Untidy Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth and Threats (part 2)

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Johannesburg’s business centers surrounded by slums (Image credit: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

by Elbay Alibayov | Political risk series

The leadership deficit, resource curse, and inequality

Last month, the 6th Tana Forum (Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa) held in Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar brought together former and current heads of state, government officials, diplomats, academics and civil society representatives to discuss the natural resource governance. As ever, the topic of the continent’s resource curse was in the focus. What was new, however, is that this time around the African leaders seemed to acknowledge (with initial hesitation though) that it is them who must bear the greatest responsibility for, as former Nigerian President and incumbent chairman of Tana Forum, Olusegun Obasanjo put it, “the way and manner natural resources are exploited and how revenues from them are harnessed and expended [that] have allowed social and political divisions to fester.” Thus, the old narrative pointing finger at usual suspects—foreign investors and multinational extractive companies—being primary and sole culprits started finally changing.

Just ten days later, the issue of serious leadership deficit was echoed at yet another high-profile event, the World Economic Forum held in Durban. Here, the South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in his address to participants put the blame of persistent inequality across the globe, and particularly in Africa, on political elites and governments: “As leaders, we have not addressed adequately how we are going to close the gap between rich and poor in the world and achieve meaningful, inclusive growth.”  He went further by calling the African leaders and the international community to combat economic crimes, such as money-laundering and profit-shifting.

These are all broad topics and they have their country-specific root causes and present-day circumstances, but the point about local political leadership seems correct. When there is no political unity among key local players, when they are corrupt and together with their supporting clans try to coerce and dominate anyone else in the land, then their countries fall easy prey to various external actors, who take advantage of them. So the problem of “curse” should start with local leadership—if they abide by the land’s laws and serve their people with integrity, the chances are tiny for economic crimes and corruption to take a massive scale and become a systemic societal decease.

The list of economic crimes the African countries are actively engaged in is long and their scale is at times striking. In this piece I will share my initial findings and thoughts pertaining to one of them—that is illicit capital flight from and to sub-Saharan area of the continent. I was particularly interested in finding any relations between the illicit financial flows (IFF) and economic inequality, as one prime source (whether cause or exacerbating factor) of conflict and instability. No big theories, no conclusive statements—just an attempt to make sense of available evidence. The piece therefore, following Schopenhauer’s method, “by no means attempts to say whence or for what purpose the world exists, but merely what the world is.”

The recent emphasis in global and regional discourse, on the consistent lack of leadership in Africa is not incidental. If not for violent power struggles of political elites and corrupted practices in public institutions (and their local and foreign business accomplices) the continent’s countries would have been more socially stable, the well-being of their citizens higher, and their economies less vulnerable to external shocks. The real curse of Africa is its political institutions, not resources.

Illicit financial flows: trends, size and composition

A series of reports published by Global Financial Integrity (GFI) , the Washington DC-based research and advisory organization provide estimates of the illicit flow of money in and out of the developing world. For example, GFI’s estimates show that “since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade misinvoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe.

Individual sub-Saharan countries do not appear among top ten in the lists of either illicit inflow or outflow transfers in 1980-2012. Overall, compared to other regions sub-Saharan Africa has not been in the leading role in this business either; in absolute numbers much more has been taken from Asia, for example. In 2014 alone the outflows from sub-Saharan economies are estimated at between US$36 billion and US$69 billion and inflows between US$44 billion and US$81 billion. Therefore, overall IFF volume for sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at between US$80 billion and US$150 billion (midpoint US$115 billion). This makes the portion of sub-Saharan Africa in the global two-way illicit flows for that year very modest – a bit more than 6.5 percent.

However, this may be misleading. First, the global estimated capital flights (and those for Asia, in particular) are very much inflated because of China; thus each region’s contribution, when excluding China, would be much higher. Second, much more relevant is not the comparison with other regions but within the sub-Saharan part of the continent. And even here, by the size of economy and its growth rate and other indicators the economies of sub-Saharan Africa diverge greatly.

Vast majority of sub-Saharan economies are small. These countries are also poor; many are very poor in fact (as of March 2016, out of 39 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries across the globe, 32 were in Africa; all but Sudan were in sub-Saharan part). And therefore those numbers translated into percentage of total trade or compared to GDP per capita tell a different story—those sums are direct losses, the money the Sub-Saharan poor are robbed of, and they are felt with much severe pain than significantly larger IFF sums in more prosperous parts of the world. The amount of one hundred and fifteen billion US dollars in one year is no small amount of money anywhere on this planet; for sub-Saharan Africa, the region home to almost half of the world’s extremely poor—this is an enormous amount of money. Just try to imagine the “opportunity cost”—what else this money could have been spent on. It hurts.

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And finally, trend is important. And here we have a mixed picture. On the one hand, the region has evidenced the highest rate of average annual IFF (outflows and inflows combined) for years 2005-2014: it is estimated (in midpoint terms) at approx 20 percent of total trade (average for all developing countries being 19 percent). On the other hand, and this is the only good news here, sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates a higher descending trend over the same decade: its rate has dropped from 22.8 percent in 2005 to 16.6 percent in 2014, while the rate for all developing countries has decreased from 19.5 percent to 18.8 percent, respectively.

Another difference of interest: in the course the decade 2005-2014, in all regions but sub-Saharan Africa the illicit capital inflows were approximately twice as large as outflows. In sub-Saharan Africa they were almost equal. The outflows/inflows had the following composition: 9.5 v 10.4 in percentage points (9:10) in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 5.9 v 13.2 percentage points (1:2.2) for all developing countries. And even here the region is not homogeneous: for example, Mozambique and Cameroon both averaged at around IFF 7-7.5 percent of total trade in the course of 2005-2014; while the former had outflows/inflows composition as 2.5 percent and 5.0 percent, and the latter the reverse– 5.5 percent and 1.5 percent of the respective country’s total trade.

It is difficult to say with precision in the absence of additional data, but the difference seems in the purpose the developing countries are being used for either inflows or outflows of illicit capital. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa appear to be primarily siphoning the money out of their economies while being less attractive for money laundering and external investment (or reinvestment) in grey economy than other regions.

Irrespective of comparative absolute amounts, the illicit capital flights have probably been more painful to sub-Saharan Africa’s populations, in first hand poor, than in other regions of the world. Transferred through formal (recorded) channels, this money could have contributed to tax revenues and directed to strengthening social safety networks, pro-poor programmes and job creation, to benefit their citizens.

Assets in tax heavens vs. Official Development Assistance

One of the most shocking findings pertaining to (financial) relationship between developed and developing countries revealed in the recent reports is that for long time, “developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital.” For example, in 2011 (most recent year of available data) holdings of total developing country wealth in offshore financial centers were valued at US$4.4 trillion. In the GFI assessment, “there is perhaps no greater driver of inequality within developing countries than the combination of illicit financial flows and offshore tax havens. These mechanisms and facilitating entities benefit the rich—we call them the ‘1 percent’ for convenience—and harm the middle class and poor.

The sub-Saharan African countries could have been much less dependent on external financial assistance while the quality of life of people living in those countries could have been tangibly higher. This is an issue of choice for political leadership, nothing else.

As the report shows, residents of developing countries held US$1.8 trillion in tax heavens in 2005 which increased to US$4.4 trillion in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share in that was rather modest, but the region’s assets held in offshore financial centers kept growing at the record rate of over 20 percent annually (almost four time the world average), in the course of 2005-2011. This (at least in part) explains the difference between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world in terms of outflow/inflow ratio of capital flights mentioned above.

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There is even more surprising finding. Already in 2011 the total amount (foreign direct investment and private investment) of sub-Saharan Africa’s assets held in tax heavens was five times the official development assistance (ODA) from all sources (official development assistance, as well as other official and private funds) disbursed to the region the same year (US$52.6 billion : US$263.04 billion = 1:5). Actually, the total amount of ODA to sub-Saharan Africa in four years of 2012-2015 (according to OECD DAC data) equaled to US$252.26 billion which is less than the amount of assets from the region held in tax heavens the year before, in 2011. And the offshore investments kept growing since.

The very fact that a country is receiving quite significant amounts of international assistance in the form of technical advice and development programmes, loans, grants etc from public and private sources, and at the same time its corrupted politicians and their “business partners” (part of so called one percent) are pumping out amounts of money its five-fold (!) that has been illegally earned in the same country at the same time, to offshore accounts—is outrageous.

Diversity as it is

Of course, not all sub-Saharan countries are infected with this decease. So it would be correct (as in any other respect) to distinguish between those countries where illicit capital flight is massive and persistent and those where it is relatively small and/or random (similarly, say to the difference between “systemic” corruption and individual, sporadic instances of corrupt practice). There are countries like Mauritania and Angola (average 1 and 5 percent per annum over the decade of 2005-2014, respectively), and there are the region’s mid-performers like Nigeria (with estimated average 20 percent) and front-runners like Benin (average 114 percent of total trade). And then there is Liberia, the world champion and the current record holder—with estimated annual illicit capital flights at staggering 1,000 percent (i.e. ten-fold) of the country’s total trade over the decade, 2005-2014. To compare, the next to it in the global rankings are Aruba and Panama, with the rate twice less than that of Liberia.

Therefore, it makes sense to categorize the countries in terms of the economy’s size, income, growth rate, resource intensity, economic and social inequality, regime type and other indicators and compare them against the categories based on the IFF range—to find out how, if at all, they correspond to each other. That is what I entertained, and found this exercise quite insightful. The untidy thoughts on some of those comparisons will be presented in the next piece. Herein is the first set, by the economy’s size.

And one last note before we move forward. Individual characteristics and circumstances matter, of course. One of few countries falling under Very Low/Low category of IFF (0<3<5 percent of total trade) is Somalia, for example. It would be very naive to consider this low IFF range registered as representative of healthy economy and responsible leadership. What we know of Somalia for prolonged period of time has been quite the opposite. That is why the findings on country groups by certain criteria presented below and in the forthcoming piece are merely first impressions; those findings shall be looked at closely on a case-by-case basis to take into account the country-specific features, in order to arrive at plausible explanations.

Illicit financial flows vs. size of economy

To start with analysis, we first have to categorize the sub-Saharan African countries by the IFF ranges. In so doing, I refrained from building the (whatever imprecise and conditional) scale based on the global rankings. As explained above, the sub-Saharan region has its own characteristics, quite different from the rest of the world, and therefore what is considered as “low” here may be ranked as “medium” or “high” in other regions or on the global rankings.

I kept it simple. The countries of the region (47 altogether) divided into the following categories by the medium point value of their average annual IFF, as percentage of the respective country’s total trade in the same period (2005-2014): Very Low (0-3 percent); Low (3-5 percent); Medium (5-8 percent); High (8-10 percent); and Very High (above 10 percent). Given the conditionality of such a ranking, I also introduced borderlines, like Low/Medium, High/Very High, etc. to add more flexibility to the categorization.

Here is the full list by IFF categories, 2005-14:

–Three countries in Very Low category: Eritrea, Mauritania, Somalia;

–None in Low category;

–One country in Low/Medium category: Angola;

–Three countries in Medium category: Cameroon, Lesotho, Mozambique;

–None in Medium/High;

–One country in High category: South Africa;

–Twenty-one countries in High/Very High category: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania; and

–Twenty-nine countries in Very High category: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia , Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

The vast majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa belong to the categories with high and very high illicit capital flight rates (above 8 percent of a country’s total recorded trade, and in many cases far beyond this benchmark, growing up to tens and hundreds of percent) by both the continental and global standards. No one appears to be immune to this corrupt and incredibly damaging practice.

I will use this categorization throughout the exercise. As it is clear from the list, 85 percent of sub-Saharan African countries belong to the categories demonstrating High and Very High rates of illicit capital flight, during the period studied.

Table below gives an idea of the diversity, depth and scale in terms of the correspondence between the IFF and the economy size (please note that there are no criteria behind selection, it is just a random collection for illustrative purpose). I used the World Bank data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2014 (as the last year in the period observed) as an indicator/measure of economy size.

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It appears that there is no clear correspondence between the size of an economy and its IFF range. It especially concerns the High and Very High categories, where all economies, big and small, are represented.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, all but Somalia are exersizing, to varying degree, the illicit financial transactions. There is no obvious correspondence between the size of economy and the range of illicit capital flight. Economies of all size, from tiny to large, are represented in the categories characterized by especially high rates of illicit capital flight. This means that the size of economy is not a determining factor in illicit financial flows from and to Sub-Saharan Africa.

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I hope you are enjoying the ride. In the piece forthcoming I will share my untidy thoughts on the relations (or not) between the illicit financial flows in sub-Saharan African countries and such characteristics as the economy’s resource intensity and income level, poverty rates and shared prosperity, as well as the political regime type. Stay tuned!

For those who missed the first part in a series, here is the link.

Cowboy Hats Do Not Make Magic: South Sudan’s Endless War and Suffering

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by Elbay Alibayov | Reflections on the week past

After decades of the struggle for independence (and infighting that began back in 1955), we thought that finally the South Sudanese earned what they had fought for so hard. It was a big day, for all of us—back in 2011. The world celebrated a new member of the United Nations family, and we felt it was the beginning of new era for this troubled place and its diverse populations. However, things did not work as expected.

Instead of engaging in nation-building and offering its fellow citizens the long-awaited safety and quality of life (for which the country has plenty of natural resources), the South Sudanese politicians drew their newly born country into a civil war, chaos, political fracturing, and immense human suffering. According to Andrew Green’s article in the World Politics Review,

“At least 100,000 people living in areas of northeast South Sudan that have sustained the most fighting are currently experiencing a famine, and more than 1 million more are on the brink. By July, 5.5 million people—nearly half of the country’s population—could face severe food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.”

What is troubling is that the tragedy of South Sudan is somewhat forgotten; it is overshadowed by other (supposedly “bigger”) crises in Africa and the Middle East. Moreover, as the fighting and mass killings and human suffering ensue, the world leaders and many donors turn the blind eye towards the youngest state on the face of the earth. In short, the independence of South Sudan came at an overwhelming price—the price that not many countries and organisations want to share nowadays, under various excuses. And this is at the time when it needs this help urgently. Writes the International Crisis Group in its recent briefing on South Sudan:

“There are no simple solutions in South Sudan, and moves toward genuine peace require compromises both among South Sudanese and between international actors and the government. Given the multiplicity of factions, peace is more likely to be a local affair, in which progress in some areas may occur at the same time as stagnation in others. There is little appetite beyond South Sudan’s immediate neighbours to support local dialogue, however, whether to promote peace, reconciliation or humanitarian access.”

That is a very bad news for South Sudanese people. But not only for them. It is also very bad news for international community, as it means that we do not want to recognize our own mistakes and even worse, shy away from taking responsibility to clear up the mess we have encouraged and helped creating. The bitter truth of this story is that instead of turning into a symbol of how fairly the global governance acts in terms of self-determination and sovereignty, South Sudan has effectively turned into the worst case of state failure. We should have anticipated this coming. Any political and political economy analysis of the new country at the time would have determined that it was ready for independence but not for sovereignty, and would have flagged the developments there as alarming and deserving continuous assistance and care.

A black cowboy hat (even if it is the gift from the American president) cannot replace political institutions. And that is what South Sudan lacked at the time and still badly is in need of building. Without institutions this young nation stands no chance of ceasing the “endless war” and suffering, and moving towards well-being and prosperity as anyone else does. To contain and then gradually end South Sudan’s civil war, the country’s political leaders at central and regional levels should engage in a more inclusive political process and create more representative transitional governance arrangements and bodies. This requires a certain degree of political maturity, something that South Sudan’s actors severely lack… and the international community does not seem to rush with the helping hand.

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Check out the piece in World Politics Review, Will Uganda’s Open-Door Refugee Policy Survive South Sudan’s Endless War? Yet another evidence of how things are bad in South Sudan and how difficulties mount even for those who stand to help, like neighbouring Uganda:

“The bigger problem here is that South Sudan is breaking up more and more,” says Alan Boswell, an independent analyst. “With each passing moment, a solution gets harder and harder. To get back to where we were in 2011 is impossible,” he added, referring to the year the country declared its independence from Sudan. “Just trying to get back to a place where you can even have some sort of outreach and political dialogue is extremely challenging.”

Somalia: A Critical Juncture or Yet Another Missed Opportunity?

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by Elbay Alibayov | Reflections on the week past

Conferences and statements vs. harsh reality

This week, we witnessed two subsequent (and potentially very important) events pertaining to the grim humanitarian situation and the stabilization efforts in Somalia (under “we” I mean those who are interested in this sort of issues; otherwise they went unnoticed by the world that was occupied with the outcome of presidential elections in France and South Korea, and of course the US-Russia discussions, which went smoothly as predicted and “coincided” with quite theatrical dismissal of the FBI Director James Comey, who also happened to investigate the alleged Russian meddling in the US elections last year; Sergei Lavrov’s “Was he fired? You are kidding me” being a masterpiece—just to name a few).

First, on Monday 8 May, Somalia’s National Security Council endorsed a political agreement on National Security Architecture reached between the Federal Government (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMSs) the last month. A couple of days later, on Thursday 11 May a high-profile conference on Somalia was held in London, with participation of the representatives of the United Nations, African Union, European Union, the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, among the others, and all in all more than forty nations.

The London conference participants adopted a New Partnership for Somalia that “sets out how Somalia and the international community will work together to meet Somalia’s most pressing political, security and economic needs and aspirations, as set out in the National Development Plan.” In turn, a seventeen-page Security Pact outlined the mechanisms in support of the Somalia’s national security architecture and security sector reforms.

That is all fine. Documents are well written—structured, logical, with deadlines, roles and responsibilities, and so forth being all in place. Statements are appealing and impressive. Arguments sound convincing. And still there is a feeling that we have seen it all before and it is not as easy and simple as presented therein… give us a bit more money, a bit more troops and modern weaponry, a bit of this and that… and we will do marvels.

First of all, it is not merely “a bit”—the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an additional $900 million to allow aid agencies to tackle the severe drought facing the country, thus taking his total appeal to $1.5 billion. Do you hear me? One. And half. Billion. US dollars. And it is only humanitarian part of the story. One can only guess how much the military part will cost (to the taxpayers across the globe, including those in Somalia—given there are left any).

And also, I do appreciate the encouragement given to those in distress, but when the document starts with the phrase “After decades of civil war and state collapse, Somalia is making rapid progress towards peace, stability and prosperity” I become alerted. What are you talking about? Is it the same Somalia we mean here? At the same very conference, where the UN has pointed that six million Somalis (more than half the country’s population) were in acute need of assistance, with as many as 275 thousand malnourished children being at risk of starvation? And militants controlling vast territories of the country? “Rapid progress”… Really?

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Window of Opportunity

And still, the recent developments in and around Somalia (including the events of this week) may signal of a window of opportunity. Tiny one, but it is real. Can the Somalis and their international backers use this chance?

Thousands of decisions big and small related to particular set of issues are taken every minute across the globe. Mostly they are driven by individual and group considerations of institutional actors and may or may not match. However there are moments in time, which we call critical junctures when certain decisions coincide by sheer luck (for good or bad) to create synergic effects, those which go much beyond the cumulative outcome, may last longer, and moreover, have a potential to turn the course of developments irreversibly. It seems that such a moment has matured in respect to stabilization in Somalia.

Currently there are three political domains, closely related, which determine the present state and the future of Somali and the Somalis. They dominate any discourse about this trouble country, and it seems that the solutions to them have to be correlated too. One of them is famine (yes-yes, do not be fooled—it is not a malnutrition or environmental issue but inherently political problem) which has taken a scale of humanitarian disaster and demands immediate and well orchestrated action. Another is security related, and concerns primarily the fight against militant Islamists, notably al-Shabaab (and al-Qaeda, by extension) and infighting between various political opponents in their contestation of power. And the last but by no means the least is the quality of governance, its ability to perform key functions assigned to any state in serving its citizens.

Diverse factors driving the decision making of multiple local, regional and international actors involved directly or indirectly in each and all three domains in Somalia have driven us to a white wall with very simple and straightforward message on it: “Somali Ownership Needed.”

What does it mean? Humanitarian crisis (famine and cholera in first hand) demand an urgent and concerted effort. The fight against Islamist Militants needs a long-lasting solution beyond AMISOM. These two cry out loud for domestic ownership—without it nothing sustainable is going to happen, ever. And seems that with new President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed taking office in February domestic political dialogue has taken a new, promising turn (which actually resulted in the security sector related political agreements, with significant element of the distribution of command and control over the army and police—thus power—between the FGS and FMSs).

Digging deeper

To me, this is the moment. Not frequently developments in various parts of a complex system, and decisions made in each of them, connect in such a complementary manner. Whether this opportunity will translate into “right kind of” action and bring about change—remains to be seen. There are questions. Many questions, understandably enough.

Take one of them. Military component of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) comprises a contingent of regular troops from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya deployed in six sectors covering south and central Somalia. They maintain the deployment of about 22,000 troops; add to them the Somali National Army of approx. 20,000 military personnel and you get more than forty-thousand-strong trained military force. To compare, al-Shabaab has an estimated 7,000-9,000 fighters. On the top of it, the allied forces are better equipped (although Somali President, in his bid to lift the arms embargo, complains that his army has the same weaponry as militants) and supposedly has a better access to intelligence and knowledge of modern warfare. So the question begs here: How it comes that the allied forces cannot defeat a group that is inferior to them by any measure of military capacity?

One answer is that the war against militant Islamists (and this has proven true with regards to many guerrilla groups and insurgents over decades, from Latin America to East and Central Asia) is political and ideological and as such it cannot be won by military means alone. There have been numerous Somali state failures over time, from inability to protect to inefficient and unequal delivery of basic services to citizens. This, firstly, created a fertile ground for militant groups to emerge, and secondly, allows them to flourish as they take advantage of the government weaknesses and hold control over vast territories (which effectively means that they “protect” and deliver services) and generate support (or at the very least earn the loyalty of local people) and are seen as legitimate representatives of the State.

To win hearts and minds of Somalis, and thus their allegiance to the legitimate state, the government has to demonstrate that it is ready, able, and willing (in the wording of full corporate offer) to perform its role effectively and efficiently. Can it?

Let’s have a quick test. If there are two domains that would serve as indicator these are provision of public security and delivery of public services. These are fundamental functions of any state, be it sultanistic regime or liberal democracy.

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Public security

When it comes to public security, there are two sides of the coin: one is the law and order across the land (outcome); while the other is how it is maintained (process). They are equally important. I would even say that how is more important for society in terms of citizens’ trust, credibility of government and political processes, and sustainability of direct results than what. Dictators are much more effective in establishing order than democracies. We do not accept that. The way the societal problems (even organised crime) are handled matters to us. Rings the bell? Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte of the Philippines (as the freshest name on this otherwise long list)?

And in Somalia we have problems in both what and how of security, public order and law enforcement. Results do not need further elaboration—it suffices to see how al-Shabaab has been evolving while the government descending to the level of para-military forces, to comprehend the direction of the entire Somali affair.

What security

— According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies most recent update, al-Shabaab has now surpassed Boko Haram as Africa’s most deadly militant Islamist group. Fatalities inflicted by them have increasing by a third in the course of one year—from 3,046 in 2015 to 4,281 in 2016.

— Large areas of Somalia are still in the hands of al-Shabaab. The group continues perpetrating terrorist attacks in Mogadishu. Among most notable were two attacks in June and one in December 2016, and two explosions in January this year. Each of those attacks left dozens killed and many more wounded, but as ever with terrorist attacks—created mayhem and sent a chilling message.

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— Morale is low. There are defections on both sides. Some al-Shabaab leaders have surrendered in line with the government’s amnesty provisions; at the same time the Somali National Army soldiers keep defecting to the militants’ camp (it is said that the reason being non-payment or delay with paying wages).

How security

According to Human Rights Watch report covering the events of 2016, the violence and maltreatment of civilians is rampant and it is not only al-Shabaab but all the sides, including the government forces, are complicit in abuses and crimes:

— Abuses by Government include mass security sweeps by national intelligence agency with no legal mandate to arrest or detain; arbitrary detention and recruitment of children by security forces; military court in Mogadishu trying cases that are not legally within its jurisdiction and in proceedings falling short of international fair trial standards;

— There is inter-clan and inter-regional fighting ongoing, primarily linked to tensions around the creation of new federal states. It has resulted in civilians’ deaths and injury and the destruction of property;

— Al-Shabaab kept committing targeted killings, beheadings, and executions, particularly of those accused of spying and collaborating with the government. The armed group continues to administer arbitrary justice, forcibly recruits children, and severely restricts basic rights in areas under its control;

— Reports persist of indiscriminate killings of civilians by AMISOM and other foreign forces, including during operations against al-Shabaab and airstrikes.

Public services

There are two facts that hardly would surprise anyone. Not because they are insignificant; to the contrary, both are appalling. It is because both problems are well known for quite a long period of time, and thus far they have either been ignored or not addressed properly.

One is about Somali’s poor human development record. According to UNDP survey data, 8.3 percent of Somalis lived in near poverty and another 63.6 percent – in severe poverty already in 2006. And we can go much deeper in time–it has been unfolding in front of our eyes for decades. Only “correct” statements and short-lived aid in response. The country was not even ranked in the last Human Development Report 2016.

Another fact about Somalia that does not surprise anymore—it is consistently ranked as the most corrupt country in the world. In the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index it scored no higher than 8-10 points (out of 100) for many years, and appears at the very bottom of the global ranking. As the global watchdog notes, “public sector corruption is so much more than missing money; it is about people’s lives.” It has direct bearing on the situation with delivery of public goods, distribution and redistribution of assistance, and in particular the international aid, in Somalia. The recent report by the TI’s Humanitarian Aid Integrity Programme points to the following:

— Corruption practices are perceived to be routinized in their application towards humanitarian aid across Somalia, primarily through well-established patronage networks which involve a redistribution of resources;

— Legislative and policy vacuum has allowed the government and local authority representatives create ad hoc rules and regulations to manipulate resources for their own gain. All forms of aid are affected by this environment;

— The extent of perceived corruption is reflected in the findings of 2015 study, where 87 percent of respondents viewed corruption as the single biggest impediment to receiving assistance, above insecurity and violence.

Resilience

With such a record the Somali political system hardly can pass the test. It is obvious that, in order to accomplish a quite ambitious task outlined in the documents produced and signed in Mogadishu and London in the last couple of months the country and its regional and international supporters have to consider addressing the root causes of present, long- and deep-seated problems. Otherwise, I am afraid even this tiny chance will be missed.

One thing should drive our analysis and planning: when it comes to humanitarian crisis in Somalia it is less a result of the drought and more a result of the country’s weakened resilient capabilities. In the environment of continuing infighting, lawlessness and lack of legitimate power, systemic corruption and poor public services (healthcare and education in first hand), high unemployment (especially among the youth), and human rights abuses at the hands of all the warring parties—Somali’s ability to respond and creatively adapt to the challenges posed by the rapidly changing environment has significantly decreased. It is pretty much compatible to the condition of a person with weak immune system. That is why famine, cholera, violence have taken over the land. In contrast, the adversary (as any terrorist group in fact) is highly mobile and adaptive. According to reports, the AMISOM Force Chief of Plans Salifu Yakubu has recently noted that al-Shabaab has been weakened but still has the capacity to attack, because it “remains resilient” and has resorted to asymmetric warfare. Exactly.

More weapons, more food and medicine are needed to address the most urgent manifestations of the problem; while to resolve the problem itself there must be a locally-owned long-term programme aimed at institutional (political, social, economic) root causes of it. Without restoring its resilience, the Somali state would not be able to cope with daunting problems and will further disintegrate and fall even deeper into chaos and suffering. No money in the world can buy the nation’s resilience. It must be built, from within. And this is where the international assistance must be directed.

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Untidy Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth and Threats (part 1)

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Port of Cape Town                                                                                                Image credit: SkyPixels / published under Creative Commons 4.0 International license

by Elbay Alibayov | Political risk series

Africa, diverse and dynamic

Diversity across the African continent is truly impressive. And it is not only broadly varied (and gorgeous) geography and richness of natural resources or incredibly colourful indigenous culture, artefacts and tradition. Or almost full spectrum of political systems—from democracies to presidencies for life to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships to fragile states and those where chaos is the ruling regime in town. These are things more or less known and studied (and rather well appreciated). What is (or rather has been for long time) underrated about Africa, and especially its Sub-Saharan part, is its immense human potential and the capacity to innovate.

It is also a continent very dynamic—numerous events of various scale and importance are taking place across the continent every day; much more than in any other continent. One has to admit though, that this dynamism is mostly reflected in the media through “negative reporting”—violent clashes, terrorist attacks, casualties of natural and human-made disasters, corruption scandals, you name it (sub-Saharan Africa is true to its diversity in this sort of things, too). Obviously this is a distorted reality as presented by the media in their ever-lasting search for sensations. The rest (that is, more cheerful events and developments) can be picked up from the government, think tank and development organisation reports (one warning here being that many of those, including international assistance, projects appear to be prone to exaggerating the success of their joint efforts).

To feed my brain with daily news on Africa while doing a political risk research on Sahel and broadly into sub-Saharan part, I used my old tested method—subscribed to daily media reviews compiled by specialized organisations. These compilations are very informative—it is not only about quick references and short summaries; even titles, when categorized by key words, may give the first (and frequently correct) idea of what is happening on the continent today. Yes, you are right—our subconscious mind immediately grasps the hidden code and gives us an impression of the “mood” prevalent at the continent these days. Try one such compilation of headlines I put together from the daily list of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (see it at the end as an appendix, and feel free to entertain even the simplest methods of content analysis, through words and combinations). In the meantime, I will proceed with (rather random, mosaic-like) reflections triggered by the events of the week past and share some “untidy thoughts” (Myśli nieuczesane, to borrow from Stanisław Jerzy Lec) or rough ideas popping up along the road.

Famine vs. resources

According to information released by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) earlier this year, there are about 70 million people who may be in need of urgent food assistance in 2017. Of them, 20 million live in four countries that have a “credible risk” of facing famine–South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.  In all but Somalia the mass starvation is human-made—it owes to internal violent conflicts (whether between warring political actors as in South Sudan, or the government and militant extremists Boko Haram in Nigeria, or with participation of both local and external forces in Yemen). Three out of four countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, two are (mineral) resource rich. What is even more alarming is that they are not alone—most of Sahel and countries to the south of it are, to varying degree, “acutely food-insecure.”

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Even resource rich countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not immune to extreme situations, such as food insecurity among large parts of population. That is because the cause often-time is not natural but human-made

Resources vs. conflict

This is an old question: whether natural (primarily mineral) resources act as the catalyst of intrastate violent conflict or, to the contrary, enable governments to deliver basic services, uphold the rule of law and thus sooth tensions, avoid violence (or at least prevent from further escalating). For long time, Africa has been viewed as the prime location for natural resource driven conflict. However, the recent research covering the period from 1946 to 2008 proves that the “empirical relationship between natural resources and conflict in Africa is not very well understood. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find no evidence of natural resources triggering conflict in Africa after controlling for grid-specific fixed factors and time varying common shocks. Resource discovery appears to have improved local income measured by nightlights which could be reducing the conflict likelihood.”  

Oilfield and Minefield Discovery Location and Armed Conflict

Conflict in sub-Saharan Africa is not natural resource driven. In some cases it is other way around—resources help governments playing tensions down (at least in short term)

Extractive institutions vs. state failure

On a broader spectrum of correlation between economic incentives and civic conflict, political economy school of thought has claimed for decades that “greed and grievances” were the main driving forces of conflicts. However the analysis of conflicts worldwide does not necessarily support this emphasis on the economic drivers—much more powerful forces, such as poor governance and corruption and resulting inequality, political polarization, social exclusion, and ethno-sectarian divides frequently are the root causes of violent conflicts. Today, we can add the disruptive technological change to this list of usual suspects. They all are also increasingly recognized as the major contributors to violent extremism.

This puts institutions at the centre of the phenomenon dubbed by the economists Acemoglu and Robinson as “failed nations”. They hold that nations fail because their political and economic institutions encourage and support extraction to benefit few, instead of creating incentives for people to save, invest, and innovate. This results in “economic stagnation and civil wars, mass displacements, famines, and epidemics, making many of these countries poorer today than they were in the 1960s.”  Let’s see how this proposition proves itself in sub-Saharan Africa.

The nature of political and economic institutions (extractive vs. inclusive) matter to the nation’s economic and social performance more than resource abundance

Inclusion vs. competitiveness

The remedy against the state failure is seen in inclusive growth—one which builds upon the equitable contribution from all sectors of society and benefits all of them, thus fairly distributing the wealth and stimulating innovation and domestic investment in sustainable growth. Not surprisingly then, Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership was the main topic on the agenda of the World Economic Forum on Africa held last week (3-5 May) in Durban, South Africa. The meeting brought together more than thousand regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to explore the avenues for creating opportunities for all economic participants in Africa.

A lot of interesting discussions, propositions, lessons shared from successful innovations across the continent. They can be followed on the WEF’s website; so I instead want to draw your attention to the subject of my interest. A few days before the meeting in Durban, Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 was published thus offering detailed competitiveness profiles for 35 African countries along with the summary of the drivers of productivity and competitiveness within the continent. According to the report, out of ten most competitive African economies seven are in sub-Saharan Africa. The best performing country, Mauritius, holds the 45th place in the global competitiveness ranks (Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17 comprising 138 economies) while Cote d’Ivoire (at the bottom of the top-ten list) is in the 99th place.

WEF AFRICA-2017-PIC

This means that the rest of Africa is ranked in lowest quarter of the global list. No good for a continent as resource and talent rich and as demographically mobile (having one of the highest and rapidly growing rates of youth in its population–Africa’s working-age population is expected to soar by 450 million people, or close to 70 percent, by 2035).

There is another relevant ranking released recently. According to WEF data (Inclusive Development Index 2017), the list of most inclusive sub-Saharan economies looks as the following: 1 – Tanzania; 2 – Ghana; 3 –Cameroon; 4 – Senegal; 5 – Mali; 6 – Zimbabwe; 7 – Chad; 8 – Namibia; 9 – Uganda; 10 – Kenya. Two things immediately caught my eye. First is that only Namibia and Kenya are present in both lists of best performers, meaning that competitiveness and inclusiveness do not necessarily match (at least in Sub-Saharan economies).

Competitiveness and Inclusiveness of sub-Saharan economies do not necessarily go hand in hand. This may mean that they are driven by different set of contributing factors and faced with diverging constraining forces

Second is that population of some of these successfully growing countries are considered to be at acute risk of starvation. Millions of people in each case (as presented in the first map above): in Kenya which is both competitive and inclusive, but also in Uganda and Chad. Also, half of the world’s extreme poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of poor in the region fell only by 4 million with 389 million people living on less than US$1.90 a day in 2013, more than all the other regions combined (according to the latest available data by the World Bank).

Even in countries with competitive economies and those enjoying an inclusive growth the population (at least part of it) may live in extreme poverty and/or under threat of starvation—whether due to natural and/or human-made disasters

Thank you for flying with us. This was the end of part one. Stay with us. Part two comes soon. Meanwhile, as promised…

Appendix: Africa Media Reviews for the week of 1-5 May, 2017

Headlines only (unedited):

Monday 1 May, 2017: French Forces Kill or Capture 20 Militant Fighters Near Mali-Burkina Faso Border– Mali Extends State of Emergency in Bid to Quell Islamist Attacks– Pope’s Timely Egypt Visit Comforts Grief-Stricken Christians– South Sudan Armed Opposition Rejects Declaring Unilateral Ceasefire– Kiir Reaches Out to Opposition to Revive National Dialogue–Can Funding Uncertainty Improve Peacekeeping in Africa?– DR Congo: UN Peacekeepers Face Fresh Sexual Abuse Claims–Libya Seizes Oil Tankers after Shootout at Sea–Sudan’s al-Bashir Calls on Opposition to Join New Govt–The ANC is Mandela’s Legacy. Now His Granddaughter Has Renounced South Africa’s Ruling Party–UAE’s Battle-Hardened Military Expands into Africa, Mideast–UN Security Council Backs New Western Sahara Talks Push–Tanzania’s President Magufuli Sacks 10,000 over Fake Certificates–UN Airlifts Aid Into Angola for DRC Asylum Seekers–Tunisia Forces Kill Fighters Planning Ramadan Attack–My Life Is in Danger, Says Burundi Opposition Leader–Yoweri Museveni: A Five Times-Elected Dictator?–China’s Appetite Leaves Nets Empty.

Tuesday 2 May, 2017: South Africa’s Zuma Quits May Day Rally after Boos from the Crowd– Advance Team of UN Peacekeepers Arrive in South Sudan– Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in CAR Amid Resurging Violence– Nigerian Civil Society Leaders Urge Buhari to Take Medical Leave– Polisario Says Ready for Western Sahara Talks with Rabat–Morocco Wins Battle over Guerguarat without Firing a Single Bullet– Congo Inks $5.6 Million Lobbying Deal Amid Election Strife–Egypt Denies Plans to Build Military Base in Eritrea–Zimbabwe: Alliance to Defeat Mugabe Comes Under Fire–Germany Pledges 70 Million Euros to Aid Somalia Fight Hunger–U.S Africom Commander Meets Somali President in Mogadishu– Ethiopia Is Facing a Killer Drought. But It’s Going Almost Unnoticed– Illicit Capital Flows in Developing World as High as $3.5 Trillion in 2014-Study– Egypt Violence: Three Police Killed in Cairo Attack– How I Smuggle People from Nigeria to Europe (Video)– Kenya Set to Make History with First Female Governors– Why EU Is Sending Poll Observer Mission to Kenya But Not Rwanda– Former Tanzanian President Mkapa Talks Magufuli, Burundi and Slavery– Sudan Threatens to Apply Similar Deportation Measures Against Egyptians– Ghana Crackdown on Illegal Gold Mining Inflames Tensions with Beijing– Echoes of Colonial Conflict in Algeria Reverberate in French Politics.

Wednesday 3 May, 2017: Eight Malian Soldiers Killed in Military Convoy Ambush–Britain Sending 400 Troops to Join UN’s S Sudan Force–Scores Killed in Central African Republic Ethnic Clashes–Rifts Deepen in South Africa’s Ruling Alliance–Pravin Gordhan: From Freedom Fighter to Finance Minister to ‘Accidental Hero’–Bid to Topple Zuma Leaves South African Opposition in Catch 22–SANDF Troops Gearing Up for DRC Rotation–As Oil Prices Dip, African Countries Spend Less on Military–UAE Says ‘Significant Breakthrough’ Reached in Libya Talks–Libya Has Become a Hub for Online Arms trading, Report Says–Piracy Attacks Off West Africa Nearly Doubled in 2016–Ethiopia’s Bloggers Face Detention, Restrictions–Journalists ‘Suffocating’ in Magufuli’s Tanzania–150 Journalists Banned from Algeria–A Desperate Plea for Help as Four African Nations Near a Famine Crisis–Protests to End Slavery in Mauritania–ISIS Militant Reportedly Burned Alive in Act of Revenge by Members of Bedouin Tribe in Egypt’s Sinai–Is Egypt Using Passports to Punish Its Opponents?– Zambia: Africa’s Silence Encourages Lungu’s Bad Behaviour–Mission Accomplished – UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire–Burundi Refugees Still Streaming into Rwanda.

Thursday 4 May, 2017: Somali President Visits Ethiopia … At Last–Somali, African Union Forces Recapture Central District–Somali Minister Shot Dead in Car After Being Mistaken for Militant: Police–At Least Six Journalists Arrested in Uganda on Press Freedom Day–South Sudan ‘Suspends’ Al Jazeera English: Report–Crisis-hit South Sudan Hikes Fees to Register Aid Agencies–Libya’s Rivals Eye ‘Strategy’ for ‘Unified Army’–Child Soldiers Reloaded: The Privatisation of War (Video)– Nigeria’s Ailing President Buhari Misses Third Cabinet Meeting–Boko Haram Leader Shekau ‘Injured in Air Strike’–Africa’s Inequality Stifles Growth, Says Report–Algeria Parliament Poll looms, But Voters Busy Watching France–Media Freedom in Africa ‘Not Great’–Rocket Attack on UN Camp in Mali Kills 1, Wounds 9–Can African Leaders Stop Money Laundering?– What to Know About Zambia: Hichilema’s Treason Trial Sheds Light on Political Tensions–Health Overtakes Democracy as US Spending in East Africa Drops–US Congress Rejects Trump’s Cuts in Aid to Africa–Tanzania Extradites to US Suspected Drug Kingpin–Morocco Phosphate Ship Held in South Africa Port over Western Sahara Claim–Eight Chinese Vessels Detained off West Africa for Illegal Fishing.

Friday 5 May, 2017: Mozambique Rebel Movement Renamo Extends Truce Indefinitely–Aid Groups in Central African Republic Retreat amid Threats–South Sudan: ‘They Are Killing Civilians House to House’: Crowded UN Camp Filled with Horror Stories–South Sudan President Wants Home-Grown Solutions–Sudanese Party to End Almost 20 Years in Opposition–Votes Counted in Algeria Parliamentary Elections–Algerians Vote in Parliamentary Poll Marked by Apathy–For Uganda and Ethiopia, It’s $200m Less in US Aid–Surviving Against All Odds – And Court Judgments: How Jacob Zuma Does It–Zuma Told by South African Court to Explain Cabinet Changes–He’s a Real Contender to Lead Congo, if Only He Could Get In–Millions of Nigerians Face Hunger in Wasteland Recaptured from Fighters–Boko Haram: Nigeria Winning the Battle But Losing the War?–No Amnesty For Crimes Under Former Gambian President : Govt–Migrants Who Survive Sahara Face New Torture in Libyan Oasis Town–Boris Johnson Meets Rivals for Power in Libya–Société Générale to Pay $1.1 Billion to Settle Dispute With Libya Fund–How African Governments Use Advertising as a Weapon Against Media Freedom–Complacency Warned Amid Piracy Hijackings off Somali Coast–Kenya Election Plans Include Dispute Resolution–Ex-Guinea Minister Convicted of Laundering Bribes.

Source: compiled from ACSS daily newsletters, 1-5 May 2017

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Nobody is in Charge in Libya

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by Mohamed Eljarh | The Cipher Brief

The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Mohamed Eljarh, former political consultant to the Libyan Mission to the European Union, to discuss the ongoing conflict in Libya, the current terrorist threat in the country, and prospects for peace.

The Cipher Brief: What is the current state of political affairs in Libya?

Mohamed Eljarh: It has been more than 16 months since the signing of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in the Moroccan city of Skhirat and more than 12 months since the arrival of the UN-backed Presidential Council headed by Prime Minister Faiez Serraj in the capital of Tripoli.  However, Libya remains a deeply divided and polarized country – one that lacks any representative or fully legitimate government – and it has witnessed various camps compete for legitimacy and control of key state institutions, such as the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Libyan Investment Authority (LIA). In addition, an ongoing armed struggle is taking place in various parts of the country. [The conflict] is linked to the ongoing political struggle for control of resources and state institutions.

Within Libya, there are three centers of political power: the UN-backed Presidential Council based in Tripoli, the State Council (formerly known as the General National Congress), which is also based in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives based in Tobrouk. The failure of these three institutions to implement the Libyan Political Agreement has resulted in significant deterioration in living conditions and a precarious security situation where the risk of a full-fledged civil war and reemergence of violent Jihadist groups, such as ISIS, is real.

Additionally, these institutions and competing governments failed to unify key state institutions that were divided back in 2014 when certain Islamist and revolutionary factions in control of the capital Tripoli refused to recognize the June 2014 national election results and the subsequent move of the newly elected House of Representatives to the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk where it has been sitting ever since. Today, Libya has two central banks, two national oil corporations and three competing managements of the Libya’s sovereign fund, the Libyan Investment Authority.

As a result of these failures and the ongoing conflict, a growing number of Libyans, as many as 40 percent, are now living under the poverty line. The poverty issue in Libya is exacerbated by the ongoing conflict and deteriorating economic and financial situation plagued by widespread corruption and poor governance. Three different governments are printing and spending their own cash and allocating their own budgets.

The value of the Libyan dinar has dropped significantly from a rate of 1.32 Libyan dinars to 1 U.S. dollar to as low as 10 Libyan dinars for 1 U.S. dollar in recent weeks. Additionally, there is a major cash liquidity crisis and shortages in fuel, medicine, cooking gas, and basic goods supplies with significant hikes in prices throughout the country.

TCB: Last year, ISIS was kicked out of the coastal city of Sirte by Libyan forces, but there are reports that ISIS may establishing a base in southern Libya. Does the group still maintain a presence in the country?

ME: Political instability, poverty and conflict are key contributing factors to the emergence and rise of jihadist groups. Although ISIS was defeated militarily in Libya and does not control any towns or cities in the country, the environments and factors that gave rise ISIS still exist today, and if not dealt with urgently and properly, will give rise again to ISIS or a much worse Jihadist phenomena.

Currently, there is violent escalation between Libyan National Army forces under the command of General Khalifa Haftar on one side and forces loyal to the authorities in Tripoli and Misrata on the other. There is no doubt but that ISIS and other al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups will aim to regroup, strengthen their presence, and potentially expand their control over territory in the southern region.

Local forces in the southern region of Fezzan have already spotted an increase in jihadist activities. There is a real threat that jihadist groups will form deep-rooted connections and networks with criminal gangs in southern Libya. [These gangs] are involved in human and drug trafficking and smuggling activities [that] would provide jihadist groups with a generous source of income to fund their activities and regrouping efforts and would have dangerous consequences not only for Libya, but the entire Sahel and North Africa regions, and of course Europe.

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TCB: Has Russia become involved in Libya in any capacity? If so, how?  Should the U.S. play a role in Libya, either militarily or by helping to broker a peace deal? If so, to what extent? 

ME: Instability in Libya and the legitimacy crisis have created a vacuum in Libya that since 2014 has been filled by jihadist groups such as ISIS or Ansar al-Sharia. But it is not just Jihadist groups that are filling the vacuum in a chaotic Libya. Regional players such as Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Qatar have been backing opposing sides in the Libyan conflict.

Last year, Russia started to weigh its options in Libya.  It seems that Libya is now part of Moscow’s expansionist ambitions in the region. Initially, Russia seemed to favor the Eastern Libyan Commander Khalifa Haftar, as the Russians treated his wounded soldiers, have him medical supplies, and provided private contractors to help with war related activities. However, recently, Russia started to reach out to all Libyan stakeholders and has been working to push forward the peace process and the Libyan Political Agreement. Regionally, Russia is coordinating efforts with Algeria, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

It is clear that Russia is neither keen nor capable of getting involved militarily in Libya. Hence, political and diplomatic involvement is the best option available for Moscow. However, it is important to keep in mind that Libya is important to Russia for obvious economic reasons. Libya is also important to Russia because it is very important to Europe. For Moscow, Libya is another battlefield where [Putin] could twist Europe’s arm.

Russia is getting more involved in Libya while everyone waits to see the Trump Administration’s strategy towards Libya. On April 20, President Trump said, “I do not see a (U.S.) role in Libya” during a joint news conference, moments after Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called the U.S. role in the country “critical.” This confirms fears of many EU leaders that the U.S. might be heading for disengagement in Libya.

However, Trump’s position on Libya could easily flip, as it did in Syria. But it is important for the Trump Administration to have the right strategy in Libya and not just a reactionary, ad-hoc figure-it-out-as-you go approach.

There are two key issues that any strategy towards Libya has to deal with. First, the legitimacy crisis that led to the current constitutional and legal vacuum. Second, there is the issue of political participation of all Libyan factions in producing a legitimate and representative government. The UN-led peace process was meant to solve the legitimacy issue through the dialogue and consensus process, but has failed.

TCB: Where do you see the situation headed in the short term?

ME: It is very likely that the current status quo will continue throughout 2017. It is important to point out that the term of the LPA and the UN-backed government of national accord ends on December 17, 2017. The president of the House of Representatives has already called for the Higher National Elections Commission to prepare for general presidential and parliamentary elections in February 2018. Given that negotiations based peace process did not yield the anticipated results, a democratic, free and fair elections could be the best way to solve the legitimacy and participation issues highlighted above.

What the United States, Europe and the international community at large can do is to put in place mechanisms and guarantees to support the election processes and ensure they are transparent and fair. Most importantly, the international community, through the UN Security Council, must ensure that elections results are respected and protected.

Additionally, Libya would require two key agreements that need to happen simultaneously:  first, a Libyan Economic Agreement that deals with the management and distribution of Libya’s wealth and ensures equitable and efficient management and distribution of oil revenues between Libyans; and, second, a Libyan Security Agreement that deals with the issue of disarming militias, collection weapons, and the rebuilding of Libyan Armed Forces under civilian oversight and authority, as well as the protection of borders, vital sites, and installations.

TCB: What do you make of the recent meeting between Prime Minister Serraj and General Khalifa Haftar in the UAE earlier this week.

ME: The meeting in Abu Dhabi and the joint communique issued by Prime Minister Serraj and General Khalifa Haftar is a major breakthrough and a significant step in the right direction. However, there are still many details to be worked out. Additionally, there are enough spoilers in Libya that could ensure the meeting does not result in any real progress on the ground. Some Islamist factions that are loyal to the Libyan Grand Mufti in Tripoli, Jufrah and the city of Derna are likely to reject the meeting and its outcomes. Within the city of Misrata some hardline factions have forcefully closed down the city’s democratically elected municipal council and the city is extremely polarized and divided. The hardliners within the city of Misrata are likely to reject the meeting and its outcome. Most importantly, the meeting must be followed by other steps that widen the participation and support base for the new agreement and the upcoming elections.

The key obstacle facing Libya today is the legitimacy crisis that resulted in institutional and legal vacuum. One way out of this conundrum would be holding parliamentary and presidential elections after speeding up the constitution drafting committee and agreeing a constitution for the country. This will ensure the end of the current institutional divide and restore some confidence in governance and the economy. However, any democratic elections will require guarantees from the international community that the electoral process would be free and fair and that the election results are respected.

***

This piece was originally published on The Cipher Brief

Can Hamas Afford the Cost of Ending Gaza’s Isolation?

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Palestinian students and supporters of Hamas during a rally ahead of Student Council elections at Bir Zeit University, West Bank, Palestine, April 26, 2016 (Image credit: Majid Mohammed/AP).

by  | World Politics Review

EDITOR’S COMMENT: Observers are watching closely as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with U.S. President Donald Trump today at the White House, where the two leaders will discuss prospects for a possible peace agreement. A potential Palestinian-Israeli deal hinges in part on a push for Palestinian unity; Abbas, who leads the Fatah party that governs the West Bank, has recently increased financial pressure on Hamas, the militant group and political party that controls the Gaza Strip, in a bid to soften its hard-line against Israel. Earlier this week, Hamas issued a new charter that moderates its stance on Israelis and Jews, accepts 1967 borders, cuts ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and seeks to develop stronger ties with Egypt.

These were some of the moves Khaled Hroub outlined last May, as he assessed ways for Hamas to end its ever-growing isolation. According to U.N. reports, Gaza will become “uninhabitable” by 2020—a spiraling humanitarian emergency that only a shift in Hamas’ political positioning could alleviate. “The group’s strategy to defend itself was largely based on strengthening its military while immersing itself in the lives of Gaza’s 2 million residents, making any effort to extract it from power without inflicting unbearable cost on Gaza’s population virtually impossible,” Hroub wrote. “This of course has had great repercussions for Gazans, as some in the outside world have come to view Hamas and Gaza as almost synonymous.” With a new set of principles aimed to improve its international image and promote reconciliation, is Hamas ready to cede ground?

“The real question is whether Hamas can make a concerted push for national reconciliation, which could be the least-costly way out of today’s deadlock.”

Read the full article.

The Significance of the Turkish Referendum

 

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The campaign slogan in Istanbul reads: “YES: Both the Word & the Decision Belong to the Nation” Image credit: CNN

On Sunday, 16 April Turkish voters will decide in a national referendum on the type of their country’s government—whether to retain the (hard fought for) parliamentary system or to opt for an executive presidency. The new constitution (incorporating 18 proposed amendments) abolishes the prime minister’s office and divides power between parliament, as legislative, and the president, as both the head of the state and the chief executive. But that is not all. Technically, the decision making and especially oversight functions of the parliament will be diminished. On the top of it, the new system will give the president an authority to keep control over his/her political party and dominate the legislative branch, politically.

In its opinion published last month, the Venice Commission (a body of constitutional experts of the Council of Europe) concluded that “the substance of the proposed constitutional amendments represents a dangerous step backwards in the constitutional democratic tradition of Turkey.” Moreover, the Commission stressed “the dangers of degeneration of the proposed system towards an authoritarian and personal regime” and warned that the “the timing is most unfortunate and is itself cause of concern” due to the state of emergency in Turkey (a concern shared by many analysts that the current situation gives the new constitution’s main proponents–that is, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP)–a high hand in promoting their stand).

These and other arguments expressed by various international organisations and independent think tanks mostly concern the implications of the proposed constitutional amendments on the state of democracy and human rights in Turkey. What about its foreign policy and the role Turkey has traditionally played in regional affairs? In his analysis published through Reality Check series of the Geopolitical Futures, Jacob L. Shapiro claims that the referendum outcome does not matter in this respect, for regardless of the result, Turkey will continue rising as a regional power.

“Regardless of whether Erdoğan stays in power or another leader takes over, Turkey will continue maturing as a nation and becoming a regional power surrounded on almost all sides by unenviable threats. If the referendum passes … [nothing] will be as determinative as the geopolitical constraints forcing Turkey back into the pantheon of the world’s major powers. On that, Turkey doesn’t get a vote – and its increase in power will define the country’s future more than any referendum can.”

Read more via Geopolitical Futures

(II) In Search of National Identity: Afghanistan’s Enduring Rivalry

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Singularity. Carpet by Faiq Ahmed (Photo: Faiq Ahmed)

By Elbay Alibayov

Part 2: Contexts, Agents, Ideas

Modernisation vs. Traditionalism

Contrary to prevailing narratives and misconceptions about Afghanistan (which tend to see the current conflict through the narrow frames and uprooted from local contexts), what we witness is a dialectical rivalry inherent to any evolutionary process, be it a lively organism or human society. Depending on the object and its environment this rivalry may take many forms, names and forces striving to outdo each other—all coming in the end to a contest between old and new, decay and regeneration, an outward and inward looking perspectives of the future, between adaptation to the changed circumstances and conservative resistance to and obstruction of the change. Afghanistan is no exception; the dominant rivalry (and thus conflict) here is taking place within its established (and ever evolving) social institutions. The only problem is that it has taken extremely violent forms countrywide, this time round.

The current cycle of this eternal and profoundly dialectical competition in Afghanistan has been inspired by the forces equipped with and aspired by the notions of modernisation and traditionalism. It has at least a century-long history in this country, counting approximately from the date of earning its independence and coinciding with the similar global processes of the twentieth century. The process is following its own logic and dynamics (with highs and lows, and differences and time-specific nuances and those owing to the locality and its population or institutional arena where the contest occurs), being occasionally interrupted or intensified due to external interferences (most prominently, by the 1979-89 Soviet occupation and the post-2001 US-led one).

Both modernisation and traditionalism shall be taken with caution: I use them as terms referring generally to the forces advocating, respectively, for reforming the society through more integration with the world (politically, technologically, culturally) or preserving the ‘purity’ of traditional values, style of life, and political institutions while keeping the exogenous influences to minimum.

This is an inherently political process, and as such does not limit itself to academic discourse but aims at the heart of politics—contestation and exercise of power. This kind of rivalry is never settled ultimately (although a means to achieve it may change over time) and those time-sensitive balances established at certain junctures may be coercive or consensus driven and based on mutual compromises. Anyways, they will be continuously contested and revisited, and new balances established (whatever shaky or fixed) along the way, just to be challenged by new generations.

Important phases

I will summarise below the major phases of this century-long contest in Afghanistan. It has been undertaken by agents—those who hold the ideas and act upon them. Their actions occur through various structures—geographical, political, economic, social, and ideological. It should be noted that this distinction is conditional, as the structures and institutions overlap; moreover, a change initiated in one structure often-time expands to other structure(s) in an ultimate struggle for power. For example, changes aimed at modernisation of education (social structure) would easily spread onto ideological structures in a country like Afghanistan, where education is intertwined with faith and patriarchal worldviews. And here is the essence of this traditionalism vs. modernisation (or any other) political contest—it aims at power which takes different forms under different structures, but all the same, it gives to its owner the ability to impose their ideas on the opponents.

At different times, the proponents of modernisation in Afghanistan ranged from authoritarian rulers to moderate or progressive urban parties to communists—each with their own understanding of the direction, targets, and the scope and the pace of reforms. Similarly, traditionalists is an umbrella term for conservative forces acting at different times and localities alone or in concert such as tribal heads and elderly, representatives of other privileged societal groups, as well as clergy and especially fundamentalist preachers, Islamist parties. It is very important to specify what was meant under each direction at any given point in time, as it makes clear what was actually contested and by which individual and group agents, and how it was supported or rejected by different groups of population. This, in turn, determines in many ways why certain initiatives have been successful while others failed—an important lesson for those involved in the Afghanistan politics.

“Hundred Years of Afghanistan’s Modernisation vs. Traditionalism Rivalry: Amanullah Khan 1920s –> Zair Shah 1950s-60s –> Dawud Khan 1970s –> Communists 1980s –> Taleban 2/2-1990s –> Democratisation post-2001 (Karzai, Ghani/Abdullah) –> What’s next?”

Sovereign kingdom (Amanullah Khan’s 1920s)

  • Contexts (structures and institutions): Political (distribution of authority and decision-making/state institutions, bureaucracy, patronage, tribalism); ideological (worldview/religion, education system, the state); social (tribe, clan, ethnicity, gender/ laws and rules on rights and responsibilities, discrimination, citizenship); economic (systems of production and exchange/property rights, tax system, labour)
  • Power(s) contested: Formal and informal authority, legitimacy. Identity, values, and beliefs. Wealth
  • Agents: Domestic individual and collective agents. A moderniser king opposed by tribal, clan heads, clergy and other elites.
  • Ideas (change attempted/ introduced): Radical for that time social reforms. Governance modification (adoption of first constitution, reforms of the military, education and court systems, reorganisation of public finance and tax collection, as well as an advocacy for the rights of women, the abolishment of certain tribal privileges and slavery)
  • Conflict (forms and solution methods): Fierce but mostly non-violent. Coercion
  • Outcome: Failed to sustain; Aborted (abdication of the king). Followed by localised tribal wars

Constitutional monarchy (Zahir Shah’s 1950s-60s)

  • Contexts (structures and institutions): Political (distribution of authority and decision-making/state institutions, tribalism); ideological (worldview/religion, knowledge, the state); social (tribe, clan, ethnicity, gender/ education system, citizenship); economic (systems of production and exchange/ labour); geographical (land/ land ownership, official status of areas)
  • Power(s) contested: Formal and informal authority, legitimacy. Identity, values, and beliefs. Capital and labour. Border creation (continuous challenge by the mobilising Pashtun tribes). Roles and hierarchies
  • Agents: Domestic agents, with limited, indirect external engagement. A moderniser king, on the one hand, opposed and constrained by privileged class trying to retain status quo and, on the other hand, pushed by movements, parties calling for more reforms.  Financial aid for reform balanced between external agents
  • Ideas (change attempted/ introduced): Limited mostly to socio-economic domain (infrastructure projects like irrigation, hydroelectric power plants, highways, airlines, and telecommunications; bringing new equipment, not technology)—didn’t improve much the local productive capacity. No radical political reform (formally a constitutional monarchy but relying on the support of tribal elderly, since other forms of representation were outlawed). Moderate in depth, scope and outreach (did not extend much beyond Kabul and certain centres).
  • Conflict (forms and solution methods): Non-violent but repressive (through authoritarian rule). But at the same time, persistent and escalating (with the growing role of external actor, Pakistan) both in terms of tension and violence use. Coercion and selective cooptation of opponents
  • Outcome: Interrupted due to internal, non-violent coup. The reform momentum mostly maintained.

Republic (Dawud Khan’s 1970s)

  • Contexts (structures and institutions): Political (distribution of authority and decision-making/state institutions, sovereignty, tribalism); ideological (worldview/religion, knowledge, the state); social (tribe, clan, ethnicity, gender/ education system, discrimination, citizenship); economic (systems of production and exchange/property rights and ownership, tax system); geographical (land/ land ownership, official status of areas)
  • Power(s) contested: Formal and informal authority, legitimacy. Identity, values and beliefs. Capital and labour. Borders (Durand Line, Pashtunistan). Roles and hierarchies
  • Agents: Domestic agents opposing each other, backed by different external actors. A moderniser ruler (president of republic), challenged from different sides by tribal elites and clergy, radical (communist) reformers, nationalists, and Islamic fundamentalists. Reforms implemented with external financial and technical aid balanced between foreign agents
  • Ideas (change attempted/ introduced): Outward-oriented, broader integration. Moderate economic (commercial agriculture, exports promotion, economic infrastructure, transportation and communication networks, socialist-style five-year plans and state-owned enterprises, taxation of privileged class) and social (modern education, emancipation of women) reforms. Political reforms focused mainly on centralisation, strengthening state apparatus and military, gendarmerie
  • Conflict (forms and solution methods): No mass violence, but the army-backed suppression of resistance by tribesmen and fundamentalists. Organised/ targeted violence was imported (Pakistan). Coercion and selective cooptation
  • Outcome: Coup by former allies backed by external agent (foreign country, Soviet Union), with limited/targeted violence at the event
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Children playing on the remains of a Soviet tank, Jalalabad, 2013 (Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP)

Communist regime (1980s-early 90s of Khalq, Parcham, Najibulla)

  • Contexts (structures and institutions): Political (regime type, distribution of authority and decision-making/state institutions, sovereignty, chieftainship, patronage); ideological (worldview/religion, knowledge, the state); social (tribe, clan, ethnicity, gender/ education system, discrimination, citizenship); economic (systems of production and exchange/property rights); geographical (land/ land ownership, borders, official status of areas)
  • Power(s) contested: Formal and informal authority, legitimacy. Status and hierarchy. Identity, values and beliefs. Capital formation, wealth redistribution, organised labour. Concentration of activity (rural vs. urban)
  • Agents:  A mix of domestic and external agents openly contesting the power. Ruling modernisers kept in power by foreign country. Opposed from different sides by agents with own/distinct agendas: nationalists, tribal elites, insurgent Islamists. Reforms financed and supported technically, militarily by one external agent (Soviet Union), while the insurgence by the others (United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan)
  • Ideas (change attempted/ introduced): Radical political and socio-economic reforms. Attempts to eliminate economic inequalities in countryside (cancel usury and mortgage debts of agricultural labourers, tenants and small landowners; introduce land ownership reforms and promote cooperatives and agricultural credit and loans). Further the social reforms especially with regards to emancipation and equal rights of women (regulated dowry and marriage expenses, forbiddance of forced marriages) and modern education system. Notable among political initiatives were laws and regulations targeting corruption, patronage and chieftainship.
  • Conflict (forms and solution methods): Fierce resistance from various segments, mostly due to being perceived as driven by alien (moreover, hostile toward religion) ideology. Wide-spread, multi-actor violent conflict. Proxy war by foreign countries. Coercion
  • Outcome: Overthrown by military force, after almost a decade-and-half of brutal fighting as against the occupation, so between local agents

Islamic Emirate (the Taleban’s 1990s, second half)

  • Contexts (structures and institutions): Political (regime type, distribution of decision-making/sovereignty, state institutions, bureaucracy, patronage, tribalism); ideological (worldview/religion, knowledge, the state, sumptuary law); social (religious community/ ummah, tribe, ethnicity, gender/ laws and rules on rights and responsibilities, citizenship, education system); economic (systems of production and exchange/ property rights, contract law, tax system)
  • Power(s) contested: Formal and informal authority, legitimacy. Identity, values and beliefs. Status and hierarchy. Wealth (capital formation and redistribution)
  • Agents: Extreme faction of traditionalists (dominant force, 90 percent territory control) opposed/challenged by other/more moderate traditionalists (some of them former allies). All have their own external backers (foreign agents/countries), at times being proxy of the same agent. The ruling Taleban self-financed through (mainly) smuggling and extortion, tax collection but also the funding from external state and non-state actors (Pakistan, al-Qaeda)
  • Ideas (change attempted/ introduced): Radically regressive from the modernisation achievements of previous decades. Ideology (strict interpretation and imposition of the Islamic Shari’a law) was predominant and thus determined the rest. Politically, it was a dictatorial rule based on allegiance to the movement, patronage; reluctant to share power even at the local level where tribal heads and warlords kept control on the ground; no elections held. Socially, the overarching notions of ummah and mu’mineen; very restrictive on women (work, education). Economically, this translated into total state control of wealth generation and distribution (monopoly of trade, prohibitively high corporate taxation, no salaries, destroyed local industries, instead ran a massive network of smuggling as the major source of revenue)
  • Conflict (forms and solution methods): Repressive, violent, with executions on large scale. Coercion
  • Outcome: Overthrown by external agents (United States, joined by allies), with insurgency and control and contestation of rural territories and certain urban centres following since then

Democratisation (post-2001 Karzai, Ghani/Abdullah governments)

  • Contexts (structures and institutions): Political (sovereignty, regime type, distribution of authority and decision-making/state institutions, judiciary, electoral system, bureaucracy, tribalism, patronage); ideological (worldviews, norms, beliefs/religion, statehood, knowledge/education system, media,); social (tribe, clan, class, ethnicity, gender/ education system, positive and negative discrimination, citizenship, reconciliation, transitional justice); economic (systems of production and exchange, sectoral composition, labour division/ tax system, property rights, contract law, labour laws); geographical (land, urbanisation/ land ownership, borders, official status of areas)
  • Power(s) contested: Formal and informal authority, legitimacy. Identity, values and beliefs. Knowledge. Roles, status, hierarchies. Capital formation, wealth redistribution, organised labour. Concentration of activity (rural vs. urban)
  • Agents: A complicated nexus between domestic and external state and non-state actors engaged through formal and informal institutions, directly and indirectly (through proxies).  Numerous factions broadly falling under the modernisation trend compete with each other both through formal electoral processes and informal, parallel institutions. On the other hand, the proponents of traditionalism (understood differently by various agents), being heterogeneous and competing internally, challenge those in government and threaten to overthrow them.  The lines between factions are blurred however (especially at the local level).  The same rather confusing situation is with the external agents. Some (like the United States as state actor, or the United Nations as an international multilateral actor) firmly support the modernisers in power (militarily, financially, technically), while others (like Pakistan) have more nuanced relations with both camps and with different individual and collective agents within those camps/factions.
  • Ideas (change attempted/ introduced): Large scale, mostly radical, high-paced reforms attempting to introduce simultaneously the changes in political, ideological, social and economic structures. Ideas and solutions mostly imported (not home grown, bottom-up), without taking account of the society’s deeply rooted characteristics and absorptive capacity. This results in (a) foreign driven change; (b) confusion and resistance of patriarchal rural society; (c) thriving informal, parallel structures; and (d) failure to translate the ideas from paper into reality.
  • Conflict (forms and solution methods): Violent, country-wide. Each side controls (governs) certain part of the land, the rest being contested (changing hands). Supported on both sides by foreign (state and non-state) agents. Coercion being the major approach, successive negotiation attempts failed over years (with one recent exemption of the deal between the Government and Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin).
  • Outcome: Back-and-forth, iterative process almost in all policy domains. Certain progress has been made but at prohibitive cost and hardly sustainable. It seems that all agents, domestic and foreign alike, understand that the violent uncompromising confrontation has paralysed the country, turning the rivalry into lose-lose situation for both the modernisers and traditionalists, and most importantly to the Afghans.

*                  *                  *

I tried to draw the summary of major phases in the rivalry (or conflict) between the outward looking modernisation and inward looking traditionalism in Afghanistan as a map—pointing to key characteristics with regards to structures and institutions where the contest has been unfolding, central ideas promoted by the agents, the rules by which they played, and the outcome of it. This map is a starting (or reference) point for the analysis. It helps understand the Afghan political contexts in their historic development over the past century, draw comparisons and, more importantly, make sense of the current developments (what works and what does not, with some hints on why it occurs as it does).

In the next piece of this series we will look at the sequence of random events occurring as of recent and how they are interpreted by the agents, in order to reveal whether they offer windows of opportunity for both the Afghani and foreign actors on all sides of the contest to move into the next (hopefully less violent, more constructive) phase.

This is the second part of In Search of National Identity: Afghanistan’s Enduring Rivalry. See Part I: Prevailing narratives

In Search of National Identity: Afghanistan’s Enduring Rivalry

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I am sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”           

—Jalal-al-Din Mohammad Rumi

 

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Kabul, 1961 (Photo: AP/Henry Burroughs)

By Elbay Alibayov

The recent developments in Afghanistan indicate that the conflict there may have entered a new phase, which has a potential of setting ground for gradually ending the violence and establishing a lasting peace. A series of events at first glance look rather random and business-as-usual, but they send messages that taken together imply that something new is in making at the background beyond the events.

To appreciate the significance of these developments, one has to place them into a right analytical framework where local contexts (structures, institutions) and political actors contesting the distribution of power continuously interact and keep interpreting these interactions and the opportunities they offer at any critical juncture in time. At the end of the day, whatever large-scale and intensive, this is not the external factor that will decide the final outcome of the Afghan war and the destiny of the Afghan state—but the local political actors.

This article is an attempt to reflect on the political conflict in Afghanistan in the context of an enduring rivalry between modernisation and traditionalism, which is itself a manifestation of a search (and shaping and reshaping) of national identity for a country as culturally diverse as Afghanistan. The topic is not new, but it has not been explored at the interface of a long-lasting process and momentous opportunities opening up at some crucial points. These moments are impossible to foresee, let alone to engineer. But it is possible (and imperative, for political agents) to be ready to take advantage as soon as they avail themselves.

The political conflict in Afghanistan reflects an enduring rivalry between the proponents of modernisation and traditionalism, in their search for national identity

I put an effort to keep it concise (hope you would appreciate that ;- ). The paper consists of four parts. In the first post I will give an overview of current narratives about Afghanistan, resulting models, and their flaws. In the second part I will position the conflict in the context of enduring rivalry between modernisation and traditionalism in Afghanistan. The third part will look at coincidence of the current, most recent events and how they are interpreted by the agents as offering them opportunities for further action. And in the final part I will look beyond the events, to make some conclusions and outline the possible directions to explore.

Part One: Prevailing Narratives

The hidden works of narrative fallacy

There are scholarly works by historians and anthropologists written mostly in the past century, offering valuable insights into the Afghan history and culture (among them my favourite Afghanistan by Louis Dupree). There are also various narratives created over time (especially in post-2001 era), about Afghanistan’s institutions of power and statehood tradition, political actors, their interests, and the drivers of lasting wars.

The difference between the two is that the first group was written by people who based their studies on the primary sources collected through the field work in-country and with an intention to learn (and if possible, to understand) the culture of people inhabiting this ancient land; while the latter, to the contrast, were produced mostly by people who intended to explain (and do it authoritatively) all those complex matters of a distant culture and offering concepts backed by the narratives often-time built upon incomplete, or unconfirmed secondary and tertiary sources.

The second group of works and concepts was and still is driven by the day’s practical demands, as they have been produced to inform action by international actors (quite heavily) involved in Afghanistan. As such, they simplify and frame the reality to offer (if not impose) a logical model that makes sense of the otherwise random sequence of events and seemingly unrelated to each other, at times interrupted processes—with an ultimate aim of defining effective solutions to existing problems. And this is where the risk of falling into narrative fallacy (Nassim Taleb) is hidden and where theories turn into myths.

afg-map

The modern myths

There are many myths created about Afghanistan in the last decades with various degree of uptake by policymakers, but three of them are most persistent (interestingly enough, they have been accepted fully or in considerable part by various foreign actors over time, in spite of difference in their ideological stands and interests).

Central among them is the myth claiming that there has never been an Afghan state, only a mass of continuously and fiercely warring tribesmen who do not recognize any form of central power or unification. It rightly notes that in terms of loyalty for Afghans of all groups and subgroups first comes their kin and then clan or tribe, but makes a wrong conclusion that they lack (if have at all) any allegiance to the state. As all across north of Africa and west, central and south Asia tribes have historically played significant role both socially and politically. This centuries-long tradition sits deep in bone of anyone having origins from these regions; however it does not (and has not) exclude the possibility of having a functional state, whether strong or less effective, centralised or not.

Another myth goes on to say that there had been a somewhat state in Afghanistan but it was annihilated in the wars of the 1980s-90s, and the attempts to rebuild it won’t work as the balance of power has changed from the capital to the rule of ethnically and sub-ethnically diverse (and largely Islamist) countryside that is too heterogeneous to be united.

It correlates with the tendency to see the stand-off between the government and insurgents as merely medieval war waged by local warlords, criminals and terrorists against the legitimate central government (albeit backed by foreigners and dominated by foreign ideology), without taking account of ideas and aspirations of the warring parties, and of the history of propagation of and resistance to reforms (such as claiming that the Taleban’s ‘attitude  toward the state and reforms are not the continuation of some “tradition”, but the result of their own uprooting’).

And finally, there is a myth which holds that Afghanistan is ‘not a natural state‘, pointing to ‘very special’ culture and social institutions of Pashtuns as politically dominant faction and their (deemed) irreconcilable differences with other ethnic groups and tribes. Moreover, some authors also marry this notion of Pashtun tribalism with the legacy of historically more recent ‘Afghan Jihad’ to arrive at totally biased portrait picturing Pashtuns as hostile to anything different (if not alien) from their own.

Common to these myths is that they oversimplify the historic processes and the present-day situation, focus only on one arbitrarily selected element while ignoring the rest, and above all, deny the Afghans (comprised as they are of diverse and distinct ethnic and sub-ethnic groups) their history of coexistence, political traditions and institutions. Taken together they lead to yet another misconception, this one with practical implications—the false assumption of the possibility to control the end state of the Afghan war.

The prevailing narratives created about Afghanistan deny its diverse populations their history of coexistence, political traditions and institutions.

This ‘control of the outcome‘ myth, first, implies that there is a military solution to the conflict and thus feeds into the dominant doctrine seeing the end-state in coercion. And second, this myth impedes the possibility of finding a workable solution to assist the country in establishing peace and state-building as it suggests that a state model can be imported to Afghanistan and sustained through pouring abundant money and technical advice into its structures. Thus far it has not worked well as we can see, if not served contrary to the purpose claimed.

kabul-1995

Kabul, 1995

The models: imported and (revived) home-grown

Fifteen years after the intervention, Afghanistan is still in the process of seeking a political settlement to state-building and an administrative structure and mechanisms that would be compatible with its political culture and institutions—and thus viable. I will briefly outline the concepts in play with regards to (a) general approach to state-building, (b) vertical distribution of power within public administration, and (c) options proposed as alternatives to the present constitutional set-up in Afghanistan.

Deconstruction vs. co-optation

Of broadly defined two available (or practiced in post-conflict state-building) alternatives the international community decided to pursue the path of (partial) deconstruction of existing state apparatus in Afghanistan and then building a new one, instead of taking the approach of co-opting ‘all social forces and power centres into state-building within the existing institutions and trying to redirect their competition for power and [resources] from violent to peaceful channels.’ In so doing (given the nature and the initial justification for the military occupation and overthrowing of the government and political factions behind it) the intervening authorities (US and allies) have effectively excluded the Taleban and some other influential actors from the process (starting from the Bonn conference of 2001 and the creation of interim administration), and thus setting the entire endeavor in a direction of zero-sum game and coercion.

After the departure of Hamid Karzai from the helm of the state (but not from the politics) in 2014, Afghanistan has had even more troubling period following the contested elections and months of tortuous negotiations which resulted in the creation of a Government of National Unity (GUN) between two (tempted to say “former”, but they effectively still are) rivals, President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah.

Among other contextual and institutional challenges, the problem with the Government effectively fulfilling its functions lies in the lack of its legitimacy and credibility with large segments of (predominantly rural) population. Limited political representativeness of the central government, due to exclusion of other key players from decision making, will remain the major barrier to stabilisation and development in Afghanistan.

The biggest fallacy about Afghanistan is the view that the conflict can end in coercion through decisive military victory, and then an imported statehood model implanted and sustained.

Sub-national governance

Strong central government in Kabul, as initially supported by the international community, may have seemed as easy-to-go option and also appealed to personal and group aspirations of certain political actors holding power, but it very quickly proved as a nonworking model. In order to enable the government reach down to the villages and across the country while keeping intact the territorial integrity of the state within the constitutional provisions, decentralisation was promoted and introduced as a concept since 2007.

The implementation of sub-national governance reform, even accepted as critically important, has proven problematic for many reasons, including such systemic and institutional challenges as corruption, dominance of politics over bureaucracy, unclear distribution of functions, lack of real delegation of power, and competing interests and overlapping mandates of various bodies in charge.

Key legislation is either pending (lost in the procedures for years) or not implemented. The system itself is quite complex owing, in part, to the difference in conceptual approaches of donors (such as United Nations, World Bank, and USAID) and different government bodies in charge at all levels, from central ministries through provinces, districts, and municipalities (under the overall responsibility of Independent Directorate of Local Governance, IDLG).

Add to this a parallel system of sub-national development councils (operating at village and district level through community, district and cluster networks—all managed by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, MRRD) with own governance ambition—and you have a complex structure which is difficult to map on a piece of paper, let alone to manage. [*I have witnessed and went through all this confusion when assisting the MRRD in their work with District Development Assemblies, back in 2011].

Federalisation and partition

Devolution of power is imperative in Afghanistan—this seems to be appreciated by both foreign and domestic actors involved in state-building. But this is where the views are divided. Some observers and practitioners advocate and keep turning into reality the administrative decentralisation efforts (whatever cumbersome).  Others are sceptical about the success of this endeavour and have come up with scenarios which go beyond the present structure set by Afghanistan’s Constitution. The discussion, and even very light critique of those proposed constructs and their justification is a topic in its own right, therefore I will only touch upon it here. Roughly, there are two groups of options proposed over time that demand the amendment or even the adoption of new constitution.

One group comprises various scenarios of organising Afghanistan as a federal state. This effectively takes one (albeit significant) step further to the current administrative organisation of Afghanistan with thirty-four provinces, with much more power and authority and resources devolved to the federal units. The number and administrative borders may vary but in essence this is an approach to which the Afghan state is not prepared yet, as the vacillations over the implementation of sub-national governance reform have shown.

Another group of option can be subsumed under partition banner, whether suggesting a confederational set-up or the creation of new sovereign states. This is not a new idea either. Back in the 1960s, there was a proposition to set a confederation comprising three entities—Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian. Today, the proponents of this idea offer a number of other scenarios (dividing the country along ethnic lines), such as a two-entity confederation of South (Pashtun) and North (Uzbek-Tajik) or three entities, with Hazara state added to the two.

These ideas mostly are deriving from the narratives discussed in the beginning of this paper, especially the one justifying the creation of a separate Pashtun state. Indeed, Pashtuns today are estimated at about 45 million, as per mid-2016 estimates: they comprise 15.42 percent of Pakistan’s population (approx 31.2 million) and 42 percent of Afghanistan’s population (approx 14 million). The idea of independent Pashtunistan has been entertained by various local political actors since 1947 (with or without relation to the disputed but still respected by both countries Durand Line); this always made the Pakistani authorities feel uneasy, with periods of escalated tensions, such as in the 1960s-70s.

*          *          *

Democracy and Conflict: Real-life Solutions vs. Models

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We like models, don’t we? We claim that they represent a simplified reality that help us make sense of it and serve as guidance for taking action. Accepted, it does in many instances (especially in well ordered situations when the cause-effect relations are observable and/or future developments are mostly in line with the extrapolated past trend). But what happens when some developments do not fit into any existing model? Then in a customary manner we are quick to dismiss them as an anomaly that has to be brought back to the norm of the known models.

Take, for example the notion of democracy promotion and democratic transition. All former colonies and, in the same vein, post-communist countries were expected to make a quick and effective transition from their non-democratic regimes to elected and then liberal democracies. It was assumed with little consideration given to unique cultural features of those societies and to their readiness to do so. The reality has shown that this is not the case.

Then the notion of ‘grey areas’ was introduced to explain that those countries which did not make it to democracy were lost somewhere in-between but eventually would have to be driven on the predefined route, or otherwise they run risk of reverting back to authoritarian rule—with no third option allowed. Not necessarily, it appears—at least not in such a simplistic manner.

What we failed to appreciate is the difference between the commonly accepted set of defined democratic values and the variety of forms that democracy as a governance regime based on those values may take, depending on local political culture and institutions. Also, the mechanistic understanding of such ‘transition’ fails to take into consideration that in order to become sustainable, the reforms will demand a cultural change which time-wise could be expected to take no less than a generational span (independently of the amount of effort, money and pressure invested externally).

And finally, we tried to model those transitions as flawless and irreversible—yet another failure to appreciate that even liberal democracies keep evolving and there is nothing surprising if at times this process turns into zigzagging and iterations, in an attempt of finding the optimal adjustment of political system to the changed external circumstances, let alone high-impact ‘surprises’.

(There are countries, such as Argentina, known for this kind of iterative democratic development. And it seems that the outcry of ‘illiberal democracy’ in Hungary and Poland is exaggerated; the policies of their elected governments signal more of a search of effective adaptive strategies in the face of daunting economic and social problems rather than of turning their back to European liberalism).

The same holds true with regard to ending violent conflicts and peacebuilding. So frequently we tend to overestimate the effects of globalisation and see the interaction between local and global as a one-way street, although the evidence suggests that the influence is reciprocal, and to be absorbed by local contexts the global trend (or external influence) has to be ‘glocalised’.

On the other hand, there is another fallacy of assuming that the solutions offered (if not imposed) by the developed/industrialised world actors are superior to those home-grown initiatives of local political players in the developing countries. Even driven by the best of intentions, external interventions may distort the inherent logic of internal conflict, which is a product of an interaction of many factors acting within a unique set of local political, economic, social contexts.

In any case, whether it is democratic reform or ending the conflict–only when the solutions are driven and owned by domestic actors, there is a chance that the meaningful development (including constitution building) or peace deal would be concluded, and respected and implemented afterwards. And we have to be ready to accept that it may take decades for them to come to realise that only through cooperative strategies they would achieve the final settlement (which is never a zero-sum outcome but something that demands concessions from all sides but still they can live with that)—if, of course, the democratic state and sustainable peace are the final goals and the contest/infighting has not turned into a self-sustaining endeavour when keeping the confrontation and thus status quo going is an end it itself and not a means to achieving the goal.

(These fallacies of international assistance have been long recognised and pointed to on numerous occasions and by various institutional agents and leaders over years. For example, the latest, 2015 OECD report on the States of Fragility (formerly known as fragile states), lists fifty such states in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Oceania and concludes that ‘far greater international political will is needed to support nationally owned and led plans, build national institutions’.)

That said there are various types of internal conflict and a variety of conflict drivers interact in any given violent confrontation, and they are set in a certain external geopolitical field with many interests—so I am far from drawing yet another model here, but rather intend at pointing to some fundamental issues which have been somehow neglected in the international community’s involvement in domestic violent conflicts and civil wars across the globe.

Whether ‘give war a chance’ or ‘give peace a chance’ should not be formulated as a dilemma, in my opinion. There is another dimension to transforming and resolving internal conflicts, which may well amalgamate these two within a flexible, adaptive and ecologically rational approach—as demonstrated by some successful experiences in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Among most recent are Colombia and Myanmar—they may not look as attractive as models but they are real and effective. Not such examples in the Middle East yet… or are they in making?