John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: Is Boko Haram Middle Class?

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
April 20, 2012

A view of the scene of a bomb blast is seen in Nigeria's northern city of Kaduna April 8, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

In his informative Financial Times piece, “BlackBerrys flourish in the malls of Lagos,” Xan Rice focuses mainly on blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion, the firm’s market outlook for Nigeria, and about what this tells us about Nigeria’s emerging middle class.

In their jointly authored piece, “Pressure in Nigeria for Boko Haram talks,” Rice and Wallis review recent developments concerning the group, including the possibility of dialogue between the Nigerian government and the sect, arguably very unlikely at present, given Boko Haram’s growing skill and geographical reach.

What explains the insurgency’s building momentum? Is access to technology, e.g., cell phones and perhaps even BlackBerry’s, a factor? If so, is this an additional indication that the insurgents, or elements among them, have a background that is middle class, or perhaps lower middle class?

There are other indications that some Boko Haram may draw some support from high school and university drop outs. That appears to have been true of the so-called Nigerian Taliban, a radical Islamic sect that was suppressed almost a decade ago. Nigeria’s reportedly “burgeoning” middle class may include marginalized and unemployed youth who have some education but are alienated from the Nigerian political economy. An increase in the number of people who have access to new means of communication may have simply heightened internal contradictions in Nigerian society that are leading to violence.

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  • Posted by Maduka

    With every blog posting, it is becoming increasingly clear that Westerners have serious knowledge gaps about Nigeria.

    Is this supposed to be a revelation or what? Every Nigerian, who follows developments in Nigeria knows that the level of coordination and sophistication exhibited by Boko Haram can only be the work of people with a respectable level of education. These people also have access to some funding.

    So the usual Western apologist nonsense (now being peddled by the State Department) that “Boko Haram has nothing to do with religion/politics” falls in the face of overwhelming evidence.

    Let me digress here and point out a very worrying trend – Nigeria is a very complex nation and Western analysts only seem to focus on “the flavour of the month”. For much of the last decade, it was the Niger Delta. Today, no one is writing about the Niger Delta, because there are no dramatic headlines. Presently, it is the “far North” and Boko Haram – all the research money is flowing there.

    Because Boko Haram has an Islamist tint (although the State Department and John Campbell think they have nothing to do with religion), Western scholars and policy analysts focus like a laser on an “Islamic North”.

    This sort of analysis is extremely dangerous, because it tends to obscure the big picture. The West is spawning a generation of analysts who lack the capacity to see Nigeria beyond the Niger Delta and the “Islamic North”.

    Nigeria has six geopolitical zones, the South, South-West, South-East, North-Central, North-West and North-East. The most ethnically homogeneous parts of Nigeria are the South-East (Igbo) and South-West (Yoruba with Ijaw, Ilaje and Badagry minorities). The South (Niger Delta) has about 40 different ethnic minorities.

    What I would like to point out here is that Northern Nigeria is the most ethnically and religiously diverse part of the country. The North-West is predominantly Hausa-Fulani, but has a significant Christian minority (the Zuru people in Kebbi State). The largest group in the North-East are the Muslim Kanuris, but this zone also has an even more significant Christian population (this zone is extremely ethnically diverse), and finally, the North-Central zone may be predominately Christian.

    Most of Nigeria’s 250 diverse ethnic groups are in the North. Southern Nigeria is a lot more ethnically homogeneous than the North.

    Think about that.

    I’ve been following this blog for some time, and apart from occasional forays to the Niger Delta and skimming the surface of events in Lagos, the focus is on the “North” – and this “North” is defined as a region in which everyone is a Muslim, Hausa and aggrieved. The rest of Nigeria is treated as a vast black hole.

    This is extremely dangerous and will lead to policy prescriptions that easily create the impression that the US government is picking sides in Nigeria’s extremely complicated inter-ethnic conflicts. The US also risks losing its reputation for impartiality if the information available to its policy analysts is as limited as the information presented on this blog.

    Already, Ambassador Johnnie Carson has been called to order for the numerous factual inaccuracies in the address he delivered at the CSIS. Three Nigerians speakers (all from the North, and of different faiths), politely told him that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

  • Posted by Maduka

    Blackberry’s are popular in Nigeria, not just because they are status symbols, but because of the embedded functionality.

    Internet browsing rates are slow and the Blackberry offers an excellent platform to browse the Internet at a much lower cost. Another major attraction is the BB Messenger application.

    In other words, Nigerians love BBs for the same reason everyone else does.

    (Please when are they going to stop writing about us as if we are some exotic species. This is 2012, not 1812).

  • Posted by Andrew

    The Financial Times’ correspondent Xan Rice is a man:!/xanrice

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