John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Should the United States Fear Boko Haram?

by John Campbell
October 2, 2013

Residents watch as two men walk amidst rubble after Boko Haram militants raided the town of Benisheik, west of Borno State capital Maiduguri September 19, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)


Whether the United States should fear Boko Haram is a big question, and one that perhaps has even greater urgency in the aftermath of the massacre in Nairobi perpetrated by another jidahist group, al-Shabaab. I have written a piece for CNN that explores this question in the aftermath of the horrific massacre last weekend at a northern Nigerian agricultural college of some sixty-five students, many while they slept. While Boko Haram has not yet claimed responsibility, it is the likely perpetrator. My CNN piece is intended as a brief primer on Boko Haram, which remains a mysterious organization in many ways, even after some four years of carnage. The Council’s Nigeria Security Tracker has tracked the violence since 2011.

My conclusion is that while Boko Haram poses a serious challenge to the Nigerian state, an historical partner of the United States, it does not pose a threat to the American homeland. Further, American interests in northern Nigeria where Boko Haram operates are few. However, should ties between the United States and the Abuja government strengthen under the guise of a common “war on terror,” Americans could become a Boko Haram target.

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  • Posted by Ik Ejekwumadu

    Dear Mr Campbell,

    Your analysis of Boko Haram insurgency has always followed the argument that it is a grassroots response to Northern poverty and marginalisation. Though I agree that poverty obviously plays a role in radicalism, I however question your thesis of “a rich south” and a “marginalised North”. How does killing innocent students in cold blood and an unprovoked attack suit your thesis? Don’t you think it is time you reviewed your theoretical framework for the understanding of the political economy of Nigeria?

  • Posted by Chike

    “Should the United States Fear Boko Haram?”.

    That is the wrong question.

    I also find it a bit rich that the same US that expects African nations (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya & Ethiopia etc) to support it (& endure very serious losses) in the “War on Terror” – should be wary of supporting the Nigerian government in its own fight against terrorism (or so suggested by John Campbell).

    You know what this does? It reinforces the perception that the US is an unreliable ally – and there’s a lot of history to support that.

    I’m old enough to remember that US support for democracy during the Abacha days was guaranteed – as long as it didn’t impact on exports of crude oil from Nigeria. Clinton made all the noise in the World, but there were no sanctions on crude oil exports, where they could have made a difference.

    The US needs to look beyond narrowly defined self interests. The World is dynamic & requires bold vision from the US – & there’s nothing in this article that points to that.

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