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Christianists and Islamists in Africa: face to face

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 27 January 2010

It was a personal privilege to meet Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye; they are warriors and men of the cloth. They invest as much energy and conviction into disarming Christian and Muslim militia today as they had consecrated in the past to training and encouraging these same militia to fight.

Religion upturns classic conflict typologies

Meeting them also opened my eyes. I thought I knew what caused the conflicts in Nigeria, in Africa in general:

- inappropriate frontiers, interference, and destabilization between neighboring states,

- armed competition for natural resources,

- armed ethnic minorities resisting against the dominant State power of an ethnic majority,

- wars between military dictatorships for power,

- the hardening of Cold War conflicts.

The interactions and effects of reinforcement and appropriation exist amidst these five types of conflicts, as well as the constant possibility of criminalizing conflicts. All these factors contribute to a brutal, complex, yet familiar landscape. According to the Pastor and the Imam, this geopolitical tangle has masked another reality, one that is more discreet because it has long been hidden in the depths of civil society, more difficult to define because it is largely covert, less talked about because it has long been considered a secondary issue by the States. A low intensity, religious based conflict endures between Christian and Muslim militias who both feel mutually threatened. This slowly burning conflict between Christianity and Islam could potentially spread throughout the Sahel; extending across the eastern edge of the continent where successive migrations and influences have resulted in the co-existence of both religions.

Low intensity, religious based conflicts

The type of mobilization discussed by the Imam and the Pastor follows a precise sequence:

- the feeling that the “provocations” inflicted by others remain unpunished by a weak and partial State, determined to look the other way,

- a desire by minority groups to defend themselves,

- the parallel organization of an armed, secret community at the periphery of the official community of faithful,

- the militia’s tactical organization of the territory (training fields, arsenals, surveillance networks, front lines to defend, positions to maintain),

- tension mounts in the society at the thought that others are armed; any incident can lead to conflict,

- desire to make a portion of the territory safe by deporting, destroying, and/or disarming the military structures of the other side. Confronted with the different options – surveillance, defense, demonstration of strength, frontal attacks – factions of the militia eventually diverge, divide, and break off.

A complex pattern that holds true throughout the continent

When listening to the Pastor and the Imam, who have become advocates for disarmament and conflict prevention between « Christianist » and Islamist militia, several things become evident:

- the disparity between what drives the religious force and what mobilizes the militia. Both the Pastor and the Imam describe communities of intense faithful searching for a new authenticity in their faith, looking for a more personal appropriation of the legacy of tradition. This can give rise to not only a temptation for a religious radicalism, but also to changes in affiliation due to the search for a reformed faith: changes in spiritual leaders, brotherhoods, churches. The religious landscape is changing but this change does not provoke political mobilization.

- The misleading overlap of two levels: the majority of the faithful and the religious leaders call for civil peace and harmony but prove to be incapable of controlling military logics of self defense that is implemented undercover of an apparent peace, logic they ignore or tolerate;

- the profound similarities that the Pastor and the Imam acknowledge in the military context of Christian/Muslim confrontations in different African territories;

- the generalized criticism of all the States, presented as corrupt, weak, passive, manipulating…

Civil society, a solution to State failings

This leads us to two possible conclusions:

- the potential for destruction between Christians and Muslims remains intact and constitutes a serious, endogenous threat to peace;

- the State is so discredited that grass-roots initiatives are the only credible entities capable of reducing tensions. International intervention would not be any more efficient. This is why using a purely religious desire for a more authentic faith to call for forgiveness and harmony between militias is perhaps, despite its utopian appearances and inherent risk of excess, one of the more realistic paths.

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An Ethical Framework for Debt Management?

Posted by Jean-Michel Severino on 14 January 2010

Some time ago I met with leaders of several NGOs from a ‘Debt and Development Platform’. The quality of our exchanges gave me the idea to continue our discussions on debt.

This issue regularly finds itself repositioned at the forefront: large waves of debt cancellation at the bilateral (HIPC) and multilateral (MDRI) level; the emergence of new sovereign lenders, particularly China; the renewed activity of the so-called “vulture funds” (investors who bought the debt of poor countries on the secondary market to recover its nominal value). At the same time, the renewed attention on the duties of creditors with respect to domestic consumers, brought by the subprime meltdown, is reminiscent of debates about the responsibility of developed countries during the Third World debt crisis of the 1980s.

Today, the issue of developing country debt is raised in a very different context. Current circumstances call for reviving a policy of loan financing, drawing on lessons from history and using new tools. In my view, the real issue is the definition of rights and duties of each stakeholder, within a context of both desirable and responsible borrowing. Three major pillars can provide a solid foundation for such a policy.

A new debt policy

The first pillar concerns debt cancellation programs, which have allowed for the restoration of solvency in most countries. African debt was reduced to one-third of its original value, freeing up resources for social policies. The success of these debt cancellations – which were necessary – should not lead us to discard loan-financed assistance, as loans remain useful instruments in the diversified pallet of financial tools that should be placed at the service of developing countries.

Offering responsible loans

Take the example of Africa. Business on the continent is developing and its economy is growing (more than 6% on average between 2003 and 2008). And this emerging Africa has a crucial and pressing need to invest. Without access to long-term financing, there could be no public investment with positive externalities – in infrastructure, human capital, and health – and thus no long-term growth. Clearly, given the current volume of development, the financing of the infrastructure projects that African economies need (ports, airports, dams, water systems, etc.) cannot be limited to grants. I am therefore convinced that our role as stakeholders is to offer new financing mechanisms to African countries while addressing their vulnerabilities. In view of the opportunities available to them, African states will not hesitate to look elsewhere for the resources required to support this renewed growth. New donors offer attractive and significant financing opportunities but the conditions they impose are often less than clear. That’s why it is urgent to offer responsible propositions to African countries that allow them to measure the comparative advantages of each partnership.

A historical example :  the 1970-80 crisis

The second pillar is forged on the memory of past failures – the best means to prevent their resurgence. During the 1970s-80s, the international community demonstrated a lack of foresight. It allowed developing countries to be engulfed in the so-called “scissors crisis” – that combination of a drop in commodity prices (which proved to be lasting) and rising interest rates that has fostered spiraling, unsustainable debt. To confront the problem of budget-gouging debt, donors had recourse to Structural Adjustment Programs, a form of shock therapy that, although it allowed the return of a balanced budget, constrained investments in African infrastructure and social capital. But what was true yesterday is not necessarily applicable today. The sources of African growth -beginning with its demographic weight – are considerably more stable and sustainable than in the 1970s. As for commodity prices, it’s a good bet that they will remain high in the years to come. The question today is not so much whether we should reject the loan instrument but how to promote sustainable and responsible borrowing.

Finding appropriate instruments for a new type of debt governance

The third pillar stems from current developments. There are two major lessons learned from the debt crisis that are well illustrated today: the need for international coordination, and the need for better diagnosis of credit problems. The first requires greater cooperation between all stakeholders within a clearly defined framework. The establishment of an international monitoring tool, the Debt Sustainability Framework (DSF), is based on that logic. In September 2008 was held the Accra conference on aid effectiveness. This gathering dealt with, among other issues, the problem of collective discipline – a major and timely issue as we intend to offer a new loan packages to Africa, since transparency, mutual responsibility, and collective discipline are the three conditions of our success in this area. The second lesson calls for finding appropriate instruments for a new type of debt governance. These tools already exist. My agency has introduced a “countercyclical loan”: this instrument includes an insurance mechanism in the event of exogenous shock – the financial translation of force majeure – which reduces debtor vulnerability. In order for these innovative instruments to come to fruition, however, they must be applied on a larger scale.

These developments thus point to a convergence toward the concept of shared responsibility between debtor and creditor. In order to carve “in stone” the rights and duties of each, would it not be possible to identify an international corpus of debt practices or customs, based on past and present experience, both good and bad? By demonstrating that they are able to both learn from their mistakes and develop instruments to avoid the recurrence of future crises, donors could build the foundations for a type of international debt law. It would be based on the three pillars mentioned: analysis of the failures of the 1970s-80s, the practice of debt cancellation, and current borrowing practices, proposing reliable mechanisms and using responsible instruments.

It would not be the first attempt to bring sovereign debt into the realm of law. Anne Krueger, then number two at the IMF, proposed in 2001 a mechanism for restructuring sovereign debt, based on the model of U.S. bankruptcy law – an interesting initiative, but one that was not followed up.

Initiating a debate on this subject would help fill the international void on this topic and provide useful discussion.

I would appreciate hearing your views on this issue, which seems to have reached a new turning point in its evolution.

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