Tag Archives: civil war

Resistance (II): A Cultural and More Emotive Perspective

A change in rationalist modeling of how resistance functions was preceded by those espousing a more cultural and emotive perspective at least a decade earlier. The first cultural analysis to emerge on the framing of resistance movements was not incompatible with notions of opportunities. This stressed the effort that goes into symbols creation, establishment of solidarity, and portrayal of grievances. Framing, including identity shaping, is an important process that determines who joins a movement based on whether issues resonate with potential recruits, the media, outside leaders, and the public at large. Acknowledging that framing was a central dynamic in understanding social movements, Benford and Snow focused on how collective action frames have been conceptualized, framing dynamics and processes, contextual factors that constrain and facilitate framing, as well as framing outcomes (Benford and Snow 2000). They later agreed with Oliver and Johnston that frames and ideology are definitionally and analytically distinct entities that merit studying in their own right, and that the relationship between frames and ideology needs to be elaborated further. Snow argued for the study of identity frames as both dependent and independent variables, as well as stressed the dearth of scholarship on frame transformation and diffusion of identities (Snow in Snow, Soule, & Kriesi 2004, 391).

Framing and identity activation are culturally contingent, and culture is now widely accepted as being key to understanding social movements. For one, identities may be taken for granted, but in other instances activists must convince recruits of their cultural identity to get them to join, or those identities may be culturally constructed during the movement (Goodwin & Jasper 2003, 103). James Jasper has been prolific in linking culture and emotion. He writes about “the satisfactions of protest that derive from highly emotional, often ritualistic, collective activities.  These are some of the most striking achievements of a movement, a vibrant culture that gives participants a strong sense of movement identity, and internal movement practices that yield immense solidarity.” Protestors can care about reinforcing their subculture and networks as much as about their publicly stated, instrumental goals (Jasper 1997, 209). This identity activation and formation is both a cultural and emotional experience for many mobilizers.

It is so strong in fact, that such emotions can even overcome challenges to resource mobilization and can be much stronger impetuses than traditional political opportunities for getting a movement started (Jasper 1997, 292). Emotions also answer the question of why individuals continue in a social movement when it becomes clear they could quit and become a free-rider (Goodwin & Jasper 2004).

Interestingly, Francesa Polletta has argued that even structures are in part cultural. Past literature has tended to see culture as subjective, malleable, and enabling of protest, as being mobilized by the powerless to challenge structure. All of these have been described as being opposite of the political structure model, but should not be. Culture shapes our perception of reality and therefore our behavior, which in turn shapes social movements. Aspects of culture such as collective memory, perception of state repressive capacity and legitimacy, and personal identity give form to collective action. Culture helps activists to discern possible strategies for mobilization, e.g. what strategies would be socially acceptable or not (Polletta in Goodwin & Jasper 2004, 97-109).

A James Jasper talk:

Resistance (1): An Economic Perspective

An analytically sound assessment of Niger Delta politics would take not only the oil state and law into account, but the vast body of literature on resistance as well.  Initially, social movements were largely regarded as being unpredictable mobs of emotional rioters, which has clearly proved not to be the case. In 1965, Mancur Olson brought economic rationality to the subject by arguing that individuals are self-maximizers who will mobilize once the potential benefits outweighs the high costs, in other words, when there are enough “selective incentives.” Although his account failed to explain how large groups with a higher mobilization costs than small groups still manage to organize, and failed to solve the “free-rider” problem, his seminal work inspired subsequent social movement theory by posing important questions about the conditions that determine both the degree of groups’ mobilization and how individuals decide to join.


In the following decade, Resource Mobilization Theory was first ushered in by Mayer Zald and John McCarthy who agreed with Olson’s economic view but focused on the rational nature of organizations rather than individuals.  Social movement organizations (SMOs) were described as business firms that utilized political and financial resources in competition with other SMOs (Zald & McCarthy 1979, Introduction). These scholars, joined by Charles Tilly, Jo Freeman, and Gary Marx, stressed the importance of movements seizing political openings provided by the state or elites. They all argued that the best way to understand collective behavior is to study how social movement organizations acquire and use resources, and that most of these resources comes from elite “sponsors,” e.g. churches, labor unions, NGOs, etc. In this model, there is little emphasis on the individual participants and long-term actions are not accounted for. There is also not a clear definition of “resources” and there is an obfuscation of the concept of grievances. There is difference between objective social conditions and their subjective perception, and this difference is not clarified (McAdam 1999, Introduction).

Political Process Theory first emerged in the 1970s to focus on the interaction between mobilizers and the state, while emphasizing the foremost role of political opportunities in explaining and when and how a social movement operates. Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow (a student of Charles Tilly) continued to adhere to rationalist interpretations of social movements, but saw movements as part of normal politics. In this model, it was not just the movement against the state, but the movement being influenced by and responding to the state. Three factors were seen as crucial to the generation of social resistance: level of organization within the aggrieved population (“organizational readiness”), collective assessment of the prospects for success (“insurgent consciousness”), and the political alignment of groups within the larger political environment (“opportunity structure”). Contrary to the previous school of thought, advocates of PPT saw that some resources can be detrimental to a movement and they de-emphasized the importance of elites (McAdam 1999, Introduction). This was better than previous paradigms for analyzing long-run political contexts over time as well as demographic or migratory shifts in mobilization. However, Goodwin and Jasper charge that the theory has been stretched too thin to cover too many cases, and has thus lost analytic potency.  Plus, it suffers from selection bias in choice of cases and ignores the fact that social ties may constrain as well as encourage activism (Goodwin & Jasper 1999).

Tarrow's Power in Movement

Tarrow’s Power in Movement

Several publications that include work on “framing” demonstrate that the economic explanations, namely Resource Mobilization Theory and Political Process Theory are still strong but not necessarily dominant. In 1996, McAdam, McCarthy and Zald published a compilation of comparative essays with three sections. The first two, on political opportunities and mobilizing structures, the nuts and bolts of their perspective, are unsurprising topics of study for them. However, the third section on framing demonstrates that rationalists had to contend with the scholarship on the newer cultural and emotive accounts of social movements. Sidney Tarrow’s Power in Movement argued that contention is more closely dependent on the POS than by the persistent social or economic factors that people experience. These opportunities, he wrote, depend on state strength, prevailing strategies, and repressive capacity. However, he too included work on framing. Then in 2001, McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly, traditional structuralists, engaged in a theoretical reorientation of their past work and even pointed out its inadequacies (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly 2001). They admitted that political opportunities, master frames, and structures offer a static view of movements that are unable to deal with the transforming and contingent nature of variables. Their newer emphasis in this comparative study was on mechanisms and processes.

Renewed attention to the Biafran Conflict

The BBC has reported that at least 100 people have been charged with treason in south-eastern Nigeria after a march supporting independence for Biafra, their lawyer says. Igbo members of the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) declared independence from Yoruba- and Haused-dominated Nigeria, raised the Biafran flag and then marched through the region’s main town of Enugu over the weekend, the Igbo stronghold during the Biafran War. Most of those arrested were young men, many sons of former Biafran fighters, but some were veterans of the war themselves. They were all remanded in custody.

More than one million people died during the 1967-70 Biafran conflict – mostly from hunger and disease. Political scientists debate whether the term “war” accurately describes the conflict. To be a “war” a certain percentage of deaths must occur on each side, and nearly the all the deaths occurred among Igbos and nearly all were due to the national government and its allies cutting off food and medical supplies to Igbo communities.

The BZM first gathered on Sunday to mark the birthday of former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who died in November 2011 and was buried in Enugu in March. His burial revived some cries for independence. The BBC (from Lagos, and not Enugu mind you) says that 45 years after the Biafran flag was first raised – an action which sparked Nigeria’s civil war – a small number of separatists still keep their dream alive, despite the threat of being charged with treason.

Biafran War 1967-1970

  • 1960: Nigeria gains independence from the UK
  • 1967: South-eastern portion of Nigeria secedes as Republic of Biafra on 30 May
  • Biafra dominated by Igbo ethnic group
  • Home to much of Nigeria’s oil
  • Nigerian army blockades Biafra and more than a million people die through famine, disease and fighting
  • 1970: Biafran government surrenders

Some recently released books and films have increased attention to Biafra. The war has been put back in the spotlight as the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, arguably the greatest male writer in Nigeria with Wole Soyinka, has just released his memoirs of the conflict. Igbo-American Chimanada Adichie’s amazing novel  Half a Yellow Sun is being made into an American film, as this traumatic period of Nigeria’s history is set to reach a wider audience. The title refers to the flag created for the shortly independent republics of Biafra. The film stars Thandy Newton and was filmed primarily in Calabar, with my friends working as extras on set. Far less impressive, the Jeta Amata’s movie Black November is soon to be released starring Mickey Rouke, Viviva A. Fox, and Kim Basinger, which is an effort to take Nollywood mainstream to Hollywood.  Based on the ridiculous trailer I almost hope no one goes to see the unrealistic portrayal of the oil conflict. Oil was a key impetus to the start of the Biafran War and control over reserves undergirded much of the struggle over Nigerian territory in the late 1960s, but I doubt the average viewer will think enough about the movie to be able to link natural resources to conflict.

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.

Days and Dates in the Delta

American children can identify their own birthday almost as soon as they enter school. It is just one of those things we always know. During the process of interviewing I have seen how that isn’t true in rural Nigeria, especially among older folks. My subjects often don’t know their birthdays so they date themselves in relation to others, or to major social events. The most common referential event is the Biafran War or a violent conflict with a neighboring community. One woman said that at the start of the Biafran War (1967) she already had two children, which means she was probably born in the early 1950s since she probably started having children around 15 or so. Another woman said that she had not yet grown breasts at the start of the War, so she was probably around ten then. She added that she had yet to hide herself from men at that time. Her sister-in-law said that she herself was born on the day of Ogoni independence, which after some clarification came to mean Nigerian Independence on October 1, 1960. In general, most folks guess their age based on when they started or ended puberty in relation to a political event. Additionally, children are aged according to their siblings, so one’s age matters less than relative birth order in the family. People seem to be unconcerned with how old they are, so they don’t bother to think about it; it just isn’t really applicable to their lives. When I figured out some of my interview subjects’ birthdays to within a week or so based on surrounding events, most of them shrugged their shoulders because it just didn’t really matter to them.

In terms of gathering my field data, it is difficult for respondents to answer my questions about when an event, e.g. a conflict with a neighboring village, took place. We can usually guess events of the last two decades within a few years based on which President was in office and which children in the family had finished primary school. Calendars are a rarity. Ultimately, they are farmers. What matters is the start and end of rainy season, the week that they should plant and uproot, and when their cassava is ripe for harvesting. They keep track of days of the week in order to know market days to buy and sell their produce. For Igbos for instance, there are four days in the week and all are based on market trading. Dates don’t dictate their lives in the rural Delta. I have been wondering how the new ubiquity of cell phones might change this in the coming years, but I still have faith that as long as my respondents depend on agriculture for their livelihood, the crops will continue to decide what day it is.

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.

The Earliest Oil War

Biafran Flag

The earliest evidence of oil’s role in civil conflict can be seen in the Biafran War from 1967-1970. During what is also known as the Nigerian Civil War, the Igbos of southeastern Nigeria attempted to secede from the national federation in response to alleged political marginalization. In the few years prior to the announcement of an independent Biafra it was clear that the majority of Nigeria’s oil resources were in Igboland, and this was the perhaps the galvanizing force behind the secessionist move.  Under distribution scheme at that time, the majority of oil revenues were going to the northern-dominated federal government.  In an independent Biafra, Igbos would have formed a 7 million strong majority over the 4 million non-Igbos in the area, thus raising its oil revenues from the 14% it was receiving to 67% after secession. The Federal Republic of Nigeria realized that Biafra’s independence would have cut its national oil production in half and consequently President Gowon came down fiercely on the secessionist movement, leading to the death of almost a million Igbos (largely due to starvation caused by food embargoes). Did oil cause the Biafran War?  No.  Was it a necessary condition? Maybe.  Was it a stronger contributor?  Most definitely.