Wednesday, 14 May 2014

NIGERIA: #BringBackOurGirls & U.S. Militarism

It is almost a month since members of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram burst into a girls’ school in the northeast of the country and kidnapped hundreds of girls. It took at least two weeks before international attention turned to the crisis, and even longer for the Nigerian government to sharpen its response and accept help rescuing the girls. The abductions have triggered a worldwide social media campaign under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and prompted the Unites States, Britain, France and Israel to offer help or send experts to Nigeria.

Boko Haram is a group and militant organization based in the northeast of Nigeria, north Cameroon and Niger. The Organization seeks to establish a ''pure'' Islamic state ruled by sharia-Law, putting a stop to what it deems ''Westernization''. The term ''Boko Haram'' comes from the Hausa word ''boko'', originally derived from a Hausa word with meanings such as ''fraud'' and ''inauthenticity'' and the Arabic word ''haram'' figuratively meaning ''sin''. Loosely translated, the term ''boko haram'' could mean ''Western education is sinful'', which would symbolize its strong opposition to anything Western, which it sees as corrupting Muslims.

Contrary to the general perception that Nigeria resisted initial outside help in its fight against ''Boko Haram'', recent report from ABC News shows how Nigeria, through the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, requested from the United States, Intelligence information and military gear to fight ''Boko Haram'' since last year. The report disclosed that the Nigerian government last year hired a powerful Washington lobbying firm to press its case for intelligence on the violent terror group and to persuade the Obama's administration to donate non-lethal equipment in the hunt for extremists.

However, two months before ''Boko Haram'' was designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. in November 2013, Nigeria's Office of the National Security Adviser signed a $3 million-a year contract with K Street Firm Patton Boggs to provide comprehensive security advice, including the donation of excess military and law enforcement equipment, according to documents filed with the U.S. Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Until the recent abductions, the U.S. declined to share vital intelligence information with Nigeria's government, nor provided any military assistance whatsoever to Nigeria's government.

Powerless to take on ''Boko Haram'', the Nigerian President Jonathan established a committee to open direct negotiations with the terrorist group, last year, after the U.S, failed to provide the help requested, which infuriated the Obama's administration, arguing that the U.S. would not assist the Nigeria's government if it opens direct talks with a ''terrorist organization''. That committee's initial six month mandate expired without holding direct talks with the terrorist organization, though it has spoken to ''Boko Haram'' leadership though proxies.

While the Nigeria's government is divided rather to negotiate with ''Boko Haram'' or not, the U.S., Britain , France and Israel warn the Nigeria's government against such action, which subsequently prompted some Nigerian politicians to question why the U.S. and other foreign countries would be interested in helping the Nigeria's government now after failing to do so since 2013.

It is only now, after the abductions that the U.S. has sent military, law-enforcement and development specialists to assist Nigeria government against Boko Haram. Two U.S. officials said on Tuesday a mix of manned and unmanned American surveillance aircraft were being used to aid the search for the missing girls. One U.S. official identified the drone as a Global Hawk, which is a high-altitude, unmanned spy plane manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corp.
For the Nigeria Opposition, the calls for the United States to get involved in this crisis undermines the democratic process in Nigeria and co-opts the growing movement against the inept and kleptocratic Jonathan administration. It was Nigerians who took their good for nothing President to task and challenged him to address the plight of the missing girls. It is in their hands to seek justice for these girls and to ensure that the Nigerian government is held accountable. The U.S. assistance/action will do more harm to the people and will only expands and sustain U.S. military might.

The last time U.S. military advisors were sent to Africa, they didn’t do much good. Remember #KONY2012? When President Obama sent 100 combat-equipped troops to capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in Central Africa? Well, they haven’t found him and although they momentarily stopped looking, President Obama sent more troops in March 2014 who now roam Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AFRICOM (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls. In 2013 alone, AFRICOM carried out a total of 546 “military activities”, which is an average of one and half military missions a day. While we don’t know much about the purpose of these activities, keep in mind that AFRICOM’s mission is to “advance U.S. national security interests.”

And advancing they are. According to one report, in 2013, American troops entered and advanced American interests in Niger, Uganda, Ghana, Malawi, Burundi, Mauritania, South Africa, Chad, Togo, Cameroon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Sudan.

The U.S. military conducted 128 separate “military activities” in 28 African countries between June and December of 2013. These are in conjunction to U.S. led drone operations which are occurring in Northern Nigeria and Somalia. There are also counter-terrorism outposts in Djibouti and Niger and covert bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles which are serving as launching pads for the U.S. military to carry out surveillance and armed drone strikes.

Although most of these activities are covert, we do know that the U.S. military has had a destabilizing effect in a few countries. For example, a New York Times article confirmed that the man who overthrew the elected Malian government in 2012 was trained and mentored by the United States between 2004 and 2010. Further, a U.S. trained battalion in the Democratic Republic of Congo was denounced by the United Nations for committing mass rapes. Knowing this, the involvement of the U.S. government and military will only lead to more militarism, less oversight, and less democracy. It gives the U.S. military the legitimacy to encroach and grow its military presence in Africa.

The best way to address this issue would be a direct negotiation between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, because the crisis in not just  religious, it is also ethnic and political. The growing frequency and geographical range of attacks attributed to ''Boko Haram'' have led some political and religious leaders in the north of Nigeria to the conclusion that the group has now expanded beyond its original religious composition to include not only Islamic militants, but criminal elements and disgruntled politicians as well. The proposed state of emergency and foreign assistance will harm Nigeria’s government counter-insurgency strategy and will cause more harm to people of Nigeria.

This school of thinking is shared by many African leaders, who are become increasingly sceptical of the U.S. and others foreign assistance in Africa. They argue that foreign countries only intervene in African affairs when their interests are at stake and they are not accountable for the loss of African lives in the process.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist/Author
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AP-Photo-Nigerians campaigning ''BringBackOurGirls'' in Lagos-Nigeria