Is it time for African nation-states to invite foreign intervention in the campaign against terrorism? The case of Boko Haram
As extreme militant Islamists, inspired by ‘Salifist jihadism’ and nurtured by domestic disaffection with non-inclusive political and economic institutions, reek unspeakable havoc in northeastern and northcentral Nigeria, the country once again emerges on the international scene for the wrong reasons. The militant group that brands itself ‘Boko Haram’ has, since its formation in 2002 in Borno State by Mohammed Yusuf, managed to confirm two sad realities in the country: the Nigerian government’s inability to contain it, and the group’s unconstrained capacity to spill the blood of fellow innocent Africans. The extrajudicial killing of Mr. Yusuf in 2009 by Nigerian security forces did not help matters.
Answering to the likes of Abubakar Shekau, the de factor leader of the militants once Yusuf was summarily executed, Boko Haram embarked on a killing spree in 2009; to date an estimated five thousand innocent Nigerians, primarily in the northern states of the country, have lost their lives. In the same period the group’s campaign of terror has displaced over 650,000 residents of the region, and close to five hundred women and children have been abducted, including 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April, 2014. While Boko Haram openly justifies its monstrosities by its ostensible abhorrence of western influence and education in the region (as the name implies) and seeks to establish Sharia laws in northern Nigeria, what informs its existence, however, is readily traceable to the government’s inability to deliver to its citizenry basic social infrastructures and institutions that conduce to modern standard of living. Lacking in all meaningful social indices that measure acceptable standards of economic well-being and self-sufficiency, Boko Haram’s goals and ideology become appealing to the neglected, disenfranchised, and severely marginalized. The youths, poorly educated and wanting in job skills and opportunities to improve their collective lot, see no reasonable substitute to their abysmal and deplorable state of existence. A call to arms provides a false expectation as the means to escape unyielding and devastating levels of unemployment, poverty, and disease amongst residents of heavily impacted areas –Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. In a very special sense, residents of these states are now twice victimized; once through neglect by their elected representatives, and by the violence visited upon them by Boko Haram.
So far international response to Boko Haram’s atrocities remains weak and wanting in muscular intervention ordinarily appropriate to the magnitude of inhumanity experienced in northern Nigeria. Nonetheless it took the Nairobi incident of September 21, 2013 where sixty-seven shoppers were massacred by a Somalia-based militants to provoke an international response to what was up till then widely considered an African peculiarity – ethnic strife, tribalism, and religion-inspired brutality. Two weeks after the shooting at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, a U.S. Navy Seals team attacked a building in Barawe in southern Somalia where Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir was believed to be taking refuge. Abdulkadir, a Kenyan-born jihadist and a leading member of the Shabab militant sect is known by counter-intelligence agencies to have played major roles in attacks undertaken by the group in Somalia, and co-coordinated activities with an allied terrorist group, al-Hijra. The U.S. assault failed to kill Abdulkadir, but on the same night, a similar U.S led attack in North Africa was successful; Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai was captured. Hamed al-Ruqai had been linked to al-Qaeda, and the 1998 Nairobi embassy blasts, and attacks on Israeli targets in 2002 in Mombasa.
As these terrorist groups become bolder and extend their reach across Africa, the question of how to contain, and ultimately neutralize them become immediate and pressing. The obvious toll on civilian lives notwithstanding, the attendant socio-economic consequences of terrorism in Africa compounds the already overwhelming problems that plague the continent. To date, no African government has put forward a concrete plan to effectively combat terrorism either within its territorial competence or beyond its borders. The 1998 agreement between Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger to form a joint task force to combat destabilizing militancy is yet to produce tangible evidence of effectiveness. A similar 2012 agreement between Nigeria and Cameroon amounts to a pro forma memorandum of understanding that lacks nothing but actual performance. Meanwhile Boko Haram continues its bloody campaign of terror against defenseless civilians.
All these raise the question of whether African governments have the means and the requisite commitment to defend its citizens. In the same vein, the question of whether foreign intervention in Africa to rescue the continent from her home-grown terrorists is an admission of failure and ineptitude or a recognition of the continent’s limited experience in counter-terrorism, and the paucity of resources to contain it. The proper perspective, however, is one that recognizes the international scope of these militant groups, and the unmistakable fact that their activities have far reaching consequences beyond the geographical borders of African states. It is within this understanding that foreign intervention holds its appeal. But such foreign intervention would at best be a short-term solution; a lasting solution would require substantive political leadership and effective governments that enjoy the support of those whose affairs they govern.
In Nigeria Boko Haram has so far shown itself to be adept in exploiting fundamental weakness in both public policy and deployment of federal and state resources. In an attempt to prevent future coups, the military was severely degraded and funds that were budgeted to equip a more agile and serviceable military were diverted to fund personal interests. Thus, through graft and bureaucratic corruption, Nigerians inherited an ill-equipped and demoralized military that is now a shell of its former self, and incapable of bringing to order a rag-tag assembly of disaffected youths bent on destabilizing the country. This aside, a lasting solution, however, cannot be gained through the barrels of heavy artillery, for violence only begets violence; a corrective measure that addresses the fundamental problems attendant to bureaucratic corruption such as poor healthcare delivery mechanism, decaying public infrastructure, crippling poverty, and chronic unemployment must be addressed. Otherwise the problems of domestic terrorism would remain a major problem, and our policy makers would have missed the road to peace everlastingly.