Troops from Niger and Chad have joined the armed response to the militant group Boko Haram in North-Eastern Nigeria. The response comes as the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, declared a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State, another organisation which is active in Syria and Iraq. In the pledge, the Boko Haram leader called on Muslims everywhere to pledge loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Boko Haram has been attempting to create an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria since 2009, although in recent months there had been reports that the group had been in neighbouring states.
The situation in the north of Nigeria has seen the Presidential elections postponed so as to protect free and fair elections and prevent Boko Haram having any influence on the results. In an attempt to respond to the group a Multi-National Joint Taskforce (MNJTF) was established with Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin after it was approved by the African Union. The 8,700-strong regional troop is expected to aim to secure Nigeria’s border primarily, with Nigeria itself being expected to reclaim other areas. Nigeria itself has played a leading role in other regional operations such as those in Chad in the 1980s, Liberia in the 1990s and Darfur more recently.
Boko Haram was established in 2002, mainly in an attempt to prevent western-style education in the predominantly Muslim north of the country. The organisation began military operations in 2009 and is believed to be responsible for the passing of thousands whilst also using strategies such as hostage taking. Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to IS in a video that appears to have some IS influence – although their alliance has been somewhat expected due to the similarities between the groups. The geographical distance between the groups means that this pledge may be seen as more of a symbolic than practical manoeuvre. It might be viewed as an indication to the success of the operations by the MNJTF that Boko Haram is attempting to gain a foothold with its allies.
The different countries involved in the taskforce aim to prevent Boko Haram spreading to different countries, whilst Nigeria may aim to bring the North back under the government’s control. Equally, with the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathon facing an election scheduled for March 28, the campaign may be important for his re-election. The involvement of neighbouring countries in the taskforce and the support of the African Union means that the response to Boko Haram might be seen as representative of the region as well as the Nigerian government.
The taskforce aimed at responding to Boko Haram in Nigeria might draw similarities to the international coalition that is aiming to prevent IS’s movement in Iraq and Syria. The movement towards regional taskforces and international coalitions may highlight that to be successful they require the legitimacy that regional countries provide. The involvement of Middle Eastern countries in the international coalition – such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – have more support in Syria and Iraq than countries from outside the Middle East. Although the taskforce responding to Boko Haram is solely made up of African countries, this may increase the apparent legitimacy it has whilst also showing a united front regarding groups such as these.
The response to groups such as Boko Haram and IS might be stronger with the involvement of countries from both the Middle East and East Africa. The knowledge that these countries have about the differing cultures and religions at odds may result in a more effective response. The involvement of states with substantial Islamic populations may make the response to these groups far more legitimate.
How might the unification of countries in response to IS and Boko Haram promote a productive outcome in these regions?