I am donkey, hear me bray

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta may be off the hook at the International Criminal Court, but back home a lot of people still think he’s been pretty incompetent at handling rising terrorism spilling over from Somalia (in retaliation for Kenyan participation in counterterrorism campaigns there). The latest manifestation of discontent has come in the form of a mysterious donkey protest on Thursday:

A herd of [22] donkeys has been dumped in Nairobi’s central business district in an apparent political protest, it’s been reported.

Each of the animals was spray-painted with the word “tumechoka”, which is Swahili for “we’re fed up”, The Standard news website reports. A lorry was seen depositing the herd in the centre of the Kenyan capital, with the driver saying he’d been paid to drop them off. It’s thought the protest was against rising insecurity in the country, as the website notes the “tumechoka” slogan was used in a street protest against a brutal bus attack in northern Kenya in November. As the donkeys were unloaded from the lorry, one activist was heard shouting “we are tired of this leadership,” The Standard says. The scene attracted a large crowd, according to the BBC’s Robert Kiptoo in Nairobi. “Police had a hectic time trying to control the crowd, which had gathered in one of the streets to take a glimpse of the graffiti and take photographs,” he says. The animals are now being looked after by an animal welfare organisation. “We have taken the donkeys to our Moroto offices and arrested some people who are suspected to be involved in the evil act,” a police officer tells The Star newspaper.

 
Yes, how evil. So dastardly.

President Kenyatta recently fired a number of high-ranking interior and security officials, including some with so little background in the relevant portfolios that they almost make a commissioner of the Arabian Horse Association look qualified to manage a US federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

However, many saw it as too little too late, coming over a year after the horrific Westgate mall siege and the wildly incompetent response there.

Destined to fail? The hardline-Sharia breakaway states of history

Since the 19th century, various leaders and groups across North Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East have attempted to establish brand new states with Islamist theocratic and expansionist governments. This tradition merely continues today with organizations acting in the vein of ISIS and several others today as well as a few rapidly derailed others in recent years. These efforts have fallen apart pretty easily every time, as discussed in a New York Times op-ed by David Motadel, a University of Cambridge historian, who has studied these movements.

They are formed in response to crisis, civil war, state failure, anti-colonialism, or some combination. They progress from rebel force seizing territory to seeking to establish states to expand their military capacities (via revenue collection and such), but then they make themselves into highly visible (and attackable) fixed targets, and they inevitably prove inept at governance, resulting in a rapid loss of popular support. Here’s one of several examples provided:

Equally short lived was the Mahdist state in Sudan, lasting from the early 1880s to the late 1890s. Led by the self-proclaimed Mahdi (“redeemer”) Muhammad Ahmad, the movement called for jihad against their Egyptian-Ottoman rulers and their British overlords, and it established state structures, including a telegraph network, weapon factories and a propaganda apparatus. The rebels banned smoking, alcohol and dancing and persecuted religious minorities.

But the state was unable to provide stable institutions, and the economy collapsed; half of the population died from famine, disease and violence before the British Army, supported by Egyptians, crushed the regime in a bloody campaign, events chronicled in “The River War” by the young Winston Churchill, who served as an officer in Sudan.

 
I think probably the only example of a surviving anti-colonial Islamist theocracy is Iran after 1979, which isn’t discussed in the article. But that’s because there’s not much similarity, despite the apparent end game. The Iranian radicals seized complete political power in a defined, pre-existing country with an existing and functioning state. There wasn’t a huge external crisis or war happening at the time, and they didn’t have to fight their way into power with a full-scale rebellion or insurgency. Moreover, the Iranian revolutionaries immediately turned the engine of the state (albeit with heavy purging of old regime loyalists) toward populist provision of services. And then they were soon invaded by Saddam Hussein, which helped mobilize the population for a patriotic defense against him, thus further securing the continuance of the new government in the state. In other words, the Iranians came to power very differently from how groups in the mold ISIS have tried to establish state authority, and they did everything they needed to so that they would be on a durable footing.

ISIS may be more tech-savvy and one of the best armed of these groups over the course of more than a century — though they’re also facing modern armed forces and not 19th century French infantry — but they have already shown themselves to be repeating the same patterns that led to the collapse of the prior efforts. You can alienate the people some of the time, if you provide food and services, but you can’t provide that without risking external attacks (like we’ve been seeing) or else a demonstration of gross incompetence in governing…and you can’t stop providing those things and continue alienating the people, without falling from power.

As Motadel observes near the end of his column: Read more

Somalia: When the terrorists go locavore

Shabab-Logo-somaliaAccording to an al Jazeera report, farmers in a major grain-producing region of Somalia under the control of the al-Shabab terrorist group (responsible for much of Somalia’s post-2008 violence and several major terrorist attacks across Eastern Africa) say that the group’s farm reforms have been extremely beneficial.

After a 2011 famine killed 250,000 people, the Islamist group began construction on new irrigation systems and canals to prevent such disasters. In total, they’ve already spent $2 million on infrastructural development to boost farm capacity.

The group also more recently kicked out the Western aid NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who were importing non-local food for humanitarian relief purposes. While that food aid might seem helpful, it essentially meant they were giving out free alternatives to buying from local farmers. This established a cycle of dependency where no one bought food from local farmers (because they could get free meals instead) and then the local farmers became destitute as well and must depend on the food aid from the West. Each additional farm failure reduced the region’s food supply, further increasing dependence.

The next step al-Shabab took was to reform the tax system of their jurisdiction and drive up demand for the local food:

By not taxing farmers for their land but for what they produce, Boru said al-Shabab is encouraging more people to farm – which means more tax income from the increased produce. And by providing rent-free premises for restaurateurs who serve only locally sourced food, the group is maintaining the demand for local food and safeguarding their coffers, he added.

 
al-Shabab also staged a PR campaign to promote local food purchases, including having doctors tell patients it would be healthier to eat locally. Both production and demand have risen dramatically in the region and may help ward off famine and reduce extreme poverty. al-Shabab will, of course, also make a lot more revenue, which means that — beyond having more money to buy weapons for the civil war and terrorism campaigns — they’ll likely be able to provide additional social services and food aid to the needy in their territory.

Everyone wins, more or less. Even the Western NGOs will suffer fewer attacks after several years of skyrocketing attacks.

Like it or not, one of the ways terrorist groups become broad-based political movements, rather than just isolated bands of disaffected young men with violent solutions, is when they transition successfully into the role of de facto local government and social service provider.

This development — not overly surprising from a group that grew out of the governance-oriented Islamic Courts Union movement last decade — demonstrates a higher level of strategic and long-term planning than your average group of heavily armed rebels. In many ways, such reforms will make al-Shabab both a stronger military force to be reckoned with and a more legitimate political force to have to bargain with.