City Development States: Why Lagos Works Better than Nigeria

city development stateNigeria is not known for strong governance. On the contrary, it is arguably one of worse governed countries in the world, losing hundreds of billions of dollars to corruption and waste over the past four decades. Yet, it has two important governance achievements worth emulating.

First, it has devised a system of decentralization that has sharply reduced ethnic conflict. And second it has a major metropolis that increasingly is acting like one of a handful of city development states–large urban areas in developing countries that are driving progress forward in a way typically associated with well-managed central governments.

In Nigeria’s case, the central government has worked so badly for so long and is so poisoned by its access to and dependence on oil money that state and city led development may be the only way to achieve progress. Continue reading

A complex coup in Guinea-Bissau

Last Friday, just as West Africa watchers were recovering from the excitement of the coup d’état in Mali a couple of weeks back, little Guinea-Bissau piped up with a putsch of its own. A group of soldiers attacked the residence of the prime minister and presidential candidate, Carlos Gomes Jr, and arrested him and the country’s interim president, Raimundo Pereira. They subsequently declared that they were forced to take action after discovering a secret document signed by Gomes Jr that gave a detachment of Angolan soldiers permission to “annihilate” Guinea-Bissau’s army. Said soldiers had been in the country, at Gomes Jr’s request, for a few weeks, ostensibly to restructure and reform the bloated military.

The secret document is quite likely to be a fabrication, but it seems probable that the coup happened because the army had had enough of Gomes Jr’s meddling and wanted to re-establish its authority. Indeed, the Transitional Council it has set up to run the country while the putschists decide its long-term future includes 22 opposition parties but has explicitly excluded Gomes Jr’s ruling party, the PAIGC.

The invitation to the Angolans was a provocative move. Downsizing the military would reduce its access to the lucrative drug trade which for the past few years, as Guinea-Bissau has become a staging post on the cocaine route from South America to Europe, has filled the coffers of the country’s top army, navy and air force officials. It is not known whether Gomes Jr was himself involved in the trade and wanted to weaken the competition (his late predecessor Nino Vieira almost certainly enriched himself with a spot of narcotrafficking on the side), but his removal from power – and he was very likely to win the presidency in the second round of voting later this month – leaves the way clear for the army to continue to profit from the cocaine boom.

Who is behind the coup is not clear. My immediate thought was that army chief-of-staff Antonio Indjai, a shrewd operator who has sidelined rivals such as former navy boss Bubo Na Tchuto and who a couple of years back briefly arrested Gomes Jr and labelled him a criminal, was masterminding things, and it seems Indjai attended the first two post-coup meetings between the junta and opposition leaders. Guinea-Bissau’s leading blogger, Antonio Aly Silva, was of the same opinion, and was arrested shortly after posting that the army chief was in control (he was later released after receiving a beating and having many of his valuables stolen).

But reports have recently emerged that Indjai himself has been arrested, and that his number two Mamadu Ture Kuruma is in control.  This made me wonder if Bubo Na Tchuto, a popular and influential figure who has attempted at least two coups in the recent past, was taking his revenge on his former ally, and at the same time eliminating another rival in Gomes Jr. Investigating, I found a single article from the Spanish news agency EFE claiming that Bubo, who has been described as a drug kingpin by the US, had indeed been released from prison over the weekend, that “military sources” said he had been collected from his cell by a group of uniformed men. This, I thought, confirmed my suspicions, but just as I was congratulating myself for my detective work I was shocked to read the last few words of the article, which stated that  ‘according to unconfirmed rumours, Bubo was executed in the early hours of the morning.’

So we still do not know who is really in charge. Guinea-Bissau’s foreign minister is convinced that Indjai holds the reins and has dismissed rumours of his arrest as ridiculous. Bubo may or may not be alive, and may or may not be the coup mastermind. Indjai’s number two is also on the list of suspects, as is opposition presidential candidate Kumba Yala, who looks like benefiting from the political agreement (although at least one source says he too has been arrested).

But although speculating is interesting, to a large extent it does not matter who planned the coup. The real power in the country is held by the drug barons from South America, and this coup, like several before it and no doubt many more in the coming years, is really a squabble over who gets access to their gifts.

Update: Kumba Yala has denounced the coup and refused to join the “Transitional Council“, which coup leaders say will run the country for the next 1-2 years.

Update #2: This report (in Portuguese) suggests that Antonio Indjai had threatened to attack Angolan troops on 5 April, at a meeting of  the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abidjan. Indjai complained that the Angolans had heavy armaments, including fourteen tanks, and warned ECOWAS that its emergency forces would soon have to go into Guinea-Bissau as well as Mali.


Boko Haram’s Christmas present to Nigeria

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram obviously does not like Christmas:

Five bombs exploded on Christmas Day at churches in Nigeria, one killing at least 27 people, raising fears that Islamist militant group Boko Haram – which claimed responsibility – is trying to ignite sectarian civil war.

Gun battles between security forces and the sect also killed at least 68 people in the last few days in northern Nigeria. Earlier this year, the Islamists struck the capital, Abuja, twice, including a suicide car bomb attack against the United Nations headquarters that killed 26 people.

Nigeria has stark ethnic and religious divisions and a history of Muslim-Christian violence. Such attacks are unlikely to improve matters.

Unfortunately, the country’s weak institutions make it ill-prepared to deal with threats like this. It is unlikely to have the capacity to meet the challenge. Expect more attacks in the coming months.

Lifting the lid on the drug trade through West Africa

A trial that has just got under way in New York looks likely to provide some interesting insights into how South American drug traffickers are going about their business in West Africa, which for several years now (as detailed here and here) has been used as a transit point on the cocaine route to Europe and the US.

A prosecution witness in the trial has claimed that Fumbah Sirleaf, son of Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former director of Liberia’s National Security Agency, agreed to pose as a corrupt official (not too difficult a disguise for most West African politicians) to help the US Drug Enforcement Agency in a sting operation.

As the Canadian Press reports, Sirleaf and a colleague allegedly met a pair of Colombians representing a South American drug trafficking organisation, and extracted from them a promise to give them $1m and 50 kilos of cocaine in return for letting them use Liberia as a hub. ‘What these defendants did not know,’ said the witness, a DEA agent, ‘was that Liberian officials had not put their country up for sale. The Liberians had been pretending to be corrupt.’ Sirleaf recorded the conversations with the Colombians, and handed the tapes to the DEA. Defence lawyers say their clients were entrapped. Watch this space for updates.

Gaddafi: ‘Championing a United Africa’

This piece from yesterday’s Africa Review contains much that is spurious. That coalition forces are ‘taking their lead from the US,’ that Libya will become ‘a basket country’ after Gaddafi goes, that African leaders see Gaddafi as a ‘benevolent godfather,’ and that in the Ivory Coast there is ‘little difference’ between Gbagbo and Ouattara are all at the very least arguable.

But these claims pale into insignificance compared with the article’s overarching point, which is that the West wants to remove Gaddafi because he is a ‘dangerous African likely to cause a united front against neo-colonialism in Africa.’ According to the Africa Review, the kindly dictator ‘identified himself with sub-Saharan Africa, championing a united Africa and showing the continent how if they formulated a collective vision, they would be able to stand on their own feet.’

The basis for this claim is unclear, for when one thinks of Gaddafi and sub-Saharan Africa, unity and self-reliance are very far from the first things that spring to mind. Was Gaddafi championing a united Africa when he armed Charles Taylor in Liberia and Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, enabling them to kill tens of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans and maim, rape and torture many more (even Taylor’s defence lawyer at the Hague has asked why Gaddafi is not in the dock)? Was he formulating a collective vision when he sent Libyan troops to help the mad cannibal Idi Amin crush a popular uprising, or when he gave Amin arms to massacre sub-Saharan Africans in northern Uganda? Was he helping Africans stand on their own feet when he sent weapons to a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo who is now on trial for war crimes? The list goes on and on; with friends like these, as sub-Saharan Africans reading the Africa Review must surely be asking themselves as they splutter over this morning’s cornflakes, who needs enemies?

Will West’s attacks on Libya help Al Qaeda recruit West Africans?

Last week, a pro-Gaddafi protest in predominantly-Muslim Guinea was banned. This week, a similar event in Niger has been outlawed, with the head of the apparently moderate Islamic Association of Niger describing the attacks as a ‘crusade against the Islamic world.’

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – the terrorist organisation’s West African branch – is already gaining strength thanks to ransom payments it has received in return for releasing Western hostages. There must be a risk that what is happening in Libya will push new recruits into its arms.

What price democracy in the Ivory Coast?

I have never visited the Ivory Coast and do not feel well qualified, therefore, to comment on the situation developing there. But as an observer from afar of the post-election crisis which has seen the country move to the brink of either civil war or invasion by troops from other West African countries, I cannot help wondering whether the country would be better off if it allowed Laurent Gbagbo, the man who lost the election and who is clinging on grimly to the presidency, to remain in power.

Gbagbo’s strategy from an early stage, no doubt drawing on lessons learned from Kenya and Zimbabwe in recent years, seems to have been to angle for a power-sharing agreement with the election winner, Alassane Ouattara. Early on in the crisis, he predicted that there would not be a war over the succession, and asked his opponent to ‘sit down and talk.’ Ouattara rejected the invitation, buoyed by the impressive array of international leaders who have queued up to call for the president to step down. The Ivory Coast’s West African neighbours, the United Nations, America, France and Britain have been united in condemning Gbagbo and in threatening to use force to evict him.

This show of strength, however, particularly when combined with the threat that the International Criminal Court might be waiting for Gbagbo if he resigns (as alluded to by Chris Blattman in an interesting discussion on his blog), has forced the incumbent into a corner. He may now feel he has little choice but to dig in. Losing power in West Africa means you and the many people who rely on you for jobs, money and influence instantly lose everything. But the threat of violence or arrest adds a new dimension; now, you and those close to you not only lose money and status, but potentially your freedom or your life too. I remember a friend in Sierra Leone last year telling me that the reason so few of his continent’s leaders exit power peacefully is because ‘in Africa, they come after you.’ The insistence by the West, West Africa and Ouattara himself that the democratic process be respected could result in many thousands of Ivorian deaths. The alternative is unsatisfactory and unpalatable, but wouldn’t a power-sharing deal, followed by renewed efforts to strengthen political and civil society institutions so that such chaos doesn’t happen again, be preferable to carnage?