Altered States 128

I avoided the Thatcherfest yesterday by flying to Accra, and landed slap in the middle of a State Visit by President Ahmadinejad. Any number of levels of irony there. I am however pleased to see President John Mahama – an old friend of mine – giving out a fairly clear signal he is not going to be a US puppet. That was reinforced yesterday by a high profile announcement from the Ministry of Finance of a new policy aimed at increasing the – hitherto very limited – social benefit from Ghana’s oil and mining industries. Just how much this will amount to in practice remains to be seen, but I am very pleased to see that, as John Mahama’s Presidency in his own right gets underway, the direction of travel may be more radical and aimed at social justice.

Another piece of good news from West Africa yesterday was President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria’s announcement of a negotiating committee to try to open negotiations with Boko Haram on the basis of a ceasefire and an amnesty. The committee’s remit includes a specific commitment to look at underlying grievances that had led to the unrest.

Nigeria shows much greater wisdom than the standard Western government line that the state can do no wrong and that all terrorist movements must be crushed by military force – something that often leads into an unending revenge cycle. Insurgency movements are indeed always caused – no matter how psychotic or vicious individual terrorists may be and no matter how evil some of their acts. For any terrorist or insurgency activity to have sufficient support in a host population to have a resilient existence, that population must believe itself to have a legitimate grievance. Ultimately the only way to overcome terrorism is to talk to the terrorists. Which is not to say I think this initiative will succeed; but it is certainly the right thing to try.

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