Africa Notes: Famous Africans, Kony 2012, and a Cocoa Map

Famous Africans
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in the World. Other Africans who made the list include: South African Paralympic medalist Oscar Pistorius, Egyptian Samira Ibrahim, Tunisian scholar-politician Rached Ghannouchi, and Gambian Fatou Bensouda, the new head of the International Criminal Court.

Kony 2012
Opinio Juris
has an interesting set online forum on “Kony 2012: The Social, the Media, and the Activism: Kony Meets World.”

The Cocoa Map
The Guardian’s “World of Chocolate” via Business Insider. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are the clear global leaders in production, but I must say I hadn’t realized how important Indonesia is to this market.

Africa Notes: Boko Haram and a failed special forces rescue attempt

Boko Haram is increasingly capturing the media’s attention. Its members have engaged in an unfortunately consistent set of attacks on the Nigerian population over the last two years. As Richard Dowden says in a blog post today (“Boko Haram – More Complicated Than You Think”), this group began as a somewhat peaceful group. For Dowden, it was after their leader was tortured to death in 2009 that violence became part of their agenda. (See also Alex Thurston: “Boko Haram in National Perspective”.)

This group has raised a number of significant challenges for the Nigerian government, which still deals with instability in the Niger Delta. They have tried to ramp up their security, to try them in courts, and to engage in dialogue. It is still not entirely clear what they want (see Dickinson on “What Boko Haram Wants”and Anzalone’s discussion of this), but it is clear that their primary focus is on Nigeria-specific issues. So while their tactics and “jihadi” framing (and perhaps funding?) might tie them to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), they haven’t yet emphasized that other group’s global agenda.

The impacts of these events are happening at multiple levels. Within Nigeria, there is the obvious political instability that such terrorism breeds. A report last Friday said that 10,000 people had fled Northern Nigeria for Niger and Chad (two of the very poorest countries in the world and not the first place I would go if I were escaping a calamity!). A recent report from Executive Analysis, Ltd at African Arguments, factors in Boko Haram’s activities in considering Nigeria’s “risks of a coup or civil war.” There are also important economic effects within Nigeria. Alex, at SahelBlog, also notes this (and is a great source for information on Boko Haram in general). Chikjioke Ohuocha reported recently for Reuters that the insurgency is “forcing extra spending on security…diverting money away from needed infrastructure spending and could be costing as much as 2 percent of the country’s economic output.” He also cited an investment analyst as saying that the scale and location of the attacks (far from the major commercial hubs) have meant that so far “foreign investors are prepared to live with the threat”.

At the global level, this is impacting international views on both Nigeria and the African continent. IR blogger Walter Russell Mead things Nigeria’s government is “doing little to defuse the threat”. And he uses Boko Haram as an example of how Africa’s problems are still really deep. All of that Afro-optimism that we have been hearing about economic growth across Africa, he suggests, is probably just another “false dawn”.

What happened yesterday: the failed rescue attempt.

British and Nigerian Special Forces failed in a rescue attempt of Italian Franco Lamolinara and British citizen Chris McManus, both of whom were kidnapped by members of Boko Haram. The kidnappers apparently killed the two hostages as retaliation during the rescue attempt. The Italian government is reportedly upset that they were not informed that this action was going to take place.

Alex Thurston at SahelBlog has an important take on these events. Many had said that Boko Haram was not yet engaging in kidnapping but these events suggest we now have clearer evidence to the contrary:

any doubts about whether it really was Boko Haram that kidnapped the Europeans – doubts that stem from the facts that Kebbi is far outside Boko Haram’s normal zone of operations, that Boko Haram never seems to have kidnapped a Westerner before, or that communications from the kidnappers never seemed to fit with the style of either Boko Haram or AQIM – may be swept aside as the narrative takes hold that this kidnapping was a Boko Haram operation, full stop. There are, indeed, many possible explanations that deserve consideration, ranging from the possibility that the kidnappers were opportunistic criminals to the possibility that they were copycats to the possibility that it was Boko Haram itself, or a splinter group. Those complexities, uncertainties, and nuances may now be ignored. Perhaps more importantly, the idea – or the reality (because I really don’t know) – that Boko Haram is kidnapping Westerners will play into larger narratives about what kind of threat the group poses to Nigeria and to the West.

At least some of the kidnappers have been arrested and President Goodluck Jonathan said in a statement “the perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested, would be made to face the full wrath of the law.”

Course Notes – IL: ATS and Corporate Persons

As I mentioned in class on Monday, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week on two cases Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority. These cases concern the Alien Tort Statute, an almost-forgotten law that allows foreigners who violate serious international legal rules and norms to be held accountable in the US.

Kiobel involves Shell’s complicity in the torture of Nigerian nationals. Mohamad involves complaints against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO for torture of Mohamad’s father, a naturalized American who was in the West Bank at the time.

Here are some of the big themes in the case:

1. Are corporations people?

As Peter Weiss (NY Times h/t my student, Micky Capper) notes, the Supreme Court is faced with an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, in Citizens United it granted corporations certain rights as corporate persons. On the other hand, the Second District Court has said–in essence–that corporations are not individual persons when it comes to the Alien Tort Statute. How will they reconcile these two positions? Will they?

2. The human rights angle.

Over at Erga Omnes, the human rights dimension of the case is front and center. Kiobel involves claims against Royal Dutch Shell for its role in the torture of activists in the Niger Delta (or at least helping the Nigerian government in this).

3. Comparative Foreign Law and the Risk of Political Tensions

Following the excerpts in John Bellinger’s post at Lawfare, it is clear that the issue of extraterritorial application of the ATS is of great interest to the justices. Kennedy seems concerned that the ATS is giving the US jurisdiction that no other country attempts to exercise. Alito is concerned about how this might exacerbate international tensions.

I think the petitioner’s attorney, Hoffman, makes a great – if perhaps not original – point when he states:

“I think one of the most important principles in this case is that international law, from the time of the Founders to today, uses domestic tribunals, domestic courts and domestic legislation, as the primary engines to enforce international law.”

Indeed, if international law is going to matter, it does rely on mechanisms such as the ATS.

The Obama Administration is in favor of corporate liability in these cases, reports Reuters.

For more on these cases, see:

Democracy in West Africa

A couple stories to watch:

In Nigeria, elections in the southeastern Anambra state, were marred by allegations of fraud and claims of disenfranchisement.  The concern is what this might signal for next year’s Presidential election. Fortunately, the election itself was largely peaceful… this time.

Meanwhile, in Cote d’Ivoire, many are claiming they are being disenfranchised from upcoming presidential elections.

These are two of the most important countries in West Africa. The region as a whole could prosper were greater political stability to come to these two countries.  What happens in the 16 months in those two countries may set the political trajectory for the region for the next five to ten years.

Nigeria, Airport Security, and US Africa Policy

I’ve been away from this blog for the holidays, but now that I’m back I’m ready to start commenting on the recent news about the terrorism scare in Nigeria.

Consider the clip of the BBC news report posted below. The US has singled out Nigeria for tougher airport security rules.  Now this MIGHT be a reasonable policy idea. It definitely could play well with Americans now scared about flying (I just flew and I must say I am not scared at all by any of this.  I’m still safer flying than driving my car.)  But it could backfire in a big way in a place like Nigeria.

Nigerians are clearly worried by this turn in US policy.  And they rightfully sense that there is a double standard.  Did we publicly ask Britain to change its airport security polices after the shoe bomber incident?  No, as Nigerian information minister Dora Akunlyi mentioned in a report I heard on NPR this morning.  And of course, the US has grown a number of “terrorists” of its own.  So should the action of one individual impact our policy towards Nigeria?

The US should be aware that these policies could backfire.  According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 79% of Nigerians had a favorable view of the US in 2009. However, that may be largely part of an “Obama effect” as the percentage hovered in the low 60s for much of the Bush Administration years.  And approval of US anti-terrorism efforts was a much lower 49% in 2006.  Unfortunately, these statistics do not mention the possible differences between Muslim Nigerians and Christian Nigerians.  The US could lose support among the Nigerian public.  We could, indeed, foster the very conditions that lead people to turn against the US.  I’m not saying this is going to happen, only that it is a concern that we should consider.

The attempted bombing by Nigerian Umar Abdulmutallab was likely a random event in terms of its connection to Nigeria.  Should we continue to pay attention to possible terrorist threats from Nigeria? Sure.  But we should do so in a way that positively engages Nigerians, not in a way that may place them in the unsavory category of terrorist-producing states.  Unfortunately, our targeting of their airport security seems to have done just that.

clipped from

US screening ‘risks Nigeria ties’

Lagos Airport, file image

Checking-in to Nigerian airports now takes longer

The US is risking its ties with Nigeria by asking travellers from the country to undergo stiffer airport security, Nigeria’s information minister says.

Dora Akunyili said she was disappointed with the US decision, which came after a Nigerian man was charged with trying to blow up a plane on Christmas Day.

Earlier senior Nigerian officials confirmed they had officially asked the US to scrap the new rules.

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