Can Regional Effort Uproot Boko Haram in Time for Nigeria Elections?
(Originally published in World Politics Review on February 13, 2015)
Last weekend, Nigeria’s electoral commission announced that, contrary to statements made just days prior by the chief of defense staff and the chief of army staff, the country’s security forces could not guarantee the safe conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections originally scheduled for Feb. 14 and 28. The commission postponed the poll for six weeks, the minimum time the security forces say they need to conclude a major military operation against militants from Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria and before which they would be unavailable to provide security for the elections.
The presidential and parliamentary elections are now set for March 28, followed by local elections on April 11. As with previous—unfulfilled—official projections of Boko Haram’s demise, Nigeria’s national security adviser insists that the group’s camps will be dismantled by then. But there is already speculation that security concerns are being used as a pretext for President Goodluck Jonathan’s incumbent government to delay what is shaping up to be the most competitive election in Nigerian history. Jonathan has denied any role in the postponement decision.
(Read the Rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)
The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership: Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism in the Sahel & Maghreb
A few months ago, I published the study I had been working on during my IPA Assignment at the Center for Complex Operations at National Defense University – The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership – Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism. The study discusses the origins of TSCTP, which is rather unique by U.S. government standards, for its regional and interagency focus . It dissects the “anatomy” of the program (including which U.S. government agencies are involved, what their roles are, and who their partner nation counterparts are), and derives six functional areas of TSCTP engagement in order to better understand the program’s lines of effort across the various agencies. These are: Military Capacity-Building, Law Enforcement Anti-Terrorism Capacity-Building, Justice Sector Counterterrorism Capacity-Building, Public Diplomacy and Information Operations, Community Engagement, and Vocational Training. The study then discusses some of the planning and implementation challenges associated with a program of this nature, derived from the over 70 interviews I conducted across the interagency and in nine of the ten TSCTP countries (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal) last year.
The study contains a lot of information on TSCTP, but as it’s rather dense, I also published a handful of shorter articles that either summarize or draw out some of the more salient points of the larger study:
- Catch-22 in the Sahel in the National Interest
- Nine Questions about the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership you were too Embarrassed to Ask in War on the Rocks
- North and West Africa Seek to Jumpstart Regional Counterterrorism Cooperation in World Politics Review
Return to the Mothership
Yesterday was my first day back at CNA, the place I’ve affectionately called “The Mothership” for the past fifteen months of my assignment at the Center for Complex Operations. While at CCO, I was working on an analysis of the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), which is an interagency U.S. government program to counter terrorism and violent extremism in the Maghreb and Sahel. I’m hoping my report will be published by the end of February – inshallah.
Working on this project, I learned a lot about the complexity of foreign assistance, and how much more I have yet to learn on the topic. I’m a very hands on learner, so fortunately I had to travel to nine of the ten TSCTP countries. At the time I traveled, I’d accordingly code-named them for security reasons: African Country A (Niger), African Country B (Chad), African Country C (Mali), African Country D (Senegal), African Country E (Morocco), African Country F (Algeria), African Country G (Nigeria), African Country H (Mauritania), and African Country I (Burkina Faso).
Here’s a few pics from my travels & some blurbs about the kinds of things I got myself into when I wasn’t working.
What I did in African Country A (Niger)
On occasion, I write about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is about my current travel covering parts of Africa and Europe.
The jig is up! I’ve moved on from African Country A, which I wrote a bit about last week, so I can now tell you that I was in Niger. I got to do several cool things while I was there.
First, I got to be a fly on the wall during meetings with representatives of the youth movement, NGOs, and the media. There, I was privy to Nigerien civil society perspectives on the country’s trajectory, including the proactive measures President Mahamadou Issoufou had taken to mitigate spillover from instability in Libya and Mali, the country’s youth bulge and why youth engagement is so critical, fears over the spread of violent extremism from northern Nigeria into Maradi and Zinder, and instances of complicity in narcotrafficking among segments of the Nigerien political class.
Later in the week, I had the opportunity to observe a simulation of a hostage rescue by the Nigerien gendarmes.
During the simulation, I wandered into the structure where the “terrorists” were holding the “hostages,” not entirely aware that a full-scale assault was imminent. In the video that I took (which I’ve decided not to post here), you see the gendarmes entering, shooting two blanks, and the camera (held by me) diving instinctively towards the ground.
What is not seen or heard in the video is my soft and slightly panicked whimpering. Later on, I got to see how the unit apprehended some of the terrorists who escaped the initial operation, searched their vehicle, and had an evidence collection unit process the scene. Since I don’t have a law enforcement background and the United States doesn’t have an equivalent to gendarmerie, it was pretty cool to see how the simulation played out from start to finish.
I insisted on visiting the Musée National du Niger, and although most of the pavilions were closed at the time, I did get to preview a forthcoming exhibit on the traditional dress of Niger’s Hausa, Songhai, and Tuareg populations. I also visited the Grande Mosquée de Niamey, which was very beautiful and offered a great view of part of the city from the minaret.
On my last night in Niamey, I was the guest speaker at the English Language Club at the U.S. Embassy’s American Cultural Center. I opened the session by talking about my identity as a first-generation American and then opened the session up to questions from the Nigerien audience. And let me tell you – these people gave me a run for my money! They asked me questions that covered topics from the patriotism and ethnic identity among other first generation Americans to gay rights to gun control to the politics of the climate change discourse in the United States. At the end, one of the participants asked me what I thought of Niamey and if I would return. “I’ve found Niamey quite charming, and YES I must return and experience more of the country.” I responded. “I’ve only just scratched the surface!”
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