Terror for profit

Boko Haram and Shabaab are engaged in the same war, just on different scales

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A Chadian soldier stand guard next to captured arms on April 3, 2015 in Malam Fatori, in northeastern Nigeria, which was retaken from Islamist Boko Haram militants by troops from neighbouring Chad and Niger. Soldiers from Chad and Niger on April 1, drove Boko Haram Islamist militants from the border town that was one of the insurgency's last footholds in northeastern Nigeria. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

By Shadrack Muyesu

Muhammadu Buhari won Nigeria’s presidential elections in 2015 by promising that his military credentials gave him the edge on the war with Boko Haram. Four years later and staring at another election, his biggest boast remains the indignity of prematurely declaring the sect’s demise. As his generals scrambled to deliver something positive and as General Buhari himself struggled with ill health, Boko Haram has not only consolidated its northern base, but has also opened new frontiers in the south.

Back in 2015, Buhari promised to defeat the vile sect by providing government forces with better equipment, more training and more accurate intelligence. According to him, if his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan had deployed the same resources in fighting Boko Haram as he had to political ends, the army would not only have rescued the 276 Chibok schoolgirls (Boko Haram) had abducted, but that the extremist group would also have been decimated.

Boko Haram slaughtered 500 Nigerians in the first five months of Buhari’s leadership. A couple of years later, soon after Buhari declared that Boko Haram had been vanquished, a breakaway section of the Sect raided yet another girls’ school in the North and abducted more than 100 girls. Four years on, the army remains horrifyingly ill equipped despite increased military expenditure. The situation is so dire that only recently the Government has had to move quickly to quell a protest in Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria from soldiers upset at the lack of proper equipment, who are also mourning comrades killed by Boko Haram. Meanwhile, attacks grow more frequent and ruthless as Boko Haram targets different military formations in Northeast Nigeria.

Is Buhari a benefactor?

But that is the least of Buhari’s problems. The General himself has been accused of being a Boko Haram sympathiser. In fact, highly placed elements within the administration claim that the Yobe attack was stage managed in order to justify the Ruling Party’s demands for increased military spending – which money would go towards Buhari’s presidential campaign. The same sources indicate that the assault rifle wielding Fulani herdsmen moving around freely under the banner, Miyetri Allah Cattle Breeders Association of the North are in fact members of the terrorist sect. Unlike the past when herders would peacefully move to the South in search of pasture, the new group systematically targets Christian communities for attack, destroys crop and kills those who would speak against attempts to Islamise Nigeria.

“That for me is the connection (between the Fulani herders and Boko Haram)” said the Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Jasper Akinola in an interview with The Guardian on the state of the nation.

“Why are they not attacking Muslim areas like Katsina, Sokoto, Bauchi and Yobe? Instead they go to the southern part of Borno, which is dominated by Christians, to Chibok and all the way to Adamawa. They avoid the northern part of Kaduna and instead descend to the South which Christian through and through. Lest we forget, all this falls in line with Boko Haram’s core vision of an Islamic State – where all sectors of the economy and society are governed by Sharia Law.”

For starters, General Buhari himself is Fulani, from the north. Not that it should mean anything but considering that the herdsmen no longer carry sticks, a small radio and a torchlight but instead come armed with automatic rifles, there is an informed concern that someone powerful is arming and protecting them. The speculation is further fuelled by Buhari’s nonchalant attitude towards the herdsmen.

As the NewsAfrican reported last year, not only has his administration refused to acknowledge the criminal nature of the group, but he has totally ignored calls for demilitarisation, instead proposing curious solutions such as the creation of grazing colonies in the South. Commentators see the move as a modern form of conquest spearheaded by the Head of State himself. The herders themselves have also refused to accept proposals that would put an end to the crisis. The Governor of Kano, for instance, had offered to accommodate as many herders with their animals as were interested in coming to the vast land mass he controls. Another governor in the South proposed to avail trains to take chilled beef from the north to consumers in the south. But all these have fallen on deaf years with the herders seemingly hell bent on gaining access to the south through the innocuous pastoralism.

“In ten or so years, there will be a large population of Islamic fundamentalists in the south. Crude as it may seem, Boko Haram’s dream of an Islamised Nigeria is not as far-fetched as we think,” Akinola warns.

Boko Haram and Al Shabaab

The Kenyan Government may not be actively promoting the Al Shabaab agenda but there remain a lot of similarities between our own struggles with the sect and Nigeria’s contest with Boko Haram. The starting point is the similarity in their agenda. Like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab seeks to control Somalia in order to establish a territory based on their rigid interpretation of Sharia law. The two groups are unique in this regard. Unlike most Islamic terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Taliban, their war is unprovoked. According to Simiyu Werunga, a security expert, theirs is not a reaction against perceived injustice from the West but a proactive campaign towards the entrenchment of Islamic fundamentalism.

“Both are forms of a crusade, but one wouldn’t exist without the greedy intervention of the West.”

Just like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab’s quest is also extra territorial. However, unlike its elder sibling which is hell bent on establishing Islamic states beyond Nigeria, Al Shabaab’s forays outside are mainly geared towards punishing countries which support the United Nations-backed government in Somalia. As a research by Stanford University titled Mapping Militant Organizations concluded, even though Al Shabaab has endeavoured to strengthen its relationship with Al Qaeda, the goal remains the liberation of Somalia and the destruction of all enemies of Somalia. They are least concerned with what goes on elsewhere. This is the reason why many believe that withdrawing from Somalia would put a stop to Al Shabaab’s attacks on Kenyan soil.

But would it?

Al Shabaab’s biggest enemy is the Transitional Federal Government, the United Nations and western countries (the United States in particular) which it accuses of killing it leaders. Since its early days as the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, its activities have centred on killing the employees, nationals and sympathizers of these entities. Unfortunately, as the economic hub of the region, hosting big name UN offices and swelling with western nationals, Kenya was always going to be and will remain susceptible to attack. The issue is further compounded by the fact that Kenya shares a long virtually ungoverned border with Somalia and hosts a large Somali community in the North-eastern province, which the sect believes to be a part of the larger Somalia and therefore an object of conquer. According to observers, this means that attacks will not stop even if Nairobi withdrew its troops from Somalia.

Joel Okwemba of the Centre for International and Security Affairs echoes this belief. When I asked him whether Kenya should leave Somalia, his response was succinct.

“Kenya should not leave Somalia. Doing so inadvertently increases the power of Al Shabaab.  Kenya must stay until the Somali government is stable, the military is fully trained and equipped and its police force fully professional.”

Profit at all costs

Secondly, while the Kenyan government may not be actively supporting Al Shabaab, reports are awash of some powerful elements who are profiting from the war and thus not keen very keen on ending it. Not only do they sabotage the war, they facilitate attacks on Kenya soil in order to stir up the anger. It is a classic move that has been employed in the US no less if the Late General Smedley Darlington Butler – perhaps America’s greatest war hero – in War is a Racket is to be believed: attack your own country, stir chaos, profit from the chaos and make laws that guarantee your stay in power (in order to keep benefiting from the chaos).

In an extensive research titled ‘Who Profits from Kenya’s War in Somalia?’ Ben Rawlence of the outfit Journalists for justice went as far as giving profiles of these big name politicians and KDF officers engaged in an illegal trade for charcoal and sugar at the periphery of the war.

“The Kenya Defence Forces rather than taking the fight to Al Shabaab, are actually in garrison mode, sitting in bases while senior commanders are engaged in corrupt business practices with Jubaland administration and Al Shabaab” he reports.

Speaking to the Nairobi Law Monthly, a member of the military command stationed in the southern town of Gedo confessed that most of the sugar in Kenya is actually from Somalia courtesy of some high ranking members of Parliament and a section of the KDF top brass. It is repackaged in Eastleigh.

“Where do you think they get the money for all the hotels they are building in town?” he posed.

Lastly, and this has to be the biggest impediment in the war against regional terror, members of the Al Shabaab, like their Boko Haram brothers, have managed to blend into the local community. Militants are no longer tall Somali men clad in black; they are also black, from the local tribes, well-educated and holding regular jobs. Back home in Somalia and Nairobi, they mingle, live within and mingle freely with the community. The biggest casualties of this change in tack are the Somali community and local Muslims who are illegally and wrongly profiled by government. How to respond to this new threat is a question no one
really answers. 
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