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,
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, 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 product to send their children back to school and buy needed medicine. “It is not pocket money, it is real money” she said.
One of the women, 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 build a website to showcase the products to a larger clientele.
The project has profoundly empowered local women, previously excluded socially and economically by a male dominated system. 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 their chances of falling prey to Islamist radicalism. 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 schools.
The Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland to Nigeria, Dr. Patrick Fay, will be joining the American University of Nigeria (AUN) as a faculty member at the end of his diplomatic service in August, 2014.
As a member of the AUN faculty, Ambassador Fay, will be teaching political science, philosophy, public administration in the undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as courses in law which are currently being developed at the university.
Ambassador Fay, an astute diplomat and scholar, was actively involved in brokering the historic Good Friday Agreement that ended 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. He will be the second Ambassador from Europe to join the AUN after a successful tour of diplomatic mission duty in Abuja. Dr. David Macrae, former European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, joined the university in August last year as Executive Vice President for University Relations and Development. Another renowned diplomat, former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell is on the board of trustees of the University.
An official statement from the University’s President’s office, said Ambassador Fay will use Fall 2014 to prepare for classes and will be in residence starting from the Spring of 2015.
In her announcement of this important appointment, AUN’s President Professor Margee Ensign said, “All of us at AUN are very excited that Ambassador Fay will be joining us during the next academic year. His experience as a diplomat, peacemaker, and scholar complements our mission and activities at AUN. We are honored that, like former EU Ambassador David Macrae, who joined AUN last year, Ambassador Fay will help to contribute to the education and development mission of AUN, and the further development of Nigeria.”
On his new appointment, a delighted Ambassador Fay commented: “I am very happy to be joining AUN to teach and to assist with its mission as a development university."
Ambassador Fay has a rich educational background that includes a BA/B.Ph. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in ethics and political philosophy (1970), an MA in EU Law from the University of Leicester (2001), MSc in economics and /policy studies the University of Dublin (1996), Master of Public Administration from the University College, Dublin (1981), and a PhD in Governance from Queen’s University, Belfast in 2008. He is completing a graduate diploma in diplomatic studies (Leicester University) and intends to undertake an LLM in human rights law (London University). He is currently working on a post-doctoral degree in critical thinking, an essential component of education at AUN.
Dr. Ensign described Ambassador Fay as an intellectually astute diplomat, meticulous scholar, and lifelong learner. Before coming to Nigeria, he served in many posts in Dublin in the Home Office before being posted to the European Union in Brussels.
The American University of Nigeria, Africa’s first Development University, is partnering with the Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative, a group of prominent community, religious, traditional and business leaders, to promote peacebuilding and literacy programs for girls, women and vulnerable youths in Adamawa, and other Northeastern states.
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.
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.
One of the students said she is increasingly finding face to face communication superficial and less pleasant than communication on social media. In her online space, she said, she can afford to be herself, share her stories and the part of her life she is comfortable about sharing and keep the part she is 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.
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.
Photo credit: MONUSCO
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.
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.
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.
It is interesting listening to students’ views about the death of Osama bin Laden. It is amazing the number of people that believe there is something sinister about the commando raid on the Abbottabad lair of the Al Qaeda kingpin. I do not blame them. I place the whole blame on the doorsteps of President Obama’s Communication handlers. The problem, I believe is not with the raid itself but with the narratives of the raid.
There have been quite a few inconsistencies on the raid including how bin Laden was actually killed - ‘during’ or ‘after’ a firefight. During those crucial first 12 hours of the announcement, there was confusion over the most basic details of the operation – how bin Laden was killed. In his address, President Obama used the word ‘after’. He said “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body”. This connotes that bin Laden was killed, not ‘during’ or ‘in’ a firegfight but at the end, or some time ‘after’ the firefight had finished. It can also be interpreted to mean that Bin Laden was involved in the firefight, but survived it and was killed thereafter. In the 1,387-word speech, the President only used the word ‘firefight’ once. It is significant that the only time he used the word was in the same sentence he announced the killing of bin Laden and the other very significant factor – custody of the corpse. Including 'firefight' in that critical sentence, I believe was a very carefully deliberated choice, although (as we have now come to realise) bin Laden may not have been armed and was not involved in the firefight that preceded his death. I believe the speech was carefully designed to associate the killing with a firefight but in a form that leaves room for ‘manoeuvre’ if facts emerge. But other senior Whitehouse officials in subsequent press appearances went a step further and said bin Laden was killed ‘in’ a firefight. Beyond what Fox’s James Rosen has interestingly described as a botched storyline, the Whitehouse’s narrative is an own goal on many fronts. In addition to creating avoidable distractions on the storyline of one of the most significant commando operations in history, it also gives Islamists a rallying point – that bin Laden fought gallantly to the death. When intensified and supported with strong rhetorical accompaniments, it can provide an inspiration for suicide attacks.
Does it matter?
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but in the absence of visual witnessing of a historically significant event of this nature, every word is important. In the postmodern world visual forms of media are dominant. Where they are absent, words become the greatest signifiers and can weigh significantly. If there were videos of the raid, the President and his communication handlers could probably have been spared much of the embarrassment of retracting and re-explaining. President Obama’s censorship of images of bin Laden’s corpse after CIA Chief Leon Panetta had earlier indicated that they would be released is not helpful. Personally I think the argument that releasing pictures of bin Laden’s corpse would somehow convince sceptics or conspiracy theorists that bin Laden was killed during the raid actually misses the point, at least from a communications point of view.
Increasing social, cultural and technological shifts from the verbal and textual to the visual makes a visual narrative of the raid as important as the raid itself. It is critical to the way people will remember and even engage with the exit of the bin Laden Factor. Bin Laden was not only a character or a person, he was an entity, a symbol. He represented (and still does) an ideology that seeks to challenge a civilisation and everything it represents. Bin Laden symbolised a belief system that the US, ‘the great Satan’ could be humiliated, harassed and taunted – a system of belief appropriated by radical Islamists across continents. For a decade, bin Laden remained a ‘dangling modifier’ of some sort – disrupting states, modifying foreign policies, inspiring radicalism. Merely announcing the exit of this ‘modifier’ and leaving the media to come up with various animated versions of the raid is simply not good enough. Indeed, the media have had to come up with a plethora of animations and graphics to enhance and indeed support the ‘dry’ report of the raid. There have been countless speculations and shadow accounts of the raid. This should never be the case for an operation of this significance.
Between McLuhan and Abbottabad
A few friends have argued that images of Hitler’s corpse were not shown to the world, so why should it be different with bin Laden. Well, that was then. Today, (to sound off Marshall McLuhan) our senses have evolved along with the kind of technology we have been socialised to. Our senses have evolved along with the technological enablements of social media, live images and animations. We have new innate desires to witness and even narrate events, even far-off events, as they happen. One of my most admired media scholars, Marshal McLuhan has written substantially about how media technologies affect the society, notably arguing that the technological medium itself is the message. Effects are delivered not only via the messages, but also via the very characteristics of the medium itself. Prior to television for example, we engaged with news and other media contents based on the unique capability or characteristics of the medium – we listened to radio, the literate also read newspapers. But with the advent of television, our visual culture has evolved, so have our perspectives. In today’s convergence culture, we engage with various dimensions of the media. I agree with McLuhan that how we perceive, witness and believe has been transformed significantly. After 10 years of our senses being socialised to the sights, sounds and narratives of bin Laden, we cannot get over the spectre of his entity and his symbolic representations with a mere verbal accomplishment of his exit. A visual witnessing of his exit is critical to the way audiences will re-negotiate their awareness of his symbolic representations and his ideology. Maybe someday, soon, there will be a Hollywood story-telling of the raid, like Jerry Bruckheimer’s re-telling of Operation Restore Hope in ‘Black Hawk Down’ or the various re-tellings of America’s adventures in Vietnam. But no matter how well scripted and how close to reality the storyline would be, Hollywood will not be able to pull this one good enough.
As odd as it sounds, I think President Obama's decision to censor pictures of the mangled and bleeding face or even the cleaned-up corpse of bin Laden is prudent. Still images grow to have a life of their own and can be interpreted to inspire different forms of meaning. However, it is different with moving images. If I was to advise President Obama, I would strongly recommend that selected helmet cam shots of the raid be released. Debates should not be merely about the possible violence and radicalisation such a release may cause. Rather, it should be about the strategic communication imperatives thereof. The way we interpret reality has evolved along with communication technology. Our awareness has evolved beyond a speech or press briefing about the death of the biggest terror mastermind in history. Still images do not come with pre-packed narratives and thus may be appropriated for different meanings and purposes, but moving images tell a story in a unique way and when accompanied by verbal explanations, it conveys a narrative that can be strategically directed and focused. Releasing selected videos of the raid – including the confrontation of bin Laden and the bundling of his corpse into a body bag, ending with its conveyance into a waiting helicopter, will convey a very powerful message. At the short-term, it may fray a few nerves, but for the long term, it will convey a visual signification of an endgame for a vicious symbol and his brand.
Is the West losing the Information War in Libya?
I recently presented a paper on the new outsourcing of UN strategic communications at a forum organised by Political Communications Research Group at the ICS, University of Leeds. Somehow, discussions shifted from Somalia and the DRC where my lecture was largely drawn to the ongoing international intervention in Libya. One of my guests Professor Gary Rawnsley made a very interesting comment. He spoke about the need for the allies to deploy a strong Information component in Libya. He said the US should consider using Commando Solo to broadcast into Libya and help counter some of the anti-Western and pro-Gaddafi propaganda currently swirling the Libyan media space. I couldn't agree more. At the moment, Commando Solo is among the air assets deployed by the US over Libya however its messages are targeted only at the Libyan military using Libyan military frequencies. The messages call on Libyan soldiers to quit fighting and return home. Bryan Herbert, a self described amateur radio operator in Newhall, California, apparently intercepted some broadcast transmissions on Sunday March 27. Here is a transcript of some of the intercepted transmission:
"The Gaddafi regime forces are violating a United Nations resolution ordering the end of hostilities in your country. Do not take part in any further hostilities. Refuse any orders to harm your fellow countrymen or Libyan facilities." The male voice breaks intermittently for another male voice to speak in Arabic, and then continues, “Return to your homes and families. Your family needs you. Return home safely. Lay down your arms and refuse orders from your current illegitimate government. ... Stop fighting. Abandon your equipment and weapons and return home safely. Libyan ships or vessels remain anchored. Do not leave port. ... If you attempt to leave port you will be attacked and destroyed immediately."
It is still too early to say how effective the messages are - in terms of the number of pro-Gaddafi fighters that have actually quit fighting as a result of these messages. And we may never know. But I think the real psyops challenge is not necessarily with pro-Gaddafi troops because they do not need much reminding that they do not stand a chance under coalition air power. The real challenge I believe, is convincing Gaddafi supporters in Tripoli that it is in their own interest for Gaddafi and his sons to leave power. The mistake would be to presume that it is unnecessary to target psyops at the Libyan population, because a sit-tight dictator as Gaddafi is unlikely to have many supporters. The exact opposite seems to be the case in Tripoli. Indeed, Tripoli residents are becoming more assertive if not vociferous in their public support for Gaddafi and in some cases voluntarily standing at potential targets as 'human shields'. One can never tell how much of these are derived from actual support for Gaddafi’s policies and how much are drawn from their belief that Benghazi rebels are linked to Al Qaeda and that Britain, France and America are desperate to turn Libya into Iraq so they can “steal” the country’s oil.
Currently, Col Muammar Gaddafi rigidly controls the media space in Libya particularly in Tripoli. It is unsurprising that mainstream media in Tripoli is filled with pro-Gaddafi rhetoric and invectives against the West. Indeed, only recently a newscaster on a pro-Gaddafi television station brandished an automatic weapon during a newscast and pledged to fight until his last breath to defend Gaddafi. As curious as it sounds, the Libyan media frames rebels as Al-Qaeda terrorists and the West as their backers. He has repeatedly claimed that coalition bombs have hit nothing but civilians and that the “crusader” is carrying out war against the Muslim people. The power of these narratives, when repeated and reinforced even with the most basic verbal and visual intensifiers should not be underestimated.
So far the allies have failed to properly inform Libyans why their country is being bombed. This is a basic first step that should have preceded the Libyan operation. During crises, Information becomes a humanitarian need - as important as food and water. What people want most times is plain, simple information about what is going on and what to expect so that they can understand their vulnerabilities and negotiate their resilience. When objective information is missing, any available information including rumours becomes the lifeline. In an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty people hold on to the available information as if their life depends on it – sometimes it actually does. Gaddafi seems to understand this and is doing everything to fill up that Information gap with narratives that push his strategic and operational objectives. It is needful for the coalition or the UN itself to quickly deploy an Information Operations capability to counter Gaddafi's narratives and explain the rationale for the no-fly zone, what it seeks to achieve and why it is important for Gaddafi to desist from using armed mercenaries to attack civilians in the east.
This is a dynamic mapping of the crises in Libya compiled from tweets from trusted accounts on Twitter. Due to the difficulty faced by international journalists in their coverage of the Libyan crises, regular tweets from trusted sources on ground are invaluable. The open source protests in North Africa has been markedly leveraged by the open source reporting of the protest itself!
March 12, 2011
While the EU, the UN and the US are wondering what to do with Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is digging in. He's taken back the key town of Zawiyah and pushing relentlessly to take back the oil town Ras Lanuf. The EU in its meeting on Friday in Brussels seemed to be unable to reach a common position on the imposition of no-fly zone in Libya. If Gaddafi is determined to use violence against Libyans, there is nothing much a no-fly zone can do to stop him. A no-fly zone as a stand-alone intervention mechanism under the current circumstance may not be robust enough to solve the crises. Former head of British armed forces Baron Richard Dannatt has called for caution and warned that a no fly zone is not the answer. Indeed, historically, no-fly zones never really work – they are more of political than military statements. A no fly zone over Iraq did not prevent Saddam Hussein's ruthless persecution of those he considered to be his political enemies. On its own, Operation Sky-Monitor never really worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina until a more robust mandate enabled a full deny-flight operation and protective air support for the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the course of its mandate. Doubtless, both cases – Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina are totally different from Libya. The majority of Libyans and indeed, the international community want to see the back of Gaddafi and it is difficult to see how a no fly zone would cause that to happen! To topple the Gaddafi regime, a full military intervention is required. But is the West ready to commit to what might be a long drawn out war in Libya - at the front door of Europe? Besides, what would be the human and material costs of such intervention? I'm not convinced that Libyans, even protesting Libyans, would come out and receive Western 'liberators' with kisses and bouquets of flowers. Lessons from Iraq are still fresh on the mind. As a way out, Crisis Group International has argued for a comprehensive ceasefire and negotiations to secure a post-Gaddafi regime. Negotiations with Gaddafi would no doubt be long-drawn and potentially problematic. Moreover it would be such an about-face both from the Libyan rebels and from an international community that has been ‘loose-talking’ about military options ever since the crises started. At the moment, Gaddafi's forces are having the upper hand and they would likely see calls for negotiations as an indication of a stand down by their Libyan political enemies and the West. He will no doubt see an opportunity for grand-standing. Further compounding the situation is that France, against every reason, has recognised the Libyan rebels, the National Libyan Council, as the legitimate government in Libya. In as much as it is useful to encourage the Libyan rebels I think it is premature and even perilous to recognise them at this moment as the legitimate government in Libya.
The situation has become even more complicated with the earthquake and Tsunami that have devastated Japan. The attention of the international community and the international media will now shift from Libya. While we all commiserate with the Japanese, Gaddafi and his sons will be pushing as far as they can go into the east to take back as much control as possible. They may take back Ras Lanuf but I don't see them taking back Benghazi. The international community should be prepared for a divided Libya. Gaddafi will keep control of the West and the rebels will control the east. And it may remain that way for a quite a while The solution will ultimately lie with the UN. A buffer zone may need to be created to keep both sides apart. The major trouble would be with deciding who controls Libya's oil and gas resources. The negotiation table at this point, would be a good opportunity for the political intervention Libya needs.
Phil, the finest, the best
I first read ‘Munitions of the Mind’ in 1997. I was in the final year of my undergrad in Nigeria. The book was in the Special section of the library and could not be borrowed. So I had to keep a date with it every morning 7.30am to 8.30am before attending the day’s lecture. It was like attending an interesting talk every morning. Every new chapter was intriguing. I was fascinated not just with the contents but also with the free flowing style of the writing. The Author was authoritative. He knew what he was talking about and did not hesitate to show it. And he did so masterfully – with poetic ease. Then I never knew I would eventually meet him and be supervised by him. When I was admitted in 2006 to study for a PhD at the ICS, I was extremely fascinated to have Phil as my supervisor. I had the options of LSE, Lancaster and Royal Holloway. I knew that my research may be served better in a full Peace and Conflict department, but I could not let the opportunity of working with Philip M. Taylor slip. By this time I was a lot more familiar with his work and more excited about the prospect of meeting him, knowing him more and working with him.
Our first meeting
I felt like a teenager preparing for a first date with his heartthrob. I remember walking down the corridor of the third floor of Houldsworth Building (as it then was), my heart racing. Phil’s office was towards the end of the long ICS corridor. He was a bit taller than what I had imagined he would be. And had more furrows on his face than the image on his staff page. He said he was fascinated with my proposal and thought it would make an interesting study. He said it was just the right time to study the nature of the UN’s ‘peace propaganda’ and that it would be the very first study of its kind in the world! He said if we got the project right, I would be famous. “It’s the kind of research that would make you stand out from the crowd”, he said. I walked out of his office that day feeling larger than life. This was it! The job was half way done! But over the weeks and months that followed, discussions with him and more critical readings gradually shaped my thinking. My Supervision meetings with him were very unusual. They were more like debates. I have very strong views almost on everything. He would get up and draw process maps or models on the chalk board in his office then to buttress his point. By the time I was ready for my Upgrade, my research had taken on a totally different direction and colour. I realised then like I do now that my proposal was not that good after all! Phil was only getting me to believe in myself more and in the quality of what my work could be. That was Phil. Inspiring. Motivating.
PhD fatigues and Hiccups
During the course of my PhD, there were plenty of hiccups along the way. But Phil stood by me through it all. At some of my lowest moments – and there were plenty of them, he kept faith in me and kept encouraging and spurring me on. There were times I felt I had had enough and couldn’t continue, but his interest in the work, a brief email and a nice word made so much difference. I needed to suspend my PhD at a point. When I returned, Phil was happier than I was and I couldn’t help but wonder what was in it for him! He pushed the work as if he knew he had little time left. I remember once telling him I was preparing to attend a conference in the US, he said to me, “look Jacob, we don’t have much time, you need to work your sucks off. You don’t need the conference now, sit down and get the job done”. One would have thought that I had only a few days left to submit. I had extended my submission date and it was at least a year away. But that’s Phil. He had a personal interest in my research like he does with all his students and was keen to ensure it was successful.
I’m accustomed to seeing Phil as a war horse – vibrant, charismatic, audacious. But in August, after returning from a trip to Malaysia, he looked less than himself. I knew he was ill. His health deteriorated in September. But the doctors, he said, didn’t know what was wrong with him. He complained of the invasive nature of some of the tests and even made jokes of them. He also said he was less than comfortable with the intellectual curiosity of the doctors at the General Infirmary in Bradford and said he would write a newspaper article about the NHS when he returned to work. He never did.
Even while he was ill, Phil won’t miss any of his lectures. In October when he was admitted in hospital, Dr. Robin Brown and Professor Gary Rawnsley had to make arrangements to take over the module. But to everyone’s surprise, Phil showed up and said he would teach on the next lecture day as scheduled. The hospital didn’t know what was wrong with him and they had asked him to go wait at home. He said he’d rather be at work – doing what he loves best, than sit at home. That was Phil. In his last lecture, though going through pains, he spoke of Information Operations and Information Warfare and why the Americans were having it so tough and so wrong in areas that really mattered. Sitting on the front row of that lecture on Tuesday 26th October I could not help but feel the effort he was putting into every word. He spoke with extra-ordinary passion. One could see he was frail. But the strength of his speech was not diminished. Phil’s lectures were not like the usual lectures of a typical British Professor. They were more like speeches. He would gesticulate, pace up and down the teaching area. His PowerPoint slides were extraordinary – full of images, animations and colour. So fascinating were his lectures that one of the MA students brought his mother who was visiting from abroad to attend Phil’s lecture. Unfortunately however, it was the first day ever that Phil did not show up for his lecture because of ill health.
The Vanity of Death
What really is death? Is there life after death? I hope there is, cause it would be so unfair if this life is all there is. It would be such a waste. Such vanity. But death on its own is vanity. Death is news. Death is money, big money. The higher the number of deaths, the bigger the money. The higher the personality that’s dead, the bigger the money too. The Media thrive on deaths. 240,000 killed in a Tsunami! 10 US Marines killed in a Week! Princess Diana Killed in a car crash! Front page news of deaths sells newspapers. When it is statistics or front page news, death is distant. It is faceless. It is news. It is circulation and money for an editor and the newspaper owner. But when death crashes through the roof of your own home, it takes on this dark, ruthless face. It takes away sleep and leaves a puff of thick silent smoke that numbs. We all know that the friend, the parent or grandparent we love so dearly would leave us someday. For Phil, I knew he had only months to live – his doctors had told him so about two weeks before his death and he graciously shared it with a few of his friends. In his email to me, he wrote “I have a secondary tumor from a (as yet unknown) primary cancer source. It is aggressive, advanced and terminal. I have been told that I will live for a 'matter of months not years'”. The email was a reality check because we were all hoping he would be strong and would return soon. I was keen to see him and I told him so. But he replied almost immediately and said he would attend the convocation ceremony (planned for third week of December) and that we should see then. I imagined, Phil would prefer not to be seen on a helpless hospital bed. I had to respect that and was indeed looking forward to seeing him on December 14th and taking a few pictures and maybe having a drink. How naïve I was! He died on Monday 6th December 2010 – exactly two weeks after my viva, a little over week before we were due to see again. Although I had prepared myself for an academic career without Phil, I never thought it would happen so soon. The news hit me in the midriff and then caused a nauseating feeling I’ve never felt before. I wept like a child. Writing this now, I can’t believe Phil is dead, just like that. He’s gone. He’s simply ceased to exist. He will never sit in his office anymore. Phil Taylor is gone.
Phil, the Man
People have different opinions of Phil. Some would say he would have lived longer if he had smoked fewer cigarettes. Maybe that’s true. But there are many things we do in life that are life-shortening yet they are part of who we are – the chocolates, the late-night pizzas, the extra pints of beer, the late nights just to complete that paper! For my grand-dad it was snuff. He was addicted to raw tobacco. We tried to discourage him when he was getting really old and frail. “Leave me alone” he would say. Then, using his index finger to stash the brown substance inside his nostrils, he would say “look, this is who I am. I cannot think well, or say what I want to say well without a snuff. Snuff makes me to be myself!” Indeed, we knew he was right. It was part of his identity – the peculiar way he opened his snuff box, the particular finger he used to pack the snuff, the angle he kept his face and nostrils for the insertion and the near choking sneezes that would follow. It was pretty much the same with Phil. He loved his cigarettes. He puffed with a smile up his brows. That was Phil. Smoking was part of the Phil Taylor we knew, loved and admired. Maybe he would have been less of himself if he had quitted smoking. A PhD colleague at the ICS, once told me of her first meeting with Phil. She said Phil told her then that he was a bit grumpy because he had recently quit smoking. That was over five years ago, obviously he did not quit for very long. But we loved and adored him for who he was, and smoking was part of the package.
Phil, the Nurse Log
Phil once said he knew every word of every sentence of his every book. He said his computer was mangled with the blood from the birth pangs of every word he’s written in all his books. For him, words weren’t just words, they were tiny pellets of meaning. He never wrote just for the sake of writing. His articles and books were authoritative and written not in a bombastic or verbose style but in beautiful prose that would make an interesting reading even to the non-specialist. I think that’s why ‘Munitions of the Mind’ is so popular from Africa to Asia, from Europe to North America. In my academic writings, I have unashamedly drawn from his style. Several scholars that he supervised and mentored have in one way or the other drawn from Phil’s style – either in the way they talk or in the way they write or in some other way that they borrowed from Phil. For many of us Phil has given us more than a shoulder to stand on. He’s a nurse log. Nurse logs are generous. They provide needed nutrients, a home, a base for new seedlings to grow. Mushrooms nourish and flourish from nurse logs. Tender plants get their feet from nurse logs and then spread the palm of their leaves toward the sky and grow until they reach that turning point in their lives when they need to reach out for their own soil. But some do live on their nurse logs for however long it takes. As the last in a long and illustrious line of scholars Phil has supervised I feel passionately close to him. I feel a sense of duty to carry on from where he left. I feel really blessed that he stayed to see my viva and the happy outcome. He sent me a congratulatory message and said how proud he was. He had sent me an email earlier that day to say he would have loved to attend my viva but that he was still in hospital, "be yourself, be brilliant", he wrote. A giant tree has fallen to the ground, and several mushrooms will continue to sprout and grow. He is a nurse log to many. There are many of us and I think there is something special about us – those of us that have sat in his lecture rooms and soaked his passion. A nurse log never dies. It lives on in the gills and caps of sprouting mushrooms, in the frond of every fern and in the roots of every tree it has nursed. So shall it be with Phil.
Someone once said that our calling when we are born is to live, to learn, to love and to leave a legacy. Only a tiny minority tick all these boxes. Phil is among that tiny minority. He’s left a legacy – a nurse log from which we can grow and be nourished. Standing on this nurse log now, I can taunt death with the old Biblical dictum: ‘O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?’
The situation in Somalia is becoming more troubling. Al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have intensified their operations against independent Somali media institutions. They recently seized two radio stations and will now use them to broadcast their ideology.
Even more troubling is the international community’s dithering over Somalia. The African Union (AMISOM) deployment in the country is too feeble (in terms of mandate, troop number and equipment) to make any meaningful impact. Quite frankly, I don’t think higher troop numbers or even a more robust mandate will help at the moment. Besides, which country would send its troops to a potential hole that is as deep if not deeper than Afghanistan and Iraq combined. As it stands, Somalia is a ‘no-go area’ for all that matters. Africa's most prolific peacekeeper, Nigeria wont touch it with a mile-long pole. It is not just about sorting out a bunch of drugged militias (as the Americans realised in 1993) but sorting out a whole system of domestic and foreign shadow networks that have ultimately taken over a failed state including its territorial waters, seaports, airports, trade routes, law enforcement systems - almost every apparatus of state. Sea Ports such as the one in Kismayo have been taken over by Islamic militants and it is a key route through which key assets (including weapons, cash and drugs) are brought in.
Now the battle turf has entered the airwaves. Before now, Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam were contented with censoring the media. They had since banned the re-broadcast of BBC and Voice of America by local FM stations. They had also banned radio stations from playing ‘un-Islamic’ songs! And in April, radio stations were ordered to stop referring to foreign Islamic militants as ‘foreigners’ but as ‘Muhaajiriins’ or Islamic emigrants.
The UN’s attempt at information intervention in Somalia is rather curious . The UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) last year awarded a multi-million dollar contract to a consortium of strategic communication consulting companies (led by Bell Pottinger) to carry out some strategic communications functions in support of AMISOM. A key element of this outsourced UN PIO is the Radio component. Radio Bar-kulan, operated by Okapi Consulting, has been broadcasting from its studios in Kenya since March 2010. The station seeks to promote peace in Somalia by reporting the news, interviewing key actors and providing a forum for Somalis to phone in and make comments. Refreshingly, it also plays music!
I have immense respect for David Smith, the head of Okapi Consulting. He formerly headed MONUC’s public information operations in the DRC. Although Radio Bar-Kulan would prefer to downplay its association with the UN, most people in Somalia do know that radio Bar-Kulan is associated with AMISOM or at best with the UN anyway. Frankly, I think it does not do the radio station any good if it keeps underplaying its UN links. It is imperative that Bar-Kulan’s purpose and mission be made clear forthrightly. Somalis may actually engage more deeply with a UN-backed radio. The most important thing for folks in crises states is credibility of the news source. In 1993, Radio Manta – the radio mission of UNOSOM was explicit about its source and routinely announced itself as Halkani wa radio manta, codka haulgaladha qaramatha midhoobey, ee Somalia (the voice of the United Nations Operations in Somalia). Audiences engaged with the station as such. Granted, the strategic situation is different now, but what remains the same is that in crises situations, the deepest needs of households and communities are informational. Socially transmitted information or rumours swirl like desert dusts in crises societies particularly so in a case where insurgents have taken over means of information. Rumours are prevalent because people need some kind of information to negotiate their resilience - interpret the crises and understand their vulnerabilities. For Radio Bar-Kulan, one of the few Radio Stations that are untouchable by Somali Islamists (at the moment), its responsilities have become humanitarian in nature. Radio Bar-Kulan needs to step up and assert its position as an information purveyor. Somalians need objective and accurate information now more than ever before, and as the situation unfolds, they would be looking to Bar-Kulan to fill what has now become a major humanitarian need.
6th October 2010
Rape is not uncommon in times of war. During the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia for instance, tens of thousands of women were raped in an organised and systematic manner. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994 several thousands of women were also raped. There are cases also in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Biafra and in several other conflicts where rape was used for the purpose of humiliating, shaming, degrading and even terrifying the enemy society. Indeed rape in warfare is as old as war itself. There are several early and classic accounts of conquering tribes taking away goats and women as spoils of war.
But the case of rape in the DRC is different. It is uniquely impelled by two different factors – what I would prefer to call the Total War factor and the Progenitization factor. I will explain.
In the DRC, the combatants have borrowed a leaf from the doctrine of Total War and have extended warfare to the society of perceived enemies including their resources, supplies, bodies and every other aspect of life. The objective is to terrorise and cause a form of ‘collateral damage’ on the entire population. But the difference between the DRC case and conflicts in history where Total War or scorched earth strategy were used (such as Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea or in Lord Kitchener’s second Boer War, 1899–1902), is that in the DRC the militants do not have a clearly defined ‘enemy’ population. They seem to attack and rape any female that come their way – it does not matter if the women are ‘autochthons’ (indigenes) or ‘allochthons’ (foreigners/newly arrived). Rapes committed by FDLR militants alongside local or autochthon mai mai militias appear to be random, not systematic or organised. They attack villages on their paths for food and spoils and rape all the women in the process, before going on to the next village or town. So the intention goes beyond breaking the spirit of an ‘enemy population’ because in most cases, women raped are not necessarily on the other side of the conflict divide – they are not Banyamulenges or Banyarwandas (ethnic Tutsis) but local Congolese women and sometimes Hutu women. So while they randomly terrorise and humiliate societies with rape, the militants do not have a strategic objective of inflicting shame and degradation on a defined enemy society as in other conflicts such as Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, rape was systematically used by the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of Total War on the society of Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks). I believe that there is another factor to war rapes in the DRC – in the Kivus in particular.
In January 2009 a former AFDL commander in South Kivu told me something I believe adds up the puzzle. He said the real purpose of rape in the Kivus is progenitzation. The combatants want the women to procreate after their own kind so that the children born would take up the struggle in future years. It sounded really crazy and I told him so. He then explained: “a Hutu blood is a Hutu blood no matter how the baby came to be – whether from a sexual relationship by the married or from rape. As far as the baby has a Hutu blood, that is the most important thing”. In the Kivus, it is common to hear local folks talk about increasing population of Banyamulenges (or ethnic Tutsis) or increasing population of Rwandan Hutus or some other tribe as a threat. Also most Rwandan Hutus I’ve met believe that they too have suffered a genocide and that their population is increasingly endangered. For Hutu extremists Progenitization is their way of countering genocide which they believe have been committed against them. Essentially, when FDLR militants attack and mass rape in most cases, they do so, not only to inflict shame and degradation on the enemy body but also to procreate after their own kind. For them (FDLR Hutu extremists), generational resilience is essential even if it means using methods of forceful procreation. This is a factor that has so far not been critically looked into by scholars, the UN and other humanitarian organisations working in the DRC.
The sad fact is that crimes of rape are committed only few kilometres from UN’s operational bases. This has been the case mainly because there are extremely poor communication channels between local communities in the Kivus and UN bases even those that are closeby. The UN has a very robust deployment in the DRC. Part of the UN’s overall stabilisation strategy in the DRC is the synergisation of humanitarian and military components of the mission in a way that is unprecedented in UN PKO history. Three new peacekeeping concepts have been developed to deal with the unique terrain and nature of the Congolese conflict. These are the Joint Protection Teams (JPTs), the Company Operational Bases (COBs) and Temporary Operational Bases (TOBs). While COBs and TOBs are quick response military operational bases brought closer to vulnerable communities in the Kivus, the JPTs represent a novel addition to MONUC’s civil-military strategy. It is aimed at improving community relations in order to enhance information flows within operational environments. The JPT is part of the Civil Affairs Unit of MONUC and comprise Civil Affairs, Human Rights, Information and Child Protection experts deployed in vulnerable communities. Despite these new peacekeeping concepts however, mass rape remains endemic in the Kivus and peacekeepers’ responses have been anything but prompt or robust. Granted it would be impossible for the UN to man every inch of this vast country, but more regular daytime and night-time patrols in the hinterlands can make a lot of difference.
In addition to regular patrols and improved communications with communities, the UN as a matter of doctrinal change must enhance its intelligence gathering capability. At the moment, Intelligence is not a fully developed UN peacekeeping asset and at doctrinal level, it is not taken very seriously. As a result, surprise attacks or ambushes on peacekeepers in the DRC are common. Recently three Indian peacekeepers were killed and seven others badly injured in a late night attack by militants. Several arms and ammunitions were carted away in the attack. While I acknowledge that intelligence gathering needs a robust and most times long-term engagement in order for the outputs to be reliable, I believe it is not very difficult for the UN to build a network of reliable human intelligence channels close to its bases in the DRC. Information comes relatively cheap in the Kivus. With greater engagement and a more robust intelligence gathering capacity, mass rape and other acts of violence against civilians in the DRC can be stopped before it happens.
10th September .2010
Talking about leaked documents, I came across this interesting article in today's Guardian Newspaper. A leaked document from the Department for International Development (DfID) lays out plans by the British Government to create a more intimate link between aid and security. The opposition Labour party has protested against what it sees as a new securitization of aid. Basically, the National Security Council will now control how parts of the Oversees Development Assistance budget is spent. Previously the DfID handled British overseas aid and targeted developing country's specific needs when disbursing aid.
I wonder what has now become of the international and public humanitarianism that saw the emergence of the concept of human security and the progressive values of the 1990s. Doubtless, while the concept of human security on its own represents the merging of development and security, today, the balance has overwhelmingly tipped against development in favour of homeland security. One of my lecturers then in the Department of Politics & International Relations at Lancaster University, Professor Mark Duffield has written and spoken extensively on the merging of development and security. His book, 'Global Governance and the New Wars: The merging of Development and Security' makes a compelling reading. Though written in 2001, the book talks about an increasing radicalisation of the politics of development. Reading it now, it looks eerily prophetic.
Essentially, for the British government, strategically important areas of instability will be the focus of development interventions in order to stem terrorist recruitment, protect livelihoods and promote opportunities for personal development of vulnerable groups there. In the Cameron years, we should expect greater development aid to countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia etc from the British government. Aid agencies and other critics would rightly see this as a death knell for international financial support for sustainable people-centred development particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Conceptually, debates on the subject and object of security will need to do a U-turn (again), this time from Human Security and all the non-state assemblages that supported it back to State Security with a more radicalised control by the Defence and Foreign Ministries of states in the global north.
Beyond all the rhetorics, it shows that the global war on terror, though renamed, has now moved on to a totally different turf. American and British tanks may be on their way out of Iraq, but it is only the combat element of the war that is going along with it. A multidimensional battle space is opening up with increasing emphasis on issues of information, governance, livelihoods, poverty and want in strategically important fragile states. Interventions would almost certainly include commitments to transforming conflict societies as a whole - including attitudes and beliefs of populations. Development resources of British and indeed other Western Governments will increasingly go into targeting specific groups in 'important states' to change, not only their livelihoods but also their beliefs and attitudes in order to achieve stabilisation. Information intervention efforts would seek to 'discipline' or 'tame' populations in such states to be productive members of their own societies.
Aid agencies, Christian Aid for instance, has already spoken of a new cold war with 'terrorism' as the new bogey for 'communism'. They may have a point somewhere. 29.08.2010
When I conducted field studies in South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at different periods between 2008 and early 2010, I met and discussed with several Rwandan Hutus. They repeatedly told me (across four towns in Uvira, Mwenga, Fizi and Walungu) that a genocide has been and was still being committed against Hutus by the Rwandan army and the Tutsi-led CNDP which is generally believed to be backed by the Rwandan Government. A number of Congolese autochthons in those towns felt the same way. I was told about several cases of civilians being deliberately targeted by the Tutsi dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front after the 1994 genocide and by several other armed assemblages ever since. My PhD thesis, which will soon be available online (after my viva) contains detailed transcripts of focus group comments by Rwandan Hutus on this subject.
Now, a leaked UN draft report has more or less corroborated this claim. The draft report has accused the Rwandan Tutsi dominated army of killing tens of thousands of ethnic Hutus that fled into the DRC (then Zaire) after the genocide. I have seen extensive excepts of the leaked report and to say the least, I am not very surprised because I have heard the stories in detail several times from about a hundred Rwandan Hutus in Congo. But the worrying aspect of it is that it would be a huge blow to a Rwandan Government that has recently been struggling to defend their human rights policies before some of its biggest donors. They have now threatened to withdraw their soldiers from international peacekeeping engagements because of the leaked document.
I think when published, it would be the most extensive report yet to document the events of 1993 - 2003 in the great lakes region which was sadly ignored by the international community. It documents 600 separate incidents of violence, interviews with 1280 witnesses and 1500 documents. The report states that the massacre of Hutus was "not a question of people killed unintentionally in the course of combat, but people targeted primarily by AFDL/APR/FAB forces and executed in their hundreds, often with edged weapons". It adds that the majority of victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick who posed no threat to the the attacking forces. The draft report also documents cases of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. Very large numbers of victims were forced to flee long distances to escape, the report adds. In Congo I met with at least 15 Rwandan Hutus that said they ran through jungles from Goma in North Kivu to forests in Shabunda - think of running from Leeds to London! Unfortunately, they said, many did not survive the journey.
Section 513 of the report will make an interesting reading:
"At the time of the incidents covered by this report, the Hutu population in Zaire, including refugees from Rwanda, constituted an ethnic group as defined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Moreover, as shown previously the intention to destroy a group in part is sufficient to be classified as a crime of genocide. Finally, the courts have also confirmed that the destruction of a group can be limited to a particular geographical area. It is therefore possible to assert that, even if only a part of the Hutu population in Zaire was targeted and destroyed, it could nonetheless constitute a crime of genocide, if this was the intention of the perpetrators. Finally, several incidents listed also seem to confirm that the numerous attacks were targeted at members of the Hutu ethnic group as such".
I fervently hope that this report, when published will bring the world's attention to the plight of Rwandan Hutus in the Congo. Granted a horrible crime of genocide against Tutsis was committed by Hutu extremists in 1994, but two wrongs never make a right. Till date, Hutus are still being hunted as preys in eastern DRC by the Congolese army and Tutsi-led militias. But despite joint military efforts against them, the Hutu-led FDLR has endured and are increasingly forging stronger alliances with local Congolese Mai Mai militias in the Kivus to commit horrifying atrocities such as the recent rape of over 200 women and boys. This unwholesome alliance with local Mai Mai groups suggests the FDLR are increasingly enjoying the support of some members of the local Congolese population - either out of sympathy for their course or out of fear. The FDLR claims to be fighting to protect Hutus in the Congo and local Congolese populations from raids by Tutsi-led militias. These and more, I believe combine to make the DRC conflict one of the most complex and intractable conflicts in recorded history.
I believe the UN needs to engage more with the Hutu situation and make concrete efforts to understand if and how a genocide has been committed against them. That can be a starting point for the creation of a restorative and retributive justice mechanism and a process of healing for the great lakes region.
It was another sad day for the UN last Wednesday when three Peacekeepers were killed in North Kivu, eastern DRC. Seven others were seriously wounded in a pre-dawn attack by militias suspected to be members of the Mai Mai armed group in Kirumba. The attack took place in one of MONUSCO's Company Operating Bases (COB) - the 19 Kumaon Regiment in Kirumba. The base which has about 130 peacekeepers was attacked by about 60 militias with matchetes, spears and locally built guns. The militias attacked from the base's surrounding forests while guards were being distracted by a group of rebels who were pretending to be in need of assistance. The rebels succeeded in snatching away ammunitions and escaping into the nearby forests.
The attack demonstrates the unstable situation in the DRC. The UN Mission has recently entered a stabilisation phase, but the situation in the east of the country is still very dangerous. There are a number of strongholds controlled by armed groups. I think there is a fundamental error when the DRC's conflict is calibrated by the UN, aid agencies and the media as a post-conflict case. A post-war constitution and a democratically elected government are not enough reasons to re-calibrate a crises state as having entered a post-conflict reconstruction phase. The DRC case has again and again demonstrated this. Granted there is relative stability in the capital Kinshasa. But localised violence and armed group activity persists in the eastern region of the country - particularly in the Kivus. Technically and indeed factually, the DRC is still in a state of war. Africa's so-called New Wars never ends with the mere signing of a peace accord or election of a new government but by the ability of the government to control its national borders, enforce law and order in all parts of the country, demobilise all armed groups, create and support effective institutions of governance and justice. This is far from being the case in the DRC.
The killing of the three Indian peacekeepers calls to mind the difficult job of policing crises states and the danger of a hurried draw down of UN troops. Moreover, it questions the wisdom and intention of the DRC government in its demand for a pull out of UN troops. The DRC situation is still too precarious to risk a draw down of peacekeepers let alone ending the mission. 18.08.2010
On August 17, 2010, judges at the International Criminal Court sitting in the Hague granted victims participating in the trial of Thoms Lubanga the right to be part of the prosecution's appeal against the release of the former warlord.
Thomas Lubanga is standing trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity, relating particularly to his alleged enlisting, conscription and use of underaged children in war between 2002 and 2003 in Ituri - north eastern part of the DRC. Lubanga led the ethnic Hema armed group, Union of Congolese Patriots from 1999 to fight for control of land and resources in Ituri. But like other localised conflicts in the DRC, it soon escalated with the influx of arms from Uganda and Rwanda.
Lubanga's trial has captivated my interest because he is the first to stand trial at the ICC for war crimes some 10 years after the Rome Treaty. I am sure, there are a few other personalities that are also following the trial probably more closely. Chief among them are Sudan's President Al-Bashir and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.
The trial of Lubanga continues. 17.08.2010
I came across a very interesting photo-article on the BBC news website today on the changing face of health campaigns.
It is interesting how normative appeals have changed over the years. I agree with Dr. Laragh Gollogly of WHO that it is easier to evaluate impacts of commercial advertising than impacts of health campaigns or public information operations for that matter. How do you measure the impacts of HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in Nigeria or the DRC for example? Yes, it may be easy to look at prevalence or new infection rates, but those could be attributable to several other factors. What's more, there is the issue of what media intervention approach really work particularly in health communications and other behaviour change communication campaigns. Normative appeals (be it subjective norms, injunctive norms or descriptive norms) have been proven in many researches to change behaviour on alcohol abuse, smoking, energy use etc. But my problem with most of the researches is contextualisation. In rural areas in Africa for example, where health campaigns may seek to raise awareness on the use of mosquito nets, polio, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, a lot of factors come into play key among which are rumours (and other socially transmitted communications); the opinions of local elders, family heads and religious leaders. In Nigeria for example, during the early 80s and 90s communication campaigners totally ignored these variables in their polio campaigns. There were local rumours that the polio vaccines were government's strategy to cut fertility in Northern Nigeria to reduce the Hausa population. Local Imams and Uztases also had a hand in reinforcing the rumours by warning followers to avoid the vaccines.
Another factor is Memory. Memories of previous experiences is a key variable and can be easily manipulated by local opinion leaders. In Nigeria for instance, current UNICEF and Health Ministry campaigns are being met with suspicion and apathy particularly in the north. To a remarkable extent, this is based on previous experiences with vaccinations. In 1996, Pfizer tested the antibiotic Trovan on 200 sick children during a meningitis outbreak without the informed consent of their parents. A number of children died from the drug and others were blinded or brain damaged. The meningitis epidemic had killed by far more children than Trovan, but people in Northern Nigeria remember Pfizer's Trovan deaths more than meningitis deaths. Unfortunately, current vaccination campaigns there ignore this Memory factor. There has been no campaign to first explain what happened in 1996 and why current vaccination drives are different.
At the end, information contents and local knowledge are essential. Health and behaviour change communications that lack or ignore these two factors have a long way to travel. 09.08.2010
The UN Mission in the DRC has entered the stabilisation phase. MONUC's mandate came to an end on June 30th. But so far, the only visible element of the transition is the change of name to MONUSCO (UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Congo) and the withdrawal of 2000 troops.
DRC President Joseph Kabila has been keen to get the UN out of his country, not necessarily because he's convinced the job's done, but because he thinks he can do with less international scrutiny especially as next year's presidential election approaches. Doubtless, 10 years of the UN's presence in the DRC has not brought a total end to the bloodshed and impunity in the country but the mere presence of the UN there has resulted in extensive political reforms.
When I think of the UN's interventions I'm reminded of Jeremy Bentham's (1748-1832) Panopticon - a prison architecture where power and control is achieved through observation. In Bentham’s Panopticon or Inspection House the prison guard sees everything, not literally but through a relay of hierarchically ordered observers. The intention is to achieve conformed behaviour by introducing a mental state of being observed on the inmate. Micheal Foucault has associated Panopticonism with the ideal architectural model of modern disciplinary power. The consciousness of being watched disciplines the inmates to subject themselves to their own internal control.
The presence of the UN and the attendant international observation of the DRC may not completely bring an end to violence in the country but it has helped set up several regulatory frames across political and economic spheres. Notably the 2006 constitution for the first time resolved the issue of citizenship/nationality which has been at the root of the country’s crises over the years and used by successive regimes to achieve political ends. Dating automatic citizenship to independence in 1960 instead of 1895 as was the case in previous laws was one of the major constitutional changes the UN forced down the throat of the Congolese political establishment. This once and for all resolved citizenship questions particularly regarding the Banyamulenges and Banyarwandas of South and North Kivu respectively.
The stabilisation phase connotes greater support to the DRC’s institutions of government and this has to be long term to prevent the situation from relapsing. Knowledge of being closely monitored will prevent rigging and other political misdeeds by political elites come next year's elections. At the moment there is still violence and impunity particularly in the Kivus. The FDLR has endured and most of their commanders and fighters are integrating with local Mai Mai militias to resist the Congolese security forces which they believe are CNDP look-alikes. If anything, the UN needs to be more engaged in the DRC. Drawing down its presence will almost certainly lead to crises in the country and a waste of the billions of dollars the Congo mission has cost the international community so far.