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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

Mandela: The Personification of Humility

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Photo credit: http://www.history.com

I am one of many who hoped to meet Nelson Mandela in person someday. I am one of millions of Africans in awe of his statesmanship. I am one of billions around the world who knew he would leave us one day, but was shocked by his passing never the less. As the sincere and hypocritical tributes flood in amidst the undignified presidential selfies, and as he is finally interred, I would like to reflect on Mandela’s virtue which inspired me the most. His humility.

The late Madiba’s role in fighting the brutally racist apartheid in South Africa earned him his liberation-hero credentials. His incarceration in prison for 27 years earned him respect. His reconciliatory approach in forging national unity conferred on him the role of Madiba, the father of the rainbow nation, and the Nobel Peace Prize. His decision to quit the seat of power after just one term in office in 1999, a marked departure from the ruler-for-life approach of the Mugabes, the Bongos, the Biyas, the Eyademas and other contemporaries sealed his status as a father to all Africans, and a global icon.

Significantly, his personal shortcomings such as his pre-prison militant life and his turbulent marriages reminded the world of Mandela’s fallibility. Yet he never shied away from these flaws. He acknowledged them and sometimes poked fun at himself with his unique sense of humour. “Self-mockery was a typically savvy Mandela ploy to ensure that people would relax around him”, says Robyn Curnow who has been in close proximity to him.

At an imposing 6ft 4in in height, Nelson Mandela towered both literally and figuratively, above the apartheid oppressors by his forgiving, unifying and reconciliatory approach, and above many other African leaders. Yet he never saw himself as a demi-god, a saint or a messiah superior to his people, whom they couldn’t do without. Indeed he was known to discourage the tendency to resort to hero-worship. He was quick to remind South Africans that he was very human, incapable of meeting all of their impossibly tall expectations.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Mandela’s response to her question of how he was managing this mythical perception of him was thus:

[TRANSCRIPT] “…that is one of the things that worried me, to be raised to the position of a semi-God, because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental…especially because I knew, it was not the contribution of an individual which will bring about liberation, and the peaceful transformation of the country. And my first task when I came out was to destroy that myth, that I was something other than an ordinary human being. Whatever position I occupy, it was as a result of my colleagues and my comrades in the movement who had decided in their wisdom, to use me for the purpose of focusing the attention of the country and the international community, not because I had any better virtues than themselves, but because this was their decision.”

Only a truly great individual could be this sincere and modest when he could simply claim all the credit! Humility underlies his pacifism, his struggle for justice and equality. Going by his speeches and manner of interactions, Mandela did not elevate himself above others. He made the effort to be humorous around everyone to make them comfortable, not intimidated, around him. Many an influential politician and Hollywood celebrity have been awed in his dignified presence, yet have been disarmed by his down to earth personality.

It would seem this modesty was driven by the self-recognition of his flaws. It in turn drove his commitment for justice and his pacifist approach towards those he regarded as equals. The combination of all these made him a globally influential icon inspiring billions from North America to South-East Asia, from South America to the Arab world.

Perhaps it was the acknowledgement of his past failings, particularly his previously militant approach to fighting apartheid which made Madiba conciliatory. If he regarded himself as fallible, then his oppressors had to be as well. They could be forgiven and everyone could join hands in working for a better future.

Photo credit: http://www.manifestomag.net

Similarly, this humility fueled his quest for dignity and equality. As an elite within his Xhosa nation he saw himself as ordinary, not driven by a myopic ethnic chauvinism so prevalent elsewhere in Africa and he expected to be treated with the same dignity. Consequently, he was one of the few individuals in the world to famously refer to the Queen of England by her first name “Elizabeth” rather than “Your Majesty”. He was one of the few who could wear the trademark Batik shirts as formal dress and get away with it — a feat even Indonesian politicians haven’t quite mastered!

The lesson here for other Africans is instructive. Humility is a critical factor in leadership. A leader ought to regard themselves as equal to those they claim to represent, else they’ll believe they’re doing some favour to their “inferior subjects”. Without humility, a political leader sees no need to be accountable to those whose mandate they hold; the Ivy-League trained technocrat is contemptuous of the people they represent because they are “inferior” beings incapable of understanding economic logic; the head of state ruthlessly crushes any dissent as a divinely-ordained purveyor of universal truth. Even social critics and activists who eke out a living faulting the establishment lash out fiercely at any interrogation of their failings or methods.

While many ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, very few are able to maintain the delicate balance when thrust on a stage of fame and recognition. It is the few who are truly able to take this in their stride, manage their over-sized egos, regard those they claim to speak for as equals, who are able to attain real greatness. This is where we have a lot to learn from Madiba as political and business leaders, academics, writers, activists and social critics. We are but only human.

I am thankful to have witnessed the life of this towering figure. I am grateful to the Divine Power that blessed Madiba with his wonderful gifts and enabled him to share them with the world. I am inspired to emulate Mandela’s modesty always. Thank you Madiba, for reminding us about the virtue of simplicity.

Rest in peace.

Reflections on the ‘Historic’ and Disturbing Letter by Obasanjo

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President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Photo credit: naija247news.com

Last night, I was distracted from concluding my tribute to Mandela which I started writing a few days ago. This distraction was the lengthy 18-page open letter (PDF) written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan. I took my time to read the letter described as ‘historic’ by Premium Times (which broke the story) in detail. For obvious reasons, this document and its contents have gone viral within the Nigerian online and mainstream media, public discourse and even the international media.

What frightens me deeply about the contents is not the allegations made, but that General Obasanjo (the President’s mentor) made these grave accusations. Disturbingly, the allegations only confirm many rumours that have been going round (most of which I hitherto refused to believe in) such as:

  1. Clannishness and ethnic factionalism in government on the part of the President in favoring his Ijaw kinsmen principally, and his region to the exclusion of other Nigerians;
  2. Deliberate polarisation of Nigerians across a North-South and Muslim-Christian divide to such a level not seen since the Civil War, to further narrow political ambitions;
  3. The President’s tacit support to some of his aggressive kinsmen and known militants who threaten others for disagreeing with him;
  4. Brazen corruption and impunity in government on a scale unrivaled in Nigeria’s post-independence history (the $50 billion unremitted by the NNPC surpasses the $12bn windfall earnings which disappeared under General Babangida. This is just one of numerous cases) — crude oil theft and systematic plunder of the nation’s wealth by powerful people;
  5. Indirect fueling of the Boko Haram insurgency by refusing to take concrete and feasible steps to address it;
  6. Extreme intolerance by the government for any form of dissent by opposition politicians or civil society;
  7. The existence of a clandestine “killer squad of snipers” and a political watch list containing over 1,000 names;

…and many other such allegations.

Where are we heading to in this country!?

Just on Monday this week, we found out about the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s letter alleging that $50 billion (N8 trillion) went missing under NNPC’s watch between 2012 and 2013. Then on Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives accused the President of encouraging grand corruption. Then on Wednesday, this scathing letter from Obasanjo was published.

All this is barely two months after the corruption scandal involving the President’s close ally, the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. Nothing yet has been done about this.

This systematic plunder of our country’s resources and values is perpetuated against the backdrop of monumental crude oil theft in the Niger-Delta and other numerous scandals.

Is this a country we can thump our chests about? What example are we setting for the rest of Africa? Is this the leadership that will create a strong and united country? What future (or lack of) are we building for our offspring?

President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo at a campaign rally. Photo credit: Y!Naija

True, General Obasanjo is not at all blameless in all this and he is one person whose intentions are always, always, ALWAYS suspect. We vividly recall how his ambition to elongate his tenure beyond the constitutionally mandated two-terms threatened to plunge the country into chaos between 2005 and 2007. Perhaps, as the late Whitney Houston once sung, Jonathan “learnt from the best”.

Yet, given Obasanjo’s close relationship (as a mentor) with President Jonathan, it would be extremely naive and foolish to dismiss these allegations in their entirety.

Say what you want about Obasanjo, but at the very least, his administration established a relatively effective EFCC to fight corruption, established an effective NAFDAC, reformed the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Customs service and many other institutions. Where are all these institutions today? Where is the EFCC today? How many parallel, overlapping, redundant and toothless committees have been set up to do the work that the EFCC has been obstructed from doing?

I ask this question, where are we heading to?

To the Nigerians reading this, put aside your ethnic, religious and regional allegiances briefly and please ask yourself sincerely: ‘Is this the Nigeria I want, is this a country I am proud of’?

The late Madiba, Nelson Mandela expressed his anger at the behaviour of Nigerian leaders. This is a prime epitome of the leadership Mandela was referring to.

One interesting thing to note is that this is a toned down version of the letter. The original version, according to Thisday newspaper was so harsh that former Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida advised Obasanjo to revise it.

Discussing Women in Government and Politics in Africa

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I recently wrote a brief piece for Democracy in Africa,  reflecting on the discussions during the first Women in Government and Politics Conference for Africa, held at Central Hall in Westminster, London. The event was put together by the Winihin Jemide Series and I facilitated one of the panel discussions. Find the excerpt below:

Some of the delegates at the Women in Politics and Government Conference. Photo Courtesy: Winihin Jemide Series

African women have made remarkable strides in positions of leadership and authority across the continent. This has been especially evident with the wave of democratization over the past two decades. Women now occupy presidential seats in Liberia and Malawi, foreign ministry portfolios in Rwanda, Kenya and Somalia, the leadership of the African Union and many other positions hitherto regarded as the exclusive domain of men. It is in order to take stock of the progress made so far, the existing challenges remaining and how to overcome them that the first Women in Government and Politics Conference for Africa, held at Central Hall in Westminster, London was put together by the Winihin Jemide Series

Moderating one of the discussion panels. Photo courtesy: Winihin Jemide Series
Moderating one of the discussion panels. Photo courtesy: Winihin Jemide Series

The two-day conference involved female delegates in influential leadership positions such as parliamentarians, cabinet members, academics and activists. They liberally shared their views, their experiences on how they were able to surmount obstacles to get to where they are today, and their suggestions on moving forward. The Nigerian Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke while delivering a keynote address, noted that 11 African countries have reached the 30% benchmark of female representation in leadership positions through quotas and parity schemes. In fact, countries like Nigeria had surpassed this average, she reminded the audience. The Minister however reiterated the need for women to be proactive in supporting one another….

Read the rest of the article on the Democracy in Africa website.

“Mugabe: Villain or Hero?” ~ A Film by Roy Agyemang

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Photo Credit: Mugabevillainorhero.com

In August this year, I came across Roy Agyemang’s article in the Guardian, on the just concluded elections in Zimbabwe. I found his perspective quite different from the usual Mugabe-is-the-devil refrain in the media. Eventually I found myself on the website for a documentary he directed, titled: “Mugabe: Villain or Hero?” The subject matter aroused my interest especially when I realised that film screenings were still going on around the UK.

I got in touch with the film maker to arrange for a screening in Oxford. Apparently, other student-led associations were interested in the documentary. So, on Thursday 31st October, the film was screened by the Oxford Afro-Caribbean Society. The documentary was as informative, interesting and provocative as I imagined it would be.

The film seems to be a serendipity of sorts because the original goal was, in Agyemang’s words: to “get into Zimbabwe, spend three months, interview Mugabe and leave”. However three months quickly became three years as getting access to the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was not a walk in the park. It ended up chronicling the three-year journey of the film maker and his crew in the country towards securing the interview. Of course spending that amount of time in the country meant they witnessed the politicking, electioneering campaign, and violence of the 2008 elections, the hyper inflation and economic crisis, the effects of the international sanctions, in addition to finally having first-hand access to Mugabe.

What I found particularly fascinating is how the film’s main goal seemed to evolve the longer Agyemang and his film crew stayed in Zimbabwe. For the film maker, he became more determined to paint a different picture of the country and the personality of Mugabe, rather than what he considers an inaccurate portrayal by the international media.

Photo Credit: Pan-African Film and Arts Festival

Even during the Q&A session after the film, Agyemang reiterated that his main objective was to show a different side to Mugabe and his stewardship over Zimbabwe. He emphasised his motivation with such infectious determination bordering on passion. His British-Ghanaian identity arguably, lends his voice on this issue significant credibility. In fact, his “British accent” initially impeded access to Mugabe because the Octogenarian leader’s aides suspected him to be a spy. He had to undergo a makeover over of sorts, to assume a more African “Roy from Ghana” identity.

Many, particularly those with little knowledge of Zimbabwe will find the film informative. For instance, after independence in 1980, Mugabe appointed some of his former white adversaries to his cabinet, and the country became a model of an interracial society. For that, he was called “The Gandhi of Africa”, was compared to mother Theresa, was nominated for a Nobel Prize, and was awarded an honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II.

Mugabe however became a villain, the “Black Hitler”, with the controversial land reforms in 2000 in which white-owned farms were transferred to black Zimbabweans. True to the film’s objective of going against the grain in the narrative on Zimbabwe, the film shows how the Blair government’s decision to renege on the Lancaster House agreement between Zimbabwe and Britain meant to oversee this land reform, catalysed Mugabe’s forceful seizure of land from white farmers, and other nationalisation policies. The film focuses on the international politics behind the sanctions.

The viewer also glimpses into Mugabe’s personality. Far from a stiff, horned and unapproachable autocrat, the film shows him as a lucid and witty person in touch with his people. In one scene, Mugabe is seen being coached by very young Zimbabweans on an engaging electoral campaign strategy.

Certainly, Mugabe is a leader who has mastered the art of tapping into a strong anti-neocolonialist sentiment among his people. It is obvious that among his supporters in the country is a fervent, almost messianic belief in Mugabe’s ability to secure “Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans” against foreign domination. One thing I noticed here is that this anti-neocolonialist sentiment, along with the crippling effect of the sanctions, and Mugabe’s demonisation in the international media may have inadvertently forged a strong sense of national identity among Zimbabweans. Rightly or wrongly, such national consciousness has conspicuously eluded many other African countries.

Notwithstanding, the viewer is taken on a brief tour of the darker side of Mugabe’s stewardship. One such case is the Gukurahundi, the brutal suppression of civilians in the 1980s by the government’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade. Thousands were executed whilst Mugabe was simultaneously receiving numerous international accolades for how the crisis was managed. The country’s severe economic crisis in 2007 with hyper inflation at over 150,000% and the crippling effects of international sanctions on the country’s ordinary people are also liberally shown.

An observation was made during the Q&A session which I agree with. The perspective of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ought to have been included in the documentary for greater balance. Agyemang responded that they tried unsuccessfully, to reach out to Tsvangirai.

I personally would have liked to see more on the Chinese presence in the country. This is because development assistance from China has been the government’s lifeline since Mugabe’s fallout with Western countries. I also would’ve liked to see more on the fractionalisation and the succession crisis within Mugabe’s party, the ZANU-PF. In response to my observations, the film maker assured that these areas would be covered in a follow-up documentary.

Overall, the film delivers on its main objectives of providing an alternative view of Robert Mugabe and of widening the debate about him. Regardless of what position one takes on Mugabe, alternative narratives always provide a refreshing take on things. It’s a provocative and timely documentary which is generating a lot of interest. So far there has been screenings at Harvard University, New York University and the British Film Institute to mention a few locations. Screenings are still going on until the film is released on DVD and online early next year.