On April 14 approximately 276 girls were abducted from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria, by the militant group Boko Haram. The international attention and social media activism that have followed since have all been indicators of universal outrage. But most importantly they have underscored the instability which has crippled Nigeria in recent years.

With a $6 billion national annual budget for security forces, Nigeria’s recent mass kidnapping might seem surprising, but it is indicative of a broader spectrum of disarray. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa and its leading economy, laying claim to the 26th largest economy in the world. However, its citizens are often bound by dire living constraints.

In Nigeria’s Borno state, home to capital city Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the per capita income is $1,631 compared to $4,000 in political capital Abuja. It is evident that poverty has planted the seeds for violent extremism. Since 2009 Boko Haram, in their quest to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, has been implicated in the deaths of over 12,000 Nigerian citizens. In 2013 they were officially declared a terrorist group by the United States government.

Despite Nigeria’s trouble with internal uprisings, it has become clear that its government has been troubled by its own internal issues. Recent Nigerian media reports have revealed that 10 generals and five other senior officers have been court martialed and found guilty of supplying info and ammunition to Boko Haram. This level of extremist sympathizing, while detestable, is not altogether shocking given Nigeria’s current state of affairs.

Corruption on the level of high-ranking government officials has long been linked to poverty throughout Africa. Nigeria has been operating at annual levels of around seven percent economic growth over the past few years but its correlation between national economic growth and increasing living standards has become tenuous at best.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has framed his country’s growing poverty problems as a problem of wealth distribution. Considering the highly concentrated nature of wealth and political capital amongst the country’s oil barons, this assessment is worth considering. With oil reserves of upwards of 37 billion barrels, only second to Libya in all of Africa, Nigeria is surely not pressed for revenue generating natural resources. However, its influx of oil revenue has not made it a wealthy state.

By 2030 Nigeria’s population size is expected to increase from its 2010 level by upwards of 60 percent, making it the world’s eventual fifth largest population. There are currently over 160 million people living in Nigeria, 42.8 percent of whom are age 14 or younger. However, of the school age children who actually begin formal education, only two-thirds complete primary school. Like the rest of the world, lack of education coupled with the presence of poverty makes for a corrosive pair. It will surely take increasing levels of stability and government accountability to fend the two off.

On June 9, 20 more girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in the northeastern town of Garkin Fulani, Nigeria. The abductions took place only a few miles from where the 200-plus girls were kidnapped in Chibok in mid-April. This most recent example of Nigeria’s internal security woes comes after President Goodluck vowed to protect this vulnerable and embattled area of Nigeria. Instead, another instance of atrocity has once again marred a Nigerian community still reeling from the effects of the past five years.

 — Taylor Dow

Sources: CNN, BBC, Global Public Square, Tribune, Business Day
Photo: The Indian Express

Reconciliation in South Sudan
In December 2013, the newest country in the world broke into a violent power struggle of massive proportions. The conflict, instigated within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM,) has already killed and displaced a multitude of innocent civilians, primarily from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups. Efforts at making peace between the groups have so far failed and are in dire need of reconstruction.

While the official death toll in South Sudan stands at around 500 people, some aid workers have assessed the figure to be much higher, with possibly thousands or tens of thousands dead. Families seek sanctuary in United Nations bases guarded by peacekeepers, yet protection such as this is not enough. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) has provided in this manner for the relative safety of around 65,000 civilians while the war rages on outside and few further efforts are made by the international community.

When the violence began December 15, the United Nations Security Council promised a near doubling of troops and police officers in the region within 48 hours of the conflict. One month later, South Sudan remains in wait. The physical protection of civilians, though necessary, will lead virtually nowhere if political resolution methods are not properly addressed by those with the appropriate capacity to do so.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD,) currently in charge of peace talks, lacks the essentials to bringing about peace. With Uganda, a leading IGAD member, already taking a stake in the issue, the mediation process fails to maintain impartiality crucial to the peacemaking process. As such, Ahmed Hussain Adam of Al Jazeera suggests a structural renovation to the present mediation.

His proposal for countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway to become involved in resolving the conflict ultimately brings together nations that helped form South Sudan in 2011 in order to assist the conflicting parties in reaching a lasting peace.

Developing and sustaining a nation is undoubtedly a daunting task. By focusing on the founding agenda and ideals of South Sudan, however, perhaps the warring parties can eventually interact in an inclusive environment and discuss the conflict’s primary causes. The world’s newest nation is in trouble, but its future is not yet doomed. With the cooperation of the right politically, economically and diplomatically leveraged countries, there is hope for an imminent political solution.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, New York Times
UN News Centre

A tragic return to form for South Sudan as a rebellion has sparked in the Capital of Juba, a sad reality after the nation won its independence from Sudan through a 2011 referendum. War and violence has retaken the newly formed nation, as ethnic and political divides have created a dire situation for the nation’s stability.

On December 15, 2013, political infighting began between elites in the government over executive and legislative power. Riek Machar, the former Vice President, was dismissed by President Salva Kiir, igniting sectarian violence.

The President and Vice President were from different ethnic groups, and the political nightmare has put a match to the inevitable break up of civil order.

Ethnic divides, once united under the common goal of gaining control of South Sudan from the Muslim-dominated northern Sudan, has become more visible. South Sudan’s two decade-long battle for autonomy from the north was a common cause for the mostly Christian and Animist southern peoples. The civil war, which ended in 2005, began in 1983 and left the once-united Sudan a contentious war zone. A 2011 referendum backed by the United States helped form the nation.

In any new nation, the political establishment is relatively incapable of dealing with ingrained ethnic power structures. Citizens hold allegiance to their respective ethnic groups, not an executive power, regardless if it is a democratically elected government.

Kiir is from the largest ethnic group in South Sudan, the Dinkas, whereas Machar was from the second-most populous ethnic group, Neuer. Both groups wanted to maintain hegemony over the newly formed nation, and the tense political alignment between these two leaders was overwhelmed by rivalry rather than co-operation.

The dismissal of Vice President Machar was responded with immediate violence in Juba. He was accused of attempting an overthrow, with the military splitting along ethnic lines.

When allegations were made, Kiir feared an eventual overthrow by Machar and allocated much of his resources to retain control of the nation. Power sharing was the only logistical way the nation could have progressed past years of war with its northern neighbor, Sudan. The necessity of powerful figures in each ethnic group to maintain peaceful discourse among their fellow leaders prevents events such as the oncoming civil war in South Sudan.

The notion of fear and distrust among political elites in the nation drives the civil war, which has already led to the deaths of many citizens. Refugees fleeing the nation have met with harsh conditions. 200 South Sudanese refugees perished in the White Nile while fleeing the violence. This is a hard price to pay for a nation whose future seem bright after finally gaining independence, coupled with its vast natural resources that includes oil, a valuable commodity.

The civil unrest poses considerable problems for the new nation, whose infrastructure was badly damaged by a two-decade war with its northern neighbor. Unless their leaders can find a common consensus about how to share power, the nation may never find long-lasting peace.

Joseph Abay

Sources: New York Times, News Week, BBC, VOA News, Reuters, Sudan Tribune, Washington Post, Washington Post
Photo: DW

In April 2009, Captain Richard Phillips was kidnapped from his cargo boat by Somali pirates who demanded $2 million for his release. The pirates held Captain Phillips for five days in a small lifeboat, before Navy SEALs stepped in to save the captain, killing three pirates in the process. Tom Hanks immortalized the hardship of the event in a movie entitled Captain Phillips, released October 11.

The film’s director, Paul Greengrass, attempted to depict the pirate captain, Muse, as a dynamic character and to show the viewers the reasons for his actions. Greengrass expands Muse as a character by including the events that lead him to kidnap Captain Phillips in the first place. Not surprisingly, they involve real threats to both Muse and his family. The kidnapping could also lead to something Muse’s poverty-stricken family desperately needed: money.

For about 15 years, Somalia has lacked a stable government. The country has been fighting a civil war, and their resources continue to dwindle. The Somalian economy depends heavily on agriculture and livestock, both ways of living which require significant amounts of land. But without a stable government to provide trusted contracts of land ownership, making an honest living in Somalia is difficult. Furthermore, crops are sensitive to changes in weather and livestock to unchecked disease. Due to these and other factors, at least 43 percent of the Somalian population lives below the poverty line.

The kidnapping of Captain Phillips shows that poverty can push people to crime in order to support themselves and their family. While not all criminals are influenced by poverty, if the U.S. works hard to help those countries most in need then the incidences of crime threatening national security will decrease. As Captain Phillips shows, the U.S. can help increase its national security by investing in international poverty alleviating programs.

– Alessandra Wike

Sources: Foreign Policy, Hollywood Reporter, New York Times

The Connection Between Political Instability and Food PricesThe New England Complex Systems Institute has released a study on the relationship between political instability and food prices in the Middle East. The paper, titled The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East, examines contributing factors to social unrest and finds that violent protests have coincided with high food prices since 2008.

The problem of food riots, which are closely related to hunger, poverty, and high food prices, is nothing new. The French Revolution was due, in part, to the hungry protesting high food prices. In today’s global economy, where countries regularly import and export large quantities of food, even regional riots and resulting political instability hold vast implications for the entire world.

NECSI examines the relationship between political instability and food prices by using mathematical modeling to describe changes in food prices, then interpreting those models to determine the threshold at which riots become likely. Authors of the study predicted that high prices for US-grown corn and wheat in 2010 would cause unrest elsewhere. Their prediction came true with the events of the Arab Spring that began at the end of 2010.

Can socially disruptive riots and protests be accurately predicted? The NECSI study says yes: that when the FAO Food Price Index rises above 210, riots become significantly more likely.

The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) is an independent research and education institution that studies the development of complex social, biological, and ecological systems. NECSI applies evidence-based science to real-world social problems such as poverty and climate change.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: NECSI, NPR
Photo: DW