Militant Islam and Democracy in Nigeria: A Forum on Boko Haram and the 2015 Elections

By Rebecca Shereikis, Ibrahim Hassan, Richard Joseph, Brandon Kendhammer, and Rotimi Suberu

Nigeria is embroiled in military and political struggles in which its future as a stable, prospering, and constitutional democracy is increasingly challenged. On February 11, 2015, a group of leading scholars spoke at the Program of African Studies of Northwestern University, under the sponsorship of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA). Created by the esteemed Islamic scholar, John Hunwick, ISITA has conducted pioneering research on Islam in Africa since 2000.

The 2015 workshop was organized by ISITA’s Interim Director, Rebecca Shereikis, who also prepared the report on this important exchange of ideas. AfricaPlus will provide an arena for pertinent academic scholarship and incisive policy commentary as Africa’s most populous country, and one of the world’s complex pluralist democracies, goes through the twists and turns of contentious electoral politics and intensified counter-insurgency warfare. Militant Islam is now a global challenge. How well Nigeria responds to it, while strengthening its multi-religious and democratic institutions and cultures, is of profound significance to its people, the African continent, and the world community.

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Good Growth and Good Governance in Africa: An Experts Forum

By Jeffrey Herbst, Tim Kelsall, Goran Hyden, and Nicolas van de Walle

Richard Joseph

In 1993, IMF Director Michel Camdessus called sub-Saharan Africa “a sinking continent.” Just three years later, however, he said that the signs of an economic recovery were evident. 1 In his state visit to Ghana in July 2009, President Barack Obama saluted the striking turnaround in the political economies of Africa. He memorably gave the main reason for this historic advance “Development depends on good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. It is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential.”

In a decade and a half, Africa had gone from being a sinking to a “rising” continent, a change not deterred by the 2008-2010 global recession. Is this experience attributable to much improved governance in sub-Saharan Africa? If that is the case, what are the mechanisms by which better governance unlocked economic growth? Further, it can be asked, how good must this governance be? As major economists returned to the study of Africa, voices emerged among them questioning a new “orthodoxy”. It was difficult, they contended, to connect the “good governance agenda” of democratic institutions, civil society, and human rights with the East Asian models of rapid transformative growth. 2 Notable among the critics was Mushtaq Khan of the University of London. He rejected the notion that good governance, broadly understood, was a precondition for economic growth. Instead, Khan argued, what was needed were “growth-enhancing governance capabilities.”3 Continue reading

Muhammadu Buhari or Goodluck Jonathan? Nigeria’s Fateful Choice

By Richard Joseph and William Miles

One week before Nigerians expected to vote on retaining Goodluck Jonathan as president, or removing him for Muhammadu Buhari, the Electoral Commission was forced to postpone the election. Military and security officials insisted on having six more weeks to try and decimate an almost six-year insurgency. The gamble is clear: Jonathan’s chances, and that of his political associates, could depend on whether Nigerian armed forces, bolstered by neighboring troops, can make major gains in combating the jihadists. 

In anticipation of the election, Richard Joseph was interviewed on February 5th by Alexandra Salomon of WBEZ/NPR in Chicago. She raised in her first question the prospect of a postponement of the elections. Goodluck Jonathan is now widely known, but Buhari is much less so. An edited transcript of the interview is provided here followed by a commentary from William Miles who reflects on his personal meeting with Buhari. Crushing Boko Haram has now been given precedence over defeating Buhari’s multi-party alliance. The military and political contests will intensify in the national cauldron known as Nigeria.

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The Growth-Governance Paradox in Africa

By Pierre Englebert and Gailyn Portelance

The essential features of Africa’s Growth-Governance Paradox were delineated in 1990 by scholar Jeffrey Herbst. Economic reform programs prescribed by international financial institutions, often called structural adjustment, were premised on reducing the distributional role of the state and maximizing the play of market forces. Herbst noted a contradiction: governing regimes were being encouraged to alter the clientelistic political systems on which their power rested.1

A quarter-century later, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced the most continuous period of economic growth since the 1950s and 1960s. What explains this development: high commodity prices, economic liberalization, better governance and democratization? Some development economists, such as Mushtaq Khan, do not see the necessity of implementing the full “good governance agenda” to achieve a turnaround in economic performance. A theoretical framework, “developmental patrimonialism”, has also been advanced by a group of Africa experts to explain authoritarian modernization in a few countries.

Blending qualitative and quantitative analyses, Pierre Englebert and Gailyn Portelance move beyond competing analyses. They inquire why relatively small changes in governance in a group of African countries called “developers” (in contrast to “laggards”) has had such a disproportionate impact on economic performance, and notably in attracting foreign direct investment. Their preliminary report and key hypothesis warrant careful study by scholars, policy analysts, and domestic and external investors.2 It can precipitate a wave of incisive research and better understanding of the political economy of contemporary Africa. Continue reading

Defeating Boko Haram is a Global Imperative

By Richard Joseph

Militant Islamism has expanded in northern Nigeria over decades. Its trajectory can be traced because of the central role played by Wahhabi religious institutions in Saudi Arabia in the propagation of Salafist Islam. This process has included the training of clerics, the funding of mosques and schools, and the cultivation of dynamic leaders. The gifted scholar and preacher, Ja’far Mahmoud Adam, became the prime propagator in this network in the mid-2000s. He was killed on April 13, 2007 after virulently denouncing the more extreme views of his protégé, Mohammed Yusuf. When Yusuf and hundreds of his followers were killed by Nigerian police forces in July 2009, the movement went underground. It re-emerged in 2010, popularly referred to as Boko Haram, ready to wage jihadist war against the Nigerian state, Western education, and national and international institutions. It has since adopted every tactic available to contemporary insurgent and terrorist organizations. There are no limits to its brutality as it has targeted school children and very ordinary folk. Its vociferous leader, Abubakar Shekau, taunts the Nigerian government for its inability to crush his movement. [1]

New and sustained reflections are needed about a movement that now poses a dire threat to the Nigerian nation, its federal democracy, and neighboring countries. It has become part and parcel of militant global Islamism. To this end, AfricaPlus makes available the second and final part of a November 3 interview of Richard Joseph by Jerome McDonnell of WBEZ, Chicago, followed by a commentary on American and Nigerian collaboration.

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Burkina Faso Citizens Reclaim Their Democracy

Richard Joseph and Rachel Beatty Riedl

On October 31, Blaise Compoaré, president of Burkina Faso, was forced to resign after days of mass protest. He had been in power for 27 years and was seeking to change the constitution to run again. But the Burkinabe people said Enough! They wanted change – they took to the street, torched the parliament, and brought an end to Campaoré’s rule. Soon thereafter, the country’s military settled on Lt. Colonel Isaac Zida to lead an interim government. But this action sparked further protests and insistent demands that the military yield power to a civilian transitional government. AfricaPlus presents commentaries based on a radio interview with Richard Joseph and an op-ed by Rachel Beatty Riedl. They both situate the Burkina Faso upheavals in the context of struggles to “claim democracy” in Africa.[1]

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Botswana Democracy: On Course or Derailing?

Amy Poteete and John Holm

In her October 20 AfricaPlus essay- “Democracy Derailed? Botswana’s Fading Halo” – Amy Poteete provides a critical assessment of democratic institutions and practices in this southern African country. She contends that in Botswana, a stellar democratic and economic performer since independence in 1966, corruption and mismanagement are increasing. The abuse of governmental authority, she claims, reflects “the absence of effective checks on executive power”. Poteete criticizes the shift from “cooperation to coercion” under President Ian Khama and the long-ruling BDP (Botswana Democratic Party). John Holm, a senior scholar of Botswana government and politics, responds to Poteete’s contentions. We publish this important debate – including remarks on the October 2014 parliamentary election and post-election disputes – which should be read in conjunction with Poteete’s initial essay: https://africaplus.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/democracy-derailed-botswanas-fading-halo/

President Ian Khama, who was re-elected in the October 2014 elections. (

President Ian Khama of Botswana, who was re-elected in the October 2014 elections. (Photo from UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

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