Boko Haram and the LRA

Boko Haram is in the news:

Islamist militants who have triggered international outrage over the kidnapping of more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls opened fire on a busy marketplace, killing hundreds of people in a new spasm of violence in the country’s northeast.

Since they haven’t been in the news for very long there are the background articles, such as:

Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group responsible for dozens of massacres of civilians in its five-year insurgency in Nigeria, including the brazen kidnapping last month of more than 250 schoolgirls and the abduction, reported Tuesday, of 11 more teenagers.

The kidnappings are the latest assault by the insurgent group, which has terrorized local populations and regularly engages the Nigerian military in bloody combat with the aim of destabilizing and ultimately overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamic caliphate in its place.

Clashes between Muslims and Christians, common in Nigeria, radicalized the group, as did frictions with local authorities that escalated into retaliatory attacks. After the group’s founder was killed by the Nigerian police in 2009, his followers went underground, swearing vengeance.

In its effort to overthrow the Nigerian government, Boko Haram militants have tried to violently root out Western influence by attacking schools.

“The group’s very name is a rallying cry against schools,” The New York Times’s Adam Nossiter wrote in March, 2012. Roughly translated, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.”


The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.

But residents in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where the group had its headquarters, dubbed it Boko Haram.

Loosely translated from the local Hausa language, this means “Western education is forbidden”.

Boko originally meant fake but came to signify Western education, while haram means forbidden.

Since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among some of the area’s Muslims to Western education.

They still refuse to send their children to government-run “Western schools”, a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority.

Against this background, the charismatic Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri in 2002. He set up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school.

Many poor Muslim families from across Nigeria, as well as neighbouring countries, enrolled their children at the school.

You can see more of this at Wikipedia.

If we want to understand why groups such as Boko Haram or the Lord’s Resistance Army arise you need to look at the conditions in the area and the reasons are usually similar. For Boko Haram and other groups in Nigeria:

In Nigeria, indigenes are “original” inhabitants of a local government area, or members of those ethnic groups that trace their lineage back to the area. All others are considered “settlers,” or migrants. The distinction was initially intended to allay concerns among minority groups who feared that their traditional customs and authority structures would be overwhelmed and eroded by the expansion of larger ethnic and religious groups. However, in practice, the classification has often been used to determine who “belongs” to a particular locality, which in turn determines whether citizens can participate in politics, own land, obtain a job, or attend school.Accordingly, the indigeneship certificate is now a defining document in the day-to-day lives of many Nigerians.

during the late 1980s falling government revenues, increasing economic pressures, and steadily increasing migration to one of Nigeria’s fastest growing regions prompted some local authorities to revise indigene certificate policies. In 1990, several local jurisdictions in Plateau, including Jos, began to restrict the distribution of indigene certificates.6 Under Nigerian law, the modifications were perfectly legal, but the action seemed to deny indigeneship eligibility disproportionately to many Muslims and ethnic groups from northern Nigeria. These groups in turn lobbied for assistance from national authorities. In 1991, General Ibrahim Babangida, the (northern-born) military ruler of Nigeria, announced that Jos would be divided into three Local Government Areas (LGAs) in what many perceived as a thinly disguised effort to gerrymander the region in favor of his local allies who would then control certificate distribution. Some groups, particularly Christians, feared this decision was designed to exclude them from political office.

As uncertainty mounted over access to indigeneship certificates, community relations deteriorated. Yet violence did not immediately break out. Babangida’s successor as military ruler, General Sani Abacha, dissolved all democratic structures and in 1994 directly appointed military governors, who then selected local government officials. Abacha’s appointments prompted local protests and counterdemonstrations in Jos. Fears and tensions reached a breaking point, leading to the first violent communal clashes and deaths. Ever since, local elections and political appointments have been viewed as winner-take-all contests.

The ethnic or religious dimensions of the conflict have subsequently been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement, inequality, and other practical fears are the real root causes. Capitalizing on such conditions, many political rivals have instrumentalized the ethnic and religious diversity of Jos to manipulate and mobilize support. Each outbreak of violence worsens suspicions and renders communal reconciliation more difficult, deepening the cycle and further incentivizing polarization. The heads of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs issued a joint statement in 2010 denouncing local politicians in Jos for exploiting communal tensions for personal gain.7 A study commissioned by the Office of the President in 2003 similarly concluded that while ethnic plurality plays a role in the conflict, “underpinning these sources of antagonism and triggers are deeper systemic issues at the center of which is the relationship between political power and access to economic resources and opportunities.”8

And in Uganda:

In 1986, the armed rebellion waged by Museveni’s NRA National Resistance Army, took over power through military means. They sought vengeance against the ethnic groups in the North of Uganda. Their activities included Operation Simsim which consisted of burning, looting, killings and kambanakamba a three piece tying of the locals to death. Their acts of terrorism led to formation of rebel groups from the previous Ugandan army UNLA. Many of those groups made peace with Museveni. However, the southern-dominated army did not stop attacking civilians in the north of the country. Therefore, by late 1987 to early 1988 a civilian resistance movement led by Alice Lakwena was formed. Lakwena did not pick up arms against the central government; her members carried sticks and stones. She believed she was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Lakwena portrayed herself as a prophet who received messages from the Holy Spirit of God. She expressed the belief that the Acholi could defeat the government run by Yoweri Museveni (following Museveni’s own victory in the Ugandan Bush War). According to her messages from God, her followers should cover their bodies with shea nut oil as protection from bullets, never take cover or retreat in battle, and never kill snakes or bees.[29]Joseph Kony would later preach a similar superstition encouraging soldiers to use oil to draw a cross on their chest as a protection from bullets.

In both cases, things started because groups had large and legitimate complaints that were not addressed by the government and groups took advantage of this to increase their own power. Religion and ethnicity are levers to get power but are not the main drivers. Hopefully we won’t get commentary of this level (this is Rush Limbaugh):

Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians.  They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan.  And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them.  That’s what the lingo means, “to help regional forces remove from the battlefield,” meaning capture or kill.

So that’s a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda, and — (interruption) no, I’m not kidding.  Jacob Tapper just reported it.  Now, are we gonna help the Egyptians wipe out the Christians?  Wouldn’t you say that we are?  I mean the Coptic Christians are being wiped out, but it wasn’t just Obama that supported that.  The conservative intelligentsia thought it was an outbreak of democracy.  Now they’ve done a 180 on that, but they forgot that they supported it in the first place.  Now they’re criticizing it.

but don’t count on it.

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