Better governance most effective tool against Nigeria’s Boko Haram

nigeria boko cfrThe militant Islamist Boko Haram’s increasingly bold attacks in Nigeria threaten to fuel further Muslim-Christian violence and destabilize West Africa, making the group a leading concern for U.S. policymakers, writes John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Africa policy studies, in a new Council Special Report.

“The Boko Haram insurgency,” Campbell explains, “is a direct result of chronic poor governance by Nigeria’s federal and state governments, the political marginalization of northeastern Nigeria, and the region’s accelerating impoverishment.” Rather than fighting the militant group solely through military force, he argues, the U.S. and Nigerian governments must work together to redress the alienation of Nigeria’s Muslims.

Though the United States has “little leverage” over President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, Washington should “pursue a longer-term strategy to address the roots of northern disillusionment, preserve national unity, and restore Nigeria’s trajectory toward democracy and the rule of law.”

Campbell’s long-term recommendations comprise:

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Flight MH17: Will Russia Get Away With It?


Following the entry of more than 120 Russian military convoys into Ukraine last week, the US and its European allies appear to have reached a turning point in their response to the Ukrainian conflict, notes former Woodrow Wilson fellow Amy Knight.

According to US President Barack Obama, “the sanctions that we have in place are biting plenty good.” If that is the case, why is Russia continuing to escalate its military activities in Ukraine? One answer seems to be that the Russian government has learned that there is a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine, she writes for The New York Review of Books.

“Obama should also reconsider his refusal to send arms to an embattled Ukrainian government. The only way to deal with bullies like Putin is to confront them with countervailing strength and pressure,” says Nicholas Burns, a professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

The government in Kiev calls it “temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories”, referring to the separatists’ rule imposed on this land through the Russian invasion, writes Ukrainian journalist Olesia Markovic:

The separatists themselves identify this land as two separate independent republics – Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). The most devoted pro-Russian activists go as far as calling it “Novorossiya” (New Russia).

Whatever its supporters or opponents want to call it, this land stands for one thing only: a tragic political, socio-economic and humanitarian disaster. Its people are currently suffering a failed attempt to create some semblance of statehood which takes from the local population but does not give back.

Western resolve?

The West should demonstrate the resolve that has been lacking in its dealings with the Kremlin, says Knight, author of Who Killed Kirov: The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery, Spies Without Cloaks: The KGB’s Successors, and How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies:

Whether this means much stronger economic sanctions or military assistance for Kiev, or both, Western leaders must keep in mind the lesson of Malaysian Flight MH17—that left undeterred, there is little the Kremlin won’t do in its efforts to assert its dominance over the former Soviet empire. As Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk observed last week: “[Putin] is testing the ground. He will move as far as the world will allow him.”


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Russia’s Counter–Color Revolution Doctrine


putinRussia is planning to enshrine non-nuclear deterrence and counter–color revolution strategies into its military doctrine, notes Jamestown analyst Roger McDermott.

Army-General (retired) Yury Baluyevskiy, the former chief of the General Staff (CGS) refers to the United States monitoring the military-political situation in regions of the world deemed to be in its national interests, and using a “strategy of indirect action,” which represents a comprehensive approach—with diplomatic, economic and informational aspects, he writes:

Here he turns to the effectiveness of “non-violent” actions in the color revolution model and applies this to Ukraine in the fall of 2013 and the departure of the legitimate government in February 2014: “In this connection, the potential likelihood remains of employment of transnational and illegal [irregular] armed force elements for the purpose of a violent change in the existing state system and disruption of the state’s territorial integrity; and such a development of events cannot be excluded for Russia, as well, in the foreseeable future. The potential danger of an abrupt exacerbation of domestic problems with a subsequent escalation to the level of internal armed conflict is a real threat to our country’s stability and territorial integrity for the mid-term outlook.

Information warfare with a mass effect on the awareness of the population of individual countries and of the world public with the use of cyber weapons for suppressing not just military command-and-control and communications systems already has become reality and an integral part of all armed conflicts,” Baluyevskiy observes (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, November 12).

In other words, as the top brass presenters during the Moscow Security Conference in May 2014 consistently stressed, “color revolution” may be perceived as a potential threat to the Russian state, McDermott notes:

The Russian reading of the Euromaidan mass protests in Ukraine earlier this year, consequently, must be understood in this context—viewing these events as an illegal revolution sweeping the legitimate government from power and lacking widespread popular support.

While Russia has clearly conducted an information campaign against Kyiv, it is also asserted by Russian defense specialists that the West is currently engaged in information operations against Russia. This perception is illustrated by Vasily Burenok, the president of the Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences, who argues that the aim of such a campaign is to “discredit” the Russian leadership and to destroy it.


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Paradigms Lost: Middle East’s Trends and Drivers

Salem 2014_0Four years after the uprisings that broke the mold of the old Middle East, 2015 promises to be another year of tumultuous change, notes Paul Salem, the Middle East Institute’s Vice President for Policy and Research. The eruptions of 2011 unleashed decades of pent-up tensions and dysfunction in the political, socioeconomic, and cultural spheres; these dynamics will take many years, if not decades, to play themselves out and settle into new paradigms and equilibriums.

In 2014, four Arab countries—Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen—sank decisively into the ranks of failed states with no longer any effective central authority over the expanse of national territory, he notes:

ISIS arose as the largest radical threat in the region’s modern history, challenging political borders and order and proposing political identities and governance paradigms. Sunni-Shi’i conflict intensified throughout the Levant and reached Yemen; an intra-Sunni conflict also pitted supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood.

arab reformEgypt rebuked its previously ruling Islamists and elected a military officer as president who has prioritized security and economics and cracked down heavily on dissent. Tunisia’s secular nationalists and Islamists found a way forward with a new constitution and inclusive national elections. Jordan and Lebanon have managed to maintain stability despite massive refugee inflows. A cautious Algeria maintained its status quo, reelecting an aging president to a fourth term. And Morocco continued its experiment in accommodation between a powerful monarchy and a government led by the moderate Islamist PJD party….

2015 promises to be no less turbulent than 2014, as domestic and regional dynamics continue to play out, says Salem:

The Battles of the Youth Bulge

Prime among these is a demographic youth bulge of historic proportions that burst the precarious piping of the old political and socioeconomic structures and will continue to overwhelm the social and institutional orders of the region for some time. Two thirds of the population is under the age of 30 and their search for jobs, identity, and empowerment will fuel the tumult of the region for many years. …

Power Shift toward the Populace

Advances in technology and communication have led to a power shift from once all-dominant states to an increasingly informed, powerful, and demanding populace, both as communities and individuals. They have access to the global web of information and communication; they can build virtual societies and communities of identity and interest; and they can mobilize and coordinate. …

Failing and Resurging States

ARAB BAROMETER LOGOTwenty percent of Arab states have failed in the past few years, others are teetering, some have adapted, and still others have regrouped to reassert old power. The failed states—Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen—have in common conditions of low national unity, but they have failed for different reasons. .….

Paradigms Lost

The Arab uprisings of 2011 heralded that the past paradigms had broken, but this created a scramble for new paradigms, and to date no new paradigm has emerged as paramount. The old paradigm of repressive authoritarianism and quiescent populations, in exchange for socioeconomic development, broke down in the face of slow and unequal economic growth, growing popular empowerment, and worsening government corruption and repression. The initial uprisings inarticulately threw up outlines of a paradigm of democratic, pluralistic, and socially just government. The Muslim Brotherhood proposed a paradigm of Islamist government. The military in Egypt is proposing a neo-nationalist paradigm in which order and economic growth are paramount. The Moroccan king might be on the road to evolving a constitutional monarchy. Lebanon and Tunisia are managing precarious but pluralistic and power sharing political systems. ….

Three years ago, Arab public opinion was resonant with a loose paradigm of popular empowerment and accountable and inclusive government; today it is a bickering Babel of competing paradigms. Until the region settles on a governance paradigm—as Western Europe did, albeit after centuries of conflict—this cacophony of visions and ideologies will continue to bedevil the region.  In the long run as this century develops, democratic and inclusive government—whether as constitutional monarchy or republican democracy—will probably be the only sustainable paradigm.

Political Islam and Secular Nationalism

islamists nytThese have been the best of years and the worst of years for political Islam. ….. Although nationalism has lost much of the ideological clarity it had several decades ago, in the face of strong Islamist narratives that seek to rearrange community and society along religious lines, there has been a resurgence in some countries of attachment to the broad outlines of nationalism that base community on attachment to the nation-state and the constitutions, institutions, and laws that it promulgates.

State and Civil Society

Civil society remains a key deficit in the Arab world. It played a key role in pushing back against an Islamist hegemony and pushing forward a political transition in Tunisia. It is essential in keeping the complex Lebanese social system together and inching forward. It played a key role in Egypt and other countries in 2011, demanding a new way forward. But in countries where civil society was weak, it was either overtaken by better organized Islamist movements, more powerful sectarian divisions, or a resurging state. In the attempt to rebuild national stability, whether in Egypt or elsewhere, it is important to realize that civil society is an ally in reclaiming public space and social power from divisive Islamist or sectarian narratives, and is a key factor in creating stable and sustainable state structures. Both the Mubarak regime in Egypt and the Assad regime in Syria were deeply skeptical of civil society and preferred Islamist organizations to fill up social space. This ultimately weakened the state and weakened state-society cohesion. In the long run, a healthy civil and political society provides the living link between state and society and provides the bedrock for state stability and the main antidote for radical movements….

Looking for White Swans

The region will continue to furnish the world with well more than its fair share of crises. The West took about five centuries to transition from medieval to “modern,” working through its wars of religion and battles to establish national identities and state borders, transform worldviews, try out radical ideologies, and eventually evolve toward stability, coexistence, and liberal democracy. This only occurred after two devastating world wars and genocide in the twentieth century. The Middle East started its profound transformation roughly a century and a half ago. It will take more than a few years to work itself out.

In the short term, extrapolating into 2015, the time horizon might be close enough to venture a few estimates. First, I do not mean to imply that the Middle East will be defined only by crisis. The majority of countries in the region, from Morocco to Iran, will likely maintain basic stability while working through various political, social, and economic challenges. Only a minority, including at least Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, will predictably continue in deep crisis….

Iran’s regional policy, led by the Revolutionary Guards, continues to expand and founder at the same time. In the past three years, Iran’s proxies in Baghdad and Damascus have lost control of their countries and control now only rump states. In Syria, Iran had to send Hezbollah and its own commanders, trainers, and valuable resources to save the Assad regime from collapse; this effort has stretched Hezbollah and Iran, but Iran has shown no serious interest in real political change in Damascus as a way out of the crisis. …The trouble for Iran—and indeed its neighbors—is while its influence is expanding in the region, its policies are leading to the collapse of once-functioning states and to explosive sectarian tensions.


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Telling It Straight: How Trustworthy Government Information Promotes Better Media

CIMA TELLING ITIn the finance ministry of a country that was once part of the Soviet Union, the press secretary must take every reporter’s questions to the minister, who decides which staff member can answer, and the response once written must go back to the minister for approval. The process can take weeks, often after the reporter on deadline has produced the story without the ministry’s information, notes Marguerite Hoxie Sullivan, a media and communications consultant.

In a Middle East country, a long-time immigration officer is designated as the only person to speak to the media. In addition to press secretary duties, he also handles other ministry jobs. On trips for these, he turns off his press cellphone. When he returned from one trip, he was surprised that a popular TV interview program had put on camera an empty chair with his name on it because the reporters had not been able to reach him, she writes in a new report for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance.

In one Asian country, a key ministry has no dedicated press operation, no full-time spokesperson, not even a press list. Information is released only to government-owned media, which most citizens disregard. The minister says he and his staff won’t work with the independent media as they only report rumors and misinformation. He doesn’t understand that he has to engage with journalists for the ministry’s side of the story to be presented.

These scenarios are repeated around the globe. In new and emerging democracies, in countries coming out of conflict, in societies in transition where for decades information was repressed, being open with the public through the press and disseminating reliable information in a systematized and responsive fashion is a new concept. Yet, just as the media are crucial to informing the public, so too are governments in getting out information that reporters and hence citizens can use.

The U.S. government spends millions of dollars annually in international aid to build the capacities of independent journalists, but these funds can be wasted unless the capacities of government officials and their spokespersons to communicate openly are also built. This means steering official spokespersons away from a culture of public relations spin and propaganda and instead helping to build a responsive and responsible information office that interacts with reporters and citizens on the programs and plans of government.

For almost two decades, I have written, assessed, trained, and advised on setting up systems of open communication and transparency through nearly 200 engagements in more than 40 countries on every continent, except Australia and Antarctica. The work has been supported by the Department of State, U.S. embassies, and USAID, often in partnership with a local nongovernmental organization, university, or regional or national government requesting assistance. And while I have done communications capacity building with civil society groups, political party activists, and journalists, much of the focus has been on building communications capacities at all levels and branches of governments.

In many transitioning democracies as well as more developed ones, the maturity of government communication capacities often lags behind that of the media. Too often government communication has been plugged in as an afterthought in a development project, and treated as part of a communications campaign strategy rather than as an integral part of achieving media freedom.

The consequences can be serious: Freedom of the press cannot thrive unless the government understands the role of an independent media in a democracy and has developed sustained systems of communicating with reporters and the public. A transparent and functional government communications operation is critical for independent media to thrive—or even just survive.

This extract is taken from the newly-released Center for International Media Assistance report, Telling It Straight: How Trustworthy Government Information Promotes Better Media, by Marguerite Hoxie Sullivan, a media and communications consultant and CIMA’s former senior director.

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