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? 

When is it okay to have a coup in a democracy?

Given the number of Mali experts that came out of the woodwork following the coup and French intervention, I am a little surprised by the lack of debate in the Africanist blogosphere about the wisdom of holding presidential elections this July. 

Is Mali’s upcoming presidential election being held too soon? Can a hurried reversion to electoral “democracy” address the structural problems that led to the coup in the first place? Susanna Wing, in her piece on Mali in the latest issue of African Affairs, sounds skeptical:

In the middle of a US-funded military training seminar, a Malian military officer asked: ‘When is it okay to have a coup in a democracy?’ A Malian who assisted in the seminar shared the quote with me as evidence of how far the country still needs to go in terms of democracy. The statement is not surprising given Malian history, where coups d’état have been a method of regime change. It also sheds light on the March 2012 coup – which many Malians who are deeply committed to democracy saw as an essential first step to ending widespread corruption within the state as well as halting state involvement in illicit criminal activities. Ironically, for many Malians the only way to get democracy back on track was a coup d’état, and the current rush towards elections is viewed with suspicion and the fear that hurried elections will only bring Mali right back to the pre-coup status quo.

….There is little question that the current regime lacks legitimacy and perhaps an elected government will enjoy greater popular support. But there is a risk that a rapid transition back to multi-party politics will only serve to reinforce the political challenges that faced the political class prior to the coup d’état. 

But Marinov and Goemans’ paper on coups and democracy quickly comes to mind as a possible case for a return to electoralism in Mali. They essentially make the argument that the norm of quick return to elections structures incentives for coup plotters, making them less likely to leave the barracks if they know that no sooner will they do that than the international community will show up and demand that they return to the barracks: 

whereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1991 installed durable rules, the majority of coups after that have been followed by competitive elections. We argue that after the Cold War international pressure influenced the consequences of coups. In the post-Cold War era those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first to embrace competitive elections after the coup. Our theory also sheds light on the pronounced decline in the number of coups since 1991. While the coup d’état has been and still is the single most important factor leading to the downfall of democratic government, our findings indicate that the new generation of coups has been far less harmful for democracy than their historical predecessors.

 

State-building is not a walk in the park

 “Mauritius’s state building success came on the backs of relentlessly exploited slaves and indentured labourers. Sugar planters compelled the government to ignore mistreatment on sugar estates, implement unreasonable fines and annual passport fees in the name of preventing ‘vagrancy,’ and harass those workers who tried to search for a better life in urban professions. Planters’ actions were expressly designed to subjugate and repress the politically powerless in order to maximise their economic power. Moreover, the fact that class divides coincided with racial difference meant that economic and political contention between elites and labourers on Mauritius became imbued with what was, at times, virulent racism. The worst of these endeavours were related to the planters’ quest to secure an adequate labour supply in the four decades after 1825. Later initiatives, such as railway construction and research and development programmes, were fairly benign. Together, these undertakings transformed the island’s economy and governmental capabilities. In Mauritius, then, one finds something of a developmental paradox: although the long- term consequences of state building have led to a regional ‘miracle’, the way in which the island’s elite and government laid the groundwork for it was normatively reprehensible.”

That is Ryan Saylor writing in the latest edition of Review of African Political Economy.

The paper mostly focuses on the success story that was Mauritian state (capacity) building. But this paragraph is a reminder to those who imagine a whiggish history for much of the developing world to go take a hard, honest look at history.

Throughout most of history, in order to have barons that successfully limited the power of the king or his equivalent (thus creating the roots of post-enlightenment democracy) you needed barons who could extract the life out of peasants. Wars that made states killed lots of young conscripts, confiscated private property and led to the demise of whole peoples’ ways of life (Not all French had French speaking ancestors, for instance). And speaking of the French, they went through lots of republics and dictatorships to become what they are today. Further afield, following its own civil war the institutions of government designed to protect human rights in the US had to look the other way until the 1960s in order to preserve its democracy. In the 20th century, decades of intolerant Kemalist ideological orthodoxy laid the foundation for the Islamic world’s most resilient democracy in Turkey.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure in 2011.

Will Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya and the rest escape these patterns if they are ever to become Denmark, the supposed paragon of liberal democracy?

How does one go about state-building in a modern world with sacrosanct borders and a saner human rights regime?

Recent events in the DRC and CAR confirm the urgency with which we ought to address the question of state-building in the developing world in general, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular (see map).

Wars of conquest (which probably would have resulted in Rwanda, Angola and Uganda carving up the DRC) are no longer kosher. Add to that the demands of a tighter and saner human rights regime and you are left with little room to maneuver if you are trying to create an effective state (which occasionally may involve curtailment of political rights). Unless you can somehow insulate yourself from the so called stakeholders, including the International Bleeding Hearts Industrial Complex – like much of east Asia did through the 70s and 80s – you are left with a rather tricky situation of trying to forge a unified state with a million and one centrifugal forces with communal rights backed by threats of donor sanctions. The same system ensures that every rebel group that can cobble together a few guns gets to sit at the table (see Sudan, Mali, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Chad). The UN or some Nordic state pays the hotel bills. Western observers and their sponsoring organizations write reports. Some of them meticulously document human rights abuses by rebels and government troops alike.

Meanwhile censuses are never taken. Taxes are never collected. Little economic activity takes place. And millions of people continue to live just a little bit better than they would in some stateless state of nature.

The present international consensus appears to be one that believes in state-building through democracy and institutions. Lived reality for much of world history appears to contradict this consensus. In most cases democracy and the phantom great institutions appear to lag state-building.

The challenge for those of us interested in state-building is to think of ways to go about the effort in a manner that is sensitive to the present human rights regime and structure of the international system. The present urgency, occasioned by widespread human suffering in the less governed spaces of the globe, requires that all reasonable options (including some uncomfortable ones) be put on the table.

US Africa Policy, A Response

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Matthew Kustenbauder responding to a previous post.

On the question of human rights guiding America’s foreign policy in Africa, I agree with you; it shouldn’t be the first priority. The US needs a more pragmatic development diplomacy strategy, which would help African countries develop just as it would help American businesses thrive.

But I disagree with your characterization of Hillary’s position in this respect. Here’s Secretary Clinton’s own words:
“Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we’ve accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbours, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it’s imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.” 
“Africa is home to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran’s nuclear program. And we’re stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field – level the playing field for our businesses. And we’re building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.” 

One of the problems, however, is that the pragmatic approach articulated by the Secretary doesn’t trickle down through the bureaucracy. This is especially true, ironically, of the State Department’s primary development diplomacy arm, USAID, which has a deeply entrenched culture of being anti-business. It’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why American foreign policy in Africa has been so slow to adjust to new economic realities.

Security drives US Africa Policy

Security drives US Africa Policy

Academics schooled in all the latest development orthodoxies but lacking the most basic understanding of economic or business history have flocked to USAID, so that the suggestion that American economic interests should guide development policy – making it a win-win for Africa and America – is anathema. It’s also why the Chinese are running all over the US in Africa.

As a prominent economic historian recently remarked in the Telegraph, “While we [Western governments] indulge our Victorian urge to give alms to the Africans, Beijing is pumping black gold.” And this is just it. As long as the US approaches Africa as a beggar needing to be saved and not as a business partner worthy of attention, both sides will continue to lose out.

In this respect, what Africa does not need is another “old Africa hand” steeped in conventional development ideas and old dogmas about what’s wrong with Africa and why the US must atone for the West’s sins. For this reason alone, John Kerry – not Susan Rice – probably stands a better chance, as the next Secretary of State, at putting American foreign policy toward Africa on a more solid footing.

- Matthew Kustenbauder is a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University.

What Obama’s re-election means for US Africa Policy

On the 14th of June this year President Obama outlined his policy for Sub-Saharan Africa. Included in the policy statement were four key strategic objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.

In my view, of the four aspirational goals the one that will receive the most attention in the near future will be the third (especially security).

US strategic security interests in Africa mainly involve two key concerns: (1) China’s growing economic presence in the region and (2) the spread of Al-Qaeda linked groups in the region, stretching from Somalia to Mauritania (This is why Mali featured more prominently than the EU in the Presidential foreign policy debate). Before talking about China, here are my thoughts on the US campaign against  al-Qaeda in Africa.

While I don’t foresee any success in the creation of an African base for AFRICOM, the US will continue to cooperate with AU member states in fighting Islamist extremism in the region. The “successful” AU mission in Somalia could provide a blueprint for future operations against potential terror groups. The biggest lesson from Somalia is that the US cannot just pick one nation (in this case Ethiopia) to fight its wars in the region, and that a collaborative effort with the blessing of the regional umbrella organization (the AU) and others such as IGAD can deliver results.

Having helped (both directly and indirectly) in the ouster of Al-Shabaab from strategic locations in Somalia, the next big task will be dealing with the mushrooming Islamist extremism in the Sahel (especially in northern Mali but also in Niger and Nigeria).

The problem of extremism in the Sahel is further compounded by the link of some of the groups to the drug trade flowing from Latin America and into Europe. There is significant evidence that drug money has financed the activities of separatist groups in northern Mali. The fight against these groups will necessarily involve dealing with this crucial source of finance. This means that for the operation to succeed the US will have to engage in capacity building and the strengthening (and clean-up) of security institutions (especially the armies) in states like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, South Africa, Kenya, among others, in which officials in the security sector have been implicated in the drug trade.

The Sahelian challenge might yet prove more formidable than Somalia. The latter case had relatively stable neighbors that served to contain the anarchy. The Sahel (Sahelistan, if you will) is much larger and includes some of the least governed spaces on the planet.

On China, the US (and for that matter, the rest of the West) has to change its present approach of total freak-out overt suspicion over Chinese involvement in Africa. Africans need protection from China only as much as they need protection from the West. China is not out to “exploit” Africa any more than the West has. Nobody should expect China to engage Africa more benevolently than the West did for the better part of the last 60 years (Mobutu and Bokassa were not that different from Bashir and Mugabe).

A constructive approach ought to include policies designed to strengthen African states so that they can engage China on their own terms. It is ultimately African leaders who mortgage their resources and sovereignty to China (or the West). Instead of focusing too much on China, a better approach might be one that creates strong regional organizations (like the SADC or the EAC) that can improve the bargaining power of African states.

The other policy objectives outlined by Obama appear to fall in the business-as-usual category. Democracy promotion will not yield much in the face of other more pressing priorities (notice how security has triumphed over democracy in Mali). And unless the US is willing to get involved in massive infrastructure projects like China has (last time I checked they were in 35 African states), I don’t see how it can help spur economic growth in the region (AGOA was great, but Africa needs something better). Plus the US continues to be hampered in its development-promotion efforts by its aversion to state industrial policy. It’s about time Foggy Bottom realized that it is really hard to have a thriving private sector and American-style free enterprise in places with bad roads, very few (and bad) schools, and governments that are run by personalist dictators. In these instances some corruption-laden developmental state policies may be the best way to go.

In which I write about Africa’s emerging drug problem

The globalization of terrorism over the last decade has created a situation in which the number one threat to international security is no longer strong, conquering states, but failing ones that provide safe havens for terrorist organizations. Drug trafficking in Africa reflects the heart of this concern. The illicit trade is both contributing to the deterioration of state institutions – which could result in state collapse – and financing terrorist groups like AQIM and Al-Shabaab. So far the international community has not treated the matter with the urgency it deserves. The consequences of inaction will be dire, as has already been seen in Central America. The region’s misfortune of being an important transit route between South American cocaine production centers and North American consumers has resulted in the highest murder rates in the world, fueled by transnational organized crime and drug trafficking. The statistics are astonishing: Among 20-year old men in some Central American countries, 1 in 50 will be murdered before they are 32Africa, a region already replete with weak states, might be next if drug trafficking on the continent continues to grow.

More on this here.

Quick hits

On Somalia’s (non) recovery.

For his troubles with the Wade government Youssou Ndour gets appointed to the new Cabinet of President Sall.

The unintended consequences of the Malian coup continue to mushroom. AQIM seems to be taking advantage of the power vacuum left in the north of the country. Lots of people scared out of their wits over the latest developments.

Scientists in Kenya are working on a male contraception pill. May be this time the product will be good enough to overcome cultural barriers and the gender politics of contraception?

On (the now shattered) Malian Democracy

Update:

Mutineers in Mali have appeared on national television to announce the overthrow of the “incompetent” government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. More on this here.

Also, I must hand it to Jay Ulfelder over at dart-throwing chimp for nailing it on Mali’s coup risk in 2012.

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What started as a mutiny in Mali on Tuesday night appears to have degenerated into a coup. Mali was due to hold elections on April 29th 2012. Since (re)democratization in the early 1990s Mali has routinely been cited as a case of democratic consolidation despite seemingly insurmountable odds (poor HDI scores, etc.). The current developments, however, raise serious questions with regard to whether the Malian political and military elite have wholly bought into the idea of settling their battles for power and influence at the ballot.

Furthermore, existing evidence (see below, part of an ongoing research project) paint a picture not of consolidation but of a cycling of over-sized coalitions that are prone to executive control and manipulation. The non-existence of stable elite coalitions (as appears to be the case in the stylized comparative case of Ghana) is a recipe for elite political instability as we are currently witnessing.

Oversize coalitions in government under electoral democracy are not a sufficient condition for elite political instability, but they are definitely a sign that things might not be right.

The idea here is that stable coalitions create room for self-enforcing arrangements among elites by raising actors’ audience costs. A regular cycling of over-size coalitions flies in the face of all of this – resulting in near-permanent first mover advantage and incentives for those left out to use extra-constitutional means to gain power.

The proximate cause of the mutiny and eventual (attempted) coup in Mali might have been a confluence of weak state coercive capacity and the resurgence of the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country (fueled by weapons from Libya); but one cannot rule out the significance of the enabling structural conditions.

This is a data point on coups in Africa that I rather did not have.

Africa’s budding narco-states?

UPDATE:

The Kenyan Prime Minister just admitted to the presence of drug money in Kenyan politics. Huge. Also, check the UNODC’s drug trafficking patterns for East Africa.

Also, does anyone out there have a copy of the report on drug trafficking in Kenya? Care to share?

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I have written before about the growing problem of drug-trafficking that is creating new problems for already fragile African states.

Of note is the fact that the problem is not just limited to the usual suspects – weak or failing states – but also extends to countries that most would consider to have it together, like Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.

According to Reuters, “cocaine moves through West Africa” while “heroin transits through the eastern part of the continent.”

The most alarming thing about this new trend is that in most of these African countries drug-trafficking happens with the consent of those in government.

For instance, in Guinea the son of former president Conte was for a long time a leading drug kingpin. In Guinea-Bissau President Vieira’s and Gen. Na Waie’s deaths in March of last year were a result of drug-related feuds. In Ghana President Atta Mills has lamented that the drug lords are too powerful to rein in. In Kenya, a woman (rumored to be) close to the president and other elites have been linked to the drug trade. Indeed on June 1st President Obama listed a sitting Kenyan Member of Parliament (Harun Mwau) as a global drug kingpin.

In South Africa former Chief of Police, Jackie Selebi, was jailed for 10 years in 2010 on drug charges. More recently the wife of the South African Intelligence Minister (Sheryl Cwele) was found guilty of having connections to the illicit trade. In 2009 a Boeing 727 crashed and was later set ablaze by suspected drug traffickers in Mali. The plane is believed to have been a drug cargo plane from Latin America destined for Europe. Other African states whose drug connections have also come to light include The Gambia (where rumors abound that President Jammeh is himself involved in the trade in drugs and arms in collusion with the Bissauian army) and Mozambique (H/T kmmonroe). You can find related news stories here and here.

Clearly, this is a real problem that if not nipped in the bud has the potential of growing to Mexican proportions, especially considering the already low levels of state capacity in most of Africa.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy also addresses this issue in their newly released report:

In just a few years, West Africa has become a major transit and re-packaging hub for cocaine following a strategic shift of Latin American drug syndicates toward the European market. Profiting from weak governance, endemic poverty, instability and ill-equipped police and judicial institutions, and bolstered by the enormous value of the drug trade, criminal networks have infiltrated governments, state institutions and the military. Corruption and money laundering, driven by the drug trade, pervert local politics and skew local economies.

A dangerous scenario is emerging as narco-traffic threatens to metastasize into broader political and security challenges. Initial international responses to support regional and national action have not been able to reverse this trend. New evidence suggests that criminal networks are expanding operations and strengthening their positions through new alliances, notably with armed groups. Current responses need to be urgently scaled up and coordinated under West African leadership, with international financial and technical support. Responses should integrate
law enforcement and judicial approaches with social, development and conflict prevention policies – and they should involve governments and civil society alike.

child-bride index

African states dominate the Economist’s child-bride index, with the Sahelian states of Mali, Niger and Chad in the top three. They also have the lowest literacy rates among their female populations.

This is one of those problems associated with “culture” that most development experts shy away from. My take on this is that the cultural defenses of such practices is a lot of horse manure.

There is nothing African about marrying off a 12 year old girl.

Most child marriages have deep-rooted economic motivations. In most cases it boils down to the bride-price. Solving the problem will therefore require not just laws that throw “human rights” at young African girls, but a concerted effort that also includes development practitioners to provide alternative income to men who marry off their 12 year-olds in exchange for goats.