Concern is growing that the Boko Haram militant group in Nigeria
is linked to Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab as part of a coordinated
Islamist terrorist threat in Africa. But most often, the reasons for
the group's attacks are local.
The recent spate of brutal attacks in Nigeria by Boko Haram, a
local terrorist group professing allegiance to Al Qaeda, has drawn
attention to West Africa as the next regional battleground against
violent global jihad.
But the operative word here is local, not regional - despite such
worries in parts of Africa and the West.
This week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon shared a report with
Nigeria's foreign minister that raised "growing concern in the
region" about possible links between Boko Haram, based in Nigeria's
Muslim north, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM.
Senior US officials, too, are worried about such a connection, as
well as links to Al Shabaab, in Somalia. As if to verify such
concerns, Nigeria has closed its borders to prevent entry by outside
But in Nigeria, no less than in Pakistan, a fanatical ideology
often cloaks far more local economic and tribal rivalries. This deep
rooting in very local political contexts and economic ambitions
actually hampers the terrorists' efforts at forging pan-African
Boko Haram is Nigeria's most visible and vicious militant group,
but it is not the only one. In the oil-rich south, the Movement for
the Emancipation of the Niger Delta roams the swamps and links up
with politicians in the crumbling cities.
Nor is Boko Haram (whose name means "Western education is a sin")
the country's only jihadi group. Hisba, a collection of Islamist
vigilante gangs, also operates in the north. Both tap into decades
of tribal violence among Nigeria's communities, often manipulated by
politicians for political gain and profit.
The groups' grievances are usually portrayed as religious.
Indeed, their targets are often Christians. In 1999, the north
adopted Sharia law. But that neither quelled Islamist mobilization
there nor addressed deep dissatisfaction with socioeconomic
conditions and poor governance.
Instead, vociferous religious ideology often obscures violence
driven more by economic factors.
For example, migration by the ethnic Hausa Fulani into Yoruba
lands in northern Nigeria has produced conflict. The fact that the
Yoruba are predominantly Christians and the Hausa Fulani Muslims
matters only secondarily. Rather, the Hausa-Fulani Boko Haram is
infusing religion into a long-churning brew of grievances about
wealth and power distribution, corruption, and injustice.
The Nigerian government has responded poorly not only to the long-
standing communal tensions, but also to the specific case of Boko
Haram. The government has often ignored or instigated tensions,
while brutally and indiscriminately overreacting to Boko Haram.
Although Nigeria's police are more capacious than most in West
Africa, they overwhelmingly lack intelligence capacity and the
ability to either disrupt attacks before they happen or track down
real culprits who are at times connected to key local politicians.
As in much of West Africa, governance in Nigeria was for decades
characterized by the predatory rapaciousness of governing elites and
incomplete institutional development plaguing everything from rule
of law to social services. …