in dispute.  That immediately raises the question as to why other media that reproduced these remarks are not also on trial. Given that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Mozambican Constitution, this raises an important question concerning what the limits of such freedom are in relation to the law against insulting the President. To understand the situation in which these charges were made, some background information should help.

Loss of legitimacy amid increasing problems in Mozambique

Following the end of Apartheid in South Africa and Mozambican multiparty elections in 1994, Mozambique had a period of fairly rapid economic growth from a very low base during the rest of the 1990s.  In my view, this had as much to do with regular rainfall as with the economic policies supported by the World Bank, the IMF and European Union. Towards the end of the 1990s, a large project (USD 2 billion) was implemented.  It had been arranged with the backing of South African government guarantees and is known as the Maputo Corridor. It included a new aluminium production facility near Maputo, the capital city, as well as a new road from South Africa to Maputo and bauxite supplied from a mine just inside the nearby South African border.  Electricity is provided by hydroelectric power from Tete Province to the north of Mozambique.

President Obama greeting President Guebuza at the Africa Summit in Washington, 2014 (Photo: State Department)

President Obama greeting President Guebuza at the Africa Summit in Washington, 2014 (Photo: State Department)

By 2003, when this investment had been completed, this capital intensive, low employment approach to growth was a success in terms of GDP growth and the balance of payments, but did nothing to reduce poverty in Mozambique, as a poverty survey in 2002 showed. It was an export oriented, extractive industry model that subsequently relied on encouraging foreign direct  investment by tax concessions and few restrictions on repatriation of profits, presumably in the hope that that the resulting infrastructural investment would facilitate other forms of economic activity. In 2010, a second wave of such investment began, this time coming from Brazil, with the main export market expected to be for coal to China.  A similar ‘corridor’ approach was again used, with rehabilitated and newly constructed rail links to the coast. Meanwhile a second poverty survey in 2009 showed that poverty had actually increased from around 52% to 54% of the population.

Apart from the problem of ‘jobless growth’ the government had started to lose legitimacy for other reasons largely related to poor management in various ministries that tended to adversely affect  those on low incomes. For example, in March 2007 a huge munitions depot in a suburb of Maputo exploded, killing about 500 people and injuring many more.  The government was slow to respond to this disaster, which led to very great criticism in the media and the eventual replacement of the then Minister of Defence, who was the brother-in-law of President Guebuza.  What made it worse was that a previous President, Samora Machel, had publicly called for this depot to be dealt with in 1986, not long before his death, so this problem was well known to have been neglected for over 20 years.  A year or so later the Minister of the Interior was tried and found guilty of corruption.

One index of this declining legitimacy was the decline in the turnout for Presidential and parliamentary elections. In addition, the Frelimo share of the vote went down in both presidential and parliamentary elections from about 75% to about 57% between 2009 and 2014.   Another indicator was media criticism of alleged police involvement with organised crime.

The onset of Brazilian investment also led to fairly large scale popular resistance to the effects of such projects, including over claims of forced resettlement, compensation promised but not fully paid, poor quality of land on to which people had been relocated, and so on. Such protests included protests over ‘land grabs’ that were associated with a large multinational project for agribusiness (known as ProSavana) associated with the most northern corridor in Mozambique, the Nacala Corridor. The protests were frequently suppressed by what many considered to be violent police action.

Meanwhile, Mozambican social scientists whose leading figures often had PhDs from European universities were developing high quality published analyses of social and economic problems in Mozambique. The most internationally prominent group was organised in the IESE (Institute of Social and Economic Studies) which had grown originally by consultancy work funded mostly from abroad, but which then also began to hold highly publicised, well organised annual conferences that had prominent national media coverage, including from several TV stations and newspapers. These large conferences included academics from North America, Southern Africa and Europe, and were invariably accompanied by one or two book launches by the IESE itself, as well as other book launches, including in 2012 one by a Japanese academic.  Such well publicised critiques and analyses doubtless contributed to a feeling of insecurity in some ruling FRELIMO circles.

Limited resurgence of armed conflict

In April 2013, armed conflict broke out in Sofala Province near the headquarters of the leader of the main opposition party, RENAMO. Its leader Afonso Dhlakama had left Maputo in December 2012, citing a wish to be nearer to the people. This move may have been a response to the declining parliamentary fortunes of RENAMO, and to the fact that he had consistently failed to win the Presidential elections since 1994.  Members of the Rapid Intervention Force (FIR), a sort of paramilitary police, had sought to arrest Dhlakama on the charge of holding illegal arms. This attempt had failed but some RENAMO personnel had been arrested and were held in a nearby police station, from which they were ‘rescued’ by other RENAMO members in a fight that included fatalities.

That incident sparked months of low level conflict, including armed raids on traffic on the main north-south highway in Mozambique, and sabotage of rail lines thereby  threatening mineral exports. The situation was only partially resolved in time for Dhlakama to register once again for the elections of October 2014, and in some respects it has still not been resolved, with some violence in Tete Province in July 2015.  RENAMO disputes the results of the 2014 elections, and is refusing to cooperate with the government in various ways.

The way in which this armed conflict and its related political dispute were handled by President Guebuza drew some further criticism in the media and elsewhere.  The general in charge of the Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM) made a public statement near the start of this conflict (April 2013) in which he made it clear that the FADM would not be involved, since it was an internal political matter.  Soon afterwards, his contract was not renewed.

Internal FRELIMO Manoeuvres

These various problems have doubtless led to a growing sense of unease within at least some sections of FRELIMO. The situation was exacerbated by an attempt by President Guebuza to have the Constitution changed so that he could try to be elected for a third term. This failed and he then allegedly tried to arrange for a candidate that he preferred to be nominated by FRELIMO, but this too failed. The latter political setback took place at the time of the intractable dispute with RENAMO. It seems fair to comment that President Guebuza’s support for what might be termed neoliberal authoritarian rule was in increasing difficulty by mid-2014, and that some in FRELIMO ruling circles apparently wished to distance themselves from it.

Facebook Remarks

Following a demonstration in 2014, Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, at that time the Director of the IESE, made some remarks about the demonstration in which he had participated. These remarks on Facebook were soon reproduced in various formats. Castel-Branco was eventually taken in for questioning, but only some time later and after a lot of support had been publicly expressed for him. This initial questioning was reportedly conducted in an orderly quiet manner, almost as if it was a formality, and he was then released.

Click here to read Castel-Branco’s essay, “Growth, capital accumulation and economic porosity in Mozambique: social losses, private gains” in the Review of African Political Economy.

Then in 2015 a lawyer Giles Cistac was assassinated apparently for stating his opinion that a proposal from RENAMO for some kind of political decentralisation was consistent with the Constitution.  Cistac had not supported the RENAMO proposal: he had merely given his legal opinion that it was not inherently unconstitutional. It was widely believed that the assassins were supporters of ex-President Guebuza.  There was a large public demonstration in protest at this assassination. It was heavily policed and some participants later declared that they had felt intimidated, but there was no violence on either side.

I am told that Castel-Branco was subsequently in touch through Facebook with the group said to include the assassins, debating with them about their worldview. It is in this context that the charges against him were resurrected. Originally the trial was due to take place on August 1st, but since Castel-Branco was in the UK, it has been postponed to the 31st.  Castel-Branco is returning voluntarily to Mozambique, since he feels that the trial is necessary to establish what the limits on free speech are.

From January 2010 until April 2015, when he resigned on an amicable basis, Gary Littlejohn was Briefings and Debates editor of the Review of African Political Economy. He lived in Mozambique in 1982-83 and has since returned on a regular basis. He is the author of Concealed Caches: A review of disarmament efforts in Mozambique, Working Paper 21, Small Arms Survey, Geneva, forthcoming 2015.

Burundi: Corruption/Dictatorship 1, Democracy/Freedom 0

Round one is over in Burundi – score:  corruption/dictatorship 1 – democracy/freedom 0

In this guest post, Veronica Crowley (Twitter @veronicacrowle1), a frequent visitor to sub-Saharan Africa for HIV-related work, urges the US to do more to defend democracy in Burundi.

In a potentially deadly turn of events, Pierre Nkurunziza has not only claimed victory in an election deemed fraudulent by the International Community, but declared his inauguration would take place six days early.  This was announced on August 20th and took place later the same day;  six days ahead of the original date of August 26th.  If the International Community allows this to stand, it sends a message that Nkurunziza can violate laws, steal power, and keep the people oppressed, abused and hopeless.

The author, during a visit to Rwanda

The author, during a visit to Rwanda

The United States has no choice now but to act.  We pledged our commitment to democracy in Africa and in John Kerry’s speech, May 2014 he said “We need to make certain that we grab the choice that seizes the future, and we need to refuse to be dragged back into the past”.  Burundi is being dragged into the past by one man and if we do not counteract his actions immediately, other leaders will see it as a green light to do the same.

The United States must solidify a united front with the EAC; the AU; the EU and the UN and publicly call for Nkurunziza to step down and demand that credible elections are held in the presence of observers from the UN, EU and AU to ensure safe and fair treatment for all parties including a candidate, a different candidate, for the CNDD-FDD.  We must be prepared to place sanctions on Nkurunziza and his inner circle if he does not step down immediately.

We have said numerous times “never again” in John Kerry’s own words in his declarative speech in May 2014 “And though we never forget — we never forget — how our first ties were forged in some of the darkest chapters of human history, we still start from a strong foundation.”

We are forgetting and history is repeating itself before our eyes.  The similarities between the Interahamwe youth militia in Rwanda in 1994 and the current youth militia in Burundi, the Imbonerakure, are chilling and cannot be ignored.  Like the Interahamwe in Rwanda, the Imbonerakure enjoys support from the ruling party.  The Imbonerakure is now facing a similar tense situation that is on the brink explosion and they are equip to unleash unimaginable destruction; like the Interahamwe did after the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane in ’94.  The US must work with the UN to disband and disarm the Imbonakure before they unleash more terror.

Let’s never forget now!   Time for round two America!

Follow Veronica Crowley on Twitter by clicking here.