Backgrounder: Who are the Boko Haram?

Basic Facts

Location: northern Nigeria (and somewhat into southern Niger, the country to the north, where the U.S. has a military drones base)
boko-haram-attacks-nigerian-states-2010-2013

  • Northern Nigeria is mostly Muslim, southern Nigeria is mostly Christian
  • Always a tenuous balance of resources distribution and national leadership affiliation (north vs. south)
  • Boko Haram established circa 2003 but only became seriously active in last few years
  • Hausa language name = “Western Education is Sinful.” [Edit, 5/7/14: Apparently, more properly translated from Hausa as “Fraudulent Colonial Education is Sinful,” a local phrase developed in response to British colonialism and the Roman alphabet being imposed into the country’s North.] Full translated name = Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad.
  • They advocate for the imposition of total Sharia law, instead of the partial Sharia found in most northern states in Nigeria.
  • Violent, coordinated attacks against civilian, Christian, educational, political, military, or police targets across Northern Nigeria
U.S. Perspective / Longterm Outlook
  • U.S. government/military asserts close ties to “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (and thus to Arabian funding and Al Qaeda global network) – however, it may be more of a looser affiliation of convenience (see note at bottom).
  • Boko Haram uprising led in 2013 to an invocation of a state of emergency in the entire northern half of the country by Christian president Goodluck Jonathan. He is originally from the Niger Delta region, in the south, which was the site of a much older terrorism campaign by a different group. Pres. Jonathan has sent a lot of troops north, with mixed success.
  • Local leaders in the north say military approach is doomed to fail and only answer is development and job creation.


Note: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is itself a small group of several hundred, mostly Algerian, Islamist terrorists formerly known as the GSPC who became an “Al Qaeda franchise” a few years ago. Franchising grants use of the name and public approval from senior leadership but may in fact have little substantive relationship. GSPC was originally part of the ongoing Islamist resistance launched against the Algerian military dictatorship in 1992 after they were denied power in democratic elections they won. AQIM is very heavily funded, compared to most terrorist groups, because of their extensive kidnap-and-ransom system all across the Sahara and Sahel region, which has netted significant sums from Western companies and governments. They brag that they get more money from West than from the Middle East.

This kidnapping activity may sound similar to the situation with the schoolgirls recently kidnapped by the Boko Haram, but AQIM is almost entirely focused on ransom extraction, whereas Boko Haram leaders are claiming they were ordered by god to take the girls out of their school and marry them off as property. It is my belief that the two groups are not closely coordinating or involved with each other, in part since they are from different ethnic groups but mostly because they have different goals.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.
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