Nigerian women: A New Dawn

A New Dawn is a short film from Nigeria‘s Create Her Space Project, featuring Kate Henshaw, Joke Silva, Nita George, Jide Attah and others. It captures the story of a dissatisfied community and a resilient woman who wanted change.

Women understand feminine challenges and only women can represent the right to save women., argues the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy. Nigeria has 2% of the world’s population but 10% of global maternal deaths. Each day, 144 Nigerian women die in childbirth, which is equivalent to one death every 10 minutes. The group’s Create Her Space project aims “to get more women into the system to save our girls, sisters, mothers and women.”

Nigeria’s youth key to countering Boko Haram

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In the shadow of Boko Haram‘s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls, bombings on 20 and 24 May have thrown Jos – a city in the middle belt of Nigeria – into the spotlight, notes Janet Adama, the West Africa program director at Conciliation Resources.

Although the attacks did not discriminate between Muslim and Christian, or Fulani and Berom (the main ethnic groups in Jos), there are growing fears of increased sectarian tensions and youth gang violence, she writes for The Guardian. These fears are not unfounded – over the past decade, Jos has experienced an enduring cycle of violence stemming from disputes over land, resources and political power that has exploited sectarian and ethnic differences. Since 2001, when major riots first erupted in Jos, at least 4,000 (and possibly as many as 7,000) people have been killed in the city.

Jos’ young people are often seen as the main aggressors when conflict escalates. The association of political, religious and ethnic conflict with criminal violence, drugs and gang culture, has seen many point to high youth unemployment as a key cause of violence.

Over the past year, Conciliation Resources, a UK-based INGO, and the Centre for Peace Advancement in Nigeria (CEPAN) have been working with Youth Platforms for Peace, a project funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, to transform young people from perceived aggressors to facilitators of peace.

The project is led by youth ambassadors, who map gang centres in their communities, as well as recruit youth participants for the Youth Platforms for Peace. Through this process, the youth ambassadors gain a greater understanding of the root causes of conflict in their community, and an appreciation of what is needed to build peace. …..The platforms seek to rebuild damaged relationships between youth and other members of the community. Discussions are hosted with women’s groups and elders, who feel most threatened by youth gangs.

Looking forward, conflict in Jos will be deeply affected by how the Nigerian government and international community decide to respond to Boko Haram.

Janet Adama is the West Africa program director at Conciliation Resources. Follow @CRbuildpeace on Twitter.

RTWT

Why U.S. promotes democracy – Samantha Power

At a time of democratic regression and authoritarian challenges, there is a moral and a strategic imperative “to ensure that democracy expands, deepens, and delivers,” according to a senior U.S. diplomat.

“True democracy, complete with checks and balances, offers what no other system can,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. “If you give people the tools to correct the parts of their government that are broken, as only democracy can…they will seize them.”

“Democracy wins out in the long run because it offers a chance to fix its own mistakes. It is the only system built on the premise that if something is not working, people can actually correct it, from the bottom up,” she said in a commencement address this week to graduates of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Self-correction is not destabilizing; it is stabilizing.”

“To those who are disillusioned with what’s happened in places like Syria — places where people took valiant first steps towards demanding democracy, only to suffer a horrific backlash — I would remind you that what we are witnessing in the Middle East is not the consequence of too much democracy but rather the toxic consequences of too little democracy for too long,” said Power, who previously served as a professor and founding executive director of the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

“Even as some countries continue steadily along the path toward greater democracy, others have taken some concerning steps back with respect to political rights and civil liberties,” she said. “Still others seem caught in a rut of tyranny from which even the ambitions and the aspirations of their people have not yet freed them. Your challenge is to ensure that democracy expands, deepens, and delivers.”

“President Obama has instructed all his diplomats to make supporting civil society an integral part of American foreign policy — to support the change makers who are on the front lines of the struggle for universal rights,” said Power, a forceful advocate within the Obama administration for advancing democracy.

No hidden agenda

“It is no coincidence that civil society and journalists are often the first to come under fire when democracy is backsliding,” she said. “That’s why, every day, American diplomats stand up for the right of people to organize peacefully for change, bringing real resources and sustained diplomatic pressure to bear. There is no hidden agenda here, simply a fundamental expression of our support for, and belief in, democratic values.”

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As President Obama told graduates of West Point earlier today, the United States must continue to lead efforts to confront threats to democracy and to advance freedom and human progress.

For starters, in some of the “younger” democracies — countries that had been on the path towards greater democracy and rule of law — progress has slowed or setbacks have occurred. This shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, because we know it is much tougher to build a system of genuine checks and balances than it is to depose an autocrat. In too many places, the outward marker of a democracy — elections — marks the absence of basic rights and the strong institutions needed to defend them.

In Ukraine, one of the electoral democracies born out of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Maidan protests started last year because successive elections had done little to end the state’s rampant corruption and authoritarian tendencies. In Venezuela, the current government came to power through an election, but when protesters turned out to criticize certain policies, security forces brutally beat them and locked up opposition leaders on false charges.

Additionally, in some places where citizens have demanded the right to choose their own leaders, democratic transition has coincided with political instability and a dramatic increase in ethnic and religious conflict. For all of the jubilation that accompanied the original Arab Spring, this journey was never going to be easy. Think for a second how hard it is to grow trustworthy institutions on fallow ground where, for decades, rulers governed by fear, where people on the losing side of a political contest could never reasonably expect to have a shot at winning the next time around, where there had never before been a next time around.

And finally, at the very moment when we most yearn for a city, or cities, on a hill — models that serve as proof that the democratic system can deliver — many “older,” established democracies are delivering too much dysfunction. Gridlock and partisanship are too common. Political influence can seem to be a special privilege reserved for those with wealth and power.

True democracy, complete with checks and balances, offers what no other system can. You know already that democracies are less likely to go to war, are less corrupt, and, on average, are wealthier than non-democracies. You are also familiar with Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen’s landmark finding that no genuine democracy has ever experienced a famine.

But I want to emphasize something else today: Democracy wins out in the long run because it offers a chance to fix its own mistakes. It is the only system built on the premise that if something is not working, people can actually correct it, from the bottom up. In fact, democracy works best when people are given the opportunity to constantly monitor and repair the kinks in the machinery. And given the choice, nearly everybody would welcome the chance to rein in abusive police, to stop paying bribes to get social services, and to ensure their children have access to quality education. Self-correction is not destabilizing; it is stabilizing.

Democratic governments that respect human rights have not and will not fail to deliver on their promise. Nor have they lost their intrinsic appeal. In fact, the opposite is true.

To those who are disillusioned with what’s happened in places like Syria — places where people took valiant first steps towards demanding democracy, only to suffer a horrific backlash — I would remind you that what we are witnessing in the Middle East is not the consequence of too much democracy but rather the toxic consequences of too little democracy for too long.

To those who would argue that such fear cannot be overcome and such conventions cannot be changed, I would point you to Tunisia. The Arab Spring began there, as you all know, when a humble street vendor who was humiliated and beaten by local officials went to his governor for help. He wanted to work within the system. He went to his governor. But he was turned away. It was only when he could see no other way to secure change that he set himself on fire.

Show me a clearer illustration of hopelessness in the face of injustice, of living in a system that lacks the means for self-correction.

But look at what’s happened in Tunisia since that time. The Tunisian people not only unseated a dictator but also replaced him with a diverse mix of Islamists and secularists. After two years of intense negotiations, those representatives approved a new constitution, which recognizes fundamental freedoms and the separation of powers. Many people claimed an Arab democracy would never respect the rights of women or religious minorities. Now Tunisia has a constitution that protects both.

Yet it would be a mistake to look at this achievement as the work of Tunisia’s leaders alone. It was the Tunisian people, backed by human rights defenders, civil society groups, a vibrant press, NGOs, and so many others, who pressed these new leaders to reach such a compromise.

Even in places where leaders have repeatedly failed to live up to their pledges, citizens have shown remarkable patience with democracy. This past weekend, millions of Ukrainians voted and elected a leader who promised to replace the graft and divisiveness of his predecessor with accountability and unity. Notwithstanding their recent history, Ukrainians hold out hope in democracy not because they are naïve or because they have short memories but out of a reasoned pragmatism. They know that no model gives them a better shot or a greater hand in correcting the mistakes of the past.

President Obama has instructed all his diplomats to make supporting civil society an integral part of American foreign policy — to support the change makers who are on the front lines of the struggle for universal rights. It is no coincidence that civil society and journalists are often the first to come under fire when democracy is backsliding. That’s why, every day, American diplomats stand up for the right of people to organize peacefully for change, bringing real resources and sustained diplomatic pressure to bear. There is no hidden agenda here, simply a fundamental expression of our support for, and belief in, democratic values.

Indeed, all of the steps toward more inclusive and rights-respecting democracies — in India, in Tunisia, in the United States, and in so many other democracies, young and old — can be traced back to the demands of citizens and the agents of change who have inspired and empowered them. And all of these changes would have been impossible if the system itself were not predicated on fixing its own mistakes.

As we sit here today, at least 200 Nigerian girls are in captivity. They were targeted, quite simply, because they chose to get an education.

I suspect you will not hear me utter a line like this one again, but here goes: Boko Haram understands something very important about those girls. They understand that educated girls will ask smart questions. An educated girl will question whether she wants to grow up in a society where she is condemned to silence and servitude.

An educated girl will question the values of a justice system that sentences a woman to death simply because of her religion or that of the man she loves, as happened two weeks ago in Sudan to a woman who, just yesterday, gave birth to a child in prison.

And an educated girl will question whether a woman should earn less than a man simply because she’s a woman, as a woman named Lilly Ledbetter asked in the United States. For all of those reasons, Boko Haram understands that a generation of girls armed with books, with pencils, and with the ambition to learn is a greater threat to their close-minded vision of the world than any military.

RTWT

The ‘latest front in a long war’: democratic challenges in the Sahel

“While it draws scant attention from the Western media, the Sahel-North Africa region is actually more important than Afghanistan to the vital interests of Western powers,” say two leading experts.

“North Africa provides energy security for Europe with its vast oil and natural gas deposits, along with maritime security in the Mediterranean. Governments in the region have the potential to foster democratic change in post-authoritarian states,” according to Georgetown University’s Chester A. Crocker, a former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, and Ellen Laipson, president of the Stimson Center.

“But the Sahel is unlikely to ever see large-scale troop deployments from NATO countries that are war-weary and financially tapped out from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” they write for the International Herald Tribune.

Over the past 24 months, the Sahel – a vast swathe of territory from Mali through Niger, northern Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic and the South Sudan to Somalia- has often made headlines because of the series of humanitarian, political, military and security crises it has encountered simultaneously, a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy heard this week. The fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the ensuing crises in Mali were a wakeup call to Sahel observers and democracy practitioners, underscoring the region’s structural fragility as a distressing domino effect was set in motion. 

Radical Islamists have benefited from a “vast criminal infrastructure” of drug trafficking, while the modern technology of GPS has opened up the region to malign external agents, said Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Criminal and jihadist groups had changed the balance of power with Sahel countries’ militaries, he told the NED forum (above), suggesting that more “ideological work must be done” to promote deradicalization and counter radical Islamist ideas.

“Terrorists gain when sovereignty is in question and governments are distracted by issues more central to their near-term survival,” says John McLaughlin, distinguished practitioner-in-residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“If Syria, Iraq and North Africa have problems with sub-sovereign conditions, they are modest compared with those on display in the vast stretches of the Sahel,” he writes for the American Interest. “The Nigerian federal government is clearly struggling with an extremist-inspired uprising in its northeast. And there is evidence that the local group, Boko Haram, has been able to recruit fighters from outside Nigeria, even while developing ties with other regional groups such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and the larger al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

Strengthening democratic institutions is vital to enhancing Sahel security and development, the Bridges Institute’s Vivian Lowery Derryck told the NED forum. “Civil society groups can build bridges and share strategies for resolving conflict, said Derryck, who paid tribute to Kamissa Camara, NED’s West Africa program officer, for pioneering the Sahel Strategy Forum, a civil society-focused initiative led by the NED, in partnership with The Bridges Institute.

A revival of the Club de Sahel pioneered by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a former US ambassador to the UN, and since incorporated into the OECD, might provide a valuable transatlantic forum for addressing the region’s pressing issues of security and democracy, said NED president Carl Gershman.

“North African states need to help their southern neighbors, and vice versa, to prevent lawlessness from spreading north or southeast across the Sahel into Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Nigeria,” Crocker and Laipson suggest:

If the Malian government reaches out to rebuild the political fabric of the vast nation, it could isolate the jihadist element and reverse the negative dynamics in Mali itself. If not, a contagious and deadly interplay of people and violence could cross borders in many directions.  …..Today Mali needs the sustained support of African and Western partners. The victory there must be carefully sustained using all the political, diplomatic and economic tools available. A counterterrorism strategy will not succeed in a political vacuum.

RTWT

 

Nigeria’s anti-graft bank governor to fight ‘bombshell’ suspension

nigeriaLamido_Sanusi_2011_ShankbonePresident Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria removed the governor of the country’s central bank from his post on Thursday, after the bank governor repeatedly charged that billions of dollars in oil revenue owed to the treasury was missing, the New York Times reports:

The dismissal of the bank governor, Lamido Sanusi (left), was seen as further evidence of the Nigerian government’s weakening resolve in tackling widespread corruption, a problem that has plagued the country since independence, analysts said.

Exactly how much money may be missing is unclear, as Mr. Sanusi acknowledged in a letter to the Nigerian Senate this month. It could be “$10.8 billion or $12 billion or $19 billion or $21 billion — we do not know at this point,” he wrote, adding that the apparent diversion “has been going on for a long time” and could “bring the entire economy to its knees” if it is not stopped.

But he may have taken on too big an opponent in the national oil company. The sprawling company acts as the country’s oil buyer, seller, explorer, producer, processor and regulator, and is “at the nexus between the many interests in Nigeria that seek a stake in the country’s oil riches,” according to a 2010 Stanford University study.

“Sanusi has long been the proverbial gnat in Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s ear, a constant irritation and this month the source of explosive allegations that could interfere with Mr Jonathan’s rumored bid for re-election next year,” says analyst William Wallis:

But the decision to suspend Mr Sanusi from his position as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) could cost Nigeria dearly. Together with the nomination on Thursday of a successor perceived as less challenging, it stunned investors and sent the naira plummeting to historic lows.

Anticorruption activists said that explanation for his dismissal would not be widely believed, the Times adds.

“Nigerians will see it as the result of the whistle he has blown on the non-remittances by the N.N.P.C. to the Federation Account,” said Dauda Garuba of the Revenue Watch Institute, which is supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, among others. “Public opinion agrees with Sanusi.”

Another watchdog group, the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, said that Mr. Sanusi’s removal exposed “the wider ramifications and impunity of corruption currently bedeviling the fiscal responsibility and accountability of this government.”

In Nigeria, grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, such as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), have urged the US to use its leverage to “press the government to exercise political will in fighting high level corruption.”

It is as yet unclear what Sanusi’s “suspension” means, says Council on Foreign Relations analyst John Campbell:

The Central Bank is supposed to be independent of the government; the governor may be removed only by the National Assembly, not the president, and only with cause. The presidential statement announcing the suspension refers to on-going investigations into “breaches of enabling laws, due process, and mandate of the Central Bank.” Sanusi says he will fight the “suspension” to preserve the Central Bank’s independence. At the very least, his “suspension” raises questions about how real the independence of the Central Bank will be.

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