AIM –Providing relevant background info on Corporations via linkages to existing records

(Godwin & Evelyn)

A good understanding of the entities they cover enable journalists to write better stories about subjects when they report them. Unfortunately for most business journalists in the developing countries, their knowledge of the multinational corporations that operate in their countries often do not go beyond the information put at their door steps by the PR machineries of these companies. Knowing where to go for key information about such corporations could be challenging for many local journalists.
Yet the influence of these multinationals (good and/or bad) on their economies are huge. In Africa, for instance, they dominate leading sectors like oil and gas, mining, banking, telecommunications, and construction. As a result they are often the contractors for most big public and private sector contracts in the continent.
Our project involves the creation of a browser tool that will help local journalists in different countries mine data about multinational corporations operating in their regions from relevant institutions/government agencies in their countries of operation as well as home countries via existing websites. Such agencies as SEC, company registration authorities, central bank, prosecution authorities, watchdog groups, custom and tax authorities, stock exchanges, etc.
Often when you use search engines to look up companies, they do not provide linkages to such critical institutional data. The essence of this project is to quicken cross-border access to information about companies operating offshore in a way that gives journalists insights on the corporations operating in their shores.
The strategy would be to identify on country by country basis (starting with West Africa), multinational corporations working in each country. For the purpose of the class project, we intend to take one (or at most two) each of multinational companies that operate/have operated in Nigeria and Ghana – (Halliburton, Siemens and Mabey & Johnson, Tullow) as pilots.

Violence in northern Ghana

Citizens of Ghana are being axed savagely and monies we need for development are going down the drain. If we allow things to get out of hand then we are holding the whole of Ghana to ransom. The entire nation could be engulfed and we will no longer be able to show the outside world a positive image. – ex-President John Kufuor

The Bawku conflict has shamed, defamed and disgraced all of us. Our municipality has become notorious for persistent ethnic conflicts. You know only too well that it is a shame and disgrace for one to identify him or herself as coming from Bawku- John Agobre, local politician

The Bawku community in Ghana’s Upper East region represents many things not usually associated with the West African country. Bawku mirrors the flipside of Ghana as a peaceful state. The contrast is stark. In the last ten years, estimates are that at least four thousand people, young and old, have been killed due to ethnic and political differences while twice that number has migrated to other parts of the country or across the border to Togo.

Bawku, a predominantly Muslim community in northeastern Ghana, has an estimated population of 72,000 most of whom are either from the Kusasi or Manprusi ethnic groups, the two ethnic group constantly at each other’s throat.

The conflict in Bawku tends to escalate election year and this year is no exemption. In the last 12 months, there have been several reports of attacks by the rival groups.
A week before President John Atta Mills was sworn into office in January 2009, 127 houses and stores were either completely or partially burnt, while five cars were set ablaze in a major clash. Local media reports put the death toll at about 30 people while about 25 others sustained varying degrees of injuries.
During the presidential elections in 2000, more than a hundred people were killed there in a matter of days. With less than eight months to this year’s presidential elections, tensions are already mounting in the municipality again.

The feud in Bawku
The violence in Bawku plays out in various forms ranging from tussle over chieftaincies to party politics, fight over land, markets and names of places. John Kufuor, Ghana’s former immediate past president, tried to reconcile the Kusasis and Mamprusis, the two ethnic groups at the centre of the Bawku crisis, but he wasn’t quite successful. Incumbent president, John Atta Mills, is doing same, but so far, there’s been little success.

It is political
Some researchers and local journalists say the crisis in Bawku is mainly political. It echoes the sharp divide between the two main political parties in the country namely NDC and NPP. Instead of a genuine commitment to resolving the feud, both parties have always tried to take advantage of it for political gains.
Christian Lund, a researcher who has written on the Bawku crisis, says the crisis presents a double argument. According to him, while communal conflict challenge the state and expose its incapacity, the conflicts at the same time invoke a powerful idea of the state as the most significant institution to qualify claims as rights or discard them as illegitimate.

It is environmental
A school of thought blames the crisis in Bawku on the impact of climate change on the living conditions of the people. George Abugri, a popular blogger and columnist with Daily Graphic, Ghana’s leading daily, holds that view. “Bawku”, he noted in a recent article, “has gallantly absorbed the environmentally devastating impact of the advancing Sahel. Now the ecology can barely support agricultural production. Smuggling, an alternative illegitimate commercial activity which made some locals rich, is no longer lucrative.”

Poverty and underdevelopment
Those who point to poverty as the root cause of the conflict in Bawku, liken the situation there to the Boko Haram uprising in Nigeria’s north. When people are poor, they are easy to be manipulated by politicians.
Abugri who proudly identifies himself as ‘the man from Bawku’, used history to justify the argument about economics. “At the peak of its commercial boom, Bawku was one of the government’s highest sources of local council revenue. The commercial bustle within the town was surrounded by vigorous farming activity. There was a time when long caravans of push carts transported sugar cane from my village of Zawse to the Bawku market on market days.
From a valley at the foot of the Agolle Hills at Zawse, also came cassava, sweet potatoes and fresh water crabs. That sounds like a fairy tale today, but it is true. As the years have gone by, Bawku has gallantly absorbed the environmentally devastating impact of the advancing Sahel. Now the ecology can barely support agricultural production.
Smuggling, an alternative illegitimate commercial activity which made some locals rich, is no longer lucrative. The net result? An increasingly impoverished population and a huge army of unemployed, despondent and secretly armed youth trapped in an over populated conflict area.”

Boko Haram divides US security experts, lawmakers

As gunfire and bomb explosions continue to ravage parts of Nigeria’s north including this morning’s six huge explosions reported in a Kano suburb, the debate in the United States is whether or not the world’s only super-power should consider Boko Haram a terrorist group.
Even as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 25 year old Nigerian, who was last week handed a life sentence for attempting to blow up a US airline on Christmas Day in 2009 in a suicide mission for al-Qaeda, contends the ruling in court, the submission of some security analysts whom this reporter monitored in a youtube debate this morning, is that the Boko Haram situation in remains a domestic problem with no potential threat to the United States.
The U.S. State Department currently designates 49 extremist groups as foreign terrorist organizations. Al-Shabaab, the Somalian extremist group, is the only sub-Saharan African group on the list. The US Congress House Committee on Homeland Security last November debated a motion to include Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organisations, but some security experts kicked against it.
Jean Herskovits, a New York-based history professor, who is one of those opposed to the move, opined in a New York Times oped article last month that such an action will make Nigeria’s muslim north see the US as biased against it.
“The United States should not allow itself to be drawn into this quicksand by focusing on Boko Haram alone. Washington is already seen by many northern Muslims — including a large number of longtime admirers of America — as biased toward a Christian president from the south,” she noted.
“The United States must work to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes us into their enemy. Placing Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would cement such views and make more Nigerians fear and distrust America,” she added.
In her testimony before the Congress Committee on Homeland Security in November, Jessica Cooke, the Africa Program Director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, expressed similar views stating that “Boko Haram poses little immediate threat to the U.S. homeland, although U.S. citizens and assets in Nigeria may well be vulnerable as the group seeks high-profile, high-impact targets.”
The more imminent threat, she says the potential of the group destabilizing Nigeria, “an important energy supplier, security partner, and regional and continental powerhouse and one of the United States’ most strategically important allies in Africa.”
Howard Jeter, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, however, holds an opposing view. He believes Boko Haram deserves to be on America’s list of terrorist organisations. “It is really a terrorist group. And Peter said let us not designate it [as such]. I would like to hear your explanation as to why. It is a terrorist group. If you kill 28 innocent people worshipping in a church, it is a terrorist group,” he said.
John Campbell, another former US ambassador to Nigeria whose views on the matter is not well defined, however, believes the US should take seriously the threat posed to Nigeria’s continued existence by the militant group. According to him, the right policy response to the situation in Nigeria is critical to the US’s abiding goal of promoting democracy and sustainable development in Africa.
It remains to be seen whether Boko Haram would eventually make the terrorist list. So far, there is no consensus as the Congress security committee continues its consultations on the issue.