Will the three Gs matter in Iowa?

In the first and most important caucus state, the GOP candidates are putting "gays, guns and God" is

Iowa, as one US citizen put it, is a place with pictures of piglets on postcards (PPPP, if you will). In other words, it is representative of rural America; a state in the "American Heartland" that is rich in cornfields and farmers, who receive $5 Billion a year in ethanol subsidies. "Sure, downsize government, but don't think about touching my farm subsidy," is the general feel within the state. It comes as no surprise, then, that the GOP candidates have treaded carefully over the issue of corn subsidies in the first and most important caucus state.

But another acronym may carry weight in the PPPP state- that of the three Gs (gays, guns and God). The acronym was used by Thomas Frank in his book What's the matter with kansas to explain why poor white Americans would vote for the Republican party- one that offers tax cuts for the wealthy and supports cutting government wellfare.

Iowa has always been an important state because of it's first-in-the-nation status, and since the Iowa primaries come earlier, they are litmus test of sorts. Other states resent this status, using the argument that it is too small, too white and too rural to represent the American demos.

But historically, it has always been considered the key to nomination. Out of 16 Iowa winners, 11 have become their party's candidate (six democrats-Carter, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama; and five Republicans- Reagan, Bush Senior, Dole, Bush, and Bush).

But will the three Gs hold sway in Iowa in the same way that it has done in the past? In a rural state with a high number of social conservatives, where half of the republican electorate are evangelicals- it would make sense. The Republicans have great pride in having a strong evangelical base. But this year, with unemployment at 9 per cent and ubiquitous house foreclosures, it seems that whether a candidate believes in the same God, or the same religious values, might not be that important as divine intervention in the form of a candidate who will guide the American people through tough economic times.

A recent Gallup poll conducted in early 2011 reported that more than half of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared to 27 per cent in 1997. And in Iowa, gay marriage became legal in 2009 through the courts, although a 2010 poll showed that 44 per cent of Iowans were against same-sex marriage- the only state in the US with same-sex marriage in which support was below half. Indeed, in 2010, three Supreme Court justices who ruled homosexuals should be allowed to marry were kicked out of their positions in a historic decision by voters. It was the first time since 1962 that any justices had been brushed off.

And when it comes to guns, President Obama seems to be protecting the right to bear arms enough, with little if no mention of fire-arms and no legislation against it.

Over at the NY Tiimes Opinionator, Timothy Egan argued that the three Gs could do more harm than good to Republican candidates in 2012:

"Conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays. And with religion, some Republicans have already made an issue of Romney's Mormonism, and Gingrich's switch to Roman Catholicism. In Gingrich's case, questions have been raised about how a multiple-married man could win the favor of high-ranking Catholic clerics who usually look askance at people who ditch their wives. Do we dare expect these two fine men to be the ones, at long last, to bring an end to the gays, guns and God wedge issue, even if it's by accident?"

A recent New York TImes/CBS News poll suggests that voter's concerns are mainly about jobs and the economy (40 per cent) and the budget deficit (23 per cent), with only nine per cent saying their concern was social issues.

But Republican candidates seem to be flirting with the three Gs. Rick Perry released an add titled "Strong" about why he is a christian and criticising "Obama's war on religion". And in the December 15 GOP candidates debate in Iowa, there were plenty of questions on morality. Newt Gingrich (who is leading the polls with 26 per cent) was attacked for once suggesting he supported Republicans who support some abortion rights. Romney was attacked by Fox host Chris Wallace, who suggested he Romney shifted positionsguns and gay-related issues since running for for senate 17 years ago. "In 1994 and throughout my career, I've said I oppose same-sex marriage," he shot back.

If the three Gs apply anywhere else, it is in Iowa, where far-right conservatism seems to be a safe bet. But with Americans angrier than ever about the state of the country (a recent CNN poll asked the question: Are you angry about the state of the country, with 74 per cent answering yes) the three Gs and moral issues might not carry the same weight as in the past.

 

 

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Scarred lands: visiting the villages Boko Haram left behind reveals the toxic legacy of terrorism

The progress and challenges of Nigerian communities rebuilding after Boko Haram’s insurgency begins to wane.

“Sometimes it’s when I go to bed that what happened comes back to me.” Two years ago, Boko Haram militants stormed into 23-year-old John Amida’s home late at night in a village in Gwoza, Borno State, northeast Nigeria. Shielding his eyes with his hands from the torchlight saved his life. He shows me the mark in the centre of his forearm where the bullet aimed for his head went instead.

“All my friends were either killed or abducted,” he says. “I don’t try to forget what happened because it’s not possible; it’s with you even when it is not in your mind. The best thing is just to keep on living every day.”

After a broadly effective 18-month military campaign, Boko Haram remains a deadly yet waning force. Many communities once occupied by Boko Haram are now liberated. In Adamawa, just south of Borno, over 630,000 people previously displaced by Boko Haram have returned home.

With them, over 170,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) now live in camps, or – like John and his family – in host communities. He and his family live in a home vacated and lent to them by a local. All over Adamawa, IDPs live in homes shared with residents or given to them temporarily in exchange for help, crops or token sums of rent.

Adamawa is a serene, largely rural, mountainous state. Even deep into the dry season, driving through the roads that cut between its vast countryside, its land is incredibly scenic. But within local communities, in more rural, isolated villages north of the state’s capital, Yola, the picture is more complicated.

Gombi, a small town a few hours’ drive from Yola, was recaptured from Boko Haram in late 2014. Much of what was destroyed in the insurgency – shops and small businesses – have been rebuilt or replaced. The local government buildings have been largely restored. The impact is still visible but, according to locals, decreasingly so.

But in less urban areas, like in Garaha, a village in Adamawa, rebuilt homes sit next to broken, abandoned houses, churches, mosques and buildings blackened by the fires that damaged them. Local government officials say the damage across Adamawa by the insurgency has set the state’s development back by a decade. Funding for rebuilding the state, which local governments complain is insufficient, is concentrated on urban areas.

According to Chief Suleimanu, a traditional ruler in Garaha, mental health issues are widespread but few are financially able to access support. While some people have been able to move on, others are still dealing with the consequences.

“Many couples and families have separated,” he tells me, detailing how in some couples one partner feels attached to their home while the other can’t face returning, or feel there is little to return to.

“The same with the children, some of the young people have gone to bigger cities like Kano or Abuja because of a lack of opportunities.”

Many returnees, who left camps in Cameroon to come back to Adamawa, are from families who have lived in their villages for generations. Their ancestral roots anchor them to their homes because their farmland is their main source of income. Non-agriculture-based industries provide few jobs. For many people, fleeing their homes meant abandoning their livelihoods.

As of 2015, 52 per cent of people in Nigeria lived in rural areas. Their relative isolation is a blessing and a curse. Larger rural spaces provide them with adequate land to cultivate their crops – but it also leaves them exposed.

During Boko Haram attacks on Garaha through to early 2015, there was minimal protection from security forces who often take hours to arrive.

For many people living in rural Adamawa, life is getting harder and easier at the same time. Armed herdsmen, mainly from the Fulani ethnicity have become a greater threat across Nigeria, partly due to tensions between land ownership and cattle grazing.

According to locals, killings by herdsmen have increased this year. But villages are addressing their vulnerability. Armed vigilantes, some of which formed due to the lack of military protection against Boko Haram, are increasing. The police services are often too far away or too under-resourced to protect them. But some vigilantes now have more weapons and vehicles due to help from state services and locals. It is not an ideal solution but it has made places like Garaha safer.

With this new-found relative safety, villagers have begun farming again. With cash grants and donated tools from charities like Tearfund, it has been easier for thousands of people to begin cultivating land. In many villages there are small, lively recreation centres where young people play snooker and watch sport. Many of their places of worship have been rebuilt.

But the situation is grimmer in communities where such charities are not present.  Without resources, state or non-government help, rebuilding is a real challenge.

Adamawa is a state maxing on its credit of hospitality, relative safety and appreciation of agriculture. A recession in Nigeria and a severe food crisis in the northeast have added pressures on returnees and IDPs. Liberated communities will need more help and attention before they truly feel free.

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.