By Tadakazu Kanno (PhD candidate, the department of war studies, King’s College London)
A deadly ethnic riot took place in Nigeria again. According to the BBC , the riot took place near the city of Jos in Nigeria early in the morning on the 7th of March and claimed over 500 people’s lives. Many of the dead in the villages of Zot and Dogo-Nahawa, largely inhabited by Christian members of the Berom community, are reported to be women and children. It is reported that the attacks were reprisal killings for violence in January, when an inter-communal clash between the Hausa Fulani settlers (Muslim nomadic herders) had claimed at least 326 people’s lives and the most of the victims were Hausa-speaking Muslims.
The IRIN report on the 1st of February actually gave an early warning by saying that “if the Nigerian authorities fail to punish those responsible for the latest intercommunal violence, they are only paving the way for further bloodshed”. According to the BBC, there was a proximate warning as well. The governor of Nigeria’s Plateau State had warned the army about reports of suspicious people with weapons hours before they attacked, but they failed to take action.
I’m not an expert of Nigeria and the information I have about the situation of the inter-communal clashes is quite limited (the BBC and IRIN only). So, I may not be qualified to talk about the ethnic riots in Nigeria and my analysis may not be really accurate. But, I guess that one of the reasons for the failure of taking rapid actions to prevent the violence was that “who does what” under an emergent situation was unclear. Without preparation and plan, it is difficult to take the right action immediately. Early warning demonstrates its highest ability when it is systematized and well-connected to responders. I was wondering if the latest riot could have been prevented and many of the lives could have been saved if they have had a good early warning and early response system.
David Nyheim’s report on early warning and early response, which was prepared for OECD, shows that now there is consensus of a “good” early warning system, which is one that: (1) is based “close to the ground” or has strong field-based networks of monitors; (2) uses multiple sources of information and both qualitative/quantitative analytical methods; (3) capitalizes on appropriate communication and information technology; (4) provides regular reports and updates on conflict dynamics to key national and international stakeholders and; (5) has a strong link to responders or response mechanisms.
Suppose they have had a good early warning system which meets the criteria. A wide network of monitoring could have caught some symptoms of the attacks much earlier than the governor came to know them. Then, the right information could have been passed to the right person at the right time to take rapid action for averting the tension. Before the eruption of violence, the tension could have been averted through multi-stakeholder dialogue and the plan to attack might have been shattered. If these things failed, as Casey Barrs states, people may need to flee to protect themselves. As a result of a couple of safety nets, the 500 lives – at least some people’s lives – could have been saved.
Micro-level early warning and early response mechanisms, often called “citizen-based early warning” or “third generation early warning”, are a new wave in the field of conflict early warning. One of their characteristics is that they meet all the criteria of a good early warning and early response system (perhaps, the most notable system was the Foundation for Co-Existence’s early warning and early response system in Sri Lanka which operated from 2003 to 2009). They cover specific areas within a country and attempt to prevent riot-type violence.
As the number of civil wars has been decreasing dramatically since the early 90’s (I don’t mean by this that the traditional macro-level early warning systems are less important. They have their own niche.), more attentions need to be paid to the micro-level early warning and early response mechanism as a tool to prevent riot-type violence. Although I don’t have any good statistics regarding the number of deadly riots (If someone has it, please let me know), we have already witnessed the riot in the Moluccas (Indonesia) which claimed 4000 lives in 1999, that of Gujarat (India) in 2002 which claimed 850 lives, that of Kenya which took place from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2008 and claimed over 1000 lives and the sporadic ethnic riots in Nigeria.
Although a good early warning and early response system is not a panacea for the prevention of ethnic riots (of course, long-term approaches are needed to address root causes along with early warning and early response), this kind of micro-level early warning and early response mechanism will certainly enhance the capacity to prevent ethnic violence in Nigeria.