TIME Globalization

Nigeria’s Missing Girls: The End of Terror Is Nowhere in Sight

A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012. Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

Terrorism is the most pressing of many issues facing Nigeria, TIME's Rana Foroohar writes after a visit to Abuja, amid the government's sluggish response to the April kidnapping of almost 300 girls by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram

Outside the airport in Abuja, Nigeria, where the World Economic Forum’s Africa conference recently wrapped up, I noticed a local workman’s truck, which had a sign painted on the back that read, “Every problem has an expiry date.”

There are plenty of problems in Nigeria–inefficiency, inequality, corruption, unemployment–but the most pressing one right now is terrorism. It is unclear what the expiry date might be. Nearly three hundred girls taken from their boarding school in the northeast of the country by a militant Islamic group called Boko Haram are still missing. A new report by Amnesty International claims that the national government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan knew about the impending attack–and did nothing.

At panels I attended at the World Economic Forum (WEF), just as the report was coming out, President Jonathan said that the kidnappings would be “a turning point in our fight against Boko Haram, and the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.” At the WEF evening welcome soiree last Thursday night, a Nigerian pop star serenaded the President, his coterie of plumbed generals, and the rest of us, in tones that managed to be both mournful and saccharine, with a song about the missing girls. It seemed tone-deaf at a forum sponsored by the government, which began with a moment of silence for the missing girls, but offered no real sense of urgency around finding them, or combatting the growing terrorism in the country.

The big question at the WEF was whether terrorism, and in particular the kidnappings, would have any impact on the Nigerian investment story, which up until now has been one of the biggest recent success stories in emerging markets. Just a few weeks ago, Nigeria “rebased” its GDP numbers to account for the fact that old calculations weren’t taking into account new industries like telecoms and Nollywood. The result was that Nigerian GDP grew by 89 % overnight, making the country the largest economy in Africa, trumping South Africa. Growth is high–around 7 %–the middle class is growing strongly, and oil and gas represents about 14 % of the economy, about half of what was previously thought. Overall, that means more growth is coming from sustainable sources. Six out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa, and Nigeria is first among them.

Yet unemployment is still high and inequality even higher. Half of Nigerians live in poverty, despite vast oil and gas wealth. In fact, that’s one reason that many prominent citizens say that Boko Haram has gained a foothold in the country. Some Nigerians are getting wealthy, but there aren’t jobs for enough of them, particularly given that over 50% of the population is under 18 years old. That’s exactly the kind of demographic and economic combination that bred the Arab Spring uprisings.

“Terrorism hasn’t stopped business from coming here to Nigeria yet, but the situation is out of hand,” says Aliko Dangote, the head of Dangote Holdings and Africa’s richest man. “I think the government is trying to get themselves together [around this issue]. I think they have been taken by surprise–there are people in places like Spain who are saying, ‘where are these Nigerian girls?’ That hasn’t happened before. It’s good that the government has asked the US and the UK to help. And it’s important that the private sector do its part, too. Unless we create more jobs, we won’t eliminate Boko Haram. Even if we do, another such group will come. We have to empower our people.”

In some of the WEF meetings, President Jonathan tried to play down the link between terror and poverty, presumably to turn the spotlight away from the fact that the government has much more to do in terms of building infrastructure, improving education, bolstering efficiency in agriculture, and cutting corruption, all of which would improve job growth in Nigeria. “Terrorism is a recent problem for us,” he said. “It’s not about poverty, but extremism.”

But a number of Western businesspeople I spoke to at the WEF said they were concerned about terrorism spreading, particularly further south to areas like Lagos, where the State Department recently issued a warning about potential attacks on Sheraton Hotels. While big oil and financial deals will likely continue without interruption, consumer goods companies–food suppliers, retailers, and others that depend on a secure and growing middle class–were more concerned. That’s in part because of what the Amnesty Report implies about the attention that the Nigerian government pays to safety and security, particularly for women and girls in the country.

A glut of research from institutions such as the World Bank and the UN shows that if girls don’t stay in school, and women aren’t economically empowered, economies don’t grow in a sustainable way. “For things to work here [in Nigeria] you need two things: foreign direct investment, and local capacity, meaning human capacity. That requires education. If you have a situation in which women and girls can’t be educated, that’s a big deal,” says John Rice, the vice chair of G.E., and a co-sponsor of the WEF Africa conference.

“There’s a good news story and a bad news story here,” says Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, here attending the WEF meeting in Abuja. “The good news is that Nigeria is thriving economically. But the bad news is that this [incident with the girls] cuts to the heart of the continuing problems with safety and security here. Boko Haram has displaced 500,000 people in northern Nigeria. The president has instructed Secretary Kerry that we will do everything we can to help.”

Yet at the end of the day, the impetus for managing the crisis has to come from Nigerian leaders themselves–and so far, most seem much more interested in discussing foreign direct investment and GDP growth and privatization of the country’s various industries rather than talking about how to ensure security for its people, and particularly how to find the missing girls and insure that something like this never happens again. “People have no idea how fragile things are here,” says Anton du Plessis, managing director for the South Africa based Institute for Security Studies. “You can have growth without development.” That’s exactly the situation in Nigeria right now.

TIME World Economic Forum

An Hour With Africa’s Richest Man

Honoree Aliko Dangote at the Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York on April, 29, 2014.
Honoree Aliko Dangote at the Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York on April, 29, 2014. Jonathan D. Woods for TIME

I’m waiting for Aliko Dangote. Everyone is. Africa’s richest man, worth $24.7 billion (more than Carl Icahn, George Soros and any number of lesser Western billionaires) is probably the most in-demand person at the World Economic Forum here in Abuja, Nigeria. He enters the Hilton on a red carpet, a mere 30 minutes late, with minders, the head of his foundation, and the second of his three grown daughters in tow. The hotel employees literally bow before him, lesser oligarchs wave and backslap, and the merely rich try to bum rides on his private plane. “I don’t know what to do, my wife really needs to get home,” says an Indian businessman to one of the numerous Dangote staffers hovering nearby, who smiles sympathetically and promises to look into things.

Dangote himself is unassuming. A 57-year-old man with an almost shy smile, he’s a practicing Muslim that acquaintances call “generous” and “prayerful.” He’s also a sharp elbowed business titan, the 24th richest in the world, who has survived ten different regimes in Nigeria, building a $2 billion empire on cement, sugar, salt, and more recently, energy. Dangote sat down with me in his suite at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja Wednesday to discuss wealth, power, politics, and the future of Africa. Below are lightly edited excerpts from our talk:

TIME: I hear you haven’t taken a vacation in 20 years. Is that true?

Dangote: It used to be. I was working very hard for a long time to build up my business. Now, I try to take a week’s vacation every two weeks. We live in Lagos, on Victoria Island, but I like to go to Miami with my family. I used to own two homes in Atlanta. But it was a lot of trouble. There are leaky roofs, you have to call people. It takes up too much time to own property everywhere. Now I stay at the St. Regis. I used to like cars a lot, too. I had 25 of them, Porches, Ferraris. I would drive from Lagos to Kano at 180 miles per hour. But I stopped that after I had my second daughter.

You came from a certain amount of wealth. What was your upbringing like?

My great-grandfather was a kola nut trader, and the richest man in West Africa at the time of his death. My father was a businessman and politician. I was actually raised by my grandfather. It’s traditional in my culture for grandparents to take the first grandchild and raise it (Dangote’s older sister died as a baby in a car accident). I had a lot of love, and it gave me a lot of confidence.

You started with a loan from your uncle and built the most successful locally owned business conglomerate in Africa. What were the turning points?

I always tried to move up the food chain. I started with cement, and then moved into textiles, and banking. When I was trading sugar, I added salt and flour, so that then we could do pasta. And then I thought, why not make the bag for it too? So, we started making packaging.

This is a very entrepreneurial culture, but not a lot of people have your kind of success. What did you do differently?

We had a lot of capital, and we were able to build out our own power grid. The number one thing that kills businesses in Africa is power, or the lack of power. We wanted to have our businesses completely independent, with our own grid. So we built it. It took $1.2 billion. That’s a lesson I took from the financial crisis. It’s so important to have capital. At that point, we had about $2 billion in debt from expanding so quickly, so we had to scale back. But if I had more capital [in hand] in 2008, I could have bought so many things – homes, airplanes, land – so cheaply.

Now you are going up the food chain again, getting into energy, and in particular oil and gas refining. Nigeria has a lot of oil, but not a lot of refined gas. A lot of people feel that Africa could grow a lot faster with more of its own refinery capacity.

Yes, we’ll finish our refinery in 2017, and with it a petrochemical factory. This should take us to the next level. It’s all about integrating what we have. From the sugarcane we use, we can make ethanol. People say, “why get into agriculture?” but there is huge vertical integration between food and fuel, and Africa has both. Our rice and sugar business will create 180,000 new jobs in the next four years. We want to have a market capitalization of $100 billion by 2017. It’s my goal for my 60th birthday!

What’s your goal for this World Economic Forum meeting?

I want people to understand what’s really here. I feel Nigeria is like Colombia. People think about it based on information from 20 years ago. You think about Colombia, and all you think of is drug cartels, but really, there’s a lot of investor interest. It’s the same here in Nigeria. It’s not the 1970s. Things have changed.

But isn’t that the crucial juxtaposition here? You have growth, but no security. You have 8 % GDP growth, and over 200 missing girls that have been taken from their homes by Boko Haram.

It’s true. It hasn’t stopped business, but the situation is out of hand. I think the government is trying to get themselves together [around this issue]. I think they have been taken by surprise – there are people in places like Spain saying “where are these Nigerian girls?” It’s good that they’ve asked the US and the UK to help. And it’s important that the private sector do its part, too. Unless we create more jobs, we won’t eliminate Boko Haram. Even if we do, another such group will come. We have to empower our people.”

TIME World Economic Forum

Africa’s Middle Class Is at the Crossroads

People holding signs take part in a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos, May 5, 2014.
People holding signs take part in a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos, May 5, 2014. Akintunde Akinleye—Reuters

Nigeria's 8% growth and 233 missing girls pinpoint the continent's challenges

The World Economic Forum’s annual Africa meeting is starting today in Abuja, Nigeria. The story here was supposed to be an optimistic one–last week, the World Bank upgraded the country’s GDP numbers by 89 %, making it the number one largest economy in Africa. Yet the fact that there are still 233 missing girls that have been abducted from their homes in the northeast of the country by the Islamic radical group known as Boko Haram is casting a large shadow on that story. Standard & Poor’s rating agency recently downgraded the country’s credit based on rising terrorism (a car bomb last week outside Abuja, the second in recent weeks, killed 19 people), and corruption (the central bank head was put on suspension a few weeks ago after $20 billion was found unaccounted for in the Treasury).

On the shuttle buses and in the halls of the WEF meetings here in Abuja, I hear Western business people recalibrating their notions of political risk in this country, and fretting about whether a country that can’t keep girls safe in their schools can turn itself into the sort of middle class consumption society that everyone here hopes it can.

A big part of the problem has been misleading statements, delays and half-hearted efforts on the part of government. President Goodluck recently told local media that the government was doing “everything it can,” including taking help from the U.S, which has offered up a counter-terrorism team to track the abductors. But the general feeling amongst participants here at the WEF is that the lack of urgency around the issue represents the failure of government to provide the sort of basic security that is crucial to both African growth, and Western investment.

“There’s a good news story and a bad news story here,” says Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, here attending the WEF meeting in Abuja. “The good news is that Nigeria is thriving economically. But the bad news is that this [incident with the girls] cuts to the heart of the continuing problems with safety and security here. Boko Haram has displaced 500,000 people in northern Nigeria. The president has instructed Secretary Kerry that we will do everything we can to help.”

Yet at the end of the day, the impetus for managing the crisis has to come from Nigerian leaders themselves–and so far, most seem much more interested in discussing foreign direct investment and GDP growth and privatization of the country’s various industries rather than security, and particularly the missing girls. But the two are linked. Research shows that countries don’t rise economically unless they can assure education and economic empowerment for women. Until Nigeria can protect its school children, it may find inclusive growth illusive.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Abducted 8 More Girls in Nigeria, Police Say

New kidnapping comes as outrage grows in Nigeria and abroad over government's inability to rescue 276 schoolgirls abducted in April

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen reportedly kidnapped 8 more young girls when they attacked a village in northern Nigeria Monday night, amid deepening international outrage over the abduction of girls by the Islamic militia.

Villagers said the men arrived in trucks and started shooting. “Many people tried to run behind the mountain but when they heard gunshots, they came back,” one villager told Reuters. “The Boko Haram men were entering houses, ordering people out of their houses.” A police source told the news agency that a truck had taken the girls away. The abducted girls were aged 12-15.

The attack comes as world outrage mounts over Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls April 14. The terrorist group, whose name roughly translates to “western education is forbidden,” kidnapped the girls on a night they had gathered at school to take an exam. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau took responsibility for the abduction Monday, when he released a video saying “I abducted your girls” and “I will sell them in the market, by Allah.”

(MORE: How We Failed the Lost Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram)

The government’s inability to stop Boko Haram and find the girls has led to major unrest in Abuja, where protestors are demanding more government action to stop the terrorist group. The protests are embarrassing for President Goodluck Jonathan, especially as world leaders arrive in Abuja to attend the World Economic Forum this week.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the abductions an “unconscionable crime” on Tuesday, and pledged to aid the Nigerian government in its hunt for the kidnappers. “We will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice,” he said.

[Reuters]

 

TIME women

Less Talk and More Action: Expand Women’s Corporate Leadership

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) speaks during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos Jan. 25, 2014 Ruben Sprich—Reuters

As an opportunity to highlight women’s contributions, International Women’s Day has always served to commemorate the cutting edge of the global women’s movement, from demanding better working conditions in US sweatshop factories of the early 1900s, to voting rights, pay equality and, more recently, promoting women’s leadership in politics and business. Recent years have featured women’s economic contributions, ranging from women producing nearly 90% of the food in Africa, to 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. with $1.2 trillion in total receipts. Yet qualified women are continually stymied in their efforts to contribute at the highest levels of economic and financial leadership, while global policies and companies forego the benefits.

The disappointing numbers of women participating at the World Economic Forum in January was one highly visible and public manifestation of the challenge: While we are well into the 21st century, many participants and observers at Davos this year expressed astonishment, and even outrage, at the abysmally low representation of women. In this era, there are many outstanding examples of women’s representation at the highest levels of political and corporate leadership, including Christine Lagarde, Janet Yellen, Mary Barra, Sheryl Sandberg, and Presidents Park Geun Hye, Dilma Rousseff, and Michelle Bachelet. Yet even after the absence of women had been duly noted at the 2013 Forum, women’s representation at Davos in 2014 actually dropped, from 17% to 16%. Likewise, despite numerous studies that show the financial and governance benefits of mixed gender boards, global corporate boardrooms remain male-dominated, with women accounting for less than 15% of public company corporate board positions.

For years, the explanation given for minimal board diversity has been a lack of qualified and experienced candidates. The solution offered was patience: Improvement was promised because of the rapidly growing number of women with middle and upper management experience. In fact, since the 1970s women’s graduation rates from the most prestigious universities around the world have climbed to equal those of their male counterparts. Since then, many have gained equivalent skills and experience in the private and public sectors.

At the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where we are affiliated, talented women have graduated since the 1960s, and made up about half of each class since the 1980s. Hailing from nearly every nation in the world, Fletcher’s alumnae include ambassadors, elected officials, corporate CEOs and CFO’s, military leaders, professors and leaders in nearly every sector. Many should have been at the World Economic Forum. So, too, many should be serving on corporate boards of directors, helping those companies to succeed in the twenty-first century.

Apart from the exceptions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and France, this amazing talent pool of women still makes up less than 17% of corporate boards everywhere else. This explains why even some who are strong advocates of free markets, like the IMF’s Largarde, are raising the “Q-word”: quotas. According to Catalyst, this is the eighth consecutive year with virtually no increase in women’s representation on corporate boards. Hence many are weary of the excuses and incessant debate. It is such impatience and frustration that are leading to pro-active measures, including government and stock exchange quotas and proposed directives.

Yet beyond the implied political dimension of quotas, it is simply in everyone’s best interest to find ways to expand women’s leadership. Our Fletcher community is focused on getting talented women onto corporate boards. The imperative is to make them visible, and to connect them with boards that recognize the business case but say that they are unable to find qualified candidates. Since launching our initiative, Fletcher Women on Boards, we have built a database of qualified alumnae and have reached out to scores of search firms.

Next year, the Fletcher School will identify alumnae to participate in the World Economic Forum – and we urge other prominent institutions to do the same with their star alumnae. Likewise, we are re-doubling our efforts to connect qualified women with boards of global companies that will benefit, along with their shareholders and customers, from the expertise and competence of our alumnae. We urge other enlightened universities and businesses around the world to react to the lack of progress and immediately implement a similar proactive approach to help fill the void of global women’s leadership.

While shared frustration at the lack of improvement is real and understandable, there is a real sense of urgency to correct this long-standing and destructive exclusion of women’s leadership. There are many qualified women ready to jump at the opportunity to lead, but they must be promoted and recognized; demand for their talent exists, but opportunities must be increased by eliminating the insider bias that keeps so many boards so homogeneous.

James Stavridis is the 12th Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a retired US Navy admiral. Marcia Greenberg is a former labor lawyer, co-Chair of Fletcher Women on Boards and a globally-recognized expert in gender mainstreaming.

TIME

Whom to Watch at the World Economic Forum in Davos

A technician checks the light in the Congress Hall before the start of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 in Davos Jan. 21, 2014
Denis Balibouse / Reuters

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) kicks off Tuesday in the snowbound Swiss town of Davos, more than 40 heads of state and government will be competing to make a lasting impression, for themselves and their countries, among the 2,500 participants. Here are five who will have a head start:

Maryam Rahmanian for The Washington Post / Getty Images

Hassan Rouhani
Depending on how things are progressing in another part of Switzerland — Montreaux, scene of the Syria peace talks — Iran’s president may be just a little distracted during his Davos debut. But the purpose of his trip is to take advantage of the momentum from the Jan. 20 start of the six-month nuclear freeze agreement between Iran and the six world powers. Rouhani’s message: As the negotiating parties begin work on a long-term deal, Iran is open for business. It isn’t really: most of the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe remain in place. But Rouhani’s trip is mostly about optics. Iran, he will be saying, is no longer an international pariah. He delivers a special address on Thursday.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel’s prime minister follows Rouhani (a few hours later) with a discussion on Israel’s economic and political outlook. Netanyahu will keep up his rhetoric about Tehran being an unreliable negotiator. Don’t buy the peace deal, he will say, it’s just a smokescreen that allows Iran to build nuclear weapons. But that message didn’t get much traction at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City last fall, where Rouhani’s charm offensive won the day. Netanyahu is unlikely to find many takers in Davos.

Enrique Pena Nieto
Omar Torres / AFP / Getty Images

Enrique Pena Nieto
Mexico’s president is one of the WEF’s Young Global Leaders, and his country is making a splash at Davos this year. He will be seeking to capitalize on Mexico’s growing economy, which has recently become the country’s dominant narrative, overtaking the usual stories about drug cartels and kidnappings. If potential investors are impressed by energy, Pena Nieto will display plenty of it: he will deliver a special address and participate in two panel discussions, all on a single day, Thursday.

Dilma Rousseff
Evaristo Sa / AFP / Getty Images

Dilma Rousseff
The president of Brazil makes her first appearance in Davos just as tough questions are being asked about her country’s economic prospects. Three years of lackluster growth have some wondering if Brazil should lose its place among the BRICS. There are doubts, too, about the country’ ability to host soccer’s World Cup this summer. Top all that off with lingering fears of political unrest, after last year’s massive street demonstrations. Rousseff delivers a special address on Friday.

Shinzo Abe Jiji Press / AFP / Getty Images

Shinzo Abe
Japan’s prime minister has stirred things up in Asia over the past couple of years. His country’s economy has been doing remarkably well, but Abe’s aggressive rhetoric and military muscle-flexing has annoyed China and South Korea, while winning some praise from other Asian nations that see Japan as a bulwark against an increasingly militaristic China. The Chinese president and prime minister won’t be at Davos, but perhaps South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye will have a cautionary word or two? Abe and Park both speak on Wednesday.

TIME Davos

One Stat to Destroy Your Faith in Humanity: The World’s 85 Richest People Own as Much as the 3.5 Billion Poorest

A worker prepares a logo for the World Economic Forum inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum 2014 (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014.
A worker prepares a logo for the World Economic Forum inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum 2014 (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Bloomberg / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The world’s 85 richest individuals now own as much as the poorest half of the 7 billion global population, according to a report released by Oxfam on Monday.

The leading anti-poverty charity called on the global economic elite gathering in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum to “counter the growing tide of inequality” and prevent a static future in which only the rich have access to the best education and healthcare.

“It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world’s population own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all sit comfortably in a single train carriage,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam Executive Director.

Working for the Few examines economic inequality’s potential to undercut democracy in developed countries and exacerbate corruption in underdeveloped nations.

The report calls on governments to crackdown on international tax dodgers and invest in public institutions such as healthcare, as well as implement progressive taxes and eradicate opaque political structures that encourage corruption.

While the World Economic Forum in Davos provides the world’s super elite with a forum to discuss the global economy, the group is far from deaf on issues pertaining to inequality. Last November, the WEF warned that financial inequality threatened to undermine social stability and security on a “global scale.”

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