Unintended Consequences: How the Global Democracy and Development Community Contribute to the Creation of Violent Non-State Actors Such as Boko Haram
Christopher Keith Johnson
Insurgency was sparked in the Lake Chad Basin through a mix of religious, economic, political, and cultural factors. Post-development theory is somewhat of an equal opportunity offender as it requires that we look beyond the state to include the global system if we truly wish to interrogate the root causes of conflict. The globalization of foreign aid, including but not limited to an internal tension between support for the widening of democratic space and the opening and/or expansion of markets through investment and trade, plays a role in what many mistakenly believe to be a local issue of isolated political violence. It is necessary to explore the role development, broadly defined and applied, plays in fuelling a crisis such as his been witnessed through the emergence of Boko Haram as a violent non-state actor.
Many would argue that policies of the global North, ill-suited to the reality of the locations in which they have been transferred, have greatly contributed to instability in the developing world (Tagma et al., 2013). Post-development theory would be of value in addressing that question. It might also uncover how a western driven global economic policy contributes to instability in the South (Escobar, 2012). There is value in Nigerians and others in the developing world debating viewpoints and theoretical frameworks regarding the way insurgency is dealt with by the state and their own communities, and how this connects with broader international policy questions (Amnesty International, 2015).
Arturo Escobar and post-development theorists are challenging the notion of Western universality. Beyond mere defiance, Escobar is recommending a complete and thorough interrogation if not dismantling of the global aid networks designed to help the poor. In his view, these systems were conceived to control the economic output of the developing world. Post-development does not form the basis of a traditional theory—something that can be easily summarized in a paragraph or less. Escobar is saying that the lived experience of people in the developing world through their indigenous social movements are best used as an example of how to manage the affairs of a nation. Through this shifting of the lens “democracy, [the] economy, and society” will be transformed (1992, pp. 21-22).
Escobar is in a sense biting the hand that feeds him as academia (his professional home) itself is “globalized” in such a way that western concepts and theories are far too often viewed as the starting and ending point of a “logical” discussion regarding global development (Brohman, 1995; Lowy, 1995; Tansel, 2013). To place the power to choose/agency in the hands of practitioners or even more dangerously—clients, partners, commoners, or peasants—is a threat to the very order of how the Western world works.
The above is not new. It arguably peaked in the intellectual expression that exploded in the developing world in the 1960s and 70s. It was never fully mainstream in the West but considered a valid component of a global conversation. It was minimized and largely dismissed once neoliberalism became the be-all and end-all of most Western policy making gatherings of note regarding the necessary components of true democracy. The freedom to choose was replaced by market driven demands.
The lack of democratic institutions is often cited as a driver of insurgency and terrorism. But post-development would question whose concept of democracy should be promoted? Is the Western ideal the only choice on offer? Is that choice being endorsed to expand or limit true democratic space? David Chandler states:
[…]‘liberation’ in this instance is a grant of power rather than the recognition of a claim of autonomy, the export of democracy goes hand-in-hand with greater regulatory controls by international institutions or regulation by ad hoc groups of self-selecting coalitions of the willing […] (2007, p. 483).
Should the Nigerian government continue to promote a prepackaged western democracy that limits its role as a state even as it asserts its claim of being an independent republic? Nigerians often scoff at promises made on the global stage by the political class to widen democratic space. They see this as largely being done so that the ruling elite can be rewarded in some way for its compliance. The idea that western democracy promotion is inextricably linked to neoliberal economic policies of control is a widely held belief. The overall failure of the Arab Spring is considered illustrative of the ill fit of western democracy in some parts of the developing world. For that region, the incompatibility of European liberal individualistic understanding with Arab social and political norms was in part blamed for the failure of the movement (Tagma et al., 2013, pp. 387).
The above is largely theory, but Nigerians have recently shed rivers of blood behind something far more concrete than what could be discussed in a classroom or symposium. How does development itself contribute to warfare? Escobar and others have not only questioned the western gaze to the South but more importantly the push for standardization to universalize norms of economic behavior.
“Ready to wear” development has consequences. As an example, an increase in carbon emissions in Nigeria, the continent and elsewhere has led to rapid desertification impacting livelihoods and adding to insecurity (Saraki, 2014). In Borno state in northeast Nigeria, the birthplace of Boko Haram, ignoring environmental concerns in the pursuit of profit has, in part, resulted in the decimation of Lake Chad, eliminating countless numbers of jobs in what was once a very long supply chain. Simply stated—jobs, in part, produce hope. Without hope something must fill the void.
The pursuit of a one size fits all style of development and democracy promotion largely ignores inequality and leads to the level of economic uncertainty that can in part contribute to the creation of a movement such as Boko Haram. If it, and others like it, are only contested by western tactics such as the so-called war on terror, the machine that, in part, created the crisis continues to function unchecked and unquestioned. When hostilities end, the very same system that significantly contributed to the crisis is deployed to rebuild what was damaged by conflict. If there is no address of the root causes or western universality, and more specifically neoliberalism, and globalization, including how the above are packaged in democracy and governance aid programs, development itself fuels the need for more development.
In line with the above and a necessary ingredient in unpacking the cyclical nature of violence can be found in the work of renowned peace studies scholar Johan Galtung. Galtung states:
In the violence triangle, cultural violence legitimizes both structural and direct violence, linking these three types of violence in causal chains with cultural tenements legitimizing exploitation, repression, oppression, alienation, and other forms of structural violence. This in turn may trigger the eruption of direct destructive violence by the economically exploited, politically oppressed, and culturally alienated. These three types of violence—cultural, structural, and direct—reinforce each other. Direct violence breeds itself in victims as a desire for revenge and as part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and in perpetrators as Post Glory Exuberance Syndrome (PGES) (2015, p. 329).
There is no easily identified “other” in the above. And by eliminating the exotic from a discussion of conflict/insurgency/terrorism one could become open to preventative measures and alternatives to warfare. A temporary solution to conflict might be brought about through combat but there is seldom a lasting peace without a political component as lead element.
The packaging of Boko Haram as against Western education rather than westernization itself is problematic. Some have framed the Boko Haram grievance as one that could be easier to process and address.
Boko Haram is struggling against 'Westernisation', which it associates with the present political order in Nigeria, and its perceived injustices and failure to deliver development. The sect has a presence across northern Nigeria but is concentrated in the north-east, which development indicators show is the poorest part of the country, with the worst provision of education and health care (Oxford Analytica, 2011).
If Westernization is defined not solely by religion or education, but rather includes pervasive and indisputable inequality, then Boko Haram is not only questioning Nigeria but the global order itself. In that sense it sees Nigeria as no better or worse than the West. An Oxfam report cited damning statistics on inequality and the threat it has on democracy in the world’s largest economy, the United States (Fuentes-Nieva and Galasso, 2014, p. 3). The World Economic Forum (WEF) listed severe income disparity as its top global risk (2013, p. 10). Boko Haram is singling out membership of the global economic complex which goes far beyond Nigerian borders (Sachs, 2010, p. vii). If economic policies have fueled inequality globally, even threatening the stability of the drivers of global policy, it would no doubt wreak havoc on the secondary states being forced to implement policy created elsewhere.
Resistance takes many forms. Some as unsavory and wrongheaded as the apocalyptic death cult known as Boko Haram. Do not confuse what I am saying here. Boko Haram is an irresponsible, destructive political and military force that must be checked. Positive steps have been taken to limit its impact. Nigerians are beginning to see some of these initiatives in the recently launched deradicalization and rehabilitation programs for ex-combatants that are being led by government and to a lesser extent civil society. However, if inequality remains unchecked in Nigeria and elsewhere, and local solutions offered by grassroots civil society actors are ignored, even if defeated today, Boko Haram will simply return under a different name tomorrow.
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