Wahhabi extremism, Boko Haram’s legacy in West Africa

Weakened by internal strife and the allied military intervention against its forces, Boko Haram still represents a grave threat to the stability of Nigeria and its regional neighbors

Wahhabi extremism, Boko Haram legacy in West Africa
A Boko Haram flag flies in Damasak, Nigeria - Photo: Joe Penney/REUTERS
English 18/04/2018 10:40 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 11:10
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Weakened by internal strife and the allied military intervention against its forces, Boko Haram may be slowly dying, yet it still represents a grave threat to the stability of Nigeria—the so-called “sleeping giant of Africa”—and its regional neighbors.

Exploiting the seemingly endless divisions between the Muslim majority of arid, backwater northern Nigeria and the more affluent Christian south, Boko Haram’s poisoned legacy could be war propagation and Islamic extremism beyond the Nigerian borders to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Starting in 2015, the four countries launched a coordinated offensive against the militants that continues to this day.

In a combined action with its counterparts from Niger, for instance, the Nigerian Air Force launched strikes on Boko Haram positions at the Arege and Tumbun Rago areas of Borno State on Sunday said local newspapers in Abuya.

In 2015, it was reported that Nigeria had employed hundreds of mercenaries from South Africa and the former Soviet Union to assist the war effort before the March 28 Presidential Election.

France, in coordination with the United States, sent trainers and material assistance to Nigeria while the British government provided training to 28,000 Nigerian troops.

China offered assistance that included satellite data and Colombia sent a delegation of security officials to share expertise on counter-terrorism back in 2015.

The gradual elimination of Boko Haram is considered a key factor in the reelection plans of President Muhammadu Buhari next year.

Buhari, a moderate Muslim from Katsina State and former military ruler from 1983 to 1985, has been struggling with an ailing economy, low oil prices, fuel shortages, and widespread corruption that prevented Nigeria’s “awakening” after the country with nearly 190 million inhabitants overtook South Africa in terms of nominal GDP to become Africa’s largest economy in 2014.

“Fake education”

The growth and power of Boko Haram—its official name is Group of the People of Sunnah for Dawa and Jihad—cannot be understood with a narrow focus on the economic, religious and cultural differences between Nigeria's North and South.

In a vast country comprising 36 states and 500 ethnic groups, the foundations of intolerance were probably laid during the age of the Bornu Empire, the Borno Emirate, and the Sokoto Caliphate before the British colonization in 1900-1903.

Founded by Salafist leader and agitator Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 using the Hausa word boko (fake) and the Arabic word haram (forbidden), the militant group nurtured on a long tradition of Islamic scholars and conservative local politicians opposed to Western education, dismissed as ilimin boko (fake education) and secular schools, usually seen as a symbol of foreign oppression.

Following the 2009 Boko Haram uprising, Yusuf was summarily executed in public view outside the police headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State.

His successor, Abubakar Shekau, adopted a radical strategy inspired by the Wahhabi doctrine of Al Qaeda and Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, which included indiscriminate attacks against civilians using “human bombs”, and mass abductions of women and schoolgirls.

Shekau also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on March 2015 and rebranded Boko Haram as the Islamic State in West Africa.

Years of violence and attrition, however, have taken its toll. In August 2016, ISIL announced that it had appointed Abu-Musab al Barnawi as the new leader of the group replacing Shekau, more akin to Joseph Kony, Head of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army in his mysterious and sometimes extravagant ways.

In a video, Shekau refused to accept al-Barnawi’s appointment as leader and vowed to fight him while stating that he was still loyal to ISIL’s supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Several armed clashes between the two factions have been reported by the Nigerian press.

The Nigerian, Chadian and Cameroonian civil and military authorities, which have reported Shekau’s ouster as chief of the group and his death in combat at least in five times since 2009, believe that Boko Haram now is confined to its strongholds near Lake Chad and Sambisa forest.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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