Transitions

Our “fight” against terrorism is being shaped by modernity’s perfect storm: urbanization, economic inequality, corruption, political fragility, historical grievance and even climate change have seeded the grounds for an unwanted harvest. The topic seemed paradoxically too big to be, and not to be, a story. So, after months of reflection, I decided to be, and not to be, a “journalist”.

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I arrived in the United Kingdom —the first flight into Heathrow that day— on a cool (early) morning in late September. My destination, two suitcases in hand, was the town of Oxford, and my new home at the Department of Politics and International Relations.

As many readers will know, I’ve worked as a journalist for the last five years —a period which has seen stories (or the search for stories) take me from the jungles of Ecuador to the temblor-crumbled streets of Nepal. Between these assignments and adventures, like message heard in static, was a deepening interest among a suite of issues both increasingly relevant and difficult to tackle. One of these was the apparent rise in insurgent (or “terrorist”) groups in West Africa.

For me, this topic was being shaped by modernity’s perfect storm: urbanization, economic inequality, corruption, political fragility, historical grievance and even climate change were seeding the grounds for an unwanted harvest. Moreover, the topic seemed paradoxically too big to be, and not to be, a story. So, after months of reflection, I decided to be, and not to be, a “journalist”.

My return to the academy has been tricky. One of journalism’s great traits is its vitality —its steady, often straining, pulse that signals to readers that this world is alive. But my impatience is mitigated by a steadily increasing gravity in purpose. By this, I really mean a growing confidence in my own ability to identify (and commit) to a story I believe will demand tellers for the rest of my life’s years.

And today, re-checking the The New York Times site before signing off, I caught the following headline:

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Source: The New York Times

The piece, strongly reported by Carlotta Gall, makes clear a range of growing security concerns about the expansion and sustainability of insurgent groups across West and North Africa. It might not be a “scoop” in the traditional sense, but it ought to be read as a clarion call. The editors, deciding to put the piece on A1 (front page) ostensibly felt the same.

For now, however, I’ll leave the story link here for readers to explore on their own. And I will be addressing particular conclusions/assumptions/suggestions of this in an upcoming series of posts. In these upcoming installments, I will outline my present work —its potential value and its weaknesses, in the hopes of engaging readers to comment and converse. Above all, this is a (re-)commitment to this online web space so often ignored amid the noisy chambers of the internet.

So, finally, this site —which has served as home for more than four years— might soon shift to meet my current demands, and will ideally serve as a platform to stimulate a new set of conversations. These are tricky conversations to begin, but essential conversations to attempt. I’m also keen to experiment with new ways to engage with readers (and their significant questions). And, of course, it’s 2016. So we better get started.

On the Road: Updates on West Africa

While I’m traveling at the moment, I wanted to send a quick update on one of 2015’s steadily developing stories.

As Boko Haram gobbles up more airtime and political talking points, interested readers should keep their eyes in the upcoming AU Summit in Addis Ababa. Defense One has a helpful overview here.

For context on point three (AU efforts to address Boko Haram) Defense One also has a recent discussion with AFRICOM’s commander on the potential role for US forces in the battle to contain the regional terrorist group, with leadership calling for a full counterinsurgency plan.

This, however, comes just two weeks since my last piece tackling the changing role of US engagement in West Africa. Read the full treatment here.
With the Nigerian elections just over two weeks away, there is much more to come.

Medical science and the war against terrorism

This week on Beacon, I use Boko Haram as a test case for re-thinking the fight against terrorism.

This week on Beacon, I tackle terrorism through the lens of epidemiology. Inspired by a critical work from the academy (Stares / Yacoubian), I use Boko Haram as a case study for re-thinking the fight against terrorism. While the full-text is only for subscribers, I wanted to tease a couple of sections below:

The piece starts by opposing the knee-jerk reactions committed by some academics eager to conflate the presence of a failed states (the vacuum of power) with the birth and growth of terrorism.

The authors assert that all regions —even perceived vacuums— are governed by a variety of actors with interlocking and overlapping claims to power. Ignoring these informal structures leaves policymakers and practitioners reliant on pithy press statements and poorly-oriented policies, instead of actual strategies for confronting groups who react violently towards those who oppose their authority.

In the decade since America first declared its “Global War on Terror”, violence in terror’s name has defined our coverage of conflict, framed our understanding of ‘the enemy’ and pervaded our conversations about security.

Faced with the threat of Boko Haram, now labeled by the United States as a “terrorist organization”, perhaps it is time to to rethink how we address the cause, persistence and spread of modern terrorism.

The piece continues through the three phases of the epidemiological approach (Contain, Protect, Remedy) , before adding a final thought:

Finding a balance between securing territory and engaging with disillusioned communities lies at the heart of today’s fight against terrorism: Even the smallest steps towards improving the provision of basic services (between the government and its people) will knit individuals into the political landscape instead of marooning them outside of it. Expanding this kind of participation will likely open the well-spring of political dissent, but neither Goodluck Jonathan’s administration nor neighboring countries can afford the cost of Nigeria’s violent descent.

Read the full story here.

Continued Erosion: The Central African Republic

Others are quick to note that all parties have avowed violence, and that using the genocide label (for political purposes or otherwise) isn’t as important as preventing it all together.

Hour-long drives through series of empty villages; an abandoned baby, left by parents who fled too quickly in fear of rebels: these are just two of the observations from the deteriorating Central African Republic. In a Foreign Policy article by Peter Bouckaert, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, CAR appears lost to violent rebel forces —known by their name, Séléka— since their overflow of the government last spring.

The photographs by Marcus Bleasdale, which accompany the FP article, deftly capture the country’s disintegration through the people shredded by it.

According to UN Dispatch, the violence has left 1.1 million struggling to meet basic needs (30 percent of the total population), 400,000 people waging the war of survival in the CAR’s dense forest, and have stewarded instances of “genocide talk” from a number of observers. The genocide tag, grows out of concern that Séléka —whose members are Muslim— has aggressively targeted civilians (Christian or otherwise). Others are quick to note that all parties have avowed violence, and that using the genocide label (for political purposes or otherwise) isn’t as important as preventing it all together.
Throughout the slow-burning conflict, many prominent talking heads have called for international response —Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Former Sec. General Kofi Annan, French President François Hollande, and US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, have all expressed impatience with the continued instability in the country. Ambassador Power, speaking in September, discussed the potential consequence of inaction:
“My government views recent events in the Central Africa Republic with anguish at the horrific degree of suffering, and we are deeply angered by the atrocities perpetrated by Séléka rebels against innocent civilians, including many children. We are also deeply alarmed by the prospect of CAR becoming a safe haven for violent extremists.”
In light of the recent US Department of State designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru, Nigerian-based extremist groups, as “terrorist organizations,” the crisis in the CARis even more important. With Boko Haram inciting “states of emergency” in Nigeria’s north, bleeding instability over into Chad, which is currently being affected by continued conflict in The CAR and Sudan, as Mali appears to serve as “safe haven” for violent, non-state actors in West Africa, we might be watching the dominos fall.
The question that remains, is what the US/Western response will be, given an tentative rapprochement with Iran (which is sucking-up valuable diplomatic resources), and the stale human disaster of Syria (which continues to generate little more than Tweets from Ambassador Samantha Power).

Morning Brief: November 14, 2013

What I’m reading/thinking/writing about today. November 14, 2013.

Washington-bound for Defense One Summit, just a few developments I’ll be charting today:

  • Implications of U.S. State Departments classification of Nigeria-based Boko Haram / Ansaru as terrorist organizations. While Defense One reported on the importance of the action, citing increased US policy tools to confront and erode these group’s power, The New York Times’ Eric Schmidt warned that the designation might further legitimize both groups who are allegedly tied to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
  • Boko Haram’s latest kidnapping victim might be a French priest taken from northern Cameroon, according to Reuters.
  • Questions re: the future of asymmetrical warfare (by land, air, and sea). Reflections from the summit.

Finally, I wanted to draw attention to the latest New York Times update on the Chevron/Ecuador case. Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the impact of Chevron’s investment in Ecuador in a long-form narrative piece (published on this site.) Given the consequences of this case for environmental litigation in the global north and south, the article is worth a read.