Sub-Saharan Africa

Mapping the Unlikely Break-Up of Nigeria


As the previous post argued, electoral geography indicates that Nigeria has a problem with national unity, as the winning candidate in the 2015 presidential election received extremely few votes in the southeastern corner of the country. Such evidence, however, should not be unduly emphasized, as a sense of national identity is well established across most of the country. As a result, I certainly do not expect Nigeria to collapse and be replaced by a group of successor states.

But that said, it remains true that quite a few Nigerians would like to see the dismantling of their country and the subsequent emergence of smaller and more ethnically and religiously united countries. Interesting discussions of this issue can be found in internet discussion boards, especially Nairaland Forum. As a result, a number of “post-Nigeria” maps have appeared on the internet. The remainder of this post will examine and analyze a few of these maps.

Division of Nigeria Map 1The most basic vision of a divided Nigeria splits the country along religious lines, separating the Muslim north from the mostly Christian south. The first map shows such an imagined division from a northern perspective. The term “Arewa,” used to denote the prospective Muslim state, is the Hausa word for “north.” As noted in the Wikipedia article on the word:

In post independence Nigeria, some use the word as a general term for Nigerian Hausaland: a contraction of “Arewacin Nijeriya” (Northern Nigeria). Much of the north was once politically united in the Northern Region, a federal division disbanded in 1967, and was previously home of the seven Hausa states, later the Sokoto Caliphate in the pre-colonial period, and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate under British colonial rule.

Northern Nigeria regionalist groups, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Arewa Media Forum based in Kaduna, and the related Arewa House and Arewa People’s Congress are examples of this usage. These groups do not advocate independence from Nigeria, and focus on cultural unity of the so-called Hausa–Fulani community which forms the majority in the north of the nation.

Within even smaller regionalist circles, the term Arewa Republic is used as to describe a speculative future region, entity, or state that coincides with the pre-1967 Northern Region, Nigeria.

Division of Nigeria Map 2The second map shows an independent South Nigeria, imagined in this case from a leftist political perspective (note the use of “People’s Republic”). Although it may seem a relatively easy matter to separate the north from the south, the issue is complicated by the existence of the ethnically and religiously fragmented Middle Belt. As a result, the first two maps posted here show a significant degree of overlap, with such states as Plateau claimed by both groups. In any divisional scheme, Nigeria’s Middle Belt would prove problematic – as the region is today. This relatively lightly populated area is currently experiencing widespread violence that pits sedentary farmers against nomadic herders, a conflict that has pronounced religious and ethnic overtones.

Division of Nigeria Map 4Some divisional schemes would address this problem by making the Middle Belt an independent country in its own right. Intriguingly, in one vision this is the only area that would retain the name “Nigeria.” Such finer-grained divisions generally separate the Yoruba-dominated southwest from the Igbo-dominated southeast. But for some futurist cartographers, such a division would not be fine enough, and as a result they envision additional states. One Division of Nigeria Map 5such fictional country is composed of the Edo-speaking region along with the ethnically mixed delta; this “United Niger-Delta” would be the wealthiest of the proposed Nigerian successor states by a significant margin. Some proponents of a Nigerian break-up also imagine the separation of the Hausa- and Fulani-speaking northwest and north-center from the Kanuri-speaking northeast, as can be seen in the upper-left map of the four-map set.

Division of Nigeria Map 6Division of Nigeria Map 3Few of these maps connect their imagined new states with areas located outside of Nigeria’s boundaries. A prominent exception, however, is found in the last map posted here, which envisages a greatly enlarged Republic of Benin. This country would include—and would be demographically and economically dominated by—southwestern Nigeria. Such a state would also be dominated by the Yoruba people, who are a minority group in the current Republic of Benin. Note that the old Edo-speaking Kingdom of Benin (now Nigeria’s Edo State) would also be included in this would-be country, as would much of the oil-rich delta.

Such imaginative maps of political devolution are by no means limited to Nigeria, and can instead be found in reference to most parts of the world. As a result, they should perhaps not be taken too seriously. But I do find them intriguing, and I think that they sometimes illustrate deeply embedded ideas about how the world should be politically organized.


Echoes of Biafra: Geographical Patterns in Nigeria’s 2015 Election

(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is now on its summer schedule, which should entail 3 posts per week.)

Nigeria 2015 election mapNigeria’s 2015 election has been widely regarded as marking a milestone in the country’s democratic transition. For the first time, an incumbent president lost a bid for reelection. Goodluck Jonathan, the outgoing leader, conceded defeat readily, graciously passing power to his challenger Muhammadu Buhari, who he had trounced in the 2011 election. Buhari had been a repressive military ruler of Nigeria in the early 1980s, but he now regards himself as a “converted democrat.” Many observers credit Buhari’s victory to the belief among many Nigerians that a northern Muslim with a military background can deal more effectively with the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency than a southern Christian with a civilian background, such as the militarily ineffectual Jonathan. Many also think that Buhari’s somewhat abstemious personal habits will give him an edge in tackling the country’s massive corruption problems.

Nigeria 2011 election mapAs the first two maps posted here show, Nigeria’s 2015 election saw a significant reduction in county’s north/south regional/religious electoral divide. In 2011, every northern, Muslim-dominated state voted for Buhari, many by an overwhelming majority, whereas almost every southern, Christian-dominated state voted for Jonathan, many by an overwhelming majority. In the 2015 election, however, a number of southern states favored Buhari, including the country’s economic core of Lagos. Such a “mixed” electoral map is a hopeful sign for Nigerian national unity. Nigeria’s regional political division has been so pronounced that a special election rule was created to ensure some measure of trans-regional support: a successful presidential candidate must gain at least 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states.

Nigeria 2015 election Jonathan Vote MapBut the 2015 electoral map also shows the persistence of regional division. Although Buhari did quite well in many southern states, he failed miserably in the southeast. Over most of this densely populated and economically significant area, Buhari received less then 10 percent of the vote, as the electorate remained overwhelmingly committed to Jonathan. Intriguingly, the area that voted heavily for Jonathan in 2015 almost exactly matches the Nigeria 2015 Election Biafra Mapregion that rebelled against Nigeria and declared itself to be the independent country of Biafra in the late 1960s, as can be seen in the next map. This area, demographically dominated by the heavily Christian Igbo people, thus remains politically distinctive from the rest of the country. Among some groups in the southeast, the desire for independence remains strong.

In the coastal belt of the southeast, another factor may have contributed to Buhari’s poor showing. Prior to the election, it was rumored that Buhari was planning to suspend job-training programs and payments to former militants that had greatly reduced political violence in this strife-plagued region. As Voice of America reported on June 2, 2015:

Former militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta say unrest may resume if the country’s new president ends the amnesty program and monthly payments that brought peace to the oil-producing region.

Each month, former militants who used to spend their time bombing pipelines and kidnapping foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta get the equivalent of about $330 to convince them to occupy their time in other ways. They also get access to training programs intended to help them find other work.

This arrangement started in 2009, but it was never supposed to last forever. New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said so in his inauguration speech last week, announcing the program would end in December.

Two days later, however, a senior Nigerian official announced that the new Nigerian government “is committed to continuing with a militant amnesty program in the Niger Delta in a bid to improve the security situation in the oil-producing region…” The country can ill-afford renewed fighting in this region, despite the expense of the program.

Nigeria 2015 Election Yoruba MapThe real change in Nigeria’s electoral geography from the 2011 to the 2015 election is found in the southwest, another densely populated, economically significant region. In 2011, this area had supported Jonathan, but in 2015 it gave the majority of its votes to Buhari. But in neither election was the margin of victory pronounced. As a result, the southwest has apparently come to function as the vital “swing region” in Nigerian elections.

Most of the southwest is demographically dominated by members of the Yoruba ethnic group. Although Yorubaland is mostly Christian, it also contains quite a few Yoruba-speaking Muslims, as well as many practitioners of the indigenous Yoruba religion, a faith that has seen something of a revival in recent decades. (Unfortunately, data on the actual religious make-up of the region is not easy to find.) Although the Yoruba are mixed when it comes to religion, they do tend to have a strong sense of regional and ethnic identity – as well as a degree of suspicion of both the Igbo-dominated southeast and the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri dominated north.

Nigeria Econony Igbo People MapAnother “swing” area in recent Nigerian elections is the Edo-speaking state of Edo in the south-center. Here Jonathan triumphed in the 2015 election, but did so narrowly. Edo is one of the most economically productive states of Nigeria. It is also the heir of the once-powerful kingdom of Benin, noted for its magnificent artistic output of bronze-work during the medieval and early modern periods. The Kingdom of Benin is not to be confused with the modern country of Benin located to the west of Nigeria, which was formerly called Dahomey. Dahomey changed its name to “Benin” not in reference to the kingdom of that name, but rather to the adjacent portion of the sea known as the “Bight of Benin.”

Wednesday’s post will examine Nigeria’s regional divisions more carefully, looking specifically at those who would like to divide the country into several new sovereign states.


Nigeria Slides

Nigeria Population MapDear Readers,

My final lecture on the history and geography of current global events focused on Nigeria; the slides from this lecture are available at the link below.

Next week I will resume regular GeoCurrents posts. The first of these will look at issues related to Nigeria’s recent election, reflecting some of these lecture slides. Subsequently, I hope to examine Turkey’s recent election and then move on to a wide variety of other topics.


Final Maps on “Geopolitical Anomalies”

This post merely contains some of the additional maps that I prepared for my March 31 lecture on the history and geography of current global events. These maps, like those in the two preceding posts, focus on geopolitical irregularities and anomalies in a region of the world that might be called the “Greater Middle East” (for lack of a better term). The maps in this post, in general, depict anomalies that are less pronounced than those considered in the previous posts.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to prepare explanatory text to accompany these maps. I must be ready to give an hour-and-fifty-minute lecture on Yemen for the same course on Tuesday, April 7, and that will demand most of my time over the next two days.

Divided Territories Map Non-Contiguous States MapOman Exclave MapNew States MapRefugees Map 1Refugees Map 2European Colonial Spheres MapFederations Map

Geopolitical Anomalies in the “Greater Middle East,” Part 2

(note: The introduction to this post is found in the post of April 1)

Thus far we have examined a number of geopolitical anomalies in a sizable region of the world centered on Saudi Arabia. We have not yet looked at the most serious challenge to the standard model, however, that of state collapse. Other important issues remain to be considered as well.

Feeble States MapAs mentioned in the introduction to this series, Somalia has not functioned as a coherent state since 1991. Although its internationally recognized federal government controls more territory than it did a few years ago, large areas are still under the power of the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab, while the northwest forms the de facto state of Somaliland. Other areas are essentially run by local clans or other organizations that pledge their ultimate loyalty to the federal government but in actuality have complete or almost complete autonomy. A prominent example is Puntland in the northeast, which covers a third of Somalia and contains roughly a third of its population. Puntland’s constitution reveals its geopolitically ambiguity. It states, for example, that “Puntland is an independent integral part of Somalia”; being “independent” and being an “integral part” of a given country, however, would generally be seen as mutually exclusive propositions.

For many years, Somalia was the only collapsed state in the area covered by the map. That is obviously no longer the case. The official governments of Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq have lost control of vast stretches of their official territory to rival national governments, fully autonomous regions, and Islamist militias. It is now questionable whether any of them can be reconstituted as coherent states, at least any time soon. The authority that several of these states do still possess, moreover, relies heavily on military backing from other countries. The governments of both Iraq and Syria, for example, depend on the armed clout of Iran. The United States and other countries also help prop up Iraq by launching air strikes against ISIS (alternatively, ISIL, Daesh, or Islamic State). Afghanistan is more stable and unified than the other countries highlighted on the map, and is therefore depicted in a lighter shade of red. But if the United States military were to withdraw completely, it is quite possible that it too would unravel — as indeed has previously occurred in the recent past.

Islamist Organizations Greater Middle East MapOne of the main reasons for the collapse or near collapse of the states depicted on this map is the rise of radical Islamist organizations, the more important of which are shown on the next map. The territories under the power of these groups change rapidly, and as a result the map should be regarded as suggestive rather than strictly factual. But the rise of these groups is highly significant, presenting a major challenge to the standard model of global geopolitics. The more extreme groups, such as ISIS, vehemently reject the very notion of the nation-state, which they view as an unholy Western creation and imposition. Although the territories under the control of Islamist armies may well be rolled back in the coming months, these organizations still have the ability to attract militants both locally and from abroad, and thus will likely continue to present an obstacle to state consolidation for many years.

Combat Fatalities MapAlthough actual battle casualties in recent years have not surprisingly been highest in Syria and Iraq, many other countries in the region have experienced a good deal of bloodshed. The map to the left shows total combat fatalities by country for 2014 alone, based on a Wikipedia table. Two states stand out here that have not featured prominently on the other maps in this series: South Sudan and Central African Republic. South Sudan would actually rank second, after Syria, if I had selected the highest estimate given for each country rather than the lowest. South Sudan is noted as the world’s newest sovereign state, having gained independence in 2011. When South Sudanese rebels were fighting against the government of Sudan for independence, they were able to maintain a degree of cohesion, but when that struggle ended the two main ethnic groups of the region, the Dinka and the Nuer, quickly fell apart. Although the fighting has more recently subsided, it is uncertain whether South Sudan will be able to construct cohesive state. Central African Republic has a much longer history of independence than South Sudan, but it also continues to have difficulty in this regard. The vicious fighting between its Muslim and Christian militias in 2014 certainly does not bode well for future stability.

Separatist Movements MapEven many of the countries in this region that have not experienced extensive combat nonetheless contain active separatist movements that seek independence for the people they claim to represent, thereby challenging the legitimacy of the nation-state. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, most of the countries visible on this map are home to such separatist groups, as can be seen in the image posted here. Most of these organizations, however, are not particularly violent or effective, and many consist of little more than a few discontented persons banding together to create a website. But others have the potential to emerge as threats to the states in which they are located. Consider, for example, Ethiopia. According to the Wikipedia article, Ethiopia experienced only 218 combat fatalities in 2014, 172 in the war against Somali OLF Mapinsurgents in the eastern Ogaden region and 46 in the struggle against Oromo rebels in the central part of the country. The same article, however, gives much higher cumulative combat fatalities in these struggles (1,300 in both cases). Another Wikipedia article states that the insurgency of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) ended in 2012, but a low-level conflict nonetheless persists, and as recently as the 1990s the organization boasted 60,000 fighters (current figures run around 5,000). Significantly, the OLF claims roughly half of Ethiopia’s territory, and its website maintains that it represents an Oromo nation some 40 million strong.


Border Disputes MapThe next map in today’s post shows the ubiquity of territorial disputes in this part of the world, based on another Wikipedia table. As can be seen, relatively few countries here have no border disagreements with their neighbors. Most of these disputes are admittedly relatively minor, and thus do not interfere much with international relations. Some are also rather obscure, such as the argument between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over Tiran and Sanafir islands. According to Wikipedia, Egypt controls these islands but Saudi Arabia claims them, but the article goes on to state that “the definite sovereignty over Tiran Island is left unclear by both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, due to geostrategic reasons.”, however, frames the issue quite differently, stating that:

Tiran Island MapBoth of the islands officially belong to Saudi Arabia but are being used by Egypt. Because of strict military regulations, it’s not possible to enter the islands.

The Multinational Force and Observers [MFO] has soldiers stationed at observation points to ensure both parties abide the treaty. The force and observers, totaling 1,900, are under the command of a Norwegian military officer. The military personnel are on loan from 11 nations.

Other border disputes in the region are far more serious. The Durand Line that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, for example, is absolutely rejected by the government of Afghanistan, which claims that it had been negotiated with the British colonialists in South Asia to separate spheres of influence rather than to fix an international boundary. This perennial border dispute plays into the tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have recently intensified. As noted in a Wikipedia article on Afghanistan–Pakistan skirmishes, “The cross-border shellings intensified in 2011 and 2012 with many reports from different occasions claiming that Pakistani missiles have hit civilian areas inside Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province, Kunar Province and Nangarhar Province.”

Additional geopolitical anomalies found in this region of the world will be explored in the final post in this series. With luck, that post will go up on April 5. We will then turn our attention to the situation in Yemen.


Geopolitical Anomalies in the “Greater Middle East,” Part I

(Note: The introduction to this post is found in the previous post, that of April 1))

U.N. Greater Middle East MapA detail from the Wikipedia map of United Nations members, discussed in the previous post, shows only one non-member in the region that we might crudely dub the “greater Middle East,” which is the focus of today’s post. That non-member is the Palestinian geopolitical anomalies map 1territory, composed of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as can be seen the second map. This area is deeply anomalous in regard to geopolitical standards, and would be worthy of an entire post. The two units of which it is composed are not just geographically but also politically separate, despite efforts to form a unity government.* They have some but by no means all of the attributes of sovereignty. As the map notes, they also occupy an ambiguous position in the United Nations, as well as in the global system of mutual state-to-state recognition.

geopolitical anomalies map 2But the Palestinian territories are merely one of a great many geopolitical anomalies found in the region depicted on this map. Consider, for example, the situation of Kosovo. Although the U.N. map portrays Kosovo as part of Serbia, it is in actuality an independent country. It is not, however, a members of the United Nations, and its recognition by other sovereign states is far from complete. Three other states in the region are also characterized by incomplete international recognition, as the next map shows. 32 U.N. members do not recognize Israel, while Cyprus and Armenia are each denied by one member, Turkey in the former case and Pakistan in the latter. Curiously, Pakistan refuses to acknowledge Armenia in deference to Azerbaijan, which has lost much of its internationally recognized territory to Armenia, yet Azerbaijan itself continues to recognize the country.

geopolitical anomalies map 3







geopolitical anomalies map 4The next map, “States With Barely Functional Central Governments,” highlights recognized U.N member states in which regional governments or factional militias have more power than the state itself, a category that encompasses Lebanon and Bosnia & Herzegovina. In the former case, the militia of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia political party, is much stronger than the national armed forces. As Hezbollah militarily operates on its own, with support from Iran and without oversight by the Lebanese government, its presence in Lebanon contravenes a key defining feature of the state, as states are supposed to have a monopoly over the legitimate use of force and coercion. Lebanon has a peculiar system of “confessionalism,” one in which politics are structured around religious communities. Although this system once functioned relatively well, it has not in the long run proved conducive to national unity. Intriguingly, Lebanese confessionalism was enacted as a temporary measure more than 80 years ago, yet it remains full ensconced.

Bosnia in many ways is even less of a coherent state than Lebanon. It is divided into three autonomous units, the “Serb Republic,” the Croat-Bosniak “Federation” (which is itself rather dysfunctional), and the self-governing unit of Brčko (which formally belongs to both the “republic” and the “federation”). Equally important, the highest political office in the country is arguably that of the “High Representative,” who is not even a citizen of the state, making Bosnia something of an international protectorate. As the Wikipedia notes, “The OHR’s [Office of the High Representative] prolonged interference in the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also considered to be one of the causes of the low commitment of citizens towards the state.” The other reasons for the “low commitment of citizens towards the state,” however, are probably more significant, particularly that of the persisting ethnic animosity that marks Bosnia’s constituent communities. If given a free choice, most Bosnian Serbs would probably opt to join their territory with Serbia, just as most Bosnian Croats would likely want to join their lands with Croatia. Under such conditions, referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state is a bit of a stretch, while calling it a “nation-state” is simply unreasonable.

geopolitical anomalies map 5The next two maps, showing internationally unrecognized annexations, are a bit more straightforward. Russia has officially annexed Crimea, and will likely retain full control over that territory. But as this action is widely viewed as illegitimate, most maps produced elsewhere in the world will almost certainly continue to show Crimea as geopolitical anomalies map 6Ukrainian territory. The situation in regard to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh is somewhat more complicated. The Armenian-majority territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has officially declared itself to be an independent state, although it has not been recognized as such by any member of the U.N. Most sources, however, regard it as having been unofficially annexed by Armenia. Most of the lands surrounding the official boundaries of Nagorno-Karabakh, moreover, are controlled by the Armenian military and are therefore effectively part of that country. Armenia is able to maintain control over these territories, which formally belong to the larger and more economically powerful country of Azerbaijan, in large part due to Russian support.

geopolitical anomalies map 7The next map portrays internationally recognized sovereign states that do not control their full territorial extent due to the emergence of self-proclaimed states (which are themselves depicted on the following maps). All of these proclaimed statelets exercise effective power over all or most of the territories that they claim, but they do not necessarily possess all of the elements that constitute genuine sovereignty. Most of them are widely viewed as “puppet states” of larger independent countries.



geopolitical anomalies map 8The map posted to the left shows the three self-proclaimed states in question that have received some international recognition. Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey and is often regarded as Turkish client state. The other two, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have gained higher international standings, being reckoned as independent by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru. (Vanuatu had briefly recognized Abkhazia and Tuvalu had briefly recognized both states, but they later withdrew their recognition). Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are commonly regarded as Russian client states, with Nauru giving its nod of approval due to financial compensation from Russia, and Venezuela and Nicaragua doing so to signal their disapproval of the United States and other countries opposed to Russia’s actions. Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, rejecting membership in Georgia, which by international consensus should rightfully encompass them. Northern Cyprus declared its independence from Cyprus in 1983, a maneuver made possible by the Turkish invasion and partition of the island in 1974.

geopolitical anomalies map 9The next map adds to the previous one several self-proclaimed states that lack international recognition. One, Nagorno-Karabakh, has been discussed earlier in this post. Three of the other entities shown on this map, Transnistria (officially, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), Luhansk People’s Republic, and Donetsk People’s Republic, are widely regarded as Russian puppet states. Transnistria was hived off from Moldova after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the latter two emerged out of far eastern Ukraine during the conflict of 2014. Together, Luhansk and Donetsk form the self-proclaimed federation of Novorossiya, or New Russia. They are recognized as sovereign states only by South Ossetia. Transnistria is recognized by South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Together, these four statelets comprise the inaptly named Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations, also called the Commonwealth of Unrecognized States. The other self-proclaimed state shown on this map, Somaliland, enjoys more genuine independence, not serving as a client state. Yet Somaliland has no formal international recognition and is instead regarded as part of the non-functional state of Somalia. Ethiopia, however, comes close to recognizing it, with its local consulate headed by a diplomat with ambassadorial ranking. In 2014, moreover, the British city of Sheffield recognized Somaliland’s independence, a purely symbolic maneuver that nonetheless generated marked enthusiasm in the self-proclaimed state.

geopolitical anomalies map 10Finally, the last map includes as well a fully autonomous region that has not declared its own sovereignty but may well do so in the future: Iraqi Kurdistan. Of all of the “statelets” shown on this map, Iraqi Kurdistan probably has the most effective government; along with Somaliland, moreover, it has the best claims to possessing something approaching genuine independence. I have also appended to it the currently autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Syria, known locally as Rojava. The future situation of this area is of course highly uncertain.


Whatever Rojava’s future may hold, the region is currently structured in an interesting manner that has some bearing on geopolitical models. As described in the Wikipedia:

 The political system of Rojava is a mixture of socialist principles at the local level with libertarian principles at the national level. …

Political writer David Romano describes it as pursuing ‘a bottom-up, Athenian-style direct form of democratic governance’. He contrasts the local communities taking on responsibility vs the strong central governments favoured by many states. In this model, states become less relevant and people govern through councils similar to the early US or Switzerland before becoming a federal state in the Sonderbund war. Rojava divides itself into regional administrations called cantons named after the Swiss cantons. …

Its programme immediately aimed to be “very inclusive” and people from a range of different backgrounds became involved (including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Turkmen (from Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi religious groups).


Thus far we have examined just a few of the anomalies found in the geopolitical map of this region. We will look at many more in tomorrow’s post.

* As noted in the Wikipedia, “On 30 November 2014, Hamas declared that the unity government had ended with the expiration of the six month term. But Fatah subsequently denied the claim, and said that the government is still in force.”

GeoCurrents Summer Vacation

Dear Readers,

I am sorry to say that GeoCurrents will be taking its annual summer vacation for the next five or six weeks. During this time, several guest posts may be run, but I will not be contributing any posts myself. For the next two weeks, my attention will be focused on grading papers and examinations and on finishing the book manuscript on Indo-European linguistics that Asya Pereltsvaig and I have been working on for some time. After that, I will be traveling in South Africa and perhaps Swaziland.  GeoCurrents should be able return in full strength in mid or late July.

Nigeria Language and Poverty MapIn taking this blogging holiday, I am leaving a number of maps and posts of Nigeria half-finished.  Perhaps I will return to these next month, or perhaps I will simply move on to other matters. As a sample of this unfinished work, I have posted here simple and rather crude map that entails an overlay of  ethno-linguistic patterns on a map of poverty in Nigeria that was posted and discussed previously. If the map and the overlays are accurate, some interesting features are revealed, such as the correlation of the Edo language group (associated with the early-modern Kingdom of Benin) with much lower-than-average poverty levels and the division of the Ibo group into a wealthier south and a poorer north. I wish that I had time to do more research on these intriguing patterns!

Does the Boko Haram Insurgency Stem from Environmental Degradation and Climate Change?

Several attempts to explain the extreme violence of Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria focus on resource scarcity, overpopulation, environmental degradation, and especially climate change. A recent article in The Guardian, for example, claims that:

Instability in Nigeria … has been growing steadily over the last decade — and one reason is climate change. In 2009, a UK Department for International Development (Dfid) study warned that climate change could contribute to increasing resource shortages in the country due to land scarcity from desertification, water shortages, and mounting crop failures.

Other examples of Nigerian inter-ethnic conflict have also been attributed to climate change, particularly the attacks by Fulani herders on Christian and animist cultivators. A United States Institute of Peace Special Report, for example, argues that:

Again, links to climate change can be more or less strong. A case in point is Nigeria’s frequent farmer-herder conflicts. In a pattern seen across the Sahel since the thirty-year drought, feed and water shortages caused partly by desertification and drought have sent nomadic pastoralists, most of them ethnic Fulanis, wandering south, outside their normal grazing routes. At the same time, a mix of weather-related factors has pushed farmers to cultivate more land each year, leaving wanderers fewer places to water and graze their stock. The resulting contests may have been responsible for the deaths of several hundred Nigerians since the return of democracy in 1999.

Such claims have been criticized, and indeed mocked, by conservative media outlets. As a post in The American Thinker framed it, “Climate change – is there anything it can’t do?”  The level of ridicule was more pronounced in Rightwing News: “Obviously, Nigeria was a hotbed of peace, love, and kumbaya prior to fossil fuels. There were never droughts or changes in the climate. People never suffered. It’s all Mankind’s fault.”

Shrinking Lake Chad MapRegardless of such dismissive rhetoric, climatic fluctuations have likely played a significant role in producing political instability not only in northeastern Nigeria but across much of the rest of the Sahel belt (the area south of the Sahara). Most of this region experienced a series of devastating droughts during the late 20th century and into the early years of the new millennium. The desiccation of Lake Chad has been an environmental disaster of almost the same magnitude as that of the Aral Sea, although it has received far less media attention. Lake Chad, not coincidently, sits at the core of the Kanuri area, the ethnic group most closely associated with the Boko Haram insurgency.

But it is one thing to claim that climatic fluctuations and environmental degradation have been factors in the rise of Boko Haram and another to attribute the resulting violence to human-caused climate change. Extreme droughts have long been a recurring feature of the Sahel. As noted in the Wikipedia:  “As disruptive as the droughts of the late 20th century were, evidence of past droughts recorded in Ghanaian lake sediments suggest that multi-decadal megadroughts were common in West Africa over the past 3,000 years and that several droughts lasted far longer and were far more severe.”

Sahel Rainfall TrendsEqually important, if anthropogenic climate change is indeed changing the environment of the Sahel, it is far from certain that such a transformation will lead to increasingly severe droughts. Some global climate forecast models depict the Intertropical Convergence Zone as shifting northward in the summer, which would increase precipitation in the region. Indeed, several of the past few years have seen higher than average rainfall across most of the Sahel, including northern Nigeria. A Climate Matters blog-post from 2013 is guardedly optimistic on this topic:

The Sahel remains one of the poorest and least developed regions in the world. It’s also one of the most vulnerable to climate change and variability. One bright spot for the region is that since the mid-1980s, average rainfall has increased steadily [see this animation]. People engaged in sustainable land management techniques such as agroforestry have been able to take advantage of it, rebuilding their livelihoods.

Greening Sahel MapThe Climate Matters post rests on climatological studies that link the late-20th century mega-drought to cooler-than-usual water temperatures in the North Atlantic, which in turn stemmed from air pollution (sulfate aerosols, primarily) generated in Europe and North America. As such pollution has been reduced, the article claims, the ocean has warmed and precipitation in the Sahel has correspondingly rebounded.  Anthropogenic global warming would be expected to further propel this process: “Climate change scenarios for the region indicate that average annual rainfall will increase throughout this century if the North Atlantic continues to warm.”

Increased rainfall, however, can have a downside. Quoting again from Climate Matters:

Not only has rainfall been increasing, but interestingly, the increase is better explained by increased intensity of rain events, rather than by more rainy days…

This is markedly different than the wetter Sahel of the 1940s and 1950s, before the droughts. Back then, the higher rainfall came from more frequent rain events. But it is consistent with the general expectation from climate change that a warmer, moister atmosphere may lead to more intense downpours.

The increase in rainfall doesn’t necessarily bring only good news for the people of the region, however. The more intense downpours have led to recurrent flooding in recent years, causing loss of life, crops and infrastructure.

But regardless of problematic changes in rainfall intensity, it is clear than much of the Sahel has experienced significant “greening” since 1990, marked by the emergence of more luxuriant vegetation. To some extent, this improvement represents merely recovery (or partial recovery) from the previous drought, but other factors may be at play as well.  According to an article in The Encyclopedia of the Earth:

Several studies [have focused on] on long-term environmental and agricultural change in the Sahel (in Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Senegal). These studies have found evidence of significant transitions from degradational land use trajectories to more sustainable and productive production systems. These include increases in cereal yields, higher densities of trees, improved soil fertility management, locally higher groundwater tables, reductions in rural poverty, and decreased outmigration.

The overall situation is of course quite complex, with tremendous local variability. But that said, it does seem that arguments blaming political violence in northeastern Nigeria on human-caused climate change and its associated environmental degradation should be regarded with some skepticism.

Nigeria Population Density MapThe idea that resource scarcity is the ultimate font of Boko Haram is equally problematic. On first glance, this linkage seems reasonable. In poor countries and especially under regimes of subsistence economics, resource scarcity is often closely linked to population pressure, and Nigeria has a very large population indeed. Much of northern Nigeria is densely settled, much more so that the rest of the Sahel belt. But at the more localized level, the connection breaks down. As we can see on the map posted here, central-northern Nigeria is very crowded, but the northeast is not. The Nigerian states that have suffered the highest levels of violence from Boko Haram are actually sparsely populated by Nigerian standards.


Is Poverty the Root Cause of Boko Haram Violence?

The notion that poverty is the main cause of terrorism and insurgency is one of the most contentious ideas in global security studies. Those on the left tend to emphasize the connection between violence and the lack of development, while those on the right tend to deny or at least minimize it.

Nigeria Political Violence MapIn recent weeks, this debate has turned to the brutal extremist group known as Boko Haram, based in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno. In early May, 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained the growth of Boko Haram by observing that, “much of this challenge comes out of this poverty where young people are grabbed at an early stage, proffered a little bit of money…” Other sources describe the relationship in more straightforward terms. An article in the Huffington Post, following a report from the International Crisis Group, claims that, “simply put, the militants have been doing so well because some parts of Nigeria have been doing so poorly.” A recent New York Times editorial echoed this idea, although it emphasized corruption as much as poverty.  Spiegel International similarly stressed the “struggle over scarce resources [that] only exacerbates existing ethnic and religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims.”

Most articles explaining Boko Haram in economic terms portray the situation in broad geographical brush-strokes, mentioning simply the poverty of northern Nigeria, but some are more specific. An Al Jazeera report, for example, discusses the desiccation of Lake Chad in the northeastern corner of the country, noting also that “Boko Haram has emerged in the poorest part of Nigeria, where 71.5 percent of the population lives in absolute poverty and more than half are malnourished.” Similarly, Reuters reports that “Borno has some of the lowest economic indicators in the country, and investors shun the state because of poor security.”

More conservative sources challenge this interpretation, stressing the fact that many terrorist have come from privileged backgrounds and highlighting academic studies have failed to find a firm causal connection between poverty and terrorism. The headline in a 2010 Spectator article, for example, insisted that “POVERTY DOES NOT CAUSE TERRORISM: The canard that ‘crushing’ poverty does cause it just won’t die.” Some Nigerian reports also deny the linkage. A recent News 24 article, for example, places the blame for Boko Haram primarily on mercenaries from Niger, while asserting that “people die out of poverty; they do not kill out of poverty.”

My own tendency is to distrust any simple, single “root cause” explanation for just about anything, as most problems are complex and stem from multiple lines of causation. Overall, the evidence indicates that poverty in itself does not generate terrorism or any other form of political violence, just as it shows that ferocious extremism can take root in relatively affluent social environments. But that said, poverty can exacerbate tensions, and in so doing contribute to the problem. Whether or not it does so and to what degree, however, are empirical issues that need to be examined afresh in each particular situation. At the global scale, blanket statements about economic “root causes” tend to obscure rather than clarify the analysis.

Nigeria per capita GDP mapTo begin to address the purported linkage between Boko Haram and poverty, we therefore need to investigate the geography of development in northern Nigeria. In doing so, we are hampered by the lack of quality data, and as a result the following analysis must be regarded as tentative. Yet it is clear that northern Nigeria is a deeply impoverished place, having experienced much less social and economic development than the still-poor southern third of the country. But Boko Haram is not a “northern Nigerian” organization; rather, it is based in the northeastern corner of the country. The central question is thus whether Borno State in the northeast is a particularly deprived part of Nigeria. To address this question I have assembled a number of economic and social-developmental maps of the country, which allow the comparison of Borno with the rest of northern Nigeria as well as with the rest of the country at large.

To begin the analysis, I created a map of per capita GDP (PPP) by state in Nigeria, as none were readily available on-line. As can be seen, the economic division between the mostly Christian far south and the heavily Muslim north is fairly stark. But Borno, highlighted on the map, is far from the country’s least economically developed state; significantly lower production figures are encountered in relatively peaceful Jigawa and Kebbi states, and figures similar to that of Borno are found in some states of the south.

Nigeria Poverty Map 3GDP, however, is often a poor indicator of relative deprivation, as it tells us nothing about the distribution of wealth. Nigerian economic data, moreover, are not particularly trustworthy. I have therefore found a variety of additional maps, made by other researchers, that can help elucidate the situation. Several of these maps indicate entrenched poverty across all or at least much of Borno, as can be Nigeria Poverty Map 4seen in Figures 3 and 4. Other studies, however, came to very different conclusions; Figures 5 and 6, for example, indicate Nigeria Poverty Map 5athat Borno is relatively well off when compared with the rest of northern Nigeria (although figure 6 is quite dated). Some studies of specific aspects of Nigeria Poverty map 6development have come to similar conclusions. A Columbia University project Nigeria Drinking Water Map(Figure 7), for example, determined that in regard to safe drinking water—a key developmental indicator—Borno stands at a higher level than most of the states of southern Nigeria. Studies of childhood malnutrition and Nigeria Malnutrition Mapsstunting (Figure 8), on the other hand, place Borno at a lower level of social development than southern Nigeria, but still show it as suffering less deprivation than relatively peaceful areas in northwestern Nigeria.

Nigeria Poverty Map 9The most visually striking map of poverty on Nigeria (Figure 9) indicates that at least the core area of Borno has significantly less extreme poverty than north-central Nigeria. This map even places Borno in a higher category than much of the southeast. The methodology used to create this map is impressive, as is can been seen in the accompanying description:

In brief, GPS located national household survey data were obtained through either the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program or the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) program and either $1.25 and $2 a day consumption-based poverty metrics or the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) were calculated for each survey cluster. A Bayesian geostatistical modeling framework, following approaches constructed for the Malaria Atlas Project was then established to exploit spatiotemporal relationships within the data, leverage ancillary information from an extensive set of covariates, and rigorously handle uncertainties at all stages to generate robust output surfaces with accompanying confidence intervals. The figures below show example outputs for Nigeria, and further outputs can be found at

Nigeria Poverty Map 10Sophisticated Bayesian geostatistical modeling, however, does not necessarily ensure accurate results, as regular readers of GeoCurrents have seen in regard to historical linguistics. Be that as it may, this map does seem to be one of the better geographical representations of poverty in Nigeria. I am also impressed by the authors’ inclusion of an “accuracy map” of their own study. As can be seen here (Figure 10), northeastern Nigeria does falls into the zone of low confidence.

The information found in these various poverty maps of Nigeria tends to be inconsistent, perhaps indicating that the entire endeavor is pointless. On balance, however, I do think that we can tentatively conclude that Borno is not the poorest or least developed part of Nigeria. If poverty were the ultimate cause of extremist violence in northern Nigeria, we would expect such a movement to develop not in Borno but rather further to the west. It thus seems likely that Boko Haram’s extremism stems from a variety of factors rather than simply being rooted in social and economic deprivation. Some of these additional factors will be considered in a forthcoming GeoCurrents post.


Dark Areas on the Earth at Night Map

Korea light mapAs is well known, North Korea is a dark land when viewed from space at night, quite in contrast to well-illuminated South Korea. In the Google EarthBuilder detail posted here, the discrepancy between the two countries is extreme. In the North, Pyongyang is the only sizable bright spot, and it is dwarfed by many regional South Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cities. (The offshore lights seen on this map were generated mostly by squid fishing.)

Central Africa light mapBut North Korea is hardly the world’s only area of minimal lighting. As can be seen in the second image, much of Central Africa is darker. In Central African Republic, the capital city, Bangui, is essentially the only illuminated area, and even it is unimpressive. I have not been able to identify a much smaller lighted area located in the virtually unpopulated northeast; it is not situated in the right place to be Birao, the regional center (population 10,000), which was “almost completely burnt down in the fighting between rebels and government troops in the area” in 2007.

The northern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo is equally un-illuminated. Kisangani, a major city with almost a million inhabitants, hardly registers. Southern Chad, on the other hand, does have a fairly bright area (labeled with a question mark), but it is not linked to any city or town that I can locate. I assume that the light emitted from this area comes from gas flares associated with oil production. Chad’s oil industry, however, is centered in the town of Doba, a much less significant source of light.

Casamance – harmonious name, discordant reality

“Je viens de la Casamance” (I am from The Casamance): on a recent trip to Senegal, this was the answer that I received roughly three quarters of the time when I asked staff members at hotels, guides, and people who approached me on the beach where they were from in Senegal. Throughout my ten days in the country, the word built up on aura of notoriety and awe in my mind – like something beautiful and dangerous, inaccessible yet desirable. The next words would usually inform me that the Casamance is the true heart of the country, where the luscious beauty of Senegal lies, and where people know how to have real fun. But the actual history of the Casamance region paints a different image from the one that I had built up in my mind based on local accounts.

The Casamance has long been a region in limbo, caught between worlds: today trapped between Senegal and The Gambia, it was subject to both French and Portuguese colonial efforts before the border was negotiated in 1888 between the French colony of Senegal and Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) to the south. The settlement resulted in Portugal losing possession of the Casamance, which was at the time the commercial hub of its colony. To this day, the region has preserved its local variant of West African Portuguese-based Creole, known as Ziguinchor, and the members of its deeply rooted Creole community carry Portuguese last names like Da Silva, Carvalho, and Fonseca. Ironically, interest in the Portuguese colonial heritage has been revived of late in order to solidify a distinct identity, particularly in Baixa (“lower”) Casamança. Such an identity is also aided by the presence of people from Bissau-Guinean, who have entered Senegal as expatriates, immigrants, and refugees fleeing the poverty and political instability that has affected Guinea-Buissau.

Unfortunately, the Casamance region has seldom been stable, its instability stemming from Senegal’s very independence. Indeed, Senegal’s first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, allegedly promised the region’s leaders that if they joined Senegal for 20 years they could subsequently have their own state if they wanted it. When the government failed to follow through on the promise in 1980, street demonstrations in the Casamance capital, Zinguichor, turned violent. The main impetus behind the separatist drive is the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), created in 1947 as a political party, before turning to outright separatism in the 1980s. The MFDC gained widespread local popularity following brutal repression against demonstrators who were calling on officials to make good on Senghor’s promise.


Beyond these historical factors, the separatist movement also has economic and geographic origins. First, the Casamance region is the richest in the country by virtue of its lush vegetation and vast natural resources, which has earned it the title of national granary. Peanuts, Senegal’s main cash crop, are particularly important in the region. The exploitation of these riches, which often bypasses the local population, has fostered a sense of victimization among the Southerners, many of whom grieve the systematic plundering of their region for the benefit of other regions, particularly Dakar. Religious differences exacerbate such tensions. Whereas the vast majority of the Senegalese people are Muslims, many residents of the Casamance are Christians or animists. The prevailing sentiment in the region and among the locally dominant Diola (Jola) ethnic group is that they do not benefit sufficiently from their region’s wealth and that Dakar, the capital, reaps most of the profit that is rightfully theirs.


Another factor is the Casamance region’s geographical isolation from Senegal due to the existence of The Gambia. Indeed, the region is poorly connected to the rest of the country by a long, and often nearly impassable road that passes through the eastern Tambacounda region. It is possible, however, to travel from central Senegal to the Casamance by way of the sea or though the territory of the Gambia, but neither option is easy. As a result of such isolation, the Casamance sometimes seems cut off from the rest of the country, and the frustration caused by this alienation fuels a fierce desire among some of its inhabitants to free themselves from the rule of Dakar.

When I visited Senegal this past December, I was told how most Senegalese convoys get across The Gambia. The only way to go to the Casamance without taking a detour all around the Gambia, which would take days, is to cross the River Gambia itself. However, there is no bridge that would make this traversal easy. Indeed, the only current way to get across is a ferry, whose ownership was shifted from the Gambia Public Transport Corporation to the Port Authority in 2001. The authority is eager to maintain its monopoly, and reluctant to allow the construction of a competing bridge. As a result, trucks line up for up to 5 days to get across the river, generating a huge loss of efficiency and profitability, especially for trucks carrying perishables.

Casamance3 Although the Senegalese government has made some efforts at a bridge initiative, the Gambian ferry company has done everything within its power to prevent the implementation of this project. Recently however, The Gambia has paired with the Taiwanese government to enhance the ferry service, which has been highly hazardous. Taiwan is not the only East Asian country interested in Senegal and the Gambia. According to our guides, the Chinese are building soccer stadiums in all major Senegalese towns and cities, ostensibly ‘for free’ but actualy in exchange for fishing rights in the bountiful waters off the coast.

 Casamance4On top of the lack of accessibility, the Casamance faces a major problem in drug trafficking. Drug traffickers take advantage of the local isolation and instability to expand their business, turning the border that the Casamance shares with Guinea Bissau into a hub for the illicit trade. The rebel leaders therefore have a very profitable business in hand and are unlikely to accept anything less than a very favorable settlement. Unfortunately, the Senegalese government is seemingly unwilling to seek a resolution to this issue. While hundreds of Senegalese soldiers are present throughout the Casamance, they have made little headway against the rebellion, and there are growing concerns about human rights violations and the disabling of local economic development. Concrete negotiations with the separatists have not happened for many years. It now seems clear that neither party in really seeking to bring the other to the table for open discussion. Finally, there has been an unfortunate lack of media attention on this conflict. The Senegalese government has also failed to provide information. Indeed, since the inception of the conflcit, no concrete or official figures have been released regarding the number of victims. Some sources, however, claim that up to 5,000 people have lost their lives over the past several decades of fighting.

To add insult to injury, the death toll has been severely exacerbated by the lingering presence of landmines scattered across the region, which has also lead to the abandonment of many villages by former inhabitants. A reported 800 people have lost their lives due to mines since 1988, and the lack of action from the Senegalese government has meant that the demining work has largely been left up to a select group of NGOs. Although a few initiatives have been launched, such as the DDP “disarmament, demining, and ‘projects’” put forward by former President Wade, these peace initiatives have been largely unsuccessful. However, with a recent acceleration of violence, support for the separatist rebels has been dwindling among many locals. In an interview with the IRIN, Moussa Sagna, a trader and resident of Zinguinchor, explains: “The rebels must stop creating violence in the region; they must understand that it is their parents who have suffered now, for 30 years. They shouldn’t fight for the independence of Casamance and at the same time make people suffer in Casamance.”


 If Senegal wants to experience genuine economic development in a near future, it will need to monbilize all the assets that are in its possession. However, it is doubtful this will happen in the absence of its potentially richest region. The Casamance not only has substantial natural resources, but also has great potential for tourism. There can be no question of the urgency for Senegal of the Casamance problem. Economic opportunities remain unrealized, the drug trafficking virus keeps spreading, and the death toll seems to have maintained a steady pace since the early 1980s. With Senegal’s newly instilled biometric visa regime and entry fee for tourists, as well as the discontinuation of the famous Paris-Dakar rally, tourism has experienced a serious hit over the past few years. The government will thus need to find another means to revive its economy, which has not had the same impressive growth rates that many African countries have experienced over the past few years.


Religious Change and Tension in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Religion MapEthiopia is currently undergoing a religious transformation that could be of major significance for the rapidly growing country of 91 million people. For centuries the territory that now constitutes the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was divided between an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian core (with a Jewish minority), a Sunni Muslim zone in the east, and an animist/indigenous-faith area in the south and the lowland reaches of the far west. Ethiopia’s Jewish community, however, as been diminishing rapidly over the past several decades, and is scheduled to essentially disappear this year as the last members of the Beta Israel community depart for Israel. Indigenous faiths are also diminishing, in most cases yielding to Protestant Christianity, which in turn is said to be growing at a brisk annual rate of 6.7 percent. Protestantism is also apparently making headway in some areas of Orthodox Christianity, generating tension between the two communities. Some Protestant leaders claim that members of their churches are being attacked by both Muslims and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in several different parts of the country, adding that such assaults are often ignored by the Ethiopian government. Other accounts, however, state that religious tensions have declined in most parts of Ethiopia since the start of the new millennium, noting however that they tend to persist in Muslim-dominated rural areas.

Orthodox Christianity MapAccording to Ethiopia’s 1994 census, Christians then constituted 61.6 percent of the population, with Muslims accounting for 32.8 percent and animists a mere 4.6 percent. At the time, just over half of Ethiopia’s people belonged to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, with Protestants (10.1%) and a small number of Roman Catholics (0.9%) rounding out the Christian population. By the 2007 census, however, Orthodox churchgoers constituted only 43.5 percent of the population, while membership in Protestant sects had surged to 18.6 percent. Islam showed a slight gain in the same period, increasing to 33.9 percent, while animism declined to 2.6 percent.

Christianity Ethiopia MapChristianity became the established faith of the Auxumite Kingdom, often seen as the distant predecessor of the modern Ethiopian state, in the fourth century, arguably making Ethiopia one of the oldest Christian countries in the world. Despite the fact that the traditional form of Christianity practiced in Ethiopia is deemed “Orthodox,” it is not one of the Eastern Orthodox faiths. Rather, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church belongs to a Christian branch sometimes deemed “Oriental Orthodoxy.” Other members of this group include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Syriac Orthodox Church (centered in Damascus), and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the Indian state of Kerala. The Ethiopian Church had been under the authority of the Coptic Church of Egypt until 1959, when it was granted its own patriarch. To this day, the leader of the Coptic Church occupies an elevated position within the Oriental Orthodox realm, as only he has the rank of “Pope”—although that title gives him little actual power over the other churches, all of which remain in communion with one another. A new Oriental Orthodox church was created, however, in 1994 when the Coptic Pope Shedouda III recognized the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church as autocephalous (“self-heading”). The Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches are differentiated by little other than the bitter political separation of the Ethiopian and Eritrean states.

Ethiopian Orthodoxy MapThe Oriental Orthodox faith split from Western and Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the fifth century, when its leaders rejected the articles of faith established by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. As a result, these churches are sometimes referred to as “non-Chalcedonian.” This division occurred over different interpretations of the nature of Christ. According to the victorious party at Chalcedon, “Jesus is one person in two complete natures, one human and one divine,” whereas their opponents either stressed the separation of the divine and human natures of Jesus (Nestorianism) or their unity (Monophysitism). The Oriental Orthodox Churches are often classified as Monophysite, but they reject the label, preferring the term “Miaphysite.” According to the orthodox Miaphysite position, “in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one or single nature (“physis“), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.”

(I must admit to finding early Christian debates about the nature of Jesus and the Trinity to be baffling. Evidently, befuddlement is widespread; for an amusing “Lutheran Satire” on the proper conception of the Trinity, see the video posted here: “Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies.”)

Islam Ethiopia MapIn contemporary Ethiopia, religious tensions are pronounced in parts of the vast region of Oromia. The Oromos are the largest ethno-linguistic group in Ethiopia (34.5% of the population), clearly outnumbering the politically and culturally dominant Amhara (26.9%) and Tigray (6.0%) peoples. A political movement for enhanced Oromo autonomy, if not outright independence, has long challenged Ethiopia’s national integrity. The indigenous Oromo faith is often described as more monotheistic than animistic, centering on the worship of the single God, Waaqa. Although this religion still has adherents, most Oromos have converted to either Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity or Sunni Islam, doing so in roughly equal numbers. Under the reign of Haile Selassie in the 1960s, Christian missionary activities among the Oromo were officially encouraged. Some observers, however, maintain that the indigenous Oromo faith persists in syncretic form under a veneer of either Islam or Christianity.*

Such a complex and shifting religious environment in Oromia presents a good opportunity for Protestant proselytizers—whose success in turn generates animosity from both Orthodox Christian and Muslim stalwarts. Oromo nationalists accuse the Ethiopian government of exacerbating religious tensions in Oromia in order to “divide and rule.” They claim not only that Islam has been repressed due to fears about deepening fundamentalism, but that the indigenous Oromo faith has been targeted as well. According to Aisha Ali, president of the Australian Oromo Community:

[O]n September 30th 2012, the Oromo Thanksgiving day was celebrated in Oromia, 52 innocent people, some of whom followers of the Waaqeffannaa indigenous Oromo religion, were arrested by armed Ethiopian officials. The reasons as to why they were arrested is not unfamiliar with the Oromo ethnic group, nonsense reasons, such as wearing incorrect colours patterning red-green-red to symbolize the Oromo resistance movement, have been the motivation of the arrests.

Ethiopian Protestantism MapEthiopia’s most Protestant region is Gambela, situated in the western lowlands, adjacent to South Sudan. The Nilotic-speaking peoples of the region, including the Nuer and the Anuak, were traditional animists who have mostly converted to Protestant Christianity over the past several decades. Gambela is an extremely troubled region, experiencing severe ethnic tension and struggles with the state in recent decades. The migration into the region of both Ethiopian highlanders and Nuer people from South Sudan has exacerbated tensions, which are particularly marked between the Nuer and the Anuak. Some observers accuse the Ethiopia government of pursuing genocidal policies against the Anuak, who do seem to have lost much ground in the local struggle. In this conflict, religion does not apparently play a prominent role.

Protestant Christianity has also made headway in the extremely diverse Ethiopian region known as Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples. This region includes many so-called tribal populations as well as groups, such as the Sidama, who once had their own small kingdoms. Animism is still found in this area, but Protestant Christianity has recently emerged as the majority faith. According to the Wikipedia, the Sidama, who number almost three million, overwhelmingly followed their own religion until the coming of European missionaries in the 1960s. By the 1994 census, however, more than two thirds of them had converted to Protestantism, while almost eight percent had opted for Islam.

Ethiopia Animism MapThe western Ethiopian region of Benishangul-Gumuz has also seen pronounced religious change in recent decades. Animism is still relatively widespread in the region, but Islam has gained ground due to connections with neighboring Sudan, while Orthodox Ethiopian Christianity has spread with the migration of highlanders to this relatively lightly populated area. The complex religious environment in Benishangul-Gumuz probably deserves its own post, which may be forthcoming.

Protestants are generally called “Pentay” in Ethiopia, referencing Pentecostalism—even though most adherents are not actually Pentecostals. A majority of Ethiopian Protestants belong to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), which was formed under the encouragement of the Lutheran and Presbyterian missionary societies. During Ethiopia’s Communist period under the Derg in the 1970s, the EECMY was singled out for brutal repression. The Mennonite/Anabaptist branch of Protestant Christianity is also well represented. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, Ethiopia’s Meserete Kristos Church “is the largest Anabaptist conference in the world.”

According to a Wikipedia article on the subject, “Evangelical Ethiopian Christians state that their form of Christianity is both the reformation of the current Orthodox Tewahido church as well as the restoration of it to the original Ethiopian Christianity. They believe Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity was paganized after the 960s, during the reign of queen Gudit, who destroyed & burned most of the church’s possessions and scriptures.” According to another Wikipedia article, Gudit was a semi-legendary figure who may have been Jewish. The history of religion in Ethiopia is evidently a complex matter that probably deserves more attention than it generally receives.

* An excerpt from “Oromia: an Introduction,” by Gadaa Melbaa, Khartoum, Sudan 1988, frames the issue as follows: “There are many Oromo who are followers of Islam or Christianity and yet still practice the original Oromo religion. Bartels (1983) expressed this reality as follows: “Whether they (Oromo) became Christians or Muslims, the Oromo’s traditional modes of experiencing the divine have continued almost unaffected, in spite of the fact that several rituals and social institutions in which it was expressed, have been very diminished or apparently submerged in new ritual cloaks.” Many used to visit, until very recently, the Galma and pay due respect to their clan Qaallu. This is more true in regions where Abyssinian Orthodox Christianity prevails.”

The Paradoxes of Ethiopia’s Dam-Building Boom

African Hydropoer PotentialThe Wikipedia article on Dams and Hydropower in Ethiopia claims that “Ethiopia considers itself the powerhouse of Africa due to its high hydropower potential.” But while Ethiopia’s hydropower resources are indeed impressive, they are dwarfed by those of DR Congo, as the Congo River alone is said to account for as much as 13 percent of total global hydroelectric potential. But due to DR Congo’s political instability and lack of effective government, Ethiopia has emerged as the leader in African hydropower development. As Ethiopia is too poor to finance dam construction on a massive scale, most of the funding has come from China. In earlier decades, the World Bank had often supported such projects, but it pulled back from hydropower initiatives in the 1990s due to environmental and social concerns. The Bank is currently reconsidering its stance, with an eye to the staggering electricity-generating potential of the Congo River.

List of Ethiopian DamsEthiopia’s current hydroelectric dam-building program is large indeed, as can be seen in the table posted here. The 6,000 megawatt Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be particularly powerful, although its output will still be well below that of China’s 23,500 MW Three Gorges Dam. The resulting surge of power will allow Ethiopia to pursue mass electrification, as currently less than ten percent of its population has access to electricity. But domestic demand alone will not be adequate to justify the costs of the dams, substations, and transmission lines. Ethiopia’s electrical rates are currently low, but the population is too poor to allow substantial price increases. Ethiopia’s meager 17 percent urbanization rate, along with its vast expanses of rugged terrain, will further inhibit the development of its domestic electricity market. As a result, it will have to export electricity to neighboring countries if it is to profit adequately from its current investments.

As it turns out, electricity is already being exported from Ethiopia. December 2011 saw the inauguration of the 283 kilometer (176 mile) Ethiopia-Djibouti transmission line, which is now bringing Ethiopia an estimated $1.5 million a month. The line has significantly reduced Djibouti’s consumption of fossil fuels. The linkage to Djibouti is no surprise, as the small country provides Ethiopia’s main access to the sea. Power lines to Sudan are also being built, but this project has been delayed by the international sanctions imposed on SUNIR International, an Iranian firm that is building substations. Kenya is expected to be the largest importer of Ethiopian power. A $1.26 billion transmission line connecting the two countries is slated to be finished by the end of 2016. A more ambitious project is the Eastern Africa Power Pool, which would connect the power grids of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Djibouti, and which could potentially be extended to southern Africa.

Map of Major ETthiopian DamsEthiopia’s dam-building program has generated intense criticism from environmental and cultural-survival organizations. A particular focus of concern is the Gibe III and related projects on the Omo River in the southwest, Ethiopia’s most ethnically diverse area. These projects will not only prevent the annual flooding of the river, which supports local subsistence farming and herding, but will also turn large areas of the lower valley into export-oriented farmlands. A recent report in The Guardian notes harsh repression against villagers resisting the dam and irrigation development. As International Rivers frames the situation:

Descending from the central Ethiopian plateau, the Omo River meanders across the country’s parched southwest before spilling into Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake. The Omo River is a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of indigenous farmers, herders and fishermen, who depend on its nourishing floods to sustain their most reliable sources of food.

But Ethiopia’s plans to build Gibe III Dam threatens the food security and local economies that support more than half a million people in southwest Ethiopia and along the shores of Kenya’s Lake Turkana. Construction began in 2006 with flagrant violations of Ethiopia’s own laws on environmental protection and procurement practices, and the national constitution. The project’s US$1.7 billion contract was awarded without competition to Italian construction giant Salini, raising serious questions about the project’s integrity. As of early 2012, the dam was reportedly half complete.

Although environmental activists in Kenya are worried about environmental and cultural consequences in their own country from damming the Omo River, the Kenyan government is eager for the electricity, and hence willing to overlook all such problems. The effects on Lake Turkana (formerly called Lake Rudolf), however, could be severe, leading some writers to make comparisons with the Aral Sea. Although Turkana is alkaline and brackish, it supports an important fishery as well as a minor tourism industry. It is also highly vulnerable to reduced water flow. As noted in Mail & Guardian, a 2006 drought in Ethiopia:

turned into a nightmare for local fishermen, forced into deeper waters and hostile zones in search of fish migrating from receding southern shores. Weapons, mainly AK-47 assault rifles, have been added to their usual gear alongside the poles and nets.

The Omo River projects are more controversial than those located farther to the north, as they will displace far more people and cause much more widespread environmental damage. Most of the dams in central and northern Ethiopia are geared to electrical generation, without major agricultural components, and they tend to be located in lightly populated areas. Still, criticisms of these projects have been harsh as well. The Ethiopian government is relatively repressive and authoritarian, and it has not tolerated open debate on the benefits and detriments of massive dam building. Contracts have also been awarded without competitive bids, often to the Italian firm Salini, leading to warnings about corruption. Concerns have also been raised about drought, which may become more intensive due to climate change, undermining electricity generation.

Environmental and other anti-dam groups argued that Ethiopia can forgo the construction of large hydropower projects and instead obtain adequate power from solar arrays, wind-farms, geo-thermal projects, and micro-hydro installations. International Rivers in particular advocates small, decentralized power sources, which it claims are “better suited to meeting the needs of the rural majority (and better suited to adapting to the hydrological risks of a changing climate).” Unfortunately, power from most “green renewable” sources tends to be much more expensive than that from large-scale hydro, requiring as well electricity storage for periods without sun or wind, which are major concerns, especially in a country as poor as Ethiopia. Solar and wind power, moreover, would not allow the possibility of electricity export, a feature highly valued by not only by Ethiopia but also by Kenya, Djibouti, and other neighboring countries.

Africa’s electricity demand is growing steady and will surge ahead if the region experiences sustained economic growth. Hydropower, along with the development of an integrated electrical grid, could allow this demand to be met without producing large quantities of greenhouse gasses. Trade-offs, however, will be unavoidable. In some cases, negative environmental and cultural consequences may well outweigh any environmental benefits. But it does seem inevitable that the early 21st century will be an era of major dam construction across much of sub-Saharan Africa, with Ethiopia leading the way. If DR Congo were to follow suit, the consequences could be enormous. But for that to happen, the development of political stability and effective governance in the vast central African country will first be necessary.


Egyptian Protests, Ethiopian Dams, and the Hydropolitics of the Nile Basin

Nile Hydropolitics MapWater struggles in the Nile Basin have recently intensified as Egyptian nationalists denounce Ethiopia’s building of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the river’s largest tributary. Ethiopia is now diverting the river in preparation for construction, angering many Egyptians, whose country is heavily dependent on the Nile flow. Protestors gathered in front of the Ethiopian embassy in Cairo last week as the Egyptian opposition lambasted the Morsi administration for allowing the project to proceed. The reaction from the Egyptian government, however, was muted. The country’s irrigation and water resources minister ruled out any “military solution” to the controversy—an option advanced by figures in previous Egyptian administrations. Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil met with his Ethiopian counterpart in Tokyo to smooth over the budding crisis. The two negotiators agreed that “the dam would not affect Egypt’s share of Nile water.” They also optimistically predicted that “the next period would see increased levels of coordination between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to find a consensus surrounding Nile water issues.”

As the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is designed primarily for hydroelectric power rather than irrigation, its effect on the flow of the Blue Nile will be minor. Some water will be lost from evaporation, which is intense in this hot, low-elevation region of Ethiopia, as well as seepage. Yet Egypt and especially Sudan will also benefit slightly from the dam, as it will trap sediments that would otherwise flow downstream, thus prolonging the lives of their major reservoirs. Ethiopia may also sell surplus electricity from the facility to Egypt. As the Grand Renaissance will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric facility, and as Ethiopia is currently building other major dams, it may have power to spare in the coming years.

Ethiopian Grand Renaissance DamMuch of the antipathy to the project in Egypt stems from the country’s political opposition, particular its liberal and Coptic Christian elements. The noted Coptic writer Sameh Fawzy, who stresses Muslim-Christian commonalities, has called for the project to be rejected outright, while Mohamed Hanafy, parliament member from the relatively liberal Al-Wafd Party, argues that Ethiopian hydrological engineering presents a national crisis, adding that  “Israel, Qatar, and China are behind the construction of the dam.” (Although China is financing the turbines and associated electrical facilities, most of the rest of the funding is apparently coming from Ethiopia’s own government.) The leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi has gone so far as to argue that Egypt should consider preventing the dam’s foreign supporters from using the Suez Canal. It would appear that non-Islamist elements are trying to use the issue both to oppose the Morsi administration and to spark pan-Egyptian solidarity in hopes of reducing the country’s religious division. Egypt’s Christian establishment has also found an important diplomatic role to play, owing to the fact that the Coptic Church is in communion with Ethiopia’s majority faith, the Orthodox Tewahedo Church. As noted in a recent Al-Monitor article:

Ramses El-Najjar, a lawyer for the Coptic Church, revealed that the presidency delegated Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II to mediate in the crisis with Ethiopia. He explained that the pope received calls from the presidency urging the Egyptian church to intervene with the Ethiopian church — which was historically affiliated with the former — in order to reach a consensual solution to the crisis.

Egyptian nationalists are concerned about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam not merely because of the threats posed by the project itself, but also because it is connected with a larger hydro-political realignment that could prove much more menacing. Since 1999, the countries of the Nile drainage system— Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—have worked together through the Nile Basin Initiative to “develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security.” This World-Bank-funded program has generally upheld a 1929 colonial treaty that requires up-stream countries to obtain permission from Egypt and Sudan before engaging in any major water-development projects. In 2010, however, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi signed a new treaty designed to allow up-stream countries more hydrological leeway and autonomy. Egypt and Sudan were infuriated and refused to agree to the new agreement. DR Congo, however, is expected to sign, as is South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011.

The new agreement signed by the up-stream countries emphasizes the equitable sharing of water among all countries of the basin:

Nile Basin States shall in their respective territories utilize the water resources of the Nile River system and the Nile River Basin in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, those water resources shall be used and developed by Nile Basin States with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization thereof and benefits therefrom, taking into account the interests of the Basin States concerned, consistent with adequate protection of those water resources. Each Basin State is entitled to an equitable and reasonable share in the beneficial uses of the water resources of the Nile River system and the Nile River Basin.

285428591_3857ca93dcAlthough Egypt and Sudan have recently found common ground in opposing the revised pact, the two countries have often been in contention over the Nile. As the 1929 treaty gave Egypt priority for the entire flow of the river, when Sudan gained independence in 1956 it demanded revision. A new agreement reached in 1959 allotted 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually to Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan. In the future, however, Sudan may want more water than that; unlike the upstream countries, it has vast tracks of flat, fertile, semi-arid land that could profit greatly from expanded irrigation. In the late 20th century, Sudan had planned to increase it water supplies by draining the Sudd wetlands of the far south, where evaporation losses are huge. Owing to the southern rebellion, the massive Jonglei Canal project was abruptly halted in 1984, its gargantuan machinery left to rust away. The entire project has now been made moot by the independence of South Sudan.

Intense Ethnic Divisions in the 2013 Kenyan Election

Kenya 2013 Election MapMedia reports of the recent Kenyan presidential election have generally focused on the facts that the contest was not as violent as many feared it would be, and that the winner, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been charged by the International Criminal Court with committing crimes against humanity in relation to the bloody presidential election of 2007. Some articles have also mentioned the intensely ethnic nature of the voting pattern, the topic of today’s GeoNote.

Although the election was relatively close, with Kenyatta receiving just over 50 percent of the vote, in most counties the results were extremely lopsided. As can be seen on the map that I constructed, in most cases Kenyatta either took over 80 percent of the vote or less than 30 percent, with his tally ranging from more than 97 percent (Nyandarua) to less than a quarter of one percent (Homa Bay). Such patterns reflect ethnic divisions. In the most basic terms, Kenyatta won handily in Kikuyu and Kalenjin areas, whereas his opponent, Raila Odinga, won by similar margins in Luo and Kamba areas. Not surprisingly, Kenyatta is himself Kikuyu, whereas his running mate, William Ruto, is Kalenjin, while Odinga is Luo, and his running mate, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, is Kamba.  Such a divisional pattern is typical in Kenyan elections. The voting behavior of the fifth of Kenya’s “big five” ethnic groups, the Luhya, is less predictable.  As the Wikipedia explains:

In Kenyan politics, the Luhya population commonly referred to as the Luhya vote in an election year, is usually a deciding factor of the outcome of an election. The community is known to unite and vote as a block usually for a specific political candidate without division of mind and regardless of political differences. Given their high population numbers, a political candidate who enjoys Luhya support is almost always poised to win the country’s general elections, barring incidents of fraud. The community is thereafter “rewarded” politically, by one of their own being appointed vice president or to a high profile political office by the winning candidate.

Kenya Counties mapIn the 2013 election, however, such patterns did not hold, as the Luhya voted fairly strongly for Odinga, the losing candidate. As it was known ahead of time that Odinga was popular in Luhya-land, some bloggers thereby incorrectly predicted that he would win the election. Evidently Kenyatta did better than expected among some of the country’s smaller ethnic groups.

These election returns indicate that Kenya has a fairly poorly consolidated sense of common nationality. Here, ethnicity matters far more than anything else, outweighing national issues and ideological divisions. Although regionally and ethnically skewed elections are common in many countries, seldom are they as extreme as in Kenya.

(Data source: Electoral Politics:

Inset Map: