This recent article in The Guardian via Mark Tran offers a concise summary of the situation with Boko Haram. It’s worth the read, and there are a couple of areas worth amplifying:

Organizations like Boko Haram feed off of poverty and unstable or failing states.  

They do this because it allows for easier freedom of operations, as they create strains and stresses on the state’s security and stability, then capitalize on that instability for freedom of movement.  They also rely on the poverty of an area in order to recruit new members, principally youth who are disenfranchised and easily radicalized.

Clearly, the upcoming elections in Nigeria will create a catalyst for further instability and violence.  And although this article explains the background and sets the stage, a key point is that the dis-functional and immature political process (including the polemics of the various parties), plays into the hands of Boko Haram.

This dis-function and the fractious nature of the parties is, in part, a legacy of colonialism whereby the functional relationship of “modern” authority — the governments left in place by the Imperial powers — with traditional authority — chiefs of tribes — have never been fully address or resolved, especially at the grass roots level.  This is something that 72 Africa’s President, Fr. Clement, has studied and worked with, and is a focus of attention in our research and efforts.

Military and security operations can not attack the root cause of the fundamentalist movement.  

As summarized, the Nigerian military thought that they eliminated Boko Haram in 2009, only to be proven wrong.  Some believe that targeting leadership will weaken and ultimately eliminate a terrorist organizations — cut off the head of the snake.  Yet, after all of the comments about the degradation of “core” al-Qaeda, its factions and new leaders have grown and become very capable and effective instruments of death and disruption.

We are in a period where worldwide media reporting along with the explosion of social media allow these groups to have global reach and impact.  The recruitment pool extends to all points of the globe.  Terrorism tactics and techniques are readily available online.  The fundamentalist ideology is exported convincingly for those looking for a cause or a purpose; creating both a flock of individuals traveling worldwide to join the fight and the “lone wolf” ready to strike anywhere at any time.

No amount of bombs or soldiers alone can eliminate this movement.  Let’s remember that Salafi Islam has been around for more than 100 years and Wahhabism twice that.  Taking the momentum away from these movements requires actions that are long-term and change the dynamic and the environment at the grass roots level.  Fr. Clement will tell you from first-hand experience that elimination of the “soldiers” by giving them other, more constructive things to do and believe in quickly erodes the power of leadership, especially in the case of youth in Africa.

The salient fact is that ISIS is not an Iraq/Syria, or even a Middle East problem, nor is Boko Haram a Nigerian one.  These are now world problems requiring world actions. 

We must take strategic steps to change the narrative rather than continuing to react to attacks and let the narrative be written for us.  Changing the dynamic of the fundamentalist Islamic movement takes an ambitious, dedicated effort that pulls together not just nations or “multi-national” military forces, but the non-Salafi Muslim leadership. It especially requires NGOs dedicated to addressing these issues at the grass roots level, especially in areas where radicalization is viable, but has yet to occur.  72 Africa’s three-pillar approach of conflict transformation, education, and economic opportunities and stability is a model that addresses these issues and is scalable.