The recent and increasingly aggressive Boko Haram attacks in Northern Nigeria have forced United States’ foreign policy makers to reassess their current counterterrorism strategies.
Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, has been fighting in Africa’s most populous country since 2009 to “overthrow the government and install an Islamist state” according to a BBC News profile. They claim to be influenced by Quranic verses, and they advocate against Nigeria’s progressively western-leaning society. Members of Boko Haram believe that the social and political fabric of Nigeria has been tainted by the West as demonstrated by the growing number of secularly educated and politically aware citizens. Though Boko Haram has been active since 2002, it wasn’t until last year that the U.S. government declared it a terrorist organization.
Within the past several months, the number of Boko Haram attacks has rapidly increased, specifically in the Borno state of Northeast Nigeria. They have attacked both civilians and soldiers, and have claimed responsibility for shootings in schools, marketplaces and government buildings. Despite the death of founder Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, the Nigerian government has been unable to staunch either Boko Haram’s violent actions or its growing sphere of influence.
The question arises: how should the Nigerian government, the U.S. government and the world deal with this kind of terrorist organization? A recent article in U.S. News called for a reexamination of U.S. counterterrorism policies.
The author very acutely noted: “It is important to remember that violent extremism does not rise up in a vacuum.” Like many other terrorist groups, Boko Haram maintains its stability by feeding on Nigeria’s economic and political strife. Young men are sucked into the recruiting process because they lack a productive outlet for their time and their frustrations.
Poverty, unemployment and illiteracy have served to exacerbate the problem in Nigeria, and current counterterrorism strategies lack long-term vision. Instead of utilizing drone strikes, military intervention and targeted killings – methods which primarily serve to instill fear – the U.S. needs to help Nigeria establish a new economy. A prosperous economy and the jobs that come with it are the first steps in eliminating Boko Haram’s recruiting grounds.
The same U.S. News article articulately noted: “[humanitarian aid and relief] programs should seek to empower local civil society and religious actors rather than undermine their nonviolent efforts to address the crisis.” By encouraging a structured civil society with strong social and religious leaders, Boko Haram will be unable to spread its violent message.
It is important to understand that the long-term implementation of social, political, educational and economic changes is challenging. While quick fixes and violent reaction to this kind of terrorism may seem effective, it will serve as a long-term hindrance to Nigeria’s success as a country.
— Allison Heymann