For the fourth consecutive year, contributors of ExploringGeopolitics share their views on the most significant geopolitical developments of the year. This page contains contributions by Simon Dalby (on Syria and Climate Change), Stuart Elden (on Nigeria), Virginie Mamadouh (on EU Nobel Peace Price) and Gerard Toal (on Hurricane Sandy).
For more perspectives on 2012, please read the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:
No foreign intervention in Syria / No media coverage of Doha Climate Conference
Simon Dalby, Professor of Geography/Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
Two things seem to be moderately significant in 2012. The first is the lack of foreign intervention in Syria, not least because of the very messy situation on the ground, the presence of sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft weapons in Syria and the international opposition to further interventions in the region by the Russians in particular.
The second one concerns the media silence over the climate change conference in Doha, where, given the 2015 deadline for a binding international treaty to be negotiated, much further preliminary work would have seemed to be necessary to set things in motion on a sensible timescale.
Nigeria: The Kano attacks one year on
Professor Stuart Elden, Durham University
On the 20th January 2012, a series of attacks were launched by the Boko Haram group against the northern Nigerian city of Kano (the second biggest city in the country). A number of government buildings including passport offices and immigration centres, several police stations, the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS), as well as some churches were targeted. There were several bombs, but also firefights between Boko Haram members and the Nigerian security forces. Most estimates put the number of deaths at around 150-170, but people I’ve spoken to that were in the city that day put the number much higher.
Boko Haram is an Islamist group, seeking to have Sharia law imposed in the north of Nigeria. The name means something like ‘Western Education is forbidden’, but it has wider resonance of Western values or those who take Western money and don’t act charitably towards the normal people. ‘Boko’ originally meant fake; ‘Haram’ means forbidden, sinful or sacrilege. Their base is in the north-eastern states of Yobe and Borno. The Nigerian state response has been heavy handed, with reports of door-to-door raids in Boko Haram strongholds such as the city of Maiduguri. In 2009 raids led to the death of the group’s leader Mohammed Yusuf, and several members were imprisoned, but in September 2010 they freed several prisoners from a jail, and the group continued under the leadership of Abubaker Shekau with new attacks on the city of Jos and on barracks in the capital of Abuja. Their strategies have included remote detonation of bombs, suicide bombers, and shootings. The group have claimed responsibility for numerous further attacks, some of which are further from their northeast bases, including the bombing of the Abuja police headquarters in June 2011, the bombing of the UN building in the capital in August 2011, various attacks on churches, and are likely behind the attack on the Emir of Kano just yesterday (19th January 2013). The Emir is a Muslim religious leader, but Boko Haram have attacked Muslim leaders before for their criticism of the group. The Emir survived the attack, but his guards and driver were killed.
Kano has changed since the 2012 attacks, with a much stronger security presence, and many Christians moving south. A number of aid agencies or foreign government workers have been relocated to Abuja or elsewhere in the country. Boko Haram have often started their attacks with men on motorbikes – easier to manoeuvre through road blocks and Nigeria’s traffic, and quick to use for escape afterwards. Many of the 20th January 2012 Kano attacks were launched in this way, as was the attack on the Emir. This has led to increased police and military presence in the city, with riders forced to dismount and wheel bikes through checkpoints. There are various reports of police and military atrocities following attacks, which often produce more supporters for the group being targeted.
This contribution has earlier been posted by Stuart Elden on his blog ProgressiveGeographies.com. It has been re-published here with permission of author.
Geopolitics and the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize
Virginie Mamadouh, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Amsterdam
Since 1901 a Nobel Peace Prize has been (almost) yearly awarded to follow the will of Alfred Nobel. Ever since decisions of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have often been criticized. The award of the 2012 Peace Prize to the European Union will remain one of the noted controversies. Beyond the traditional discussions about the merits of the laureates and those of alternative candidates, this was the first time the Nobel Peace Prize was attributed to an organization that is regularly described as a state, either a super state, a post-national state or a federal state in formation.
Nevertheless since 1901 several organizations have been awarded the Peace Prize, some of them international organisations like the United Nations (2000) and the International Panel on Climate Change (2007); others were NGO’s, like the Red Cross (1917, 1944 and 1963) or Médecins sans Frontières (1999), and private organisations (the Grameen Bank (2006), but none has ever been a state.
Likewise several statespersons were awarded the Prize for their individual work for peace as a statesperson, for example the American presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1906), Woodrow Wilson (1919), and Barack Obama (2009) or the last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (1990). Note that the Committee did not designate any influential EU politicans to share the honour with the itself.
The message sent by the Nobel Prize Committee is consequently ambiguous, and geopolitically challenging. Is the EU an organization with a project or a state-like political configuration? When getting the prize in Oslo, the troika representing the EU, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, stressed it was a prize for all EU citizens, foregrounding EU citizenship and therefore EU stateness.
It should be noted too that the EU is awarded the Prize both for international peace (the maintenance of peace for 60 years on most part of the continent and especially the reconciliation between France and Germany, and since the 1990s in the Balkan) and for domestic peace (human rights, democracy, and prosperity), while recipients are generally either involved the global peace processes (like the International Campaign to ban landmines (1995) and in peace processes to solve a specific conflict (like Yasser Arafat, Yizhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994, or in the promotion of domestic human rights and democracy(for example Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991). The award is also both a recompense for past achievement (60 years of peace) and an encouragement for sound economic policies in the present Eurocrisis.
Last but not least, it is unclear who is the addressee of the Nobel Prize Committee that should be impressed by the moral support so demonstrated to the EU: the governments of the Member States that counterweight EU institutions? Third states that face the EU in its neighborhood and on the global stage? Or more likely anti-EU movements inside the EU itself?
“I think it is one of the most important days in the Nobel history, because this price is really about what Alfred Nobel wrote in his will, namely about fraternity between nations, and having peace congresses which was very important at the time when he lived. Today a peace congress is really to sit around the table, find compromises, and in that respect the European Union has been a continuing peace congress.”
In the middle of the deepest financial, economical and political crisis of its history, we – EU agents, citizens, or lay and academic observers alike – are reminded of the extraordinary feature of the geopolitical project that the European Union embodied.
Gerard Toal, Professor of Government and International Affairs, Virginia Tech
The most remarkable development of 2012 was how climate change hit home in the United States. Hurricane Sandy arrived in the last few weeks of a nasty presidential contest, and pummeled the commercial and financial capital of the United States.
Lower Manhattan, arguably the greatest concentration of financial power on the planet, was plunged into darkness and its transportation arteries flooded to an unprecedented degree. Normal life was upended for weeks, and for many will never return.
The picture of the headquarters of Goldman Sachs surrounded by sandbags symbolizes the emergent era. The Australian urbanist Brendan Gleeson wrote a book in 2010 called “Lifeboat Cities” that lays out the urban condition in emergency times. In 2012 it landed in the home of the US power elite.
Other contributions to Annual Review 2012
For more perspectives on 2012, please read the other parts of the Geopolitical Review: