Saturday 17 March 2012

On the trail of Boko Haram

I wrote this piece from Zaria in Kaduna State in northern Nigeria. It appeared in The Independent on 12 March 2012.


“You could say Boko Haram is everywhere, or you could say it’s nowhere: both would be correct.”

This apparently confusing observation about the Nigerian militant Islamist group from one local expert is actually more helpful than it seems.

Responsible for a string of violent attacks in Nigeria that have killed some one thousand people over the last two years, Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden”, has been bewildering and surprising to security specialists here. Ask some, and you will hear that the organisation is a threat to the very unity of Nigeria. Ask others, and you will hear that it is not an organisation at all.

And, yes, they are both right.

"Peace provocateurs" defusing religious tensions in Indonesia

This piece originally appeared in The Independent on 12 March 2012.


A Christian girl has her arm hacked off in a Muslim neighbourhood, and everyone in this tropical island city expects more trouble to follow.

Text messages multiply the news and calls for revenge exponentially in segregated Ambon, Indonesia, steamy with suspicion between the two communities ever since inter-communal violence in 1999-2002 left thousands dead and many more displaced, torched out of their homes.

But within an hour, a second round of texts spreads, along with Tweets and Facebook posts, bursting the expanding bubble of anger. It didn’t happen. The girl is fine and at home with family. Look, here’s a fresh photo of her. And here’s a video with her made a few minutes ago.

The klarifikasi message is signed, “Provakator Perdamaian”, or “Peace Provocateurs”.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Update on social media and public advocacy

About a year ago, I blogged a case study detailing how social media were impacting public advocacy in international affairs. Following a few conversations I’ve had in recent weeks and a few more deep-water dives into the sea of data, it’s time for a brief update and a few additional notes.

To start with, the trend noted in April 2011 continues: people are increasingly finding the International Crisis Group’s online reports and other materials via Facebook and Twitter, and more importantly, they are coming from the very government institutions and international agencies we aim to reach as an advocacy organisation.

Moreover, this is not an isolated phenomenon. I hear from other NGOs and advocacy groups that they see the exact same development: a greater percentage of their target audiences are also accessing their material via social media as opposed to email or media outlets. Disintermediation is very real, yet no sane person would suggest ditching their mass email lists, ignoring Google News or forgetting fundamental media relations.

There are some extra observations, however.