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Evaluating Conflict Transformation in the Nigerian Oil Region

Evaluating Conflict Transformation in the Nigerian Oil Region

Photo credit: NASA | Wikimedia Commons

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the follow research: Okoi, O. (2020). Peacebuilding and transformational change in Nigeria’s oil region. Conflict Resolution Quarterly,37(3), 223–238. https://doi.org/10.1002/crq.21270

Talking points

  • In order for a conflict to transform, significant changes must take place across four levels—cultural, intrapersonal, structural, and interpersonal (CISI)—and falling short in any of these areas might result in merely stabilizing the conflict, rather than eliminating all of the root causes of violence.
  • The disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program in the Nigerian oil region brought forth changes for ex-insurgents and community members across all four levels to some extent—cultural, intrapersonal, structural, and interpersonal (CISI)—though interpersonal change did not extend to all conflict parties, hindering the conflict transformation potential of the program.
  • The cultural, intrapersonal, structural, and interpersonal (CISI) model can be useful to evaluate disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) interventions as a tool for conflict transformation in other African societies faced with armed insurgencies resulting from ideological and socioeconomic grievances.

Key insights for Informing Practice

  • Integrating disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and countering violent extremism (CVE) programs can be useful for mitigating white supremacy and extremist groups in the U.S.

Summary

Oil companies and the Nigerian government have generated massive wealth from oil extraction in the Niger Delta, but that wealth has not been shared with the local communities in the region. In response to unequal wealth distribution, armed groups proliferated against the state and oil companies. Over time, the Niger Delta became ungovernable. In 2009, the Nigerian government embarked on an ambitious peace plan centered on a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program. Thousands of Nigerian ex-insurgents surrendered their weapons on the premise that they would be granted amnesty and have access to education and vocational training within Nigeria and abroad. Obasesam Okoi evaluates the effectiveness of this DDR program as a conflict transformation tool in the Nigerian oil region, specifically how the DDR program resulted in identifiable changes in the lives of ex-insurgents and their communities.

Conflict transformation: “the process of engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the very constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict.”

Miall, H. (2004). Conflict transformation: A multi-dimensional task, Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/71735641.pdf

To evaluate the effects of the DDR program on conflict transformation, Okoi developed the cultural, intrapersonal, structural, and interpersonal (CISI) model. Echoing John Paul Lederach’s research, the CISI model suggests that conflict transformation occurs when there is significant change at all four levels—cultural, intrapersonal, structural, and interpersonal. Based upon 45 interviews with DDR participants and community members, Okoi applied this model to the Nigerian oil region and found changes across all four levels to some extent, though the DDR program fell short in the area of interpersonal transformation, as some conflict party relationships, namely those with oil companies, were not transformed. As a result, the peacebuilding process only stabilized, but did not transform, the conflict because some conflict drivers in the region remain even if violence, for now, has ceased. Okoi contends that the CISI model can be a tool to measure conflict transformation in other African societies faced with armed insurgencies resulting from ideological and socioeconomic grievances.

Analyzing each of these components in the CISI model in the Nigerian oil region demonstrates how this tool can be applied to other conflict settings. Participants in the DDR program experienced a cultural transformation, meaning a change that “influences the processes of responding to the conflict,” through migrating from their rural communities to urban centers for educational and training opportunities provided by the program. Ex-insurgents identified this migration and the subsequent skills they acquired as crucial to their evolution from insurgents to peaceful members of society. Due to their exposure to other cultures and lifestyles, ex-insurgents developed a “new orientation to life” that would “[make] it impossible to return to violence” when they returned to the Niger Delta, thus contributing to conflict transformation.

Intrapersonal transformation refers to “attitudinal and behavioral changes brought about by the consciousness of nonviolence.” Nonviolence training in the DDR program contributed to participants’ reported changes in their personal thinking and way of life, as well as to their transition into law-abiding, peaceful, and responsible citizens. Specific examples include the notion that nonviolence is attributed to courageous individuals and that suffering can be accepted without retaliation. This “new orientation to life” contributed to the stabilization of their larger communities through an explicit disavowal of violence as a means to solve conflict.  

Structural transformation is identified as changes in the lives of ex-insurgents brought forth by the DDR process. For instance, ex-insurgents became professionals by developing new skills from educational and vocational training. In their interviews, the majority of participants acknowledged the significance of structural transformation by identifying human capital development as critical to post-conflict stability.

Interpersonal transformation refers to changes in relationships between conflict parties. While there was improvement in the relationship between ex-insurgents and the state, there was no change in the relationship between ex-insurgents and the oil companies involved in the dispute. The disparity in relationship transformations of the conflict parties reveals the importance of trust and communication to the process. Ex-insurgents placed trust in the DDR process and therefore participated, and the state met the expectations of the DDR participants. Ultimately, there was a decrease in violence as a result of this improved relationship, which allowed oil companies to resume business. However, due to the lack of trust-building and communication on the part of the oil companies throughout the process, their relationships with local communities and ex-insurgents have not been transformed. As a result, the peacebuilding process, to which the DDR program was central, has been successful in stabilizing the region, but it has not addressed all of the root causes of the conflict.

While the CISI model was developed from a Nigerian oil region case study, Okoi believes that tracking change across these four levels can be useful to evaluating DDR interventions in other African societies faced with similar conflict dynamics. Namely, this model considers both individual-level and group-level dynamics/changes as the combined pathway to conflict transformation and long-term peace.

Informing Practice

Although the CISI model is rooted in Nigeria and pertains to DDR interventions in Africa, there are broader implications that can be applied to the U.S. in the aftermath of the January 6th armed insurrection at the U.S Capitol. This model could be an instructive tool for managing conflicts without violence by focusing both on individual and larger societal factors that can increase or decrease the likelihood of participation in an extremist group. Research on countering violent extremism (CVE) shows that individuals join extremist groupsdue to a variety of reasons—many of which have to do with larger societal issues rather than individual factors. Informed by the CISI model’s emphasis on the relational (interpersonal) and societal (cultural) aspects of change, U.S. policymakers and researchers could conceptualize how to incentivize members of white supremacist groups to leave these groups using a DDR-CVE program. Key to this program would be an investigation into the societal and cultural factors that contribute to recruitment into white supremacist groups in the U.S.

Investigations into the armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6th reveal that white supremacist groups played a large role in planning and executing the insurrection, with many members of these groups later disavowing their allegiance and claiming they had been duped or brainwashed. However, for the last two decades, CVE research in the U.S. has focused on the threat posed by individuals adhering to violent ideologies that are generated outside U.S. borders. The white supremacist groups largely responsible for the storming of the U.S. Capitol emerged from within the U.S.; therefore, policymakers should pursue a DDR-CVE program to disengage individuals from these white supremacist groups. In order to do that, further research and policy development should focus on an integration of CVE and DDR approaches. Using a third-generation DDR program, which emphasizes political reintegration as a key area of change, to transition members of these groups back into society could be a helpful strategy for the U.S. For example, DDR could be operationalized as a conflict prevention tool and focus on civic education, media literacy, and how to channel grievances nonviolently. The CISI model can complement a DDR-CVE program by incorporating a focus on various levels of change. In addition to individual factors, such as behavior and attitudes, relationships among conflict parties and the dominant culture (that enables excessively high levels of gun ownership and emphasizes violence as an effective tool for political and social change) must both be transformed. Importantly, all cases are unique and the structural element of the CISI model may not be as relevant for all members of white supremacist groups in the U.S, especially as those who participated in the Capitol insurrection cut across various social strata. While research suggests that uneducated, unemployed, and divorced individuals tend to participate in the white supremacist movement, more recent evidence indicates that Capitol rioters were not disenfranchised members of society but rather middle- to upper-class Trump supporters. That said, DDR-CVE programs could be designed for the specific context of the U.S. with the end goal of reducing participation and engagement in white supremacist groups. [KH]

 Discussion Questions

 What lessons can be learned regarding success or failure of previous DDR programs when viewing them through a cultural, intrapersonal, structural, and interpersonal (CISI) model lens?

How might a DDR process informed by the CISI model contribute to current CVE efforts?

Continued Reading

Dunn, L. (2020, September 18). How many people in the U.S. own guns? WAMU. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://wamu.org/story/20/09/18/how-many-people-in-the-u-s-own-guns/

Pape R.A., & Rudy, K. (2021, February 2). The Capitol rioters aren’t like other extremists. The Atlantic. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/02/the-capitol-rioters-arent-like-other-extremists/617895/

Bjørgo, T., & Munden, H. (2020, September 7). What explains why people leave far-right groups? Center for Research on Extremism. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.sv.uio.no/c-rex/english/groups/compendium/what-explains-why-people-join-and-leave-far-right-groups.html

Thompson, A.C., & Fisher, F. (2021, January 9). Members of several well-known hate groups identified at Capitol riot. PBS. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/several-well-known-hate-groups-identified-at-capitol-riot/

Weiner, R., & Hsu, S.S. (2021, February 26). Capitol riot defendants facing regrets. Judges aren’t buying it. Washington Post. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/capitol-riot-defendants-regrets/2021/02/26/b3d06e3e-76b1-11eb-9537-496158cc5fd9_story.htmlBritish Council. (n.d.). Civic approaches to confronting violent extremism. British Council USA. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.britishcouncil.us/programmes/society/bridging-transatlantic-voices/civic-approaches-confronting-violent-extremism

Piedmont, D. (2015, June). The role of disarmament, demobilization & reintegration in countering violent extremism. Centre for Security Governance. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://secgovcentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/SSR_2.0_Brief_-_3_-_Dean_Piedmont_-_June-2015_FinalVersion.pdf

Goodkind, N. (2018, August 11). Who joins the alt-right? A look at Charlottesville anniversary. Newsweek. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.newsweek.com/charlottesville-anniversary-who-joins-alt-right-1067065

 Keywords: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR); armed insurgents; post-conflict; peacebuilding; Nigeria; conflict transformation  

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