11 May 2014, 22:16

Boko Haram and the Black Balkans

Boko Haram and the Black Balkans

The global public has been in shock due to Boko Haram’s savage kidnapping of 276 mostly Christian schoolgirls in Northeastern Nigeria. This audacious act serves to further splinter the country along religious and geographic fault lines and raises the risk of a regional spillover effect. As surprised as the public was to hear about the travesty, the news should not have been all that surprising for Western governments and Africa observers.

Nigeria has already been a broken, artificial state ever since independence, and the West's support of terrorism in Kosovo, Libya, and Syria emboldened Boko Haram over the years. The West's true objectives are not in eliminating terrorism in Nigeria, but in safeguarding the enormous deposits of energy there, securing a strategic gas pipeline to Europe, and countering China. If these plans come to naught, then Boko Haram will be deployed to usher in the "Black Balkans" scenario for this region. 

History 

In order to comprehend the present situation in Nigeria, a short description of its history is necessary. The country used to be two separate British colonies between 1900-1914, Northern and Southern Nigeria. Immediately after independence in 1960, there were only three regions: northern, western, and eastern. In 1967, the eastern region declared independence as the Republic of Biafra, officially initiating the Nigerian Civil War. The end result was the elimination of the larger state-regions and their subdivision into smaller entities. This did not, however, eliminate the strong regional identities and differences between the impoverished and arid Muslim North and the resource-gifted and forested Christian South. 

Nigeria’s energy significance 

Today Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with over 170 million people, most of them concentrated in the south and a small area in the north near the Nigerien border. The north remains Muslim, while the South is Christian and animist. As poor as its people are, the country is ironically rich in natural resources. The US' Energy Information Agency confidently asserts that Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and the fourth largest LNG exporter in the world. According to NPR, in 2012 Nigeria "provide[d] more oil to the U.S. than any Middle Eastern country except Saudi Arabia", despite a drop in production due to civil unrest. The CIA World Factbook claims that Nigeria has the world’s 9th largest natural gas reserves (over half of what the US has) despite only being the 29th largest producer (edged out even by resource-scant Peru). The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report in 2011 speculating upon a future "golden age of gas", predicting that it will become the second-most consumed natural resource in the coming decades. Nigeria will consequently occupy a special role in Western resource planning due to its vast untapped market potential. 

Boko Haram’s role in the West’s strategic terrorist nexus 

Boko Haram began its terrorist rampage in 2009, and although being criticized by the US, it took four years and over 3,000 deaths for it to be placed on the State Department's terrorist list. For all of its bombings, kidnappings, and shootings, the group clearly engaged in obvious terrorism from the get-go, which raises the uncomfortable question of why it was not listed as a terrorist organization sooner. 

A probable explanation is that selected terrorist groups (whether de-jure or de-facto recognized as such) have aided long-term Western geopolitical transformation in strategic areas of the globe. For example, the Kosovo Liberation Army (formerly recognized as a terrorist group by the US until 1998) served the purpose of provoking NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999, and to this day, it fulfils the role of a terrorist hub by training extremists that fight in Syria. As regards Syria, the West actually cooperates with terrorists there and provides them with heavy weaponry, including anti-tank missiles. It was no different in Libya, where terrorist groups connived with the West to receive arms and training to overthrow mutual enemy Gaddafi. Post-regicide Libya has now turned into a "scumbag Woodstock", and weapons from the former government found their way into Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters in Syria and Mali. In the latter, a brief explosion in terrorism required international French-led forces to put down, which conveniently allowed them to control the country’s pivotal uranium deposits

Coming back to Nigeria, Boko Haram inadvertently fulfils the role of a ticking time bomb that can be armed, trained, and unleashed by the West (just like its terrorist forerunners in Kosovo, Libya, Syria, and Mali) to destabilize the national government if it is targeted for overthrow. The decision to work with and empower Boko Haram against the authorities would only take place if Nigeria decides to move away from the West and towards China, who actually promised the government $25 billion in investment last year. As seen by the coordination between terrorist actors in Kosovo, Libya, Syria, and Mali, it would not be overly difficult to integrate Nigeria's Boko Haram into this nexus should the decision be made. 

Boko Haram as the spark for a West-Central African bushfire 

By tolerating Boko Haram for so long, the West has created a monster with enormous regional reach. Being based in the porous border region of Northeastern Nigeria, it is at the confluence of 3 near-failed states: Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. None of these countries (Nigeria included) can exercise adequate governance on this frontier, and the shrivelling Lake Chad area is one of the most destitute places in the Sahara and Sahel regions. Boko Haram can thus cull future followers from this mass of dissatisfied and impoverished individuals perfectly positioned to initiate a transnational crisis between all four actors. 

Niger is exceptionally susceptible to any kind of destabilization. It is expected to quadruple (!) its population by 2050, and its dysfunctional and nominal "government" cares only about safeguarding the fact that it is the world’s fourth-largest uranium producer. The country has already been affected by the transnational Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Mali terrorists, and it is extremely unstable. 

Chad is another country ripe for unrest, and its history of coups and civil conflicts testifies to this. Unlike Niger and Cameroon, it has a strong military that significantly partakes in international operations, such as those in Mali and the Central African Republic. It aspires to become a regional military powerhouse, but it is no match for Nigeria’s economic potential. In the future, Nigeria may be a Western African hegemon, whereas Chad exercises influence over the Sahara and Central Africa. The two countries may even become caught up in a power rivalry sometime in the future. 

Cameroon’s government exists mainly as a liaison for natural resource contracts, and it is all but invisible in the Northern reaches of the country. This lack of governance makes the north largely lawless and prime territory for transnational terrorists to exploit. There have already been reports that Boko Haram sought refuge in the Cameroonian jungles after their kidnapping escapade, and they were blamed for a terrorist attack in the country two months ago

The Central African Republic is experiencing violence between its Christian and Muslim communities, located in the south and north, respectively. The Muslim north has even announced its intention to secede and form its own country. In such an environment, Boko Haram may have more influence than any governing authorities, international military units, or community leaders. If it decides to exploit this to its logical limit, it can expand its presence to the resource-rich heart of Africa. 

It is therefore only a metaphorical hop, skip, and a jump away for Boko Haram to infiltrate and expand into Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and as was argued, the Central African Republic. It may not appear to be in anyone’s interests for this to happen, but a variation of Brzezinski's Eurasian Balkans concept shows why this could aid the West’s policy in Africa. By unleashing "The Black Balkans" scenario of division, discord, and deadly warfare in West-Central Africa among its major state and non-state actors, the region would not be able to serve as a resource plantation for China or other non-Western rivals. Of course, the West will not "shoot itself in the foot" like this unless its grand strategic objectives of safeguarding energy, building the Trans-Saharan pipeline, and countering China fail, but should this happen, than Boko Haram presents the best opportunity to once more use terrorism to rip a region apart and prevent others from getting what the West could not acquire for itself.

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