Assessing Crisis Group’s Report on the Boko Haram Insurgency

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Boko Haram militants during a recent attack at an army detention facility in Maiduguri. Photo credit: BBC

The International Crisis Group recently published a report on the Boko Haram insurgency titled ‘Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency (full report available HERE)’. It chronicles the insurgency in a detailed and historical manner and recommends measures for addressing it, to various stakeholders.

The main findings are summarised in the opening paragraph of the Executive Summary:

 

“Boko Haram’s four-year-old insurgency has pitted neighbour against neighbour, cost more than 4,000 lives, displaced close to half a million, destroyed hundreds of schools and government buildings and devastated an already ravaged economy in the North East, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions. It overstretches federal security services, with no end in sight, spills over to other parts of the north and risks reaching Niger and Cameroon, weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group tapping into real governance, corruption, impunity and underdevelopment grievances shared by most people in the region. Boko Haram is both a serious challenge and manifestation of more profound threats to Nigeria’s security. Unless the federal and state governments, and the region, develop and implement comprehensive plans to tackle not only insecurity but also the injustices that drive much of the troubles, Boko Haram, or groups like it, will continue to destabilise large parts of the country. Yet, the government’s response is largely military, and political will to do more than that appears entirely lacking.”

 

The recommendations are addressed to the Federal Government, the northern state governments and international donor partners. They are two-fold: those aimed at protecting lives, and those aimed at tackling the root causes of the insurgency.

What I like most about the report is its detailed and granular nature. It is based on extensive fieldwork in various parts of Nigeria, with information gathered from Boko Haram members, residents in the North-East, the epicenter of the insurgency, from federal and state government officials, from security officers and many other relevant stakeholders. This is obviously a marked departure from the predominantly lazy, speculative and recycled analyses sometimes by arm chair analysts who have never been to any part of northern Nigeria.

Some of the highlights of the report, or at least, sections I found very informative include (quoted verbatim):

The group ran (probably still runs) a micro-credit scheme for its supporters:

“(They received) funds from external Salafi contacts, including Osama bin Laden, that he (Yusuf) used to fund a micro- credit scheme for his followers and give welfare, food and shelter to refugees and unemployed youth.” (P.i)

The report interrogates claims of the group’s ssociation with local politicians in Borno and the North-East (these excerpts are rather lengthy but significant):


“The 200-strong splinter group led by Abubakar Shekau and Aminu Tashen-Ilimi accused Muhammad Yusuf of being too soft and went to the then governor of neighbouring Yobe state, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, and requested rural land on which to live an ascetic life away from modern immorality. Ibrahim allowed it to settle in Dapchi, in the Bursari local government area, with a large dam for fishing” (p.9)

“Unhappy with the state government and apparently to cater to his more radical lieutenants, his (Yusuf’s) preaching took a harder line. He criticised the ruling elite, denouncing corruption, impunity, and government failures to the general admiration of the local population.” (P.10)

While already popular, Yusuf rose to much greater prominence when he reportedly formed an alliance with (former Borno state governor) Ali Modu Sheriff, a politician and wealthy businessman from a prominent Maiduguri family. Sheriff and his associates have denied any alliance with Yusuf and accused the PDP of creating Boko Haram. In 1999 Sheriff won the Borno North senatorial seat and helped Mala Kachalla, a far older politician, become governor on the ticket of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) that controlled both Borno and Yobe state. However, an ANPP politician said, they fell out when Kachalla backed out of an agreement to give way to Sheriff after one term…

…It is widely believed in the region and by many Boko Haram members that Sheriff then cut a deal with Yusuf, whose large youth following was a significant electoral bloc. Yusuf allegedly promised to help Sheriff, provided he would implement Sharia and give the sect some senior government appointments.Sheriff denies any agreement, though many politicians and observers say Yusuf gave massive support to his campaign, reportedly including fiery attacks that portrayed Kachalla as a bad Muslim uninterested in Sharia… Sheriff also has been accused of enlisting a group, named “ECOMOG” after the Nigeria-led West African peacekeeping force in Liberia, to intimidate and silence political opponents with impunity…

…The state government allegedly provided funds to Yusuf through Buji Foi, known locally as a Yusuf disciple whom Sheriff made religious affairs commissioner when he became governor.Yusuf used the money to organise an informal micro-credit scheme that gave his disciples capital to set up businesses…

…Cracks appeared in the purported Yusuf-Sheriff alliance, however, after the latter became governor in 2003. According to Boko Haram members, he reneged on his promise to implement Sharia fully in the state, limiting its courts to social matters and refusing to allow traditional criminal punishments such as flogging for theft and fornication, amputation and stoning to death for adultery. Yusuf began to direct ser- mons against Sheriff and his government, ultimately branding him an apostate. In 2007, Buji Foi resigned as religious affairs commissioner in protest.” (P.11-12)

Exploring the questionable engagement of non-Muslim politicians with the sect’s leaders:

“In December 2008, the Borno state government charged Yusuf with terrorism before the federal high court in Abuja. He was released on bail, allegedly following the intervention of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members. Four influential Nige- rians, all Christians, reportedly signed the bail bond. This led to speculation that Yusuf had backing from northern Christian elites and conspiracy theories that he was being used to undermine northern Muslim leaders” (P.13)

The founder, Muhammad Yusuf’s increasing radicalisation placed him on a collision course with other Muslim clerics:

“Yusuf’s criticism of Western education brought him into disagreement with other clerics, including fellow Salafis; his former mentor, Sheikh Mahmud Jaafar Adam, was his foremost antagonist. Izala clerics, particularly Jaafar Adam and Adam Albany, devoted considerable time to criticising the group and warning the government about it.” (P.12)

Abubakar Shekau’s leadership made the sect more violent and less open to dialogue:

“Yusuf’s main lieutenants were Muhammad Lawan, Mamman Nur and Abubakar Shekau… Nur, said to be more knowledgeable, mature and level-headed, was seen as Yusuf’s deputy and eventual successor, but Shekau was chosen after Yusuf’s death because he was more radical and aggressive…With Shekau at the helm of its most significant faction Boko Haram has grown more ruthless, violent and destructive and less open to dialogue.” (P.19)

The sect is not a cohesive unit. It is highly fragmented into about 6 main factions. Some members are disenchanted by the frequent bloodletting and are pro-dialogue, yet such views are mercilessly crushed:

“Security officials say their successes are due to leaks from disenchanted members. Some are fed up with the bloodletting, want to settle down, but fear advocating negotiations could mean execution by decapitation. Shekau has repeatedly ruled out talks with the government, despite claims by some purported sect members that these were ongoing. Members who proposed dialogue were killed on Shekau’s orders, silencing other pro-dialogue individuals” (p.20-21)

“The killing and capture of top commanders significantly impacted the sect’s eleven- member Shura, leading to its expansion to 37. This made it difficult to reach unani- mous decisions, with consequent adverse consequences for operations. In the past four years it has split into many factions with varying aims, to the point that some believe it is too fragmented to present a common front for dialogue.” (P.21-22)

Boko Haram has ties with extremist Salafi groups around the world:

“Osama bin Laden’s interest in Nigeria dated from his 1992-1996 stay in Sudan, where he reportedly met Mohammed Ali, a Nigerian from Maiduguri studying at the Islamic University in Khartoum who became his disciple and trained in Afghanistan; according to Boko Haram sources, Bin Laden asked him to organise a cell in Nigeria with a 300 million naira budget (approximately $3 million in 2000). Ali returned home in 2002 and began funding religious activities of Salafi groups that were unaware of the plan. Mohammed Yusuf and his group allegedly were the major beneficiaries. With the 2003-2004 Kanamma uprising, in which Mohammed Ali was a major player, Izala groups distanced themselves from him as too radical.” (P.23)

There is a lot more in the report.

I find three main weaknesses in the recommendations section:

First, there is little to no emphasis on how to address the politicization of the insurgency, particularly the alleged involvement of non-Muslims in an ostensibly Islamist phenomenon. For instance, the well-documented involvement of non-Muslims in botched bomb attacks of churches, the arrest of Boko Haram’s medical doctor, Dr. Isaac Ikere, a World Health Organisation (WHO) consultant and that Yusuf was bailed by prominent non-Muslim politicians (although this was explored briefly in the main body of the report in pg. 13) and numerous similar incidents are all highly significant.

Second, the report did not recognise that the media (collectively) are important stakeholders in insecurity and violence in Nigeria. The mainstream media play a huge role in moulding public opinion in Nigeria. Media ownership reflects some of Nigeria’s regional and religious cleavages and the way incidents are reported with a certain slant contribute to the tensions in Nigeria.

Third, I would argue that any recommendation must include a counsel to the Federal Government to revamp its PR on this insurgency. The army’s poor communication strategy has significantly eroded the already thin public trust in the military and in other security agencies. They frequently under-report casualty figures and their human rights violation record in the North-East is legendary. They willingly misinform the public with exaggerated claims of victory. Last year the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) claimed they had killed Abubakar Shekau which turned out to be patently false. Then they callously claimed that the reports of the 20 school girls abducted in Konduga in Borno in February were false. Most recently, the JTF claimed to have rescued the 200 female students abducted in Chibok, Borno a few days ago, a claim that was widely disputed by the school principal. These tall tales are insensitive, are a contemptibly futile attempt at winning hearts and minds and have done incalculable damage to the security agencies’ reputation. The army needs to urgently review it’s public engagement strategy to regain the trust of Nigerians.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the Crisis Group report is meticulously written, easy to read and devoid of unnecessary jargon. It is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the Boko Haram insurgency.

Boko Haram and a Nation Gripped By Fear

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In most cultures of the world, a word exists for a frightening creature or the bogey man. In Hausa for instance, it is the dodo. A fiendish entity, other-worldly, yet beastly in its aggression and human in its scheming prowess, the dodo lurks, stalks and terrorises. Stories of the bogey man are used strategically by parents to whip misbehaving children back into line, because no one knows quite what the bogeyman is – it is everything and nothing.

In Nigeria’s North-East, the heart of the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency, the bogeyman may have traversed the realm of fantasy into cold reality. Boko Haram militants lurk at night, to murder school children while they sleep. In the last few days, we have been held spellbound by the brutality unleashed on defenseless school children in Borno and Yobe. 43 young people were killed in the attack on a secondary school in Buni Yadi, Yobe. About 20 female students were abducted by the militants from a school in Konduga, Borno.

Survivors have recounted spine-chilling stories of dormitories set on fire and of escapees gunned down. The few that evaded gun fire were chased, and slaughtered like cattle. Photos of charred remains of adolescents and of bodies drenched in blood from sliced throats and bullet wounds have flooded the Internet. The massacres occur daily. The bogeyman has come to life – it spares no one in its violent wake.

Naked fear is firmly embedded into the spines of most. The fear in part stems from the realisation that regardless of class or economic status, no one is safe. The ‘unknown gunmen’ who routinely terrorise others are hardly ever caught and prosecuted. The murders of prominent citizens such as Bola Ige, Saudatu Rimi and Sheikh Jafar are yet to be resolved years after, not to mention crimes against faceless and nameless ‘commoners’ in Bama or Baga. The Police, the Civil Defense Corps and the Army seem to be out-gunned, out-motivated and over-whelmed. In a country with massive economic and social inequalities, this collective insecurity is one area where all Nigerians are equal.

Mostly, this fear comes from confronting a deadly enemy which appears fluid, formless and extremely vengeful – a bogeyman. Boko Haram is a rapidly changing, complex and fragmented movement. Its doctrine is as fast changing as it is contradictory – anti-democracy, anti-secularism, and anti-establishment. Yet it liberally employs internet enabled smartphones and other tools of modernity and western education to perpetrate attacks. Any criticism of the group’s approach by ordinary citizens, Imams or traditional rulers in the North draws a swift and vicious response.

The eccentric pre-2009 hermetic ragtag sect, avenging the death of their slain leader Muhammad Yusuf from 2010, have quickly metamorphosed into a highly sophisticated terrorist group with deep local and global networks. From laying siege on police stations and army checkpoints, they have attacked churches, brothels, prominent Islamic clerics, mosques, northern traditional rulers and now they’ve added the murder of helpless school children to a blood-drenched résumé. It’s difficult to project what tactics they will adopt next.

So little credible information about the group is available. Boko Haram itself thrives on secrecy. The Army bragged about the leader, Abubakar Shekau’s death in August 2013 only for his taunting videos to resurface shortly. Whenever an evident victory is proclaimed by the authorities, a more daring attack is perpetrated. The insurgency has become like the monster in Greek mythology, Scylla – when one head is sliced off, three more sprout up in its stead. As the rise of the ‘yan Gora or the Civilian Joint Task Force – the youth vigilante fishing out suspected insurgents from the community – is celebrated, Boko Haram ferociously retaliates against such communities working with the authorities.

Where little information is available, speculation thrives. Where speculation is rife in the midst of unbridled fear about a formless enemy, conspiracy theories fill the gap. In Nigeria, these conspiracy theories are as numerous as they are destructive: Boko Haram is a creation of “disgruntled northern politicians to destabilise Goodluck Jonathan’s government”. “Boko Haram is a creation of the Federal Government in Abuja to destroy the North for political advantage”. The group “is a creation of the West to fulfill their prediction of a disintegrated Nigeria by 2015″. Some of these toxic opinions neatly overlap with people’s innate prejudices particularly in the wake of the divisive 2011 elections.

While these conspiracy theories are mostly ludicrous, anecdotes of suspicious events give them weight. According to the Yobe state governor, the soldiers guarding the school in Buni Yadi were mysteriously withdrawn from their duty posts a few hours before. The traditional ruler of Bama bemoaned that while the town was sacked and torched over several hours in February, frantic efforts to call local Police and Army chiefs were futile as they were all mysteriously unavailable. Ground troops, whose courage must be appreciated, are known to be severely under equipped relative to the sophisticated weaponry carried by Boko Haram despite the almost one trillion naira allocated to security in the national budget.

Most troubling is that recently, Reno Omokri, the President’s Special Assistant on New Media was identified as the author of a malicious article falsely alleging that the ‘suspended’ Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido is a Boko Haram financier. Many such unexplained events have planted suspicion in the minds of many in the North-East, and allow for dangerous conspiracy theories to flourish.

A Screen Shot showing the article and the author details. Source: Feyi Fawehinmi on Twitter @doubleEph

The reality is that fighting such an entrenched insurgency anywhere will be a grueling and bloody war of attrition. The difficult experiences of America in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, despite being a highly militarised super power are instructive. In this trying period, it is necessary to ensure that some semblance of national cohesion against the insurgency exists.

For a start, genuine efforts must be made at restoring the trust of residents in the North-East in the Federal Government. Symbolic gestures by the President to sincerely console victims of brutal murders would alleviate some of the widespread sense of alienation in the region. Greater efforts must be made to address lapses and incompetence by the security agencies in order to lay conspiracy theories to rest. Proper investigations of leakages in the security infrastructure must be made to understand why combat troops in the firing line are under-paid and under-equipped. President Jonathan must as a matter of urgency, take decisive and punitive action against the despicable act of his aide- Reno Omokri, failure of which would send the message that the frame up attempt was sanctioned by the Presidency.

Finally, Nigerians must be commended for the resilience and the solidarity in expressing collective outrage in the wake of the recent escalation of violence in the entire North-East. Despite the prevalence of fear and the sense of helplessness, we must have faith that Nigeria will somehow endure and emerge stronger from this all.

Does Nigeria Really Need a ‘Sovereign National Conference’?

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This is a piece I wrote for the Royal African Society’s African Arguments blog.

In a few weeks, Nigerians across ethnic and regional divides will be gathering at a roundtable to discuss critical national issues. The imperative for this National Conference as a necessary discussion over Nigeria’s future was underscored by the President, Goodluck Jonathan, in his Independence Day commemoration address in October 2013. No doubt, there is need for consensus among the country’s distinct ethnic and religious groups on critical governance issues such as the structure of government, federalism, revenue distribution, political representation and power sharing. Whether the National Conference taking place this year is capable of addressing Nigeria’s perennial existential problems is another question.

The clamour for a national dialogue among Nigeria’s over 350 ethno-linguistic groups has been as old as the country itself, since the aftermath of the first military coup in 1966. Frequently called a ‘Sovereign National Conference’ (SNC), this roundtable discussion is regarded as the elixir to pervasive corruption, ethnic chauvinism, conflict and perversion of the rule of law all, of which have stifled economic development, social harmony and the forging of a collective Nigerian identity. The inflamed emotions in the debate for and against an SNC in the Nigerian public sphere inhibit a dispassionate interrogation of its practicality or necessity

For proponents, a national dialogue is a bottom-up democratic opportunity for many Nigerians to participate in nation-building in an otherwise exclusionary political system dominated by a handful of elites. These include the military and key players in the coups of 1966 who are the major power brokers today, their associates, powerful state governors, an increasingly powerful business class and media moguls.

Gani Fawehinmi, a vociferous SNC advocate once lamented that Nigerians “never had the opportunity to make inputs into, accept or reject any constitutional framework through a referendum”. The national conversation is thus a catalytic opportunity for Nigerians to “negotiate the terms” of living together, within a contraption of British colonialism. In this pro-SNC camp are ethnic associations, marginalised politicians, activists, youth associations and other groups excluded from the power circle.

Those opposing the National Conference argue that it is incapable of addressing Nigeria’s problems which are outcomes of governance, leadership and rule of law failures. Spending N7 billion ($42 million) towards yet another summit by a country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world is regarded as “wasteful” by the Labour Union president and “diversionary”, by the main opposition party, the APC. Others regard it as an instrument for attaining a nefarious agenda by the specific government in power. This “agenda” covers a wide gamut of allegations from tenure elongation and covert constitutional amendment to regional domination and secession.

Unsurprisingly, the expectations of what a National Conference can or cannot achieve range from the pragmatic to the utopian. It is not uncommon to hear the “we must talk” refrain in the wake of a Boko Haram attack, a kidnapping incident or a grand corruption scandal. As usual, the debates are laced with the poisonous sectional prejudices which normally characterise the country’s public discourse. What is paradoxical however, is the very elitist nature of the discourse over a summit aimed at inclusive nation-building. A recent opinion poll revealed that nearly 9 in 10 (88%) Nigerians are not aware of the call to constitute a sovereign national conference… Read the rest of the article on African Arguments.

RIP Komla Dumor

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With a deep sigh, Africa and indeed the whole world learnt of the passing of BBC presenter, Komla Dumor. He died of a heart attack at the age of 41. His untimely death is no doubt a loss to Ghana, his home country, and to the entire African continent.

I had the pleasure of meeting late Komla at a TEDxEuston event in December 2012, in London. I had just come out of the hall for some fresh air when I saw him chatting with someone. I stopped, smiled and said hello. I was a little starstruck but he smiled back, and extended his hands in a warm handshake. We spoke briefly for a few more minutes.

Shortly after, Komla took the stage and asked the Nigerians to sing the national anthem. We stood up and sang with considerable zeal only for him to tell us he was Ghanaian! It was very memorable and his talk was very lively.

Komla touched the lives of many through his brilliance, professionalism and optimism about Africa. His lively personality in his successful anchoring of the BBC Focus on Africa programme was perhaps, a reminder of what positives the continent is capable of producing.

The outpouring of tributes from personalities like Ghanaian President John Mahama, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Bill and Melinda Gates among many others is a testament to his goodwill and the impact he had. Prior to his death late last year, the seasoned journalist was included in the New African magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential Africans.

Africa has lost a shining star at the peak of it’s lustre, but Komla Dumor’s legacy lives on. Rest in Peace brother.

Here is his TEDx talk titled ‘Telling the African Story’

 

Update:

A few friends drew my attention to the fact that Komla Dumor spent part of his childhood in Kano in Northern Nigeria. He attended St. Thomas Secondary School in Kano, and enrolled in medical school at the University of Jos in Plateau. He subsequently left for Ghana to pursue another degree and then switched to a career in journalism. This probably explains why many took him to be Nigerian.

Embattled Nigerian Central Bank Governor on ‘Overcoming the Fear of Vested Interests’, in TEDx Talk

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Embattled Nigerian Central Bank Governor talks about Overcoming and Confronting the Fear of Vested Interests in TEDx Talk in August 2013 Abuja, Nigeria.

Some excerpts:

“…I have learnt in the past 4 your years in Abuja that if we understand that (vested interests), we may begin to unlock the key to how to change our world, the world of a country in which we live”

“Everyday we talk about potentials, everyday, and yet China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, Brazil…all of those countries have turned the potential they had into reality. What is the one thing we need to do to turn this potential into reality? In my four years in Abuja, I have come to the conclusion that we need to overcome the fear of vested interests”

“I came to the Central Bank (in 2009) knowing that banks had problems believing that these problems were caused by a global crisis… And that they would be fixed by addressing the normal risk management issues in banks. Shortly after… I discovered that the Nigerian banking system is infested with the same corruption of the rentier system of this country, that a number of banks chief execs had fleeced their banks, using depositors funds to buy property all over the world just like people do in ministries or government agencies”

“The fundamental character of the Nigerian state is that for decades, since we found oil, it has existed not to serve the people, but as a site for rent extraction by a very small minority that controls political power and it doesn’t matter whether this group comes from North or South, or Muslim or Christian, or Military or Civilian, the state has always been a site for rent extraction”

“The system that was supposed to protect depositors and handle criminals was used and manipulated to promoted a Judge so that he would not convict a thief (bank CEO). Now this is an example…of the kinds of things that stop a country from reaching its true potential”

“After we discovered the things that happened in the banks, the critical thing was we had to make a decision that would pitch us against powerful economic and political forces. We were dealing with chief execs that in 2009 had become invincible. They were in the seat of power. They had economic power and they had bought political protection. They were into political parties, they financed elections and they believed that nobody could touch them”

“Banks do not fail. When people say banks have failed, it is like saying a man whose throat was slit has died. He did not die. He was killed. And those that murdered the banks, those who destroyed these deposits have always walked away. They become Senators, they become governors, they become captains of industry, they set up new banks and they continue… And [for] the millions of poor people! that’s it”

“But the banking industry is just one part of Nigeria. What is happening to other parts?”

“We don’t have development because vested interests continue to rape the country and take the money out. And the only way to move from potential to reality is to stop preaching and to start asking ourselves : how can we overcome the fear of vested interests and how can we confront them?”

The one thing I learnt from banking is that they (Vested interests) are not to be feared, they stand on quick sand, they’re not very intelligent people and they’ve got only two tools: 1. Their ability to bribe/induce 2. Their threats to destroy reformers

“We have to ask ourselves as a country: how have we been reduced to a level far below our potential?”

“We have 65 million young people in Nigeria. What does it take for one of you to get your votes and be president of the country? What does it take to address these issues sector by sector, identify the interests and confront them? Why does it take the fuel subsidy removal for us to come out and challenge the rot that is in our country? What are we afraid of? We are afraid of losing the security that we have today”

“We must recognise that at the heart of 90% of our problems from Boko Haram to ethnic crises to unemployment to the lack of education to the lack of healthcare is that there are people who profit from the poverty and underdevelopment of this country, and these people are called ‘vested interests’… So long as they remain entrenched, so long as we don’t overcome the fear of them and dislodge them, we are not going to find a solution to this problem and we are not going to reach our true potential”

Make Your New Year Worthwhile, Enrol in a Free Online Course

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Phot credit: mindingthecampus.com

The onset of a New Year is usually accompanied by a tide of resolutions we typically abandon before the end of January. My efforts to resist the temptation of making elaborate plans for 2014 on New Year’s Eve were futile as I reflexively reflected on things I’d like to accomplish. The usual promises we make to ourselves such as more aesthetic reading and writing, less procrastination, more exercise, being more goal oriented, self chastisement to kick bad habits, spending more time with friends and family all featured. One of the resolutions I am enthusiastic about, is completing an online course I registered for in the twilight of 2013.

Taking this course had been on my agenda for a while. I flirted briefly, with the thought of enrolling in a part time master’s programme just for it. And then I stumbled upon Coursera, free online courses provider. All I had to do was register, wait for the commencement date, watch the video presentations and take their respective quizzes weekly during the 11 week period, take the final exam et voila, done! The best part: no required readings! Just watch the video, assimilate and conceptualise the information. At the end of 11 weeks, a statement of completion is given. Optionally, a Verified Certificate of completion from the sponsoring institution — the University of California Irvine in my case — is provided, for an additional fee of $49.

Online courses are no new phenomena. They are the latest in phase in the evolution of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) approaches which has came about in the 19th century. The ICT revolution of the 21st century has led to an expansion and greater liberalisation of this learning method. In particular, the rapid expansion of Web 2.0 tools was accompanied by an explosion of open access learning resources collectively referred to as the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Some of the notable MOOCs providers include Coursera, Udacity, edX and Courseware, all financed by top ranking global institutions. Coursera for instance has partnerships with Stanford University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania and scores of other elite institutions around the world. It offers a wide array of courses in fields such as engineering, medical sciences, economics and finance and languages all facilitated by globally renown academics. For instance, The Age of Sustainable Development, a course convened by the influential economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs starts soon on the platform. Coursera also uses a hybrid approach, with physical networks of spaces where students can access the Internet to take classes online.

Photo credit: schoolofthinking.org

It does all seem revolutionary. Digitising and liberalising education through the MOOCs hold great potential for spreading the best knowledge in the world to underprivileged demographics and regions. The Washington Post describes the MOOCs as “elite education for the masses”. Of course, certain prerequisites such as Internet infrastructure, electricity, certification, mainstreaming certificate acceptance must be sorted out particularly in developing countries.

To be candid, my previous reservations about open access learning on its accessibility, the digital divide and quality have watered down considerably. Coursera’s resources are easily accessible — material for each week consists of a series of short audio/video clips all under 10 minutes, with PDF summaries. Our restless youth in Africa can put their internet-enabled mobile phones to better use than Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. The options are vast, the potential unlimited and so much is available just a click away.

As with most innovations, certain setbacks abound. The first is that MOOCs have a very low completion rate, typically lower than 10%! A survey by Open Culture, an online magazine finds the reasons include: courses take too much time, courses expect the candidate to have some background knowledge, lecture fatigue, students take courses to satisfy their curiosity and hidden charges.

Furthermore, it would seem the free nature of these courses provides little incentive for completion — if it’s free, then more urgent priorities easily take precedence. The absence of the traditional classroom environment to regulate interaction and discipline students worsens this situation. In my case, more than half of the day my course started was spent more in transit across two continents. I took advantage of my jet-lagged induced insomnia later to quickly catch up on the week’s videos and quiz.

All the shortcomings of MOOCs notwithstanding, my enthusiasm for my online course remains high. I would recommend that those interested in self improvement in 2014 should look up the options available on Coursera’s website.

Scholarships and Development Opportunities No. 10

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(1) THE CULTURES OF RESISTANCE SOAS SCHOLARSHIPS

The Cultures of Resistance Network and the American Friends of SOAS (AFSOAS) are providing two postgraduate scholarships in 2014/15 at SOAS, University of London. Valued at £24,000 per student, the scholarships will be used to help their recipients meet the costs of tuition fees at the overseas rate and also help them meet any additional costs (e.g. transport, purchasing books, research costs) associated with their stay in London. In addition to their £24,000 a-year scholarship, each scholar will benefit from a 20% reduction in their tuition fees and one Cultures of Resistance Scholar every year will benefit from free student accommodation at International Students House (ISH).

The scholarships will benefit people from countries that have been affected by wars and extreme poverty. This program embodies the values of the Cultures of Resistance Network, which seeks to empower and enrich communities—especially those that have been affected by civil wars and foreign military occupation—through the promotion of human rights, justice for victims of war crimes, and the enrichment of civil society and robust grassroots democracy.

Security conditions permitting, scholars are expected to return to their home countries to apply their knowledge and skills for the betterment of their societies. In the case of refugees or those fearing repression and censorship in their home countries, we expect that they will seek employment/work/study abroad toward the aim of improving the future of their home country and that of its citizens. We hope that scholarship recipients will pursue careers that, among other things, promote universal human rights, international law, equal justice for all, and the enrichment of civil society and robust grassroots democracy.

Eligibility Criteria:

Although priority will be given to students from Afghanistan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza), Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria, the scholarship program is open to students from the following countries/territories:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gaza, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Phillippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, West Bank, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zimbabwe

We encourage applicants from countries that are not on the priority list to explain how their experience of conflict in their home countries contributes to their application and how their anticipated program of study reflects the mission of the scholarship.

In addition to holding (or being expected to obtain) an undergraduate degree at the first class degree level or country equivalent, eligible candidates must have applied to pursue one of the following degree programs at SOAS, University London, preferably four weeks before the scholarship closing date but no later than the scholarship application deadline:

  • MSc in Development Studies with Special Reference to Central Asia;
  • MSc in Globalisation and Development;
  • MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development;
  • MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development;
  • MSc in Development Economics;
  • MSc in Political Economy of Development;
  • MA in International and Comparative Legal Studies;
  • MA in Dispute and Conflict Resolution;
  • MA in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development;
  • MA in Human Rights Law;
  • MA in International Law;
  • MA in Law, Development and Globalisation;
  • LLM in Dispute and Conflict Resolution;
  • LLM in Environmental Law;
  • LLM in Human Rights, Conflict and Justice;
  • LLM in International Law.

Applications must be received by 17:00 GMT on Thursday, March 20, 2014.

For more information, visit: http://www.culturesofresistance.org/SOAS-scholarship

 

(2) PRESIDENT OBAMA’S YOUNG AFRICAN LEADERS INITIATIVE (YALI)

The Washington Fellowship is the new flagship program of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). This program will bring over 500 young leaders to the United States each year, beginning in 2014, for leadership training and mentoring, and will create unique opportunities in Africa to put those new skills to practical use in propelling economic growth and prosperity, and strengthening democratic institutions.

The Washington Fellowship will:

  • Invest in a new generation of young African leaders who are shaping the continent’s future.
  • Respond to the strong demand by young African leaders for practical skills that can help them take their work to the next level in the fields of public service and business.
  • Deepen partnerships and connections between the United States and Africa.
  • Build a prestigious network of young African leaders who are at the forefront of change and innovation in their respective sectors.

An Unparalleled Opportunity to:

  • Interact with President Obama at a Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C;
  • Participate in a 6-week leadership and mentoring program at a U.S. institution;
  • Meet with U.S. government, civic, and business leaders;
  • Access exceptional internship and apprenticeship opportunities;
  • Expand your business or project through access to millions of dollars for small grant funding; and
  • Join a continent-wide and global alumni network to help you seek innovative solutions to common challenges.

Eligibility Criteria:

All qualified applicants will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Competition for the Washington Fellowship is merit-based and open to young African leaders who meet the following criteria:

  • Are between the ages of 25 and 35 at the time of application submission, although exceptional applicants younger than 25 will be considered;
  • Are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S;
  • Are eligible to receive a United States J-1 visa;
  • Are proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English; and
  • Are citizens and residents of one of the following countries:  Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

For information on eligibility criteria, application procedure and deadlines, visit: http://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/washington-fellows/how-to-apply/

To access the application portal, visit: http://www.irex.org/application/washington-fellowship-application-information

 

(3) M.SC IN AFRICAN STUDIES SCHOLARSHIPS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The African Studies Centre is offering full scholarships for the MSc in African Studies for the 2014-2015 academic year:

Find out about the eligibility criteria and application details for each of these scholarships at: http://www.africanstudies.ox.ac.uk/msc-african-studies-scholarships

 

(4) PREPARING GLOBAL LEADERS ACADEMY

(Amman, Jordan 16-22 March 2014)

From the website:

Preparing Global Leaders Academy (PGLA) is a premiere international educational program for the best students and young professionals around the world. Our specific strategy is to help participants maximize their potential and develop leadership and communication skills. The program seeks to prepare aspiring global scholar-leaders with the tools that are necessary for effective leadership in an increasingly complex world.

PGLA is a one week program taking place in Amman, Jordan. Participants will benefit academically and socially as they will work closely with other young leaders from around the world and build everlasting relationships. Delegates will also witness the ancient beauty of Jordan including the Baptism site, Petra (named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World), The Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth and home of the world’s largest natural spa), as well as many other of Jordan’s attractions both natural and manmade.”

Application Form:

A completed application form (please download form below) is necessary to register for the Preparing Global Leaders Academy. A confirmation letter to all applicants will be sent by e-mail upon acceptance of the application. All applicants will additionally be informed by e-mail on the decision of PGLA admission board. This decision will be final and cannot be appealed upon delivery. Information and consent forms will be mailed in February.

Documents:

  • Application form
  • Passport photo (jPEG format)
  • CV (recommended)
  • Letter of Support (optional)

A completed application form with all support documents (optional documents are not required) should be sent to e-mail: admission@pgla-jordan.org with a subject title: PGLA 2014 Application Form. Please note that admission to the academy is made on a rolling basis, therefore, earlier applications will receive priority consideration. Should you have additional queries regarding the admission process or any other concerns related to PGLA 2014, do not hesitate to contact us via email: contactus@pgla-jordan.org.

Scholarships and Program Cost:

The full cost of the program is $900 covering tuition fee, transportation, accommodation and meals.

All participants are responsible for travel arrangements and associated insurance and VISA costs (if needed) to Amman, Jordan. There are also a range of scholarships available.

Application Deadlines:

  • Prospective Delegates from countries that require VISA: January 15, 2014.
  • Prospective Delegates from countries that do not require VISA: February 10, 2014.

To download the application form, visit: http://www.pgla-jordan.org/?page_id=663

 

(5) GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY’S M.Sc. IN FOREIGN SERVICE

Starting in fall 2014, the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) at Georgetown University is offering a full-tuition scholarship for a talented graduate student from sub-Saharan Africa.

MSFS is a two-year, full-time graduate degree program in international affairs. Students will take courses in international relations, international trade, international finance, statistics and analytical tools and history. In addition, students choose an area of concentration such as Global Politics and Security, International Development or Global Business and Finance.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • A completed undergraduate degree from an accredited university with a strong academic record.
  • A TOEFL score of at least 100, or an IELTS score of at least 7.0.
  • Applicants must have completed a course in microeconomics and a course in macroeconomics, or must be able to complete both courses *before* the beginning of the MSFS program in fall 2014.
  • Applicants should have professional experience, ideally in a field related to their future professional goals.
  • Students have an average of four years of work experience before joining MSFS.
  • Special consideration will be given to applicants from: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa.

To be considered for the scholarship, applicants must submit all required application documents (online application, personal statement, official transcripts and test scores, letters of recommendation). Only students who have applied to the program will be considered for the scholarship.

The application deadline for fall 2014 is January 15, 2014.

For more information on the academic program, visit http://msfs.georgetown.edu.

For information on how to apply, visit http://msfs.georgetown.edu/admissions.

 

(6) TRAININGS & FELLOWSHIPS  IN THE MEDICAL SCIENCES

TDR’s grant and training activities aim to develop strong leadership in health research and decision making, so that high quality institutional and national systems can identify and manage research priorities. Grant opportunities include support for post-graduate academic training, career development, short courses and research.

  1. 1.      TDR advanced postdoctoral research and training grants in implementation research – 2014

The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) invites applications for advanced postdoctoral research and/or training grants from individuals who are nationals of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Two types of grants are offered: strategic support for re-entry and postdoctoral research and training grants for the acquisition of special skills relevant to research, research management or leadership:

  1. Re-entry grants: Research-based mentorship and support (maximum US$ 25 000 per year for up to 2 years) for PhD holders employed and returning to their home institution within 24 months after graduation.
  2. Postdoctoral advanced training and research: including short-term attachments to acquire leadership and research skills related to leadership and research activities not available within the home country or institutions.

For information on eligibility criteria, application process and deadline, visit: http://www.who.int/tdr/grants/empowerment/en/index.html

  1. 2.     TDR postgraduate training grants in implementation research – 2014

The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) invites applications for postgraduate training grants leading to MSc and PhD degrees focused on disciplines relevant to implementation research (such as, but not limited to, epidemiology, social sciences, biostatistics, health economics, health/medical education, health information systems, community and environmental health).

The training may take place in the home country of the applicant, another low- and middle-income country (LMIC), or a high-income country.

Submission deadline 7 February 2014

For information on eligibility criteria and the application process,  visit:  http://www.who.int/tdr/grants/empowerment/en/index.html

 

(7) JUNIOR PROFESSIONAL OFFICERS PROGRAMME (JPO-P) AT THE UNITED NATIONS

The Nigerian government (through the Ministry of Youth Development) is currently sponsoring 37 Junior Professional Officer (JPO) entry-level positions into the United Nations.

For information about available positions, eligibility criteria, application procedures and deadlines, visit: http://www.fmydjpop.gov.ng/page.php

(8) SUMMER RESIDENTIAL SCHOLARSHIP INSTITUTE AT BROWN UNIVERSITY

Applications invited for New Summer Residential Scholarship Institute at Brown University, June 7-21, 2014
THEME: Ethnicity, Conflict and Inequality in Global Perspective

From June 7-21, 2014, Brown University (in Providence, RI, USA) will host Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI), which convenes participants from around the world to address pressing global issues through collaboration across academic, professional, and geographic boundaries. Applications are invited from early-career scholars and practitioners, especially those based at institutions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, to participate in intensive, residential two-week institutes at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. The four institutes are convened by Brown University professors, and feature lectures, seminars, and workshops led by distinguished international guest faculty. This highly selective, residential program gives participants a unique opportunity to interact with their global peers and benefit from Brown University’s world-class campus and facilities.

About ‘Ethnicity, Conflict and Inequality in Global Perspective’:

Co-convened by faculty from Brown University’s departments of Economics and Political Science, this institute offers participants a thorough exploration of the conceptual and theoretical foundations of scholarship that connects conflict, inequality, and ethnicity. Best practices in comparative and interdisciplinary research design, implementation, and exposition will be explored, with a particular focus on the dilemmas of doing justice to context-specific data while producing generalizable insights. Lectures and workshops led by distinguished guest faculty will constitute the core of this institute, to be supplemented by participants’ individual research presentations, and panel discussions on pressing contemporary cases in line with participants’ expertise and interests. Applications are especially welcome from scholars interested in evidence-based policy making.
This is open to scholars and  advanced PhD students from the Global South who work in the area of Ethnic Conflict and Inequality.
Review of applications begins — December 16, 2013. Application closes in mid-January.

To apply for BIARI 2014, please visit https://secure.brown.edu/biari/

Further details are available at http://brown.edu/about/administration/international-affairs/biari/  Contact biari@brown.edu with any questions