The Nigerian government claimed it was “only” 150. Others said as many as 2,000. That’s the number of people killed by Boko Haram (the name means “Western Education is Sinful”) in their Jan. 3, 2015 attack on Baga in Northeast Nigeria.
When the Coulilaby brothers attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the media went into a feeding frenzy. Dozens of foreign dignitaries came to Paris to march in support of Charlie Hebdo. But the murder of as many as 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram has been nearly ignored. Evidently, black lives don’t matter so much, especially when they don’t live in a region where there is oil. But it’s more than just this. The rise of Boko Haram springs from the disaster that capitalism has been for the entire African continent. And now, Boko Haram (BH) itself is further adding to that disaster for the people of Nigeria (and neighboring states including Cameroon, Chad and even as far away as Mali).
Nigeria’s 500 Ethnic Groups
A country that was cobbled together by British imperialism, cursed with vast oil wealth in one region that drew investors like sharks drawn to blood in the water, and today feeling the effects of all the crises of modern-day capitalism — that is Nigeria today.
Originally recognizing only 3 states, today Nigeria is composed of 36 states which have a high degree of autonomy. This is a recognition of the 500 different ethnic groups that populate the country. Since capitalism has meant from the outset little but looting by the industrialized world, the economy was not really developed in a way that could integrate all these different ethnicities. And hovering over the different ethnic conflicts is the fact that the north of the country is mainly Muslim while the south is mostly Christian – leading to conflicts between these two religious groups. (See this article for more.)
Capitalism a Disaster for Africa
The corruption, ethnic and religious rivalries and regionalism have all combined with the inability of capitalism to develop society meaning vast unemployment among the youth, among other things. Hardly anywhere is this disaster worse than in northern Nigeria, where 70% of the population subsists on less that $1.00 per day. And although Nigeria is a major oil producer and exporter, half of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no access to electricity whatsoever.
“When Islam Comoes Everyone Would be Happy”
Entering into this crisis has been the world crisis – the breakdown of US capitalism’s domination along with the continuing weakness of the world’s working class to assert itself as an independent force. One result of this has been the rise of islamic fundamentalist groups, which appeal to some youth who are seeking an avenue to rebel against those they see as their oppressors. As the same article reported: “Poor people are tired of the injustice, people are crying for saviors and they know the messiahs are Boko Haram,” a group spokesman told the Guardian. “People were singing songs … saying: ‘We want Boko Haram.’ … If the masses don’t like us they would have exposed us by now. When Islam comes everyone would be happy.”
This was the basis of the founding of Boko Haram by Muhammed Yusuf in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the north-east state of Borno in Nigeria. “He established a religious complex and school that attracted poor Muslim families from across Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The center had the political goal of creating an Islamic state, and became a recruiting ground for jihadis. By denouncing the police and state corruption, Yusuf attracted followers from unemployed youths.” (Wikipidia)
At that time the group was largely non-violent, although they did have a few clashes with the authorities. In 2009, Yusuf was arrested and killed by the police “while attempting to escape”, they claimed. Abubakar Shekau succeeded Yusuf to leadership of Boko Haram, although some claim that the group is very decentralized with different
leaders and councils running things almost independently.
Attacks of Boko Haram are further destabilizing that part of Nigeria. As one reporter wrote: “ (The State of) Borno’s peasantry has flooded into the state’s capital at Maiduguri and nearby towns since the 1970s, as the rapid growth of Nigeria’s oil sector and the country’s increasing integration into the world market has disrupted the local economy and traditional social structure. In conditions of unending mass unemployment and economic crisis, the flood of rural poor into the cities and towns has led to the emergence of an underclass of homeless youth, students and even professionals with no prospects of securing normal employment, providing fertile ground for the growth of extremist militias.”
Apparently BH has its main base among the Fulani people of that part of Nigeria. The Fulani are traditionally pastoralists who rely on cattle herding, and there have been historical conflicts between them and other groups in the region. This has included raids on towns by some Fulani. Accounts of those raids sound similar to the BH raids, except these are purely ethnic aimed. Exacerbating these tensions has been the fact of global climate disruption, which has caused drought in those parts of Nigeria. As a Nigerian explained: “The desert has claimed over 350,000 sq. km of the land area in Northern Nigeria affecting the lives of 28 million people and 58 million livestock. The North has 90% of the cattle stock in the country.” Since the Fulani, who live in the North, traditionally moved their herds from one place to another to find pasturage, they have come into conflict in doing this with settled villagers, especially since now they have to move over greater areas due to the drought.
Although there are no claims to this effect, it certainly seems that these ethnic conflicts would play into the religious warfare of BH, at least as far as creating a general climate of violence. As one Nigerian observer wrote: “The general crisis in the country has also created a context in which criminal gangs have jumped into the bandwagon of rural criminality and cattle rustling creating a negative label for the Fulani who constitute the majority of the nomadic community.”
Boko Haram’s Funding Sources
The funding source for any such group is always important and tells a lot about political connections. They reportedly get some of their money from bank robberies and kidnappings, but that cannot be and is not all. There is also evidence that wealthy and important politicians in the region are connected with and have financially supported BH. There are also reports that the group has been involved in the drug trade, sending cocaine and other drugs from South America up to Europe. But another reported source has serious political significance:
According to several reports, BH is partly funded by al Qaeda and “charitable” funds linked to them, one of the most important of which is the al Muntada Trust Fund. This is a Saudi-linked “charity” fund, headquartered in the UK, which grosses millions of dollars per year and helps finance Wahabbism throughout the Muslim world. Through this religious fundamentalism – similar in many ways to the Christian fundamentalists who plague US and Latin American politics – Saudi capitalists spread their influence and power. Just as Christianity was used by Western capitalism throughout the former colonial world, so Saudi capitalism uses Wahabbism in the Muslim world today. Reportedly, Boko Haram has close ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), Libya Islamic Fighting Group as well as possible links with the Islamic State.
The world political instability has played a major role in this. Both AQIM and the Libyan group developed through the US-engineered overthrow of Qadaffi in Libya.
France and the US
Partly as a response to the rising tide of these Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, major Western powers are increasing their military presence in the continent. French troops, for instance, are reported to have recently fought Boko Haram in Cameroon, where they (BH) have bases, and the US is beefing up its military presence throughout the continent. However, lying behind this is the growing rivalry between US and Chinese capitalism for which power will get to further loot Africa of its enormous mineral riches.
“State of Emergency”
The Nigerian government has responded to this crisis by declaring a state of emergency in the region. This won’t help. The rank and file of the Nigerian military is severely underpaid, poorly fed, badly clothed, often having to scrounge for firewood just to cook their meals. Under these conditions, and with the corruption at all levels of the military, they are unwilling to risk their lives.
Then there is the other crisis: The crisis of the workers’ movement. Nigeria has a potentially powerful working class and several unions, which have formed the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). The problem with the labor movement can be seen in the comment of Ayuba Wabba, who is a candidate for its presidency. A “reform” candidate, Wabba praises the NLC policies that “earn the confidence of the worker and also that of the employer.” At the same time, Wabba criticizes the “neo liberal policies that are imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.” But first and foremost among those policies is the myth that workers and employers have common interests, which is exactly what Wabba claims!
According to the Wall St. Journal, Amiday Coulibaly – one of the two brothers alleged to have carried out the attack against Charlie Hebdo in France – was an impoverished youth, engaged in petty crime, who was won to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism while serving time in prison. Nearly 3,000 miles away, youth in Nigeria – also
impoverished and feeling without hope – are being won to the same ideology, and by the same forces. No amount of repression can reverse this. No amount of hand wringing or denunciations of “intolerance”.
Only a renewed mass movement against the ravages of capitalism, and against capitalism itself, will do.
For more background on Nigeria, see the article “Nigeria’s Land of Peace”