After recent reports of attacks in Canada, Australia, France, Japan and Nigeria, a spotlight has been placed on the actions of extremist groups across the globe. Media coverage has focused on the happenings in the Northern hemisphere, and has been criticised for neglecting significant African news in recent months. One such group are closer to home than we believe.


Who are Boko Haram?
Boko Haram are a faction of Islamists with militant views that are based in Nigeria. Founded in 2002, the group’s initial focus was to oppose any form of Western education, evident in their name which loosely translates to “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language. However, the group’s focus shifted in 2009 towards fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Africa’s largest economy, with an outward view on surrounding territories. The group view the current leadership of Nigeria as non-believers, and after catching the eye of the United States were declared a terrorist group in 2013. After seizing control of certain areas in Nigeria, the group declared a caliphate over these areas in 2014. A caliphate is a form of Islamic government which is under the leadership of a caliph, or an Islamic spiritual leader.

The group originated against a backdrop of deep-rooted resentment towards their British colonisers and resistance towards Western education which developed among some Muslims in Nigeria. In 2002, a Muslim priest named Mohammed Yusuf established the group in the city of Maiduguri after building a religious complex, complete with a mosque and Islamic school. This led to families across Nigeria and the surrounding areas enrolling their children in this school. However, as the group turned their view to the creation of an Islamic state, the school soon became a recruiting station for militants.


What are the group’s beliefs?
Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which forbids Muslims to involve themselves in Western social and political activities. These include voting in elections, wearing Western clothing such as trousers and shirts, and receiving a non-spiritual education.


Who are the group’s leaders?
Yusuf, the group’s founder, was killed by Nigerian security forces after their headquarters were seized in 2009. This was in response to a number of attacks the group carried out in the same year against the state. Boko Haram members were able to regroup after this and under new leadership, that of Abubakar Shekau, have continued their efforts against the Nigerian government.


What have the group claimed responsibility for?
The group have claimed responsibility for urban attacks in northern and central Nigeria, which included the bombing of churches, bus stops, military quarters and police stations. A more notable attack which the group have claimed responsibility for was on the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. In the rural provinces, the group have also claimed responsibility for attacks on villages where incidents of looting, killing and arson have been reported. The group have also carried out cross-border incursions into Cameroon.

The group received international condemnation in April 2014 in response to the abduction of nearly 280 Nigerian schoolgirls, which prompted the global #BringBackOurGirls trend. This was almost a year after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northern provinces where the group had the strongest influence. It is estimated that approximately 219 girls are currently still in captivity, while 57 have escaped. Boko Haram has made demands for detained members of the group in exchange for the girls, but President Jonathan has not agreed to these terms.

More recently, however, the group has claimed responsibility for the siege of the fishing town of Baga, in which parts of the city were destroyed and citizens were killed. This attack, which has been seen as the worst since 2009, also prompted large crowds of people to flee the city into neighbouring territories. Shekau subsequently posted a video online in which he not only claimed responsibility for the attack and explained the group’s reasoning for the attack, but renewed threats against Niger, Cameroon and Chad. It is believed that these attacks and threats are in response to the resistance which the group has faced from vigilantes in Baga, as well as military responses from surrounding African nations.


How is this relevant to South Africa?
In his book entitled “Jihad: A South African Perspective”, Professor Hussein Solomon, a senior political sciences lecturer at the University of the Free State, reiterated that acts of terror are a global threat that have the potential to affect South Africans. This was evident in the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya, where fraudulent South African passports were used by the attackers to gain access into Kenya.

It is hoped that once we are equipped with a better understanding, we as Africans can play an active role in putting out the fires of hatred and intolerance that are currently ablaze.


Image: Brandon Dlamini

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