Friday, May 09, 2014

Defeat Boko Haram with What They Fear Most

The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been in the news consistently over the past week with their abduction of over 200 schoolgirls.  Students in the eastern town of Chibok, the girls were kidnapped in accordance with Boko Haram’s violent stance against Western education.  Many of the girls are Christian (though several are Muslim); Boko Haram had threatened to kidnap Christian women in retaliation for the arrest of members' wives by Nigerian government forces.

Additionally, and most disturbingly, it has been reported that the group intend to forcibly marry the girls and use them as sex slaves to swell their numbers. A relatively young group, Boko Haram was established in 2002 and began military operations in 2009 with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Nigerian government to establish an Islamic state. Conflicting reports suggest, however, that Boko Haram really only wants to bargain the release of several of their officers and are acting out due to limited opportunities in their home regions of Northern Nigeria.
Over 50 of the girls have managed to escape, but hundreds more are in need of rescue. 

The Nigerian government has been slow to react with this huge latest offense from Boko Haram due to weak infrastructure and lack of trust between Abjua and local leaders. Abuja fears the stunt is a political trap, and in any case lack the security forces and equipment necessary to pursue the group and rescue the girls. 

Providing foreign assistance to Nigeria has been tricky in the past due to strong national pride and sense of sovereignty. It has also rejected the idea of establishing Africom in Abuja, preferring to fund its own security infrastructure including an as of yet unsuccessful drone program. Just this past week, the World Economic Forum was held in Abuja, and with increased international attention, Nigeria seems to have relented somewhat on this issue.

However, defeating Boko Haram will not come from external powers. Many people in Nigeria’s north feel marginalized in Nigerian society and excluded from wealth and opportunity. Congress for Progressive Change Secretary Bubu Galadima spoke with BBC News: “If people feel they are being denied anything or an injustice is being meted out to them then there is a likelihood that they will take the law into their own hands and help themselves." Perhaps the best way to approach the problem is not with tanks, guns or drones... but to build societal infrastructure from the bottom up. The Nigerian government could start to provide better opportunities for the youth of Northern Nigeria… including education. This could stop the cycle for the future. But for now, #bringbackourgirls.

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