Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Localise and dull down"

Another mass shooting in the US. The media schedule for the next few days will be familiar. Roll out the  blanket coverage, cast away all other stories. Experts, talking heads, politicians, moments of silence, a roll call of names. funerals. Lots of crying people. The repeated and mostly unanswered question "why?"

People find this sort of coverage distasteful. Watching the clips of snatched mobile phone footage rolling over and over through the night only adds to feeling of desolation.

I was reminded of this part of Charlie Brooker's Newswipe today, where a forensic psychologist says that the coverage of violence should be "localised and made as boring as possible" to avoid future massacres.

This made me wonder what localised and dulled down coverage would look like. Something like this? "An incident occurred last night in a place you care absolutely nothing about. An undisclosed number of people were casualties. We cannot reveal the identity of the instigator of this incident..." But then I realised I didn't have to imagine it.

Two weeks ago in Nigeria there was a massacre of around 70 people on the Jos Plateau. It didn't get a huge deal of coverage in the UK, but that's not really  surprising. 

I asked the Guardian correspondents on Twitter if the paper was going to cover it. One responded that there was only room for one African crisis at a time. "Unfortunately Jos will prob be in the news again soon" she said. To be fair to them I'm sure they were keen to cover it. But to the news desk, was the killing of scores of people in a corner of Nigeria too local, too dull? 

In fact, the Nigerian media itself does its best to localise and dull-down coverage of massacres. 

There are few really thorough investigations. You never really hear anything detailed about the perpetrators. Numbers of the dead are always wrong, usually played down. The victims are hardly ever individually named, unless they are somehow connected to politics. Indeed, if a journalist did go into detail and examine the situation on the ground, it is seen as "mischief making". It is assumed that the journalist, or whoever it is delivering the information, has an angle of their own to grind.

Some of this is to do with a natural fear of reprisals. But when you ask people about the causes of violence many shrug and say "it is all political" or they might say bigoted things about the ethnic groups responsible. It's a local problem, they say. It will never be solved, they say. 

What can we say about this localising and dulling down? Is it showing us something? A terrifying thought: if  you accept that killing is dull and is another locality's problem, are you quietly accepting that violence is legitimate?  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Islamic healing and Bori spirit possession in Kano

How does Islam encounter traditional beliefs in Kano? The following is taken from Susan O'Brien's PhD thesis Power and Paradox in Hausa Bori, published by the University of Madison, Wisconsin in 2000.

It is a transcript of a discussion between a Malam -an Islamic healer- and a number of spirits dwelling inside a young girl called Fatima. She has been divorced and has had trouble finding a new husband, she also suffers from headaches and bad dreams. She has come to the clinic of the Malam and he and two assistants have read out verses from the Holy Qur'an to draw out the spirits.

A spirit "appears on Fatima", O'Brien says. He identifies himself as a Sarki (king) called Sarkin Duna.
Mallam: Are you a Muslim?
Duna: No
M: So you are an unbeliever.
D: Yes, of course.
M: I want you to accept Islam.
D: In Islam, there is no power.
M: You can retain your power if you become a Muslim, nobody will stop your leadership.
D: I want to become a Muslim but in Islam there is no wine and women, and these are my favourite things. I cannot do without them.
M: Of course there is no wine nor women in Islam, but if you accept Islam, God will provide you with something more sweet than alcohol and women. Islam is a simple religion. God created Adam and the spirits so that they could worship him, and that is why we want you to accept Islam. Accept Islam and you will become our brothers and we will forgive you all of your sins.
The Malams convince Duna to convert and he takes the Muslim name Umar.
M: I am very happy to hear that Umar is an important name in Islam. Now Umar your religion will not be complete until you stop what you are doing?
Duna/Umar: What am I doing?
M: You see your presence in the body of this woman is not good because you are causing her to suffer and prevent her from getting married. Therefore we want you to leave the body of this woman.
U: It is a difficult thing.
M: It is simpler than accepting Islam and when you accept Islam. If you leave her body, God will provide you with something better than her body.
U: I swear it is difficult.
M: Why did you enter into her?
U: I saw her and fell in love with her.
M: Now how old are you?
U: I am forty years old.
M: Umar, please, how many are you in her body?
U: We are seven.*
Not all of these kinds of exchange are as lucid, O'Brien says, some of these exchanges are done with the supplicant emitting only growls, howls or cries. I presume that this exchange is done in Fatima's voice. This exorcism continues and Umar is persuaded to leave. At one stage O'Brien describes what happened to Umar as a "beating". Fatima herself reports no memory of the exchange. During the next two hours the other spirits who reveal themselves include Duma's daughter, then a sun-worshipping spirit called Sanusi who lives in Fatima's left leg and a spirit called Saudatu who lives in Fatima's back. Saudatu confesses that she is in the habit of "inviting our men into her [Fatima]" a revelation that shocks the Malams. A Muslim spirit called Mero tells the Malams he causes her to "do whatever she wants". Eventually, a spirit of a christian preacher called John reveals that Fatima's susceptibility to spirits is caused by her aunt, who cursed her before she was born by concealing charms in her father's well.

O'Brien's work on this subject explores the way the Islamic healing practice of rukiyya, or recitation of the Qur'an sanctioned by Wahabbi scholars, has met the Hausa belief in bori spirits. I read it as a kind of compromise that has provided what she calls a "narrative of inclusion" for people who may have transgressed societal regulations or drifted into societal marginalisation due to their spirit possession.

This is particularly important for women, who live perpetually in what O'Brien says is a near impossible situation of being a good Muslim woman in northern Nigeria.  

* O'Brien, S Power and Paradox in Hausa Bori, University of Madison Wisconsin, 2000, page 259.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

USIP report on Boko Haram

Here you can find a link to the report I have written for the United States Institute of Peace on Boko Haram.
It's a review of what we know about the group's history, and what has contributed to the situation as we find it. I looked at what some other researchers in the field say and spoke to many journalist friends in Nigeria and outside who have covered the group.
You can also find it here on my archive page.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Two views of Boko Haram and northern Nigeria

This morning I read this comment piece in the Daily Mail. In it, historian and author Michael Burleigh says the international press have it dangerously wrong on Nigeria, and Boko Haram violence is being understated by journalists, who have a "rosy view" of the militant group. This group will stop at nothing to attack western interests and bring about a "grim hand-chopping regime", he says.

I was reminded, in a curious way, about this op-ed piece sent to me by a fellow Naijaphile a few days ago. In it the President of the American University Yola, Margee Ensign, says that religious intolerance is not Nigeria's problem, much of the Boko Haram violence has been overstated, and the press (particularly the international press) are getting it dangerously wrong on Nigeria.

They are almost diametrically opposite views, except they both agree that journalists (people like me) have it wrong.

Burleigh doesn't acknowledge that Boko Haram is a sect, a group with extreme views. He conflates Boko Haram with all muslims, and sees the forces affecting northern Nigeria, which help Boko Haram, in very simplistic terms. His very scanty knowledge of the situation doesn't seem to be a hindrance on his writing about the subject.

But he may have a point when he says that many of Boko Haram's attacks on Christians don't really fit into the motive of "vengeance against a corrupt state" used to explain Boko Haram's existence.

On her part, Ensign almost acknowledges too much complexity, as if she has trouble seeing the bigger picture. She seems to say if someone who burned a church down was NOT in fact a Muslim, it is evidence that society isn't broken; a baffling position for someone not used to northern Nigeria.

But she is right when she says it is not religious intolerance that will cause Nigeria to split. If that happens it will be because the people who wield power can no longer agree to divide up the spoils, not because of their religious differences.

A few weeks ago I deleted a comment that had been left on my post about police execution and the role it plays in strengthening Boko Haram.

The poster accused me of being too sympathetic to the group and told me that I was deluded if I thought that Muslims weren't trying to take over the world. People like me should stop making excuses and wake up, the comment said.

Only they said it in much more forceful and unpleasant terms.

It has also been said by friends that my opinions on Boko Haram are too sensationalist and over-dramatic.

I have a publication coming out soon on Boko Haram, but after that I'm going to take a break from writing about these people I think.

I'm tired of being in the middle of these two views of northern Nigeria and I want this blog to be about more than just these Boko Haram people.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"If you Tarka me, I go Daboh you"

Godwin Daboh Adzuana will be remembered for a great contribution to Nigerian Pidgin.

Mr Daboh, who died last week, was a Nigerian political godfather, acting behind the curtain, sticking his fingers in many pies.

But back in the days when military leader Yakubu Gowon was in charge, in fact it was just before he was deposed in a coup, Daboh was a relatively unknown businessman from Benue state.

Gowon's publicity man Joseph Tarka had made an announcement that the government encouraged people to report corrupt officials.

Daboh took the opportunity to do exactly that, and provided information that Tarka was as bent as every other six-bob note in the government.

Tarka was forced to resign, and so the phrase "If you Tarka me, I go Daboh you" was born.

Daboh didn't do what he did out of a sense of moral probity, however.

The phrase encapsulates that old military-era problem, which has unfortunately hung over into today's Nigerian society: Everyone is up to their neck in it, if you try and dunk me, I'll pull you under.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Boko Haram's Abu Qaqa gives press conference

This is the text of a press conference given by Boko haram Spokesman Abu Qaqa to journalists via speakerphone. The interview was given in Hausa and translated into English. Note I was not at this meeting, I was sent the text by someone who was.

Abu Qaqa: This is an important message on the issue that occupied the media in respect of negotiaitions between our group and the government.
Not long ago, President Goodluck Jonathan made a public statement urging us to come forward for dialogue. He also said we should make our demands clear with a view to resolving the protracted problem in the country.
The first condition we gave was the need for unconditional release of all our members. There was initial meeting between us and the government and in the process, one of our members, Abu Dardaa was arrested in Kaduna.
Since then, we never trusted the government. However, following endless plea by some notable Nigerian, whom we have enormous respect for, we resolved to give another chance.
These people said they would intercede between us and the government, they said they have the capacity and we trusted them, unfortunately however, the opportunity was messed up.
Almighty God has told us repeatedly that the unbelievers will never respect the promises they made. As such, henceforth, we would never respect any proposal for dialogue.
In fact, we have closed all possible doors of negotiation. We would never listen to any call for negotiations. Let the government forces do whatever they feel they can do and we too would use all the warewithal at our disposal and do what we can.
If the government thinks arresting our members will discourage us from launching onslaught, then let them continue arresting and killing our members.
We strongly believe that Almighty Allah will give us the power to catch and prosecute government forces. We are optimistic that we would dismantle this government and establish Islamic government in Nigeria.
Let the federal government and its agents do what they can; and we in return, would also do what we can.
The noble prophet Mohammed was also tried and tested during the war of Uhud, he persevered and at the end of the day, he emerged victorious. The fact is that, we don’t have an element of doubt in our minds that one day, we would surely emerge victorious from this onerous encounter.
We are calling on all Muslims in this part of the world to accept the clarion call and fight for the restoration of the Caliphate of Usman Danfodio which white the white man fought and fragmented. The white man killed prominent Islamic clerics and emirs and also replaced the white Islamic flag with the Union Jack.
We want all our people to come together and restore our loss glory.

Questions and answers
Are you aware of the moves made by Dr Datti Ahmed?
Qaqa:Yes, Datti Ahmed and his people have intimated us that they would make attempt and find a platform on which we would meet with government agents and find solution to the crisis. Datti also assured that he will get back to us on what transpired between his group and the government. We gave him our conditions.

A journalist was threatened, what is your position?
Qaqa: We are following unfolding events. Some people threatened a journalist and he was frightened. The truth is that, the same journalist was the very person that created a link between us and the Datti Ahmed group.
We want to advice him and all journalists not to be deterred by the threat. Journalists must also adhere to the ethics of their professional calling because, all over the world, everybody knows the
role of the journalist. Journalists must remain courageous and upright.

The issue of Boko Haram is now a global phenomenon. Some people said government was hesitant by the move by Datti Ahmed because there was no assurance that the move was true?
Qaqa: We are really involved in the moves made by Dr Datti Ahmed because they gave us adequate assurance that they have the capacity to deliver. However, they (Datti and Co) have seen how deceitful the federal government is. As far as we are concerned, we know that the
federal government will not live up to its responsibility. A true believer will not allow himself to be cheated twice.

What do you think the FG did that prompted you to back out?
Qaqa: The truth is that we have been doubtful on the seriousness and purposeful commitment of the government. It was the Datti group that thought the federal government could be trusted and they have been disappointed.

Stop proceeds of crime being banked in Britain: Open letter to the UK government

Here is the text of an open letter sent by the undersigned organisations to the British Government trying to give voice to the story silenced by the abrupt end of the Ibori trial: the relationship between British banks and corrupt officials from foreign governments.

Tuesday 20th March 2012

Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP
The Home Secretary, Rt Hon. Theresa May MP
Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan Police Service
Adair, Lord Turner, Chairman & Hector Sants, Chief Executive Officer, Financial
Services Authority
Rt Hon. Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair, International Development Select Committee
Rt Hon. Meg Hillier MP, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria

We, the undersigned, would like to congratulate the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police Service’s Proceeds of Corruption Unit (POCU) on the successful prosecution of James Onafene Ibori, former Governor of Delta State, Nigeria. We welcome the support for this action from the British government, and particularly the Department for International Development.

Mr Ibori was convicted on seven separate charges of money-laundering; one charge of conspiracy to commit money-laundering; one charge of conspiracy to defraud; one
charge of conspiracy to make false instruments; and one charge of property transfer by deception. For these charges he could expect to face ten years in prison.

Mr Ibori’s trial has documented the huge sums of money which prosecutors at Southwark Crown Court testified to have been stolen from the public exchequer over the period ofhis terms in public office; £35 million of UK assets traced to him were frozen in 2007, and in total he may have laundered as much as £160 million, according to prosecutors.

Alongside that, the trials of Ibori and his associates show that he amassed luxury cars and a property portfolio in two continents including a London mansion bought for £2.2 million in cash.

Corruption is a huge drain on the economies of developing nations such as Nigeria.

This type of prosecution, consistent with Articles 43-50 of the UN Convention Against Corruption, is enormously important in that it sends a signal that breaking domestic and international laws by stealing public money and using it for private gain and accumulation overseas will not be tolerated. Such international law-enforcement
cooperation is essential if the fight against corruption in Nigeria, and in other developing nations, is to move forward.

Equally, it is important to British taxpayers, who fund the UK’s commitments as a
longstanding and core development partner in Nigeria. It is also important for the UK to show that investments from proceeds of corruption in other parts of the world are not welcomed.

The UK has made progress on this issue in the five years since the Financial Action Task Force listed the UK as only partially compliant on customer due diligence in financial services, with important new money laundering regulations coming into force in 2007.

However, there are serious concerns about how well banks are actually implementing
these rules. In the banking sector, too many financial institutions seem to be paying little heed to their obligations under know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering legislation. A June 2011 report by the Financial Services Authority found that:

• Three-quarters of banks sampled failed to take adequate measures to establish
the legitimacy of the source of wealth and source of funds to be used in the
business relationship;
• More than half failed to apply meaningful Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD)
measures in higher risk situations and did not identify or record adverse
information about the customer or the customer’s beneficial owner;
• More than a third of banks visited failed to put in place effective measures to
identify customers as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).

In addition, James Ibori’s huge property portfolio points us to the key role of the realestate sector and estate agents in helping to prevent money-laundering. The attractive location and prices of the UK property market continue to attract international investment, which sadly includes laundered money.

Following the EU’s Third Money-Laundering Directive (2005/60/EC), implemented in the UK as the Money Laundering Regulations 2007, other economic actors in nonfinancial activities and professions, including lawyers, notaries, accountants, estateagents, have a responsibility to require 'enhanced due diligence' measures for new and existing customers that are 'politically exposed persons'.

Crucially, these require identification of beneficial owners and the verification of the
beneficial owner's identity. Yet the Ibori conviction raises questions about the checks
taken to comply with these regulations by many of the financial intermediaries that he dealt with, including real-estate agents. How did these institutions ensure that the funds they were handling were not the proceeds of corruption?

The Ibori case has also revealed how corrupt politicians can use shell companies to hold their assets, and in some cases hide their identity. For example, IborI’s lawyer, Badresh Gohil, who has also been convicted of money laundering, helped Ibori buy a $20 million Bombadier private jet through a number of shell companies.

We therefore urge the British government, financial services regulators, law enforcement and anti-corruption bodies, financial, legal and real-estate professional associations, and private-sector financial bodies, vendors, agents and purchasers of real-estate, to take note of these issues and implement actions including:

• Devoting more law-enforcement time and investigative efforts to prosecutions
such as that of James Ibori;
• Educating real-estate and financial services actors as to their legal obligations as
regards money-laundering;
• Working with professional associations in the real-estate, legal and financial
services sector to establish, disseminate and train on best-practice in combating
risk from money-laundering;
• Continuing to monitor market actors’ implementation of anti-money-laundering
controls, especially as regards politically exposed persons, and sanctioning those
who do not take compliance efforts seriously;
• Rigorously enforcing the anti-money laundering regulations by carrying out spot
checks on the regulated sector, and where wrongdoing is identified undertaking
prosecution, including in the most serious cases, for an imprisonable offence;
• Introducing greater transparency over the ownership of shell companies by
requiring companies to disclose their ultimate (or beneficial) owner to Companies
House so that this information is in the public domain;
• Support the Nigerian Government to strengthen its anti-corruption institutions and
prosecution systems to ensure that future cases of money laundering do not slip
through its system.

We feel that such measures will underline Britain’s seriousness in combating the
globalised menace of corruption and money-laundering, and send a strong deterrent
signal across the world.

Yours sincerely,
Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria
Christian Aid, London, UK
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Abuja, Nigeria
CLEEN Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria
Constitutional Reform Dialogue Mechanism (CRDM), Abuja, Nigeria
Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) Nigeria
Global Witness, London, UK
Kayode Ogundamisi, Nigeria Democratic Forum, UK
Modupe Debbie Ariyo, OBE, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, London/Manchester,
UK Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, Europe
Nigerian Gender Budget Network, Abuja, Nigeria
Oliver Owen, St Cross College, Oxford, UK
Paul Okojie, Department of Law, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
Platform, London UK
Revenue Watch Institute, New York, USA
Richard Wild, Department of International Development, University of Oxford, UK
Stakeholder Democracy Network, Port Harcourt, Nigeria/London, UK
Tax Justice Network, London, UK
Tearfund, London, UK
The Corner House, Dorset, UK
Transparency International UK, London, UK
Youth Action Initiative Africa (YAIA), Jos, Nigeria

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The nature of Nigeria: Boko Haram and the botched rescue of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara

The expected denial from Boko Haram spokesman "Abu Qaqa" came last night, in a conference call with reporters.

"We have never been involved in hostage taking and we never ask for ransom" Saharareporters quoted him as saying.

And, for what its worth, I think he may have a point.

Boko Haram is a group that now sustains itself by bank robberies, like this one on the same day as the events in Sokoto. It's a curious side effect of the banking revolution in Nigeria over the last few years, there are banks in the most remote of places. Easy pickings.

I've been trying to map Boko Haram's activities here. The point of the map is not wholly to point out the geographical difference of the attacks to the Sokoto events; There isn't a whole lot of things to attack in between the north east and the north west, so one might expect a gap between the two.

But my question is, look at the density of bank robberies, shootings and general mayhem in north east Nigeria. If the Sokoto group, calling itself Al Qaeda in the Land Beyond the Sahel, is splinter group of Boko Haram, disconnected from the rump, where are its bank robberies? Kidnapping is an expensive business, how is it funding itself?

In reality Boko Haram's denial will have little meaning at this stage. As far as the understanding from outside goes, it makes little difference as to whether it was Boko Haram, or an offshoot of that organisation, or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

For many in the UK, Italy and maybe the US, it's like picking catfish from a bath at a "point-and-kill" joint (see picture above). They're all about the same size, so pondering over exactly which is the best is unnecessary and only going to delay your meal.

But I think this media attention does open an opportunity to have a shot at explaining why, as it sheds some light on deeper issues of what is wrong in Nigeria.

Richard Dowden is spot on when he writes:

And it is not just Boko Haram which benefits from the global fear of terrorism. My friend went on to point out that a quarter of Nigeria’s budget of almost $30 billion this year will be spent on the military and security services. The service chiefs will now have to find – or create something – to justify that and keep it flowing.

I'm not saying that the murders of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara are a conspiracy by the Nigerian government, and nor is Mr Dowden. But he is saying that those in power in Nigeria are well able to play things the way they want, never mind the reality.

After all, at the "point and kill" there is no guarantee the fish they bring is the one you selected.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Round up on the botched rescue of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara

The Guardian say that the information of the hostages' location came after the arrest of a top Boko Haram man in Kaduna:

Nigerian security agents have been receiving intelligence training from western nations with years of experience in handling terrorism, including the United States and the UK.

Military sources say the training would normally start to show results within 18 to 24 months, about the time since foreign countries began technical assistance to tackle Boko Haram.

A group known as "al Qaeda" in the land beyond the Sahel" claimed in December that it had captured McManus.

The paper's correspondent in Lagos says it shows a disturbing shift in tactics:
Officials say factions within each of the groups have been in contact with each other. According to Nigerian intelligence officials, members of the more radical Boko Haram factions have received training from Aqim in Algeria and possibly Afghanistan. Aqim is thought to have given Boko Haram advice on urban terrorist tactics and suicide bombings.

Aqim has perfected what analysts call a "kidnap economy", thriving off the abduction and ransom of westerners and Africans. It often snatches hostages in one country and moves them across one or more borders, ending up in Aqim bases in Mali. Reports suggest Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara were moved around but remained within Nigerian borders, which makes it unlikely that Aqim was behind the atrocity.
From last nights' The World Today, Haruna Tangaza in Sokoto tells them the battle raged for hours and they used a tank to get in:
Haruna Shehu Tangaza reporting on the Sokoto kidnapping (mp3)

I don't know what this means for the line on the BBC story that "British forces were first in the door".

The FT say that the fact that Boko Haram didn't claim the operation may have some significance.

All in all its still a muddy picture. I think this underlines the fractured nature of the new militancy in northern Nigeria.

As an observer thousands of miles away, I have some questions:

If this was a splinter group, how did they maintain themselves with funding and supplies?

What level now do we put British involvement in this issue?

If it is Boko Haram, will they now retaliate?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

McManus and Lamolinara kidnap on Saharareporters

Saharareporters have a much more precise location for the raid: Mabera Layout in Sokoto city, Sokoto South LGA.

They're pretty confident that it was members of Boko Haram who were holding Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara.

Nigerian forces did take some of the captors alive.

The real problem will be, can we rely on any information that comes from their interrogations?

The government needs to give clear and unambiguous information about the kidnappers to the media, and the Nigerian media need to follow this information up in a thorough way.

I'm not trying to clear Boko Haram in this, just trying to flag up areas of uncertainty.

The risk is that this becomes a very foggy issue with very little reliable information that can be verified... Unfortunately par for the course in Nigeria.

Is it Boko Haram who kidnapped Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara?

View Nigeria in a larger map

The Nigerian government have confirmed that the raid took place in Sokoto state.

They've not said if it took place in Sokoto city itself, but its pretty likely that it would have been there. My guess is its easier to hide two hostages in a large town than it is in a remote country area, but we don't know that for sure.

The location of this raid is very important. If you look at the map above, you might see what I mean.

Had it been in Maiduguri, there could be little question that this was a raid on a Boko Haram operation. A likely scenario to my mind would have been that the men were taken hostage in Birnin Kebbi by some opportunists and sold to Boko Haram.

However, now we know this raid took place in Sokoto state, I'm going to say that the connection to Boko Haram is still questionable.

The map above shows the physical separation in the grouping of the incidences of Boko Haram activity and this kidnap (the two placemarks on the top left).

Sokoto is very close to the border with Niger. There have been several kidnappings along the Niger/Mali axis, including this one of French citizens Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory in January last year.

This it seems their kidnap and murder was claimed by a group claiming to be Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that these are different organisations, operating in the Sahel, rather than nationalistic organisations operating within the borders of different countries.

The BBC are now reporting in their bulletins that its a matter of fact that Boko Haram carried out this kidnapping. I'm not so sure its that cut and dried.

Why is it important? Well, I certainly don't think that I have to clear Boko Haram of anything. In a sense it doesn't really matter if they did it or not, so bloody are their hands.

However it is important to understand the internal workings of these groups and if we are going to follow them, we should know what we are following, and what we aren't.

And if it was out of Boko Haram's field of operation... doesn't that mean we could have two groups operating in Nigeria now?

Scary stuff.

(The map itself is a work in progress, I'm going to keep working on it, adding attacks as they happen.)

Nigerian hostage rescue failure: Some thoughts

First of all, its clearly terrible for the families of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara. All my condolences go out to them.

The BBC's Gordon Corera is saying that sources tell him that the kidnapping was carried out by Boko Haram. He says that a "splinter cell with strong links to al Qaeda".

The people I speak to are unclear on the factionalisation of Boko Haram. Some say they are all under one command, through a 30 member Shura Council, and that there are no factions within the organisation.

However, it is my understanding that the organisation operates with a cell structure, so the members of the Shura Council run essentially 30 operations.

Other decisions are made at an executive level, by Abubakar Shekau, without reference to the Shura Council.

The group has had factional fights. There have been beheadings and killings within the organisation as it purged itself of members who betrayed them, or were too moderate.

It is possible that there are cells who look outward, away from the more parochial concerns of the group.

After all, the group bombed the UN compound in August 2011.

However, most researchers on Boko Haram point out the focus of their demands have been on the Nigerian government, police and local religious leaders, and little rhetoric aimed at international institutions.

Its my view that Boko Haram have proved themselves to be adaptable in the prosecution of their anger, widening the nature of people it is righteous to kill to include anyone they consider to be an "enemy".

Observers have been very reluctant to pin Boko Haram within the al Qaeda framework, rightly, because there are doubts about the nature of al Qaeda in this region. As one said to me "what is al Qaeda anyway?"

The question is how long can the significance of a connection be rejected? If there is a group perpetrating attacks, suicide bombings, kidnaps, and the like, in other words behaving like al Qaeda has done, what difference does it make that we consider them to be a different organisation?

Video showing British and Italian hostage posted to YouTube last year by AFP

This is the footage posted by AFP to YouTube in August 2011. It is believed to show Chris Mcmanus and Franco Lamolinara, along with brief glimpses of their captors, who wear turbans and hold large automatic weapons. The audio has not been posted, but it is believed the men identify themselves and say they are being held by Al Qaeda.

Hostages killed: Update and some thoughts

BBC report on the hostage rescue here. They have been named as Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara from the construction company B Stablini. Media now reporting David Cameron said that the rescue operation was "Nigerian-led" and the British forces advised.
When they were taken there were a number of possibilities:
1. They were kidnapped by Boko Haram
2. They were kidnapped by a gang of opportunists
3. They were kidnapped by opportunists who sold them to Boko Haram.
4. They were kidnapped by opportunists who sold them on to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The fourth of these options to me seemed the most likely, along the same lines as the kidnap in 2009 of some tourists in Gao, Mali, which ended in the murder of Edwin Dwyer. There was a rash of other kidnaps in Mali, thought to be connected to AQIM in 2011.

Hostages killed in rescue attempt.

Just hearing that a British and Italian hostage taken in Birnin Kebbi last may have been killed in a rescue attempt "in Nigeria". No details as yet where.
Previously I thought it very unlikely that Boko Haram would have been behind their kidnap, as it was far out of their sphere of influence. It's not inconceivable that they would end up in Maiduguri. It all depends on where this rescue attempt was.
Here's a link to the original kidnap story.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Diabel Cissokho @ Momo

Went to see Griot Kora player Diabel Cissoko at Momo this month (just found this to post).

A great session. His drummer uses a miked-up upturned calabash which he plays with his fists, which has a great sound, like villagers pounding their pestle and mortars in a cave.

Cissokho himself plays the Kora and the Tehardent, which is an amazing instrument, sort of like a guitar mixed with a violin, which when electrified sounds like a raw slide-banjo played by a crazed, one eyed Tuareg whose only audience is his camel.
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