Achieving Disarmament: Strengths and Weaknesses of International NGOs

The author stresses the importance of NGOs working collectively to reduce risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation, and highlights how one program, the Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP), can effectively create the needed synergy between all such NGO’s, while complimenting other existing campaigns to end the risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation.

By Akhshid Javid,6th December, 2015

The Rise of the Global Movement for Disarmament 

Since 1945, nuclear disarmament has been a concern for many organizations around the world.  Moreover, there have been strong waves of public support for disbandment of nuclear weapons across the globe over the last 50 years.

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The Case for Kurdistan


In making the case for Kurdish independence, the author reviews the favorable prospects of the Kurdish state. He explains that “the West must support Kurdish independence to right the wrongs of the past and create stability in the Middle East.”

By Hawar Shawki, 22nd August, 2014

Straddling the borders where Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria converge in the Middle East, the Kurds constitute the largest number of people in the world without their own independent sovereign state. Long a suppressed minority, the wars against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003 resulted in the creation of a semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the Federal Republic of Iraq. The KRG has inspired the Kurds elsewhere to seek cultural, social, and even political autonomy, if not independence. Kurdish history has seen many nationalist movements, but a fully independent sovereign state has yet to come to fruition and be recognised by the United Nations and other nation-states.

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Fanning the Flames – The Rise of AQAP

An assessment of what has contributed to the swelling of the Al Qaeda ranks in Yemen. Among other factors, this has included the cutting of the remittances from their richer neighbors after the first Gulf War and the security concerns (drone strikes).

By Richard Wallace, 23rd October 2013

Just a couple of months back, news channels were filled with coverage of the impending threat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP – the Gulf branch of Al-Qaeda) poses to domestic security in Yemen and international security more broadly. Yemen is rarely in the limelight, with much media attention focusing further north on the Middle East states of the Levant and Iran. When it does catch international attention, the media discourse on Yemen is typically highly securitized, to the extent that the country is increasingly cast as the next Afghanistan, the cradle of chaos, and the new haven and hotbed of international terrorism. Whether or not this is really the case, it is clear that Yemen does face serious challenges from AQAP’s local franchise and the danger is real. So just how did it come to this?

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Vogue Italia’s ‘Rebranding Africa’ Disaster

In this article Elliot Ross of Africa is a Country dissects the ‘Rebranding Africa’ edition of Vogue Italia.  The author attacks the concept of outside intervention as a defining characteristic of Africa before dealing with some of the more troubling assumptions made by the magazine.  It is a fantastic read.

This article was originally published on June 6th, 2012 on the website Africa is a Country.

By Elliot Ross, 8th June, 2012

Everybody’s trying to rebrand Africa, and it isn’t going so well. Vogue Italia’s latest issue — boosted by great billowing gusts of editorial hot air from both the New York Times and the Guardian — is called “Rebranding Africa”, and as you’d expect the whole thing is an embarrassing and insulting shambles. The images are okay, but otherwise it feels like something a middle-schooler cobbled together for a class project. And then got a “D” for it.

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What is Happening in Nigeria? Blood and Oil (Subsidies)

In this article the author looks at the current wave of political and economic turmoil sweeping Nigeria.  With a potential oil shutdown sending waves of panic across Brent Crude prices and terrorism forcing the closure of the borders the state is facing its largest crisis since its return to civilian rule in 1999.


by Jack Hamilton, 14 Jan, 2012

In 2010 the BBC released the controversial docudrama: ‘Blood and Oil’. It depicted a Nigeria crippled by corruption, protests and terrorism and was slammed for the tropes of endemic sleaze and violence. Executions, inhumane oil politics and the collusion of leading politicians in these atrocities were seen to reflect the Nigeria of the past. This is now the Nigeria of the present and it could be about to get a lot worse.

Occupy Nigeria

Naija Rising

This week the country closed its borders following counter-terrorism advice from the UN and a popular strike threatens to entirely shut down oil and gas production (accounting for over 90% of the export market) on Tuesday if demands are not met. There have been two crucial ultimatums:

1. Boko Haram has threatened to kill all Southerners (read: Christians) in the north if their demands of religious reform are not met. The attacks have already begun.

2. Occupy Nigeria has threatened to grind Nigeria’s export economy to a halt if their demands to maintain the fuel subsidy are not met. The deadline has been extended until Tuesday.

Facing a potential civil war and economic collapse, the Federal Government of Nigeria must act decisively.  There is no quick-fix.

There Might Be Blood – Subsidy Strikes

Who is Drinking Nigeria's Milkshake?

Nigerian oil and gas workers have threatened to shut down the Nigerian oil market, deepening the strikes against the withdrawal of petrol subsidies.  The government and unions are locked in talks which have been extended by two days as of today.  This leaves the government until Tuesday to find a solution or face economic meltdown.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (Pengassan) have put all production platforms on red alert in anticipation of a shutdown. This demonstrates the lack of optimism in resolution being reached in time.

The crisis in Africa’s largest oil exporter has already had an international impact. Oil prices have already risen in anticipation of the shutdown and Nigeria’s export reserves would only last for six weeks.

Brent Crude prices have risen by $1 per barrel in a single day and in a global crude market already shaken by conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, a shutdown in Nigeria could have expansive ramifications. In an election year the last thing a US incumbent would like to see is a pinch at the pumps.

While the true international impact of the crisis is yet to be fully realised, it has already had a devastating impact domestically. The price of fuel has already more than doubled and the prices of other goods, including food, are skyrocketing. People are struggling to get to work, to put food on the table and to run their electricity generators. If the strike turns violent it is these people who will suffer.

Subsidies are seen to be the only benefit most Nigerians receive from the vast oil riches of the country. The argument for their removal is that they cost the state $8 billion per year in funds that could be better used on infrastructure and development. In a country in which government corruption is rife and the trust in the state is dangerously low it is clear that the people would like to see the money conferred through subsidies rather than pilfered by the ‘1%’.

The subsidy involved a huge amount of corruption but its removal does not equate to the removal of the corruption. It is merely a relocation.

Spreading Terror

The north of Nigeria is ‘sliding towards a full-blown guerrilla war’ according to The Economist. Boko Haram bombing campaigns have intensified since the Christmas Day attacks and acts of retribution have been carried out in the Christian south. The burning of a mosque in Benin City, southern Nigeria, demonstrates the dangerous roadmap the northern insurgency could instigate.

Fears abound over the potential links between Boko Haram, a small cult whose primary objective is the removal of secular education, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  Assertions of a broader terrorist network were originally purported by sources in the American military (AFRICOM) and the Algerian Government but on Tuesday this fear was also echoed by the United Nations.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has stated that ‘concerns will increase’ as the popularity of Boko Haram grows. The alleged sophistication of the attacks, especially the bombing of the UN in Abuja, has provided some substance for these assertions but the most recent activities reflect burgeoning brutality, not capability.

Goodluck Jonathan has responded to the fears of a vast terrorist network by closing the borders of the country. Nigeria’s international borders are now operating on high alert as the latest measures demonstrate the degree of force the Federal Government is willing to use to achieve peace and stability across the country.

Elevated force does not necessarily provide a solution for the state.  They are fighting a guerrilla organisation, galvanised by support from those who fear the encroachment of an over-zealous central government.  Memories of egregious state violence mean that heavy state mobilisation is likely to increase rather than diminish the allure of the Boko Haram message to those who feel alienated from the state.

Will Things Fall Apart?

The Occupy Nigeria protests and Boko Haram attacks are entirely separate movements with the common theme of opposing the Federal Government of the country. With opposition to government threatening the security and the economy of the nation questions abound over the future of Nigeria.

Jonathan has announced palliative measures the mass production of buses to ease the transport issues in the country as well as reducing government salaries by a quarter (although they remain obscenely high in such an impoverished nation).

The most recent response to Boko Haram has been a change in language. Jonathan has acknowledged that the support base may be more than purely criminal. In his speech on Monday he admitted that there may even be members of his government that identify with the organisation.

Talks with Occupy Nigeria have been extended by two days but there is a general lack of optimism for a rapid resolution. Boko Haram are intensifying their attacks and flickers of retribution have begun in the south. At present neither crisis shows signs of abating and the Federal Government is floundering.

Nigeria is being plunged into a future which looks ominously similar to its past. In this scenario ‘Blood and Oil’ appears rosy.


For more on the recent crises in Nigeria and terrorism across West Africa see these articles on InPEC:

The State of Terrorism in Nigeria: The Rising Threat of Boko Haram

Photo Essay: 6 Reasons Terrorism is Gaining Momentum in Northern Nigeria

Securing Emptiness: The Sahara Desert and the Global War on Terror

The State of Terrorism in Nigeria: The Rising Threat of Boko Haram

In this article the author assesses the rising threat of the Nigerian terrorist organisation, Boko Haram.  The most recent spate of bombings and executions has raised questions over the unity of the Nigerian state and the future of security on the continent.  It is therefore necessary to understand why Boko Haram is increasing in popularity as their attacks become increasingly barbaric.

By Jack Hamilton, 14 Nov, 2011

Unchecked Massacre

Brutal attacks in Nigeria over the past week have left over 100 people dead.  A single small religious group has transmogrified into a dynamic terrorist organisation capable of rapidly changing tactics and targets in a pattern of violence responsible for over 1000 deaths in northern Nigeria since 2009.

Last week the gunmen wandered around the northern town of Damaturu killing any Christian who could not recite the Islamic creed on the spot.  Nigeria’s Defence Minister Bello Halliru Mohammed has stated that the security forces once again have control and that there is nothing to fear but his words have assured few.

The fact remains that there is still no coherent strategy to combat Boko Haram.

Rising Intensity

The nature of recent events has shocked many, even in regions where Boko Haram attacks are frequent.  Residents expressed rage at the ease with which gunmen were able to take over the city and leave bodies littering the streets.  Police stations, mosques and churches were reduced to rubble before the security forces mobilised a response.  At that point members of the group engaged in gun battles across the city that lasted for hours.

The situation in northern Nigeria is degenerating rapidly.  International observers fear that Boko Haram may already have links to al-Qaeda and al-Shabab and that the campaign of terror shows no signs of abating.

In order to understand Boko Haram it is first necessary to look at who they are, what they want and how they believe they can achieve it.


Boko Haram colloquially translates as “Western education is forbidden”.  It is a claim to reject all things Western from the theory of evolution to Western-style banking.  This has manifested itself in different tactics since the emergence of the group in 2002.  Before 2009 there were no signs that the group desired the overthrow of the state and rather preached to withdraw from the institutions of the non-Sharia Nigerian nation.  It was a law banning the riding of motorbikes without helmets that would prove to be the catalyst for violence.

In July 2009 the central government sought to enforce the law on helmets.  Boko Haram flouted the legislation and was subjected to police brutality which in turn set off an armed uprising in Bauchi, later spreading to Kano, Borno and Yobe.  By the time the army had suppressed the situation over 800 people were dead across the north of the country.

Since 2009 the group has spread rapidly.  The majority of the attacks have taken place in Borno state but Boko Haram have also expanded to the northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto as well as the attacks on Abuja and threats against Lagos.  In addition to the geographical spread there has been a change in tactics from the localised skirmishes to strategic suicide bombing campaigns and massacres directed not only at Nigerian security forces but also international targets such as the UN.


Boko Haram have changed their tactics over the years.  Under their previous leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the group staged mass uprisings against the police and suffered hundreds of casualties.  After Yusuf’s death at the hands of security forces in 2009 they began using tactics more in line with jihadist terrorism including the first suicide bombings in Nigeria’s history.

The attack on the UN may have been an attempt to pressure the international community or perhaps it was simply to embarrass the Nigerian state but it succeeded in drawing global attention to a burgeoning problem.  Boko Haram may be diffuse but it is expanding geographically with increasing tactical sophistication.


As Boko Haram expands the questions over their composition complicate.  According to Paul Lubeck, an expert on northern Nigeria, Boko Haram is not a single group but a collection of splinters banded under one name by the Federal Government.  One section appears willing to negotiate while others remain determined to intensify the bombing campaign.

Some statements reflect a strict adherence to Islamic law while others cite a determination for a smaller Nigerian state as their raison d’être.  If the group is as amorphous as Lubeck claims it will make it very difficult to negotiate with let alone combat.



The structural issues of northern Nigeria have allowed Boko Haram to thrive in recent years.  In addition to acute poverty the region has a high birth rate and 50% of the population are below the age of 30.

Inequality, unemployment and industrial stagnation have exacerbated the perception that the north has been marginalised by the liberalisation of the Nigerian economy.  The question of who owns the land has not been answered since independence and the Federal State seems too far away and blighted by corruption to deal with such issues.


Grievances in the north were compounded by the election of a southerner, Goodluck Jonathan, as President earlier this year.  Jonathan assumed the office following the death of the northern Muslim President Umaru Yar’Adua and many northerners believe Jonathan should have stepped aside to allow another northerner to take Yar’Adua’s place.  This would have been in line with the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that the Presidency should rotate between the north, the south-west and the south-east every two terms.


The administration is treating Boko Haram as a security issue rather than tackling the divisive subject of poverty in the north.  Abuja’s response has been to flood the north with heavy-handed military and police forces that now stand accused of human rights violations against civilians.

Politicians in the north have begged for the numbers of security forces to be reduced as police corruption has become rife.  For many in the north the police are the face of the central government.  The people feel alienated from a force they perceive to be corrupt.

Responding to Boko Haram

For many the heavy military presence in the north is the single most important hindrance in securing any negotiated peace.  The failed attempt to destroy the group in 2009 was the greatest recruitment drive Boko Haram could have hoped for, especially the controversial extra-judicial killing of the leader Mohammed Yusuf.

The current strength of Boko Haram is largely a result of such poor foresight by the Nigerian state.  As a result there is now a security vacuum in the most heavily militarised region of the country.

Flagrant myopia has created martyrs and swelled the ranks of the guerrillas.  The legal response to the killing of Yusuf is a good first step but it does little to combat the issues of poverty and corruption that are integral to Boko Haram’s recruitment.

Opposition leaders in the north claim that the government has failed to understand the amount of support Boko Haram has amongst the population.  By stating their opposition to central government and corruption the group has grown far beyond their initial religious doctrine and the government will need to find a response to the structural inequalities in Nigeria if the terrorists are to lose their supporters.  It does not appear as if this is going to happen any time soon.  It is possible that Boko Haram may actually be growing beyond the borders of Nigeria.

The Anti-Social Network?

Many experts have questioned whether the increased tactical sophistication of Boko Haram is evidence of the group branching out to international terrorist organisations, especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  A change in tack to target international organisations with large high-tech bombs has caused concern.  General Ham, head of US Africa Command, believes that the worst case scenario already exists and that Boko Haram are working in tandem with AQIM and al-Shabab in a “loose” partnership.

Hard evidence for any such link is still to be produced.  The geographical distance between AQIM, Boko Haram and al-Shabab make such a partnership unlikely and the possibility remains that the increased military technology may have come from within Nigeria itself.  Alex Thurston, an expert on terrorism in the region, has posited that it is more likely the sophistication came from disaffected Nigerian soldiers than any international training.

The Future State of Nigeria

The failure of the government reactions have meant that Boko Haram has been successful in achieving one of their primary goals: the weakening of the legitimacy of the state.  Attacks on international organisations have created increased pressure on Jonathan to find a solution to the problem.  The short-term solution of heavy military deployment may eventually yield similar successes to those against the militant groups in the Niger Delta but it would also undermine the cohesion of Nigeria.  This would also act to provide momentum for Boko Haram.

The failure to develop a clear strategy to combat the small Islamic group in 2009 has forced the Nigerian state to face up to the larger structural issues concerning the north.  A solely military solution is no longer feasible.

The Lighthouse in the Desert

By Jack Hamilton, 9 Oct, 2011

Folklore spills across time creating and undoing history as it ebbs. Whole identities can be constructed and deconstructed in these stories but it is rare in these ages that entire maps can be reimagined due to a single small tree. The old addage “so geographers in Afric maps, with savage pictures fill their gaps” has long since faded but this is a story about one such ‘gap’, the one piece of life within it and the price of life that goes with it.

The Sahara Desert is awash with a sandstorm of whispers and this particular spec is the lonely Tree of Ténéré. It is a story which entails trust amidst gossip as well as the dangers of blind trust in a terrain in which one can see for miles. Upon first hearing the story I didn’t believe that such a tree could ever have existed. In recent weeks a terrorist cell linked to al-Qaeda was undone by their belief that the tree still existed. However, I must start by describing the story of the tree.

There was once a solitary tree standing in the centre of the Sahara Desert. Between the Baobabs of Senegal and the Olive Trees of Tunisia remained one sole survivor of a bygone era. Millenia ago the tree had been part of a great forest which had gradually died off as the Sahara became the inhospitable mother she is today. One tree remained to guide all those who dared to traverse the barren lands. It was a beacon: the lighthouse in the desert.

The nomads of the desert alone knew of this tree and used it as a tracking mechanism when traversing the most desolate depths of enduring beige. When these Tuareg would encounter the Fulani in north east Mali they would recount their tracks in order to let the Fulani know of their passage, including the waypoint of the tree in the middle of the desert. Having listened politely to the detailed directions the Fulani would thank the Tuareg and see them on their way providing that no disagreements had been reached.

At this stage the Fulani would all agree never to follow the route of the Tuareg. These men had seemingly been driven dangerously insane by the desert. Of course, there is no chance for a tree to exist in such a place. There are no trees for hundreds of miles in the Sahel (the shoreline of the desert), let alone the Sahara. If this route had a proclivity for perverting the minds of the fearsome Tuareg, it was no place for men.

This story circulated until the times when modern technology made it possible for mere mortals to take the route. Safe inside the machinery that would be used to fight the Second World War, Europeans were able to cross the desert here in hopes of cutting off a rival. It was at this time that they too believed themselves to have gone insane too as in the horizon the withered spectre of an acacia tree loomed. They had not been in the desert long enough to have reached the Libyan coast and had not crossed the Italian lines that would have inevitably preceded the water. It could not be Algeria as there had been no sign of the southern Air mountains. The story was true. They had discovered the Tree of Ténéré. The most isolated life on Earth.

It is here that a part of the mystery ends. Confused and in search of the truth the Europeans (a French division) decided to dig underneath the tree and discovered a well 35 metres down. While the fairytale of the tree was slightly depleted the beacon took on a new significance as not only being the only life but suddenly becoming a redeemer of life in the harsh conditions of the Sahara. The tree was not a mirage but the literal symbol of water in the desert.

However, as with all of these stories of the desert, it ends in tragedy. In the 1970s a Libyan truck driver somehow careered into the tree, allegedly drunk. Upon hearing this part of the story I was always interested to hear how the driver could explain this to his boss. He had somehow managed to hit the only tree in a 400km radius.

The reason I was reminded of this story was due to reading intelligence reports from the security forces tracking al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (the Saharan branch of the terrorist organisation). One of the Algerian trackers claimed that they had an intimate knowledge of the desert and in the pursuit they had passed the Tree of Ténéré. Today in the place of the tree stands a simple metal sculpture representing the optimism of the tree. Unfortunately the tracker described in great detail the tree as it looked before the 1970s, exactly the description that was recounted to me. It was clear that the ‘trackers’ did not know the desert and had possibly never crossed into Niger where the tree used to stand. They were found out immediately.

The idea of the Tree of Ténéré had always seemed to me like one of the lies which whispers around the desert. It brought a smile to my face that the myth was actually the truth and it was this fact that unveiled the fiction.

Jack Hamilton can be followed on Twitter @jmhamilton