Africa: The Boko Haram insurgency
How AFRICOM and African governments can effectively counter terrorism and Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and the whole of Africa
| by Osita Ebiem
( January 8, 2013, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian) In an article two years ago that appeared in various online magazines titled; “Nigeria as the New Center of World Terrorism” this writer tried to call the attention of policy makers around the world to the danger terrorist activities in the Nigerian state poses to the world community. Today that warning remains valid. Islamic terrorism finds conducive atmosphere in Nigeria for some reasons as we shall explain.
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United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) headed by General Carter Ham is based out of Germany. AFRICOM is a US military outfit designed primarily to respond in African situations that pose danger to American interests anywhere. It is based in Stuttgart, Germany because it is alleged that no African country would grant it a base in Africa. The contention being that African countries feared that allowing such bases in their territories would open them up to a new kind of foreign imperial domination and manipulation. So right from the onset it appears that opposition has trailed the organization and its intentions in Africa. Some who are strongly opposed to it have called for the dismantling of AFRICOM altogether saying that it will only work against the overall interests of Africans. These people argue that what Africa needs is economic investment and not military or any other form of aids.
It is in recognition of this opposition that the US government tries to use any available opportunity to explain its real intentions about AFRICOM to any African audience. One of those opportunities presented itself during the just concluded Chinua Achebe’s Colloquium at Brown University in Providence, Rohde Island in the United States. Ham addressed a plenary session on the second day of the two day event. The colloquium took place between 7 and 8 of December, 2012. In the audience were many international scholars and members of the diplomatic corps. In his address Ham explained AFRICOM’s mission in Africa to the audience. This writer was in the audience and heard him tell of how it is the intention of American government, through AFRICOM to work as partner with governments in Africa to tackle the various domestic security issues of the African states especially in the area of rapidly rising incidents of Islamic insurgencies.
Of course the ultimate concern of United States as Ham clearly stated is the danger that these terrorist activities might and do pose to US citizens and business interests anywhere within the African continent. Only recently Islamic insurgents attacked, burned US Consulate and killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Because the Libyan attack took place on September 11, 2012 some people have speculated that the terrorists were reenacting the 2001 September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. The Benghazi attack killed the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Without trying to overstretch the issue Islamic insurgents’ activities in the various African countries pose real danger to not just Americans and their interests within Africa and beyond, other Westerners too are increasingly being targeted. This can be better understood in the light of the name of one of the radical organizations. We refer to the Nigerian Boko Haram. A literal translation of the group’s name is “book is forbidden”. In this instance, Western books and ideas that in Islam are considered to be negatively influencing and corrupting pure Islamic knowledge and sharia.
In the just concluded year of 2012 there were various incidents of kidnapping and killing of many Westerners in Nigeria and around the Continent. A British and an Italian, construction workers were kidnapped in Kebbi State and murdered in Sokoto in March 2012 by Islamic extremists in Northern Nigeria. The two Europeans Chris McManus, 28, a British citizen, and Italian Franco Lamolinara 27, were murdered by their captors after being held for nearly one year. Then there was the German Edgar Raupach killed by the jihadists in May of the same year in Kano Northern Nigeria. The group that killed the German is said to have kidnapped him to use and bargain for the release of the wife of an al Qaeda operative in Germany. Both husband and wife had been jailed in Germany for violent Islamic jihad activities in that country. Al Qaeda affiliates in Nigeria abducted the German engineer with the intention of freeing him in exchange for the jailed woman but killed him when an attempt to free him by security forces failed. The 2009 Nigerian Underwear Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted blowing up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over the Detroit airspace in the United States also claimed to be working for and under inspiration from al Qaeda network.
The most recent incident is the kidnapping of the 63 year old French national in Katsina State Northern Nigeria in what the French President François Hollande said is probably linked to the North Africa’s branch of al Qaeda network, AQIM. A radical Islamist group known as Ansaru has since claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the French engineer Francis Colump this last December of 2012. Ansaru is said to have links with Boko Haram and the international al Qaeda network as well as the dreadful al Shabab of Somalia. The group claims it is holding Colump and other four French nationals who were kidnapped in Nigeria’s neighboring country of Niger Republic because of the role French government is playing in trying to dislodge the Islamists from Northern Mali. They also said that they are protesting the "law (in France) outlawing the use of Islamic veil by Muslim women, which is an infringement on (the women’s) religious rights." In a statement a few weeks ago British government described Ansaru as a "Nigeria-based terrorist organization which is aligned with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM”. Boko Haram and many of the other extremist groups operating in Nigeria are also said to be connected with the Somali al Shabab and al Qaeda in the Maghreb in North Africa. A new offshoot of the Boko Haram group has recently emerged and it is just as deadly. It goes by the name Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan, JAMBS. The name roughly translates; Vanguards for the Aid of Muslims in Black Africa (VAMBA).
On August 1, 2012 the spokesperson for Boko Haram Abu Qaqa restated the aim of the group. His declaration also represents those of the other active groups operating within the country:
“We want to stress that in our struggle, we only kill Nigerian government functionaries, security agents, Christians, and anyone who pretends to be a Muslim but engages in assisting security agents to arrest us. We are responsible for the attacks in Bauchi and at the residence of Namadi Sambo in Zaria as well as the one in Damaturu where we bombed a patrol vehicle. We wish to extend our profound gratitude to Almighty Allah for giving us the opportunity to fulfill the promise we made on launching spontaneous attacks in Sokoto. We have reasons for all our activities and we only kill those who wronged us. We attacked Sokoto because many of our brethren have been incarcerated there.”
Clearly, from the afore mentioned and many other incidents, there is every reason for United States and Europeans to be concerned about the security of their citizens and business interests in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Undoubtedly it is in attempt to do something about these threats that informed the recent move by the US AFRICOM. A news report has it that AFRICOM is preparing to send military personnel and equipment to as many as 35 African countries (including Nigeria) to help train and equip the countries’ military. It is aimed at increasing the capacities of these countries to respond effectively to the scourge of Islamic terrorism originating from their localities. By any standard, this is an elaborate project that seems to be misdirected for several reasons. It is bound to exert a lot of pressure on both the African states and the United States from different quarters. Citizens of the African countries are going to ask questions and express concerns. There will be a considerable financial cost may be some wastes, on the United States treasury. Many critics will use this as evidence in arguing the point on why they believe that the US is only out to exploit the Continent to her benefit.
To effectively counter and eventually defeat the jihadists’ problem in Nigeria and all over the Continent it will be more appropriate to take time and understand its origin and correctly assess the challenges. The jihadists engage in it as a struggle that has, for them ideological or cultural and physical aspects. “. . . in our struggle, we only kill Nigerian government functionaries, security agents, Christians, and anyone who pretends to be a Muslim but engages in assisting security agents to arrest us.” Islam is basically political as well as religious. In its religious aspect it strives to control and dictate the religious and cultural standards for its adherents. And to do it effectively it must struggle to create and control a space that is exclusively for Muslims where they can practice their religion. When trying to counter such a phenomenon, it becomes harder to win when the focus is solely on military equipment and tactics. Here is one reason why; “Despite a heavy military and police presence, the sect's adherents have continued to launch frequent attacks.” That is how the Associated Press recently reported on one incident of the numerous intransigencies of Islamic terrorism in Nigeria.
We want to believe that AFRICOM efforts are not simply to impress the Africans with the military might of the United States. So, let’s take for granted that there is genuine intention to solve the menace of Islamic terrorists in Nigeria and throughout Africa. Using Nigeria as the model we know that the cause of the religious tension and most of the other problems there is the direct effect of the colonial state structure of the country. The same is applicable to the other parts of the Continent. Nigeria’s Boko Haram and the rest insurgents’ problems in African can be solved through the use of dialog. Talking of dialog, no one is suggesting negotiating with terrorists. The kind of negotiation that will work here is to dialog to renegotiate the issue of the colonial state boundaries in Nigeria and the other parts of Africa. Majority of Nigeria’s terrorist problems have their root in the structural defects of the Nigerian state.
Though on several occasions some commentators, including the United States State Department have cited some other issues such as poverty and political corruption as being the reasons for the problem, but those are mere effects of the underlying problem. Islamic insurgences in Nigeria and the other parts of Africa compare to a hydra headed monster. We can succeed through military force to cut off a few heads like Boko Haram, Ansaru or any other group. But that will just be a temporary victory in which so much human and material resources would have been wasted to achieve very little result that would not last. The monster will regrow those militarily wounded heads. When it heals enough it will tend to be more vicious and devastating. Terrorist monster of Northern Nigeria and the entire continent will not die by merely cutting off some of its heads. That had been done before. What is needed is to apply a lasting solution to the problem. Nigeria’s terrorist problem can be solved if we decide to go after it at the root rather than the reactionary approach as is the case right now.
One important observation that policy makers in this matter should not overlook is the fact that the killings are actually one sided. The killers are killing only the people whom they consider to be the impediment on their way to establishing their ideal Islamic state: “We only kill Nigerian government functionaries, security agents, Christians, and anyone who pretends to be a Muslim but engages in assisting security agents to arrest us.” In Nigeria it’s neither a religious nor an ethnic fight in the conventional sense of it. The other parties getting killed, apart from the government are not engaging their attackers. The intention of the killers as they have stated many times, is to ethnically/religiously cleanse that part of the country of the people and structures that impede their desire to establish an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria. The truth is that the North of the country which is largely Islamic wants to be left alone. They want a state of their own free of Christians and believer of other religions. Nigeria’s unity is forced on the various parts of the country by the British colonial rulers and ever since has created the endemic clash of non-compatible peoples and cultures. For anyone who has followed the pattern of events and killings, it’s not difficult to observe that the attackers have been consistent. They attack and eliminate those targets they consider to be representative of or aid the obstacles to their goal. They target Igbo people and Western nationals because they consider them as local representatives and foreign assistants respectively of the Islam polluting agent: Christianity.
It is suggested that AFRICOM and other Western interest groups should approach the problem bearing in mind the terrible effect of the defective colonial state structure in Nigeria and all over the Continent. They should instead aid Nigeria and other African countries in adopting a multi-state solution to solve the seemingly endemic problem. With this approach, Africans and their political leadership will not need to be afraid of any imperialistic threat from the United States or any other Western power. And with that as the case, the only real foreign domination and manipulation that should concern Africans and their political leaders is clearly the dysfunctional effect of the extant foreign-imposed state boundaries on their sociopolitical existence. This has created so much unnecessary tensions that have depleted and dissipated any creative energy that Africans need to create conducive environment that enables growth, security, stability and prosperity. Once this problem is solved through the 2011 Sudan solution then the problem of bad governance, poverty, youth unemployment, corruption, dearth of functional social utilities and infrastructures, lack of accepting responsibilities for matters of personal and collective concerns and most of all Islamic religious intolerances and extreme jihadist insurgencies will cease or reduce to manageable proportions. Religious extremism of the kind going on in Nigeria and other parts of Africa thrives better in a chaotic or dysfunctional state than it does in a poverty stricken society. It is chaos that creates such monster and not poverty. Poverty might help it to grow after but chaos and indoctrination are the initiators.
United States or any other government does not need to expend any of the resources as are being budgeted to train and equip African national armies. In a multi-state solution the governments can achieve very positive short and long term results at a very minimal cost and record time. Because in the heart of the religious insurgences in Nigeria and other parts of Africa are the incongruent colonial state boundaries, it will make more sense if AFRICOM and Africans can redraw the African political map rather than retrain and reequip African Armies.