Boko Haram– Guerilla for what?

Learning From History.
It is certain that the grasslands to the north of Nigeria have been the home of African peoples for many thousands of years. About 2000 years ago, the whole of North Africa from Egypt to Morocco was part of the Roman Empire. The fertile lands there grew wheat, olives, dates and grapes for the citizens of Rome. The Romans built many towns in North Africa and sent soldiers and traders across the desert to Fezzan and Borno.

The Kanem-Borno Kingdom
The Hausa men have always been great travellers. The Kanem-Borno kingdom began with a normadic family of King-worshippers, the Saifuwa. They were ‘red men’ whose forefathers may have been Berbers from Morocco. (Some of the people of Borno are called Beri-Beri.) The kingdom existed from the 9th century through the end of the 19th century. At its height it encompassed an area covering not only much of Chad, but also parts of modern southern Libya, eastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. The political structure of the Kanem empire had most likely grown out of rival states coming under the control of the Zaghawa. The Saifuwa dynasty ruled for 771 years—the longest known reign in history. The chief of the Saifuwa became the Mai, and like a god he was always unseen, hidden behind a screen. Saifuwa rulers–mais–claimed they were descended from a heroic Arabic figure, and the dynasty greatly expanded the influence of Islam, making it the religion of the court. The empire had a policy of imperial expansion and traded for firearms from the Turks and horses, wielding huge numbers of cavalry. Wealth came largely through trade, especially in slaves, which was facilitated by the empire’s position near important North-South trade routes. When the Mai became a muslim and his people were forced to leave Kanem, they moved westward to Borno. Soon the new kingdom– Kanem-Borno–expanded territorially and commercially, became the most powerful state in the central Sudan and controlled the caravan route to the Fezzan and Tripoli. Kanem-Bornu peaked during the reign of the outstanding statesman Mai Idris Aluma (c. 1564–1596). Aluma is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. His main adversaries were the Hausa to the west, the Tuareg and Toubou to the north, and the Bulala to the east.

The Fall of Kanem-Borno.

Some 300 years later Borno began to be threatened by two rivals, the Sokoto empire in the west and the rising power of Wadai in the east. These two states had opened new caravan routes to North Africa. The new rulers in Sokoto encouraged the Fulani who lived in Borno to rebel. The Saifuwa Mai was then forced to leave his capital, but a muslim teacher, Al-Kanemi (The man from Borno) brought horsemen and spearmen and drove the fulani out of Borno. The Mai was put back on his throne but Al-Kanemi became the real ruler. He was a religious reformer and he had tried to restore the Borno state; but there was trouble in the Capital between Kanuri leaders who had ruled under the Saifuwa and the Shuwa Arabs who had come in with Al-Kanemi. In 1846, his son–Umar– drove out the last Saifuwa mai and became the first Shehu of Borno. Although the dynasty ended, the kingdom of Kanem-Borno survived. But Umar, who eschewed the title mai for the simpler designation shehu (from the Arabic shaykh), could not match his father’s vitality and gradually allowed the kingdom to be ruled by advisers (wazirs). Borno began to decline, as a result of administrative disorganization, regional particularism, and attacks by the militant Ouaddai Empire to the east. The decline continued under Umar’s sons, and in 1893 Rabih az-Zubayr, leading an invading army from eastern Sudan, conquered Borno. He was defeated by French soldiers in 1900.

Empire Kanem-Borno

Why ‘Boko Haram’?

The group has officially adopted the name “the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad”, which is an English translation of Arabic Jamā’at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da’wa wa-l-jihād (جماعة أهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد). In the town of Maiduguri– capital of present day Borno–where the group was formed, the residents dubbed it Boko Haram. Dr Ahmad Murtada of the Islamic Studies Department, University of Bayero, Kano has noted in his research of the group that the name of the movement should not be understood literally from the Hausa–figuratively meaning “western education is sin”–but rather as meaning “traversing the Western system of education is haram”.

Before colonisation and subsequent annexation into the British Empire, the Borno Empire ruled the territory where Boko Haram is currently active. While Islam has been known to the people of west Africa since about 1100, Christianity was almost unkown until 1804. Christianity wasn’t easily accepted in the North of Nigeria especially as it was required to go to missionary schools. this has led to secular education being viewed with suspicion by many in the local population. Increased dissatisfaction gave rise to many fundamentalists among the Kanuri and other peoples of northeast Nigeria.
One of the most famous such fundamentalists was Mohammed Marwa, also known as Maitatsine, who was at the height of his notoriety during the 1970s and 1980s. He was sent into exile by the Nigerian authorities, he refused to believe Muhammad was the Prophet and instigated riots in the country which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Some analysts view Boko Haram as an extension of the Maitatsine riots.

In 1995, the group was said to be operating under the name Shabaab, Muslim Youth Organisation with Mallam Lawal as the leader. When Lawal left to continue his education, Mohammed Yusuf took over leadership of the group. Yusuf’s leadership allegedly opened the group to political influence and popularity. Yusuf officially founded the group in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri with the aim of establishing a Shari’a government in Borno State under then-Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. He established a religious complex that included a mosque and a school where many poor families from across Nigeria and from neighbouring countries enrolled their children. The centre had ulterior political goals and soon it was also working as a recruiting ground for future jihadis to fight the state. The group includes members who come from neighbouring Chad and Niger and speak only Arabic.

Misguided Nationalism.
Nationalism begins when huge dissatisfaction has reached its climax. This dissatisfaction covers a wide range of things from oppression to unemployment to lust for power,etc. The reason for the use of the word ‘nationalism’ is as a result of the link between the countries/peoples who are the brains behind the sect. The Kanem-Borno, or the entire Northern nigeria covered more than its present size in modern day Nigeria. Those who claim to be part of the Boko-Haram had a long history with the old kingdom. Contrary to popular sayings and the Nigeria propaganda, the insurgency isn’t between muslim extremisits and christians as muslims are killed as well. Extremism is another argument alone.

Hey Boko Haram, pick up a Quran and bring back our girls

But it is an attack on the federal government. A misguided nationalism. However,while the Boko haram sect was relatively non-violent initially, the federal government’s failure to heed warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organisation, including that of a military officer, precipitated a change in strategy. The change began in 2009 when the Nigerian government launched an investigation into the group’s activities following reports that its members were arming themselves.
Human Rights Watch researcher Eric Guttschuss told IRIN News that Yusuf successfully attracted followers from unemployed youth “by speaking out against police and political corruption”. Abdulkarim Mohammed, a researcher on Boko Haram, added that violent uprisings in Nigeria are ultimately due to “the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty and unemployment”. Chris Kwaja, a Nigerian university lecturer and researcher, asserts that “religious dimensions of the conflict have been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement and inequality are the root causes”. Nigeria, he points out, has laws giving regional political leaders the power to qualify people as ‘indigenes’ (original inhabitants) or not. It determines whether citizens can participate in politics, own land, obtain a job, or attend school. The system is abused widely to ensure political support and to exclude others. Muslims have been denied indigene-ship certificates disproportionately often. Nigerian opposition leader Buba Galadima says: “What is really a group engaged in class warfare is being portrayed in government propaganda as terrorists in order to win counter-terrorism assistance from the West.”

The Northeastern Guerilla.
Nationalism and guerilla tactics has a big history in Africa. It is through guerilla warfare that most nationalists in Africa fought for independence. Some famous examples are the FLN of Algeria, the Mau-Mau of Kenya, Zanu and Zapu of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Egypt’s Society of Free Officers led by Abdel Nasser, MNC of the Congo, and the ANC of aparthied South Africa. It is very obvious that these people have chosen to fight a guerilla. A resistance war against the FGN.
So, while it would be helpful to get the help of big powers with advanced technologies, only locals who understand the desert area, will effectively fight a counter-offensive and capture the leaders. The governments of Chad, Niger, Cameroon would also have to cooperate with the Nigerian Government, and the Nigerian government would also have to close the northern borders.
However, supposing the grounds were opened for negotiations with their leader Shekau, and these people given what they want, ‘A shari’a abiding state’, would it still change anything? They would still go a downward spiral and be worse off than they were originally. Their ambitions will lay more in accumulating positions of power, wealth and status, more in developing a high ‘shari’a/islamic’ bourgeoisie than transforming society.

The Paradox.
In a 2009 BBC interview, Mohammed Yusuf, then leader of the group, stated his belief that the fact of a spherical Earth is contrary to Islamic teaching and should be rejected, along with Darwinian evolution and the fact of rain originating from water evaporated by the sun. Before his death, Yusuf reiterated the group’s objective of changing the current education system and rejecting democracy. Nigerian academic Hussain Zakaria told BBC News that the controversial cleric had a graduate education, spoke proficient English, lived a lavish lifestyle and drove a Mercedes-Benz.

Everything written down here is debatable and is my own view on the scope of the Boko Haram. Please put down comments and share your own views. 🙂

Reference:  Boko Haram.

Selected texts.

John D Clarke, ‘A Visual History of Nigeria’. 5-10

Martin Meredith, ‘The State of Africa’. 31-217


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