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Nigeria's elections promise a genuine contest – but avoiding unrest is vital
Nigeria's elections promise a genuine contest – but avoiding unrest is vital
Afghanistan’s Taliban Expand Their Interim Government
Afghanistan’s Taliban Expand Their Interim Government
Op-Ed / Africa

Nigeria's elections promise a genuine contest – but avoiding unrest is vital

Originally published in The Guardian

With less than a month to go before contentious polls, Nigeria is facing a perfect storm. Elections on 14 and 28 February are not only about choosing a new president and political representatives; they also constitute a critical test for Nigeria’s unity, particularly after five years of insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

A public pledge for a peaceful election and the avoidance of violence after the polls has been signed by the seven presidential candidates, including the two front-runners: President Goodluck Jonathan and the former head of state,Muhammadu Buhari. It is certainly a positive first step, but it will be seriously undermined without full support and respect on the ground.

Past elections have been violent, but the February polls could be particularly destabilising because they mark the first nationwide contest in decades between two relatively equal political parties – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has held the presidency and most state governments since the return to democratic rule in 1999, and the All Progressives Congress (APC), a merger of the four largest opposition parties.

This genuine contest is a sign of progress. But the acrimony between the parties, aggravated by regional and religious claims of entitlement to the presidency, has created a volatile environment. Jonathan is a Christian from the south, while Buhari is a Muslim from the north.

Violence intensified in January, and included a gun attack on seven opposition members, allegedly by PDP agents. In northern Kano state, PDP supporters have been unable to campaign for fear of lynch mobs. Jonathan’s campaign bus was attacked and burned in Jos, Plateau state. Supporters of both candidates have threatened violence if they feel their man has been cheated.

Boko Haram’s attacks make the vote still more hazardous. The insurgents are hampering the work of the independent national electoral commission (Inec) and have already forced it to halt elections in high-risk areas of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. The insurgents may seize more communities – and more voters – before the polls.

At the time of writing, the electoral commission is still struggling to get permanent voter cards to more than 15 million registered voters (about 22% of the electorate). It has asked voters to collect them instead, which for many will necessitate an arduous journey. Despite a senate resolution, in December, ordering Inec to make provisions that would enable internally displaced persons to vote – a move that would allow probably in excess of one million to participate in the election – this has not yet happened.

As most displaced persons are from areas that traditionally support the opposition, this could disproportionately affect the APC, increasing the likelihood of the final results being disputed.

Pro-PDP bias in security agencies also heightens tensions, raising doubts about how they will deal with potential post-election violence. The security services’ inadequacies have been exposed by Boko Haram, leaving many citizens to wonder if they will actually be safe at the polling stations. The police are dysfunctional and have suffered immense retaliation at the hand of insurgents, and the army is reeling from casualties, corruption and mismanagement.

Four key steps must be taken to lower the political temperature.

First, political parties and the presidential candidates, who bear the primary responsibility for preventing violence, need to tone down their rhetoric and hold their supporters accountable. In the event of contested results, aggrieved parties must turn to the courts, rather than to violence or unconstitutional arrangements.

Second, Jonathan and his military chiefs must contain Boko Haram while avoiding heavy-handed tactics that alienate northern regions. As the governors of the three most affected states have demanded, the federal government should urgently deploy more troops and intelligence personnel both to repel Boko Haram and to protect voters. Boko Haram’s recent attack on Baga, a village on the border with Chad, shows the government must enhance its cooperation with neighbouring countries to stem cross-border operations.

Third, the electoral commission must act quickly to ensure that millions of voters are not disenfranchised. When it is unable to deliver new voter cards, it should allow voters to use their old ones.

Fourth, institutions overseeing security agencies and monitoring respect for citizens’ rights, including the police service commission, national human rights commission and relevant committees of the federal parliament, should publicly condemn partisan acts and other excesses by security agencies.

Nigeria’s religious, civic and media leaders have a critical role in urging politicians to take these steps to limit the risk of widespread violence. Nigerians cannot afford to continue with politics as usual; it is ruining their country.

A vendor (2R) selling Taliban flags waits for customers next to a large Taliban flag in Kabul on 24 September 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP
Q&A / Asia

Afghanistan’s Taliban Expand Their Interim Government

The Taliban have made additional appointments to their cabinet. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss discusses what the moves may mean for Afghan politics and international reactions to the new government.

What do the new appointments signify?

On 22 September, the Taliban published several new appointments, including at ministerial levels. The announcement came a day after the Chinese, Russian and Pakistani envoys met with the head of the Taliban government, Mullah Hassan Akhund, calling for more inclusive governance. The list of new appointees very slightly broadens the new government’s makeup, as the interim administration is no longer composed entirely of Taliban stalwarts. Most of the new appointees either have no prior affiliation with the group or are not prominent members of it. Key appointees such as the ministers for trade and public health, and their deputies, do not appear to have past affiliations with the Taliban. Others with no formal connection with the movement include Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, head of the National Olympic Committee, and Najeebullah, head of atomic energy. Still, many of these outsiders are considered sympathetic to the Taliban.

Has the interim government now become inclusive?

The [interim] government is still dominated by the Taliban's clergy.

Yes, slightly. With these additions, the new government now counts four Tajiks, two Uzbeks, one Turkmen, one Hazara, one Nuristani (an ethnic group native to Nuristan province) and one Khwaja (claiming Arabic lineage, Khwajas generally speak Dari as their native tongue). With a total of 53 members, this expanded cabinet is a small gesture toward including ethnic minorities, though it is still dominated by Pashtuns. Several of the new names appear to have been selected, in part, because of their ethnic backgrounds or professional experience. Noorudin Azizi, the new trade minister, is from Panjshir province, where the Taliban have been fighting the remnants of the Northern Resistance Front (NRF). Azizi and his two deputies are businessmen from the north, with no known affiliation with the Taliban. The new health minister, Qalandar Ebad, and his two deputies, all three of whom are medical doctors, also do not appear to be Taliban members. While the government is still dominated by the Taliban’s clergy, there are now a number of technocrats in less prominent ministries. The current list has at least three appointees with degrees in engineering, four with medical training and one with a doctorate. By contrast, there are at least fourteen maulawis or qualified clerics in the interim government. Some appointments, such as the new chancellor of Kabul University, have generated widespread debates, even among Taliban figures, on whether the leadership made the appointments sufficiently based on merit.

Do the appointments include women or former establishment figures?

Despite continued international pressure, the Taliban have so far failed to appoint any women in their cabinet. Their failure to do so exacerbates concerns about significant deterioration in women’s rights under the new regime, especially after the new government announced that secondary school would resume for male students only, while claiming that female students will be able to return in the near future. No public explanation has been provided for why girls have been prevented from resuming their education. In addition, the majority of women in the public sector have not yet been allowed to return to work.

Similarly, the Taliban have resisted calls from regional and Western governments to include figures from the previous Western-backed political establishment. Taliban interlocutors claim to Crisis Group that despite an internal push by some members to include figures associated with the former system in the new government, most of the top Taliban leadership has so far opposed such a move due to the perception that former politicians were corrupt and discredited. Perhaps more importantly, there were also concerns among the Taliban that if they moved to bring in either women or former politicians, they could risk backlash from the rank and file, who might view the leadership as betraying their ideals. The resurgence of the Islamic State Khorasan Province, which has sought to portray the Taliban as compromising their Islamist credentials, is likely to further diminish prospects for inclusion.

Do the appointments signal any significant shift in Taliban policy?

Although the inclusion of more officials from minority groups is something Western and regional governments have been pushing for, these nominations do not indicate that the Taliban are yet willing to make any significant concessions for the sake of international recognition, sanctions relief or the resumption of aid flows from Western governments. Many of the new appointments seem designed largely to strike an internal balance by accommodating various Taliban factions that felt neglected following the first round of nominations. For example, Sadr Ibrahim and Qayyum Zakir, two prominent commanders from Helmand province, have been appointed as deputy ministers for interior and defence, respectively. Gul Mohammad, another important figure within the faction associated with former Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, has been appointed as deputy minister of borders and tribal affairs. Maulawi Abdul Rahman Rashid, an ethnic Uzbek from current Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar’s faction, is now the minister of agriculture. These appointments are likely to reduce tensions that appear to have resulted from the first round of nominations. They reaffirm the notion that as the Taliban continue to expand their cabinet and administration, they will likely prioritise the movement’s internal cohesion over external considerations.

The Taliban’s decision not to offer any ministerial positions to women ... deals yet another blow to hopes that the movement will be susceptible to external leverage.

The Taliban’s decision not to offer any ministerial positions to women or former establishment politicians deals yet another blow to hopes that the movement will be susceptible to external leverage. The group’s latest appointments appear to have been designed to make the government ever so slightly more inclusive, perhaps indicating a certain degree of pragmatism. But the Taliban’s rhetoric on sanctions is becoming increasingly uncompromising. The paucity of Taliban concessions is bad news for foreign powers concerned about finding counterparts in the new government for the work ahead on mitigating the humanitarian catastrophe already under way, Afghanistan’s impending economic collapse and the prospect of large-scale forced migration. Without any clear signs that the Taliban are willing to work toward a more inclusive governance model, donors remain understandably wary of empowering a regime at the early stages of what remains an uncertain transition from militancy to government.