Monday, 29 August 2011

On Boko Haram..

John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) sounding the alarm on Boko Haram in November 2010. Mr Campbell was pointing out that "deteriorating economic and social conditions in Northern Nigeria are behind the recurring upsurge in Boko Haram's activity".



Mr Campbell also wrote this blog after the bombing of the UN office building in Abuja, Nigeria last Friday, in which he suggests that although Boko Haram has not been part of an international terrorist movement, the group has doubtlessly had contact with Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and with Al-Shabaab. (For more of Campbell on Nigeria, click here).

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Witchcraft and superstition in Africa (a view from Australia)

Yesterday, (23/08/2011)

I heard a broadcast.

Click here for the broadcast

It featured Leo Igwe, I had never heard of the man before. He was introduced as a humanist, and a founder of the Nigerian humanist movement, Nigerian skeptic society. He is also a Director – International Humanist and Ethical Union for West and Central Africa.

Since I didn’t know what a “humanist” was, I looked it up.

“Humanism is the belief that we can live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves. We take responsibility for our actions and work with others for the common good..

So now I know what humanist is. Ok, back to Leo Igwe.

He kicked off his introduction with this line

…"My country is deeply religious and we have very little to show for that in terms of progress, development, tolerance and civilised values. Deep religiosity in my country has brought us so much hatred, conflict, division and discrimination…

This is a point of view, I would never have expected someone in a prominent position from Nigeria to ever say, speaking the truth so clearly, unambiguously and addressing issues head-on, without a huge dose of denial of basic facts. Unlike the former foreign minister Ojo Maduekwe, who said “there are no gays in Nigeria”. People of the ilk of Mr Maduekwe , all too often occupy prominent positions in Nigeria. So to hear someone like Mr Igwe speaking was literally a breath of “fresh air”, he didn’t gloss over the gory facts . Anyway, he talked about how religion has been twisted and used to persecute individuals within society based on the idea that they are perceived to be witches or wizards.

Society has been effectively hijacked by religious zealots (from many faiths), that many of politicans whom you would expect to defend the defenseless are rendered impotent, due to them either believing the doctrine pedaled by many Pentecostal churches (in this particular case), or they rely on the followers of Pentecostal churches.

Step in reason, logic, self-responsibility to dispel this mania of superstition that pervades Nigeria and much of sub-Saharan Africa. The skeptics society and humanist society, are slowly changing minds, encouraging people to think for themselves, so hopefully this practice of targeting individuals on account of sorcery will come to an end.

This behaviour is not confined to Nigeria alone.

"Cases of children being accused of witchcraft occur particularly in at least eight countries in west and central Africa: Benin, Gabon, Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)."

Click here

To hear of people like Mr Igwe, shows that the candle of hope still flickers against the odds in Nigeria.

Some other relevant links can be found below.

Belief in Witchcraft in Africa

The religious climate in Nigeria

Friday, 19 August 2011

Human Trafficking: The Nigerian Connection





Some really interesting stuff. A direct consequence of the dereliction of duty by government and the potent combination of poverty and ignorance. I have previously discussed this issue in my post Sex, Lies and Black Magic.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Climate Change Adaptation and Conflict in Nigeria

"Climate change, a growing number of voices in media and policy circles warn, is raising the risks of violent conflict in the twenty-first century. Dire futures are predicted for some of the world's poorest, least prepared countries and their most vulnerable citizens. This report, (authored by Aaron Sayne, who in July 2011 published policy recommendations with background on Nigeria's Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)), is sponsored by the Centers of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace and evaluates these claims for conflict-prone Nigeria.

Based on a comprehensive literature survey, interviews with senior government officials, academics and private sector figures and the author's work as a conflict analyst in Nigeria, the report calls for a more nuanced approach to mapping the links between climate change and conflict. It reviews evidence of such links in Nigeria and outlines a process for achieving conflict-sensitive adaptation to the effects of climate change."

Click on this link for the 16-page Special Report

Monday, 15 August 2011

And he died.. (Part 3)

Years passed and with the passage of time, our "friendship" suffered change. The change was slow, gradual and subtle, but it was enforced upon us by the increasingly limited opportunity available to us to enjoy the closeness that we once enjoyed and still felt. Perhaps it might have been brought on by a combination of factors: the fact that we both were engaged in full-time careers; the fact that as a family man TJ just could not be there, as he had been before. And I was quite understanding of this too, taking every opportunity when it presented itself, to visit him at his office at Bonny Camp on Victoria Island in Lagos, spending untold hours with him, just being together.

TJ was shortly going off to America on a course and I recall accompanying him from one military office to the other government office, as he did the legwork necessary to put together all of the paperwork for his trip; me dressed in my smart, dark, business suit, him in his even smarter, sharp, Major's uniform, a uniform that caused doors to open with an alacrity that astonished me, whichever door it was that we knocked on.

On the night of his departure, we both said goodbye to his family and it was I who drove him to the airport, where when he had concluded the formalities and was just about to go through the gate taking him air-side, his eyes boring into mine, my eyes penetrating deeply into his, we embraced tightly and passionately, in public! Quite a feat, seeing how stiff and awkward TJ always was prior to that, a proclivity that had endeared him to me over the years. And it is that evening of his departure, which comprises the indelible memory of my "friendship" with TJ.

I use the word "memory" because from the title of this story, it ought to have been clear from the onset that this is not a story with a happy ending. TJ was away for a few weeks and shortly after his return, received a further promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, (he'd been only a Lieutenant when we first met about twelve years previously). I am not sure about this, but I will assume that the promotion also meant that he was qualified for different, presumably more expensive, accommodation, because he moved house. The promotion also led to him being reassigned to Defence HQ, doing more security sensitive work and working long hours, making him quite inaccessible while at work. Thus, not knowing where he now lived, there was a period of about a month after his return that I had no contact with him. Eventually, contact was re established and it was arranged that he would take me to his new place on a date to be specified..

A few days later, while at my work, a colleague of mine walked into my room with a strange look on his face. He started by stating that he had just been to see General Somebody at Defence HQ. Apparently, the General was his client and had invited him to discuss some personal legal matter. While my colleague was seated in the General's office, some underling entered the office and confirmed to the General that the reports were true. Obviously very shocked, the General proceeded to narrate to my colleague the details of the report that he had received a short while ago. One of his senior officers had apparently died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, mentioning the name of the said officer. My colleague did not know TJ in person, but he knew of him and knew his name..

According to my colleague, the General recounted that over the previous few weeks he'd noticed a change in this officer's demeanour; he had become withdrawn and listless, something the General thought was rather unusual for this particular officer. After the report of the shooting, it was narrated to the General that the officer (TJ) had discovered that his wife had been having an affair with one of their neighbours. The officer in a blind rage had broken into the home of this neighbour and with his service revolver, shot at the neighbour. He then walked back to his own residence and placing the gun against his temple, shot himself dead, spattering bits of his brain across the wall and the stairwell. And the bitter irony of the whole incident was that the wife's lover survived the gunshot and was taken to hospital.

It is impossible through writing to accurately describe, or convey how distraught I became on hearing this news. Even after so many years, I don't believe that I have successfully in my mind articulated my feelings surrounding this affair. As I said at the beginning, I shoved it aside, choosing instead not to think about it, in the vain hope that the pain would go away. But it hasn't gone away and continues to haunt me. I feel guilt. I feel as if I let down my dear friend. I should have been there for him in his time of distress. I believe that had I been there for him, he would not have taken such drastic action. I would have been in a position to intervene, he must have felt so alone in his time of crisis. He was not one to make many friends and certainly not friends in whom he would confide and entrust such a sensitive matter. He was very proud, but he would have trusted me and allowed me to hold his hand through those difficult times that we must have gone through.

It is about eighteen years since TJ died and I now find myself for the first time breaking out in tears as I type this. Perhaps writing this story was the catharsis that I needed, but if I am to be honest, I did not do this for me alone. I did it for TJ too and to celebrate that wonderful closeness that we enjoyed, that which two human beings can feel for each other. He really did mean so much to me and I still get the feeling that even after all that I have written, I have not done justice to the beautiful thing that we shared. May his soul rest in peace.

(The end)

And he died.. (Part 2)

After the exams at the end of second year, TJ confided to me that he didn't feel confident about his performance and he worried about the likely results. Nevertheless, that summer holiday was perhaps the most memorable, for despite the fact we were not on campus and I was living at home miles away, (and even on occasion travelled out of town), TJ and I still managed to see each other practically on a daily basis. We had clearly become a significant part of each other's life, but as this was in the '80s, well before the age of the mobile phone and emails, our incessant rendezvous were arranged by strictly kept appointments. Sometimes, I found myself as a guest at some officers' mess or other, feeling distinctly out of place in the midst of all that boisterous military banter. And I recall with some fascination how a shirtless TJ suddenly stiffened and stood to attention when someone, whom he later confirmed was a Brigadier, strode past us one evening as he was walking me to the gate of his compound.

And when the results of the exams were finally released, it came as no surprise that TJ had not made it. He would have to resit some papers during the holidays. And despite all of the support that I offered, he still didn't make it at the resit. So when third year began, TJ was not seated beside me as he had been for all of the preceding two years. He would have to repeat second year in its entirety; he was now in a different class and was absent in the seat next to mine. It was a strange feeling not having him as a reference point and I suppose that this was when we started slowly to drift apart, being on different schedules and doing different things. By the end of third year, sometimes a whole week had passed before we would meet. And we would meet only either because he came knocking on the door of my room at the hostel, or because I went looking for him at his flat, in the vague hope that I would find him at home and alone.

Third year ended and I graduated from the university, but by this time things were no longer the same. I moved on to one year of Law School that was located across town, but this was a hectic, intensive course that did not allow for much free time. We weren't seeing each other half as frequently as before, since he remained at the university. And the fact that the nurse, not wanting to leave anything to chance, had now moved into his flat didn't help matters either. However, that we did not meet as frequently as previously, did nothing to dampen the intensity of feeling, an intensity upon which our "friendship" was formed and built, hence my reference to the phrase "more than friends" earlier. On the occasions when we found ourselves together, it was as if we'd never parted. Sometimes, he would send word through another officer who lived close to him, but who was also at Law School with me, to say that he missed me, even though such messages were coined in such a way as not to give away the true depth of feeling. And so it went on..

But alas, my time at Law School came to an end. And while TJ was headed for his own one year at the school, I was winging it more than a thousand kilometres away to a place called Bauchi in the north of Nigeria, for my one year of compulsory national youth service. It was during this one year that the distance between us, which had by now developed, was reaffirmed. After my one year of service I stayed on in the north and it must have been nearly three years before I made it back to Lagos for a visit. And of course I went looking for TJ, finally tracking him down, although he had been relocated from his bachelor-officer flat to a more ample family flat, still within the military cantonment. TJ had been promoted and he had married and his wife was heavily pregnant, a surge of realisation that sent me reeling momentarily! And before you start wondering, no, she wasn't that nurse that I knew.

All in all, it was a great joy to see him again and from what I could tell, he seemed overjoyed to see me too. And the Mrs, well she was extremely pleasant and welcoming and she and I got on famously, a fact which effect on TJ was not lost on me. Obviously, she meant a lot to him and the joy that he exuded was palpable, almost tangible. I too was greatly happy to see such joy in his eyes. And when he dropped me off that evening, sitting together in the car, he let me know that my presence on that day brought it all together for him. I'd never seen him so happy.

Moving forward in time, I eventually moved back to Lagos. By this time TJ and his Mrs had given birth to two strapping boys, of both of whom I was very fond and I would visit them regularly at their new home. TJ had been promoted again and they now lived in a big house. The boys loved me too and since I'm quite good with kids, we were a happy bunch indeed. My "friendship" with TJ remained pretty much as it had always been; quiet, intimate conversations sitting together in the car on a dark street, (I discussed things with him that I could discuss with no one else - and vice-versa, I'd like to think); going for very long walks usually setting out around sunset so as to be together for as long as was possible; walks on the beach sometimes holding hands; me sitting on the side watching him play tennis. I enjoyed being with him. And so it went on, for a while, until the day when the news came to me..

(To be continued)

And he died.. (Part 1)

I have tried over many years to shove this aside in my mind, perhaps in the hope that if I didn't think about it, the pain would somehow be kept at bay. And so it has been for much of the time, although the thoughts have always lingered, hovering around vaguely somewhere inside, intermittently causing me to fail to find sleep, or causing me to awaken abruptly in the middle of the night.

I was 17 years old and it was the first day of lectures at university in the freshman year. The memory is vivid. I was seated at the rear of the huge lecture theatre, taking in the new experience of being in a lecture with a hundred other students; eagerly absorbing every word of the Constitutional Law professor as he guided his new students through what we, the students, were to expect from the course and what he expected from us. My attention was fixed throughout on the professor, me assiduously taking notes from time to time, as any good student should. And it was not until towards the end of the three-hour lecture that I noticed a presence seated next to me, to the left. I cannot tell if it was deliberate on his part, but the main reason why I'd noticed him was that he had positioned himself in such a way that not to notice him would be impossible. Glancing sideways briefly, I registered in my mind a not unattractive older guy, facial hair, well groomed, strong hands taking notes.. Hmm..

And so the lecture came to an end. The exit from the lecture theatre was located towards the front and we were seated at the rear, so we had a few minutes to pack up our stuff and join the queue of students filing out of the theatre. And that was when we met for the first time. I will call him TJ. TJ was a serving officer in the military. He was 10 years older than me and had just concluded training at the military academy at Sandhurst in the UK. He was undertaking a law degree to bolster his career in the military. So, while I lived at one of the student hostels within the campus, TJ was resident in a flat in a bachelor officers' building at an Army installation off campus, but not far from the campus.

It transpired that for every subsequent lecture for the remainder the first (and the second) year, TJ and I sat next to each other. And even when we attended lectures at other venues, we would arrange to sit side by side. Needless to say, as time went by, we had become fast friends and ever closer. And it would be fair to say that we became even more than just friends, since most evenings we would spend together hanging out at his flat, watching movies or listening to music or just talking. He liked talking to me it seemed and maybe I too enjoyed listening to him talk. He played tennis and I enjoyed hanging around the courts on campus watching him play and sometimes we would study together, at the library or at various reading rooms.

And he had a girlfriend too, some nurse at the Army hospital, who from time to time would show up at his flat. But this would throw a spanner in the works as far as I was concerned, since in her presence our conversation would take on a different tone and become quite less intimate than it usually was. Then, perhaps in compensation, TJ would whisk me off on a long drive in his car, twice taking me across the border to Cotonou in the Republic of Benin on a day trip. I was particularly impressed by the way he flashed his military ID at those clowns in Customs uniforms at the border post, and the way they jumped to attention and waved us through, lol.

(To be continued)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Friday, 12 August 2011

Hot Cities: Dakar, Senegal

From the Rockefeller Foundation's landmark documentary series, 'Hot Cities', which premièred on BBC World News in 2009 and explores the impact of climate change on urban areas. The series was released just as world leaders were conducting negotiations leading up to the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen.

Click here to watch in full all of the episodes in the 8 - part series.







The underlying message in the case of Senegal, as with several other African nations in a similar situation and facing similar circumstances, is, in my estimation, that in a world with a rapidly changing climate, governments should understand more acutely the need for investment in food security. The problems of 'climate change migration' and 'climate change refugees' that were predicted, are now becoming a reality.

Increased urbanisation will make the dangers of global poverty and climate crises especially acute in cities. The concentration of low-income people in high risk areas and on an ecologically fragile land will increasingly expose millions to the consequences of imminent and worsening climate disruption.

The problems associated with climate change are among the most serious that many African countries face. Yet I fear that too few on the continent are aware of this, understand the seriousness of the situation and recognise the potentially dire consequences of failing in a timely manner to tackle the looming crises head on.

Monday, 8 August 2011

On climate, hotspots and poverty..



It is, of course, poor people – and especially those in marginalised social groups like women, children, the elderly and disabled – who will suffer most from [climate] changes. This is because the impact of humanitarian disasters is as much a result of people’s vulnerability as their exposure to hazards. – CARE International (2008), Humanitarian Implications of Climate Change: Mapping Emerging Trends and Risk Hotspots.

What is a climate hotspot?

A climate hotspot is an area that is facing particularly high impact from global warming and climate change and is most vulnerable to its deleterious (or injurious) effects. With regard specifically to environmental factors and global warming, a hotspot can be assessed using the indicators below (from http://www.climatehotmap.org/). It’s important to keep in mind that the impacts from climate change reach well beyond the natural world, affecting social, political, and economic arenas as well.

Fingerprints

Indicators of a widespread and long-term trend toward warmer global temperatures, including:

Heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather, which can lead to increases in heat-related illness and death, particularly in urban areas and among the elderly, young, ill, or poor.

Ocean warming, sea-level rise, and coastal flooding. “A continuing rise in average global sea level would inundate parts of many heavily populated river deltas and the cities on them, making them uninhabitable, and would destroy many beaches around the world,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 2,000 scientists which advises the United Nations (Tacio, 2009).

Glaciers melting. As glaciers continue to shrink, summer water flows will drop sharply, disrupting an important source of water for irrigation and power in many areas that rely on mountain watersheds.

Arctic and Antarctic warming. Melting permafrost is forcing the reconstruction of roads, airports, and buildings and is increasing erosion and the frequency of landslides. Reduced sea ice and ice shelves, changes in snowfall, and pest infestations affect native plants and animals that provide food and resources to many people.

Harbingers

Events that foreshadow the types of impacts likely to become more frequent and widespread with continued warming.

Spreading disease. Warmer temperatures allow mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to extend their ranges and increase both their biting rate and their ability to infect humans.

Earlier spring arrival. An earlier spring may disrupt animal migrations, alter competitive balances among species, and cause other unforeseen problems.

Plant and animal range shifts and population changes, in some cases leading to extinction where warming occurs faster than they can respond or if human development presents barriers to their migration.

Coral reef bleaching, which results from the loss of microscopic algae that both color and nourish living corals. Other factors that contribute to coral reef bleaching include nutrient and sediment runoff, pollution, coastal development, dynamiting of reefs, and natural storm damage.

Downpours, heavy snowfalls, and flooding

Droughts and fires. Along with the human toll, sustained drought makes wildfires more likely, and crops and trees more vulnerable to pest infestations and disease.

The case of Burkina Faso

What makes Burkina Faso a hotspot? Along with heat waves and prolonged periods of unusually warm weather, Burkina Faso has been increasingly facing a number of the harbingers listed above, including extended droughts, downpours, and flooding, along with unpredictable planting seasons.

Jan Egeland, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on conflict, has called the Sahel region of West Africa, which includes northern Burkina Faso, “ground zero” for vulnerabilities to climate change (IRIN, 2008, “Sahel: Region is “ground zero” for climate change – Egeland”). He further observed, “Climate change in Burkina Faso does not mean there is less rain, it means that rainfall has got less predictable. And weather overall has become much more extreme. . . . [in 2007] in Burkina Faso, there were eight rainfalls over 150mm – that means eight major floods in one four month period. The alternative to floods is basically no rainfall – it’s all or nothing, and either way is a crisis for some of the poorest people on earth” (IRIN, 2008, “Sahel: Climate Change Diary Day 1”).

A report on the The Humanitarian Implications of Climate Change (2008) commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and CARE International identifies the Sahel region of Africa as facing “high overall human vulnerability” to climate change in the coming decades. Burkina Faso is identified as one of the hotspots at risk from climate change in another recent study as well, which focuses on countries in sub-Saharan Africa most vulnerable to climate change (Thornton et al., 2008). Both studies looked at a combination of environmental, social, and economic factors in assessing vulnerability.

Burkina Faso has one of the highest poverty rates in the world, and the majority of the population relies on subsistence agriculture, making the Burkinabe particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These factors combined with a high rate of illiteracy, a poor communications and technology infrastructure, and a struggling education system combine to make Burkina Faso an important country of focus for a study not only of climate hotspots.

Friday, 5 August 2011

My fifteen minutes of fame..

For a while, I was undecided whether to title this post 'Fifteen Minutes to Save the World', a play on Madonna's song '4 Minutes'. I settled for the one above though, because this more accurately describes what happened last evening, when I was invited by a Dublin radio station, Dublin City FM 103.2, to participate in a 'lively discussion' on the crisis in the Horn of Africa, broadcast live. My role, I think, was to bring to the discussion arguments from the perspective of the angry and frustrated African, since I have previously strongly made the assertion that African governments and their peoples have repeatedly demonstrated an almost shameful lack of interest in, and concern for, the very serious human tragedy that is the drought and famine in Somalia and other countries in the Horn of Africa.

I received the invitation only a few hours before the scheduled live broadcast and hence had insufficient time to notify everyone, although I did put out the word on Twitter and Facebook. The last time I was on a radio show was on the BBC World Service and as far as I am aware, nobody who knows me tuned in then. When BBC Radio 5 invited me subsequently to join in a discussion on the then impending Nigerian National Assembly Election, I dis-invited myself, for reasons I had no control over. So yesterday, it was important to me that somebody listened and that they should give me some reaction afterwards.

And fortunately, just five minutes before the show began my niece who lives in Lagos, Nigeria said "Hi Uncle" on Facebook. After hurriedly explaining to her that I was on the cusp of joining in a live radio show, I sent her the web link to the radio station's website, since the show was to be broadcast online as well. And so, apart from the several thousand Dubliners who were tuned in and would have heard my "passionate" and "heartfelt" remarks, a member of my family too listened in.

And the reaction she gave when we chatted afterwards was good too. I mean my niece is no pushover, (she holds a Masters Degree in International Business from a top UK university and holds down a senior position in the banking world), so her reaction really did matter to me. I was concerned, because I know of my tendency to be ardent and impassioned, (which even years of advocacy before the courts has done little to improve), especially when the subject-matter is one about which I feel strongly, as yesterday's was. I feared that I would stall and stammer, as occurred while on the BBC World Service, when uncharacteristically I stuttered and became tongue-tied and ran out of words altogether, lol.

But no, It was great to have the opportunity to express my views concerning this very important issue, the importance of which going by the evidence, few Africans seem to be aware of, or to be interested in. Many are nonchalant - the African Union has coughed up a measly $300,000 in relief aid, whereas, the British public alone has so far put together donations amounting to in excess of £44 million. My niece later commented that there was little talk, appreciation or awareness in Nigeria of the seriousness of the crisis; in a situation where even the governments of Africa believe that in times of crisis such as this, relief ought always to come from elsewhere other than Africa..