Tag Archives: Mali

What’s Going on in Chad?

20 Aug
Rond point de l'Armée in N'Djamena, Chad. By Ismouz.

Rond point de l’Armée in N’Djamena, Chad. By Ismouz.

Chad’s been in the news recently primarily because of Boko Haram and the subsequent ban on the Islamic face veil. In June and July, several attacks in N’Djamena and on Lake Chad islands killed around 55 people. Despite N’Djamena’s physical proximity to Boko Haram areas in Nigeria and Cameroon, these were the first major attacks in Chad by Boko Haram following Chad’s entry into the international coalition fighting the group. These attacks have happened against a political backdrop of extreme poverty, government repression, and a history of armed conflict. Among the many problems that Chad currently faces, probably none of them alone are existential threats to Deby’s regime or the harbinger of impending mass violence, but Chad faces a uniquely toxic cocktail of political, economic, and social problems.

Social Fragmentation

Chad is 45% Christian, but since independence, Christians have been largely shut out of political power. It’s not that they’re second-class citizens, as most people besides a small elite have been shut out of political power, but even Christian elites have few political prospects.

There is also discord within the Muslim community. Historically, Chadian Islam has been dominated by Sufi sects, but recently there’s been an increase in more conservative forms of Sunni Islam, partially due to increased funding from the Gulf. The government, and its allied religious leaders, has cracked down on these forms of Islam, claiming they promote violence and are anathema to Chadian tradition (some of these religious leaders are using Boko Haram attacks to settle scores with rival Salafists, who in Chad have almost always advocated peace). While Chadian imams have traditionally preached against violence, there is a danger “moderate” Muslim authorities could become complicit in a large-scale government crackdown. Additionally, these imams might come to be seen as government puppets, lose credibility, and thereby create a power vacuum that could be filled by more radical individuals.

There is a major gap, both in terms of wealth and government attention, between rural and urban areas, leading to significant discontent and frequent clashes between farmers and pastoralists. The Toubou in Chad’s far north are particularly neglected, but they are generally disorganized and it seems unlikely they’d launch a large-scale rebellion (however some analysts worry that after the defeat of jihadist forces in northern Mali, they’ll link up with the Toubou) due to a lack of capacity and the strength of Chad’s armed forces. In these areas, traditional authorities have generally kept the peace, but when they have been weakened, either by the government or other external factors, violence and crime have generally increased.

Civil society only became a force in Chad after the ascension of Idriss Deby to power in 1990. However, it’s never become a major player for a few reasons. The government associates it with the opposition and Christians, so any activity is generally seen as a direct challenge by the government, and sometimes even a Trojan Horse by Christians to gain political power. There are few forums for political activity not organized by international NGO’s. Independent media does exist, but it only reaches a small number of people, whereas government-controlled media has a mass audience. Print media is dominated by Southern Chadians, further earning the ire of the government.

International Relations

Recently, after many years of essentially being an international pariah (partially because of his close links with Gaddafi, who was also in the process of being rehabilitated at the end of his rule), Chad has reinvented itself as a key counterterrorism partner for Western countries. This shift in policy began in 2008-2009. In the last three years, Chadian troops have served in Mali (under AFISMA), CAR, and Nigeria. In Mali, Chadian forces distinguished themselves in desert warfare, and lost around 30 soldiers. Following these losses and what Deby felt was insufficient support (diplomatic and material) from the international community, Deby chose to withdraw Chad’s forces in Mali. Chad’s intervention in CAR, however, was a disaster. Chad was accused of backing Seleka, then pulled back support from Bozize late on, and Chadian troops massacred Central African civilians. However, Chad has redeemed itself in Nigeria. It has successfully cleared large areas of Boko Haram, and has been recognized as the most effective fighting force in the conflict.

The US and France are Chad’s major allies when it comes to counterterrorism. Chad is a member of the US’ Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership and the US has been slowly expanding its presence in Chad. The US already runs many air operations in Central Africa out of N’Djamena (like assisting in the search for the Chibok girls), but is quietly moving toward establishing a more permanent base. Though Chad had previously been cited for using child soldiers (in 2010, 2011, and 2013), it controversially received a waiver in 2013 and since hasn’t appeared on the State Department’s list of countries using child soldiers. The US has trained Chadian soldiers and intermittently donates equipment to the armed forces. France bases its 3,000-strong regional counterterrorism force in N’Djamena, with 1,200 soldiers permanently stationed in Chad. France has two bases in the country. Though France has previously come to Deby’s rescue, Hollande is trying to move away from propping up strongmen and toward fighting terrorism, securing borders, and supporting small teams that can prevent hostage-taking or free hostages.

Chad’s relationship with Sudan is also crucially important. Chad and Sudan were de facto enemies, and supported rebels (the JEM and various Chadian rebellions, respectively). In 2006 and 2008, rebellions sponsored by Sudan almost overthrew Deby (requiring French support in 2008). However, in 2010, the two governments came to an agreement, and ceased supporting cross-border rebel groups. The alliance was solidified by the marriage of Deby to the daughter of Musa Hilal, a key player in the Sudanese government in Darfur (who has since defected from the NCP, so that’s a relationship to watch). Without Sudanese support, it’s highly unlikely an insurgency would have the capacity to seriously challenge Deby, and since 2010, there’s been no renewed insurgencies or problems with Sudan.

Chad has also had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with Nigeria recently. While Buhari has cautiously welcomed Chadian help in fighting Boko Haram, he has been careful not to give them too much credit or leeway. Both countries have reported there is little to no coordination between their forces in the fight against Boko Haram.

Government Structure

Since independence, governance in Chad has been kleptocratic and reserved for a small elite. Deby’s regime is also quite repressive. Opposition MP’s only have a few seats in parliament and the judiciary is loyal to Deby. Opposition politicians and government critics are routinely arrested. A democratic opposition does not really exist; opposition leaders may make perfunctory statements about democracy, but they would likely implement a similar system of governance, only they’d be the beneficiaries..

To prevent alternate power bases from developing, Deby frequently reshuffles his cabinet and military leadership. The Deby regime is heavily dependent on Deby’s Bila-Bideyet clan, which is a sub-group of the larger Zaghawa, who have filled many key positions in the security forces and government. Furthermore, some of his family members hold top positions. Beyond ethnic ties, the government is heavily reliant on patronage to buy fealty.

That patronage is largely funded through oil revenues, which only began flowing in the early 2000’s. Oil has had a major effect on the Chadian political scene. It has allowed Chad to dramatically strengthen its military, which prior to 2008 was poorly equipped and trained. The strength of the army has allowed Deby to disregard calls for reform, repress domestic opposition, and gain international prestige (and more money) through its participation in international counterterrorism efforts. A big reason all of this was possible was the stronger position in which Deby found himself. He faced serious armed challenges in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, but since then, excluding a 2013 coup attempt that may have been invented by the regime, the government has appeared much more in control.

Oil revenues have been used for development, but these projects have mostly happened in urban areas to the benefit of the elite. The lack of benefits provided by oil revenues to the urban poor, rural populations, and oil-producing region has prompted protests, but these have been repressed. However, the number and intensity of protests may increase in the run-up to the April 2016 presidential election if no tangible economic benefits are provided to most of the population.

Recent Boko Haram Attacks and Government Response

Four suicide attacks in June and July in N’Djamena killed about 55 people. The perpetrators were widely suspected to be Boko Haram after the group threatened Chad in its released videos. In response, the Chadian government launched airstrikes against Boko Haram targets in Nigeria, attacked Boko Haram militants on Lake Chad islands, banned the full face veil (the niqab/burqa because one of the bombers was wearing the garment), and arrested suspected Boko Haram members (and unidentified “foreigners”). Religious leaders publicly supported the decision, but they probably didn’t have much of a choice. In the short-term it’s unlikely this leads for widespread support for Boko Haram, but Chad does risk alienating more conservative Muslims with its heavy-handed and probably ineffective tactics. Additionally, it’s unclear to what degree the regime will use the Boko Haram threat to crackdown on non-jihadist opponents.

Key Things to Watch

  • Inter-Zaghawa tensions: Probably the biggest threat to the Deby regime is a coup by Zaghawa allies, and any public break between Zaghawa elites and Deby could be a sign of an impending coup. Many Zaghawa are unhappy with Deby for his abandonment of the JEM in Sudan, who were mostly Zaghawa. Additionally, many elites, including some in his own family, seek to improve their position, and it’s unclear if patronage will mollify them. While Chad’s newly-strong army means an insurgency is unlikely to topple the government, a coup could happen either with the collusion of the armed forces or be timed to take place while they’re largely deployed in northern Nigeria. The last coup took place just before troops were about to come home from Mali. A coup probably wouldn’t descend into mass violence, but given the number of well-armed troops and foreign interests at stake, it’s possible.
  • Protests: Protests haven’t lead to major unrest under Deby’s rule, but it’s conceivable. Trade unions have organized medium-sized demonstrations in the past, and recently, partially because of Boko Haram, the prices of basic goods have spiked. This has caused smaller, more sporadic protests, but they could become larger as the election approaches. If protests do break out, it’s worth identifying the leaders and how the government responds.
  • Relationship with Sudan breaks down: There haven’t been any outward signs of the deterioration of the Sudanese-Chadian détente, but such a deterioration would have negative consequences on both sides of the border. It’s likely Sudan would sponsor another insurgency, but given the Sudanese regime’s relative weakness and the ease with which Chad put down the 2009 attempt, it might be a flash in the pan. However, there are still 350,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, and they would likely be in the middle of any conflict. Any accusations of support for proxy groups could be a sign the alliance is collapsing.
  • Boko Haram: At the moment, Boko Haram poses only a sporadic threat in Chad. However, if the group were able to launch more regular attacks and/or control territory due to popular support or unforeseen government weakness, the Deby regime would likely respond with massive violence, and that is something to watch for. At the moment, however, the government’s own repressive actions present a similar degree of danger as Boko Haram.

2015 Mass Atrocity Forecasts

12 Jan

In my last post, I looked back on how my predictions fared in 2014. While there are a couple different ways to measure success, all in all I was a little under 50%.

Here are my predictions for 2015. Like last time, I’ll not do a simple yes/no, but rather a percentage of how likely a mass atrocity is to happen. By mass atrocity, I mean 1,000 deaths caused intentionally by a discrete combatant group against another discrete noncombatant group. I’m including more countries than I did last year, and hopefully this will offer more accurate forecasts.

  • Nigeria (95%)
  • Iraq (95%)
  • Syria (95%)
  • Pakistan (75%)
  • Afghanistan (70%)
  • South Sudan (70%)
  • Sudan (65%)
  • Mexico (55%)
  • CAR (50%)
  • North Korea (50%)
  • Somalia (30%)
  • DRC (30%)
  • Libya (25%)
  • Gaza (25%)
  • Cameroon (20%)
  • Ukraine (10%)
  • Rwanda (10%)
  • Lebanon (10%)
  • Burundi (5%)
  • Yemen (5%)
  • Chad (5%)
  • Guinea (5%)
  • Kenya (5%)
  • Ethiopia (5%)
  • Burma (5%)
  • Eritrea (5%)
  • Zimbabwe (5%)
  • Mali (5%)

Explaining my forecast for each of the 28 countries here would be tedious and probably unnecessary, so I’ll skip it. However, I’ll select a few countries where my risk prediction doesn’t generally line up with the consensus in the atrocity prevention community.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram has probably already committed a mass killing in 2015, and across the border in Cameroon, Boko Haram is also active, though the chances of a mass atrocity are lower if not insignificant.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are not countries on the traditional atrocity prevention agenda, but that has more to do with uneasy relationship between anti-atrocity advocates and the U.S. military than the countries’ risk. Their respective Taliban’s both committed atrocities last year, and it seems likely that trend will continue.

In Mexico, it’s never a question of absolute casualty figures but how those casualties are categorized. Because there aren’t clear numbers on how many cartel members die as opposed to civilians, it’s hard to know whether more than 1,000 are killed by a specific drug cartel, even if thousands will almost certainly die in 2015.

In the DRC, like Mexico, more than 1,000 are highly likely to die. However, the splintered nature of armed groups in the country’s east means I think it’s more likely than not no single group will kill 1,000 civilians. The situation’s not dissimilar in Libya, where there is rampant violence, but it is committed by a myriad of militias.

Israel probably committed a mass killing in Gaza last year, and while confrontations between Hamas and Israel seem to operate on two or three year cycles, there’s still a decent chance Israel ‘mows the grass’ again this year.

While Rwanda is often praised as one of Africa’s most efficient governments, this sheen of good governance masks a political powder-keg. Whenever the elite coalition Kagame has built fractures, the struggle to fill the resulting power vacuum will likely result in mass violence. The same principle applies in Zimbabwe and Eritrea.

Finally, Burundi and Burma are two countries that have been high on the atrocity prevention agenda that I rated at only 5%. In Burundi, it seems the government has repressed the opposition enough that ruling elites are unlikely to be threatened during the 2015 election. There are some parallels here with Burma. While the treatment of the Rohingya minority is horrendous, it seems Burma’s elites have settled on forcing emigration rather than initiating a mass killing, which would be more politically risky.

Looking Back on My 2014 Mass Atrocity Forecasts

2 Jan

A year ago, I took a stab at predicting which countries would experience mass atrocities in 2014 (defined as 1,000 noncombatant intentional deaths caused by discrete group). My predictions were fairly accurate, if not perfectly so. Here’s what I predicted. I’ve put “YES” next to places that did experience atrocities and “NO” next to the countries that didn’t. For the countries where it’s simply too hard to know, I’ve put a “?”. I don’t want to get too in-depth into how I determined whether atrocities occurred, but I have some explanations in the footnotes for countries that are hard to judge one way or the other.

  • Syria (95%) – YES
  • South Sudan (85%) – YES
  • Iraq (85%) – YES
  • CAR (75%) – YES [1]
  • Sudan (60%) – YES
  • Afghanistan (50%) – YES [2]
  • North Korea (50%) – ? [3]
  • Mexico (35%) – ? [4]
  • Nigeria (30%) – YES
  • Burma (20%) – NO
  • DRC (20%) – NO [5]
  • Egypt (10%) – NO
  • Mali (5%) – NO
  • Venezuela (5%) – NO

To judge how accurate I was, one measure is to see each case as containing 100 points. If an atrocity did happen, then I get the number of percentage points that I predicted (for example, I get 95 out of 100 for Syria) and if one did not happen, I get the result of subtracting the number of percentage points I predicted from 100 (for example, I get 80 out of 100 for Burma). Because my predictions were not just yes/no, this method helps account for the probabilistic aspect. Measuring this way, I did very well, receiving 920 out of a possible 1200, excluding Mexico and North Korea because of the inconclusive judgments. However, that score should really be 920 out of 1400, because civilian deaths in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict constitute a mass atrocity. Similarly, the Pakistani Taliban committed a mass atrocity. A mass atrocity may have occurred in Somalia, but the numbers don’t seem high enough to definitively say for sure.

There are a few problems with this metric for success, though. First, my numbers success rate is considerably boosted by the very high probability (the “No Shit List”) and the very low probability cases. If I remove the cases where I predicted probabilities above 80% and below 20%, and add in Pakistan and Gaza, my score comes out to a much less impressive 375 out of 800, even though by the standards of forecasting international events, it’s not bad.

The results of my projections have both optimistic and pessimistic ramifications for the ability to forecast atrocities. On the one hand, being a little less than 50% accurate in medium-risk cases is much better than the standard 65%-80% false positive ratio that’s common even in the best performing models (though it’s easier to outperform statistical models in one year than five). Additionally, with the exceptions of Pakistan and Gaza, no episodes of atrocities occurred in countries with probabilities less than 30%. On the other hand, in every case that I listed a probability that an atrocity would happen and it did, the country had been experiencing large-scale violent conflict at the beginning of 2014. One of the two cases I missed was also the one not experiencing large-scale violent conflict then.

Therein lies the problems. It’s fairly easy to predict where atrocities will occur for countries already experiencing mass violence. While it is certainly useful to predict anywhere where atrocities will occur, the real prize of forecasting is to identify the cases where atrocities will occur that aren’t obvious to the casual observer. Because mass atrocities are such rare events, that’s frustratingly difficult.

In my next post, I’ll put up my mass atrocity forecasts for 2015.

Update (1/16/15): Earlier today I realized that in analyzing my predictions I had missed the chance to analyze whether I had been overly optimistic or pessimistic about mass atrocities in 2014. I’m particularly interested to see if I avoided the bias that generally has forecasts over-predict the likelihood of rare events, which atrocities are.

I’ll do this by adding up the percentage points I predicted in total (and divide my 100) and then compare that to the actual occurrence of atrocities. If we exclude the atrocities that happened that I didn’t predict, I predicted there would be 5.4 mass atrocities in 2014. Within my prediction sample, there were actually 6 mass atrocities. So I was pretty close. My accuracy here was helped because each country that had a mass atrocity in 2014 in my predicted list also had one in 2013.

However, if I include Gaza and Pakistan (as I probably should), I was less accurate, again predicting 5.4 atrocities when 8 actually occurred. For whatever reason, I bucked the trend and under-predicted the number of atrocities that would occur in 2014.

Clarification (1/4/15): For this post, I defined a mass atrocity as 1,000 deaths in a single year. While this is partially consistent with other definitions for a mass atrocity used by The Early Warning Project and my thesis, it doesn’t clarify the conditions for when a mass atrocity continues over multiple years. The convention is that 1,000 is required in the onset year, and then if the number of deaths drops below a much lower threshold for a few years, then the mass killing episode ends. For example, by the Early Warning Project’s definition, a state-led mass killing episode continued in Myanmar last year, even though as far as I can tell, the casualty numbers were well under 1,000. For my predictions, because I’m only looking at one year at a time, I’m thinking about whether death counts will reach 1,000 each year. Neither definition is better than the other, but for the purposes of my predictions, the 1,000 threshold every year makes more sense.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

[1] Though the numbers aren’t entirely clear, it seems very likely that more 1,000 noncombatants were killed by anti-balaka forces (and possibly ex-Seleka forces too) in 2014.

[2] By July, more than 1,500 civilians had already been killed, with 74% of those caused by anti-government forces (mostly the Taliban). The total number had risen to over 3,000 by November, with the Taliban responsible for 75%.

[3] Obviously, the North Korean regime isn’t releasing data on its prison camps, but investigations by Amnesty and the OHCHR makes it seem very likely more than 1,000 civilians died in 2014. However, the lack of data makes it impossible to know for sure.

[4] Like North Korea, there’s just not enough data to say. It’s not that we don’t know that huge numbers of people were killed by organized crime, but it’s unclear how many of those count as civilians (cartel members are combatants in this case). It seems likely, but one can’t be sure.

[5] While the civilian death toll almost certainly exceeded 1,000 in 2014, to my knowledge, no one single group can claim to have killed more than 1,000 noncombatants.

The Lesser Evil: When does it make sense to intervene on behalf of incumbents?

17 Aug

*This piece was first published in the SSR Resource Centre’s The Hub and is republished with permission from the Centre for Security Governance.

A few weeks ago, Edward H. Carpenter came out with two compelling posts (here and here) in the Duck of Minerva. In his first article, he notes that the Islamic State’s (IS) advance in Syria and Iraq is only one example of recent victories by mobile, non-state Islamic fundamentalist groups organized as networks. In his second, he argues that while the governments these insurgencies seek to topple may not meet international standards of good governance:

“No population has benefited from the long-running civil wars or instability that has resulted from an existing state government being overthrown by networked opposition elements; and few regional governments are able to beat these networks quickly and decisively on their own. Thus, the West should consider making short-term, limited intervention on the side of existing governmental bodies the norm.”

These interventions, Carpenter writes, would combine airstrikes and ground forces comprised of government and international troops. Interventions would only occur when a conflict meets a threshold of a few pre-determined conditions, “Such a threshold would probably need to specify level and pace of conflict, presence (or lack) of diplomatic avenues of resolution, and several other measures beyond a simple casualty count.”

In response to Carpenter’s article, Rachel Strohm wrote a response piece teasing out some of the argument’s problems. Strohm uses the Rwandan Genocide as an example of a case when a state’s violent overthrow led to an improvement in the lives of its citizens. Because it is hard not to improve on a regime that kills a huge percentage of its population, there is a good argument that when a state is that brutal, seeking to crush any armed resistance will only allow the state to continue attacks on civilians.

Strohm’s point is a good one, and gets at something Carpenter’s argument seems to imply, but does not come out and say. The issue is not really with network insurgencies in general, but their relative capability to create a new stable new government. The ability of violent groups to create positive and intentional change is frequently overstated, and only in rare cases of extreme states weakness or government brutality does a rebel group’s ascent to power potentially offer a less violent future.

Determining when this is the case is difficult, but Carpenter’s own analysis of the nature of insurgent groups offers one potential avenue. He notes that they tend to be organized in networks rather than hierarchies, allowing for battlefield success. However, networks are less effective in performing governance than hierarchies because they lack the centralization and chain of command necessary to perform activities like tax collection, consistent law enforcement, and paying civil servants. As Weinstein argues, when commanders lack control over their soldiers, these soldiers are more likely to abuse civilians. Therefore, one metric for determining whether or not to support a non-state actor is their level of hierarchal organization in comparison to the state’s. In Rwanda, the state’s devolution of violent power to the Interahamwe, a non-state actor, meant it more closely resembled a network than the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels.

Following up on Strohm’s post, I see five additional implications of Carpenter’s argument that are worth fleshing out. First, Carpenter’s proposed interventions would follow the example of the French intervention in Mali, where superior airpower and ground troops were able to halt the insurgents’ advance. Carpenter hints that a similar policy would have been the right choice in Libya. However, these two countries share two characteristics that most others lack. Libya and Mali contain huge swathes of desert between cities and a correspondingly low population density. Rebels wishing to overthrow the state must traverse these areas, and in the process, become easy targets for a competent air force.

In many other countries this isn’t the case. In Syria, which Carpenter also mentions, putting down the rebels early would have required significant numbers of international ground troops due to western Syria’s population density. Assad has already tried, and failed, to crush the rebellion with superior airpower. While there is a good argument that Carpenter’s template approach would work against IS, there are many other insurgencies around the world where it would not.

Second, Carpenter doesn’t fully account for the possibility of failed interventions, which could happen in several ways. Had an international coalition attempted to intervene in Syria for example, its probable failure to crush rebel forces would have likely entrenched the conflict even more rapidly. Additionally, even if responses are pre-planned in the way Carpenter envisions, they may suffer from poor coordination, or a lack of financial and human resources. If the intervention fails to crush the rebels quickly, they may end up prolonging the conflict and supporting an abusive government.

Third, a norm that provides for consistent international military support of incumbents would provide abusive regimes with perverse incentives. Leaders wishing to crush a rival or gain domestic support could provoke a violent confrontation with opponents, leading to an international intervention in the incumbent’s favor. For states like Sudan that chronically make war against internal opponents, consistent international support for incumbents against military challengers could encourage persistent aggressive behavior.

Fourth, Carpenter perhaps underestimates the enormity of the normative shift that he prescribes. Widespread international armed support for incumbent regimes would effectively de-legitimize armed resistance as a way to force concessions or overthrow oppressive authorities. Subsequently, it would bring states closer together by putting each one, regardless of its behavior, on equal footing. While decreasing the overall legitimacy of armed challenges to states would likely be a positive development, the few potential exceptions outlined above stand out clearly. It would also be very difficult to convince powerful states to work together to defeat all armed insurgents. Powerful states are not the ones that tend to face armed challengers, while various non-state armed groups often further their interests. Therefore, it is highly unlikely the norm would be enforced consistently, even if this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Finally, the de-legitimization of armed struggle that would occur through Carpenter’s proposal would mean a likely increase in the number of nonviolent insurrections against incumbents. As Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth have shown, nonviolent campaigns that overthrow the government lead to more stable and more democratic subsequent governments, so this change would be unquestionably positive.

Carpenter’s argument has its merits, and his somewhat controversial support for incumbents makes sense in some circumstances. However, before taking the proposal seriously, as I hope some policymakers will, it makes sense to give the argument a stronger theoretical background and identify exceptions. Doing so might lead to an exceptionally promising if somewhat unconventional way to think about international violence prevention.

I’m Not That Great a Forecaster: Looking back on my past predictions and learning how to improve

2 Jan

In early January of 2013, I wrote two posts that outlined six conflicts to watch for civilian protection advocates in the coming year.  Without any concrete methodology, I picked out Sudan, Afghanistan, Mali, Kenya, Syria (specifically violence in a post-Assad Syria), and Central Asia.  Arguably, I was wrong in five of the six cases if the criteria is that the violence had to get significantly worse from 2012 to 2013 in the manner that I predicted  (it gets even worse when you think about all 2013 conflicts I omitted; Nigeria, Egypt, CAR, and Iraq all experienced episodes of mass killing that have intensified since 2012).  I’ll briefly outline how I did country by country, address what I did wrong, and because it’s that time of year again, propose predictions for 2014.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, feel free to skip to the bulleted predictions.

Sudan had a turbulent year, but it’s nothing really out of the ordinary for the troubled country.  #SudanRevolts returned in September and October and prompted a fairly superficial cabinet reshuffle, but not much else.  Violence continued to rage in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.  Although violence increased in Darfur and perhaps South Kordofan, it was not a radical departure for 2012.  In my last sentence of my Sudan section, I briefly mentioned South Sudan.  While the violence in Jonglei between the Lou Nuer and Murle ebbed slightly in 2013, any progress made in the country was obliterated by the crisis that began on December 15th and has enveloped the country.  It’s unclear how many people have died, but it probably constitutes a mass killing. Mali has certainly experienced some violence in 2013, but there is no way that it was worse than 2012.  The French-African intervention was fairly successful at expelling the jihadist-Tuareg alliance from Northern Mali.  Fairly successful elections went ahead and the leader of the initial coup, Amadou Haya Sanogo, has been arrested and will be put on trial.

Afghanistan is probably the only case I got right.  Civilian casualties increased in the first half (and possibly the second) of 2013, marking a reversal in 2012’s trend.  For every success there’s a failure, and Kenya is that failure.  The March elections went off smoothly, and so I was really wrong.  I was right to predict that 2013 would be worse than 2012 for Syrians, but it didn’t happen in the way I thought.  At the time, it seemed very likely Assad would fall, initiating a mass killing of Alawites in and around Latakia.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, massive violence continued against civilian populations throughout Syria mostly with the exception of Latakia.  Finally, like Kenya, I really got Central Asia wrong.  There was not significant violence in any Central Asian country (excluding Afghanistan) this calendar year.  Regime change could have potentially caused conflict, but those pesky autocratic regimes just won’t go away.

So how can I improve?  First, it would have helped if I had had a concrete measurement for what constituted conflict.  Second, it would have made sense to have had a constant metric for assessing why I thought conflict would occur in certain places.  Figuring out what my predicted conflict zones had in common and why they were different from other potential conflict zones would have improved my methodology, even if creating a model from a hunch isn’t the best social science (if someone wants to pay me to blog I promise my methodology will be more robust).  My analysis also would have improved if I had laid out specifically what changes I was looking for and how they fit into a larger historical narrative.  For example, while there was both a history of and a potential for political instability in Central Asia, my only data points were the 2005 massacre in Andijan, Uzbekistan and the 2010 violence in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

So moving into my predictions for 2014, rather than creating a complete methodology of my own, I’m going to borrow two of Jay Ulfelder’s crowd-sourced forecasting projects as points of reference.  The first is the Center for Genocide Prevention’s online opinion pool (password needed).  The opinion pool aggregates the opinions of currently fifty individuals interested in atrocity prevention to create averaged probabilities about the likelihood of a particular event.  The questions are generally phrased like this, “Before X date, will an episode of state-led mass killing occur in Y country.”  The second is a wiki survey also originating from the Center for Genocide Prevention.  The results demonstrate how much more likely any particular country is to experience an episode of state-led mass killing than other countries during 2014.

In order and with percentages, these are the countries that I think are most likely to experience a mass killing (defined as more than 1,000 civilian deaths) in 2014:

  • Syria (95%)
  • South Sudan (85%)
  • Iraq (85%)
  • CAR (75%)
  • Sudan (60%)
  • Afghanistan (50%)
  • North Korea (50%)
  • Mexico (35%)
  • Nigeria (30%)
  • Burma (20%)
  • DRC (20%)
  • Egypt (10%)
  • Mali (5%)
  • Venezuela (5%)

My predictions are largely based on the crowd-sourced forecasts from Jay’s two projects, aren’t identical.  I’ll explain why, country by country, below.

Obviously, the chances that a mass killing will happen in Syria are very, very high (the wiki survey is definitely wrong in placing Syria 6th).  However, the opinion pool’s average probability that there will be a mass killing of Alawite civilians in Latakia province stands at 43%.  I think this is too high, and the real probability stands nearer 15%.  For a mass killing of Alawites to happen, the Assad regime would have to collapse or severely weaken.  Demonstrated by my false prediction of his doom in early 2013, Assad has proven surprisingly durable.  Civil wars tend to last a long time, so especially with the increasing fragmentation of the opposition, it’s doubtful Assad will be defeated anytime soon.

South Sudan, Iraq, and CAR all have ongoing conflict that will almost certainly include a case of mass killing, committed either by government or rebel forces, in 2014.  Iraq and CAR definitely experienced a mass killing episode in 2013, and South Sudan probably did, but the concrete numbers to confirm it don’t exist.  I pegged the chances of a future mass killing as slightly lower in CAR only because of the combination of the peacekeeping force and the higher potential for resolution than in South Sudan.

Jay Ulfelder, in his review of mass killing in 2013, wrote of Sudan, “…where the uncertainty is not whether the regime is engaging in mass killing but in how many parts of the country at once and targeting how many different groups.”  He’s right, and unfortunately civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile will likely continue to suffer in 2014.  In the opinion pool, a question asks the probability that Sudan will carry out a mass killing of anti-government activists will occur in 2015, and places the average at 31%.  I think this is far, far too high.  Despite significant anti-government protests, the body count has always remained low.  The Sudanese regime is intelligent in this respect, instead opting for mass arrests of protest leaders.  The scarcity of bloody street confrontations decreases the potential of igniting the paradox of repression.  It is also telling that the bloodiest anti-government protest this year happened in Nyala, South Darfur.  Khartoum is happy to take the fight to enemies in the periphery, but remains wary of the threat from the center.  If the government were to significantly weaken, there’s an increased chance it would unleash lethal violence against anti-government activists.  However, despite increasing organization from the political opposition and calls that the regime was about to fall, the NCP remains in power.

Afghanistan probably experienced a mass killing with the Tailban as the perpetrators in 2013, and there aren’t a lot of positive signs for the future.  In North Korea, it’s basically impossible to tell how many people are dying each year in giant concentration camps.  50% is simply a wild guess.

Drug violence in Mexico is out of control, but I’m hesitant to peg a high probability of a mass killing because it’s unclear what share of civilians vs. cartel members are killed in drug violence (in a tweet, Jay confirmed that cartel members count as combatants).  Bottom line: a lot of people will die in Mexico in 2014, but it may or may not constitute a mass killing.

Nigeria experienced a classic case of a counterinsurgent mass atrocity last year, and despite some international attention on the issue, there is still a decent chance it happens again.  Nigeria is 14th on the wiki survey for the chances of state-led killing (too low in my opinion) for 2014 but doesn’t appear as a question in the opinion pool.

Burma is a country that is very much in the news for people interested in atrocity prevention, but I’m more optimistic than other analysts about the prospects for 2014.  Burma’s counterinsurgencies against ethnic-minority armies are long-running, but have recently had quite low body counts.  I see no reason for that trend to stop.  The opinion pool predicts there is a 35% chance of a mass killing of Rohingya in 2014.  No single rioting incident has yet escalated to widespread killing (the Meiktila incident killed dozens, not hundreds).  Despite the massive persecution the Rohingya face, the levels of lethal violence have remained relatively low.  Without an obvious trigger, I think more slow-motion ethnic cleaning is far more likely than a full-blown mass killing in 2014.

DRC placed fourth in the wiki survey.  Perhaps this is a bit excessive, but not completely unwarranted.  The combination of a country in transition from autocracy to democracy, the prevalence of armed groups in the Kivus, and intrusive neighbors means the risk of a mass killing in the DRC remains relatively high.

Egypt also suffers from an unfortunate history.  Last year, the government undertook a mass killing in response to pro-Morsi demonstrations.  A similar scenario could repeat itself, violence in the Sinai could rapidly increase, or even less likely, a civil war that involves mass killing could erupt.  All of this is plausible, if not incredibly likely (Egypt is 15th in the wiki survey).

The situation is not absolutely analogous to the DRC’s, but Mali also suffers from a somewhat unstable post-major conflict environment.  The opinion pool average for a state-led mass killing rests at 13%.  I think this is too high (probably suffering from the bias that comes from forecasting rare events) because of the progress Mali has made since 2012, but not terribly so.  In the wiki survey, Mali is 3rd, which strikes me as overly pessimistic.

Finally, Venezuela is a bit of a stretch, but I decided to include it anyways.  Few atrocity prevention advocates are paying attention despite the high political instability and absolutist rhetoric coming out of the Maduro administration.  Though Venezuela appears 82nd on the wiki survey and isn’t in a region of the world that has been prone to mass killing recently, I think a political crisis resulting in a government mass killing is plausible if still very unlikely.

Correction: Jay Ulfelder wrote this in a comment, “One point of clarification about Syria and some of the other cases you discuss: in both the statistical modeling and the wiki survey, we’re looking at the risk that a *new episode* of mass killing will start, not the risk that the one(s) we’re seeing now will continue. So Syria could hypothetically get a very low predicted probability or rank if the models or crowd deemed it unlikely that the state would begin deliberately killing large numbers of civilians from a discrete group it isn’t already targeting now. Hence the question in the Syrian case about Alawites but not one about the groups the regime is killing in large numbers now.”  I didn’t realize that when I wrote the post.

French Troops Are Not the Answer: Mali, Intervention, and Political Engagement

16 Jan

Following France’s intervention in northern Mali four days ago, the prospects for a rebel advance to Bamako look bleak.  Despite a brief resurgence of the rebel advance following initial French airstrikes, it looks as if French firepower will halt further rebel movements southward.  Though the French intervention has changed the military dynamics for the immediate future, it has done next to nothing to address the root causes of the conflict, and furthermore, regional stability.  The Mali crisis, which has now become the Sahel crisis, is too complicated for a purely military solution, and so the UN and regional actors must get serious about their diplomatic efforts.

France’s intervention, according to some critics from the far left, is simply a neo-colonial enterprise undertaken by a power-hungry former colonial power.  This reading, however, is simplistic.  The intervention came at the behest of the acting government (concerns regarding the government’s legitimacy aside), and France’s actions are widely supported south of rebel/Islamist lines.  The intervention stopped the very real threat of an Islamist advance on Bamako, a fate that no one, non-interventionists included, want.  Despite these mitigating caveats, there are still many factors that problematize a French-led military solution.  First, there are no reports on the feelings of northern Malians regarding French intervention, partly because news coming out of Islamist areas is limited, but also because even if there individual voices reaching the outside world, they would received little attention.  There is an air of arrogance surrounding France’s actions.  This is a military operation, and the opinions (or fates) of civilians are secondary.  A French officer who appeared on the BBC World Service said, “France wants peace, but the rebels want war, and so France has no choice…We intend to crush our enemies” (The quote is not exact; I am paraphrasing from memory).  Finally, France has vowed that this will not be another Afghanistan: the operation will last just a few weeks.

France’s mission, to prevent Bamako from falling to the Islamists, is a generally worthy objective, even if the means are debatable, so that’s not the problem.  The issue here is that those directing the French forces see the mission as a purely military operation, and were willing to speed up the time table, even if soldiers had to miss out on little things like human rights and civilian protection classes.  France’s generals are simply not interested in dissecting the endlessly complex dynamics of the conflict, and are much more comfortable seeing AQIM, Ansar Dine, MUJAO, and the MNLA as a monolithic terrorist mass that pose a threat to global security.  This intervention then, is based in thinking similar to the neoconservative ideology that produced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (following these abysmal failures, international norms have shifted in favor of shorter, smaller interventions).  France does not care to look at Mali’s long-term future, or think about how intervention will alter the chances of a political solution.  France wants to go in, get the bad guys, and get out before public opinion turns against the operation.  While nation-building is certainly a difficult and exceptionally risky undertaking, the rhetoric surrounding these first four days has said nothing about what, if anything, France intends to do after its intervention is over.  France has unilaterally decided to act without the support of foreign partners, an approach that is dangerous, even from a realist perspective.  The lack of a political/diplomatic front to the intervention speaks volumes to France’s attempt to achieve a “solution”.

So far, the international community response to events in Mali, like Syria, have been placed in a false framework.  The conflict is historiopolitical rather than militaristic in nature, and neither an intervention or the lack on an intervention gets at these roots causes.  Ultimately, the real choice for the international community is diplomacy or a lack of diplomacy.  So far, there can be little doubt where international actors stand.  Ban Ki-Moon named Romano Prodi, a former Italian Prime Minister, as the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel crisis, even though he is heavily underqualified for the post.  As for ECOWAS, negotiator-in-chief Burkinabe President Blaise Campaore is similarly unqualified.  Currently, the proposed solution to the crisis in Mali consists of troops numbering less than 5,000 retaking a desert region the size of Texas and reinstating Bamako’s rule while generally ignoring diplomatic options on the table.  The lack of realism is glaring.  If international actors do not get serious about parsing out Mali’s complex politics and engaging directly with all players, Mali, and the Sahel as a whole, is at serious risk.

 

Conflicts to Watch in 2013 (Part I)

1 Jan

The Council on Foreign Relations and Foreign Policy have both come out with lists of potential conflicts to watch in 2013.  Both provide good summaries of potential global hotspots, but instead of concentrating on potential geopolitical struggles, I’d like to take a brief look at the conflicts that will likely be important for civilian protection advocates.  While the conflicts in the DRC and Burma, for example, are always at the top of the civilian protection list, I’d like to focus on six conflicts that have the potential to 1) impact civilian populations and 2) take a very different form in 2013 than they did in 2012.  Here are the first three.

Sudan

The insurgencies in Blue Nile and South Kordofan are likely to continue, and the government’s heavy handed response is also likely to stay the same.  While these two issues are currently the country’s two biggest humanitarian crises, they might not even be the biggest problems in 2013.  Growing divisions within the NCP caused what appears to have been a coup attempt in November, and combined with the return of #SudanRevolts, Bashir now looks far weaker than he has in years. Jay Ulfelder’s 2013 coup forecasts puts the chances of another coup in Sudan at number two worldwide, an event which is likely to not only initiate major power struggles within the Khartoum elite, but also involve various factions fighting it out on the ground.  There is also a real danger of a low-intensity war between North and South Sudan along the border, as the North continues to bomb within Southern territory.  In South Sudan, cattle raids between the Dinka, Lou Nuer, and Murle tribes are accruing huge casualties, and there are no signs that the South Sudanese governments will seriously address this crisis.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been in the news for years as one of the most violent places in the world, but in 2013, it’s only going to get worse.  In short, U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been a total failure, and the Afghan government does not look ready to govern on its own once U.S./NATO forces begin their draw-down, and eventually leave in 2014.  Afghan security forces are ill-trained and unable to function independently, the government is impressively corrupt, the Taliban remains strong, and Pakistan continues to meddle.  All of these factors point to an uptick in violence in the coming year.  There are few positive signs for 2013.

Mali

Designating Mali as the new Afghanistan is simplistic, but like Afghanistan, Mali is a hot mess.  In March, junior officers angry at the government’s inability to properly supply soldiers fighting a Taureg rebellion in the north mutinied, and then, perhaps accidentally, seized the state.  A few weeks later, Tuareg rebels succeeded in pushing Malian forces at of northern Mali and declared the independence or a new state, Azawad.  Since then, there has been another coup against a prime minister who pulled too hard on the leash held by the original coup plotters.  Despite facades of democracy, the real power in Mali rests in Kati, an army town outside of Bamako.

In the north, things are even worse.  Following the defeat of the the Malian army, the situation in the north collapsed into yet another civil war, as the MNLA, a secular Tuareg group, battled Ansar Dine, an Islamist faction.  The Islamists eventually gained the upper hand.  The struggle for Azawad is a complex mix of ethnic and political affiliations, and this deadly, multifaceted conflict has had a disastrous affect on the civilian population.  The conflict has caused a full-fledged humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands becoming either refugees or internally displaced.  On December 20th, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to back the creation of the international force to retake northern Mali.  The plan, according to both Susan Rice (who called it “crap) and Daniel Drezner, has some problems, “…the Security Council has pledged to send peacekeepers on a timetable that makes academic publishing seem speedy, without any idea of how it will be funded, staffed, or operate with indigenous forces, married to vague calls for political action to lay the groundwork for said peacekeepers.”  With or without an intervention force, the lack of any real progress toward a political solution will mean a long, deadly year for northern Mali.