Geography Basics: U.S.-west Africa-Boko Haram

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed that human knowledge could be organized in three ways. First, one could study the object specifically, toxicology, chemistry, geology, botany, and so on. Second, one could study an object based on time, history. Third, one could study an object based on its spatial relationships, Geography.

In the news this week was the revelation that the United States will be expending geopolitical power (i.e. deploying military personnel, via Voice of America) in checking the growth of violent Islamist movements in western Sub-Saharan Africa, to include Boko Haram.

(U.S. troops being deployed to northern Cameroon to assist fighting violent Islamists [Lake Chad in blue], via Voice of America)

In doing so, the U.S. is wading into the middle of an internationalized civil conflict that has some geographic and historic roots (as they all do). The civil conflict is simply (at the risk of oversimplifying) the lack of proportionate inclusion of a minority population in the political, economic, and social fabric of the states of which they are a part. This, hopefully, sounds familiar. The minority population is the Kanuri ethnolinguistic community, who are predominantly Sunni Muslim (as are other groups in the region), and who are primarily located in Nigeria but also in several neighboring countries, like Cameroon, Niger, Chad.

Kanuri linguistic groups, Lake Chad in blue, via Wikipedia using sources from Ethnologue

Geographically, two themes are relevant. First there is the ever-present legacy of colonialism. No, I’m not going to launch into the expected tirade about North-South relationships (at least not today). For this conflict, one relevant Geography of colonial history is the decline, fall, and subsuming of the Bornu Empire into the British colony in Nigeria, and the French colonies in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. According to wikipedia, the Bornu empire was comprised of (primarily) of the Kanuri community. This is largely evident in a “visual analysis” of the maps above and below this paragraph.

Bornu Empire ca 1750, via Wikipedia

Having their own polity, the Kanuri people had (until the community’s nadir, just before absorption into the European colonies) control of their political, economic, and social destiny. How far this control (read: freedom) extended to lowest strata of society is an important question. With the empire’s break-up, the Kanuri were divided into several colonies, which eventually became independent states. These independent states, partial democracies (at best), were comprised of several (hundreds, in the case of Nigeria) other ethno-linguistic-sectarian groups – each seeking to maximize political, economic, and social influence.

The other relevant geographic point is, which follows on the earlier one, is the transnational nature of the Kanuri people. As Z Geography has written elsewhere, deconstructing the myth of the homogeneous nation-state (see popular writings on East Asia and Scandinavia for great examples) occupies a significant portion of geographer’s writing. Suffice to say that the transnational nature is, again, evident in the above maps and should be kept in mind while review the below – highlighting the distinct ethno-linguistic identities in Nigeria. Note that the map is from 1979 and is likely to have changed considerably.

Linguistic Groups in Nigeria (1979), via University of Texas

So the Kanuri used to have an empire and are spread across several states, what does that have to do with a violent Islamist insurgency in 2015?

Probably a lot, which brings me to history.

The other principal ethno-linguistic group involved in the Boko Haram violent Islamist insurgency are the Hausa-Fulani. Boko Haram is a loose translation from Hausa, “Fake Forbidden” and signifies that western education should be forbidden. In the place of the partially-free liberal democracy, the group (which was founded in 2002) advocates an Islamic caliphate (a theocracy) based on Islamic laws and jurisprudence.

The BBC article containing this information also mentions the Sokoto Caliphate, a primarily Hausa-Fulani project that also played a direct role in the decline of the Bornu Empire. If wikipedia is to be believe, Sokoto invaded Bornu because of the lapsed nature of their religiosity. The victory was shortlived (around a century) and the Sokoto Caliphate fell to the British by 1903 and elements within the former communities comprising the former caliphate (the Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri) has resisted British (and western) education since.

Boko Haram, however with a few notable exceptions, has primarily involved itself in the Kanuri areas of Nigeria (see map below). This implies, to Z Geography, that the Hausa-Fulani community is not quite on board with the combination of violence, Islamism, and (potentially) Kanuri-specific economic and political grievances.

Probable Boko Haram Attacks (Jan-2010 to Mar-2014), via Business Insider, data from ACLED)

Demographically, why should they be?

Based on the 1952/3 and 1963 censuses, the Hausa-Fulani population (combined) is probably the largest ethno-linguistic group in Nigeria (see reproduced table from a University of Oxford paper, 2005). To put it simply, under a democratic or republican system the largest ethnic groups can simply divide scarce state resources (say, rents from oil production) among themselves. After all, the 3 largest (in 1952) comprised 51% of the population.

Select Ethnic Groups in Nigeria ca. 1952/1953 (from Mustapha, 2005)
Ethnic Group Population Percent
Hausa         5,548,542 17.8%
Igbo         5,483,660 17.6%
Yoruba         5,046,799 16.2%
Fulani         3,040,736 9.8%
Kanuri         1,301,924 4.2%
Tiv            790,450 2.5%
Ibibio            766,764 0.3%
Edo            468,501 1.5%
Nupe            359,260 1.2%
Smaller Groups         8,349,391 29.0%
Nigeria      31,156,027 100%

Indeed, this is the assessment of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja (the capital of Nigeria):

Today, political power in Nigeria has become a tribal zero-sum game. The popular assumption is that if the Hausas are in power, they are eating well while the Yorubas and Igbos are losing out. So, the Yorubas and Igbos simply endure and wait until it is their turn. Little wonder, political positions in Nigeria have become fiercely contested. Since Independence, Nigeria has been ruled by a handful of power-wielding oligarchs who, according to John Campbell, “have held power, lost power, and lived to play again.” Those who aspire to the highest office in the land cultivate the friendships of these oligarchs. Whether from the military, politics or business, these oligarchs seek to protect the parochial interests of their subordinates and clients to ensure their continued access to the spoils of office. (via Nigeria’s Guardian News)

But if the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo – through sheer demographic weight – are able to sway elections and enjoy the benefits of the state’s patronage, where does that leave smaller, “major” minority groups like the Kanuri? To Z Geography, there are some potential political and economic grievances here.

But these grievances can be a call to action, not necessarily violent action. Leaving aside the nature/nurture debate, it is the contention of some academics that the Nigerian government’s violent crackdown on the group, especially in its early years, was disproportionately violent and served to justify the group’s narrative (see Serrano and Pieri: the Nigerian State’s efforts to counter Boko Haram, pages 194, 199): that the Nigerian government is illegitimate and should be replaced.

Into this complex conflict enters 300 U.S soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen who will be conducting “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights [as well as] enabling operations, border security, and response force capability.” In other words, the United States seeks to address the superficial effects of (at least one) corrupt and rapacious state, by supporting it.

In 20 years, when the Boko Haram group is (finally) stamped out, at the cost of millions of U.S. dollars, and (probably) hundreds of civilians’ lives. Another violent extremist group will take root in Borno state, espousing some ideology promising equitable access to resources and freedom from the yoke of an uncaring government dominated by an enemy ethnic group. This very same government will once again demonstrate that it is not beholden to this minority group, and violently repress it.

***

Organic state update: First, notice also that this violent insurgency in Nigeria has, and has before, cropped up quite far from the capital in Abuja. Second, there may also be an element of “effective capacity” here as well. The Serrano/Pieri chapter, noted above, also discusses the inability of local Nigerian police to effectively deal with local instability due to lack of training and equipment.

Geographic Implications of (Anti-)Social Media

“Someday we will build up a world telephone system, making necessary to all peoples the use of a common language or common understanding of languages, which will join all the people of the earth into one brotherhood. There will be heard throughout the earth a great voice coming out of the ether which will proclaim, ‘Peace on earth, good will towards men.'” – John J. Carty (Chief Engineer at AT&T, 1891) (Credit)

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The Internet has brought seemingly limitless information and media, literally, to our fingertips. I have watched my mother reconnect with grammar school friends on a social media site, even though that time was decades past and half a world away. The Internet, like the Post, Telegraph, Radio, Telephone, and Television, have also served to speed information between people at distances far greater than human perception would typically allow. But, there are a few key differences. First is the ubiquity of the Internet. It can be accessed from your phone, your computer, your tablet, from a coffee shop down the street, your 5th floor apartment, your workplace, mid-air, the middle of the ocean, and extra-terrestrially (Twitter). Another difference is the sheer volume of people able to access the information – the International Telecommunication Union estimates that in 2015 3.1 billion (or half the planet’s population) was using the Internet. Virtually everyone has a cell phone (seriously the statistic is 7,085,000,000; the 2015 estimated population for the planet is 7,200,000,000). And of course, programming within the Internet has made information accessible to even more users through automated translation. There is also the depth of interaction, were bandwidth to allow it, all 7 billion users could conceivably be in the same chat room at the same time, passing information back and forth. So why hasn’t Carty’s prediction come true?

Well, Z isn’t going to sort out this thornier philosophical issue for you (an excellent place to get started, however, is Ted Robert Gurr’s Why Men Rebel,1970). Spoiler alert: academia still hasn’t come to an agreement (Z suspects the answer is both – nurture and nature, based on his observations).

The last 12-months has thrown into stark relief the impact that anti-social media (meant in its correct sense: unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way with other people) has on engendering a distinctive anti-social environment.

To put it plainly, the Internet empowers demagogues and provides a platform where one can find supportive listeners, watchers, activists, and foot soldiers anywhere in the world.

The Internet has seemingly negated the role that Geography played in minimizing the impact that these individuals would have. Would a certain Florida-based pastor (turned Freedom/French fry chef and 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidate) been known outside the state 100 years ago, outside the country 50 years ago? Only to the devoted watcher. Also complicit in the rise of demagoguery is a willing mass media complex providing microphones and coverage for various rants (I’m sure you can find your own sources).

Anti-social media and its anti-social users can now draw on social media half a world away in order to push their own message.

(via BBC)

The above image was created by a (self-described) conservative Japanese woman (all from the BBC). The caption reads: “‘I want to live a safe and clean life, eat gourmet food, go out, wear pretty things, and live a luxurious life… all at the expense of someone else.’ ‘I have an idea. I’ll become a refugee.'” The artist posts to a social media page that also includes anti-Korean messages. As the BBC astutely points out immigration in Japan remains a controversial subject despite an ageing and declining population (regular Z Geography readers will no doubt recall failed public policy encourage Japanese Brazilians to immigrate to Japan).

The publication of this image immediately brought back memories (not even a month old, sadly) of the camerawoman for Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, who was video tapped ignominiously tripping and kicking two or three people running.

For the last month, Z Geography has watched the inevitable troll war in anonymous (and non-anonymous) comment sections around the Internet. Demagoguery has no shortage of willing participants. The Internet has flattened the Geography of Hate.

But what is shocking to Z Geography is the level of impersonal detachment shown by the camerawoman and female artist. One woman from one culture immersed in an ongoing human dilemma found it perfectly acceptable to kick a little girl as she ran by. While another woman from another culture thousands of miles away found it perfectly acceptably to create an  image based on a photo of another little girl to push a message of prejudice. Are we becoming desensitized to extremism? Probably.

But Z Geography’s bigger concern is whether this activity – cartoons, videos of kicking, and comments defending it all – serves to legitimize extremism. It is unfortunate that there isn’t a historical precedent for this sort of thing.

Oh wait.

(via wikipedia): From a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a Jew stabbing a German soldier in the back. World War 1 ended in 1918, the Holocaust began in 1941. At least 12,000 Jewish soldiers died serving Imperial Germany.

Disclaimer: Z Geography does not advocate the curbing of freedom of expression and artistry on the Internet (and sees all three as public goods, in both senses of the word).

Demographic Transition: Denmark and (Have More) Sex Ed

(welcome back to Z!)

Demographics (Geography, really) have been in the news a lot lately, so finding a good starting point is difficult. Readers may remember (though it has been some time) that Z Geography has previously discussed the Stage 5 of the Demographic Transition (wherein a country experiences a declining population as birth rates fall below the death rate and net migration isn’t able to make up the difference).

There are two general ways to beat the falling population reality and both involve having more children (obviously). You either 1) incentive or coerce you’re existing national citizenry to have children or 2) you attract new peoples (say migrants) to shore up the population and hope that they have more children (which they typically do).

Denmark, it seems, is choosing the first course. A recent article in the Atlantic notes that sex education in the country was expanded last year to not only discourage teen pregnancy, but also “warning teens about the risks waiting too long to have children.” Presumably the “risks” referred to involve potential complications arising from so-called geriatric pregnancy.

Unlike its eastern Baltic NATO-ally Estonia (which Denmark had political control over in the 16th-17th century), Denmark’s population is not declining. Yet. According to my favorite U.S. government agency’s forecasts (the Census Bureau) Denmark will probably be in population decline by 2050. Estonia is already there. The Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway are in a similar situation to Denmark. Each had an estimated total fertility rate of between 1.8 and 1.9 live births per woman (aged in her child-bearing years). Estonia’s is 1.6 births per woman.

Denmark has some time to figure out the winning policy formula. The problem is – does a winning policy formula exist? In Singapore (current fertility rate 0.8), a self-styled “sex guru” created a “love boat” getaway package in 2003. Spending $580 (U.S.) couples got a cruise, massages, aphrodisiacs, health classes, and other goods and services to put them in the baby-creating mood. Evidently the fertility rate has dropped since then.

Perhaps a more instructive case is the United States. In this country the total fertility rate (of all census respondents) is 1.9 births per woman, which is obviously below the replacement level of 2.1. Yet Census is not projecting a decline in the U.S. population – because of immigration. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) said it best in the past couple of weeks (via Politico):

  • [former South Carolina Senator] Strom Thurmond had four kids after age 67. If you’re not willing to do that, we need to come up with a new immigration system.

Whether he intended to or not (giving the Senator the benefit of the doubt here), Sen. Graham hit upon an apparent demographic truth. Given the economic imbalances in the global economic system, immigrants (from economically underdeveloped and often insecure countries) are needed to sustain the population’s of economically advanced and physically secure Western societies (like the U.S. and Denmark).

On this point, Denmark currently does not have a migrant resettlement quota (like the United Kingdom and Ireland) because of an existing exemption in the EU’s asylum policy. However,this may change and Denmark may take some asylees without a quota.

While the immigration “fix” to the demographic problem is easy, the implications are political. Europe was already experiencing a far-right and conservative backlash before the “migrant crisis” came to the fore (though why it wasn’t a crisis during the first 4 years of the Syrian Civil War is beyond the scope of this article). See headline (Jan-2015): Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Parties Stand to Gain Ground in Wake of Paris Attacks (Wall Street Journal). A key statement in the article is this: “Unlike in the U.S. or Canada, ethnicity and national identity remain closely intertwined in Europe. Melding Europe’s Muslim communities, which often are extremely devout, into Europe’s pluralistic, secular society is particularly tricky.” First and unfortunately for the majority of the world’s states – ethnic identity (to include race, language, religion, and other identifying markers) is the leading determinant for the conception of the imagined community – the nation. The U.S. and Canada, founded by immigrants and consistently reshaped by subsequent waves, are different (though angry nativist rhetoric always crops up during economic downturns).

The real catch is the second sentence – the interaction between immigrant communities and the host communities. But it is necessary to make a distinction, labor immigrants (for jobs) typically seek to immigrate and generally stay in the country, making a new life, often inviting family. Refugees are unwilling migrants. Most would probably wish to stay at home, if the home hadn’t been destroyed by a car bomb, a natural disaster, or some other cause of forcible displacement. Historically, migrants and host communities have integrated each other. Each changes (for the better) with each successive generation of children (migrants and hosts) going to school together and playing together. It was only a mere century ago when the Irish “need not apply” to jobs in and around U.S. metropolitan areas. Now Irish heritage is intertwined with American heritage.

A similar process is already at work within Europe, France and UK have experience accepting immigrants from the former colonies but the rest, including Denmark, must get used to the idea of becoming receivers of immigrants from abroad (whereas they were historically emigrants themselves) if they are to maintain population growth.

Competing Narratives in Ukraine

The conflict narratives prevailing in eastern Ukraine obscure the likely “ground truth” at the center of the conflict. Russia’s and Ukraine’s press releases and official commentary are political statements; statements that contain elements of truth bent towards justifying (or legitimizing) certain political actions. Geographically, these narratives center on eastern Ukraine and its people. With the start of Ukrainian military action in the east, the critical factor is which identity the eastern Ukrainians emphasize – are they primarily cultural Ukrainians? Or Russian speakers? The answer to this question will have repercussions for the rest of Ukraine.

note: this post draws on information from a useful BBC report (here).

For Russia the conflict is about protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in Ukraine, specifically eastern Ukraine at the moment. As the BBC observes, most of these Russian-speakers are “ethnic Ukrainians”. This unhelpful phrase is probably meant to convey that these communities of individuals are “culturally Ukrainian”. Ethnic groups, like nations, are an imagined community; a community often based on: 1) culture, 2) language, 3) religion, et cetera. This seemingly minor details carries important weight – first, a person’s identity has multiple faces. An individual living in Donetsk is probably, at once a Russian-speaker who consider herself Ukrainian. Perhaps next door neighbor, similar in all respects, considers themselves Russian. In the Russian narrative, Putin aims to protect both groups, Russian-speaking cultural Russians and Russian-speaking cultural Ukrainians from Ukrainian-speaking government oppressing this group from Kiev.

For Ukraine the conflict is about maintaining territorial cohesion and its cultural identity. The government argues that Russia sparked the unrest in the east, insinuating that these problems occurred at foreign behest; moreover, it has labelled the pro-Russia groups as “terrorists.” Kiev’s argument is that Ukraine is a country for cultural Ukrainians, whether they speak Russian or Ukrainian. Unsurprisingly given this position, it has wholly dismissed the demands of the pro-Russia group, marking them as illegitimate.

Taken together, the conflict is about two competing nation/state narratives – a Russia seeking to assert itself abroad as the protector of Russian-speakers worldwide and a Ukraine seeking to maintain its identity as the abode of cultural Ukrainians. The problem, of course, is what the Ukrainian-passport holders (i.e. the official Ukrainian public) consider themselves. As the BBC article notes, many people in the east are angry with a government in Kiev that see is dominated by politicians from the central and western oblasts. Further, they believe that the interim government has simply appointed oligarchs as governors, similarly corrupt individuals from Yanukovich’s tenure. Besides the international community, the Ukrainian and Russian governments are also attempting to influence these locals – labeling pro-Russia groups as “terrorists” and advocating the defense of “Russian speakers.”

With the Ukrainian military undertaking an “anti-terrorism” operation in the country’s east – the government risks pushing the resident cultural Ukrainians, who have a legitimate gripe with the government – poor representation and corruption, into the waiting arms of Russia. This risk would grow even more likely, and dangerous, should the operation negatively impact local residents. By prompting local Ukrainians to switch allegiance, Kiev would ultimately be challenging its own identity – is Ukraine for cultural Ukrainians, regardless of language or is the vision much more limited a state only for Ukrainian-speaking cultural Ukrainians in the west and central oblasts? If the latter is the case, what happens to the Hungarians, Poles, and Romanian speakers?

Appendix:

The CIA’s World Factbook also illustrates the religious aspect of Ukrainian identity, although it the data is only provided a the countrywide-level.

Of 44.2 million estimated Ukrainian citizens:

  • 67% speak Ukrainian
  • 24% speak Russian
  • 9% speak other languages (including Polish, Romanian, and Hungarian)
  • 50% practice Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate)
  • 26% practice Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate)
  • 8% practice Ukrainian Greek Catholic
  • 7% practice Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox

According to its Wikipedia page, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is primarily located in eastern Ukraine. The other two Ukrainian Orthodox churches are mostly located in the west and center.