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Evaluating the Failed States Index and U.S. Africa Policy

Asch Harwood is the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition, a Council on Foreign Relations blog.

The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy have released their 2012 Failed States Index. Fourteen of the twenty states listed as “critical” are found in sub-Saharan Africa. Among the highest scores (bad) are Somalia, DRC, Chad, Zimbabwe, and Sudan.

How predictive is the index? Well, it depends on how you define state failure. If you mean coup, clearly it’s not 100 percent accurate. Mali ranked number 79, which means that it is in danger, but not critical. And yet the country has been struck by interrelated crises—the coup in Bamako, Azawad’s secession and occupation, Tuareg mercenaries, jihadist camps—that fulfill most definitions of state failure. (Jay Ulfelder argues it is indeed possible to assess the likelihood of a coup, which could be considered one definition for state failure.) Read more

Kony 2012 “Cover the Night” a Flop?

Asch Harwood is the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition, a Council on Foreign Relations blog.

When Invisible Children released its call to “make Kony famous” on April 20, Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker about the inadequacy of social media to affect social change came immediately to mind. The Kony 2012 video, with its eighty million plus YouTube views, could easily be seen as a litmus test for his hypothesis: can online networks translate into offline action? Read more

Corruption’s Impact on Voting in Nigeria and Mexico

Asch Harwood is the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition, a Council on Foreign Relations blog.

John Campbell has regularly made the point that from 1999 to 2007  increasingly bad elections led Nigerians to withdraw from the political process. Despite official proclamations, the 2007 elections were thought to have had an extremely low turnout.

A recent paper (PDF) by the National Bureau of Economic Research (h/t to Chris Blattman), “Looking Beyond the Incumbent: The Effects of Exposing Corruption on Electoral Outcomes,” provides what could be some empirical evidence from their randomized experiment in Mexico to support this observation. Read more

Defining Mobile Phone Usage in Africa

Asch Harwood is the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition, a Council on Foreign Relations blog.

A comment was recently made to me citing the huge number of mobile phones in Nigeria—over 90 million—as an indicator of that country’s budding middle class. However, in this conversation, my interlocutor failed to make the distinction between mobile phones and mobile phones subscriptions, which turns out to be important. Read more

Press Freedom and Development in Africa

Asch Harwood is the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition, a Council on Foreign Relations blog.

The National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and Internews hosted an excellent discussion on “Can media development make aid more effective?”, which I was able to catch part of via a live stream on the CIMA website. You can watch it here.

The speakers’ discussions of the impact of media on economic growth, political stability, and governance were of particular interest to me. Two of the speakers, Tara Susman-Pena and Mark Frohardt, presented an invaluable tool they helped build, the Media Map Project, where you can “explore, interact with, and analyze data on media and development.” It is a one-stop shop for all the data you could hope for on press freedom, and worth checking out. Read more

Mapping Violence in Nigeria

This is a cross post with the Council on Foreign Relations’ blog, Africa in Transition, and Movements.org.

The recent intensification of attacks by Islamic militant group Boko Haram in northern and central Nigeria, including its capital Abuja, is alarming to Nigerians and the international community alike. But is it really an escalation?

Nigeria has been marred by violence almost continuously during its post-independence history.  To cite recent episodes, since 2005, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has waged war against the Nigerian government and the oil industry over what it deems is an unfair distribution of the wealth the Delta region produces. They have killed soldiers, kidnapped oil workers, and destroyed infrastructure, and have threatened renewal of its campaign against the government and the oil industry. Near the city of Jos, situated in the middle belt region of the country, economic, religious, and sectarian conflict (often between Christians and Muslims) has killed thousands over the past three years. Following the disputed presidential elections in April 2011, violence along religious lines erupted in northern states, claiming the lives of an estimated 800 Christians and Muslims, after southern Christian Goodluck Jonathan was declared the victor.

Considering the apparent daily attacks and bombings attributed to Boko Haram in the past few weeks, there is a new, palpable feeling of insecurity in the country. More than fifty civilians, soldiers, and militants have been killed in the last week in separate attacks in Maiduguri, Kaduna, and Suleja, prompting the indefinite closure of the University of Maiduguri and the banning of motorbikes in that city, as well as an unprecedented 10 p.m. curfew in Abuja. Further, bombings in the capital during its 50th Independence Day celebration in October as well as the June bombing at the National Police Headquarters have underscored the federal government’s inability to suppress violence, at least in the short term.

However, press and other reporting of the violence and unrest are often contradictory or inconsistent.  At times, numbers of victims appear to be underestimated.  Sometimes, however, casualties are double-counted.  And disagreement over responsibility is common.

In an effort to improve our understanding of the scope of the unrest, we have initiated a crisis mapping project, the Nigeria Security Tracker,  sifting through media reports, looking for incidents of violence that ostensibly can be connected to political, economic, and social grievances directed at the state or other affiliative groups (or conversely the state employing violence to suppress those uprisings). Using Ushahidi’s relatively new Crowdmap platform, we are recording each event we find, categorizing the data, and plotting it on a map and timeline. Over time, we hope to be able to evaluate the frequency of attacks, the magnitude (measured in terms of lives lost or injured), and the location of incidents.

Crisis mapping has a number of advantages. For one, it requires a more rigorous definition of violence and consideration of information as part of the process of determining which incidents should be included. It provides a means to organize and analyze often conflicting reports while at the same time allowing us to database information for future reference. In addition to being visually, appealing, the act of mapping also creates a novel opening to discuss violence in Nigeria for a technology-hungry media.

Of course, its analytical value is equally limited. Dependence on published reports means that incidents will be missed or reported inaccurately. This is particularly relevant in Nigeria where media is often concentrated in the south and important events, especially in the north, may not receive the coverage they should.

Further, it does not answer the question of why these incidents happen or why their frequency or intensity might be changing. As a result, we are working under the assumption that violent incidents often take place because of the weakness of the government and popular alienation from it, making scarce legitimate channels for redress of grievances. This alienation in turn is, at least in part, driven by Nigeria’s extreme poverty and inequality, which is most pronounced in the north; a political system that encourages winner take all competition; overzealous security services operating within a culture of impunity; and perverse corruption, which saps the political will for political solutions.

Follow the Nigeria Security Tracker here.