Boko Haram: What can Africa learn?


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It is difficult to ignore the current developments in Nigeria. For those who are unaware, on April 14 2014 300 girls were abducted from a school by a pseudo-Islamic extremist outfit known as Boko Haram.


Out of the 300, some girls managed to escape, leaving 276 girls in the hands of their captors.


The Nigerian government led by Goodluck Jonathan and the international community at large have consequently caught criticism for their collective delay in responding to the kidnapping, with African activists protesting that the delayed media response to the kidnapping is solely because the victims are black and African.


However, the Nigerian government has been the major recipient of criticism, as reports have emerged that for weeks, the president of Nigeria refused international support to search for the abducted girls.


However, several questions remain unanswered. Firstly, what is Boko Haram? Why did they target innocent schoolchildren? Where do they get their weapons? Why did the Nigerian government delay in responding to the matter? Finally, what can Africa learn from this situation?


What is Boko Haram?

According to a 2012 report by the United States Institute of Peace, “the group Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, known the world over as Boko Haram, is an extremist [pseudo] Islamic sect in Nigeria that has created havoc across the north of the country and in the capital, Abuja. Its violent attacks on government offices, the United Nations, and churches threaten to destabilize the country.”

“Boko Haram … believes politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law.”

Apparently, Boko Haram is not linked to global jihadist terror groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or Somalia’s al Shabab and therefore they are unlikely to select international targets. Instead, the group selects “softer targets”.


Why would they kidnap young vulnerable schoolchildren?

Criminologists are of the view that “hostage-taking by terrorists tends to involve well-trained and well-organized groups, and their hostages are likely to have been carefully chosen, particularly in anticipation of the likely effect that their abduction will have on others. Media involvement is nearly always a deliberately manufactured feature of such events.”


In this particular instance, the group abducted 300 schoolgirls from the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok in Borno state, arguably because the girls could be captured without logistical difficultly and also, because of the resultant media interest in the event.


Since the kidnapping, reports have also emerged that Boko Haram wants to trade the pupils for Boko Haram fighters who are currently in the hands of the Nigerian State.


Where does Boko Haram source its weapons?

Reports suggest that since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011, weapons from Libya have been fueling conflict, terrorism and insecurity in various parts of Africa and beyond.


It appears that Libya has become one of the world’s leading sources of illicit weapons. These are being sold to terrorist groups such as those in Mali, Tunisia, Chad and to Boko Haram.


A 2013 United Nations Security Council Report titled: Final report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011) concerning Libya found that:
“Since the uprising and the resulting collapse of the security apparatus, including the loss of national control over weapons stockpiles and the absence of any border controls, Libya has over the past two years become a significant and attractive source of weaponry in the region.


“Illicit flows from the country are fueling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-State actors, including terrorist groups.”

Apparently, the 2011 NATO bomb orgy in Libya, which Nicolas Sarkozy said, would help Libyans “liberate themselves from servitude” did not achieve that end. Today, Libya is home to a myriad armed militias.


Why did the Nigerian government delay in responding to the matter?

Nigeria recently became Africa’s leading economy, surpassing South Africa. In this light, the Nigerian state would have liked the world to think that it is on top of its domestic concerns- security and otherwise.


However, reports that Nigeria refused international assistance to search for the girls for some weeks before succumbing to international and domestic pressure may be indications that the Nigerian government did not want to expose its security and intelligence (in)capacities to the world.


What can Africa learn?

The principle of Ubuntu in African culture points to the prevailing role of the community in communal issues, differing from the predominantly individualistic thinking in the West.


“Ubuntu means that people are people through other people. It also acknowledges both the rights and the responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal well-being.”


At the heart of Ubuntu, is the principle of putting the most vulnerable in society first, whether in rural communities, or at the highest levels of government where security, economic and social policies are formulated.


In practice, Ubuntu is putting vulnerable groups like the Girl-Child foremost on our national and international agendas. For that reason, the next time our leaders decide to vote in favour of a western sponsored blitzkrieg under the pretences of human rights, and no-fly zones, African leaders should remember this terrible incident in Nigeria, and consider the immediate and downstream consequences for the Girl-Child and the continent as a whole. Bring back our girls!


Tau Tawengwa