What is the optimal size of a global terror organization?

It looks like leaders of global terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda could benefit from lessons in organizational theory and on the theory of the firm. As William McCants argues in Foreign Affairs, it looks like al-Qaeda may have expanded too fast under its current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, thereby resulting in the HQ’s loss of control over its subsidiaries, franchises and affiliates in the Middle East, Somalia and the Maghreb.  

As the political scientist Jacob Shapiro observes in his new book, The Terrorist’s Dilemma, all terrorist groups suffer from infighting for one basic reason. If they want to achieve their goals and to avoid being captured or killed, leaders of secretive violent organizations have to give their commanders in the field some measure of autonomy. When the field commanders become too independent, the leadership attempts to rein them in through various bureaucratic measures.

Without a doubt, Zawahiri is trying to rein in his unruly affiliates. What is striking is that Zawahiri created much of the problem himself by trying to expand al Qaeda too broadly. The one affiliate that Zawahiri did not push into a new arena of jihad, the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has, unsurprisingly, avoided infighting. Zawahiri has now allegedly appointed AQAP’s leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, as al Qaeda’s ”general manager” and thus his eventual successor. Zawahiri had little choice but to promote from the ranks of AQAP, given the current disarray across the rest of al Qaeda.

But the organizational woes of al-Qaeda and affiliates should not give comfort to the global community. As McCants reminds us in his conclusion, dealing with a centralized terror group with an address (or quasi address) is better than trying to fend off lots of competing franchises [see here]: 

Zawahiri’s knack for creating factions and his unwillingness to part with them when they misbehave could help al Qaeda’s opponents blame the entire organization for the atrocities committed in its name. Over time, perhaps the bloody collage will dampen enthusiasm for joining al Qaeda and even horrify its members. But in the near term, Zawahiri’s poor management is not necessarily a boon to the United States and its allies. The various factions of a once-unified al Qaeda could compete with one another over which group can mount the biggest attack on the West. Whatever the case may be, Zawahiri’s inability to manage al Qaeda’s sprawling organization offers a preview of the infighting to come after his inevitable death.

Anyone know a good paper with a principal-agent analysis of terror organizations? 

Kerry or Rice? The View From Africa

The window is closing fast on the chances of having an Africanist as US Secretary of State (Minister of Foreign Affairs). Republicans in the US Congress, human rights activists and a section of Africanists have come out in opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice. Republicans insist that she lied to Americans about the real masterminds of the attack on the US embassy in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the ambassador. The Africanists and human rights activists are not enthused by Ms Rice’s cozy relationship with the regimes of Paul Kagame of Rwanda and the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. A section of African elites (the elitist sovereignty crowd) may also be wary of her support for interventionism on humanitarian grounds.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

As things stand Pres. Obama might be forced to choose Sen. John Kerry over Ms Rice in order to avoid an unnecessary war with a section of Congress at a time when everyone and their dogs and cats should be worrying about the fiscal cliff.

John Kerry would not be a terrible choice. His past focus on drug trafficking in Latin America, free trade agreements and climate change would make him useful to Africa.

As I have written before, Africa is increasingly becoming a transit point for drugs from Asia and Latin America destined for the European market. Africa also needs more trade with the US beyond AGOA. And climate change will probably affect Africans the most since the vast majority of them depend on rain-fed agriculture and live under conditions that can least withstand natural disasters. But Kerry is not an Africa expert and has done little on the region beyond his support for the South Sudanese cause. This makes it hard to see how he will connect his global focus on these important issues to the African context.

Susan Rice on the other hand has studied Africa and has in the past shown a pragmatism that you want in the top US diplomat. Plus it helps that Ms Rice would have Obama’s ear as she is reported to be very close to the president. She has had successes at the UNSC, the highlight of which was the intervention in Libya to stop Gaddafi from butchering civilians in Benghazi. Rice is a smart straight-talker whose undiplomatic streaks can be a plus in a region full of under-achieving strongmen.

For a very long time Foggy Bottom has seen Africa through a humanitarian lens. Even Hillary Clinton, with all her awesomeness, has done little in new initiatives for Africa beyond human rights issues and a campaign that involved providing cameras for rape victims in eastern DRC. These are not unimportant issues. I am not saying that human rights catastrophes in Africa should be ignored. Just that this should not be a secretary of state’s pet project for the entire the region.

In my opinion Ms Rice’s biggest plus is that she gets one of Africa’s biggest challenges: state incapacity.

It would be nice to have a US secretary of state who takes state capacity development in the region as her pet project (and has the guts to at times subordinate democracy promotion to this project). Her praise of Kagame and Zenawi (no doubt both rabid and at times murderous autocrats) was centred around this very same idea (and to be honest, the ghosts of Rwanda circa 1994). Democracy promotion is a noble cause. But it must be done with a sober mind. The last thing you want is a procrustean approach to the promotion of rights, freedoms and liberties like we have seen in the past.

(Just for the record, I am pro-democracy and have criticized the likes of Kagame here and here, among other forums).

Anyone who reads the development reports side by side with the human rights reports from Rwanda and Ethiopia must be conflicted. I have talked to a senior opposition figure from Ethiopia who told me that she thinks the biggest challenge to fighting Meles Zenawi (at the time) is that “people see the dams and the roads.” It is hard to ignore revealed competence. I would hazard to guess that most people would rather live in autocratic Singapore than democratic Malawi. Yes, it is not an either/or argument with these regimes. All I am saying is that interventionism has to be constructive and not lead to the rolling back of hard fought gains against disease, illiteracy and poverty in these states.

As I opined following Obama’s reelection, I think that security will be at the top of the US Africa policy, of course dressed up in rhetoric about democracy and human rights. John Kerry will handle that on auto pilot. His focus will be on the Middle East and South Asia. It would have been better to have an Africanist at the helm who understands more about the continent and could sneak in a few policy agendas here and there that could make a difference on the ground. An aggressive focus on state capacity development could have been one of those policies.

This is a missed opportunity for Africa. For the first time in history Africa had a chance to have the number one American diplomat be a person who is an expert on a section of the region (Ms Rice wrote a thesis on Zimbabwe). Her defense of a couple of African autocrats aside, I think Ms Rice would have been better for Africa than John Kerry – who in all likelihood will focus on the Middle East and South Asia and continue Sub-Saharan Africa’s designation to the “humanitarianism column.”

South Africa and the AU [Rant and rave alert!!]

As you may already know South African candidate for the AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (ex-wife of president Zuma) failed to get elected. Instead the AU extended Mr. Jean Ping’s term till June. Ms Dlamini-Zuma intends to vie for the seat again in June.

South Africa and its backyard (SADC member states) had lobbied hard for Ms Dlamini-Zuma.

The South African Business Day reports:

Mzukisi Qobo of the University of Pretoria says: “It is clear that this is an intensely divisive campaign, and plays into the hands of those who view SA as harbouring intentions of running roughshod over other countries. Unity in the AU is a facade reinforced by a poorly conceived notion of pan-Africanism.

“Africa’s political elites still think very much in terms of regional groupings — east Africa, north Africa, southern Africa and west Africa — as well as along the colonial lines of Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone. These are realities that are there.”

SA’s foreign policy stance has been back and forth, which may have caused more divisions with countries like Nigeria and Egypt.

 But political analyst Steven Friedman does not think policy “flip-flopping” was the reason Ms Dlamini-Zuma did not get the post. With its economic infrastructure strength, other countries feared that SA would dominate Africa politically if given a chance, he says.

To which I say, why not?

What would be so wrong with a reasonably stable and important regional player taking charge of the rudderless dictators’ club institution that is the AU? The organization’s failures in the recent past – including in Libya, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Central African Republic, etc – have been partly because no single country has managed to emerge as its de facto leader and ultimate guarantor (forget the delusional late King of Kings, he was a clown on steroids).

Instead of having a strong leadership – whether by a single country or by a group of regional representatives – the AU has opted to have weak leadership in the form of a Commission headed by nondescript individuals political lightweights unable to rally the member countries to any respectable cause. The only time the club’s dictators are ever united is when they dump on the ICC and all other manner of foreign infringement on their “sovereignty” (which to them means the right to starve, jail or murder their citizens). The existing post of a rotating presidency has also been a complete sham.

Obiang was the latest one to occupy the post. Yes, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. This guy.

May be this episode will end Pretoria’s navel-gazing and encourage it to focus on having a coherent Africa policy that will provide strong leadership for the AU.

A leaderless organization of 54 states, new $200m headquarters or not, is a useless organization.

For more on this see here and here.

Also, check out this thought-provoking piece on the symbolism of the new AU headquarters.

donkey markets and the al-shabab

Kenya’s invasion of al-Shabab held parts of Somalia has inadvertently elevated the demand for donkeys. Because of the rains (making the use of vehicles a nightmare) and a desire to disguise their transportation of arms, the al-Shabab have resorted to the use of donkeys.

The BBC reports:

In his latest series of tweets, the Kenyan military spokesman said that the price of donkeys had risen from $150 (£100) to $200 following the increased al-Shabab demand for the animals.

“Any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered as al-Shabab activity,” he wrote, suggesting they would be targeted by Kenyan firepower.

“Selling Donkeys to al-Shabab will undermine our efforts in Somalia,” he continued.

Somalis’ improvisation in warfare is well known. The technical (which has been ubiquitous in Libya in recent months) is their key contribution to military technology, and has been the go to battle wagon in many civil wars since the early 1990s.

More on donkey markets  here.

quick hits on Zambia and beyond

In case you missed it, Zambia is a middle income country – at least according to the Bank. This sort of shows in some parts of Lusaka. But Zambia is also a highly unequal and very poor country. Most people in the countryside have nothing else to do but subsistence farming and burning charcoal. The economy is also heavily dependent on mines and foreign owned consumer goods outlets from South Africa and beyond. Which is sad really, given how much arable land it has.

Does anyone know why Zambians use military time? Forget 4 PM, it is 16 hours in Zambian time. The people I have asked have speculated that it is a legacy of the mining industry. I find it fascinating. Taxi drivers think I am weird every time I bring it up.

Also, why is everyone in Lusaka out to some workshop???? Seriously. This is a big problem here. I have had to cancel about five appointments because the only person at the office was the security guard. When do people have time to do their work?

Moving a bit beyond Zambia, be sure to follow the Kenyan cases at the ICC. I am withholding blogging on the issue until the pre-trial judges make their decision. Whichever way they go it will have important ramifications for Kenyan politics. Next year is a make or break for Kenya.

Be sure to check out the Economist’s piece on South Sudan. The teething problems for the new nation will be epic and will take time to go away.

And lastly, check out Jim Fearon on Libya. HT Platas-Izama, who has a new blog here.

Briefing from Malabo

The club of African autocrats African Union has its biannual summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea this week (This guy is the current AU Chairman, no joke).

The struggling AU has a lot on its plate at the moment (subject of an upcoming blog post). It is in the middle of trying to put out new fires in Sudan and Libya, while ignoring/recovering from the humiliation of its failures in Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe – not to mention the region’s other problems.

All this while insisting on “African Solutions to African Problems,” despite the organization’s infamous reputation for incompetence.

Top on the agenda at the summit has been the ongoing hostilities (Obama might disagree) in Libya. According to the Oman Daily Observer, the AU has come up with a plan that

“envisages a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, a transition period, reforms towards democracy and elections, but the position on the future of Gaddafi has not been made clear.”

In other words the heads of state in Malabo, led by their Chairman Obiang, are hoping to do a Zimbabwe: Have Gaddafi in charge of the same reform process that is supposed to phase out his 42-year rule. I need not elaborate how this story ends.

No ICC hearings in Kenya

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova on Wednesday decided that the trial of suspects of the 2007-08 election violence in Kenya will not be held in the country.

Great move.

I am of the view that holding the hearings in Kenya would have created an unnecessary distraction from the important task of implementing Kenya’s new constitution. Already, the bigwigs accused of masterminding the violence that killed 1300 and displaced over 300,000 Kenyans have ethnicized their predicament. Holding the hearings in Kenya would have handed them an opportunity for a circus of ethnicity-charged rallies and demonstrations in Nairobi.

The ICC continues to be a source of debate in Kenya and across Africa. Many have faulted the court’s apparent bias against African leaders. Some have even called it a form of neocolonialism. While admitting that the court could use a little bit more tact [principally by acknowledging that it cannot be apolitical BECAUSE it is an international court SANS a world government] I still think that it is the best hope of ending impunity on the African continent – at least until African leaders internalize the fact that it is not cool to kill your own people.

Among the cases that should have been handled with a sensitivity to political realities include Sudan and Libya [and may be the LRA in Uganda]. Kenya’s Ocampo Six, the DRC’s Jean-Pierre Bemba and Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, on the other hand, should not raise questions of national sovereignty. Murderous dictators and their henchmen do not have internal affairs. In any case sovereignty for many an African country means nothing more than sovereignty for the president and his cronies.

Related posts here and here.

Africa needs zuma (to have a coherent foreign policy)

This week the Economist rightly called out South African president Jacob Zuma on his country’s lack of a coherent foreign policy. South Africa was reborn in 1994 with the moral authority and international goodwill to be Africa’s shining light in the world. Instead, under Mbeki and now Zuma, the country has squandered all that away.

Mbeki did it with his intransigence against reason on the issue of HIV/AIDS and support of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mr. Zuma is doing the same with his support for Mugabe and equivocal pronouncements against other murderous tyrants on the Continent. Since his election he has not spoken strongly against any injustices or electoral fraud on the Continent; this task has been left to Ian Khama, president of tiny but relatively prosperous Botswana.

Sub-Saharan Africa is desperately in need of a regional hegemon to help it chart a coherent path in global politics. Latin America has Brazil. South Asia has India. East Asia has China. Even Europe has Germany. In Africa, Nigeria (pop. 150+m), South Africa (~40m, biggest economy), Ethiopia (85m) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (~70m) – all potential regional leaders – have woefully underperformed.

Nigeria is Nigeria. Ethiopia is dirt poor and needs to clean its own mess, Somalia’s and Eritrea’s, before it can venture further afield. The DRC is struggling to keep itself afloat. South Africa, by far, has the capacity and the requisite soft power to take up the job of regional guiding light. The country is slated to become a BRIC country soon, making the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

It is a shame that Mr. Zuma has chosen to abdicate his role as the Continental leader. He alone, among the members of the Continent’s club of kleptocratic autocrats (a.k.a AU), has the clout to stand up to the evils we continue to see in Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

conflating inept autocracy with independent mindedness

Col. Gaddafi has been having an independent foreign policy and, of course, also independent internal policies. I am not able to understand the position of Western countries, which appear to resent independent-minded leaders and seem to prefer puppets. Puppets are not good for any country. Most of the countries that have transitioned from Third World to First World status since 1945 have had independent-minded leaders: South Korea (Park Chung-hee), Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew), China People’s Republic (Mao Tse Tung, Chou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Marshal Yang Shangkun, Li Peng, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jing Tao, etc), Malaysia (Dr. Mahthir Mohamad), Brazil (Lula Da Silva), Iran (the Ayatollahs), etc.

Between the First World War and the Second World War, the Soviet Union transitioned into an Industrial country propelled by the dictatorial, but independent-minded Joseph Stalin. In Africa, we have benefited from a number of independent-minded leaders: Col. Nasser of Egypt, Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania, Samora Machel of Mozambique, etc.  That is how Southern Africa was liberated. That is how we got rid of Idi Amin. The stopping of genocide in Rwanda and the overthrow of Mobutu, etc., were as a result of efforts of independent-minded African leaders. Gaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist.  I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests. Where have the puppets caused the transformation of countries? I need some assistance with information on this from those who are familiar with puppetry. Therefore, the independent-minded Gaddafi had some positive contribution to Libya, I believe, as well as Africa and the Third World. I will take one little example. At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships here in Uganda, we had a problem arising of a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the February 6, 1981. Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful. He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this. This was good for Libya, for Africa and for the Middle East. We should also remember as part of that independent-mindedness he expelled British and American military bases from Libya, etc.

That is Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, talking about Col. Gaddafi. More on this here.

My thoughts on this: Dictators have no internal affairs (HT Han Han). I will forever be skeptical of autocrats screaming “sovereignty.” Oftentimes it is when they are jailing, exiling, killing and dispossessing dissidents left, right and centre that they will shout loudest about the principle of non-interference.

How different would Uganda be today minus economic aid and any form of interference from the West? Let’s not pretend that it is Western interference that has stunted African economic, social and political development. Achebe was right. The trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a problem of leadership. For every Lula, Lee Kwan Yew or even Stalin, Africa has had Mobutu, Museveni and Mugabe. Where the former had controversial (and sometimes despicably murderous) but well thought out and ideologically driven plans for transforming their societies, African leaders have more often than not willingly mortgaged away their country’s futures while engaging in ideologically bankrupt and crass tribal politics.

African resources have created billionaires elsewhere while African masses  starved. African leaders signed off on most of these deals in exchange for kickbacks. The African tragedy over the last 50 years is just that. An African tragedy. Foreigners only played a supporting role.

At a meta-level I sympathize with Museveni. It is the nature of the international system that the strong prey on the weak. But where I disagree with him is how to deal with this fact. He wants the strong to benevolently keep off and condone his mediocrity. I prefer the continued pressure from the strong so that even states like Uganda can develop capacities to stand up to the strong, both economically and militarily.

It is a pipe dream to continue nurturing and protecting mediocre leadership all over Africa while expecting the strong nations of the world to benevolently keep off. China, India, Brazil, Russia and the usual suspects from the West will continue preying on Africa as long as clowns like Kabila, Mugabe, Gbagbo and the thieves in Abuja are in charge. Let’s not kid ourselves. What would stop Europe from re-colonizing Africa if Brussels and Washington signed off on the idea? And if Russia and China joined in, would they defend Africans or access to African resources?

I am glad that the threat of regime change is alive and well. Perhaps it will wake up the inept kleptocrats all over Africa from their 50-year stupor.

the au, without a regional hegemon, is toothless

On March 10th, 2011 the African Union (AU) declared Alassane Ouattara as the legitimately elected president of Ivory Coast. Outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo (who insists he won the poll) responded by ordering his soldiers to kill supporters of Mr. Ouattara.

Now the ball is back in the AU’s court. So far the regional body appears to be at sixes and sevens, unsure of how to react. Lacking a regional hegemonic benefactor, the AU has over the years been mostly bark and no bite. Its leadership reflects the confusion and ineptitude that characterize the Continental body. One of its recent leaders is Muamar Gaddafi. Presently it is led by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, dictator of Equatorial Guinea and this idiot’s guy’s dad.

Mr. Gbagbo has refused to step down or be part of a unity government led by Mr. Ouattara, as demanded by the AU. Increasingly isolated, he has nationalized the cocoa industry in a desperate attempt to get some cash to pay his loyalists. Cote d’Ivoire produces 40% of the world’s cocoa. He is also reported to be receiving help from Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Angola’s Jose Edwardo do Santos.

In an ideal world South Africa or Nigeria or even Ethiopia would have provided leadership and force whenever needed to ensure that AU resolutions are enforced. But Pretoria has a president in Zuma who shows no interest in foreign policy; his handling of the Zimbabwe crisis speaks volumes. Abuja is a mess, period and Ethiopia has first to eradicate famine before it can venture anywhere beyond Somalia.

Without an enforcement mechanism and a regional hegemonic benefactor, the AU’s resolutions will continue to be nothing but hot air.