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The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II

Where Power Resides: Ungoverned vs. Competitive Governance
Welcome to the second edition of the Storm King Analytics newsletter, a bi-weekly update on what we’re doing, reading, and following. In our previous newsletter, we introduced the concept of Ungoverned Spaces. In this installment, we visit the Emirate of Kano, an archetypal frontier market whose governance structure is just a bit opaque.
For six seasons, Game of Thrones has repackaged the U.S. Army’s worst fears as entertainment. Last season ended with an armada of dragons, Vikings, and Barbarians poised to reclaim the crown of Westeros for its rightful(?) ruler. But where do they start? In the aftermath of a five-way civil war, the realm is bankrupt, the capital faces a religious insurgency, and shadowy non-state actors lurk in the far north. It’s hard enough to parse this if you’re the Khaleesi, let alone the Iron Bank of Braavos demanding its due.
Westeros is a textbook case of a once-stable nation falling headlong into what U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) calls Ungoverned Spaces — the places where formal hierarchies have collapsed or been superseded by complex and opaque networks of competing local actors. We introduced them in our first newsletter, along with the four factors driving their creation: urbanization; globalization; the rise of non-state actors, and the technology enabling them.
As part of our work with the Network Science Center at West Point, we not only set out to develop a model capable of untangling relationships in these places, but also to test it by selecting one and measuring the efficacy of our predictions. (While mapping Game of Thrones characters is fun, the applications are a bit limited.) For that, we settled on the Emirate of Kano.
Perched on the edge of the Sahel, Kano simultaneously refers to Nigeria’s second-largest city, one of the nation’s thirty-six modern states, and a nineteenth-century emirate formed after the Fulani Jihad established a caliphate that was subjugated a century later by the British. Kano is also one of the “thousands of emerging cities in emerging markets” that the McKinsey Global Institute has described as “where the future of many companies will lie. Most of them just don’t know it yet.”
 Overlooking Kano, Nigeria
The emirate of Kano is hardly ungoverned, of course, which is why in the course of developing our project with the Network Science Center and the U.S. Army, we coined “competitive governance” to describe places where self-interested parties wrangle to fill the vacuum left by weak or absent governments. Kano certainly fits that description — in addition to tension between the federal and state governments, there is also the threat of Boko Haram, a rivalry between the Nigerian National Police Force and the Nigerian Defense Forces, and four clans still locked in competition to crown an Emir who wields informal but de facto royal power. There’s even a throne — the “stool of power.”
In 2014, the Emir died after a fifty-year reign. A council of “Kingmakers” consisting of one member from each of the four clans convened to elect a new Emir (who would then be formally recommended to the governor of Kano State for approval, squaring the circle with the formal power structure).
What followed reads like a long-lost script from the first season of GoT: an ambitious governor running against an unpopular Christian president; a Nigerian central bank governor who resigned under pressure after blowing the whistle on corruption; conspiring between clans to freeze out the presumed front-runner, and even a reported plot to abduct the anointed Emir before his formal appointment.
Like any good show-runner, we’re going to leave this newsletter on a cliff-hanger before returning to share the details of what happened, what we learned, and whether we could have predicted such an upset. But this scenario should sound familiar — and not just for HBO subscribers. Understanding the often-cryptic interplay of personal loyalties, familial networks, and formal institutions is essential to anyone working in ungoverned or competitively governed spaces, whether it’s Hamid Karzai undermining his successor in Afghanistan, or doing business in one of McKinsey’s chosen cities. After all, power resides where we believe it resides.
More from Storm King Analytics:
  • During our recent trip to Rwanda, we participated in Impact Hub Kigali’s Drones for Health Hackathon and we had the opportunity to meet with the founders of both Zipline, a California start-up, and GLOBHE, Global Health Drone Consultants and Providers from Sweden. The Rwandan government is keen to experiment with the use of drones for numerous uses. These pilot projects have garnered notice in the press recently both in The Guardian and The Economist. We have a few potential efforts in this sector in the making. Stay tuned.
  • There’s been a bit of buzz about “The Diaspora” returning to countries in Africa. During a visit to Liberia several years ago, we were fortunate to meet with some of these returnees.
  • We recently started a project analyzing the impact of social media on protests like recent ones in Ethiopia in cooperation with the State Department. We also plan to use our expertise to assist an old colleague to complete further analysis of his work studying Russian influence in the twitterverse.
Other interesting tidbits:
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