People & Money

Banned from the USA: Nigeria’s New Friends

The Donald Trump administration announced in January 2019 that the United States had banned another six countries from getting the immigration visas to the United States of America. The list includes Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan. The administration had earlier in 2017, through Executive Order 13769 (otherwise known as the Muslim Ban), sought to severely restrict travel to the USA from seven Muslim countries. So, it is quite easy to think the January ban is another Muslim Ban. But the Americans have explained that the reason for the ban is the countries’ “unwillingness or inability to adhere to our identity management, information sharing, national security and public safety assessment criteria.” In plain English, these countries pose security and also financial crime risks because, for instance, it is very difficult to tell who the people bearing their passports really are. So, even if Nigeria’s new five friends do not share a record for breeding and exporting violent religious fundamentalism, they must share traits of oluwole governance. We looked at the quality of governance indicators that make countries poor, their bureaucracy too weak to reliably manage and share information about the citizens and that made them likely to breed terrorists. How much do Nigeria’s new friends look like Nigeria?


  • Population: 5.32 million
  • GDP/Per capita income: $6.72 billion [2018]/$881 [2011]
  • Corruption index (transparency): 23/100 [CPI 2019]
  • Literacy and poverty rates: 70% live below poverty rate, 77% literacy rate [2018]
  • Index/indicators security sector governance /terrorism: Terrorism Index is 0 [2018], Political Stability index is -0.61 [2018]
  • Democracy Index: 2.37
  • Economy: Agriculture and Mining [Combined 40% of GDP]

This small East African country’s appearance on this unenviable list is not much of a surprise.  It does have a long-standing problem with corruption. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Eritrea ranked 166th out of 175 countries in 2014, climbing to 160th by 2019. More so, its human rights records are not on par with the United States’ brand of modern democracy. Since independence 27 years ago, Eritrea has never held a single round of national elections. There is only one legally-recognised political party. Military service is mandatory for every man and woman; failure of compliance could attract up to 12 years. According to the Press Freedom Index, Eritrea has the third-worst state of press freedom in the world.

To make matters worse, the government, back in 2011, declared war on certain Christian groups it claimed were being paid by the CIA to disrupt the government. This led to a wide persecution of the Christian community [3,000 Christians were held in detention in 2011, tens of thousands forced to flee the country] which led the United States to include the nation on its Countries of Particular Concern list.

Eritrea’s terrorism problem, though much milder than Nigeria’s, is impossible for the Trump administration to ignore, especially considering that it is mostly fuelled by Islamic fundamentalists. The Eritrean Islamic Jihad group is the country’s biggest terrorist threat, bent on spreading Islamic ideology and establishing a caliphate that extends throughout the Horn of Africa. But this is where it gets a bit confusing. The terrorist group has not been a particularly strong threat since 2003, when it last made a notable attack. The country has consistently maintained a 0 score on the Terrorism Index since 2016, indicating no terrorism threat. Just months ago, the United States effectively removed Eritrea from its Counterterror Non-Cooperation List, declaring it a safe ally.

Eritrea’s inclusion is revealing. The presence of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in the country has become insignificant. But the country is as corrupt as Nigeria and it is also a far more repressive place with serious human right s issues. All this suggests the sort of bad governance and weak state capacity that makes it impossible for countries to effectively manage identity and monitor migration is as important in consideration as abhorring active Islamic militants in deciding who gets on this second Muslim Ban list.


  • Population: 42.8 million
  • GDP/Per capita income: $40.85 billion [2018]/$3,015.024 [2017]
  • Corruption index (transparency): 16/100 [CPI 2019]
  • Literacy and poverty rates: 61% literacy rate [2018], 47% live below the poverty line [2019]
  • Index/indicators security sector governance /terrorism: Terrorism Index is 5.81 [2018], Political Stability Index is -1.84 [2018]
  • Democracy index: 2.70
  • Economy: Agriculture [32% of GDP]

The United States’ animosity towards Sudan is not a secret. Ever since hosting Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s, the country has rightfully earned the suspicion of the American government. For 30 years, until 2019, the country was run with an iron hand by the military leader, Omar al-Bashir during which there were genocides and internal wars. With a 97% Muslim population, it perfectly fits the portrait of the “dangerous, unstable Islamic terrorist state” often painted by the Trump administration. It ranked 173rd of 180 countries in the world on Transparency International’s CPI.

But the country has worked overtime to shed this reputation. It expelled members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and sent Bin Laden packing in 1996. Last year, the regime of al-Bashir was toppled in a historic change of powers which put an end, as some have observed, to decades of internal terrorism. In 2017, as one of his last acts as president, Barrack Obama signed an executive order which lifted most of the sanctions placed on Sudan. Donald Trump, surprisingly, followed through on Obama’s vision, and further lifted sanctions on the country, including the previous travel restrictions, though it remained on the list of state sponsors of terrorism for its connection to a number of Islamic terrorist organisations.

The USA recognises that Sudan’s move towards civilian rule will improve identity management while noting that “Sudan generally does not comply with our identity-management performance metrics and presents a high risk, relative to other countries in the world, of terrorist travel to the United States.” The Trump administration acknowledged the progress Sudan has made in switching to electronic passport and sharing more information with Interpol as well as promptly invalidating lost, stolen or fraudulently obtained passports. But it expects Sudan to do far more. So, once again, the problem is not terrorism per se but weak management of identity and immigration systems.



  • Population: 58 million
  • GDP/Per capita income: $57.44 billion [2018]/$1,050.7 [2018]
  • Corruption index (transparency): 37/100 [2019]
  • Literacy and poverty rates: 78% literacy rate [2015], 27% living below poverty line [2016]
  • Index/indicators security sector governance/terrorism: Terrorism index is 3.27 [2018], Political Stability Index is -0.56 [2018]
  • Democracy index: 5.16
  • Economy: Agriculture [24.5% of GDP]

Tanzania is one of the surprising inclusions on Trump’s list. It has so little in common with countries like Nigeria or Sudan. Lots of Western tourists travel there on holiday. Tanzania is the 96th least corrupt country out of 180 surveyed by Transparency International (Nigeria is 146 on the list). Tanzania is not even in the top fifteen list of African countries that have the most migrants in the USA.

It does not appear to pose a significant threat, either. It has not witnessed a terrorist attack since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam. It has a 78% literacy rate, with its immigrants to the US generally being educated folks. But according to the US government, “Tanzania does not comply with the established identity-management and information-sharing criteria assessed by the performance metrics”. The lesson here is that poverty eats up state capacity as much as corruption; Tanzania is not a particularly corrupt country, but its bureaucrats can’t do the routine system management and reporting stuff that would have made the country escape Trump’s Muslim Ban.



  • Population: 6.4 million
  • GDP/Per capita income: $8.09 billion/$ 1,281.4 [2018]
  • Corruption index (transparency): 30/100 [2019]
  • Literacy and poverty rates: 100% literacy rate [2018], 26% living below poverty line [2016]
  • Index/indicators security sector governance /terrorism: Terrorism Index is 1.7, Political stability Index is -0.58
  • Democracy index: 4.89
  • Economy: Agriculture [20% of GDP]

Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim-majority state in Central Asia. It used to be one of the fifteen republics that made up the Soviet Union. It has a poor corruption record, named 126th among the least-corrupt nations of the world in 2019. Kyrgyzstan is a clear danger to international security for a number of reasons. Between 2010 and 2018, over 500 people were arrested for terrorism-related charges, though actual successful acts of terrorism have been extremely rare. Also, according to Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, up to 800 of its citizens had joined militant groups in places like Syria and Yemen.

Back in 2017, the United States government complained about the country’s lack of cooperation in the release of reliable information concerning terrorist activities and groups, making it difficult to assess the threat. It is no surprise at all that this country has found itself on the list.


  • Population: 54 million
  • GDP/Per capita income: $71.21 billion [2018]/ $1,326
  • Corruption index (transparency): 29/100 [2019]
  • Literacy and poverty rates: 76% literacy rate [2016], 25% living below poverty line [2017]
  • Index/indicators security sector governance /terrorism: Terrorism Index is 5.51 [2018], Political Stability Index is -1.31
  • Democracy index: 3.55
  • Economy: Agriculture [37.8% of GDP]

The Southeast Asian country is notorious for its corruption. Coming in at 130 on Transparency International’s CPI, it is one of the most corrupt nations in its region. With practically every sector infected by huge viral loads of corruption, it is impossible to divorce the country’s reputation from this abject breakdown of protocol. Although Myanmar has a terrible record with terrorism, only 4.3 percent of the country are Muslims. There are currently three terrorist organisations operating within the country: Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, Arakan Army and Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors. These organisations, which are more political than religious, have been known to attack domestic sites as well as foreign countries. The country has also experienced a series of unexplained bombings.


Blame the Bureaucrats!

On the list, the biggest GDP is Nigeria’s $397 billion and the lowest GDP is Eritrea’s $6.72 billion.  Sudan, with a GDP of $40.85 billion has the highest per capita income of $3,015, followed by Nigeria with $2,028. At $881, Eritrea’s per capita income is the lowest. So, with a mix of economies based on petroleum, agriculture, tourism and minerals, there is quite a bit of diversity amongst Nigeria’s new friends. What seems to unite them is weak state capacity, indicated in a low average Corruption Index score of 27 over 100. Indonesia, the country with world’s highest number of Muslims, has a Terrorism Index score of 5.07, higher than the 4.15 average for the six banned countries (Nigeria’s is 8.6). It also has a significantly higher Corruption Index score of 40 over 100 (Nigeria’s is 26) than the banned countries’ average of 26.83 (the higher the score, the less corrupt the country is). As a famous Zambian priest once said, it is petty corruption that destroys the soul of a nation. To regain their souls, Nigeria and its five new friends require reforms that make their politics less a quest for personal wealth and create incentives for politicians to retool their bureaucracies. The Trump Ban has nothing to do with religion.


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