It’s hard to find the larger story in most of what is being written about the current kidnap and rescue operations in Nigeria. There is even little backstory connecting the Nigerian experience to the major news stories of Islamic insurgency in Mali and Algeria less than a year ago.
The Nigerian tragedy is being covered largely in terms of an ineffectual and corrupt central government, misusing its huge oil revenues, leaving its northern region in poverty and chaos, receptive to any alternative to a negligent central government and open to a brutal insurgency – one growing stronger and accumulating enough power to attack at will, even in the nation’s capital. Other than the issue of Nigerian oil, the exactly the same could have been written about Mali in 2013, leading up to international intervention to drive the insurgency back from its advance on the capital.
One of the few indications there is a larger story can be found in minor references to the fact that the kidnapped girls have been divided into smaller groups and taken across the Nigerian border into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Another is that the current Boko Haram leader is a Sharia law student, having studied at the Borno State College of Islamic and Legal and Islamic Studies. The college played a major role in supporting the adoption of the Sharia penal code in Nigeria’s northern states beginning in 1999. The larger story is that there had been a radicalization of Islam across all of northern Africa, that radicalization has created a loose network of groups with the common goal of replacing each nation’s relatively open and loosely enforced system of Sharia law with a much more conservative and aggressively enforced legal system – comparable to the strict enforcement found in such Arab countries as Saudi Arabia.
Two factors have rapidly accelerated the growth and networking of these groups. The first has been the very well-funded work of Muslim non-governmental organizations such as the World Muslim League, the World Assembly for Muslim Youth and the Federation of Islamic Schools. Many of the North African schools have been staffed with extremely puritanical African Muslim, trained in the Middle East – often supported by extensive scholarship programs. The second was the very early, equally well funded outreach begun by Osama bin Laden, first working out of the Sudan. His efforts included a well-organized effort to “seed” radical organizers across North Africa, supplementing them with experienced fighters and arms smugglers – such experience being greatly desired by all the nascent insurgencies. His first targets included the more northern states such as Libya and Egypt but also included Somalia, demonstrating his understanding of the opportunity for a pan-African radical movement.
The larger story is also one of a loosely networked pan-Africa insurgency, one in which Al Qaeda itself had been subsumed into a much broader threat to a host of established regimes. Many of those regimes would be objectively considered as either corrupt or at best little concerned with their more remote and poverty stricken territories. With money from wealthy, fundamentalist sponsors on the Arabian Peninsula, with major opportunities for self-funding though extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking, and with the religious fervor of their cause, the insurgencies have become a multi-national threat to regimes from Somalia in the Horn of Africa, across Chad and Nigeria and westward to Mali, Mauritania and Algeria. The radical Islamic insurgency has evolved to become literally an international security threat – and the international community is responding. The underlying problem with that response is that it may put nations such as the United States, France and Britain in the position of providing military assistance to corrupt and essentially dictatorial governments – in the same fashion that those same nations often came to the assistance of brutal dictatorships facing communist insurgencies during the Cold War. The United States has more than a little of such bad experiences, in Shadow Warfare we explore the ramifications of military assistance and counter insurgency involvement with a number of Latin American dictatorships, especially those in the Southern Cone during the genesis of the Condor program.
For those wishing to explore current events in Africa in more depth than the current media treatment, I recommend the following War is Boring essay – the United States is going to have to tread the same fine line the French are facing.
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About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

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