Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Boko Haram

 Sometime after the US attack on Afghanistan a group calling itself “Taleban” was formed in the north east of the country. About a year later, in 2002, this obscure Salafist group was led by a charismatic, but not too well-educated preacher called Mohammed Yusuf. It called itself the People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad. Hausa locals found that a bit of a mouthful so nicknamed it (perhaps satirically) “Boko Haram” (or “Western education is forbidden”). To say that it is obscurantist is no exaggeration. It looks backwards to an idealised Islamic past although like other modern Islamic radicals, such as those who tried to destroy the centre of Islamic learning in Timbuktu a couple of years back, it does not revere the scholarship of that past. It campaigns for an extension of sharia law to all Nigeria, blaming all Western influences for the situation in which the country finds itself. It was not originally violent but its anti-western agenda appealed to many young (men) who found themselves without jobs or lives without meaning.
In 2009 the group seems to have become frustrated that the local government in the north-eastern state of Borno would not adopt sharia law so launched an armed uprising there. The Nigerian Army reacted with brutal and indiscriminate ferocity, killing innocent civilians as well as Boko Haram members. They captured Mohammed Yusuf and murdered him, declaring that Boko Haram had been defeated. In fact it now passed under the leadership of Yusuf’s deputy Abubakar Shekau who formed links with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, probably involving some training, financing and weapons procurement. However these links should not be exaggerated and judging from the silence in 2014 Boko Haram’s atrocities have not won the approval of other jihadists linked to al-Qaida. Indeed it appears that they are increasingly divided with a new group Ansaru being formed which has condemned Boko Haram’s indiscriminate killing of both Muslims and Christians as “un-Islamic”.
The civil war that has now raged for 5 years has now gone beyond the three poverty-stricken north eastern provinces (Yobe, Borno and Adamawa) where Boko Haram is based. The Army is now deployed in 25 of Nigeria’s 36 states. The consequences of the civil war for the local populations have, as always, been dire. 12,000 have been killed and at least 300,000 have become refugees both within and without Nigeria’s borders. The Army which began the campaign with brutal bravado and indiscriminate massacres (all denied by the Government but all confirmed by Amnesty International) is regarded by north-easterners as no better than the insurgents. Now soldiers are so scared to enter Borno that troops posted there recently mutinied after 11 of them were killed in an ambush. The corruption which is endemic to the society is nowhere more obvious than the Army. Once seen as the “best” in West Africa and deployed on many peace-keeping missions it has degenerated over the last few years, despite an increase in its budget to $5.8 billions. No-one seems to know where this money goes. They spent $15 million a few years back to buy drones which have heat-seeking devices from Israel. They would have been useful in tracing the Chibok girls but they have never been used because no maintenance has ever been carried out on them. And now they seem to be outgunned by Boko Haram, which includes child soldiers in its ranks, and seems to be getting more sophisticated weapons believed to have crossed the Sahara after the fall of the Ghaddafi regime in Libya. With the Army’s reputation for committing atrocities such as summary execution, rape and mass murder well documented, Western states have been more reluctant to send arms and know-how compared to the good old Cold War days when massacring Biafrans was no problem.
But the hashtag campaign #Bringbackourgirls initiated by the parents of the kidnapped girls which began as an attempt to pressure the Nigerian Government may have stirred consciences amongst the rich and powerful in the West. Unfortunately this has not really been good news for the girls. Boko Haram (or at least one faction of it) was prepared to negotiate their release (in exchange for releasing the families of Boko Haram members) but by this time Jonathan was in Paris in a summit of the leaders of Nigeria and its neighbouring states. This was called by President Hollande who has already committed French troops to Mali. Chad, and the Central African Republic to fight Islamist groups. Whilst there Goodluck Jonathan called off negotiations with Boko Haram presumably with the advice (pressure?) of his host in Paris. If this is true it is piece of hypocrisy on Hollande’s part as the French Government have already paid out millions of dollars to Boko Haram to free French people abducted in Cameroon. Presumably such (never acknowledged) payment has given a huge boost to the insurgents’ arms funding. The hypocrisy of imperialist policy doesn’t just apply to France. The hash tag campaign has also given the US and Britain the excuse to get in on the act in the form of sending troops (“advisors”) and “assets” (drones) to the area. For the US it suits the plans of its Africom (United States Africa Command) which in 2013 carried out 546 “military operations” throughout the continent. These are not humanitarian missions but are intended to support US interests in Africa in its increasingly global rivalry with China. Another drone campaign like that in Pakistan is all Boko Haram need to win more support.
In January Goodluck Jonathan sacked a number of military leaders for their failures against Boko Haram. However, after more disasters like the Chibok abductions, it has now finally dawned on the government that the Army cannot defeat an insurgency in a jungle terrain of thousands of square miles and which has its roots (and support) in the socio-economic malaise of the northern states. Late in the day they have now decided to launch a multi-billion dollar so-called “Marshall Plan” for the north to create an infrastructure and develop agriculture. But first they have to send in relief as the Department for International Development estimates that 4.3 million people’s food situation is described as “dire”. Given the chronic corruption of the Nigerian state we can only assume that the bureaucrats in Abuja will be rubbing their hands in anticipation. If any of this actually makes any difference it will be a triumph of optimism over history. Nigeria is just one of the grossest examples of how the greed of a local élite, inextricably linked to the global capitalist system in an epoch of rampant imperialism, is capable of inflicting misery on millions of their “own” citizens to hold onto their wealth It is just one of the many reasons compelling internationalists to continue to fight for a better world than this rotting system can ever offer.

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