Anthropological and historical account of the rise and fortunes of Boko Haram.
An archaeologist with 30 years’ fieldwork experience in the region, MacEachern (Anthropology/Bowdoin Coll.) writes that Boko Haram began only some 20 years ago on the ancient shores of fast-disappearing Lake Chad, in “a hot, sprawling, and somewhat ramshackle city of just over a million people.” The purist principles of the group—whose name, he points out, translates best to the phrase “deceitful education is forbidden,” which, he adds, “does not quite fit…with the Western reductionist images of the group as fundamentally ignorant and backward”—extend far back in time, but the leaders of Boko Haram looked to the Afghan Taliban as their more immediate models as agents of an austere regional power in the service of the larger caliphate. As MacEachern notes in this sometimes-arid but rich study, however, numerous political and ethnic rivalries come into play. The group’s original core emerged from a tribe that was notorious for raiding the region for slaves; when latter-day Boko Haram kidnap women with the aim of increasing their number, they are acting out an old pattern. The author reaches out from the anthropological to the political when he examines how Boko Haram has been allowed to operate in the area under the nose of the authorities; he notes that the Nigerian government could probably put an end to the group but asks, “what if exerting control over territory is not in the best interest of the people who are actually running the state?” It’s a provocative question, and even as outside powers—especially the U.S.—intervene militarily and politically, MacEachern predicts that if left alone, Boko Haram “will gradually fade into a condition of increased banditry, frontier lawlessness, and insurgency,” a minor irritant rather than a major threat in the Sahel.
Of considerable interest to readers keeping an eye on West Africa.