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Africa's Islamist Problem
Why Nigeria Matters

Throughout the Sahel, the semi-desert stretch below the Sahara, various militias and jihadist groups are trading huge amounts of weapons and supplies to each other. This booming terrorist corridor is shaking the foundation of the all too unsteady nations in the region. France is once again fighting Islamists in Mali, while also lending support to a number of its other former colonies in the region. The ruins of the Libyan state have become a convenient arms depot and shelter for militants from many countries; since a re-stabilization of the country looks at best unlikely, it will be so for quite some time.

In and below this region lies Nigeria, now the largest economy in Africa, a longtime friend and even proxy of the United States on the continent, and a country beset by its own Islamic Caliph-aspirants: Boko Haram. It is worth considering what America can do to make sure this useful and often promising country doesn’t fall into chaos.

John Campbell of the Council of Foreign Relations makes several proposals to that end in a recent report, advising that the United States should do what it can to help Nigeria keep control of its terrified and bloodstained northern region. He doesn’t suggest an outpouring of money or of soldiers, but rather a careful strategy to support Nigeria’s Muslims in their opposition to the Islamists, lend a helping hand for the upcoming elections, and press Abuja to clean up its corrupt military culture and end human rights abuses.

Perhaps most controversially, he suggests that the United States locate a consulate in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. Kano was the site of an attack on a mosque last week that left several dozen dead and more injured. (NB: Campbell’s report was released before this incident.) But, as he notes, the United States has maintained consulates in war-torn regions before. Though this suggestion seems like something of a long shot, his point is worth considering. If the United States continues to be involved in Nigeria and the Sahel as a whole (in which Nigeria’s northern region partially lies), then some form of presence in the region is at least worth considering.

In the more immediate term, Nigeria’s upcoming elections in February promise to provoke a wave of violence. The elections often play on religious and ethnic tensions, and this time there is another danger: Boko Haram has ambitions for statehood, and it is likely to block the vote in the north and perhaps do what it can to terrorize voters elsewhere. For the ongoing stability of the country, it is important that this election be seen as legitimate. The United States, Campbell advises, can provide some measure of support for fair elections as well as keep watch for potential provocations of violence from its embassy in Abuja.

Nigeria’s problems aren’t easily solved, and it is still possible that Boko Haram will get its religious kingdom in the North. But a stable Nigeria is important to Africa, and it is important to us—not only for our interests on the continent but for the longterm global war on terror. The weak states of Africa could be incubators of “boondock jihadists”, as we’ve called them, for decades. While these militants, like Boko Haram, may be far more inclined to terrorize and subjugate locals than attack the West, they can still provide materiel, training, and moral support to jihadists in Syria, Iraq, and perhaps Europe. The prospects for containing this threat, and likely for saving thousands of lives in Africa, will be much dimmer if the Nigerian state falters, let alone fails.

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  • Anthony

    Nigeria has real institutional deficits: lack of a strong, modern, and capable state as well as an absence of rule of law that provides property rights, citizen security, etc. The country appears prebendal and obviously has a deficit of legitimacy. Consequently, Boko Haram, Islamists, Jihadists, etc. may find potential havens for mischief. Can U.S. reinvent the state to preclude faltering?

    • Andrew Allison

      Re: Can U.S. reinvent the state to preclude faltering? The answer is an emphatic NO!

    • mreport

      Verb tenses matter here; It was an impossible task, it will be, in the near future, practical,
      due to advances in hi-tech weapons; Might as well call them battle droids, hat tip to Star Wars.

      • Anthony

        Perhaps but keep in mind: “there is little loyalty to a nation called Nigeria that supersedes ties to one’s region, ethnic group, or religious community…Stability in recent years has been maintained by an informal elite pact.” Has there been in past, present, or will there be in future, a common sense of national identity? And yes, Nigeria matters but it must matter to Nigerians too.

        • mreport

          True. Hopefully a sense of national identity will grow out of the efforts of Nigerians to improve themselves
          _IF_ they are not killed and/or the fruits of their labor stolen by the small minority of psychopathic sociopaths
          with AK-47s who currently control the area.

  • Andrew Allison

    Nigeria is yet another failed post-colonial state which was until recently propped up by oil revenues ( It’s interesting that all the commentary about the effects of the fall in oil prices fails to mention this. Boko Haram is, at a minimum going to carve out a pseudo-Caliphate there. So what? If it should ever present a threat to US national security it can, and should, be bombed back into the Stone Age. Ditto for ISIS. When in Rome and all that.

  • LoboSolo

    The oil fields are in the south and the muslims liv in the north. I say let them go and hav their own country.

    • mreport

      The cost of posing an existential threat to the US goes down every year;
      The US cannot afford to leave any safe havens from which to attack us.

  • FriendlyGoat

    We may be parsing words all the way into deep weeds of confusion when we speak (3rd paragraph) of Muslims being in opposition to “Islamists”. We all know that latter term is intended to describe the modern Islamic nuts who are REALLY, REALLY, VIOLENTLY nuts, but the peaceful Muslims, wherever over-run, are not really all that much in opposition to the religious precepts of their oppressors—-just opposed to their tactics. That presents a very muddy problem to any infidel outsiders (us) who think they can help fix things. We want to believe we can ally with people who, despite their crying need for help maintaining stability, will not or (cannot) relinquish the Islam which glues them to the worst of the worst AND repels them from us.

  • Chance Boudreaux

    None of our business.

  • senatormark4

    Of course, just another chance to help ‘moderate’ Muslims and then all will be well. The problem we’re having is that Boko Haram has an ideology for which they are willing to die. We used to believe in things. Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Religion. Now it seems none of our elites care about those things.

    Does anybody believe that any muslim group is interested in fighting for the First Amendment? I think we should be categorically denying any aid or visas to ANY group that won’t go on camera saying they unreservedly support the First Amendment. Draw a bright line at last! At least then we wouldn’t have guns and ammo we supplied shooting back at us next month.

    Oh well…..just another bunch of lost words. Obama is marching, guided by some principality and our wool-covered elites are planning on funding the end of America.

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