Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.
Boko Haram, a major language and tribe of northern Nigeria, which loosely means "Western education is forbidden" in Hausa, has emerged as a major threat to the stability and unity of Nigeria. Because of Boko Haram it is no coincidence that the Pentagon has announced that U.S. troop engagement in Africa, albeit largely for training purposes, will increase in number and projects in Africa. This was widely predicted but originally denied when AFRICOM was created by the U.S. Department of Defense a few years ago. Whatever the original purpose of AFRICOM, growing terrorism in Africa has altered the original stated intent of AFRICOM. Its major purpose now is to fight terrorism.
Terrorism has spread into the Sahel, especially in Mali, and is active in Nigeria and a number of other countries. Certainly one can argue, as have some key figures in the State Department, that terrorism is an outgrowth of poverty, and to some extent that cannot be discounted. One can always say that without jobs, people turn to terrorism, but Boko Haram has not been created to find jobs for its people. It has been created to create an Islamic State and to drive out Western influences in Nigeria, particularly in northern Nigeria.
Resistance to Western education and other things Western is not new in Nigeria. Since the caliphate of Sokoto fell under British rule in 1903 there have been various levels of resistance to Western education, though mostly passive-aggressive. Boko Haram was formed in 2002 first as a religious complex that quickly became a recruiting ground for jihadists to fight the state. In 2009 Boko Haram led a series of violent attacks on police stations and government complexes. This led to shoot-outs and hundreds of Boko Haram supporters were killed, including its founder Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody.
Despite Nigerian government statements that Boko Haram was finished, followers regrouped under a new leader and has grown increasingly stronger, not weaker, over the past two years. Christians have been targeted especially, as have policemen and politicians, as well as any critics including Muslim critics. Some suspect that the fear factor has created informal alliances between some politicians in northern Nigeria and Boko Haram. Boko Haram has not been formed to reduce poverty. It has been formed to eliminate Western influence and those associated with Western ideas, and this includes Christians. If Boko Haram is not contained the possibility of a civil and religious war grows in Nigeria.
There is concern that Boko Haram will link or already has linked with other terrorists groups such as al Qaeda but there has been no public proof of this yet. Such a link may be seen logical, but we are dealing in an area where Western logic does not prevail. The ways of seeing the world vary widely everywhere, and certainly in northern Nigeria.
Reduction in poverty would reduce terrorism, but the poverty is so deep and the issues of Nigeria so complex that significant reduction in poverty is not likely a short-term outcome. It is a long-term goal. However, neither can any victory be won by military intervention, be it through training or direct participation in the fight. As has been seen almost everywhere else, the greater the intervention, the greater growing resentment against foreign troops. Would it be any different were it the case in the United States?
What will be important is a coordination between State Department, the Pentagon and the host governments, and in Nigeria, it will be especially important to have the various state governors, who wield exceptional powers in Nigeria, to be in concord on actions and desired results. The battle against terrorism and destabilization of world communities can only be won through common goals and exceptional communication. Listening to others and not just our own thinking is an important part of that communication.