The Stoic Revolutionary: Remembering Chris Hani



“What we need in South Africa is for egos to be suppressed in favour of peace. We need to create a new breed of South Africans who love their country and love everybody, irrespective of their colour”.

Chris Hani, the stoic revolutionary, assassinated 21 years ago on this day.

May his legacy be echoed.




Sometimes my truth will sound like fallacy;
Sometimes it will taste like freedom;
The tightrope we walk between fiction and fundamentalism;
Is conquered only by our need to forge;
Human bonds with super human expectations;
Friendships with non-desirables, everyone but ourselves;
Impressing the same man we should sock it to;
Afraid of the same music we should be dancing to;
Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I shall offer my people;
Protectors cutting us deep;
Watching us bleed;
Gambling with our lives before the eyes of our seed;
This city has sacrificed humanity and traded it for power;
Brute force, the fear of the badge meant to shield us;
Muting our voices, they yield us;
Pan-handled realities lay open at their feet;
Like dirty rags discarded in the street;
Will they choose to look?
Or refuse to see?

I wrote this poem in honour of Lunga Nono, the blind Cape Town busker who was the victim of police brutality on Monday 7th July 2013.

He was dragged, beaten and his guitar broken by metro police, all in full view of his wife and outraged onlookers who have long enjoyed his musical presence on the streets of Cape Town.

His only crime was waking up every morning to add music to the city and put food on his family’s table.

We hope to see him sharing his gift again soon.



madiba’s lessons in leadership


Lesson #1 – Courage is not the absence of fear – it’s inspiring others to move beyond it
As a leader, people model their behavior after you.  If a situation comes up and you appear panicked and fearful, those following you will respond in the same way.  Mandela’s learned to appear fearless and as a result inspired others.

Lesson #2 Lead from the front – but don’t leave your base behind
Be loyal to the people that put you in power.  When there is a difficult decision to be made, or a situation that is sticky to deal with, make sure that your supporters understand your actions and motives.  Having honest communication with you base increases your level of support even if they don’t fully agree with you.

Lesson #3 – Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front
It is often said that the greatest conversationalists do the least amount of talking.  That is because they spend their time listening.  Listen to those you lead and don’t enter the debate too early.  When the discussion is winding down, summarize points of view, share your thoughts and steer the decision in your direction without imposing it.  Mandela said, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.”

Lesson #4 – Know your enemy – and learn about his/her favorite sport
Learn as much as you can about those you will “go to battle with.”  By seeing the world from their eyes, it is easier to identify strengths and weaknesses and formulate tactics accordingly.  Knowing their favorite sport and teams allows you to identify on a more human level outside of the board room or “battle field.”

Lesson #5 – Keep your friends close – and your rivals even closer
Mandela believed that embracing and flattering rivals was a way to control them.  They were less dangerous in your circle of influence than they are on their own.  Invite those you don’t fully trust to dinner, compliment them, call them on their birthday and send them gifts.  You can neutral your rivals with charm.

Lesson #6 – Appearances matter – and remember to smile
First impressions are lasting impressions.  Strength and size are a matter of DNA and not a requirement for being a great leader but remember, appearances can do much to advance your cause and career.  People who are dressed well, smell good and are groomed appropriately immediately gain an advantage called the halo affect.  The halo affect associates your appearance with certain traits, either positive or negative.  For instance, looking professional, people assume you are a professional and give immediate credibility – whether you deserve it or not.  What traits does your appearance associate you with?

Lesson #7 – Nothing is black or white
Embrace the power of “AND” and let go of the “OR.”  Why choose between a raise OR more vacation time when you could figure out a way to increase productivity to earn a raise AND more vacation time.  Life is never either/or.  Decisions and situations are complicated so get comfortable navigating through contradictions.

Lesson #8 – Quitting is leading too
Recognizing when to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is one of the most difficult decisions a leader has to make, especially when it was your idea in the first place.  Ingratiate reality and know when to gracefully accept defeat.


“Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the struggle we serve.” (Presidential address to the ANC Transvaal Congress, also known as the “No Easy Walk to Freedom” speech, Transvaal, South Africa, Sept. 21, 1953)

“I had no specific belief except that our cause was just, was very strong and it was winning more and more support.” (Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 11, 1994)

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” (Chief Albert Luthuli Centenary Celebrations, Kwadukuza, Kwazulu-Natal, April 25, 1998, South Africa)

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” (90th birthday celebration of Walter Sisulu, Walter Sisulu Hall, Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa, May 18, 2002)

“It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.” (Closing address, 13th International AIDS Conference, Durban, South Africa, July 14, 2000)


1) Discover and embrace your passion in life.

‘The struggle is my life’ – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela personifies passion. He has sacrificed his private life and his youth for his people, and remains South Africa’s best known and loved hero. Mandela participated actively in politics to oppose the apartheid movement. Seeing the unfairness and discrimination that the black, coloured and indian people are subjected to in South Africa, he strived to end the racial segregation. His whole life is lived in the vision of creating racial equality.

When you are passionate, you have a clear purpose in life. You attract passionate people into your life. Passion is the fuel of life. It creates an abundance of energy that sustain your actions. We all now what it is like to be near someone who has found their passion in life. They have this charisma and forcefulness that compels us to follow their lead and do great things.


2) Never give up, ever.

Mandela spent 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner. But that has not left a dent in his spirit and stop him from continuing his struggle to rid South Africa of Apartheid. In 1994, 4 years after his release from prison, he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa at the age of 75.

Few could say they face the same kind of challenges and setbacks Mandela did. Even against a powerful, repressive government, he persisted. Even with his freedom taken away, his reputation grew as the most significant black leader of South Africa. In prison, Mandela kept at his struggle and influenced greatly the young black activist imprisoned in Robben Island, dubbed ‘Mandela University’, signifying his great influence in the anti apartheid movement even when imprisoned.

‘Not giving up’ has a new meaning observing the life of Mandela. When faced with challenges, he kept working to realize his dream, each time with new vigour, denying his enemy any chance of crushing his spirit.



3) Accepting the differences of others. Practice tolerance and compassion.

Nelson Mandela’s lifelong struggle is about racial equality. It is about having the compassion and being able to live with the differences and respecting each other.

In the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was charged with sabotage. Mandela’s statements in court during these trials are classics in the history of the resistance to apartheid, and they have been an inspiration to all who have opposed it. His statement from the dock of the Rivonia Trial ends with these words:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

‘Even after his release from prison, as President from May 1994 until June 1999, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.
Mandela encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated Springboks (the South African national rugby team) as South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup.(This is the theme of the 2009 film Invictus.) After the Springboks won an epic final over New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaaner, wearing a Springbok shirt with Pienaar’s own number 6 on the back. This was widely seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.’


4) Simplicity in life and Humility.

Mandela’s daily habits:

‘The years in jail reinforced habits that were already entrenched: the disciplined eating regime of an athlete began in the 1940s, as did the early morning exercise. Still today Nelson Mandela is up by 4.30am, irrespective of how late he has worked the previous evening. By 5am he has begun his exercise routine that lasts at least an hour. Breakfast is by 6.30, when the days newspapers are read. The day’s work has begun.

With a standard working day of at least 12 hours, time management is critical and Nelson Mandela is extremely impatient with unpunctuality, regarding it as insulting to those you are dealing with’.

It is believed that Mandela’s strict daily habits contributed to his health and long life. Simplicity and good habits pays great dividend in life.

Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities and is chancellor of the University of the North.

‘Mandela has received more than 250 awards over four decades, most notably the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly announced that Mandela’s birthday, 18 July, is to be known as ‘Mandela Day’ to mark his contribution to world freedom.’

Mandela retired from public life in 1999 to reside in his birth place – Qunu, Transkei. After retirement, Mandela was active as an advocate in numerous social and human rights organizations.

What’s remarkable is Mandela has successfully maintained his integrity and stature even after taking office when so many freedom fighters become dictators, intoxicated with power. Thus, he is hailed as one the great moral leader of our time.


Doing what’s right versus doing what’s popular.

Heroes are not perfect.

(sources: time,washington post & the hub)


kenny kunene’s open letter to president zuma


Dear President Jacob Zuma…

I’m writing this because I’ve never been more disappointed with the ANC you lead. I was once your fervent supporter, I attended some of those night vigils during your trials, and, like many, I believed you would be the force for change the youth and the poor desperately need in our country. Like many others, I donated to your cause when I was called on, and allowed my facilities to be used for ANC and Youth League meetings, sometimes for unusual meetings where your political comeback was planned.

You may wonder what qualifies me to make any kind of political comment. As everyone knows, I’m just a socialite and a businessman, but it’s also no secret I am a hobbyhorse for politicians to ride whenever they want to criticise “crass materialism” and the decay of morals. It’s true, I like to spend, and I’m not an angel, but unlike politicians I’m not spending taxpayers’ money. My real point is that, as a socialite and a businessman, I meet many people, including politicians. When they speak to your face, Mr President, they tell you your imperial clothes are very stylish. When they talk to me, and feel they are safe from your army of spies, most of them admit that you, the emperor, have no clothes.

The Gupta issue alone should be the last straw for many South Africans. But the extent of how much the Gupta family controls you, and by implication this country, has not even begun to be understood. It’s amazing how terrified most people in the ANC are to speak about this reality, because they truly fear you. Even if you’re not in government, tenders are used to inspire fear among people of influence. Thank God my livelihood is not dependent on tenders. I’ll save you the trouble of trying to find out if I have any tenders so you can cut me out of them. I don’t have any.

You show no loyalty even to those who kept you out of prison. After the Shaiks and Julius Malema, the Guptas must know that you can drop them faster than they could drop your name. In your quest for self-preservation, you have become heartless.

The reason I supported you and your campaign is because you were marketed to us as someone who would unify us and get rid of the politics of fear, but today there’s more fear and more division in the ANC than ever before. In public you smile and laugh, but in truth you behave like a monster, a tyrant who will target perceived enemies ruthlessly, and because of that fear few dare to speak openly. We’d have had yet another Cabinet reshuffle if your wings had not been clipped a little in Mangaung.

Of course, I am not so naive as to blame everything regrettable that happens in the ANC on you. But in my home province, the Free State, the premier, Ace Magushule, imitates your behaviour and even seems to be trying to outdo you in being entangled with the Guptas. He learnt it from you. He thinks its okay to blow R40-million (or R140-million, others say) on a website. It’s not a great website either, by the way. When even your Kenny Kunenes start thinking a guy is wasting money shamelessly, you should know how bad it is. Of course, we’d all like to know where that money really went.

This is not what the ANC is or should be. We thought it was bad enough with the Shaiks – but who could have predicted your, and therefore our, wholesale nationalisation by the Guptas?

Even your immediate community, your neighbours in Nkandla, have to walk past your ridiculously overpriced palace donated to you by a once-unsuspecting public, knowing how you have your own private clinic they cannot use and their children must play in the dusty streets among the stones, while your compound has an astroturf sports field that cost the taxpayer R3.5-million and costs R100 000 a month to maintain. How is fake grass a part of security upgrades?

Everyone knows the Public Protector’s report will find damning evidence of what went on there – but something must be said now already, in case you find a way to shut her up too.

It’s no wonder the ANC lost the vote in Nkandla. If the people who know you best, the place you are from and where you occupy tribal land, do not trust you enough to vote for you, why should the rest of us?

This ANC is no longer the ANC of John Langa Dube, Oliver Tambo and other illustrious names. I’m also getting tired of hearing about how the ANC is bigger than any individual.

There are those who are stubbornly loyal to the ANC, as if it’s some kind of marriage, who keep the faith that some day the party will return to its roots. But even if they’re my friends, I can’t enthusiastically join in with the declarations of those who say they will die in coffins wrapped in ANC colours, no matter what, as my former business partner Gayton McKenzie once said to me.

Mr President, I don’t want to be one of those who tell you in fear that you have clothes on, when it’s obvious you are completely exposed. I know the dogs will be set on me for saying this, but you have been naked for longer than most of us were willing to admit. And you’re now stripping the ANC of the last shred of its integrity. The world laughs at us.

I love the ANC, or what it’s supposed to be, but I don’t love your ANC. For those of us who care, the question now is, as Vladimir Lenin asked: “What is to be done?” – The Star

playboy Kunene

playboy Kunene

Zuma flips

Zuma flips


without water, revolution.

TEL ABYAD, Syria — I just spent a day in this northeast Syrian town. It was terrifying — much more so than I anticipated — but not because we were threatened in any way by the Free Syrian Army soldiers who took us around or by the Islamist Jabhet al-Nusra fighters who stayed hidden in the shadows. It was the local school that shook me up.

As we were driving back to the Turkish border, I noticed a school and asked the driver to turn around so I could explore it. It was empty — of students. But war refugees had occupied the classrooms and little kids’ shirts and pants were drying on a line strung across the playground. The basketball backboard was rusted, and a local parent volunteered to give me a tour of the bathrooms, which he described as disgusting. Classes had not been held in two years. And that is what terrified me. Men with guns I’m used to. But kids without books, teachers or classes for a long time — that’s trouble. Big trouble.

They grow up to be teenagers with too many guns and too much free time, and I saw a lot of them in Tel Abyad. They are the law of the land here now, but no two of them wear the same uniform, and many are just in jeans. These boys bravely joined the adults of their town to liberate it from the murderous tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, but now the war has ground to a stalemate, so here, as in so many towns across Syria, life is frozen in a no-man’s land between order and chaos. There is just enough patched-up order for people to live — some families have even rigged up bootleg stills that refine crude oil into gasoline to keep cars running — but not enough order to really rebuild, to send kids to school or to start businesses.

So Syria as a whole is slowly bleeding to death of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. You can’t help but ask whether it will ever be a unified country again and what kind of human disaster will play out here if a whole generation grows up without school.

“Syria is becoming Somalia,” said Zakaria Zakaria, a 28-year-old Syrian who graduated from college with a major in English and who acted as our guide. “Students have now lost two years of school, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and if this goes on for two more years it will be like Somalia, a failed country. But Somalia is off somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Syria is the heart of the Middle East. I don’t want this to happen to my country. But the more it goes on, the worse it will be.”

This is the agony of Syria today. You can’t imagine the war here continuing for another year, let alone five. But when you feel the depth of the rage against the Assad government and contemplate the sporadic but barbaric sect-on-sect violence, you can’t imagine any peace deal happening or holding — not without international peacekeepers on the ground to enforce it. Eventually, we will all have to have that conversation, because this is no ordinary war.

THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.

I came here to write my column and work on a film for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the “Jafaf,” or drought, one of the key drivers of the Syrian war. In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.

“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.

Because of the population explosion that started here in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better health care, those leaving the countryside came with huge families and settled in towns around cities like Aleppo. Some of those small towns swelled from 2,000 people to 400,000 in a decade or so. The government failed to provide proper schools, jobs or services for this youth bulge, which hit its teens and 20s right when the revolution erupted.

Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution. Just ask those who were here, starting with Faten, whom I met in her simple flat in Sanliurfa, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. Faten, 38, a Sunni, fled there with her son Mohammed, 19, a member of the Free Syrian Army, who was badly wounded in a firefight a few months ago. Raised in the northeastern Syrian farming village of Mohasen, Faten, who asked me not to use her last name, told me her story.

She and her husband “used to own farmland,” said Faten. “We tended annual crops. We had wheat, barley and everyday food — vegetables, cucumbers, anything we could plant instead of buying in the market. Thank God there were rains, and the harvests were very good before. And then suddenly, the drought happened.”

What did it look like? “To see the land made us very sad,” she said. “The land became like a desert, like salt.” Everything turned yellow.

Did Assad’s government help? “They didn’t do anything,” she said. “We asked for help, but they didn’t care. They didn’t care about this subject. Never, never. We had to solve our problems ourselves.”

So what did you do? “When the drought happened, we could handle it for two years, and then we said, ‘It’s enough.’ So we decided to move to the city. I got a government job as a nurse, and my husband opened a shop. It was hard. The majority of people left the village and went to the city to find jobs, anything to make a living to eat.” The drought was particularly hard on young men who wanted to study or marry but could no longer afford either, she added. Families married off daughters at earlier ages because they couldn’t support them.

Faten, her head conservatively covered in a black scarf, said the drought and the government’s total lack of response radicalized her. So when the first spark of revolutionary protest was ignited in the small southern Syrian town of Dara’a, in March 2011, Faten and other drought refugees couldn’t wait to sign on. “Since the first cry of ‘Allahu akbar,’ we all joined the revolution. Right away.” Was this about the drought? “Of course,” she said, “the drought and unemployment were important in pushing people toward revolution.”

ZAKARIA ZAKARIA was a teenager in nearby Hasakah Province when the drought hit and he recalled the way it turned proud farmers, masters of their own little plots of land, into humiliated day laborers, working for meager wages in the towns “just to get some money to eat.” What was most galling to many, said Zakaria, was that if you wanted a steady government job you had to bribe a bureaucrat or know someone in the state intelligence agency.

The best jobs in Hasakah Province, Syria’s oil-producing region, were with the oil companies. But drought refugees, virtually all of whom were Sunni Muslims, could only dream of getting hired there. “Most of those jobs went to Alawites from Tartous and Latakia,” said Zakaria, referring to the minority sect to which President Assad belongs and which is concentrated in these coastal cities. “It made people even more angry. The best jobs on our lands in our province were not for us, but for people who come from outside.”

Only in the spring of 2011, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, did the Assad government start to worry about the drought refugees, said Zakaria, because on March 11 — a few days before the Syrian uprising would start in Dara’a — Assad visited Hasakah, a very rare event. “So I posted on my Facebook page, ‘Let him see how people are living,’ ” recalled Zakaria. “My friends said I should delete it right away, because it was dangerous. I wouldn’t. They didn’t care how people lived.”

Abu Khalil, 48, is one of those who didn’t just protest. A former cotton farmer who had to become a smuggler to make ends meet for his 16 children after the drought wiped out their farm, he is now the Free Syrian Army commander in the Tel Abyad area. We met at a crushed Syrian Army checkpoint. After being introduced by our Syrian go-between, Abu Khalil, who was built like a tough little boxer, introduced me to his fighting unit. He did not introduce them by rank but by blood, pointing to each of the armed men around him and saying: “My nephew, my cousin, my brother, my cousin, my nephew, my son, my cousin …”

Free Syrian Army units are often family affairs. In a country where the government for decades wanted no one to trust anyone else, it’s no surprise.

“We could accept the drought because it was from Allah,” said Abu Khalil, “but we could not accept that the government would do nothing.” Before we parted, he pulled me aside to say that all that his men needed were anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons and they could finish Assad off. “Couldn’t Obama just let the Mafia send them to us?” he asked. “Don’t worry, we won’t use them against Israel.”

As part of our film we’ve been following a Syrian woman who is a political activist, Farah Nasif, a 27-year-old Damascus University graduate from Deir-az-Zour, whose family’s farm was also wiped out in the drought. Nasif typifies the secular, connected, newly urbanized young people who spearheaded the democracy uprisings here and in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. They all have two things in common: they no longer fear their governments or their parents, and they want to live like citizens, with equal rights — not as sects with equal fears. If this new generation had a motto, noted Aita, the Syrian economist, it would actually be the same one Syrians used in their 1925 war of independence from France: “Religion is for God, and the country is for everyone.”

But Nasif is torn right now. She wants Assad gone and all political prisoners released, but she knows that more war “will only destroy the rest of the country.” And her gut tells her that even once Assad is gone, there is no agreement on who or what should come next. So every option worries her — more war, a cease-fire, the present and the future. This is the agony of Syria today — and why the closer you get to it, the less certain you are how to fix it.

By Thomas. L. Friedman

(via NY Times)


Tel Abyad

Tel Abyad

daughter of the district

She saw the iron dragons come.

Plunder and rape the sweat of founding fathers;

Where once she skipped on toffee apple smiles;

They trod, they broke, fire face reptiles;

Her people’s blood, wildly scattered on foundations of love;

She cried, she screamed, for all she dreamed would change that day the iron dragons came.


Written in honour of my grandparents and all of my people who were residents of the District as children and were part of the generation who were displaced due to the group areas act.

Our place has gone, but our people remain.


(images by District Six Museum and UCT District Six archives)



nigeria’s boko haram

As the paved roads of north-eastern Nigeria begin to melt into the sands of the Sahara desert, a cluster of picture-perfect mud-and-thatch homes marks the entrance into Boko Haram territory. Here, barely 30 minutes’ drive from the neat government complexes flanked by fountains and tamarind trees in Borno state’s capital, Maiduguri, power slips almost entirely into the hands of the group trying to carve an Islamist state in Africa’s most populous country.
“They walk around here holding their guns as if they are carrying just ordinary bottles of water,” said Garba, an old man laying out bundles of straw in the blazing sun. He waved at the horizon where goats and camels grazed on scrubby bushes. “That is where they bury [their guns] in the sand.”

“You shouldn’t stay long – they kill anyone they don’t know here,” he added.
The increasing infiltration of far-flung settlements such as this, dotted along a route that leads into hideouts in the vast Sahara that spans porous borders, prompted Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, on Tuesday to impose a state of emergency on the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. “In many places, they have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty,” he said during the televised announcement.
Around 8,000 troops will be granted sweeping powers in an attempt to crush the insurgency militarily, a move that could inflame tensions with local communities and is likely to mean pulling some Nigerian troops from the west African-led force battling a separate Islamist insurgency in Mali.
Chris Olukolade, the national defence spokesman, said the bulk of military action would focus on border communities.

Bolstered by sophisticated weapons from Libya, The Guardian has learned Boko Haram is trying to strengthen its hold through chilling new tactics that include forcible conscription.
Indigo-robed men on camels ride past cars rusting on the side of the explosive-ridden road. The windows of government health centres have been blasted out, and bullet holes scar the weed-covered signposts of schools. Yards away from the remains of a camel protruding from the sand, a cluster of children in bright rags sit under the shade of a neem tree, carefully copying their lessons onto chalkboards in an almajari, or Qur’anic school.

In the dust-blown city of Maiduguri, where the group’s secretive membership has thrown a cloak of suspicion over entire neighbourhoods, civilians gathered in nervous knots to watch troops pouring in.
“I see plenty of soldiers moving in with their trucks chanting their war songs, but they are just going in there to kill innocent citizens,” said resident Abba Kakami. “What happens if soldiers meet farmers who carry [traditional hunting] guns? How can they differentiate between a terrorist and a civilian?”

Just off the main roads where cars are forced to brake suddenly at barked orders from policemen behind sandbags, residents have long barricaded their own side streets against the security forces in a city that appears at war with itself.
“Boko Haram are the kings of these streets,” said Hamza, grilling sticks of meat in an otherwise deserted street in London Chiki, a neighbourhood scarred with burnt out homes. With a nervous glance over his shoulder where a nearby notice threatened to kill any informants, he said: “What do the security forces expect us to do in this situation? You keep quiet before [Boko Haram] send you to your grave.”
Weakened by a military crackdown and brutal internal codes that have seen members peel away to form splinter groups, Boko Haram commanders have also turned to ruthless new methods as they attempt to stage a comeback.
In the past, most captured operatives cited jihad and promises of paradise during interrogations, security officials and two locals in regular contact with Boko Haram cells told the Guardian. Now they increasingly give a disturbing new motive: they have been ordered to kill or be killed themselves.
“They told us members assigned to ‘high-value areas’ must get a ‘hit’ within two weeks, or their own commanders kill them,” said a senior intelligence official who interrogates suspects in the northern capital, Kano. “It doesn’t matter who they kill; they have to kill to stay alive.”
Among the earliest to experience this was Kano-based mechanic Chuku, who found himself sharing a jail cell with 17 militants last year after failing to scrape together a police bribe. “They talked about the Qur’an and said soon Nigeria would be an Islamic state,” Chuku said, talking quietly in a dust-covered liquor store of the kind targeted by the insurgents.
Peering anxiously into the streets, where turbaned guardsmen on horseback, living ghosts of Kano’s empire glory days, rode past patrolling police tanks, he said: “They told me not to worry because some of their guys were going to get us out of this jail.”
When an explosion rocked the jail cell a week later, an attack which left 185 dead, his cell occupants started cheering. As Chuku made to escape the grounds strewn with bodies, two men grabbed him and sniffed his clothes to make sure he wasn’t a police officer – those held in police cells are almost never allowed to wash or change clothes – then led him to a Peugeot van. “The boot was full of AK47s with barrels sawn off. They told me I must take one, and kill a policeman or they will kill me,” Chuku said.
He took a gun and escaped from the men in the chaos of the battle.
Nigerian troops also face a group who appear to have a new military edge after gaining control of weapons from Libya. In Bama this month, a co-ordinated strike against a police station army barracks left 55 dead and freed over 100. “They came in with around 20 pickup trucks, around half of them were mounted with anti-aircraft guns,” said a policeman who was present during the attacks. “This is a weapon that can bring down a commercial jet. As soon as you fire one of those things, nobody knows what is happening.”
Analysts say emergency rule could weaken urban cells, but questions remain as to what happens once the six-month emergency rule is lifted. “The growing militarisation of the north-east will provide short-term gains, but will fail to address the root drivers of militancy,” Control Risks Africa analyst Roddy Barclay said.

(story by Monica Mark – Guardian UK)

What is Boko Haram?

GIVEN that it has killed 3,600 people over the past four years, Boko Haram gets surprisingly little attention outside its native Nigeria. Though it has an Islamist tinge and has often attacked Christian churches, security analysts are unsure whether it should be described as a terrorist organisation, or even a group at all. Nevertheless, Nigeria’s government is currently pursuing talks with Boko Haram, whatever it is, and holding out the possibility of an amnesty for its members.

Boko Haram began life in the early 2000s in northern Nigeria which, unlike the predominantly Christian south of the country, is dominated by Muslims. Its name, which translates as “Western education is sinful”, gives a flavour of its ideology. Few people paid it much attention until 2009 when its leader, a young cleric called Mohammed Yusuf, was killed while in police custody after fighting broke out between his supporters and the Nigerian army. Since then it has targeted policemen and members of the army, as well as bombing churches and a UN building in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

Religion may be Boko Haram’s rallying cry but it would be wrong to consider it a Nigerian imitator of al-Qaeda. The group calls for the implementation of sharia law across Nigeria, a frequent demand of Muslims around the world. But it does not seem to want a universal caliphate, which is one hallmark of Islamist jihadi groups. In fact quite what Boko Haram wants is not clear. Self-appointed spokespeople for the group occasionally make pronouncements on its behalf but may have no authority to do so. All that can be said for sure is that it justifies its attacks against the Nigerian state using the language of religious struggle.

This uncertainty makes Boko Haram difficult to respond to. But the attempts of the Nigerian state to treat it as a security problem, while understandable given the number of killings, have tended to make matters worse. A military raid on the northern town of Baga on April 16th and 17th seems to have left 180 dead and more than 2,000 buildings razed, according to Human Rights Watch, which also points out that the government’s accounts of what happened do not tally with evidence from satellite photographs. Many northern Nigerians are still more afraid of the army than of Boko Haram, despite all its bombs. President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a committee to talk peace with Boko Haram’s leaders. Its first task is to figure out who they are.

(The Economist)

Aljazeera explains more about the Boko Haram of Nigeria in this video: