In an interview with the BBC, Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria, asserted that Nigeria had “technically won the war” against the terrorist organization Boko Haram in the country. According to Buhari, Boko Haram could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centers in Nigeria, and had been reduced to relying on roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices to carry out attacks.
This week marks the first 100 days in office for Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari’s election in May marked a fundamental turning point in Nigeria’s conflicted political history. Buhari first assumed political power through a military coup in 1983. But he later resigned and political power transitioned to an elected president. Buhari unsuccessfully ran for the elected office in 2003, 2007, and 2011. Earlier this year he campaigned again for the position and won the popular vote, marking the first time in Nigerian history that an incumbent president lost the office through a popular vote.
Buhari’s presidential campaign centered on three main pillars: defeating the Boko Haram terrorist group that occupied much of the northern part of the country, fighting the rampant corruption that plagues Nigeria, and spurring economic growth. How has he done? Boko Haram has been dispelled from much of the territory it held in northern Nigeria but remains a threat. Corruption remains rampant. And economic growth in Nigeria has been undermined by falling global oil prices.
What do you think? Can Buhari spur economic growth in Nigeria? How? What would you counsel him to do if you were his political and economic adviser?
Elections are taking place in Nigeria this weekend, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler. As is often the case in Nigerian politics, the election highlights some of the sharp internal divisions in the country. Jonathan is a Christian from the southern part of the country, while Buhari is a Muslim from the north. Overlaying the election, Nigeria has faced ongoing unrest, particularly in the north, where the terrorist organization Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked villages, kidnapped civilians, and attempted to destabilize the regime and impose its own system of rule. The government’s response has been sharply criticized by many in the country—particularly those in the north—as entirely insufficient.
The election this weekend is expected to be close, and the government has imposed a strict voter identification system employing identification cards and biometric scans in an effort to stem fraud. But critics contend that the system itself is being employed to make it more difficult for critics of the regime to vote.
What do you think? Is the government of Nigeria taking sufficient steps to ensure that all citizens can vote? Is the voter identification system—and accompanying rulings limiting the ability of internally displaced person in the country to vote—an effort to retain control in a sharply contested election? Or is it an effort to ensure the integrity of the voting process? Why?
Michelle Obama holds the #BringBackOurGirls message after the April 2014 kidnapping of 273 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Approximately 230 remain missing.
While the world’s attention has been focused on the fallout from the Paris terror attacks, Boko Haram, a terrorist organization dedicated to establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria, has intensified its operations in the country. While social media has been dominated by the message #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie), referring to the attack against the satirical journal Charlie Hebdo in Paris, much less attention has been paid to the message #JeSuisNigeria.
Meanwhile, new satellite photos suggest that as many as 2,000 people have been killed and more than 3,600 structures in Baga, a town in northern Nigeria, have been destroyed. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the attacks and ongoing fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram terrorists.
Boko Haram, officially known as the People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad, has been implicated in a series of attacks and kidnappings, including the kidnapping of more than 270 girls from Chibok last April. That kidnapping launched a social media campaign featuring celebrities, politicians and others holding a sign with the message #BringBackOurGirls. In total, as many as 1.5 million people have been displaced as a result of the group’s activities in northern Nigeria, and Boko Haram has recently threatened to expand its operations into Cameroon and other countries in the region.
What do you think? Why have the activities of Boko Haram generated significantly less international attention than the Paris terror attacks? Do you think that the international community should respond to Boko Haram? If so, how? If not, why not?
Boko Haram’s primary goal is to establish an Islamic state free from Western influences in the northern part of Nigeria. The group is believed to be responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in Nigeria, but has limited influence outside the country.
What do you think? Should the United States intervene in Nigeria to address the rise of Boko Haram? Why? What kind of action, if any, do you think the United States should take? Can Western intervention be successful? Why?
There are many countries which lack regular reporting of basic economic data. In many African countries, for example, annual GDP reports are calculated using base year estimates and an annual multiplier adjustment calculated from a few key indicators. The problem is that the further we move from the base year, the mess accurate the economic measures become. Indeed, the problem was so pronounced in Nigeria that a 2012 revision added nearly $100 billion to the national economy overnight, increasing the size of the economy by 40%. The revision was not based on any real change in the country’s economic output—it was certainly not a function of a dramatic level of economic growth. Rather, it was simply a recalculation of the figure based on more up-to-date (and arguably more accurate) data. In 2010, Ghana similarly experienced a 60 percent increase in its GDP.
So does all this matter? Should we worry about the accuracy of GDP figures in the United States? Or unemployment figures, which would be similarly affected by the proposal? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
From the video: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Nelson Mandela was a fan of Chinua Achebe’s (left) work, having said that while reading Achebe’s novels as a prisoner of Robbin Island for 27 years, “prison walls fell down.” Mandela also said that Achebe’s work, “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”
Nigerian author and poet Chinua Achebe died on Friday. He was 82. Achebe’s work centered on understanding the effects of colonialism and corruption in Africa. His first—and most famous—book was Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, the classic text analyzed the clash between African and British colonial values in Nigeria, seeking to understand how local norms and values were undermined by colonialism.
In the book, Obierika comments that, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
Although Achebe was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was regularly held in the pantheon of the best African writers, including Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Lewis Nkosi. Achebe also served as a role model for countless younger African authors.
His passing was indeed a tragedy. But it also provided me pause. I had regularly used fiction, most notably Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Nigeria), but also other works such as Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe), Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (Nigeria), Chukwuemeka Ike’s Bottled Leopard (Nigeria), and Gillian Slovo’s Red Dust (South Africa), among others, as part of my introductory comparative politics course. Finding myself constantly trying to fit additional materials into the course, I stopped using novels in favor of other (nonfiction) readings covering key themes and debates.
Yet increasingly I suspect that fiction should have a more central place in the class again. Good fiction provides students with an additional avenue to make sense of the issues faced in regions and societies far removed from their own. While a well-written journal article or textbook chapter can covey all the factual information students need, the more emotive, visceral, and evocative learning atmosphere created through fiction speaks to students in a different way. Students, in short, get a better “feel” for the places they are studying.
I’ve provided a few recommendations for books covering several African countries above. I’d welcome recommendations for some of the other regions we typically cover in an intro to comparative politics course. Leave your suggestions below. And thanks!
According to a report by Reuters, Nigeria’s gross domestic product will grow by 40 percent in the second quarter of 2012. If correct, Nigeria’s GDP would increase from $273 billion to $370 billion, and Nigeria would become Africa’s second largest economy in Africa. Growth forecasts suggest that Nigeria would surpass South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy within a few years.
The move has significant implications for Nigeria and the rest of the developing world. Symbolically, Nigeria’s newfound economic prowess could afford the country greater leadership and influence on the continent, particularly within West Africa.
Nigeria’s larger economy would also have important policy effects for international institutions. By increasing its GDP, Nigeria’s debt ratio (the size of the country’s national debt as a proportion of the total size of its economy) will nearly be cut in half. At the same time, the improved economic status of the country could affect its ability to secure concessionary loans. When Ghana’s GDP was increased by more than 60 percent in 2010, its debt-to-GDP ratio fell from 40% to 24% and the World Bank reclassified it from a low income to a lower-middle income country.
So how did Nigeria and Ghana grow their economies so dramatically? In truth, they didn’t. Gross domestic product is the total value of goods and services produced win a country in a given year. But in most countries in most years, economists don’t actually go out and add everything up. Instead, they start with a year in which a fairly accurate survey was conducted and adjust it annually based on other variables like population growth. In both Ghana and Nigeria, the dramatic increase in GDP was not the result of sudden and dramatic economic growth. Rather, in both cases, the upward shift in GDP was the result of how the number was calculated and which base year was used.
This methodology raises several important questions.
First, how accurate is the baseline year? If the baseline year is incorrect, then all subsequent calculations based on that initial estimate also be inaccurate. The exclusion of the informal sector, which can include everything from sales by unlicensed street vendors to prostitution to the sale and trafficking of illicit drugs, often leads GDP to be underestimated. A 2010 World Bank report estimated the size of the informal economy in the United States as 8.8 percent of the formal economy. The median figure for developing countries was 41 percent. In the countries with the largest informal economies (such as Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Georgia, and Panama), it exceeded 60 percent.
Second, how old is the baseline year? When Ghana’s GDP increased in 2010, it was because Ghana shifted its baseline year from 1993 to 2006. Similarly, Nigeria’s baseline year shift from 1990 to 2008 will likely account for a significant portion of the increase in its GDP. Think for a moment about the importance of the baseline year. In the early 1990s, the cell phones which are no so ubiquitous across Africa will still in their infancy, widely unavailable on the continent. This one example illustrates how dramatically the structure of an economy (and a society) can shift in a relatively short period of time.
This means that GDP figures for developing countries are best thought of as general estimates falling within a wide margin of error rather than concrete numbers that reflect real, on the ground economic activity. It teaches us that we should be critical consumers of data.
What do you think? Should we continue to use GDP as a proxy measure for development? If so, how can we acknowledge the limits of that figure while making meaningful decisions? If not, what do we use instead? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond (left) and British Prime Minister David Cameron (right) sign an agreement to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
Earlier this week, the British and Scottish governments reached an historic agreement that would see Scotland hold a referendum asking voters to decide whether Scotland would become an independent country or remain as part of the United Kingdom. Numerous issues are at stake, not least of which is control of the estimated 20 billion barrels of oil and natural gas located under the North Sea.
There is good reason to think that British Prime Minister David Cameron is making a strong political move. While the Scottish National Party has polled well in recent elections, the idea of Scottish independence is much less popular than the party which supports it. A recent poll found that only 34 percent of Scottish voters supported independence, while more than half believed Scotland’s economy would suffer if it declared independence.
The move towards a referendum on Scottish independence raises one of the classic challenges of global politics: the problem of national sovereignty. The idea of national sovereignty links the concepts of state (the physical territory) and nation (the people who inhabit that territory and share a common sense of belonging). Within a country, the idea of legitimacy links the people and the state through the concept of sovereignty. The right of the state to exercise power, according to political thought since the Enlightenment, is rooted in the social contract. Since the end of World War II, and particularly since the end of the Cold War, the legitimacy of nondemocratic states has been strongly questioned.
The problem, of course, is at what level such popular consent takes place. The historical patterns of development has resulted in international legal boundaries between states which rarely correlate neatly with the common identity of those who inhabit those states. Indeed, it is relatively rare for the geographic boundaries of the political entity of the state and the cultural/ethnic entity of the nation to correlate much at all. Yet the tidy nation-state represents the ideal type of international relations.
Far more common are multinational states, countries in which multiple nations often compete for control of the state. Nigeria is perhaps the most well-known example. There, more than 250 ethnic groups—the three largest of which comprise about two-thirds of the population—compete for power. One of the most important legacies of colonialism in Africa was the creation of lasting political boundaries that bare little correlation to the politics on the ground, often undermining the sovereignty and legitimacy of the post-colonial state.
The status of the United Kingdom is similarly complicated by its history. There, four distinct “countries” are united. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland exist as “countries within a country.” Over the past twenty years, political authority has increasingly devolved from the unitary state. Political power has been decentralized away from London and towards regional governments. Independence in Scotland would represent a dramatic culmination of that (admittedly much slower) historical trend.
And other groups might be watching. Around the world, there are countless groups who identify themselves as stateless nations. The Palestinians are perhaps the most well-known, but others include the Basques in Spain, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Uighurs in China, the Hmong in Southeast Asia, and the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey
What do you think: Should Scotland declare independence? What would the political, economic, and social implications of such a move likely be? And how would Scottish independence affect the claims of other nationalist groups seeking independence, such as the Basques, Tamils, or Kurds? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.