Jacob's Opinion

Blog

The views expressed here are my personal views and not those of American University of Nigeria.  You are welcome to leave a comment or share.

view:  full / summary

Deploying a Local Frontier Against Boko Haram

Posted by Jacob Jacob on December 29, 2015 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I recently met with a group of local vigilantes in Adamawa State in North-East Nigeria. They are potentially a key part of the local frontier against Boko Haram. I truly admire the commitment of these brave young men and the pride they take in what they do.
There is enormous need for a stronger integration of vigilantes in local policing and in Nigeria's overall national security strategy.  Nigeria is blessed with an unusually large population of young men - more than 40 million strong!   With the poor state of the economy, it is important that these young become an advantage and not a potential problem.  It was Thomas Malthus who wrote that a a recruiting sergeant prays for a bad harvest, a want or unemployment.  In times of crises, a redundant male population can be either a blessing or a terrible curse.  Nigeria must find a way to harness the energy of its young male population in the fight against Boko Haram.  Local vigilantes offer a very unique opportunity.  Their extensive knowledge of their local areas can be a major asset in well coordinated counter insurgency (COIN) operations. They can also be part of a broader strategy to counter violent extremism in their local communities.  The Nigerian military and intelligence agencies must develop a clear strategy to draw from the local communities and widen the context of its COIN operations.   Local vigilantes can play a very critical role in this if well mobilized, trained, motivated and deployed.

AUN Don advocates Peace Journalism at EU Media Roundtable

Posted by Jacob Jacob on October 15, 2015 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)


 

 

Professor Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob of the School of Arts & Science has advocated a more communitarian role for journalists in Nigeria to help counter violent extremism in the country.

 

Professor Jacob was speaking recently in Abuja, on ‘New Perspectives in War and Peace Reporting’ at a Media Roundtable on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) organised by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in partnership with the EU Technical Assistance on Nigeria’s evolving Security Challenges (EUTANS).

 

He said Journalists should re-assess their role set in the society and see themselves as engaged members of the community, rather than as detached observers.

 

“What troubles the society, troubles the journalist, what troubles the community, troubles the media. The doctrine that media objectivity should be based on detachment from the story and the society in which the journalist lives and reports from is founded on a fundamentally faulty premise” he said.

 

Prof Jacob said Peace Journalism can create mechanisms that proactively report peace efforts over reactive coverage of violent incidents. “Across the Northeast”, he said, “there are various community-based peace support organisations such as the Adamawa Peace Initiative in Adamawa State, working to build peace and support IDPs. By highlighting the intervention efforts of such groups in their news reports, the media can open up a communal sphere for engagement with peace initiatives. Peace Journalism as a normative media regime, therefore recommends the adoption of a critical-transactional framework that reinforces peace as a key strand in the conflict narrative”.

 

Prof Jacob described terrorism as a propaganda of the deed, noting that violence and propaganda have much in common. Violence, he said, aims at behaviour change by coercion while propaganda aims at behaviour change through persuasion and emotional blackmail. Terrorism he stressed, is a combination of the two and can best be understood as a communication strategy.

 

“Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said that the media provide the oxygen of publicity upon which terror organisations depend, this may sound alarmist, but the fact remains that terror organisations are increasingly media savvy, drawing on both mainstream and new media to propagate the ideologies that inspire their operations” Prof Jacob said.

 

Professor Jacob who is Chair of the Communications and Multimedia Design Program at AUN, said the media must not settle merely for the role of enlightening or informing the public, but should strive for social justice and peace. Peace Journalism, he said, is derived from a communitarian role set for the press which requires journalists to tell stories of peace and justice.

 

He said although traditional liberal theorists have always maintained that the key function of the media in a pluralistic democracy is to position itself as a check on the state, Journalists should demand more of themselves than a mere watchdog role or even mere objective reporting of news. “Under the ethical notion that peace, truth and justice is the key obligation of the press, the Peace Journalist seeks to report stories that create opportunities for society to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict.” He said.

 

“Under this media regime”, he added, “the press has the cardinal obligation to be involved as engaged members of the community and to use their resources, privileges and expertise to stimulate dialogues that can lead to peaceful co-existence”.

 

The Media Roundtable was attended by the head of the Strategic Communications and Messaging Unit in the Office of the National Security Adviser, Zakari Mijinyawa, security experts, editors and bureaux chiefs of international news media organisations including AFP, AP, BBC, Guardian newspaper, Leadership newspaper among others, top government functionaries from the Information Ministry, members of the diplomatic community and representatives of EUTANS.

 

Professor Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob who obtained his PhD in Strategic Communications from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom has researched and published extensively on Information Intervention in violently divided societies. He has facilitated Peace Journalism workshops for journalists covering the Boko Haram insurgency in North-East Nigeria. Dr. Jacob who is a member of the UK’s Conflict Research Society is presently Interim Associate Dean in the School of Arts and Science. His research interest is located at the intersection between communications and political change in contemporary society. His works have been published in international peer-reviewed journals including War and Society, Small Wars Journal, Stability Journal of International Security and Development, among others.

Culled from 'Inside AUN', 77th Edition, July-Sept. 2015, 

 

Empowering Local Women for Peace and sustainability in Northeast Nigeria

Posted by Jacob Jacob on June 21, 2014 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)



Few heartwarming stories come from Nigeria’s northeast region. In the last two years, the Boko Haram insurgency, poverty, Islamist fundamentalism and youth disenfranchisement have dominated news from the three states that make up the region. I was therefore overwhelmed last week when I ran into an inspiring story of women empowerment at the sidelines of the international peace and development conference at the American university of Nigeria, Yola.


Early in 2013, the university’s sustainability team trained 26 women from a women development group on how to crochet yarn made from discarded plastic bags into handbags, mats, baskets and gift items. The non-biodegradable plastic bags are an environmental nightmare and the university’s dormitories, shops and offices generate several, daily.


Now, rather than add to the already fragile ecosystem in the region, the plastic bags are cleaned and weaved by the local women into beautiful, colourful products. The products are then sold at shops, hotels and events and the money goes straight into the pockets of the women.

Jennifer Che (second from left) is the programme administrator 


Jennifer Che, administrator of sustainability programmes at the university told me that the project has had profound impacts on the lives of the women and their families. Several of the women, she said have used money from sales of the products to get their children back to school and buy needed medicine. “It is not pocket money, it is real money” she said.

 

One of the women, Ma Elizabeth James told me that the project has changed her life. Her husband died from liver problems leaving her to fend for herself and seven children. When she heard about the programme from a local women’s group, she decided to give it a go. “The money from the products has helped me to pay for my children’s school fees, buy food and pay for my diabetes medicine” she said.


The quality of the products is commendable. Che said the university’s sustainability team is working on expanding the programme and building a website to showcase the products to a larger clientele.

Ma Elizabeth James said money from sales has helped her take care of her seven children and pay medical bills


The project has profoundly empowered local women, previously excluded socially and economically in a male dominated society.  It scores multiple goals for the society, for peace and for the environment. The women now have a renewed sense of belonging. Their children have access to education, thus limiting chances of their disenfranchisement and possible radicalisation. In addition, the environment is preserved from non-biodegradable plastic bags. I can’t think of a better win-win-win story.   


The American University of Nigeria was founded in 2003 by former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar. It is Africa’s premier development university. A unique feature of the university is that students undertake a mandatory community development course where they work with school children and teachers in local communities.

 

American University of Nigeria Holds Peace and Development Conference

Posted by Jacob Jacob on June 8, 2014 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

The American University of Nigeria (AUN) will host a peace and development conference on Wednesday June 11, 2014.   The conference aims to chart new paths to increased access to education, better security, and youth employment.

  

The 1st AUN-API International Peace & Development Conference is being promoted by the Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative (API). This is an organization of community, religious, and business leaders partnering with AUN in peace building and educational development in the conflicted region. The conference will be drawing over 100 participants from civil society groups, security organizations, academia, and other key stakeholder groups.

  

Several major highlights of the conference will be the presentation of certificates to 260 young women and men who recently graduated from the University’s free ICT (Information and Communications Technology) training program for at-risk youth in Adamawa State. Since its inception, this program has provided training to more than 2,000 local youth. In addition, the conference participants will hold a town hall meeting with 50 local youth to discuss their needs and concerns, and visit the local village of Bole to meet with internally displaced people and distribute food and seeds.

  

Discussants at the three-day conference, which will take place at the University’s ultra-modern Dr. Robert A. Pastor Library and e-Resource Center, are expected to offer new strategies and solutions for security programs that can guarantee peace and security, especially in the North East. The conference will be considering what support or reforms are needed in Nigeria, the role of religious leaders in conflict resolution and promoting understanding and tolerance, and how education and gender equity can promote peace and development.

 

Other topics slated for discussion include the contribution of good governance and democracy to accountability, peace, employment and development, and the role of the national media in promoting alternative viewpoints and galvanizing citizens towards national development.

 

The American University of Nigeria, Africa’s first Development University, through the Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative, has launched numerous educational programs for girls and women and, youth empowerment schemes in the community. The University has also taken an active role in donating relief materials to internally displaced persons fleeing from violent attacks in nearby Borno and Yobe states.

 

News in the 21st Century: Lessons from Paper.li

Posted by Jacob Jacob on May 29, 2014 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)


Just as the development of the Telegraph revolutionized news reporting in the 19th century, new ICTs have fundamentally transformed the way news is gathered, reported and received. The news audience in contemporary society is more informed than ever before, more technologically savvy and increasingly, aware of breaking news even before it breaks on mainstream media.  


Rachel Bartlett has written eloquently on the digital tools that will make new Journalists stand out from the crowd. This isn’t just a list for the rookie Journalist but for every Journalist that wants to ply his trade in the 21st century. The interesting thing about the list is that it makes no distinction between the tools of the broadcast Journalist and those of the print Journalist. But beyond the Journalist, news media organizations can only remain ‘mainstream’ at their own risk. The future of the internet is on the move. Mobile news apps are increasingly fashionable and will always be. The audience wants to take ownership. Audiences do not only want to choose what to see, when to see it and how to see it but they also want to be seen. In the words of cyberpreneur Michael Margolis ‘the real promise of technology and the internet revolution is that everyone is now a storyteller’. In today’s mesh of information and data, the future belongs to the media organization that makes it easiest for its audience to tell their own stories and take ownership of their preferred news stories. This is why the news curation platform Paper.li by Swiss-based startup Small Rivers is increasingly popular. It enables individuals, businesses, governments, NGOs, everyone to, in a few easy clicks, have their very own online newspaper – curating news from social media and various online sources.


I have used it as an academic tool as well as a personal tool and I am fascinated with the possibilities. I have been interested in the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria (long before the global #bringbackourgirls hashtag revolution). I have been working in Nigeria’s northeast region since August 2013 and I found it rather strange that local media stations would rather report the missing Malaysian airline or David Moyes’ (under?)performance at Manchester United than report the insurgency. International media were not interested in reporting the conflict either. So I set up The Boko Haram Observatory on Paper.li to distil stories on the insurgency from trusted sources online and on Twitter. I filtered the contents to focus on #BokoHaram, #Bornomassacre and more recently #bringbackourgirls. Initially it was meant to serve my information needs. But now, The Boko Haram Observatory (http://bit.ly/1tSZ5PK) is a source of information to an increasing number of friends and followers seeking daily news and features on the insurgency. It is automatically updated twice a day and an automatic notice is served to my followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook. Paper.li feeds into an increasing audience need for customized news at their command and control. It has over 3.7 million users curating over 50 million articles daily based on the interest-graph of users.


Paper.li offers an insight into how audiences will engage with news and online contents in the future. It is a refreshing model that reverses the clichéd definition of news as what the editor says it is. Paper.li insists that news is what the reader says it is. Doubtless, Small Rivers still has a lot to do to make paper.li fulfill all its potentials. More control can be given to the user. But the site does provide users with the ability to decide what news and features they want to see and in what format - a useful tip for news media organizations.

 

Rise and Rise of Social Media in Africa

Posted by Jacob Jacob on March 8, 2014 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

                                 

I recently asked my first year media students at the American University of Nigeria to stay off social  media (including Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc) for 24 hours and write an essay about their experience and lessons learned.   I really enjoyed reading their submissions.    


Several students admitted that they felt so bored that they had to force themselves to sleep through the period. One even said he took a dose of Piritin tablets to force himself to sleep, another spent a quarter of the day in the student gym. One of the students said she is shocked at how poor her interpersonal skills have become.  She had tried to have conversations with friends, but it felt so unnatural that she had to give up.  She realized she had to get herself to actually laugh at jokes rather than use the internet slang lmao or lol or an emoticon. 


I found one student's commentary particularly interesting.   She said she is increasingly finding face to face communication superficial and less pleasant than communication on social media.  "In my online space", she said, "I can afford to be myself, share my stories and the part of my life I am comfortable about sharing and keep the part I am not comfortable enough to share."


Since I returned to Nigeria last August  after over a decade in the UK, I get bombarded every day with new shocks.  Ten years ago, social media was unheard of in Nigeria.  Mark Zuckerberg and his friends had just conceived Facebook  and folks were only just getting used to the excitement of mobile phones in Nigeria. What a difference ten years can make! Now social media has become integral to everyday life in Nigeria and in several other African countries.  The Arab spring in North Africa, ignited by social media, sparked a wave of change that swept away the totalitarian regimes of notably Libya’s Gaddaffi and Egypt’s Mubarak.  Looking at what is going on now in both countries, one cannot help but wonder whether the so-called Facebook Revolution did more harm than good.    That is left to discussions for another day.


Now, social media is rapidly becoming a part of everyday cultures for young Africans.  With the proliferation of cheap, Asian-made  smart phones, the future looks even brighter.   But what are the implications? What are the impacts of social media revolution on the much vaunted  communitarian and oral culture in Africa?   Historically Africa has been seen by Western scholars as rich in communitarian values and dense social ties.  Hence, radio, has over the years been used as a key tool for development, peacebuilding and social transformation in Africa.  There have been several transformational radio projects and programmes by international and non-governmental organisations in various parts of Africa, notably Hirondelle Foundation's Radio Okapi in the DRC, Radio Miraya in South Sudan among others. Radio has been so transformational because it draws on the African oral culture and love for stories.  But gradually radio is making way.  Welcome, the new world of social media.  The opportunities are limitless as internet access increases along with cheaper smart phones. 


Social media draws on the uniquely strong social ties in Africa.  It is not uncommon to see friends and families exchange pleasantries several times a day or someone calling or texting a friend just to say 'thank you' for a favour done the previous day or even the previous week.  It is also not uncommon for someone to call all the family members and friends to seek counsel concerning a decision that may appear mundane to non-Africans - such as what church to attend, where to rent a house or buy a plot of land, which school to enroll their children in etc.  Facebook thus provides a quasi-crowdsourcing sphere for counsel from friends, families and sometimes religious leaders.  It also provides an agency for storytelling - telling personal stories and that of the Other. 


Gradually, but surely, social ties are moving from physical to virtual spaces in Africa.   New media is not only providing a place for connecting and making friends, sharing visuals and passing on information, it is also providing a medium for self-expression for many young Africans.   In a culture where young people are forced to be submissive to elders and authorities, this is significant.  There is a revolution going on in Africa, but it will not be reported in the local or international news tonight.  Just as the new printing press in 15th century Europe unraveled the hegemony of priests and absolute monarchs, social media is opening up a new revolutionary sphere for Africa's young and vibrant population.  The Arab spring was only a peep at what is possible.   The days of corrupt leadership and impunity in Africa are numbered.  On the other hand, there are great opportunities for businesses and emerging leaders that can tap into the nerve of social media in Africa.

 

Disarming Boko Haram: Lessons from the DRC

Posted by Jacob Jacob on February 24, 2014 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (2)


Recently, the Governor of Borno State in Nigeria’s northeast region, Kashim Shettima said the Islamist sect Boko Haram is better armed and better motivated than the Nigerian military. The Nigerian federal government quickly dispelled the Governor’s claim and asserted that the military was on top of the situation. The following day the sect killed many more people in Borno State.

 

Though several hundreds of miles apart, the insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast reminds me of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between 2006 and 2008. I was a PhD researcher then and was visiting DRC for field elements of my research on the UN Mission’s public information operations.

 

Although the UN peackeepers were very well trained and reasonably well armed, they struggled to contend with the poorly armed but seemingly better motivated rebel group, Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR). Just like Boko Haram, the FDLR was a nightmare especially in South Kivu. Using classic models of guerrilla warfare, they carried out early morning raids on villages. They would kill, take away food, women and young boys. They would also carry out occasional raids on police and military outposts and cart away arms and ammunition and then disappear into the forest or into a civilian area.

 

Like Boko Haram today, it was practically impossible for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to militarily engage FDLR without incurring heavy civilian casualties. The terrain was also extremely difficult. The FDLR knew the forests like their palms and the UN didn’t. The huge forest provided a very good covering and hiding place for the insurgents and there was basically nothing the UN peacekeepers could do, except maybe use the US defoliation tactics in Vietnam. But that would have been outrageous. Further compounding the problem then was that most of the FDLR fighters were Rwandan Hutus who had fled Rwanda. Most of them were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

 

But despite the difficulties, MONUC solved the FDLR problem using a most unlikely tool - a radio programme it called ‘Gutahuka’ (meaning ‘go back home’ in Kinyarwanda – the language of the FDLR fighters). Broadcast every night on the UN-backed Radio Okapi and a range of other stations, Gutahuka appealed directly to individual fighters to lay down their arms and join the UN’s Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRRR) programme. It also explained details of the DDRRR. Rehabilitated ex-combatants and ex-commanders were interviewed on Gutahuka. They talked extensively about life after fighting – how they have reintegrated into their communities and now raising families and working on a business. I interviewed several former combatants in Rwanda and in the DRC. More than half of those I spoke with admitted that Gutahuka influenced their decision to abandon the ‘struggle’, some others told me that after listening to the programme they lost the zeal to continue fighting. My critical discourse analyses of the Gutahuka showed strong elements of normative appeals which can be adapted in other information intervention programmes.

 

Nigeria is at a crossroads. Boko Haram has torn deep into the fabric of life in the northeast, particularly in Borno state. And if its leader Abubakar Shekau should be believed, the attacks will be extended to other parts of Nigeria. Considering how the Nigerian military is responding to the situation in Borno, it is unlikely they would be able to adequately protect its population and strategic assets in the oil industry if Shekau carries out his threat of extending operations to the Niger-delta. The Nigerian government will have to seriously consider using non-military means to persuade combatants to voluntarily disarm.  

 

Part of MONUC’s DDRRR and overall stabilisation strategy was the unique synergisation of humanitarian and military components of the mission. It was unprecedented in UN PKO history. Three new peacekeeping elements were developed to deal with the unique terrain and the difficult conflict. These were the Joint Protection Teams (JPTs), Company Operational Bases (COBs) and Temporary Operational Bases (TOBs). While COBs and TOBs were quick response military operational bases brought closer to vulnerable communities in the Kivus, the JPTs were a novel addition to MONUC’s civil-military approach. Through JPTs MONUC worked to improve community relations in the operational environments and this really helped to improve the human intelligence gathering capability of the mission and various other information flows. To defeat Boko Haram, these elements, especially JPTs will be an essential addition.

 

The Joint Task Force (JTF), the Nigerian military unit mandated to deal with the insurgency, can certainly do more.  Although they do have civilians working with them at the tactical field operations level, there is still more left to be done in working directly with communities and local religious leaders to prevent attacks and reassure communities of the military's protection. But a lot needs to be done to regain the confidence of local people. According to local media reports, Boko Haram operated in Izge and Konduga for several hours without a military response whereas there is a military post less than 30 kilometers away. The military has not explained why it took them so long to respond. It is unsurprising that local people have little confidence in the military's capability to protect them.

 

Finally, in addition to creating a radio programme to reach out directly to insurgents, the Nigerian military needs to improve its messaging. It just has to get beyond issuing wordy press releases. They must remember that its audiences are not only Nigerians at home and in the diaspora but also foreign investors and even potential Islamist sponsors in North Africa and the Middle East.

 

I hope the Nigerian government will seriously consider a full Strategic Communications and Information Intervention campaign to support the JTF. The power of communications should never be underestimated in counterinsurgency operations, especially the type Nigeria is dealing with now.

 

24.02.2014

 

Photo credit: MONUSCO


Boko Haram and the Clash of Narratives

Posted by Jacob Jacob on January 13, 2014 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau


The Englishman, Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) later renowned as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in David Lean’s classic was one of the most bizarre guerrilla entrepreneurs during the First World War. Lawrence joined Arab Sheiks rebelling against Turkey, then an ally of Germany. With support from the British, Lawrence organised Sheiks and their followers into a formidable guerrilla army. John Robb, a former US counterterrorism operation commander and author of the book Brave New War has written brilliantly on how an understanding of Lawrence’s guerrilla strategies can offer a deeper awareness of the tactics of guerrilla insurgents in contemporary society. Lawrence of Arabia’s campaign was aimed at partially disrupting the Turkish railway system so that the Turks would send more troops to guard the railways and render themselves vulnerable at other critical operational areas.

Unlike Lawrence’s guerrilla movement, Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group in Nigeria is not involved in systems disruption. But one can see several similarities between the tactics of the Abubakar Shekau-led group and those of Lawrence of Arabia. Throughout 2013 they carried out various attacks on villages, schools and public gatherings. Last December they successfully carried out two daring attacks on highly secured military compounds in Borno State. Like Lawrence of Arabia, the Abubakar Shekau-led group has been extremely successful in distracting the attention of President Jonathan’s government. Other pressing national security issues and teething problems such as oil bunkering in the Niger-Delta, power, corruption, as well as Nigeria’s peacemaking role in Africa have not received the full attention they deserve. As in the case of Lawrence of Arabia and in many other insurgency situations, it is widely believed that Shekau has big backers within and outside Nigeria and possibly from Al Qaeda. Despite the state of emergency declared in the more affected Northeast states last May, there are no signs Boko Haram is getting any weaker. Rather, they appear more resilient and better coordinated in their raids than before.

More worryingly, the group is becoming increasingly media savvy. Their videos are becoming more sophisticated even including footages of some of their most brazen attacks. They now make and distribute audio tapes of their messages to spread their ideology and drive recruitment. In a recent video Shekau spoke confidently and sought to justify his campaign. “My muslim brothers” he said “we want you to know us, understand us”. He said their intention is not to kill or take anyone’s property but to do the work of God. Of all Boko Haram’s videos, this is the most worrisome. It is Shekau’s most articulate and most compelling showing. In no uncertain terms, he has demonstrated his intention to take the narratives high ground. This is what should cause President Jonathan and his security advisers sleepless nights. If they consistently tell their story within a stronger narrative framework through different forms and accompany them with even stronger visual signifiers, it is not unlikely that sooner or later they will earn the sympathy and possible support of the local population. The eminent scholar, E.J. Hobsbawm in one of his works, Revolutionaries notes that this is one of the most worrisome phases of any guerrilla enterprise. When Boko Haram succeeds in having an audience that they can speak to directly and establish common grounds, then sooner rather than later they will create a we versus they cognitioning – we, the oppressed against them the oppressors. This phase ushers an unlimited resource for recruitment and a hiding place for fighters.

There has never been a greater urgency for the Nigerian military to communicate more clearly. The situation in the northeast is as much a warfare of narratives as it is a kinetic warfare. So far, the Nigerian military has been more reactive than assertive. In the northeast, the word on the street about the military and the federal government is anything but flattering. During insurgencies of this nature, the state needs the support of the local population more than it needs bullets and bombs. Unfortunately the Nigerian military has not been able to develop a compelling narrative to clearly articulate its overall strategic aims and win hearts and minds in their core operational areas. Their communication is limited to press releases and media briefings about the number of Boko Haram fighters killed. This is less than inadequate. National Security Expert Michael Vlahos once described narratives during military engagements as “the foundation of all strategy, upon which all else – policy, rhetoric and action – is built”. Indeed, during crises situations, narratives are critical and can define the difference between success and failure, between life and death. The local population needs to make sense of the crises, understand their vulnerabilities, negotiate their resilience and reconsider their allegiance. They need information for their safety. Information therefore becomes a fundamental need. The narrative structures around which such information is weaved are even more important. Where these are porous, local people develop their own means of information or gravitate towards any eloquent narrative source to fulfill this fundamental information need. The unfortunate reality is that Boko Haram is gradually providing that source. The consequence is that the military may be permanently losing a strategic high ground.

The long term solution to the Boko Haram insurgency may not necessarily be kinetic. It lies in providing socio-economic structures that can end poverty and disincentivise militancy in the region. But while the troubles last, there is need for the military to develop more creative and more engaging means of telling its story to a population that is already disenchanted and untrusting. While the military is doing its best tactically, several people are led to believe the federal government does not care enough and the military is incapable of protecting them. A strong narrative can turn around this opinion.

Nigeria is among a new order of nations – the new MINT nations (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey), with projections that it will become one of the world’s key economies within the next two decades. The only way this projection can become a reality is if the government demonstrates that it is capable of consistently protecting lives and property and that it takes national security much more seriously. This should be the paramount issue on the President’s mind in 2014.


 

Chinese Media Expansion in Africa

Posted by Jacob Jacob on July 6, 2011 at 8:39 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

China Central Television (CCTV) is making some bold in-roads into Africa. It has recently announced several technical vacancies in its east African operations. It is interesting that while the UK government is cutting back spending on BBC World Service, China is expanding its media presence and media assistance in Africa. Doubtless, an increasingly assertive China would do with a louder and more influential voice in the African continent.      But would they be able to compete with the more established BBC World, Radio France International or Voice of America for African audiences? The thinking among most of my colleagues in the West is that Africa has a strong oral tradition, and that Radio is the mass medium of choice for most Africans. Thus China’s CCTV may not necessarily constitute a competition to the BBC World’s or the VOA’s radio audiences. This, no doubt is a fact. However a more prudent look at the demographics will tell a more interesting story.   A lot has changed in Africa during the past decade.  Radio, to borrow Michele Hilmes' parody, is increasingly restricted to the 'doghouse' of rural Africa. But in the urban centres where there is a growing middle class of young Africans, radio is gradually but steadily making way for Satellite Television and the Internet. The VOA is already seeking ways to catch the young by replacing the old shortwave infrastructures with a place on Twitter. It remains to be seen, however, how the VOA on Twitter would manoeuvre past the Smith-Mundt Act (the US Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948) that compels the US government to keep the VOA and other US propaganda materials away from US citizens.

Young, educated and upwardly mobile Africans are making fewer foreign radio audiences, but they are getting increasingly hooked to the internet and satellite television. CNN, Aljazeera and increasingly CCTV are the international news channels of choice for this demography.  They seem to be CCTV’s target as it seeks to become an influential global media network. China’s international broadcasting philosophy departs from the democratisation model of Western international broadcasters. The Chinese model draws more on economic and technological interests and less on political governance or democratisation. Hence, several African governemts will find it easier to cosy up to CCTV and its rewards.

Last year I was part of a workshop committee on an ESRC project at the University of Oxford to reflect on China’s growing influence in Africa’s communications sector and its implications. This report of the workshop provides a interesting discussion  of the debates from the perspective of African, Chinese and Western scholars.  Happy reading. 

 


Battling Radical Islamist Propaganda in Somalia: The Information Intervention Option

Posted by Jacob Jacob on June 12, 2011 at 9:58 PM Comments comments (0)

While the international community continues to dither over Somalia, Islamic fundamentalists have taken over control of the country’s information space and other key strategic assets. This article discusses the precarious media environment in Somalia and revisits discourses on Information Intervention, conceptualised by Jamie Metzl in 1997. It examines the nature of UN’s ‘Information Intervention’ in Somalia and argues that the international community can do more by drawing on available legal instruments to carry out ‘coercive’ information intervention. 

Follow this link to the full article in Small Wars Journal


Rss_feed