SACW - 25 April 2018 | Bangladesh: Rana Plaza accident 5 years on / Pakistan: undermining democracy / India: Acquittals of far right extremists / A Call to Defend Rojava / France: targeting the railways / Nigeria - Boko Haram

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Tue Apr 24 17:01:54 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 25 April 2018 - No. 2985 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Bangladesh: 2013 Rana Plaza building fire, Dhaka - An Accident in History | Rich Appelbaum and Nelson Lichtenstein 
2. A Global Agenda for Labour | Pranab Bardhan
3. A Call to Defend Rojava: An Open Letter
4. South Africa: Zapiro’s Cartoon on the Estina dairy project and the corrupt Guptas
5. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - Letter to India's Home Minister NIA’s failure in securing the prosecution of perpetrators of bomb blast in Makka Masjid, Hyderabad in 2007
 - Bangladesh: Anti-Ahmadiyya rally of April 20, 2018
 - Is just garlanding of portraits is honoring Ambedkar? Ram Puniyani
 - India - Orissa: Presentation of Fact Finding Report on the incident of vandalization of Church and Temple at Sundargarh District
 - The Thesaurus Of Unloving | Shiv Visvanathan
 - India: Anindya Sekhar Purakayastha on Communalisation of Politics in West Bengal
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6. Bangladesh: The slippery slope of intolerance - Editorial, Dhaka Tribune
7. Pakistan: JI chief’s allegations - Editorial, Dawn
8. India: Murk unlimited - Acquittals in Mecca Masjid blast case paint a sorry picture of the justice system
9.  India: Power of Lists - Men, women & new consent rules | Shiv Visvanathan
10. India: In the absence of populism | Harsh Shah, Rahul Verma, Pradeep Chhibber
11. In India, Rising Joblessness is a Tinderbox Waiting to Catch Fire | Madhvi Gupta and Pushkar
13. The Age Of Seth: How vice pays tribute to virtue in contemporary India | Mihir S Sharma
14. Duckett on Sadan, 'War and Peace in the Borderlands of Myanmar: The Kachin Ceasefire, 1994-2011'
15. South Africa: State Capture Commission in the foothills of Mount Zupta | Chris Bateman 
16. France: To Change a Country, Change Its Trains | Tom Zoellner
17. Russia: 'People will revolt': Workers say Russia must save sanctions-hit Rusal | Reuters
18. Nigeria - Boko Haram - Where to begin? | Adewale Maja-Pearce

The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex near Dhaka in April 2013—killing 1,132 souls and injuring nearly 2,000 more—is unquestionably the most horrific human tragedy in garment industry world history. Whether this enormous loss of life will be balanced by a new era of social reform remains an open question. But it seems just possible that Rana Plaza may well represent the same sort of moral and political shock to an exploitative and dysfunctional production system as did the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, which ushered in a generation of social reform and labor rights.

by Pranab Bardhan
The share of workers belonging to unions has declined in many countries, and new patterns of employment, such as the rise of the so called ‘gig economy’, are making unorganised labour the norm in a large number of industries. For Pranab Bardhan, this weakening of labour organisations has been a factor in enabling the growth of inequality and the rise of right-wing populism. He outlines some suggested steps for reversing this trend.

When Raqqa fell in 2017, after a long siege by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it was generally thought that ISIS was defeated, save for some mopping up. But in January of this year, Turkey invaded Afrin—one of three cantons in Rojava, also called the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. This meant that scores of SDF fighters had to leave the battle against ISIS in order to defend their homes, families, and neighbors in Afrin.

A state-owned farm near the central town of Vrede was leased to a little-known company, Estina Pty Ltd., in 2012 under a free 99-year contract and the regional government agreed to help develop it, ostensibly to set up a dairy project that would create 200 jobs. Prosecutors say most of the 220 million rand in public funds transferred to the company ended up in the hands of the Guptas.

 - Letter to India's Home Minister NIA’s failure in securing the prosecution of perpetrators of bomb blast in Makka Masjid, Hyderabad in 2007
 - Bangladesh: Anti-Ahmadiyya rally of April 20, 2018
 - Is just garlanding of portraits is honoring Ambedkar? Ram Puniyani
 - India - Orissa: Presentation of Fact Finding Report on the incident of vandalization of Church and Temple at Sundargarh District
 - The Thesaurus Of Unloving | Shiv Visvanathan
 - India: Anindya Sekhar Purakayastha on Communalisation of Politics in West Bengal

 -> available via:
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Dhaka Tribune
April 22, 2018

The slippery slope of intolerance
Groups such as Khatme Nobuat stand ever ready to fan the flames of intolerance

Bangladesh is not and cannot be allowed to be a land of persecution.

To that end, the recent anti-Ahmadiyya rally organized by Islamist group Khatme Nobuat is a dangerously regressive development, that should be cause for serious concern.

This is not the first time, unfortunately, that Bangladesh has seen this sort of attitude leveled towards Ahmadiyyas, though, thankfully, not for several years.

Systematic oppression of the Ahmadiyyas has existed for over half a century — with over a dozen of their members getting killed and over a hundred attacks being carried out against their community over the years — with its most prominent manifestation being during the last period of BNP-Jamaat rule.

In fact, during the Four Party Alliance government’s tenure, there was implicit (and oftentimes explicit) support from the government towards anti-Ahmadiyya activities, such as the banning of the Ahmadiyya Publications in 2004, and the community had to live in fear, suffering several attacks.

Fortunately, the AL government has made tolerance and religious freedom two of its hallmarks, and we have come a long way in the last decade.

But as recent events make clear, the ugliness still remains, and groups such as Khatme Nobuat stand ever ready to fan the flames of intolerance.

The continued persecution of a minority cannot be something we can accept as a nation anymore, especially as a nation that thrives on diversity and spirit of community, one that was built on the values and principles of secularism and equality.

We trust that the current government will, therefore, continue to live up to its principles, and ensure that such hatred is not allowed to spread within Bangladesh.

There are laws against incitement to violence, as there are laws against stirring up religious hatred and enmity. Let us see them used.

Editorial, Dawn
April 24, 2018


THE latest revelations have come from somewhat unexpected quarters, but the details are in line with what has been alleged and suspected since the farcical election. The controversy over the election of Chairman of the Senate Sadiq Sanjrani is refusing to die down — and rightly so. The latest individual to come forward and publicly cast aspersions on the fairness and integrity of the vote that saw Mr Sanjrani catapulted from political obscurity to one of the highest constitutional offices in the land is none other than Sirajul Haq, emir of the Jamaat-i-Islami and ally of the PTI in the KP government. The JI chief has claimed that ahead of the crucial vote in the Senate, he was lobbied by KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak to vote for a candidate for Senate chairman who Mr Khattak claimed would be nominated by powerful forces outside the PTI. At the time Mr Khattak approached the JI chief, the former was unaware of even the identity of the candidate for Senate chairman that the PTI had committed to backing.

The JI chief’s claim has been obliquely denied by Mr Khattak and angrily denounced by a PTI national spokesperson, but it should not be easily dismissed. In the run-up to the election of the Senate chairman and on the day of the vote itself, it was apparent that electoral politics alone could not explain the strange coalition that came together to defeat the PML-N candidate and elevate a political non-entity to constitutional high office. The seemingly manipulated events in the Senate came after a coup inside the PML-N in the Balochistan Assembly installed another previous political non-entity as chief minister of the province. Taken together, it has appeared that anti-democratic forces ventured deep into the political terrain to engineer electoral outcomes that have seriously undermined the democratic process. It is not a matter of the PML-N losing out. Democracy is also about the integrity of the process, and it is fairly clear that extra-parliamentary forces encouraged, directed and facilitated a particular outcome.

What can be done? At this stage, at the very least a parliamentary or judicial inquiry is merited. Arriving at the truth will not be easy given that a number of parliamentary parties backed Mr Sanjrani and virtually all parties have alleged corruption in the election of senators. But it is necessary to draw a line and try and protect the democratic order. Even by historical standards, Mr Sanjrani’s election and the allegations swirling around the voting in the provincial assemblies are deeply troubling. The democratic transition is a decade old, but the events of March may have done more to undermine the democratic process than a number of other anti-democratic episodes over the last decade. The truth should be made known to the public. Sirajul Haq and others should lead the way.

The Times of India
April 18, 2018


The acquittal of five accused in the Mecca Masjid blast case brings us back to an intractable, but familiar, problem when prosecution fails: who killed the nine people and injured scores of others? National Investigation Agency has registered another miserable failure to its credit. Sixty-six material witnesses turned hostile, a reflection of the agency’s incompetence or political pressures on witnesses. If so many witnesses oppose the prosecution case, someone in NIA must pay for taking the system for a ride. Recall that three agencies – Hyderabad police, CBI and NIA – probed the case and each seem to have magnified, instead of rectifying, initial errors.

Hyderabad police arrested 20 Muslim youths but CBI wasn’t impressed and found a common strand between the Malegaon, Samjhauta, Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid blasts. While a Jaipur NIA court convicted RSS worker Devendra Gupta for the Ajmer blast, he has been acquitted in the Mecca Masjid blast. Both Jaipur and Hyderabad NIA courts rejected Swami Aseemanand’s judicial confession, the major peg on which the cases rested. In 2011, Aseemanand repudiated his statement to a magistrate claiming it was made under CBI pressure.

It is time to videograph confession statements so that trial judges can look at the demeanour of the magistrate, accused persons, and investigating officers. Each failure of probe agencies diminishes public confidence in the police and justice system. However, BJP and Congress have started a political blame game that only exposes the influence governments wield over agencies. With the investigations completed during UPA-2 and prosecution progressing through NDA years the flaws during both periods are too blatant to ignore. Rather than check terror these political parties are doing a great disservice by scoring communal points in terror investigations.

This is dangerous and disheartening for police and intelligence agencies instrumental in busting terror plots and communal riots. A consensus on isolating threats to state and public order should not be so difficult, given that most politicians swear by nationalism. However, votebank politics has polarised the country. The state must answer to survivors and relatives of victims over its failure to dispense justice. NIA’s latest failure comes after its farcical pursuit of love jihad in Kerala. Thrusting India’s premier anti-terror agency in pursuit of a divisive agenda aimed at driving a wedge between consenting adults lowered its stature. NIA and CBI must act to regain their lost credibility.

Shiv Visvanathan
The Asian Age
April 14, 2018

Somehow one senses that the everyday nuance of feminist struggle has not penetrated the younger generation.

The concern was not with proof but with the demand that the silence and suffering of a woman is confronted openly and that men accept responsibility for the mayhem created. (Representational Image)

Some events began innocuously and acquire potency over time. They gain in both symbolic and political power as they grow into the imagination. Such an event was the Raya Sarkar episode, which I think needs detailed analysis both as text and context for a debate. What began as a letter indicting a whole list of academics, including outstanding social scientists, has become a minor monument to feminist politics. It was an indictment of social science intellectuals and masculine ideology.

One’s first reaction was tempered. One realised that it was not just an indictment but a scream of pain, a revelation demanding a hearing, warning people that women’s suffering had been ignored for too long or sanitised through the tactics of power. More than a search for truth, it was an indictment of the irresponsibility of power. Despite its stunning impact, one must realise that there is a frog in the pond syndrome, because while it traumatised the academia, it created barely a ripple in corporate, industrial or bureaucratic life.

As a male academic, I was shocked to see how my colleagues in some institutions were treated. They suddenly faced inquiry committees and ostracism, but many were puzzled by the charges, exclaiming to me: “What is the charge, so that I can reply to it”. Another exclaimed that he could not face his wife and children in an everyday sense. I am sure some individuals were guilty, but to enforce a blanket judgment of guilt without any proof makes one wonder whether due process has lost its legitimacy. I am not claiming that all is well with the academic community, or with sexuality in academia. Yet, the list has a corrosive quality that worries one.

The first critical reactions came from senior feminists who objected to the style of the indictment, and rallied around some of their friends and colleagues. They were immediately condemned as being part of a convivial back-scratching club. The split, at least overtly, was between younger and older feminists. The former was ruthless in its sanctification of the list. The concern was not with proof but with the demand that the silence and suffering of a woman is confronted openly and that men accept responsibility for the mayhem created.

The list in a way rewrote history, creating a difference in political emphasis. As Latika Vashist, a feminist and legal scholar, told me: “The list has created a severe divide in perceptions, in what feminism means and what it stands for.” She observed in a very personal way that “pre-List” feminists attempted to evolve a philosophy of justice for the personal and sexual, without being singularly obsessed with victimhood. For “List feminists”, she claimed “victimhood has become a frozen and static identity, therefore politics is no longer about a just future, it is a response to their wounded psychic states”.

Another observer commented about the emphasis on consent. They warned that a fetishisation of consent can distort the very nature of relationships. One can cite in this context Amitai Etizion’s quote from the Antioch Review’s Handbook of relationships in his book The New Golden Rule. It is a list of instructions of what one is expected to follow as one propositions another. The participants are “warned not to proceed unless explicit and unambiguous consent to advance has been granted. Each step of the way one has to ask — if you want to remove a dress, you have to ask, if you want to touch the body, you have to ask”, and so on. Courtships almost become an obstacle course through a mandated questionnaire.

Etzioni asks whether consent and regulation have to be reduced to such mandated aridity. He talks of the one-sidedness of the social in this context. The regulative becomes so strong that trust, understanding, the moral responsibility for each other gets hypothecated to consent. There is a fetishisation of consent which makes sexuality arid and artificial.

There is a deeper problem. The balancing between morality and freedom, the tensions it creates is missing. It is almost as if one is panopticonising the male-female encounter.

Worse, to consent is added an abstract notion of justice. Women feel that so many of them have suffered for so long that it is time men suffer, and many seem quite candid that even if a few innocent men suffer, the effort would be worth it. There is a complete dismissal of proof and justice, and as one of them stated dismissively, “when did law even contribute to justice?” It is power, and only the power of lists to name and shame can teach men how to behave. It is as if the younger generation is more concerned with the asymmetry of power than with the nature of the man-woman relationship.

Somehow one senses that the everyday nuance of feminist struggle has not penetrated the younger generation. There is no sense of give and take or irony. Power becomes a score where only numbers make sense. There is another point which many made and with vehemence when I mentioned that the list has a dead man on it. They shrugged it off. When I told them of academics who were barely coping with the humiliation that the list had enforced on them, one was greeted with a shrug. One asked where were they “when I was suffering?” When I argued that the current situation where a few professors are being made a lesson of creates a mob mentality, they seem amused. The destruction of reputations, the torment that a man may suffer, and the unavailability of specific charges... which one could respond clearly to seemed to be minor issues. Suddenly the world of the male and the female, rather than being reciprocal worlds of negotiation, adjustment, conversation, compromises and experimentation, now becomes two polar worlds, where each step of the way has to be specifically negotiated. A formal contract takes over from any sense of the sacred or sacramental. I hope that the episode of the lists does not remain surrounded by political correctness or vengefulness. There is a need to reflect on it and the feminist movement, in its attempt to rework the man-woman relationships, must finds the energy, the humour and the political will for it.

The writer is a professor at Jindal Law School

The writer is a member of Compost Heap, a group of academics and activists working on alternative imaginations.

Harsh Shah, Rahul Verma, Pradeep Chhibber
The Hindu
April 24, 2018

Why PM Modi needs some disruptive policy measures for a high voter turnout in 2019

Right-wing populists are in power in many parts of the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are among the most prominent, but there are many other influential right-wing populist heads of states. These include Benjamin Netanyahu who has been Prime Minister of Israel since 2009; Viktor Orban who has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010; Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has held the central position in Turkey since 2003 (first as Prime Minister and now as President); Rodrigo Duterte who was elected President of the Philippines in 2016; and Yoweri Museveni who won his fifth term in Uganda as President in 2016. In India, Narendra Modi campaigned as a right-wing populist to win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections handsomely for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Unlike other right-wing populists (Mr. Orban just won another election easily), it appears that Mr. Modi’s populist appeal is waning ahead of his re-election bid. Many groups are up in arms against the Modi-led BJP government at the Centre: Students at various universities are protesting; Dalits are on the streets against a perceived dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, weeks after the Supreme Court order; and there is widespread outrage following the government’s delayed response to the rapes of two minor girls, one allegedly by a BJP MLA in Uttar Pradesh. Even the business community is disappointed. Why is this the case?

Three strategies

Populist leaders like Mr. Modi come to power using three strategies: They present themselves as outsiders fighting against an elite, they use populism to attract new and younger voters to the polls, and they continuously rail either against the establishment or an imagined enemy who stands in the way of the nation achieving greatness. Mr. Modi portrayed himself as an outsider and, more importantly, a challenger to the long-entrenched political hierarchies in Lutyens’ Delhi. He wore his humble background on his sleeve, depicting the choice between him and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as a contest between a ‘chaiwallah’ (tea-seller) and a ‘shehzada’ (prince). Flaunting his chaiwallahcredentials, Mr. Modi railed against the Congress establishment which he depicted as elitist and out of touch with the problems of the common man. He promised to change things for people.

This populist appeal brought new voters to the polls, and the voter turnout in 2014 was eight percentage points higher than in 2009. Data from the National Election Surveys of 2009 and 2014, collected by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, show a clear link between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s performance in 2014 and the increase in turnout. If we compare the percentage point increase in turnout at the constituency-level with the winning party in that constituency, we find that the BJP and its allies had a higher likelihood of winning seats where the turnout increase was the greatest. For instance, in 2014, the NDA won 67 out of the 70 seats (96%) where the voter turnout went up by over 15 percentage points since 2009. In the 145 seats that saw turnout go up by 10-15 percentage points, the NDA won 125 seats, a success rate of 86%. In the 267 seats where turnout increase was less than 10 percentage points, the NDA won 123 seats (46%). And in seats where the polling percentage decreased compared to 2009, the NDA won only 21 of 61 such seats, a strike rate of just 34%.

Furthermore, in the past, the turnout among young voters (18-25 years) was low relative to national turnout figures. For example, analysis suggests that the turnout among this group was 52% in 2004 and 54% in 2009, when the national turnout was 58%. However, in 2014, the turnout among young voters was 68% while the national turnout stood lower at 66%. Similarly, this increase in turnout (compared to 2009) was also higher among the middle classes than the poor. The young and the middle class were Mr. Modi’s social base. His populist strategy, coupled with the strong organisational prowess of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, channelised this aspirational segment to turn up in high numbers to vote for the BJP.

Part of the establishment

Four years later, while Mr.. Modi’s popularity remains reasonably stable, his populist appeal has diminished. He is no longer the scrappy politician with a humble background leading an insurgency against the Delhi elite, but rather an incumbent Prime Minister heading a full majority government. He is now part of the very elite that he railed against and his demeanour and clothes reflect this.. His speeches sound less of an energetic, hopeful and a populist insurgent, but more of a tired paternalist leader telling people what they should and shouldn’t do. Two young, avid BJP supporters said to us that Mr. Modi’s speeches are now those of an old man hectoring the young. Mr.. Modi’s populism has also suffered from his focus on governance. As he has become part of the establishment — in fact, the establishment itself — he can no longer point to state institutions as opponents to implementing his agenda. If Mr. Modi can no longer present himself as an outsider or point to the ‘deep state’ as thwarting his agenda to make India great again, his ability to bring voters to the polls will be affected. 

Many of those who were enthused by his populism four years ago may choose to stay at home in the 2019 elections. These voters had given the BJP the critical edge in 2014, bringing the party to power by achieving an unprecedented vote-seat ratio.
Options before 2019

What are Mr. Modi’s options then? With a year to go before the next Lok Sabha elections, it will be difficult for the Modi government to improve perceptions of its governance record considerably. Mr. Modi also won’t succeed with the same populist strategy that brought him to power. He is not an outsider, nor is he anti-establishment. The only approach for him remains to reinvent brand Modi and present himself as a challenger to the system despite being a part of it. This strategy has been used successfully by some right-wing populists such as Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Orban who have been campaigning as outsiders from the day they come to power. This option is not available to Mr. Modi because he embedded himself in the power structure the very day he was elected.

If Mr. Modi can no longer successfully recapture his image as the angry outsider fighting the causes of the masses, what should he do? In our view, he would then need to undertake some disruptive policy measures in the coming months to energise voters to turn out to vote in high numbers. If he cannot bring a large number of voters to the polls, the road back to power in 2019 will be far bumpier than expected.

Pradeep Chhibber currently visiting the University of Barcelona and Rahul Verma is with the University of California, Berkeley. Harsh Shah is an alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley

by Madhvi Gupta and Pushkar
The Wire
24 April 2018

Tough times ahead for India’s young people have the potential to translate into hard times for the nation’s social harmony and peace.

Earlier this year, newspapers reported that 992 PhD scholars, 23,000 M.Phil holders, 2.5 lakh post-graduates and eight lakh graduates were among the nearly 20 lakh applicants for exams conducted by the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) to fill 9,500 posts of typists, village administrative officers (VAO) and stenographers. In late March, it was reported that over 2.8 crore people applied for about 90,000 jobs in the Indian Railways. Even more recently, two lakh applicants – including 423 with bachelor’s degrees in engineering, 167 MBAs, 543 postgraduates in commerce, 28 with BEds, 34 masters in computer science, 159 M.Scs, 25 with bachelor’s degrees in mass media and communication, and 167 BBAs – applied for 1,167 jobs of police constables in Mumbai.

Clearly, much is not well on the job market front even though there are claims by the government that the problem is not one of missing jobs but missing data on jobs. The challenge of jobs is especially acute because of the current and growing size of India’s young population

According to a recent World Bank report:

    Every month, the working age increases by 1.3 million people and India must create 8.1 million jobs a year to maintain its employment rate, which has been declining based on employment data analysed from 2005 to 2015, largely due to women leaving the job market.

At one time, it was widely believed that India’s young population was a fantastic asset and would reap a handsome demographic dividend. Now, it is commonly acknowledged that India’s future is more uncertain and questions are being asked about the kind of economic contribution its young population can make. Half of India’s 1.3 billion people are below 25 and two-thirds are under 35. And they are desperately looking for jobs.

In theory, India’s young population should reap a demographic dividend for the country. However, for that to become a reality, two things are necessary. First, India’s young should be capable of doing the jobs that are available in an era where advances in science and technology are bringing about dramatic changes in the kinds of jobs that are becoming available. India’s education sector – both primary and secondary education – does not inspire confidence in this regard. Employability reports of college graduates, including those with degrees in ‘professional’ disciplines, such as engineering, present a dismal picture too. There is much truth to Indian Staffing Federation’s Rituparna Chakraborty’s  statement that “no one seems to have the time to ask the bigger question, i.e. of the jobs that are still being created, how many of them are being filled?” Alternately, however, the young should be prepared to work in more traditional sectors such as manufacturing which in turns draws attention to the second issue: that a sufficient number of jobs must be available or created in manufacturing for young people to be employed. The numbers cited above show that this is not happening.

Economist Bibek Debroy has pointed at a worrisome trend about India’s young not seeking jobs and opting for voluntary unemployment. Credit: PTI

That these are hard times for India’s young population is well-captured in Dreamers, a new book by the journalist Snigdha Poonam. More worryingly, however, the book provides frightening insights into what the future may look like for India. According to Poonam, the country’s young population share many of the cultural values of their grandparents such as social conservatism but the life goals of American teenagers, or certainly those of urban and upwardly-mobile Indians – money and fame – which are likely to prove elusive for most. Another way of saying the same thing differently is that “India doesn’t have a job crisis…[but] a wage crisis – everyone who wants a job has a job, just doesn’t have the wage they aspire for.” Mix that with the distorted views of a growing section of India’s young about what it means to be an Indian and the glories of India’s pre-colonial and pre-Islamic past and things increasingly begin to look like a recipe for a coming social disaster.

Another worrisome pointer in the same direction is that there are reports about India’s young not seeking jobs or opting for voluntary unemployment. According to NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy, who in mid-2017 had expressed concern about it, voluntary unemployment is largely about people “unwilling to settle for jobs, particularly after having ‘invested’ in education” that do not give an acceptable salary. However, voluntary unemployment can also refer to those young people who at one time looked for jobs and could either not get them or discovered that the kind of work they were required to do in their job was not to their liking. In a more positive sense, voluntary unemployment can also be about young people choosing to become entrepreneurs in preference to working for others, or choosing to study further in order to secure better jobs.

According to reports, the numbers of those opting for voluntary unemployment is highest in less developed states with larger numbers of young people, such as Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. Mahesh Vyas, the Managing Director of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy  (CMIE), expressed the view that young people, “who have no jobs and have even stopped looking for jobs could easily stray into unlawful activities” thereby turning India’s demographic dividend into a “demographic demon.” But numbers alone should not be the only cause for worry. It is not inevitable that the voluntarily unemployed will opt for unlawful activities. What they do is shaped by the nature of political discourse in their state and the country. Even relatively smaller numbers of voluntarily unemployed in more developed states could take the path of unlawful activities when mobilised to that end by influential political leaders with the expectation that they would benefit from it.

In sum, tough times ahead for India’s young people have the potential to translate into hard times for the nation’s social harmony and peace.

Madhvi Gupta is an independent writer based in Goa. Pushkar is Director, The International Centre Goa (ICG), Dona Paula. The views expressed here are personal.

12. What Happens To The People Arrested For Insulting Modi? We find out
by Piyasree Dasgupta
Huffington Post India
24 April 2018

A friend WhatsApped Mudassir Rana a meme as he browsed through his phone over lunch one afternoon in October last year. Rana shared it on Facebook without comment. Next evening, there was a knock on his door. It was the police. Mudassir Rana, the owner of a school in Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh, was under arrest.

His crime was his Facebook post: a cartoonish illustration of the faces of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rashritya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, and several ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, depicted as the ten heads of Ravan.

Rana is just one of dozens of Indians arrested for sharing memes, cartoons, and messages criticising Modi since his government swept to power in 2014.

Over the past four years, news reports of arrests for insulting Modi have appeared with alarming regularity. The arrested include teachers, students, businessmen, auto-rickshaw drivers, and members of the police and paramilitary forces. Such arrests, which once caused a stir on social media platforms, now attract only passing mention.

When Prime Minister Modi claimed he welcomed criticism in a statement in London last week, HuffPost reached to those arrested for lampooning him, to find scores of everyday ordinary citizens living in continual fear of imprisonment for the crime of forwarding a WhatsApp message.


A few hours after Rana posted the Modi meme on Facebook, he got a call from a man who identified himself as a member of the Bajrang Dal.

"He said I should mend my ways or there will be consequences," Rana said. The next day, a local journalist called Rana to warn him that a First Information Report (FIR) had been lodged against him. A few hours later, an interlocutor informed Rana that the Bajrang Dal wanted him to come to their office.

"They told the common friend that I had to go down on my knees, lie prostrate and beg for their forgiveness," Rana said. "I was ready to say sorry, but I was not okay with being humiliated like that."

That was the night police arrived at his doorstep and took him to the police station. He was charged under Section 153-A of IPC for 'promoting disharmony'.

There was mayhem in Rana's house; his wife and three children could not believe he was being arrested for a Facebook post.

    "The case is yet to reach the court. Till it is resolved and I am let off the hook, this will hang on my and my family's head."

"Obviously, they started imagining the worst," Rana said. At the police station, Rana sat on a bench all night. Occasionally, a policeman would come and ask another to throw him in the lock-up. The next morning, Rana's lawyer posted bail and he was released.

Since then, Rana says, many Hindu families, who empathise with Hindu far-right organisations in Sardhana, have distanced themselves from him.

"Initially I used to go to their family functions and weddings. Now, they don't call me. They also refuse to turn up at functions where I am invited as well, making the hosts jittery," he added. "The principal of my school is a Brahmin, even he couldn't believe the reason I was being ostracised."

Rana was planning to travel abroad for his son's higher studies, but the family has shelved the plans as getting visas and passports could get complicated.

"The case is yet to reach the court. Till it is resolved and I am let off the hook, this will hang on my and my family's head," Rana said. "But I won't go down without a fight."

Photothek via Getty Images

The laws

It is a cognizable offence to 'cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device' under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000. This section was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015, but policemen continue to use it in conjunction with other penal provisions to arrest people for social media posts.

Lawyer Apar Gupta said that since no advisory was issued informing the general public of the court order, it is possible that several police stations aren't yet aware of the development. "The literature that they may have at the police stations may also be outdated, leading them to file cases under the defunct law," he said.

Last year, All Indian Bakchod (AIB) was booked for defamation, under section 500 of IPC. They were also charged under a similar section of the act: Section 67, which penalises the accused for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form.

Gupta pointed out that since there is no objective definition of 'obscene' mentioned in the section, it is often misused. In cases involving social media posts, it becomes a long, unfair process for people like Rana.

Narendra Modi's fans are not the only Indian political supporters incapable of taking a joke. In 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested on charges of 'sedition' for posting cartoons that depicted the Indian parliament as a toilet; two school girls from Palghar in Thane, Maharashtra were arrested for a Facebook post criticising the Shiv Sena; and a professor in Kolkata was arrested for forwarding an email with a cartoon that made fun of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. In 2015, 19-year-old student was arrested for mocking Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan.

The WhatsApp nightmare

The government employee was at work and watching television one evening last year, when he learnt he had been suspended from his post.

"The news anchor said I was suspended for insulting the Prime Minister in a WhatsApp message. I couldn't believe what was happening," he said, requesting anonymity as he feared losing his job.

"Within moments, I got frantic calls from my family. They wanted to know: What I had done? Would the police going to arrest me?" he said. " I had no answers to their questions. I was terrified, I really don't remember being that terrified my entire life."

The worst part, the government employee said, was that he had not even sent the offending message.

"Someone had sent it to me," he said. "And someone in my family may have forwarded it to a larger group by mistake."

He was eventually reinstated at his post, ten days later, but with a warning. He barely uses Whatsapp anymore and has urged his friends not to send him any – no jokes, no memes, no videos, nothing.

"These people are in power now," he said. "And I have mouths to feed."

No country for criticism?

Pankaj Mishra was 22 when he dropped out of college and joined the Central Reserve Police Force in 2013.

"My parents are poor farmers and I needed to earn money," Mishra, a resident of Bihar's Arra district said.

In April last year, Mishra was posted in Durgapur, West Bengal, when guerrilla fighters of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) ambushed a CRPF battalion in Chhattisgarh, killing 26 troopers. One of them was Mishra's 29-year-old cousin Abhay.

"My brother was dead, and Rajnath Singh claimed we will give a fitting reply," Mishra said, referring to India's Home Minister. "These politicians said what they always say after an attack like this – respect the martyrs."

Mishra was fed up with these platitudes, something snapped inside him. He shot a video on his mobile phone criticising the government, Rajnath Singh, Narendra Modi and uploaded the video on his Facebook profile.

Three days later, a senior officer caught hold of Mishra and snatched his phone away. That was when Mishra realised his video had gone viral.

    With little money left, Mishra has given up the idea of hiring a powerful lawyer to take up his case of 'wrongful' dismissal.

"They (senior officers) herded me to a office and beat me up," Mishra said. Terrified, Mishra ran away from the camp two days later. "I had not anticipated anything like this. I did not know what to do. I was scared they will hurt me more."

Five days after he fled the camp, Mishra 'surrendered' at the Delhi High Court and was soon transferred to Jorhat in Assam. A couple of weeks went by, following which he was called to the Assam headquarters and told he had been suspended and an enquiry ordered.

On October 14 last year, he was dismissed from duty and jailed. Mishra alleges that he was beaten up like "they didn't think I was a human" in the days following his suspension. He uploaded two more videos on Facebook criticising the government while the enquiry was on.

"Constable Mishra was arrested on Sunday on the basis of objectionable social media posts against the prime minister and the home minister," Dilip Barua, superintendent of Jorhat police said. "He was picked up from the CRPF's camp."

Mishra was locked up at the Jorhat Central Jail and got bail two-and-half months later. He now lives at home with his parents, virtually unemployable as he doesn't have a college degree and prospective employers are put off by his jail record.

With little money left, Mishra has given up the idea of hiring a powerful lawyer to take up his case of 'wrongful' dismissal. "I can't pay good lawyers and very few I know aren't willing to take up a case against the government and BJP," he said.

"It was only the thought of my parents that stopped me from committing suicide," he said. "Anyone else in my place would have."

Chased away from home

The glacial pace of India's legal system means years of court fees and lawyer bills for those arrested for insulting Prime Minister Modi.

Devu Chodankar, a 38-year-old former shipping executive in Goa, estimates he spent at least Rs 6,00,000 in legal fees and travel costs after he was booked in 2014 for a Facebook post warning of a "holocaust-like" situation if Modi came to power.

"I spent two years repaying the direct and indirect costs," Chodankar said. His health suffered, his debts piled up, and he lost his job.

"With the social media shaming, it became impossible for me to find a job in India," he added.

Chodankar had once been an BJP supporter, but came to change his mind. One turning point was the party's decision to build an airport at Mopa plateau, which – environmentalists said -- would cause great ecological damage.

    "The water tank in my house was contaminated. Every other day, I would find the electricity connection to the house cut off"

Chodankar was working in Vishakapatnam when his father received summons from the police for his Facebook post. When he flew back home and presented himself before the police, he was interrogated for six hours and his laptop and hard disks were seized. Fearing backlash from BJP supporters who he had sparred with, Chodankar went into hiding for almost a week around the time Narendra Modi was being sworn in.

It was becoming impossible to live in Goa anymore.

"The water tank in my house was contaminated. Every other day, I would find the electricity connection to the house cut off," Chodankar said. "I kept getting hate messages from unknown people."

In 2016, Chodankar moved to Belgium to study.

Back home in India, Prime Minister Modi is plotting his campaign for the next general election, and the police continue to investigate Chodankar's Facebook post from four years ago.
Suggest a correction

    Piyasree Dasgupta
    Features Editor, HuffPost India
by Mihir S Sharma
The Caravan
 1 December 2011

Get to the Top: The Ten Rules for Social Success SUHEL SETH RANDOM HOUSE INDIA, 194 PAGES, Rs 250

THERE WAS A PARTY LAST NIGHT in Lutyens’ Delhi, or possibly in South Mumbai, crowded with those who glitter most blindingly in Shining India. Suhel Seth will have been among them. There will be a party tonight, a few kilometres or a thousand from the last one. Seth will be there too, his familiar voice carrying over the crumpled carpets or sodden grass. This is the time in our history that belongs to men like Suhel Seth; a time when, just as intemperance is intellect and fervidity is profundity, such ubiquity is unquestionably success.

Success, or at least ubiquity, is precisely what Seth intends to teach his readers in Get to the Top. But it should be read even by those who have no desire to get to the top—for it unwittingly provides a glimpse of precisely how things work at the top, and what people do to arrive there.

Some people are famous for being famous. Suhel Seth is famous for knowing the famous. They say that fame exacts a heavy price from its bearers, and it appears that part of that price is to be “dear friends” with Suhel Seth. And as the number of his famous friends has grown so large that it would clearly take a book to record them all, Seth has achieved a kind of fame in his own right—mostly as a face on our TV screens, where he is reliably intemperate, fervid and, most of all, ubiquitous, familiar to television viewers from innumerable discussions whose topics are as varied as their dissection is disorganised.

Get to the Top, however, suffers from something like an excess of organisation: each of the “ten rules for social success” bears two or three sub-rules of its own, along with mnemonic mantras for each section, and appendices and exercises for the reader. And yet the book, Seth’s first since he became a household name in those households without enough sense to avoid news television, does not have an introduction. But unlike Seth’s friends, whose names are carelessly strewn through its pages, it very much needs one—because it’s hard to know exactly what to make of it.

Get to the Top is to normal self-help books what Page 3 is to your Facebook feed. Few of us are actually called upon to befriend the famous, which is Seth’s real conception of social success. No doubt the famous and powerful are themselves in the happy position of befriending one another—at farmhouse soirees in Delhi, five-star hotels in Mumbai or first-class cabins somewhere in between—but I doubt they are this book’s intended audience. After all, they could just ask Suhel for advice at tonight’s party.

What’s more, the lessons from such rarefied altitudes are not easily applied in our more terrestrial lives. You might suppose that Seth’s Rule 6, “Don’t try to make important friends”, would be quite easy for most of us to follow, though doing so might not help us achieve the pinnacle of social success. But Seth’s meaning is more nuanced (to put it charitably): he intends to say that “networking” should not be “simply transactional”. He explains, “My famous friends are first my friends,” and provides the reader with a concise list of tips for talking to VIPs (“never be a courtier”; “always feel equal to them”).

If there is something that strikes you as disingenuous in a chapter that urges you to pretend not to be seeking out celebrities in order to achieve success at seeking out celebrities, you are not alone. This off-key clash between tone and motive is the discordant leitmotif that runs through the book. For those of us less able or willing to carry off this cognitive dissonance with Seth’s panache, Rule 6 is thus less helpful than it may have first seemed.

So this is not exactly a self-help book, given that the problems it purports to help solve are those its readers can only dream of facing. What is it meant to be, then? The answer depends on what degree of cynicism you wish to bring to the question.

The most obvious—and most cynical—explanation is that this is a work of career positioning, a hardbound advertisement for its author. In our Suhelian era, where appearance is all and visibility substitutes for substance, every man is his own brand, and cultivating one’s brand equity is the highest of virtues. “Remember,” Seth writes, “whether it’s you, me, Gandhi or Obama, ultimately we are all brands.” Therefore, he continues, “you make an impression when you’ve created a brand for yourself, and the best way to create this brand is with words.” Among Seth’s many self-declared virtues is that he puts his money where his famous mouth is: he is branding himself as the man who can make you over. His day job is running a firm called Counselage India, a boutique consultancy that advises CEOs how to brand and market themselves. And by night, he has worked to produce this portfolio to showcase his services, stuffed with flattering word-pictures of what a good friend he has been to so many powerful people.

Too harsh? Very well, let us be more charitable.
[ . . . ]


 Mandy Sadan, ed. War and Peace in the Borderlands of Myanmar: The Kachin Ceasefire, 1994-2011. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2016. xxii + 517 pp. $38.00 (paper), ISBN 978-87-7694-189-5.

Reviewed by Richard Duckett (Reading College)
Published on H-Asia (April, 2018)
Commissioned by Sumit Guha (The University of Texas at Austin)

In late 2017, sharp international focus was brought upon the plight the Rohingya people of northwestern Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). What has not caught the attention of Western media to such an extent is the situation facing many of the other ethnicities within Myanmar. This volume's focus is upon the Kachin, a significant minority who inhabit Kachinland in the north of the country. Kachinland borders China to the east and India to the west, while Myitkyina is the principle city. Myitkyina is approximately 1,185 km north of Yangon (Rangoon). In 2011, the Kachin ceasefire with the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, came to an end. One of the central questions that this book answers is why the Kachin were willing to return to conflict after a seventeen-year ceasefire, just as the Burmese government seemed to be moving towards a more democratic rule. It does this by presenting eighteen collaborative chapters authored by a diverse, international mix of doctoral candidates, established scholars, independent analysts, and, importantly, diasporic Kachin. The result is a coherent and informative analysis of why the Kachin ceasefire “could shatter so completely” (p. 5).

A central concept of the volume is that the term “ceasefire” should be revised to “armed peace” (p. 4) to better understand the pressures upon Kachin society and how times of less overt violence have had a transformative impact upon the Kachin. It is asserted that the Kachin have been subject to a cyclical history: a “ceasefire” from 1944 to 1961 was followed by conflict that lasted until 1994, followed by a seventeen-year “armed peace” that ended in 2011. The book convincingly argues that multiple influences during periods of armed peace have made the ceasefires unsustainable, not least because borderland societies such as the Kachin are more sophisticated than they have been given credit for. Although the two periods of armed peace brought political opportunity, both came to an end because the expectations of both political and economic progress were dashed by a lack of critical engagement from the Burmese government. Using this framework to understand the  Kachin situation, the authors hope that conflict with other minorities in Myanmar can be better analyzed and understood, which in turn could help contribute to finding longer lasting stability in the country.

After establishing the historical context in chapter 2, and the idea of no tangible peace dividends for the majority of Kachin people in chapter 3, chapters 4 and 5 further examine the “armed peace” of 1994-2011, exploring the idea of “ceasefire capitalism” as a means for the Burmese government to pursue its objectives by methods other than the gun. “Ceasefire capitalism” is presented by Kevin Woods in chapter 5 as economic counterinsurgency, or the “commercialisation of insurgency” (p. 124). Thus, it is argued, at the root of the return to armed conflict is the appropriation of Kachin lands and resources through the granting of concessions to domestic business and foreign capital, for example, the building of hydro-electric dams. Linked to the dam projects, chapter 6 continues the economic theme, situating Chinese economic interest  in a broader international relations setting and demonstrating how both national Burmese and specifically Kachin concerns can be influenced by global politics. Chapter 7 zooms back in on Kachin society by contrasting how Kachin are treated by the state on the Chinese side of the border compared to within Myanmar. The historical, cultural, and linguistic connections between the Kachin communities on either side of the border are revealed, contributing to the book's aim of exploring “issues beyond the mere signing of ceasefires” (p. 13).

The next six chapters offer a variety of insight into Kachin life, from an exploration of how ethnically diverse Kachin society is to the experience of women over the decades of conflict and ceasefire. Of particular value are the chapters contributed by Kachin writers who are able to provide personal insight into aspects of the struggles endured in Kachinland, and the work of Kachin in the diaspora. The final four chapters complete the “borderlands” offer boasted in the title of the volume by connecting Palaung, Karen, and Mizo ethnonationalist struggles to the Kachin experience. The chapter on conflict in northeast India compares and contrasts the colonial and postindependence histories of tribal areas of India and Myanmar, explaining how these areas were “outside the mainstream of the new nation-state,” thus reinforcing claims for political autonomy (pp. 412-13). In both Myanmar and Burma, the intersection of ethnicity, resources, power, and foreign capital in contested lands, it is argued, produce a multilayered conflict which the Indian government has recognized and responded to where the Burmese government has not. The book finishes with a brief chapter which reinforces the contention that an “absence of fighting is not peace” (p. 467) before offering some ideas about what needs to change if Myanmar's borderland conflicts are going to be effectively addressed.

The aims of this volume, of creating a book that explores social, cultural, and economic issues “beyond the mere signing of ceasefires” have been entirely met. Its strength lies in the range of contributors and the many perspectives and insights it offers into the Kachin experience and how the Tatmadaw have managed the ceasefire periods to their benefit. It successfully elucidates how Kachin society has transformed over the decades since independence from the British Empire, struggling for its cultural survival in war and peace. The chapters have been superbly interwoven and presented, making it a coherent read for someone interested in the cover-to-cover journey as well as those interested in a specific chapter. Overall, this is a hugely important contribution to our understanding of contemporary issues in Myanmar, particularly at a time when the country is under international scrutiny.

Chris Bateman 
April 23, 2018

CAPE TOWN — If Judge Zondo’s State Capture commission can deal with only the five listed areas below, it will have done the country a service to posterity. The value of this story lies in how concisely it sums up and bundles together the five major shenanigans which State Capture enabled. Just dealing with these Gupta-favouring transactions, amounting to billions in South African taxpayer rands will help restore our credibility in a world that can all too quickly dump a nation with huge potential on the rubbish heap of failed States. But the breath-taking width and depth of State Capture can only be fully appreciated when the criminal trials of Jacob Zuma and the Guptas get underway and the various probes into state-owned enterprises and capture of the revenue, investigative and prosecuting authorities begin. No financial recompense can restore the economic and reputational damage the Zuptoids caused. Only a deep cleansing can begin healing the wounds, ironically inflicted in the name of equity and transformation. The Robin Hood alibi likely to surface in the Zuma fraud trial must fail when it’s shown that taking from richer taxpayers plagued the poor, making already well-off tax-dodgers, fabulously rich. – Chris Bateman

By Mike Cohen

(Bloomberg) – A South African judicial commission faces a daunting task in investigating allegations that members of the Gupta family and their allies connived with former President Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane to loot billions of rand from state coffers.

Its success or failure will go a long way in determining whether South Africa can put behind it years of mismanagement and plunder during Zuma’s scandal-ridden administration that undermined investor confidence and stymied economic growth. Zuma agreed to the inquiry after losing control of the ruling party and a lawsuit challenging a directive from the nation’s former graft ombudsman that spelled out its powers and appointment procedures.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and his panel of six senior staff members must probe an array of deals between state entities and private businesses, some of them set up to obscure the intended beneficiaries. It will require wading through hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewing scores of witnesses, many of who may be reluctant to give evidence because they risk implicating themselves. Several key players, including the three Gupta brothers and Duduzane Zuma, have fled the country.

While the panel was given six months to complete its investigation into what’s become known in South Africa as “state capture,” Zondo has said that’s woefully inadequate and he’s requested an extension to its mandate. He hasn’t said when public hearings will begin. The commission’s findings could be used as the basis for criminal prosecutions by law enforcement agencies, which are also conducting several concurrent probes.

These are among the key controversies the commission will have to focus on:
Peddling of cabinet posts
“South Africa captured by the Zuptas.” More magic available at

Former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and Vytjie Mentor, the ex-chairwoman of parliament’s public enterprises portfolio committee, alleged that the Guptas offered them ministerial posts in exchange for business concessions. Jonas said he was also offered a 600-million-rand ($50 million) bribe. The Guptas denied making the offers. Zuma, forced from office by the African National Congress on Feb. 14, said he never delegated the right to make cabinet appointments to anyone.
Tegeta’s purchase of Glencore’s Optimum coal mine
A sign stands at the entrance to the Optimum Colliery, in Middelburg, South Africa, on April 13, 2016.

Glencore Plc agreed to sell its Optimum coal mine to Tegeta Exploration and Resources Ltd., a company controlled by the Guptas, for 2.15 billion rand in 2015, with Zuma’s mines minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, traveling to Switzerland to help seal the deal. State power utility Eskom Holdings Ltd. helped finance the transaction in contravention of government rules, according to the Treasury. The Guptas said the agreement was above board, and Zwane said he was trying to save jobs. The mines have subsequently been placed under business rescue.
Eskom’s Payments to McKinsey, Trillian
An electricity pylon stands beyond an Eskom sign at the entrance to the Grootvlei power station. Photographer: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

Eskom paid McKinsey & Co. and local partner Trillian Capital Partners Ltd., which was controlled by Gupta associate Salim Essa, almost 1.6 billion rand in consulting fees. The National Prosecuting Authority and Eskom’s new management have said the payments were illegal and should be repaid. While McKinsey agreed to refund the money, Trillian has said its contract was valid.
Transnet’s locomotive deal
Railway workers walk across train tracks past a locomotive operated by Transnet at the company’s rail depot in Ermelo. Photographer: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

Companies linked to Essa and the Guptas received 5.3 billion rand in kickbacks to help a unit of China South Rail secure contracts to supply state railway operator Transnet SOC Ltd. with new locomotives, according to leaked emails obtained by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and Scorpio, the Daily Maverick news website’s investigative unit.

Law firm Werksmans, which Transnet appointed to investigate the allegations, recommended that law-enforcement agencies look into the deal and that officials who approved it should face disciplinary action. Transnet said the Werksmans’s report was “inconclusive” and its board decided to take no action — a decision rejected by then Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown. Essa and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.
The Estina dairy project
Estina Dairy Project. More of Zapiro’s brilliant cartoon work available at

A state-owned farm near the central town of Vrede was leased to a little-known company, Estina Pty Ltd., in 2012 under a free 99-year contract and the regional government agreed to help develop it, ostensibly to set up a dairy project that would create 200 jobs. Prosecutors say most of the 220 million rand in public funds transferred to the company ended up in the hands of the Guptas, an allegation the family denies.

Chris Bateman 

by Tom Zoellner
The New York Times
April 22, 2018

Mr. Zoellner is the author of “Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World — from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief,” among other books.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, on a quest to liberalize the economy, has now confronted a towering foe that has humbled would-be reformers before him: the railway unions.

Mr. Macron wants to turn the state-owned company, SNCF, into a joint stock enterprise and rein in the benefits and pay raises given to railway workers, some of whom can retire on a pension at as young as 52. The unions have responded with a rolling strike that will last into June and could threaten the commutes of the railways’ 4.5 million daily passengers. Mr. Macron is gambling that he can win the contest of public opinion. He is also seizing on one of history’s durable rules: changing a nation goes hand-in-hand with changing its rail system.

Britain provides a useful nearby example. That nation’s extraordinary network of iron rails sprung to life in an atmosphere of corporate chaos in the 1830s — a signature development of the Industrial Revolution — and came under state control as British Railways in 1948 as a part of the nationalizing wave of the postwar years. As Margaret Thatcher reversed those trends and privatized large segments of the economy in the 1980s, she targeted the British Railways onion, peeling off its catering and hotel functions one property at a time, then selling off the Sealink ferries. Her successor John Major succeeded in spinning off the once-unified system into 25 “train operating units” run by franchisees — since then, a source of reliable complaint from passengers but a powerful symbol of British capitalism.

Or look to the United States, which once had 20,000 passenger trains roaring down a quarter-million miles of active track every day: a dynamic country fueled on the coal and steam of locomotives. After World War II, a powerful coalition of Texas oil interests and Detroit auto manufacturers helped push through the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1956 that jump-started the interstate highway system. Railroad companies were encouraged to dump passenger service, and this — among other factors — helped bring massive structural transformation to the country: broadening the footprint of suburban sprawl, addicting Americans to petroleum, changing agricultural and retail patterns and, as a footnote, sending the once-mighty American passenger train into the perpetual nursing home of Amtrak.

Other global examples, both historic and recent, show how state metamorphosis manifests in the railbed. Russia became a bicontinental power by extending its rails into Siberia. Benito Mussolini famously took credit for Italian rail upgrades. The British unified thousands of principalities in colonial India not through language but through railways, and when the government of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to ramp up the economy in the mid-2000s, it cut hiring quotas at Indian Railways and promoted round-the-clock freight loading. China sought to hit six percent growth targets through the last decade by building a stupendous $508 billion network of high-speed trains knitting together its major cities. Last year, Kenya opened the Madaraka Express between the port at Mombasa and the capital of Nairobi that can carry 22 million tons of cargo a year, strengthening its dependence on imports and deepening its reliance on Asia.

The calls to reform France’s SNCF is partly coming from the outside — the European Union requires members to open railways to competition by January 2019. Still, Mr. Macron is taking aim at an institution that — for all its glories and faults — comes close to representing the soul of France itself, a representation of the permanent state indifferent to the winds of politics ever since Emperor Napoleon III provided a state guarantee of interest to bondholders in 1852, and instructed Georges-Eugene Haussmann to give the marbled palaces of railway stations an honored place in his redesign of Parisian boulevards.

Lines radiated outward from the Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est and Gare d’Orsay, among others, creating a Paris-centric concept of the hexagonal nation that persists today: The historian Jules Michelet perceived it as a grand tool of unification. “The chateau represents pleasure, the caprice of one man; the railway is for everyone’s use, bringing France together, bringing Lyon and Paris into communion with one another,” he is reported to have said after a ride to Versailles. Gustav Eiffel made himself a celebrity engineer with railway bridges before he ever attempted a tower, and France remade its countryside with suburbs anchored to railway stations.

The heavy hand of Paris brought distinctively French touches: padded seats even in third class, an unwieldy timetable the size of a dictionary, the grandeur of the high-speed TGV, and a class of civil servants who call themselves cheminots with essentially a job for life and guaranteed sick leave, which created the old French joke that working for the railway must be dangerous because its employees are always getting ill.

From 1910 onward, the unions have made rail strikes a predictable element of the national vocabulary and a fearsome weapon deployed against unfriendly French politicians. When he was prime minister, Alain Juppé tried to reform the SNCF. He lasted only two years in office after a set of strikes in 1995 made commuters miserable and turned him into a pariah. Mr. Macron is not just trying to repeal regulations; he is fighting an employment culture with lengthy taproots and outsized influence across other sectors.

France is an excellent case study in the truism that a national rail network is the spirit of the country in miniature, a little state within the state. For Mr. Macron to successfully take SNCF — and with it, France — in a different direction would be an act of true Napoleonic audacity.

Tom Zoellner (@tomzoellner) is the author of “Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World — from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief,” among other books.

April 23, 2018

Aluminium giant dominates Russian town
Few alternatives if company cuts jobs
Options still under debate a week after U.S. sanctions	
A worker loads a liquid electrolyte into the electrolysis bath at the Krasnoyarsk aluminum smelter, operated by United Co. Rusal, in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images 

A worker loads a liquid electrolyte into the electrolysis bath at the Krasnoyarsk aluminum smelter, operated by United Co. Rusal, in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Workers at one of Russia's biggest aluminium smelters say their Siberian town is doomed unless Moscow mitigates U.S. sanctions against aluminium giant Rusal, a predicament mirrored across the company's sprawling operations.

Trapped by mortgages for apartments built on barren steppe under communism, residents of Sayanogorsk, one of a string of towns dominated by Rusal, have few options if a loss of customers for its aluminium leads the firm to cut jobs.

"The entire life of this city depends on Rusal," said Evgeny Ivanov, until recently a foreman at the plant in Sayanogorsk, where pockmarked asphalt recalls the harsh winters endured by its 60,000 inhabitants, and icy blue mountains line the horizon.

"If something were to happen to the factory, in my opinion the town would die out. There would be nothing left for people to do here," he said in one of the town's few cafes, explaining that the private firm he now works at also depends on the plant.

The Kremlin has said it is considering various ways to help Rusal after Washington blacklisted the company and its billionaire major shareholder Oleg Deripaska for suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other alleged "malign activity".

Deripaska has described the allegations as "ridiculous" and Russia has said they are a cover for an attack on its economy. The impact, felt in the halving of Rusal's share price since the announcement on April 6, is too big for Moscow to ignore.

The government will have to step in "so that people don't start howling," said a welder who has worked at the plant in southern Siberia for more than six years.

"There are lots of people here who are unhappy with the government, and with Putin too. If the plant starts cutting staff, people will revolt," he said, declining to be named for fear of losing his job.
Rusal will need to find new ways to get its aluminum to the market
Rusal will need to find new ways to get its aluminum to the market  
4:49 AM ET Thu, 12 April 2018 | 02:08

The scale of any support would have to be immense. According to one source with an understanding of Rusal's trading volumes, it is possible the company has lost access to buyers of more than 2 million tonnes of its aluminium. That is more than half of the 3.7 million tonnes it produces each year.

Not everyone in Russia's Finance Ministry is keen to "spend money on saving fat cats", a source in the ministry said. But Rusal employs 52,390 people across Russia, according to a report from 2016, and tens of thousands depend on those jobs.
"Banging their hard hats"

If the government does not come to Rusal's rescue, workers will start banging their hard hats, the ministry source said - a reference to the Russian miners' protests of the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands went on strike, including in Sayanogorsk.

Such mass protests were a fixture of the decade, punctuating the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. But they have become almost unthinkable since Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999 and their return would be hard for the Kremlin to dismiss.

The government, which has promised to protect jobs and production at Rusal, did not respond to questions. A spokeswoman for Rusal declined to comment.

Managers have sent reassuring messages, but in a basement bar selling dried fish and two types of beer, workers anxiously exchanged news.

"If people are fired, what will they do in this town? ... They're not going to sell sunflower seeds, are they?" a worker responsible for repairing smelting pots said.

Sayanogorsk was founded along with the plant in 1976, one of 319 officially designated 'single company' towns in Russia, of which ten are dominated by Rusal, according to 2015 figures.
Sanctions frozen Russia's ability to sell bonds
Sanctions mean that Rusal bonds can't technically be traded: Exotix Capital  
5:39 AM ET Wed, 11 April 2018 | 04:39

The town's pupils go on to one of two technical colleges, a smelting engineer at the plant explained. "Practically everyone" from his class went on to work for Rusal, he said, adding that he would rather have started a creative business.

People would try to leave the town if the factory cut jobs, one contractor said, but many would not be able to. "Most people have a mortgage here, including us. We don't know if it's even possible to sell. And apartments sell badly here anyway. Let alone in a situation like that," he said.

Rusal is not registered to pay taxes in Sayanogorsk, but its grants are vital to the city budget, two local politicians said.

"When the town asks regional authorities for funding for a project, it's told: you have Rusal, go work it out with them," said Erik Chernyshev, a local Communist Party politician, former member of the region's upper house, who also worked as an engineer at the factory for 18 years.

Rusal gave 271 million roubles ($4.42 million) in 2016 to three Russian regions where it has its operations, including Sayanogorsk, according to a company sustainability report.

It spent a further 140 million roubles in 2016 for general financing of social programmes across Russia, the report said.

"Rusal's regular grants have enabled sports facilities and other amenities to be built," Valentina Efremova, head of the factory's youth council, said.
This strategist says all eyes on Rusal and LME notice
This strategist says all eyes are on Rusal and the LME notice  
5:11 AM ET Wed, 11 April 2018 | 03:50

The only hospital in town was built with Rusal funding, the company said in a 2012 press release, as well as two kindergardens, a sanatorium, sports centres and a church.

The Day of the Metals Worker, for which Rusal throws an annual party packed with pop stars, means almost more to residents than Russia's main festival, New Year, said ex-foreman Ivanov, who also managed Rusal's youth union.

"If Rusal... runs into any serious difficulties, this affects the whole town," he said.
Train, helicopter

Every day, a Rusal train takes some of the company's 3,500 employees to its vast, steaming plant, with onsite subsidiaries handling everything from repairs to railway maintenance.

Offsite, too, the factory is woven into the fabric of the town. "The little shops, the businesses, they're all somehow tied to the plant. Some deliver produce, others do small-scale repairs," the Rusal smelting engineer said. Without it, the town "would wither away, of course".

Residents track Deripaska's comings and goings by his helicopter. This week it spent a day at the plant, factory workers said, while the businessman held a closed-door meeting with managers.

One resident said it then flew to Deripaska's private estate in the countryside nearby. The so-called 'oligarch', who potentially lost $4.56 billion in just the first four trading days after U.S. sanctions were introduced, has also built a ski resort and hotel nearby, according to reports in Russian media.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sayanogorsk, Rusal's third biggest aluminium plant, is where Deripaska began buying up workers' shares during Russia's privatisation drive after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994 he become the plant's general director at the age of 26.

When he first turned up to business meetings in the early 1990s he was known as the "lad in the cotton-wool coat" for the shabby worker's jacket he wore, two residents said.

The Kremlin mentioned possible 'temporary nationalisation' on Thursday, but on Friday Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that was not an option for Rusal. He said the firm had sought help with liquidity and demand for aluminium, which is already being stockpiled around the town.

"It's not just Oleg Vladimirovich (Deripaska) who is in trouble. It is tens of thousands of jobs in the region," Viktor Zimin, head of the Khakasia region where Sayanogorsk is located, was cited by Interfax news agency as saying last week.

"We have ... one partner, and today we need to help him."

Adewale Maja-Pearce
London Review of Books
Vol. 40 No. 8 · 26 April 2018
pages 20-24 | 5619 words

    Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency by Virginia Comolli
    Hurst, 239 pp, £12.99, August 2017, ISBN 978 1 84904 661 9
   Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement by Alexander Thurston
    Princeton, 352 pp, £25.00, October 2017, ISBN 978 0 691 17224 8

You are invited to read this free book review from the London Review of Books. Subscribe now to access every article from every issue of the London Review of Books, including the entire LRB archive of over 16,500 essays and reviews.

On the night of 14-15 April 2014, Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in Borno State in the far north-east of Nigeria. The girls weren’t meant to be there. The school was closed, but they had returned from various parts of the state to sit a physics exam. It later turned out that the terrorists hadn’t intended to abduct them either. They had left their hideout in Sambisa Forest, a national park long since fallen into neglect, in search of food and fuel. When they met no resistance from the soldiers stationed nearby they broke into the school, then rounded up the girls, forced them into their trucks and drove away. Some managed to escape by jumping off the trucks and running into the bush, where they were taken in by small farming communities; the rest ended up at the Boko Haram camp in the forest, where they were distributed among the terrorists.

Boko Haram, whose objective is the imposition of strict sharia law in the Muslim-majority northern states of Nigeria, launched its first armed operation in 2003 and is said to have anything between 6000 and 15,000 militants. This was not the first time its fighters had abducted girls, nor would it be the last, but the numbers, the brutality and the fact that the girls were Christians roused the international community. Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister and World Bank vice-president for Africa, organised a sit-in at a national park in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which was taken up by celebrities around the world. Michelle Obama was photographed holding up a placard. Some of the girls have since been released in exchange for imprisoned terrorists – 21 in 2016 and 82 the following year – but most remain in captivity.

It is difficult to see a strategy in Boko Haram’s activities, or to know whether strategy is involved at all, especially since Abubakar Shekau, the movement’s leader, appears to be unbalanced. Shekau once boasted on social media that he enjoyed ‘killing anyone that God commands me to kill the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams’. Virginia Comolli writes in her study of the organisation that the death in childbirth of one of Shekau’s wives ‘triggered some existing but hitherto repressed psychiatric problem: he became so violent that it was necessary to put him in chains.’ At the time of the kidnappings, he claimed that the girls were slaves and would be sold in the market because ‘Islam permits slavery.’

The evolution of Islam in Nigeria, along with resource rivalry between the northern and (predominantly Christian) southern states, has much to answer for in this story. If Shekau is beyond the pale, what are we to say about some of the tenured Muslim politicians in the north? Ahmed Sani Yerima was governor of Zamfara State, to the west of Borno, until 2007, and is now enjoying his third term in the Senate. It was Yerima who led the call for sharia on the return of democracy in 1999, after 16 years of military rule, and turned Zamfara into a sharia-law state, in defiance of the secular provisions in Nigeria’s constitution. He said at the time that he followed the Quran and not the constitution he had sworn to uphold. In 2010 he courted controversy by marrying the 13-year-old daughter of his Egyptian chauffeur with a bride price of 100,000 US dollars. When it was pointed out that the Senate had passed the Child Rights Act, prohibiting child marriage, he shrugged it off: ‘History tells us that the Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. I have not contravened any law.’ The Zamfara State legislature, under his governorship, refused to ratify the act.

Sharia law in Nigeria was nothing new. It was in place in the north well before 1914, when Nigeria was forged as a single colony – and an unsustainable polyglot fiction – from two British protectorates. Sharia continued to regulate people’s lives throughout the relatively short colonial period, but only in matters of personal law – marriage, divorce, succession and so on – and only among Muslims who opted for it. This remained the case after independence in 1960, in a country with roughly equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, despite occasional agitation in favour of full implementation. But matters were complicated by the fact that British decolonisation entailed a handover of power not to Nigerians as a people – they weren’t a ‘people’ – but to the so-called Hausa-Fulani aristocracy, who represented the interests of the north and would shortly take charge of a ‘federal republic’ four times the size of the UK. This was achieved by massaging the figures to give the north more inhabitants, making Nigeria the only country in West Africa where the population actually increases as you get closer to the Sahel.

As a consequence, proceeds from the oil-rich Niger Delta could flow away from their source in a formal arrangement designed to spread petroleum revenue across the country. This precarious status quo was challenged in 1967, when one of the regions in the south – what was then called the Eastern Region – attempted to secede as Biafra, resulting in a war that lasted two and a half years, in which two million people are thought to have died. The Eastern Region was rich in oil deposits. After Biafra it was business as usual, but over the years, as Nigeria’s wealth was hollowed out by kleptocratic rule and skewed by regional disparities, calls for greater local autonomy grew louder. In the Niger Delta, paradoxically, no one had benefited from oil money: extraction had destroyed the local ecology, and livelihoods with it, but there were no rewards for farming or fishing communities. Delta activists were in favour of full decentralisation, calling the government in Abuja a ‘fraudulent contraption’. Their anger was compounded by the judicial murder of their spokesperson Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995: he’d asked for a fair share of oil revenue for the inhabitants of the delta.

Southern demands for autonomy didn’t play well in the north. Coming to an equitable federal arrangement with the ‘sons of pagan infidels whose fathers walked the earth naked’ – as one prominent mullah put it – was not an option. Billions of naira in oil revenue were at stake. Northern leaders and influential clerics fell back on religion. After Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian, was elected president in 1999, 11 northern governors took up Yerima’s communal initiative, and sharia became the basis of civil and criminal law in the north. In 2000 Yerima signed off on an amputation for the theft of a cow. In Abuja the attorney general (also minister of justice), a Christian and a southerner, called it ‘a punishment more severe than would be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence’, but this was just ‘so much English’, as we say here. The thief’s right hand was removed by a surgeon specially flown in from Pakistan at the state house clinic in Zamfara while an excited crowd waited outside. The amputee was led back to his impoverished village by state government officials in what was described as a festive atmosphere. Not long afterwards, two women found guilty of adultery were sentenced to death by stoning. The sentences were not carried out, but the point had been made: demands for autonomy in the south would be met by assertions of overarching Muslim authority in the north.

The scene was now set for the rise of an extreme sectarian movement. There would be no shortage of foot soldiers: Comolli points out that with a population approaching 200 million, Nigeria has ‘the highest number of non-attending schoolchildren in the world’: 10.5 million in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. Most are concentrated in the north, where ‘70 per cent of the population is illiterate.’ All that was needed was an eloquent figure who could applaud the governors’ embrace of sharia while pointing out that they fell far short of the code of conduct they favoured. At about the time sharia was coming into force, an obscure preacher by the name of Mohammed Yusuf, born in 1970 and based in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, was calling on ‘the Muslim community to correct its creed and its behaviours and its morals … to give children a correct Islamic education’, and ‘to undertake jihad in the name of Allah’. Yusuf was the leader of an Islamist sect that no one had heard of, founded in 2002, and known as Boko Haram.

‘Boko Haram’, everyone knows now, translates roughly as ‘Western education is forbidden’. As the sect explained in a pamphlet published in 2009, education leads to ‘Western Ways of Life’, including ‘the rights and privileges of women, the idea of homosexuality, lesbianism … rape of infants, multi-party democracy … drinking beer and alcohol and many other things that are opposed to Islamic civilisation’. This kind of thinking was a challenge to the pro-sharia governors, including Yerima, who had an economics degree. But Yerima’s selective application of sharia was also under attack, even though he had shown his approval of forced marriage for underage girls, amputation and death by stoning, and advocated a ‘correct Islamic education’, including learning the Quran by rote in Arabic. But not for his own children. Falling standards in local universities, as Alexander Thurston explains, were driving the elites in the north to educate their children elsewhere, sometimes in the heartland of the infidel: the sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, was recently photographed at his daughter’s graduation ceremony in the UK.

Yusuf, himself a university graduate (he studied theology in Medina), was a rhetorician rather than a warrior. His calls for jihad were vague and adapted for the occasion: Thurston describes him as ‘a dynamic, even chameleon-like preacher’ who ‘presented his ideas in different ways to different audiences’. He cited the Quran in the local vernacular languages ordinary Muslims understood, rather than ‘the specialised Kanembu language that many of Borno’s exegetes used’, as Thurston puts it. Thurston also quotes an eyewitness – the report isn’t dated – who was on hand to cheer Yusuf’s return to Maiduguri after one of the many occasions when he had been briefly detained: ‘People came all the way from Kaduna, Bauchi and Kano to welcome him. There was a long motorcade from the airport as thousands of his members trooped out to lead him to his house. He came back like a hero.’ Unlike Shekau, Yusuf confined his violent attacks to police stations and government property.

Before fleeing to Saudi Arabia in 2003, when the first call was put out for his arrest, Yusuf appeared to have wealthy sponsors. Whenever he preached in his large compound in Railway Quarters, Maiduguri ‘the whole area would be lined with exotic cars as very powerful individuals came to see [him]. They went in cars with tinted glass.’ Among the visitors was the then Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff. Sheriff, the son of a wealthy businessman, had studied at the London School of Business and later joined his father’s construction company. He was widely rumoured to be the founder of Boko Haram, a charge he vehemently denies. True or not, in the run-up to his bid for the state governorship in 2003, he was obliged to woo Yusuf, whose following was on the rise. In 2007, he appointed Yusuf to a state government committee selecting Muslims to take part in the annual Hajj to Saudi Arabia. The arrangement didn’t last long. Yusuf came to believe that, like Yerima and the other state governors, Sheriff wasn’t taking sharia as seriously as he should. But by then, preoccupied with party political issues playing out in Abuja, Sheriff had no need of him. In fact, Yusuf’s extremism was becoming an embarrassment. Citing his lack of proper credentials, senior clerics who were alarmed at his popularity banned him from preaching at the Indimi Mosque in Maiduguri.

Many – Yusuf included – believed that Sheriff had turned so drastically against Boko Haram that he was intent on killing its members. In late 2008, he unleashed Operation Flush in Borno State, a military sweep whose official raison d’être was to curb banditry in the hinterlands. Yusuf assumed the worst and put his followers on alert for a pre-emptive uprising. Then, in June 2009, security forces opened fire on a procession of unarmed Boko Haram members on their way to a funeral in a town outside Maiduguri. According to the military, the mourners, who were travelling on motorbikes, weren’t wearing helmets, as required by law. Yusuf decided to launch his jihadist insurrection: ‘We are ready to die together with our brothers,’ he announced.

The uprising was initially slated for August but two events brought it forward. On 23 July, the authorities discovered a ‘training camp’ in Biu in Borno State, and arrested nine sect members. The following day, Boko Haram members accidentally detonated a bomb in a safe house in Maiduguri. With the authorities hot on their heels, Yusuf gave the go-ahead. Thurston takes up the story:

    On 26 July, around seventy Boko Haram members ‘armed with guns and hand grenades’ attacked a police station in Bauchi. Police repulsed them, killing several dozen and arresting an estimated two hundred sect members; arrests went well beyond just the fighters and extended to the sect’s wider membership in the city. In Potiskum, Yobe state, a ‘gun battle raged for hours’ around a police station; police arrested 23 people. A small clash occurred between Boko Haram and police in Wudil, Kano State. On 27 July, several battles paralysed Maiduguri. Boko Haram staged a co-ordinated late-night assault on the state’s police headquarters, police training facilities, Maiduguri prison, and two other police stations. Further battles happened in Gamboru-Ngala in Borno, near the border with Cameroon – a town that would become a flashpoint later. ‘Heavily armed members of the sect stormed the town and went on the rampage, burning a police headquarters, a church and a customs post.’

On 28 July the military shelled Yusuf’s home at Railway Quarters, where some sect members had ‘barricaded themselves in and around the house after heavy fighting’. Yusuf was found the next day, ‘hiding in a goat pen at his parents-in-law’s house’. He was interrogated by soldiers – it’s recorded on YouTube – and then handed over to the police, who executed him in public. An ecstatic crowd looked on. They later executed his father-in-law.

Thurston and Comolli agree that the Nigerian state and its security apparatus have never put their faith in negotiation. Threats posed by full-on secession, banditry and sectarianism have generally been met with maximum force, but the results are invariably counterproductive. Once Abubakar Shekau took over from his martyred predecessor, churches, mosques, banks, markets and schools became fair game, in what Thurston describes as ‘total war’ in north-eastern Nigeria. The first, shocking incident was the suicide bombing of the Nigeria Police headquarters in Abuja in June 2011 (the first such suicide attack in Nigerian history) which was followed, six months later, by the Christmas Day suicide bombings of three churches, one of them across the border in Niger. The insurgency peaked between 2009 and 2015, with the loss of 12,000 lives (20,000 have been killed to date). In 2014, Boko Haram announced its ‘capital’ in Gwoza, Borno State – it lasted just seven months – and affiliated with IS, rebranding as ‘Islamic State in West Africa’ or ‘Islamic State West Africa Province’. It expanded its use of suicide bombers. Most of them were young women and girls, including a ten-year-old.

The year 2015, when a presidential election was held, proved to be a turning point. The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, was widely seen as clueless: the previous year, it had taken him more than two weeks to admit that the Chibok kidnappings had happened. As the election campaign got underway, he stirred into action, agreeing that Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin could deploy their own troops inside Nigeria as the insurgency began to spread beyond the country’s borders. Jonathan also engaged a firm of mercenaries run by a former South African Defence Force officer, Eeben Barlow. Between them, they started to rack up some notable successes, exposing problems within the Nigerian army as they did so. ‘We’ve been on the terrain for two months,’ Idriss Déby, the president of Chad, complained, ‘and we haven’t seen a single Nigerian soldier. There is a definite deficit of co-ordination and a lack of common action.’ Barlow let slip that he thought the Nigerian army was incompetent: ‘Foreign armies … have spent considerable time in Nigeria where “window-dressing training” has been the order of the day. But look through the window and the room is empty.’ A ‘senior Western diplomat’ (are there any senior non-Western diplomats?) told the New York Times that the mercenaries were playing ‘a major operational role’ carrying out night attacks on Boko Haram and that ‘the next morning the Nigerian army rolls in and claims success’.

It later transpired that money intended for the military was being embezzled: Jonathan’s chief security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, is currently in detention, accused of stealing $2.1 billion. At the height of the conflict, according to Transparency International, ‘corrupt senior officers withheld ammunition and fuel from frontline soldiers, leaving them with no alternative other than to flee when attacked.’ When it did venture out, the army’s reputation was further tarnished by its behaviour towards villagers, in combined operations with the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF is a dubious initiative started by local youths in 2013 to identify Boko Haram suspects and get them to ‘confess’. One 14-year-old boy who refused was whipped to death by a soldier in front of his parents). A report by Amnesty International alleged ‘compelling evidence of widespread and systematic violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the military, leading to more than seven thousand mainly young Nigerian men and boys dying in military detention and more than 1200 people killed in extrajudicial executions’. According to AI, ‘no one was brought to justice.’ Civilians might have felt that they were caught between two competing reigns of terror.

In the event, Jonathan lost the election to Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general and former military dictator with a reputation for probity. Buhari immediately moved the centre of operations against Boko Haram north from Abuja to Maiduguri and allocated more resources. But by then the tide had already turned. There were schisms within Boko Haram dating back to 2012. Like Yusuf before him, Shekau belonged to an extremist Salafi sect, the Society for the Removal of Heretical Innovation and the Establishment of the Prophet’s Model, which held that Muslims who strayed from the path were fair game. Many of Shekau’s senior officers baulked at this development. Others were simply fed up with his lack of discipline and focus. According to Thurston, he had a reputation for killing civilians ‘on the basis of whim and/or personal benefit’, for ‘handing down punishments with weak scriptural justifications’, killing sect members and then lying about it, and marrying women ‘whose husbands were still alive’.

There are thought to be at least three factions currently operating under the banner of Boko Haram. Shekau has been reliably pronounced dead at the hands of the military on at least three occasions – one for each of the rival factions. The first pronouncement was in 2009 but no evidence was produced. Shekau – or a double, nobody is sure – tends to pop up on YouTube after announcements of his death, although he was absent from a Boko Haram video posted last year. The military appears to believe that he is still alive: last year, the chief of army staff, Lt Gen Tukur Yusufu Buratai, issued an ‘ultimatum’ to his troops to bring him in ‘dead or alive’.

With or without Shekau, Boko Haram has largely been contained, contrary to Thurston’s claim in his introduction that it is at present ‘one of the deadliest jihadist groups in the world, and the crisis surrounding it one of the globe’s worst’. Buhari was not wrong to declare that Nigeria had ‘technically won the war’ against the sect in 2015, or to announce its ‘final crushing’ one year later. Even so, it wasn’t the whole truth. The military has confined its members to the countryside, mainly the inaccessible mountainous areas on the border with Cameroon, where they continue to rampage with diminishing results. The recent attack on a girls’ secondary school in Dapchi, in Yobe State, where 110 pupils were kidnapped, draws inevitable comparisons with Chibok, but it doesn’t suggest a resurgence in Boko Haram’s activities. As Jama’atu Nasril Islam, the umbrella body of Nigeria’s Muslim community, has said, there is good reason to suspect that the security forces have been colluding with the remains of the movement in order to keep counterinsurgency funds from Abuja flowing their way. As I write, a row is blazing between the police and the army over who is responsible for ‘security’ in Dapchi. Both, you’d have thought – or just possibly neither.

When I travelled to Maiduguri last November, a journey I wouldn’t have contemplated two years earlier, I couldn’t get to Gwoza, Boko Haram’s former capital – a five-hour drive south-east from Maiduguri: Boko Haram may have been in retreat, but there had been no ‘final crushing’ and the roads were still unsafe. I couldn’t do the three-hour drive south to Chibok either: some lecturers from a local university had recently been abducted. But I did make a 14-hour roundabout journey to the town, with many military checkpoints along the way. It turned out that the story wasn’t in Chibok any longer. But if I hadn’t made the trip I might never have understood that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in 2014 is now a slow-burn revenue source, not just for the military, but for numerous NGOs: this once insignificant town is full of white four-by-fours, driven by aid workers.

The kidnapping has also generated a steady stream of publications. Both these books tell us a good deal about Boko Haram. They are worthy enough in their way, but fatally even-handed: Comolli and Thurston write as if Nigeria were a functioning country that simply required a tweak here and there. I feel bound to set them straight, but where to begin? Perhaps with our famous abundance of crude oil, and the anomalous situation in which we find ourselves, importing refined petroleum. Nigeria has the richest fields in Africa – generating around 2.4 million barrels a day – well ahead of the runner-up, Angola (around 1.8 million) – but our three largely obsolete refineries are unable to cope with the volume of crude. The annual renewable contracts from government that would make them viable are looted at source, and the elites that take the money have invested in refineries abroad. Even so, we have enough refined oil to run an efficient national grid. But the electricity supply remains stubbornly at around 4000 megawatts; South Africa generates about 34,000 megawatts for a population one-third the size of ours. Between 1999 and 2007, in the early years of our emergence from military dictatorship, contracts worth 16 billion US dollars were awarded by the finance ministry to the energy ministry (and a growing number of private providers) with much fanfare. These disbursements sank without trace. The government renamed the National Electric Power Authority (‘Never Expect Power Always’) as the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (‘Problem Has Changed Name’). Today we have more power outages than most people in this young country can recall.

At the top, graft is a family duty. Take Nigeria Airways. Given Nigerians’ dedication to travel – confirmed by the number of foreign carriers that fly in and out daily – a national airline operating in a regulated industry, as it did for roughly thirty years, should have been an exception to the rule that state airlines run at a loss. And so it was, but the revenues were retained by those appointed to run the airline. A commission of inquiry, set up on the return to democracy, reported in 2002 that most of Nigeria Airline’s accounts at the end of the 1990s were fraudulent. Between 1999 and 2002, when the company was liquidated, 31 million US dollars were ‘misappropriated’ as one clique in the ministry of finance awarded another in the transport ministry contracts worth millions of dollars to both parties. Nobody has been prosecuted, and even if they had, where were they supposed to serve their sentences? To our shame, the UK is building an extension to the Kiri Kiri prison in Lagos to repatriate Nigerians currently doing time in British jails. We allowed this initiative because our own prisons are even more deplorable and overcrowded than those in Britain, where inmates do not die of treatable diseases such as malaria.

Would education have kept the Nigerian prison population down? With 40 per cent illiteracy among Nigerians over the age of 15, we’re no longer able to test this hypothesis. According to a 2015 Unicef report, ‘investment in basic education is still low compared to other sub-Saharan countries’: most primary schools ‘lack water, electricity and toilet facilities [with] only one toilet for 600 pupils in the primary school system’. My guess is that the ratio of textbooks to pupils is no better. Unicef points out in another report that mother and infant mortality figures are worse in Nigeria than in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘Nigeria,’ Bill Gates remarked on a recent visit, ‘is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth.’

It’s hardly surprising that Nigerians are restive. Large deployments of armed men in uniform are part of the harsh, piecemeal solution to our unruliness, but as Comolli remarks, the use of the military can be ‘problematic’: soldiers, she writes, ‘are not trained to deal directly with the civilian population’. This hardly goes far enough. Soldiers in most countries are unfamiliar with police work, but in a crisis the Nigerian police are quickly sidelined by the army. With our long memory of military dictatorship, we see the army as the bodyguards of the corrupt elite. Comolli’s book – like Thurston’s – is intended for an international readership, for Western ‘policymakers … still struggling to get to grips with this phenomenon’. Nigerians have it off by heart.

Whatever becomes of Boko Haram, a greater threat to stability in the country as a whole, not just the north, has begun to emerge: a group known to Nigerians as ‘Fulani herdsmen’. This large, ill-defined body ‘undertook more attacks and were responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram in 2016’, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Unlike Boko Haram, this assortment of Muslim people categorised by ethnicity and livelihood – and increasingly by religion – are out in the open: families and clans drive their cattle south with the onset of the dry season, and are prepared to fight for pasture. Clashes in the past two years between Fulani and settled farmers or other pastoralists are fuelling fears that the army is reluctant to mediate this incursion, and that the sense of entitlement among the Fulani is growing. It’s easier, as the death toll rises, to typecast the Fulani as latter-day jihadists, even though some have fled south from Boko Haram.

The armed forces, criticised by Amnesty International’s Nigeria office for failing to keep order, have not been entirely passive, but their reactions have been ill-judged. Last December, during Fulani attacks on five villages in Adamawa State, the air force levelled the villages and created the kind of confusion that encourages defiant Fulani exceptionalism. During my journey in Borno State, we were held up for an hour while a party of Fulani crossed the road to a muddy watering hole, the men in wide-brimmed straw hats, loose trousers and plastic sandals, the women in bright dresses, with tightly braided hair and bangles on their arms, the boys and girls tall, dark and thin, driving their entire worldly wealth before them. My fellow passengers were uncharacteristically silent.

Fulani herdsmen are the nomadic descendants of Uthman Dan Fodio’s followers. A century before the British arrived, Dan Fodio, an itinerant Fulani preacher in what is now Senegal, launched a jihad against backsliders in an immense area to the south-east that was later incorporated into northern Nigeria. ‘They practise polytheistic rituals,’ Dan Fodio wrote, ‘and turn people away from the path of God and raise the flag of a worldly kingdom above the banner of Islam.’ In 1804 he established the Sokoto Caliphate, the largest Islamic state south of the Sahara, and pressed towards the coast in his eccentric quest to dip the Holy Book in the Atlantic Ocean. Like the British after him, he left the decadent administration of the Hausa royalty intact but appointed emirs to oversee their spiritual well-being. As his people settled, they adopted the Hausa language, the lingua franca of this vast, semi-arid region.

These herdsmen and their families were once confined to the areas around the northern Sahel. Creeping desertification has driven them further south. Numbering about 18 million, they are now to be found in 21 of the 36 states, and as far south as the Niger Delta. From the mid-1990s until 2005 disputes involving Fulani pastoralists on the move accounted for about 120 deaths in the north and so-called Middle Belt of Nigeria, but the figures have risen steeply. In January alone, they accounted for about 170 deaths. The symbolic Fulani weapon (the bow and arrow) has been replaced on these migrations by the AK47. Many southerners, far from the confrontation, worry that Fulani assertiveness is not driven simply by the search for marginal pasture. They fear a renaissance of Dan Fodio’s legacy and another step towards Nigeria’s becoming an Islamic state. The country has had twelve heads of state since the mid-1960s, five Christians, one of whom – Obasanjo – ruled twice, once in uniform and once as a civilian, and seven Muslims, one of whom, Buhari, has also ruled twice. Currently around fifty or sixty million Nigerians, roughly a third of the population, live under sharia law: that figure was unthinkable at the turn of the century.

Suspicions in the south, embedded in cultural anxiety, are not always parochial or communitarian. Just as the sharia-friendly attitude of the northern governors fired up Boko Haram, Buhari’s discourse, past and present, encourages the Fulani. Buhari has been clear in his support of the sharia governors in the north and, as it happens, he is a Fulani. ‘I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria,’ he said in 2001, as he called for ‘the total implementation of the sharia in the country’. In a subsequent interview, he announced that he was willing to ‘die for the cause of Islam’; in another that ‘we are more than the Christians if you add our Muslim brothers in the west.’ He was referring to the Yoruba ethnic group, forty million strong, that predominates in western Nigeria and is equally divided between Islam and Christianity (often within the same extended families). Religious tolerance in this part of Nigeria is a point of principle, reinforced by good sense: Yoruba Muslims have no interest in sharia.

Recently Bello Abdullahi Bodejo, the head of an influential Fulani cultural association, came out in support of Buhari’s re-election in next year’s presidential race. ‘All the Fulani in Nigeria today, our eyes are open. All of us are behind Buhari; we have seen that they’ – ‘they’ are not specified – ‘want to destroy the Fulani because of Buhari. We would not allow anybody … to take Buhari’s mandate; we would be ready to follow him and fight [for] it.’ Bodejo warned that if Fulani pastoralists ‘decide to … start any insurgency now or any resistance, you can imagine what will happen and they are … people who know everywhere in the jungles and the bushes’. This is a chilling threat to many who have long feared domination by the Hausa-Fulani.

The dilemma raised by our catastrophic civil war in the 1960s – is regional autonomy possible without secession? – has never been resolved. Biafra seems a remote event because history is no longer taught in our schools. As long as Nigeria is framed as a single, coherent entity – all or nothing, Abuja or the bush – the wish for autonomy can only express itself as a ‘national’ programme. For militant communitarian groups in the north this means that sharia is the objective, both for their own states and the country as a whole, which will have to fall into line if they are to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. Today it might be Boko Haram; tomorrow the Fulani herdsmen and their families, driven by climate change and faith. We are stumbling from crisis to crisis, as more and more illiterate young men and women pour into the streets with nothing to do but follow the next messiah or dream of escaping to Europe.


South Asia Citizens Wire
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
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