Conflict Analysis of Northeast States – Biu, Bursari, Gombi, Hawul, Hong, Jakusko, Jere and Kaga LGAs

I finally have the approval to share this conflict analysis that I worked on last year. Here’s the description of the study:

The violent conflict in northeast Nigeria has not only led to widespread displacement and reduction in livelihoods but affected community tensions and conflicts. Humanitarian and development programming have potential to bring communities together across lines of division, promote social cohesion and address causes of conflict if designed and implemented with conflict sensitivity in mind. Conversely, programmes can instead create tension and exacerbate already existing conflict. This study, integrating gender perspectives, examines conflict dynamics in 8 northeast local government areas (Gombi and Hong in Adamawa State; Biu, Hawul, Jere and Kaga in Borno State; and Bursari and Jakusko in Yobe State) with focus on their implications for programming. It first analyses political, economic, social and security factors that contribute to conflict, violence and instability or enable peace and social cohesion looking at context, key actors, conflict dynamics (grievances and resilience) and possible trajectories for each LGA. It then outlines conflict sensitivity action plans i.e. ways to mitigate, manage or prevent conflict based on the analysis presented.

You can download and read it here.

Lack of proper contextual understanding and conflict analysis is one of the key barriers to ensuring good, effective, sustainable interventions in northeast Nigeria. This conflict analysis is one of the only such studies to be publicly available and the first (as far as I know) to look at local government level dynamics. I am very happy to be able to share this and hope it helps improve understanding and programming.

You can read other research of mine here.

she called me woman: Nigeria’s queer women speak

It’s been years in the making and, finally, it will be published this time next month (26th April) by Cassava Republic Press.

She Called Me Woman: Nigeria's Queer Women Speak

Here is some information about the book:

“We decided to put together this collection of narratives to correct the invisibility, the confusion, the caricaturising and the writing out of history.”

This stirring and intimate collection brings together 25 unique narratives to paint a vivid portrait of what it means to be a queer Nigerian woman. Covering an array of experiences – the joy and excitement of first love, the agony of lost love and betrayal, the sometimes-fraught relationship between sexuality and spirituality, addiction and suicide, childhood games and laughter – She Called Me Woman sheds light on how Nigerian queer women, despite their differences, attempt to build a life together in a climate of fear.

Through first-hand accounts, She Called Me Woman challenges us to rethink what it means to be a Nigerian ‘woman’, negotiating relationships, money, sexuality and freedom, identifying outside the gender binary, and the difficulties of achieving hopes and dreams under the constraints of societal expectations and legal terrorism.

She Called Me Woman is full of beautifully told stories of resistance and resilience, joy and laughter, heartbreaks and victories, collecting the realities of a community that will no longer be invisible.

Azeenarh, Rafeeat and I spent years of our lives interviewing narrators, working with them to develop their narratives, analysing themes and finalising this book and I am so happy that it will be out in the world very soon.

You can read an overview of a Twitter chat that the three of us had with Y Naija about the erasure of queer women in Nigerian society here. It talks about how the book came to be, the origin of its title and memorable experiences putting the book together as well as how queer people are treated in Nigeria, Western influence on discussions around sexuality, the historical existence of queer people in Nigeria, what it means to be out and ways the book explores the Nigerian female experience.

We also have our first review! Brittle Paper’s Cisi Eze said that She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak ‘transcends beautiful. This history-making opus will shake the tables our collective homophobia – internalised and externalised – sits on. Its daringness will embolden us to take off the heavy, dark, velvety silence that has draped talks of Other sexualities.’ You can read the whole review here.

After so many years, I can’t believe that our book will be out and shared with the world in just one month’s time. You can pre-order it here and keep updated by following  on Twitter.

briefing the Security Council: preventing conflict dynamics becoming root causes of future conflicts in the Lake Chad area

UPDATE 23/03/2018: They posted a video of the debate. My intervention starts at 22’54 and lasts for around 13 minutes. I also recommend that you watch the interventions of Amina Mohammed and Mohammed Bila before me.

Earlier on today, I briefed the Security Council on current conflict dynamics in the Lake Chad region as root causes of future conflicts. This session was organised by the Netherlands as part of their presidency of the Security Council (March 2018). What follows is the text of my briefing. I had only ten minutes so had to, unfortunately, leave a lot out (the original draft was double this length) but conflict analysis that I worked on last year (soon to be published) will give more depth. I’ll post it under research and publications as soon as I can.

This year marks 15 years since the start of the violence we identify with armed groups in the Lake Chad region. I will focus my briefing on current conflict dynamics, potential trajectories and the need to prevent root causes of future conflicts. I was born and live in Maiduguri and have been working on conflict analysis, human rights, peacebuilding and protection for 12 years. I will talk about the region as a whole but, given my background, will draw a great deal from Nigeria.

I will talk about 4 sets of dynamics.

The first dynamic revolves around environmental and climate factors. The problem is not the alleged shrinking of Lake Chad but increased variability. Lake Chad has been fluctuating throughout history. Communities adapt to changes although coping mechanisms have been tested. The issue is rather governance of and access to natural resources, the impact of insecurity and increased climatic variability. Farmers complain of impacts of changing lake levels and increasing rainfall variability, inability to plan properly, lower or no crop yields and insects that do not die. Pastoralists have to change grazing routes. Fisher folk talk of changing amounts of fish in water bodies. We are seeing:

  1. Decreased resilience due to climate and conflict: One Nigerian farmer told me how he would farm in rainy season, use irrigation from a stream and by the lake in a year, saying that if rains, the stream or the lake did not come, that was okay as “all three disasters would not befall you in the same year.” He said now, “Due to the crisis, every avenue to develop yourself economically has been destroyed. You do not have the money and even if you do and one fails, which is likely because of rainfall, security restrictions and Boko Haram, you cannot do others. Virtually all economic activities have collapsed.”
  2. Tensions between and within occupational groups: Conflict between and within farmers, pastoralists, fisher folk and hunters has been exacerbated by decrease in arable land, planting of crops on grazing routes and areas, changing pastoralists’ movements, changing rainfall patterns affecting crop yields and cattle health, military restrictions, security concerns and insufficiency of land and water given increased population density due to displacement. Moreover, the conflict has led to increased ethnic and social tensions – in all 4 countries.
  3. Firewood collection by civilians and cutting of trees by the military increasing deforestation, as well as agricultural burning across the region has an impact on protection and security now but also impact on soil degradation, desertification, agricultural livelihoods, and availability of wood for smoking fish in future.

There has been no clear empirical link made between these changes and recruitment into AOGs but these impacts on livelihoods, increasing inequality and financial incentives to join are happening in the same space so they may well be a link.

The second dynamic is the gendered nature of violence. Men and older boys are often the first to flee insecure areas, are deliberately targeted, killed and forcibly recruited by armed groups, viewed with suspicion, arrested and detained by security agencies and involved in fighting, leaving women – of all ages – as well as girls, younger boys and older men struggling to cope. High levels of violence against women and girls include: abductions from schools; use to detonate explosives, the so-called suicide bombers; higher levels of early and forced marriage, either to fighters or to reduce pressure on resources; sexual exploitation, abuse and violence, including by those whose job is to protect not exploit; and survival sex. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected: unable to escape violence and struggling to cope when displaced. Unknown numbers have also acquired disabilities due to violence. Their experiences have left many struggling to cope with trauma. What does this mean in the long term when so many men are missing leaving women to cope? When so many have experienced violence and trauma? When all children and young people have taken part in and/ or experienced violence?

Thirdly, tensions between IDPs, refugees, returnees and host communities. The people of the region have been extraordinarily generous, sheltering and assisting those displaced. With time, this dynamic has given rise to tensions. For example, I was in Baga Sola in Chad two weeks ago. There, Nigerian fishermen feel discriminated against when it came to access to information and services as they cannot speak local languages. These tensions are exacerbated by humanitarian assistance, seen as only benefitting IDPs despite violence affecting everyone.

Fourthly, governance and security provision. The region has long suffered from weak or absent governance and state services. This has been heightened by the conflict. There is dissatisfaction with community leaders too, sometimes viewed as corrupt and politicised before, and now often seen as diverting aid for themselves and their families. We know corruption and inequality are root causes of the conflict. People say these have worsened. Security provision is also problematic. Military action or inaction has caused civilian harm through: failure to protect communities from violence; failure to prevent collateral damage during operations; and directly targeting civilians with human rights abuses. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenges facing the militaries of the region and we have seen some positive developments. For example, in Nigeria, a national policy on civilian protection is awaiting President Buhari’s signature and the military is trying to further institutionalise civilian protection and harm mitigation in training. However, civilian harm continues, increasing unhappiness and frustration with the state. There are also issues with community militias. In Nigeria, there are growing concerns about the yan gora – or Civilian Joint Taskforce – in particular. Civilians say they intimidate, settle scores, trade drugs, extort and steal, divert aid and sexually harass, exploit and abuse. People worry about increasing politicisation, electoral mobilisation, criminality and gangs and this developing into a new conflict phase.

While we hope peace will soon return, here are three ways the conflict may develop further:

  1. JAS, the group headed by Shekau, is defeated but ISWA, the group headed by al Barnawi, grows stronger and more difficult to combat as its policy of avoiding the targeting civilians means it both retains fighters and has more strategic relations with local populations.
  2. Community militias, due to incomplete and ineffective processes of disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation, form the next phase of the conflict, engaging in criminality that escalates into sustained violence against civilian populations – and perhaps the state.
  3. Intercommunal tensions coupled with reprisal attacks and decreased access to resources as people are living in more crowded spaces leads to formation of community militias that are identity based, leading to clashes and violence.

Let’s also remember we have elections coming up in Cameroon in October 2018 and Nigeria in February 2019. It is important that political contestations do not affect and are not affected by these dynamics.

So, what is the way forward?

First of all, the crisis is not over. Humanitarian needs continue. Funding and support for humanitarian action is essential. We also must pay attention to current conflict dynamics and trajectories. The Lake Chad Basin region needs to be on the Council’s agenda. The Council needs more systematic reports that are conflict, climate and gender sensitive from the Secretariat, including on root causes and conflict drivers, as well as more regular situational awareness briefings to ensure the Council is attuned to changing conflict dynamics in a volatile region.

Secondly, we need proper analysis on which to base policy and programming decisions. There may be humanitarian needs assessments out there but proper integrated analysis that looks at conflict, climate, gender and social inclusion is lacking. Of course, we should not do nothing while waiting for analysis but we do need to ensure interventions are meaningful, do no harm and are responsive to the situation.

Which brings to me to my third and final point. The UN, donors and affected states need to ensure every CFA, naira, euro, pound and dollar spent in the region from now on is context – climate, conflict, gender, social inclusion – sensitive – and that impacts of interventions against these factors is monitored. For example, a livelihoods programme must look at future rainfall trajectories to see which crops will still be viable. If it supports the polder system in Chad, it must consider who will have access to increased areas of fertile land this will bring about, who will not and how this plays into existing tensions. Otherwise interventions will not lead to sustainable change and improvement. Even worse than a bad situation is hoping for change only for this optimism to turn to ashes.

A few weeks ago, I met a young former JAS member. She joined to transform society for the better. She told me: “I thought society would have improved while I was away but, when I came back, I saw society has gotten worse.” Looking back 15 to 20 years ago, we can see the genesis of where we are today. Circumstances have gravely deteriorated for most people. The question is: if the situation before led to this conflict and the reality now is worse than it was then, what does this mean for the future?

I urge you to take action now geared at preventing current conflict dynamics from becoming the root causes of future conflicts.

integrating civilian protection into Nigerian military policy and practice

The latest issue of Humanitarian Exchange is entitled The Lake Chad Basin: An Overlooked Crisis? It focuses on the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin and has articles looking at areas from the evolution of armed opposition groups and the failure of the humanitarian system to ensure effective response to sexual violence and abuse and mental health and psychosocial needs. In it, I have an article about the military and civilian protection in northeast Nigeria looking at work I was involved in with the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

When Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati wal Jihad (JAS, commonly known as Boko Haram) came to Khadija’s town, she was seven months’ pregnant with her eighth child. Her husband was one of the first to be killed as fighters went from house to house killing every man over the age of eight. After hiding them in the ceiling of her home, Khadija dressed 18 men in women’s clothing and smuggled them to safety. They escaped over the mountains into Cameroon (and still call her, years afterwards, to thank her for her help). The following month, after warnings from a neighbour that fighters were taking away children, Khadija escaped, walking with her seven children for two days until they reached safety, where she gave birth. The family moved and were moved four more times. Her brother-in-law gave Khadija a place to stay, but told her she was not allowed to leave the house. Without enough food to feed her children and with no means to earn money to buy more, she moved her family again, and is now living in an unofficial IDP settlement on land donated by a host community. ‘At least here I have freedom,’ she told me.

I was talking with Khadija (not her real name) to find out the harm civilians had experienced in north-eastern Nigeria, and the actions Nigerian security forces had taken to mitigate causing harm themselves, and to protect civilians from harm caused by others. What was striking about Khadija’s story was the complete absence of the military from it. Indeed, soldiers stationed nearby had run away when they heard JAS fighters were approaching, leaving the civilians in the area to fend for themselves. Such failure to protect communities from violence is one of three major ways that military action or inaction has led to civilian harm. The others are failure to prevent collateral damage during military operations, thereby causing direct and indirect harm, and direct targeting of civilians, with unlawful detention, harassment, the destruction of property, sexual violence against women and girls, indiscriminate targeting of certain groups, such as young men, torture and excessive use of force.

Changing these dynamics requires fundamental shifts in mindsets, policies, training and the conduct of operations. There have been important and welcome steps in this direction. President Buhari committed to taking action on human rights violations by the military at his inauguration in May 2015, and the army has created a human rights desk to investigate alleged abuses. Although not always publicised, there have been investigations, court martials and punishments as a result. Nigeria has revised its rules of engagement and code of conduct to reflect international humanitarian and human rights standards, and a protocol is being drafted on handing over children encountered during operations to civilian child protection actors. In October 2016, the Chief of Defence Staff committed to drafting and implementing a civilian protection policy.

The Nigerian government has taken these steps in part in response to international pressure to improve the military’s record on human rights, including the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the situation in north-east Nigeria, as well as media coverage of particular incidents of civilian harm. Beyond this, however, there is increasing realisation among political and military decision-makers that a sole focus on ‘defeating the enemy’ is not enough to win this particular war: it also means winning the support of civilians. In some locations, we have seen changes in the way the military is engaging, with civilians telling us that ‘soldiers are not like they were before’. This is far from uniform across the region, but it does provide an entry point for building commitment to civilian protection and providing concrete tools to operationalise it.

CIVIC in Nigeria

CIVIC aims to improve protection for civilians caught in conflict, advising international organisations, governments, militaries and armed non-state actors on adopting and implementing policies to prevent civilian harm. We have been working in Nigeria since 2015 to improve protection for civilians caught in conflict, engaging with government, the military, civil society and communities themselves. We conduct workshops and training sessions on topics including civilian protection, children in conflict, tracking civilian harm, making amends and sexual exploitation and abuse. We have also been asked to help develop a curriculum and content for military schools and colleges to ensure that civilian protection is integrated into the training soldiers and officers receive. Workshops with civilians explore ways they can protect themselves, encouraging them to learn from previous experiences of attacks to plan and strategise. Finally, we bring civilians and security personnel together to discuss local security threats and plan ways forward, including, crucially, honest discussion about soldiers’ behaviour.

In Borno State in the north-east we have been engaging with security personnel and civilian communities in the state capital Maiduguri, as well as in local government headquarters in locations such as Dikwa. These workshops have gleaned the following lessons.

  1. Military personnel are keen to improve how they approach civilian protection, but often do not know what it means. They welcome engagement and, if they see CIVIC facilitators as open and non-judgemental, are honest and reflective in raising the difficulties they come across in their operations. For example, one question asked in every workshop is what to do when coming across children associated with armed conflict.
  2. Finding ways to build empathy with civilians is key to shifting attitudes and behaviour. Some military personnel can have low levels of understanding of the power dynamics between themselves and civilians and of basic human rights, resulting in defensive attitudes, particularly around the use of force in crowd control and sexual exploitation and abuse. CIVIC’s first substantive exercise focuses on building empathy, drawing on and adapting the ‘In Her Shoes’ methodology. Workshop participants reflect on a range of issues, including the reasons why civilians choose to stay in their homes rather than flee, the lack of options they have to escape violence and find help, the different forms of harm suffered by women and men and by able-bodied and disabled people and the impact of sexual exploitation and abuse.
  3. It is important to consider power dynamics within the military. Military personnel are more likely to take civilian protection seriously if they see commitment by commanding officers. However, this needs to be balanced by the need for honest conversation and reflection in more discursive sessions. Military hierarchy is particularly strong in Nigeria, and junior officers will often not speak in front of senior officers. As a result, while we ask commanding officers to be present during the start and end of workshops, they are not there during exercises and discussion.
  4. Sustained effort is needed to ensure women’s voice and participation in engagement with security forces, particularly given low levels of female representation among security, particularly military, personnel. We proactively seek to include female security personnel in our work, and ask field commanders to include all the women from their unit or brigade in activities. We also bring civilians together to articulate a common platform of issues they wish to bring to security forces. Although these are mixed sessions, women make up between 60% and 75% of participants. CIVIC has found that women are more likely to discuss what is actually happening than their male counterparts, as men are more likely to be careful of what they say and can find it difficult to be critical of security agencies. One significant gap concerns the participation of people with disabilities, and CIVIC is considering holding separate sessions for women and men with disabilities to address this.
  5. For dialogues between civilians and security forces to be meaningful, it is useful to:
  • engage intensively with security forces and civilians separately beforehand, building on modules and role-plays on community engagement;
  • bring civilians together with military personnel who are most likely to interact with civilians i.e. those at more junior ranks, rather than leaders;
  • keep speeches to a minimum and break into small groups almost immediately to build personal relations and empathy. Participants are asked to introduce themselves and their life histories
    before talking about their protection and security concerns. Groups debrief in plenary, a list of issues is developed and participants come up with suggestions for action to address them. These suggestions are then taken to a debriefing discussion with the field commander;
  • ensure that civilians are in a majority in small groups so they are more likely to be prepared to speak, and have a 3:1 ratio between women and men;
  • give groups as much time as they need for discussion, being flexible with timings if necessary;
  • combine military personnel of different ranks during group exercises as junior soldiers may panic when confronted with civilians and their stories, may be unsure how to respond and may do so defensively. Having mixed ranks not only ensures more meaningful engagement but also has an important demonstration effect as junior soldiers learn from senior counterparts how to respond to civilians and their concerns;
  • involve members of civil society if possible, so that they can follow up with security agencies afterwards; and
  • facilitate the closing session carefully to ensure that the conversation is forward thinking and conducted in a way that minimises the risk of military personnel responding defensively.

6. Long tours of duty affect concentration, interest and morale. Some military personnel have spent between three and five years in the theatre, and admit that this amount of time away from their families can make them act more harshly towards civilians. CIVIC has also noticed reduced interest in civilian protection among this cohort than among soldiers who have spent less time in the theatre. The precise links between tours of duty, trauma and ability and interest in protecting civilians in north-eastern Nigeria are unknown, and represent an important area for future research.

Progress – but much more yet to do

Although we have seen some positive progress during our time in the north-east, there is a long way yet to go. To be meaningful, commitments and policies on paper need to be translated into action. Unfortunately, civilians are continuing to be harmed in at least five main ways. First, there is a lack of clarity around how to translate the distinction between combatants and civilians into practice. This is not surprising given the challenges of this particular type of conflict, but the idea, widespread among many military personnel, that all people in a particular area are ‘on the other side’ has grave consequences when it comes to levels of civilian harm. As one senior military official told us: ‘When we can’t see the enemy, civilians become the enemy’. Second, the use of schools and hospitals by the military, sometimes with the military on one side of the compound and civilians on the other, is of concern. Not only is this in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, but it also means that services for civilians are reduced, and they can become targets.

Third, restrictions on the movement of food and goods, designed to deprive the enemy of essential supplies, exacerbate civilian harm. Fourth, widespread sexual exploitation and abuse continues. Although this is expressly prohibited under Nigerian law, institutional culture is uneven. While some commanders take a zero-tolerance attitude and initiate investigations into allegations, others have made excuses, pointing to time away from wives and girlfriends and that soldiers do not physically force the women and girls concerned. Fifth, mistrust and suspicion between the military and civilians persist. For civilians, actions that damage trust include harassment and abuse, restrictions on economic activity that seriously damage livelihoods, perceptions of collusion between armed opposition groups and some members of the military and soldiers engaging in businesses such as cattle rearing and trading. Many civilians believe that soldiers have little interest in the conflict ending due to the money they are making from it.

The picture is one of uneven progress, and many people like Khadija continue to suffer harm in north-eastern Nigeria. Changes are needed at five levels: in concepts, policies, operations, training and accountability. Conceptually, the military needs to ensure the protection of civilians, and not assume that the elimination of non-state armed opposition groups equals effective security or even victory. In terms of policy, Nigeria needs to develop an overarching, government wide policy or Executive Order on civilian harm mitigation that is validated by and applicable to all ministries, agencies and departments involved in the delivery of security. When it comes to operations, the tactical directives issued to commanders must emphasise the protection of civilians in all operations, and all operational orders must have an annex detailing specific guidance on protection of civilians, whether issued by the armed forces or security agencies. Military and security agencies also need to establish focused, iterative and graduated training models on protection of civilians for operational headquarters, units and commanding officers in selected training schools, throughout the professional military education system and when it comes to unit training at the operational level. The final step is the implementation and enforcement of a system to hold senior leaders accountable for failures to protect civilians, as well as to address allegations of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, by military personnel. Although institutional change can take decades, the initial steps the Nigerian military has made can be cemented into a solid foundation for civilian protection and built upon with immediate effect by taking action at these five levels.

Last week, I took part in a discussion at the Overseas Development Institute about topics raised in the issue. You can watch the panel discussion and Q&A sessions in the videos below.

why strategy in Northeastern Nigeria needs to shift from the state to the people

Written for and published by Ventures Africa back in early December. Since then, the government has declared mission accomplished up in the NE. Hmmm….

We have under a month left before peace and security reign in the North East of Nigeria. Or so President Muhammadu Buhari would have us believe. Since assuming office, the President has repeatedly pledged to defeat Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati wal Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, by December. Although this deadline is quickly approaching, and the Chief of Defence Staff recently confirmed Operation Lafiya Dole is on course to meet this target, it doesn’t appear that it’s time to start the countdown just yet.

During his inauguration announcement, Buhari started to outline his strategy for defeating JAS by stating plans to move the Command Centre to Maiduguri. He later appointed service chiefs with knowledge of the region, increased troop presence and intensified army action. While Buhari’s actions show his commitment to ending the violence and this increased focus and political will is welcome, saying the conflict may be over by the end of December seems wildly optimistic at best.

Many people view these pronouncements with profound skepticism. Timelines for military victory are notoriously difficult to predict. Setting a firm deadline and focusing strategy on military action also shows poor understanding of the nature of the conflict. We are no longer fighting wars where states fight to control territory, but rather battles where opposing forces struggle to gain people’s allegiances to their side. This means a step change in thinking is needed to bring about sustainable peace and security to the region. Fundamentally, the administration needs to make people believe it cares about them and puts their interest first. Moving military strategy from merely fighting JAS to a holistic people-centred approach is not just better for the individuals and communities, but is crucial for operational effectiveness and mission success.

Indeed, given the average insurgency of this sort typically lasts around fifteen years, it proves imperative not to make grandiose claims highly likely to fail. These statements will be seen as the PR tricks they are. Nigeria needs to learn from its own experiences as well as those of other countries if the people of the North East, and those elsewhere in the country who have experienced violence, are to stop suffering. The government must tackle the frustration at inequality, corruption and human rights abuses that drive recruitment into JAS, rather than aiming solely to kill JAS fighters.

The peoples of the North East have suffered greatly over the past few years. In 2014, Nigeria recorded the second highest number of deaths related to terrorism worldwide after Iraq, with 7,512 people killed and JAS noted as the group associated with the most fatalities globally. Although not all of these people killed lived in the North East, the region has seen some of the most intense violence in Nigerian history. An estimated 15,000 civilians have been killed in the region in total. JAS abducted at least 2,000 women and girls between the start of 2014 and April 2015. Boys too have been abducted, forced to join the group and killed in their beds, as in Buni Yadi in February 2014. Over 2.2 million people have been displaced from their homes. With increasing numbers of people fleeing violence and a lack of systematic support, there is a heightening emergency, with concerns around how people will have enough to eat. In recent weeks we have seen attacks on mosques during prayer time and a potential escalation in bomb blasts detonated by female and male suicide bombers against a background of intensifying military action.

Unfortunately, even though most people believe JAS is the one that has perpetrated the majority of harm to them and their families, they also feel the impact of security force action. There is mutual distrust between security agencies and communities. Agencies tend to assume all civilians are potential JAS members and act accordingly. Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) spoke to civilians in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe and Yobe. Their recent report found security forces have failed to protect vulnerable communities from violence and failed to prevent collateral damage during counter JAS operations.

Security forces have directly targeted civilians with unlawful detention, harassment, destruction of property, sexual violence, indiscriminate targeting of certain groups such as young men, torture, and excessive use of force causing injury and death. The CIVIC report is the latest in many reports to show how security forces have unlawfully killed, arrested suspects without cause and held people in detention without safeguards against murder, torture and ill-treatment. For example, more than 7,000 people, mainly men and boys, died in military detention between March 2011 and June 2015.

Although overlooked and under-reported, there are also reports that security forces are engaging in sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and violence of women and girls. Friends in Maiduguri tell me of soldiers ‘misusing our girls’ with women and girl hawkers in particular at risk. For example, in their report, CIVIC published the account of a student who saw a military official raping a young female hawker.

In addition to these abuses, slow response also encourages mistrust between security agencies and communities. Both civilians and security officials believe security agencies are deployed only to defeat JAS, not to protect civilians. The military has either done nothing or been slow to act when communities have raised the alarm about potential attacks or asked for assistance in their aftermath.

What happened around the abductions from Chibok in April 2014 is symptomatic of this. People in other communities have also detailed potential targets, such as unprotected schools, abandoned checkpoints and unresponsive security forces when needed. Communities are suspicious this delay is due to JAS fighters’ infiltration of security forces. There are also rumours that politicians and senior military officials are financing JAS.

These dynamics risk alienating the population, meaning people are unlikely to either come to officials with security concerns or help military actions. This leads to further danger of radicalising the population. If communities feel victimised by security forces, they are likely to obstruct operations or even to support JAS.

It is important to retool military strategy to gain the trust and support of communities enduring the most of the violence. People in the North East are the primary victims and survivors of JAS attacks, Nigerian military abuses and the actions of forces of neighbouring states. People feel violence by JAS has intensified due to security forces’ aggressive campaign, which has not only failed to protect civilians but also caused significant direct and indirect harm.

The government may succeed in reclaiming all territory by the end of December. But this is not the same as ‘defeating’ JAS. The group has shown it is capable of morphing to adapt to changing dynamics. After Mohammed Yusuf was killed, the sect dispersed. The military thought that killing its leader was enough to deal with the threat. In 2013, nobody would have believed JAS would attempt to hold territory and succeed. The consensus was that there would never be suicide attacks in the country: people thought Nigerians love life too much. Sadly, developments over the years show how false these assumptions were.

Without addressing the root causes of why JAS exists and what is driving recruitment into the sect, it is likely that, come January 2016, JAS will merely mutate into something new. For example, we may see an uptick in bomb blasts and suicide attacks. Unfortunately, we seem to have become inured to bombs going off in Abuja, Adamawa, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Yobe – but attacks may start taking place outside the ‘usual’ areas. Alternatively, JAS may pursue a strategy of infiltrating government, business and civic life, as Al Shabab have done in Somalia.

In thinking through how to deal with the situation, we would do well to remember why JAS was so popular in the first place. A protest movement against corruption perceived by followers as resisting inequities and injustices of ‘Western’ governance, its call for a return to a ‘purer’ way that Islam was seen to offer, had support from many in the general population. This is the reason why so many people in Borno have at least one family member who is or was a member. Furthermore, President Buhari himself in his inaugural address noted the extra-judicial murder of Mohammed Yusuf by the security forces was influential in its rise.

The history of the armed forces in Nigeria has been one of protecting the state not the people. Sixteen years after the transition to democracy, this needs to change. The focus should now be on human security not state security. This means ensuring security forces act above reproach, follow human rights and humanitarian principles in all operations and address frustrations at inequality and corruption as well as trying to gain military victory. As the military steps up, it is important to remember what, or rather who, it is fighting for and keep its eyes on the prize. After all, success means not just winning the hearts and minds of the population but safeguarding their very lives and well-being as well.


women, disability and conflict – why we should say and do more

The number of documents I have read on the experiences of women and girls with disabilities during times of conflict and violence in all my years of peacebuilding do not take even two hands to count. And I have gone looking for them. This lack of evidence is one of the main reasons why I am so happy to have been involved in the study What Violence Means to Us: Women With Disabilities Speak. Led by women with disabilities themselves, this research examines the situation for women in Plateau, one of Nigeria’s most conflict affected states.

Grace Jerry (one of the report’s co-authors) and I discuss research findings in this recording.

We also wrote conflict deepens dangers and worsens exclusion for women with disabilities for The Guardian:

Conflict can be both a cause of disability and a devastating complication for those already living with disabilities. Although all disabled people are affected, women face intersecting discrimination because of their gender and disability.

There is little research on the experiences of women and girls living with disability in conflict. To fill this gap, Inclusive Friends, a disability rights organisation, and the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme studied the implications of violence for women and girls living with disability in Plateau state, where there has been sporadic violence along ethno-religious lines and between farmers and pastoralists for the past 15 years.

Women with disabilities led and participated in the research, which found that women’s experiences during conflict were an extension of the difficulties they lived with during peace time.

Daily life for those with disabilities in Plateau, and elsewhere in Nigeria, is bleak. Families rarely send disabled children to school and many keep them indoors to protect them or to hide them. Women said healthcare is often inaccessible – physically, financially and because staff have little knowledge of how to manage care for patients with disabilities. Workplaces are also inaccessible: many employers presume that disabled women have poor intellectual skills, and customers may be reluctant to buy goods from them.

Violent conflict exacerbates this reality. Women with disabilities find it difficult to flee violence and are often left behind. The study found that in one village in Riyom, members of the community locked all those who were elderly or had disabilities in a room before an attack; but the room was set on fire when the attackers came.

People with hearing impairments might not hear warnings, gunshots and sounds of others running away, and so remain behind, in danger. People with visual impairments might not know what is happening, exactly where they are, or how to escape. We heard of visually impaired women who were deliberately left in unsafe areas. We also heard of women who mistakenly ran towards the attackers and were raped and killed.

The family of Godiya* left her behind when violence broke out. Unable to walk, she tried to crawl along the ground to escape. But then she fell into a river and almost drowned before someone walking by rescued her. She told us she still wonders what would have happened to her had the passer-by not come to her aid.

Even when they are able to escape, women with disabilities might have to leave behind mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, medicine and hearing aids. This can lead to long-term health consequences and restrict their independence. If their caregivers have left the area, the women may become completely dependent on others.

Camps for internally displaced people (IDP) are often difficult to navigate for those with mobility problems or other disabilities. We have heard of men forcing disabled women and girls to have sex with them in exchange for “help” getting food and water. In the Jos North district, 15 out of 35 women with disabilities spoke of violations in IDP camps.

During peace and conflict, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience gender-based violence but are less likely to be able to escape, speak up, to be believed, or to access services. Globally, women with disabilities aretwice as likely to experience domestic violence and up to three times more likely to be raped by a stranger or acquaintance.

Because women with disabilities rely on those in power, the risks of sexual violence and abuse are greater. When asked to identify perpetrators of violence, most of the women we interviewed named caregivers and family members – followed by security agents. We heard of female students experiencing violence from those charged with helping them. In one case, a student who was supposed to be helping a visually impaired woman to transcribe her notes raped her. She became pregnant and had to drop out of university.

When Uhuam* went into labour, her family were shocked and confused, as she had been confined to a room in the family home. They later found out that a male neighbour had sneaked in when no one was around and raped her. During our research, we heard from girls with mental and intellectual disabilities whose parents had injected them with contraceptive implants in case men raped them.

Godiya and Uhuam were among many women who felt that no one was helping them. They said they were not included in existing projects, and definitely did not benefit from programmes designed for them. Most said they received no assistance from community leaders or social services. When we spoke to people working in civil society, almost four-fifths said their organisations had no programmes to mitigate violence against women with disabilities.

The main reason decision-makers do not take these realities and needs into account is because women with disabilities are not involved in policymaking. Although there is increasing recognition of the need to put women at the centre of peace and security efforts, women and girls with disabilities are rarely included explicitly.

This general exclusion leads to further marginalisation, and undermines any hope of maximising their unique perspectives, skills and talents. Worldwide, people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, making up 15% of the global population, or one billion people. Three-quarters of people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries are women.

As development, security, peacebuilding and women’s rights activists, professionals and officials, we need to start thinking about women with disabilities when designing and implementing laws, policies and interventions. Our work has to protect, empower and include them. If we do not, we are failing.

The report is available to read here.

bombs ready to explode? unearthing the relationship between Africa’s youth, unemployment and violence

At the top of my list of lazy assumptions people make about peace and security that I hate (should really create that list one day) is that violence is caused by high numbers of ‘idle youth.’ I wrote this for Ventures Africa examining the extent to which it is true.

A hungry man is an angry man.’

This phrase is often used to connect youth unemployment, poverty and violence. A dire warning, it is meant to act as a call to action. But, is there any evidence to prove this link exists?

Half the current population of Sub-Saharan Africa is under 25 years old. In Somalia, 62.9 percent of the population is under 24. The median age in Nigeria is 14.

A country with more people of working age can be good for the economy and development. However, rather than viewing these demographic changes as positive, there seems to be an unyielding anxiety of what this ‘youth bulge’ could mean in terms of peace and security.

After all, high economic growth, seen in many African countries, has not led to job creation. This is true in Nigeria where the last decade has seen both economic growth of 7 percent and double the rate of unemployment. At the same time, modernity and globalization have increased the gap between the hopes of young people and their realities. Once you see how others are living, you tend to be less satisfied with your own lot in life. Adding to this, state and non-state institutions have weakened and are struggling to cope. These changes are taking place against a backdrop of increased insecurity and violence, with young people at the center of these conflicts.

The combination of these factors has led to oversimplified assumptions about the relationship between increased youth populations, high unemployment and violence.

“People say that young unemployed people cause armed conflict,” said Kimairis Toogood of International Alert, a peace building organisation. ‘They say this without any nuance, without looking at the different factors contributing to youth frustration and grievances and without any evidence backing this up.”

‘Youth’ have become a threat and a source of worry. ‘Idle youth’ are seen as ticking time bombs, ready to be activated at any moment. They form a ‘ready pool of recruits’ for armed movements and criminality alike. They are a problem waiting to happen. This narrative has led to panic, with politicians scrambling to come up with solutions (or at least claiming to do so).

It is understandable why people think this way. After all, we have seen many violent groups and gangs across the continent made up largely of young people. With only an estimated 16 percent of young people across Sub-Saharan Africa employed in waged jobs in the formal sector, unemployment seems a likely cause of why they join these groups. As Ms. Toogood said, “They cite any civil war and say ‘see all those young boys with guns? They were probably unemployed.’ And then it’s done. People don’t want to take the time to ask nuanced questions. People are generally too lazy to do that.”

Indeed, this way of thinking has a fundamental flaw. Study after study says there is no evidence to support this assumed correlation. A review of research on the topic found no evidence on the effect of creating jobs on stability for countries with a history of violence. For example, support for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (commonly referred to as the Taliban) did not decrease in Afghanistan once young people found jobs. In Somalia too, young people getting jobs did not lead to decreased support for armed groups.

It seems that, although unemployment can cause frustration and marginalisation, it is not the only reason young people join violent groups. Indeed, research finds young people take up the gun not because they are poor, but because they are angry. It is these experiences of injustice that drive involvement in political violence, not poverty. These dynamics are heightened by failures of the state.

“We need to acknowledge the heterogeneity of youth,” said Ms. Toogood. She noted that grievances which, lead to youth involvement in conflict are diverse and linked to many socio-economic and political factors. “It is more about systemic, structural inequalities that are institutionalized. These trump whether a young person is employed or not,” she said.

Grace Jerry, Executive Director of Inclusive Friends, a disability rights organisation in Plateau, agreed. She talked to me about the realities for young people with disabilities. “When people are marginalised for too long, they become perpetrators of violence. They want to just break free. They want to do something. They want to prove a point,” she said.

Indeed, while young people can accept unemployment- corruption, discrimination, feeling cheated or humiliated and abuse by security agencies leads to them feeling angry. Given the wide gap between the rich and the poor, young people see the differences between their lives and those of the elite, rich or connected. While others attend good schools and are provided jobs, they struggle to survive, are cheated by employers and harassed by the state.

Indeed being automatically judged as potential threats can heighten feelings of frustration and alienation. As Ms. Toogood said, “It makes them constantly perceived as ‘perpetrators’ by the system and those in power and also the victim at the same time.”

After all, most young people do work. They cannot afford not to. They need to feed themselves and their families. However, working in farming or the informal sector, they are not necessarily engaged in what people view as ‘jobs.’ Despite the money they earn and the hours they work, they themselves say they are ‘unemployed.’

David drives a taxi when he does not ‘have work’ in the hotel service industry in which he gets temporary work. Although he earns money when he drives, he does not consider this as real work. He sees this rather as a short term measure for economic survival. He talked about how this kind of work is looked down upon by family and friends.

As a result of this kind of thinking, young people spend years ‘technically’ unemployed without achieving recognition or status despite substantial contribution to their families and communities.

This gap between aspiration and reality is heightened by the barriers and challenges they face while engaged in these precarious jobs.

For example, despite the employment okada riding creates – revenues for government, income for those engaged in repairs and cheaper cost of trading – okada riders are often viewed as irresponsible, (potential) criminals, earning money only to buy alcohol and drugs. In both Ghana and Nigeria, research found no evidence for the link between okada riding and criminality. However, many places have banned okadas, especially in cities, tarring all riders with the brush of a small minority. Not only has this destroyed the livelihoods of millions of young people and their families across Africa but it has added to the transport costs of those now struggling to afford alternative forms of transportation.

Street traders and hawkers too have been instrumental to economic growth, particularly that of cities across the continent. In recent times, more young people have joined the older women who make up the majority of traders. However, they too complain of challenges: evictions, ongoing harassment, abuse of authority and extortion. According to David, “you need to know how to avoid the police but sometimes, you just cannot escape and get caught.”

By seeing young people as threats, we fail to see these realities.

The youth necessitates violence narrative also means that ‘youth’ becomes shorthand for ‘young able-bodied men’. All the programmes and politicians focusing on trying to create jobs for them often ignore the marginalisation and disenfranchisement young women and young people with disabilities experience.

After all, frustration with inequality and difficulties providing for families are reasons young women as well as young men join armed groups. In recent months, women’s involvement in Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati Wal Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, has hit the headlines due to the number of women carrying out suicide attacks. This is just one example of the ways in which women play direct and indirect roles in all conflicts, from taking part in the violence themselves to encouraging others to do so.

Ms. Jerry talked of the anger that builds up when a young person with disability sees others getting opportunities that are blocked to them because of their disability. They notice others looking at their disability first rather than their skills or expertise and what they can contribute. “A youth in that situation will become angry. And when they get angry, they become violent. In some situations, you can’t blame them. They have been marginalised. They have been left out for way too long,” she explained.

She told me of an incident where community members were shocked that a person with a disability was among those who committed violence. “When he was asked why he did that, he said he wanted to prove a point. ‘They think I can’t kill. They think I can’t carry a gun? Well, let me prove to them.’ He had been marginalised for too long and he needed to do something” she said.

People also often fail to see the realities of young men in context. In many contexts, being ‘a man’ means providing for families, being married and generous with the community. Achieving these signs is often hard, particularly in contexts of corruption, inequality and marginalisation. Although these routes to manhood may be blocked, the pressures on young men do not decrease. Many young men are trapped in places where they are no longer ‘children’ but they are not ‘adults’ either. Violence may be seen as a source of addressing this frustration to gain respect and be seen as ‘a man.’

An un-interrogated narrative ignores these structural factors. It also shifts responsibility from the powerful and influential in society, including governments, and displaces it to the vulnerable. After all, it is older, richer men that send the young and poor to die in their battles for power and supremacy. Young people may be the majority in many countries but are on the fringes of society. They are low in societal hierarchies compared to their elders – but they see these same people who they are expected to respect taking opportunities meant for them for their own ends.

James is studying part time while he works so he can support his family now and provide better in the future. His wife has just given birth to their second child. “It’s not the youth, it’s the rich men,” he said. “Look at my community. For the last year, people have not been living there because of the conflict. The politicians sponsor the fighting because they want control over the oil that is there.”

The panic around ‘idle youth’ blames young people for violence rather than seeing the needs and interests invested in their mobilization. It also ignores the reality that not all young people are violent. Many of them work for peace and the development of their communities.

Mariya collects food and clothing from people in her community to distribute to those who have been internally displaced due to violence. She has been doing this for the last two years. She said, “They live in our community. I have to do whatever I can to help them.” She also solves disputes, acting as an informal mediator, and reaches out to girls who have experienced violence.

Chukwuma has just started a computing center in his town. It is a place where people can come to surf the internet or learn how to use a computer. He runs classes free of cost for children, making a particular effort to reach out to those from poorer families. He tells me about his excitement in doing this work, knowing the potential of computing skills to create opportunities for young people in today’s technological world.

Mariya and Chukwuma are working for the wellbeing of their communities. They help people learn and live in peace. People seldom think of those like them – or like David and James – when they think of youth.

Trying to prevent violence by focusing on youth unemployment treats the symptom not the cause. It stigmatises and scapegoats young people, further adding to their marginalisation. Evidently, even employing all youth would not necessarily curtail violence if fundamental issues of inequality and injustice remain unaddressed.

Preventing young people from choosing violence requires addressing difficult issues. These include improving security, creating meaningful educational and employment opportunities, rooting out corruption and tackling prejudice. Taking action on these areas is much more difficult than simply creating jobs, but it is also much more effective.

After all, an angry man (or woman) may be more likely to be involved in violence – but it’s not hunger alone that makes people angry.