Tag Archives: war

How to visit the International Criminal Court

English: International Criminal Court (ICC) logo

ICC logo

A recent day at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands was one of the most professionally interesting experiences I have had.  A Dutch friend took care of the logistics and in hindsight, I realize it was a surprisingly easy thing to do and and any foreigner could also visit. The Hague is the government seat of the Netherlands and just a 45-minute train ride from Amsterdam.  At the main station in The Hague, we rented bikes and peddled over to the Court using the maps functions on our smart phones. We found a surprisingly humble building, but later learned that the current building is an interim premises. Scheduled to open in 2015, the permanent premises designed by a Danish architectural firm will be located at Alexanderkazerne (Alexander Barracks), which will be closer to the detention center and be part of the International Zone of the Hague.

The Court’s lists their schedule on their website, http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Home, and we chose to attend the hearings of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo and were especially interested in that of Laurent Gbagbo.  Bemba is a Congolese former military commander on trial since 2009 for “crimes against the civilian population, in particular, rape murder and pillaging” in the Central African Republic from 2002-2003. The first former head of state to be charged in the ICC, Gbagbo was the President of Cote d’Ivoire and is accused of using murder and sexual violence to try to maintain power after he lost the 2010 election there. We were able to sit in on Bemba’s trial, but for reasons described in my post on the pro-Gbagbo demonstrations, we weren’t able to attend the latter’s pre-trial hearing.

I had expected a busy building, full of shuffling lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals, but that was so in the morning during Bemba’s hearing.  It was virtually empty except for the single guard at the security checkpoint and three employees at the front desk.  A Dutch man and Ghanaian woman greeted us after the security point. They instructed us as to the proper decorum in the public viewing gallery of the court. The rules were what anyone should expect them to be inside a courtroom, including no talking, gesturing, pointing, or use of recording devices. Visitors must also rise when the judges enter and leave the courtroom.

After depositing our bags and valuables in the lockers between the reception and the public viewing gallery, a security guard led us into the gallery.  It was so small, and more exciting for me, we could sit right in the front row just 30 feet from Bemba himself, with nothing dividing us but a wall of glass.  He is a physically huge man, and sat back in the very corner of the room wearing a seat and tie, looking extremely bored. When the two of us sat down he looked at us, probably wondering why we were there.  It happened to be a closed session, so we could watch but could not hear anything (Gbagbo’s later afternoon session was open with audio). For anyone who plans to visit, if you take a seat nearer the door to the gallery, that will put you near the prosecution, and if you walk further into the room, that puts you near the defendant.  I am not sure if that means we were symbolically supporting Bemba since we sat nearer the defense side of the room, support which we obviously had not intended to give, but the far side is certainly a more interesting vantage point to view the accused. Here is the layout of the courtroom that the front desk gave us, and we sat in the top left corner of the Public Gallery squares to see Bemba up close:

It was heartening to see that the three presiding judges were all female and from different regions of the world.  In fact, I was quite pleased with both the gender and geographic balance of the Court. The ICC’s staff of judges seems to be exactly half male and half female, and there is a good number of judges and other legal actors from the global south and smaller countries working at the ICC. (There are no American judges since G. W. “unsigned” Clinton’s signature on the Rome Treaty that founded the ICC and thus the U.S. is not a party.) The prosecution and defense teams, as well as the legal representatives for the victims, are lead by sub-Saharan Africans. The lead Prosecutor is a Gambian named Fatou Bensouda, who also worked on the Rwanda Tribunal, while Aime Kilolo-Musamba heads the Defense Council (paid for by stipends out of Bemba’s frozen accounts).

Admittedly, we observed Bemba’s trial for less than an hour because there wasn’t much to take in because of the lack of audio. For anyone else who would like to see international human right law at work, I would suggest making sure that the case is “open” with audio.  Another piece of advice is to really take advantage of the expertise of the ICC employees at the front desk.  We chatted with an extremely helpful Ghanaian woman in charge of disseminating information on the court to visitors, and she was a trove of information that just can’t be found anywhere else.

I went, I saw, I learned.

Discussion on Boko Haram [video]

This video link is to a frank discussion on the future of Boko Haram’s terrorism, and what it means to security and stability across the country.

Boko Haram

Here is quick coverage of the latest attack on a northern school:

Can Kenya make the “youth bulge” a source of strength, not a threat?

Originally posted on Africa Health Dialogue:

Population momentum: Fertility rates fall, but global population explosion goes on

The reality of falling fertility rates while global ‘population explosion’ goes on is depicted in the Figure above. The relentless growth in population might seem paradoxical given that the world’s average birth-rate has been slowly falling for decades. Humanity’s numbers continue to climb because of what scientists call population momentum. As a result of unchecked fertility in decades past, coupled with reduced child mortality, many people are now in their prime reproductive years, making even modest rates of fertility yield huge population increases. This according to John Bongaarts of Population Council in New York translates to adding more than 70 million people to the planet every year, which has been happening since the 1970s. The African continent is expected to double in population by the middle of this century, adding 1 billion people despite the ravages of AIDS and…

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Falling birth rates across the world, some more than others

I am currently in Italy analyzing the field data I gathered last year in the Niger Delta.  The transition has clearly been challenging, as I am re-adjusting to being a place with clear rules, and where I can spend more time being professionally productive and less time “surviving,” e.g. finding potable water, clean food, sources of electricity, etc.  However, one of the more startling thoughts I had my first week here occurred to me when I was roaming through the streets of Florence among a sea of silver-haired adults. I realized that I was only seeing perhaps one baby per day during my daily commute, and almost all of them were with mothers who had clearly immigrated to Italy from another country.  I asked myself, “Where are all the babies?”

In subsequent research, I have learned that Italy has the second lowest birth rate in Western Europe this year, at 1.4 children per woman. The CIA World Factbook, a reliable statistical source, says:

A rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population, resulting in relative stability in terms of total numbers. Rates above two children indicate populations growing in size and whose median age is declining. Higher rates may also indicate difficulties for families, in some situations, to feed and educate their children and for women to enter the labor force. Rates below two children indicate populations decreasing in size and growing older. Global fertility rates are in general decline and this trend is most pronounced in industrialized countries, especially Western Europe, where populations are projected to decline dramatically over the next 50 years.

In stark contrast, Nigeria has a birth rate of 5. 38 children per woman, almost four times that of Italy. Nigeria has the 13th highest birth rate in the world, in country that is already the most populous in Africa. This average probably would show a stark contrast between low rates in major cities and high ones in villages. As an anecdote,  the women I interviewed in rural areas typically said they had 6-9 living children.   Just from my observations, I recall that between 1/4 and 1/3 of rural Niger Deltan women I’d see would be carrying a pekin (baby) in a wrapper on their back. No wonder I noticed the missing babies here in Italy.

Italy’s low birth rate is coupled with a low mortality rate and longer expected life spans. The life expectancy in Italy is almost 82 years. Conversely, in Nigeria it is just over 51 years. Italians get 60% more life than Nigerians! Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a youth bulge and has been for decades; it is one of the driving explanations for ongoing violent conflicts in the region.  Europe, Asia and Russia do not even have replacement birthrates. While African governments struggle with feeding, educating and housing booming populations, Europeans and Asians are worried about who will pay into the social security necessary to care for aging populations.

The stress of the youth bulge: Lots of young people without older ones to help ensure stability.

Sociologists and economists hypothesize that the poor financial state Italy, Spain, and the U.S. are the reason for plummeting birth rates in those countries, but I will add a caveat.  In modern industrialized countries, I will buy the argument that people have less babies during times of economic strain, because in those societies children are financial burdens.  However, birth rates in developing African countries remain high because children there are not just burdens, they are also viewed as labor for rural families.  In agricultural areas, it makes just as much sense for families to actually produce more children during times of economic hardship, under the belief that they children’s labor will overall produce more resources than the children will consume. This is the reason that I don’t buy the historical argument I have read that the American birth rate in the U.S. went down during the Great Depression because of economic conditions; at that time, as is true in rural Africa today, children could create capital through their labor. The relationship between birth rates and the economy is not so clear to me.

Have any thoughts on this?

Italy’s population

Nigeria’s population

Sons of Iraq vs. Niger Delta Amnesty Program

I have been in correspondence with a Polish conflict researcher who has asked me some interesting questions about the Niger Delta Amnesty Program (NDAP) and that in Iraq, called the Sons of Iraq. Drawn from the Awakening Council, the Sons are Sunni former insurgents in Anbar Province who have been paid stipends by the U.S. military and the Iraqi government to now maintain security against both Shiite and Sunni militants who are still fighting against the American occupation and the new Iraqi political leadership. Although it would seem counter intuitive to arm and pay fighters who had been attacking American forces, the Bush administration reasoned that this tactic would both reduce the number of anti-American militants and help curtail the strength of Shiite forces backed by Iran.

 

Son of Iraq on patrol.

 

Niger Delta Amnesty Program

 

There are similarities between the two efforts.  Both in Nigeria and Iraq the governments have created “jobs for the boys” programs that aim to turn insurgents into members of a citizens’ patrol, from aggressors against foreigners and the government to defenders of them. Also, both programs are prone to immense instability and fraction, but for different reasons as I explain below.

However, I see immense differences in comparing the Sons of Iraq and the NDAP.  These variations between the two seem to be based on 24 years of stable dictatorship, the presence of the American military, the suddenness of political instability, and over millennial religious tensions in Iraq, all of which are not conditions found in Nigeria.  In contrast, Nigeria’s political history is one of perpetual coups and constant abnegation of foreign interference, and is defined almost solely by its status as an oil state suffering from the resource curse. Some differences that I can note:

1. Iraqi Sons are ideologically and religiously motivated in (large) part. The Sons must battle anti-American Shiites on a large-scale, and there is also infighting between pro-American Sunnis and suspicious-of-American Sunnis within the employment program itself. ND rebels today are not ideologically nor religiously motivated in that same way, but fight to steal oil and kidnap to get money. As opposed to the Sons, ND militants are more like a mafia that uses violence to make money, i.e. they engage in extortion. There would be security issues in Iraq with or without the Awakening, but ND rebels are the ones actually making the security problems to begin with. So, with that said, ND militants receiving Amnesty benefits are absolutely not maintaining any form of security like the Sons, but rather are being paid to stop stealing oil and committing violence. As one of my interview subjects aptly phrased it, “It reduces crime and since we have the money, it is OK.  You pay them to reduce the violence in the country.” In Nigeria, there is perhaps a price on peace.
2. Transparency: Presumable Awakening fighters trust that U.S. forces will pay them when promised, and the program is comparably fiscally transparent. One of the reasons that Nigerians are suspicious of the NDAP is that a) the government cannot be trusted to pay fighters as on time or even at all, and b) exact amounts being transferred are unclear, so there is probably much more corruption in the ND program in Nigeria than that in Iraq.

3. I don’t know exactly how the U.S. pays fighters in Iraq, but a big problem in Nigeria is that the most violent kingpins like Tompolo and Dokubo are being paid huge sums, and then very little is actually being given directly to lower-level fighters. In Iraq I suspect there is more equity in payment amounts among various fighters but in ND the money is concentrated in few hands, and that creates problems when lower-level fighters feel a sense of unfairness that leads to greater violence.

4. In Iraq there is a clear enemy that the U.S. and the U.S.-installed government hope their employment program will weaken: Al Qaeda.  In contrast, there is no clear enemy in the Niger Delta Amnesty Program for participants to battle, as the biggest threat is the factitious insurgency itself, the very men being paid and trained in the program.

5. As reported several years ago, the most salient concern for the U.S. and the Iraqi government is that the Sons of Iraq program may backfire and end up just giving newer and better arms to former insurgents who could do an about-face, thus fueling a prolonged civil conflict to a greater degree. They have publicly stated that a priority is disallow the Sons to gain enough power to become an independent authority, which was a possibly after the U.S. made the mistake of disbanding the Iraq military after its invasion. However, although ND militants have firepower that competes with that of the Nigerian military, insurgents there do not seem to have the desire to overtake the military particularly. Relinquishing arms is a large part of the NDAP mandate, with the goal that former fighters gain training abroad to come home as welders, electricians, carpenters, etc. In Iraq the participants receive training to become better fighters against threats to security in Andar, not to have a professional trade that would benefit them after the war ends.

This leads one to wonder about what all the Sons of Iraq (and NDAP participants) will do once  their stipends dry up.  Years of fighting, and being trained to do so, often do not translate into stability for soldiers when a conflict ends.

2012 APSA Africa Workshop

Although the deadline for applications has passed, APSA will have its Africa Workshop at the University of Botswana, July 15-27, 2012.  The theme is “Local Communities and the State in Africa.” The workshop is targeted principally at university and college political science faculty residing in Africa, who have completed their Ph.D. and are in the early stages of their academic career. Up to 22 Africa-based fellows will be selected. Four advanced Ph.D. students residing in the United States will also be accepted. See: 2012 APSA Africa Workshop.

The Ogoni and Andoni Conflict

Português: Monolito Shell

I typically try to triangulate my blog posts by checking with several different sources on most things I write. However, for the few posts about my fieldwork in Ogoniland I purposefully won’t be doing that. I am trying to process the data that my subjects have provided me with on its own merit.  In trying to solve the puzzle of how and why Niger Deltans choose the mobilization strategies they do, I am trying to view their communities and the state from their perspective. Intentionally, these posts may be biased, but this one is particularly so.

In Ogoniland one of my preferred political events to ask my interview subjects about is the conflict they had with the neighboring Andoni community from 1993-1994. Ogonis had been “looking for trouble” (a common Nigerian term) for a year or two before this, as Ken Saro-Wiwa had returned from abroad to try to mobilize the Ogonis to assert their rights against oil exploitation by Royal Dutch Shell in partnership with the Nigerian state. He had led marches, sit-ins, and rallies.  Churches in the area had begun to use services as a time for praying to God to assist the Ogonis in their struggle.  In contrast to other groups who sought jobs, social amenities, money or other positive rights from companies and the government, the Ogonis were unique.  They were the only group demanding autonomy in the form of their own kingdom.  If this could not be realized, then they would settle for their own state within the Nigerian federation. Saro-Wiwa was a learned man who preached to them about the power of the pen.  The Ogoni movement was avowedly anti-violence, which made it difficult for the government to find a reason to clamp down on them.

From the perspective of the Ogonis I have spoken with, the Andonis were coerced by the Federal Government (FG) to create violence that would serve as a pretense for a crackdown.  Most Ogonis are not clear whether Andonis were fed false information about their neighbors, or whether they were paid by the state to start fighting, or if they were simply armed and that was enough to make Andonis lead the initial attack.  Although the Ogonis and the Andonis had lived side-by-side for generations using the same fishing rivers, in mid-1993, probably around September, the Andonis attacked a boat of Ogoni fishermen as they came back from sea. This territorial dispute marked the beginning of the conflict.  As Ogonis tell it, Andonis raided the Ogoni villages where I conducted my interviews, with my second site, Kpean, suffering the worst.  My respondents were unclear whether it was Andonis or actually federal soldiers who committed the acts, but over the next nine months or so half of Kpean’s homes were burned and much of its property destroyed.  Soldiers began inhabiting the houses, as all the residents had fled into the bush.  They would sneak back into the village at night or times when they thought the soldiers were gone in order to grab food or personal effects, or to try to sleep. No one agrees on how many people died, as I just repeated heard, “too many” or “uncountable.” My respondents said that they felt the conflict ended because the Andonis depleted their resources and the federal government no longer feared collective action in the area.

Half of those I spoke with felt the war was started by the state in order to excuse their use of violence in stopping Saro-Wiwa’s movement.  The other half felt that is was purely territorial, because Andoniland offers prime access into Ogoniland’s oil sites. By paying Andonis with weapons and allowing them to plunder their neighbors, the state was buying geographic access to Ogoni oil. No respondents felt that the Andonis had acted on their own.

I think that conflict has forever shaped the way the people of Kpean view their government. Rightly so, they seem to avoid interaction with the state at any cost.  They avoid police, courts, lawyers, soldiers, or national politics.  Most feel comfortable with chieftaincy, but increasingly look to church as a means of problem solving. Pastors have become the sole mediators and the guardians of conflict resolution mechanisms for many clans. Although there have been no eruptions of violence between the communities since there, tensions persist, and pastors simply do not have the power to reign in such conflicts if they escalate.  When the state feels like an aggressor instead of a protector, and chiefs may be suspicious of other chiefs, it seems difficult for communities like Kpean to remain peaceful.

A building in Kpean reportedly burned by soldiers during the Andoni conflict.

The grave in a family compound of a woman killed during the Andoni conflict.

Nigerians in WWII

During one of my interviews recently, I spoke with a wonderfully open elderly woman whose husband had fought in WWII. She told me that he traveled by foot from his village in the Niger Delta, in present day Rivers State, to the port city of Calabar to board a boat for Europe around 1940. As the youngest of many children, going to war was the best opportunity he had of gaining employment. I have read about the million or so African troops who fought in WWII on the side of the Allies. West African soldiers, including many Nigerians, were instrumental in liberating Ethiopia (the only African country to successfully resist colonization) from fascists. I have known that the British offered inducements to subjects in their African colonies to convince them to fight in Europe against Germany, of course in worse conditions and for less pay than their white counterparts.

However, I was surprised when the widow told me that her late husband fought on the side of Hitler. I reworded the question several times and she seemed certain that he had been employed by the Germans during WWII. Perhaps she is confused, as she was just a child during the war, but if she isn’t, then that is very intriguing. I have done some follow up reading and found that Nazi violence was directly almost totally against Jews and gypsies and less against Blacks in Europe. Although Nazi doctrine indeed preached the inferiority of Blacks, they were not enough of a political or economic threat to merit the systematic killing that Jews suffered. So, perhaps the utility of African troops would have justified their employment by Nazi Germany? For a politically conscientious Nigerian soldier, a German victory may have seemed to be a way to weaken Britain, thus increasing the chances of Nigerian independence.

Regardless of which side they fought on, engagement in WWII changed the way most African soldiers viewed their nation and the balance of world power. After the war, they received little compensation or thanks for their service to their European colonizers. This disillusionment combined with their new understanding that their colonial rulers, whether British, French, Portuguese, were not all-powerful. These African men had traveled the world, sometimes fought alongside white comrades, and their political consciousness had changed. They had a deserved sense of entitlement to their own freedom. They would not return home and accept the oppression of colonial rule. The golden year of independence for British colonies, 1960, followed fifteen years after the end of the war.

Here are some of the photos that the widow shared with me.  In the group photo you will see that the seven white men seated in front have kept their hats on, which I presume is a sign of their authority since the others have their caps off.  I am interested in the African sitting in front just to the right of the white men, as he is the only black with his hat still on.  I wonder what his rank was. The date written on this back of this photo was September 6, 1945. The truce was signed on September 2, so presumably this is a photo taken just before soldiers were sent home.

Although it is very blurry, the eight African soldiers in this other photo below were the troops who fought with her husband, who is on the bottom right.

I am not a historian, so can anyone with a stronger background in this history offer any information on the possibility of Africans fighting for the Axis Powers?

Renewed Conflict in Nigeria between Northerners and Easterners

There have been an unusual number of reports here on eastern-northern tensions recently. This is a terrible oversimplification, but for those new to Nigerian politics this situation is easier to understand by thinking of most northerners as Hausa Muslims and most easterners as Christian Igbos. However, there are many Igbos living in the north and many Hausas living in the east, contributing to the conflict. Other important factors are contemporary worry about the northern Islamic sect of Boko Haram and residual strain left over from the Biafran independence effort.

There is still tension between northerners and easterners over the question of who started the Biafran War. In 1966, several Igbo radicals deposed the first president of an independent Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe (also an Igbo, but one who grew up in the north). Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi was installed as head of the military government for six months until Northern officers staged a much more violent counter-coup that put Lt. Colonel Gowon (a northerner) into power.  It was under his administration that Igbos perceived an increase in violence and persecution against both the Igbos living in the north and those who had remained in their historical homeland in the south-east. In 1967, the eastern region declared itself independent, as the Republic of Biafra led by Dim Ojukwu, creating a two-and-half year civil war that killed a million people, mostly Igbos.

So, northerners and westerners tend to view the conflict as being created by Igbos who staged the first coup and then tried to declare independence, while Igbos argue that Gowon declared war on the Eastern region in order to force the region back to Nigeria. They say that Ojukwu and his troops fought in defense, and that he only declared independence under pressure from eastern people who wanted to end the violence against the easterners living in the north.

Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, late Biafran leader

There remains a pervasive sense of injustice among many Igbos in the east regarding the failed independence movement. There is still the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), led by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, and various association of Biafran War veterans. Ojukwu died this past November and Igbo war veterans immediately called for him to be given a proper state burial by the Federal Government but the Senate rejected the measure because he is not a former Head of State. His body will tour three West African countries and Haiti before he is interred.

Ojukwu’s burial in Enugu has been postponed due to fuel subsidy protests but is scheduled for March 3. The event has been jointly planned by the Federal Government and MASSOB. The South-east and South-south geopolitical zones will be closed down for the day and MASSOB has issued a sit-at-home order. There is a major security concern that Boko Haram will see the burial as key target for attack. Boko Haram has killed almost 300 people so far this year. The security will be even more tenuous since a northern police officer in the eastern state of Anambra shot a man this week for failing to pay a bribe in full.  Although the Hausa officer has been arrested for murder, Igbos committed retaliatory violence in Onitsha, Asaba against northerners seen as interlopers in the region.  Northern Muslims in Anamabra have fled into neighboring states, and now there is worry that Boko Haram could in turn attack the east. We will have to watch how March 3 unfolds.

Today’s Conflict in the Niger Delta

The current Delta conflict emerged over tensions between the foreign oil companies (namely, Shell and Chevron) and several minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogoni, Itsekeri, and the Ijaw. The contradiction of the ethnic groups’ poverty amidst wealth generation has generated anger, frustration, and hostility toward both companies and the federal government. Furthermore, competition for oil wealth has fueled violence among various tribes fighting for revenue allocation. Such conditions have caused the militarization of nearly the entire region by ethnic militia groups as well as Nigerian military and police forces. So, the conflict is a major contestation at two levels.  First, it is a challenge to the state and its multinational partners regarding policies and practices that disadvantage the region, destroy its environment and impoverish its people. Second, it is a challenge by and among civil groups and communities over control of oil and the distribution of its benefits.

Tensions since the late 1970s have led to the emergence of several insurgent groups, the most prominent being Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), and the People’s Volunteer Force. Some insurgents have claimed political grievances based on the marginalization of their tribe or appropriation of land, others demand compensation for environmental damage or for oil companies to leave altogether.  Still others appear to engage in insurgency purely for the financial gain. Foreign oil companies have been reported to have colluded with the state to violently suppress such resistance efforts since the early 1990s. Both state and private security forces have committed village pogroms, rapes, and extrajudicial killings in their efforts to control the insurgency, e.g. the Choba community.  The 1995 execution of activists Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine under the Abacha regime is among the most well-known of human rights abuses committed in the Delta. Such state actions have resulted in more extreme violence on the part of some insurgents who engage in kidnappings for ransom of foreigners and oil workers, and now are increasingly targeting civilians in their violence.