Nigeria: Federalism Works

A woman casts her vote during the presidential elections in Lagos, April 16, 2011. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye/Nigeria)

One hundred years after British colonialists unified two protectorates to create Nigeria, the problems inherent in lumping together myriad different peoples and regions continue to provoke debate and controversy. This is often directed at Nigeria's federal system.

State authorities frequently clash with the federal government, political battle lines and alliances are often made with regional and ethnic divides in mind, and accusations of inequalities in the country's federal structure rarely die down. The issue can even get so controversial that in his opening speech at Nigeria's National Conference, convened to discuss the state of the nation, President Goodluck Jonathan explicitly barred any discussion about dissolving the federation.

Firing Blanks: The Growing Irrelevance of the UN Small Arms Process

A Mexican soldier destroys weapons seized from drug traffickers, August 18, 2010.  (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

While ferocious armed conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, Libya, and Syria dominate news headlines, the foremost United Nations (UN) process to combat the illicit trade in small arms appears to have lost its way. In 2001, UN member states hammered out a compromise program of action to be the foremost global map to tackle illicit small arms, which are widely used to injure and kill people both in times of war and peace. 

Thirteen years later, as reflected in the diplomatic deliberations during the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS5) on the implementation of this program of action that took place in New York in June this year, it was evident that the UN process has become preoccupied with peripheral issues. These included small arms marking and tracing, and the management of government weapons stockpiles. If the small arms process was compared to that of food insecurity and malnutrition, it would be as if an initiative that once held the aspiration of eradicating world hunger had now become obsessed with food labeling and warehouse management.

The Search for Federal Solutions

Hafsat Abiola speaks at a rally encouraging Nigerian women to participate in the 2011 Nigerian elections, October 16, 2010. (African Renewal/Flickr)

As conflicts continue to spread across borders in the Middle East and Africa, the state system in the summer of 2014 finds itself under exceptional stress. The system of international relations as embodied in the United Nations, the World Bank, and a host of continental and regional organizations provides the fundamental underpinning for a rule-based world order centered on principles of human rights, freedom, and the advancement, in the words of the UN Charter, of “the common interest.” It has taken centuries, as the political scientist Joseph Nye and others have pointed out, to develop the current international system with its interlocking commitments to these values and commitments.

The challenges presented by proponents of extreme violence such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali (among others) are not only challenges to specific states; they are challenges to the entire state-based system on which the overwhelming majority of the world’s people depend. The inability of the centralized state to address basic requirements of peace, security, economic livelihood and development, together with ethnic and sectarian discord, underlies the challenge of maintaining viable states, most notably in the Middle East and Africa. These challenges have to be confronted not only militarily, but by finding political solutions which respond to the needs of common people for some measure of control over their lives and destiny.

In Gaza and Israel, a Need for a Signed, Ratified Truce Agreement

A Palestinian boy stands near a wreckage of a building destroyed by Israeli forces in Gaza City, Gaza,  August 19, 2014. (Mohammed Asad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Israeli and Palestinian delegations are still meeting in Cairo (with the assistance of the Egyptian intermediaries), though it looks unlikely that the negotiators will be able to get agreement on even a few minimal demands in the immediate term. This will probably mean another ceasefire, buying them time to look for the breakthrough that could launch a stable and sustainable truce.

According to the European Union, the current situation and the tentative truce agreement in Cairo might not be enough to ensure a long-term ceasefire. At an urgent meeting held in Brussels on August 15, the EU Foreign Affairs Council released a joint statement in which all 28 foreign ministers agreed that the status quo in the Gaza Strip was “not an option.” Accordingly, they proposed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Egypt restore the European supervisory force that was positioned at the Rafah crossing point for almost two years, 2005-07.

Child Migrants, Violence, and the Nicaraguan Exception

A family walks on Jiquilillo Beach at sunset, El Viejo, Nicaragua. Experts are asking why children from Nicaragua are not part of the recent surge in Central American children migrating to the United States. (ashabot/Flickr/2008)

The recent surge of children migrating from Central America to the United States has caused many to ask who or what is responsible. The vast majority of these children—78 percent, according to one figure from FY 2014—are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, countries that make up what is sometimes called the Northern Triangle, and are places that are strikingly poor, unequal, and extremely violent. 

Their closest neighbor to the south—Nicaragua—is even poorer, and yet its children are not part of this migration. Nicaragua has an annual GDP per capita of less than $2,000 USD, making it the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, except for Haiti. Further, this Central American country shares a turbulent history of long political conflicts, bloody civil war, recurring foreign occupations, and enduring corruption.

Yet Nicaragua has significantly less crime and violence than any other country in this region that stretches from the Rio Grande to the Amazon. Only Costa Rica, the longest continuous democracy in Latin America and the most developed country in Central America, has slightly lower rates of crime and violence.

Cameroon and the Growing Threat of Boko Haram Contagion

Artwork by Nigerian artist Sarah Peace uses black veils to represent the Chibok girls kidnapped in April 2014 by Boko Haram. Over 200 girls are still missing. (Wikipedia)

On July 26, a group of heavily armed assailants attacked Kolofata, a Cameroonian town located near the country’s shared border with Nigeria. While there have been no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack, in which three people were killed and the wife of Cameroon’s deputy prime minister was kidnapped, the incursion conformed to the modus operandi typically employed by the Boko Haram Islamist extremist sect.

The Kolofata incident was by no means the first attack in Cameroon to be attributed to Boko Haram. Indeed, over the past 18 months, the sect has conducted a number of armed incursions in the country’s Extreme-Nord administrative division, which shares a long and porous border with Nigeria’s insurgent-embattled Adamawa and Borno states.

Building Urban Resilience in Bangkok: Q&A with Apiwat Ratanawaraha

A gated middle-class community in Bangkok,Thailand. (Getty)

Over the past two decades, Bangkok has experienced multiple shocks—the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s started in Thailand; in 2011, the country was hit by a devastating flood that displaced more than 1.5 million people; and in May of this year, the country experienced its twelfth coup d’état in less than a century.

Yet building resilience in Bangkok, a bustling and densely-populated city of over six million people, “is not just about recovery from shocks, or going back to the original state of being,” said Apiwat Ratanawaraha, an urban planning expert in Bangkok. “It’s about transformation from a bad state into a better state.”

Urbanization has become a central issue in global development and security, as experts project that by 2030, more than three quarters of the world’s population will live in cities. Fast urbanization can offer higher standards of living, but it comes at a cost—local institutions may be unable to scale-up their infrastructure to accommodate rapidly growing populations, and the resulting failures can turn cities into havens for violence, crime, and poverty.

The Art of Mediation: Local Lessons for International Peacemakers

After a car accident, two men argue over who was at fault,  Brooklyn, New York. (Lou Bueno/Flickr)

“The most effective mediator is nearly invisible,” said Brad Heckman, CEO of the New York Peace Institute, one of the largest conflict resolution services in the United States. “In the context of international mediation, the mediator is at the table largely because of his or her cache, standing in the community, political capital,” Mr. Heckman explained in an interview. “What we teach is almost the polar opposite of that.”

After setting up mediation services in Eastern European countries emerging from societal upheaval and transitions to democracy, Mr. Heckman established the New York Peace Institute to resolve disputes between individuals in the city and address community-wide disturbances.

His work in New York involves people from a variety of ethnic groups, cultural orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and Mr. Heckman sees numerous parallels in mediating local-level and international disputes: “There’s a finite set of human reactions to conflict, and the set of tools that we use are equally applicable, whether it’s a neighbor noise dispute or a multiparty dispute involving ethnic groups internationally.”

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