A terrorist group has kidnapped over two hundred schoolgirls and threatened to sell them off as slaves or under-aged wives. It’s sensational. It captures headlines and stirs the emotions of outside observers, prompting calls for Western governments to “do something”. Always willing to oblige (and collect all the requisite fees), assistance donors rally to the call with policy statements, diplomatic overtures and advisory team deployments. Thanks to an eager and salacious press, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, servicing its role in a repugnant and uproarious playbook, sits squarely in the sights of the international security cooperation community.
Regardless of the outcome to the crisis de jure, it’s important for the bill payer to know the ever present dictum of war, and its attendant terror tactics, as an extension of politics through other means, just as Von Clausewitz illustrated in his essential Vom Krieg. Terrorism is a tool of politics, just as the entire enterprise of war is undertaken to achieve a political objective. The politics of Nigeria reveal that the Boko Haram phenomena are extensions of governmental factions jockeying for a larger share of the tax harvest.
Even before Boko Haram became headline news in the global press, Nigerian politicians recognized the “ethnicized environment” driving the interest groups within the governmental apparatuses.
Four major ethnic groups were thrust into political union as part of a colonial divide and rule strategy. Upon achieving independence, very little common ground exists for these diverse ethnicities to share institutions of governance, save for accessing the substantial public treasury, fattened with distributions of nationalized industries and considerable natural resources. The northerners want a bigger slice of the oil revenues generated by the south. The southerners grow militant in resisting expropriation by the central government and southeasterners have been marginalized by losing their bid for independence in the short-lived Biafran war in the mid-1960’s.
Just as with North Korea, belligerent activity is aimed at gaining concessions. Nigeria’s own politicians recognize this: “the politicization of militancy in some parts of the country aimed at achieving [a] political objective…If you watch what is going on now, the politicized illegal activities of Boko Haram are a proper determination to win the second round of presidential election in 2015…”
It all comes down to a political objective. All political objectives are rooted in the organization of controlling economic resources. Boko Haram, and all of their terrorist activities, are political tools employed by northern politicians so as to gain access to the public treasury.
The people of donor nations should bear this in mind when watching the news and as promises of assistance are being made in their name.