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Although the Boko Haram crisis started like other riots before it and was initially treated as such, its escalation and metamorphosis from ordinary religious protest to insurgency has given an air of notoriety and fatality to it in Nigeria and across the borders of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Despite being similar in orientation, philosophy, and modus operandi to the Maitatsine religious crises of 1980 to 1985 in Nigeria, the Boko Haram crisis is clearly marked out by its more virulent nature, its sophistication, the wider global attention it has attracted, its festering nature, and more significantly the seeming inability to bring it under control. Presented here are the views and perspectives of scholars on the origin and growth of the Boko Haram phenomenon in Nigeria, its philosophy and ideology, its strategies and tactics, and its progression from common religious crisis and eventual metamorphosis to insurgency. The highly volatile religious background from which the sect emerged and the central role played by Mohammed Yusuf in its nurturing and growth are discussed. Also discussed are the impact of Salafism and the writings of Ibn Taymiyya, among others, on the sect and the motivation it derives from the global jihad movement. The article examines and appraises the Nigerian government approach in seeking to contain the group and situate it in the context of the African states and global coalition against terror and discusses why the central government has struggled to firmly contain the group. The central role played by Mohammed Yusuf in the evolution and growth of the sect is brought out in the first part of the article. Pertinent was the influence of individuals and groups on Yusuf’s beliefs and activities aided by his demagoguery. His group’s abhorrence of Western education and lifestyle as well as rejection of democracy as a form of government and justification of violence, aided by Salafist thoughts and writings, form the kernel of the next section on philosophy and ideology. The third section, on transformation and changing strategies, discusses the factors in the escalation of the crisis, its various manifestations, and the growing global link of the sect resulting from its brutal suppression in 2009. The various measures devised to contain the sect and its effectiveness or otherwise are presented. A final section discusses the efforts made by the group to integrate itself into the global jihad movement as well as government response, particularly at the regional level, to defeat it.


Paul Nugent

African borders, which mostly follow the contours of the former colonies, are widely regarded as artificial and yet have enjoyed remarkable longevity. On the one hand, there have been relatively few serious secessionist and/or irredentist bids. On the other hand, a limited number of border disputes have been settled and mostly without recourse to conflict. This is often attributed to the willingness of states to accept the principle of the intangibility of borders inherited from colonialism and the associated legal principle of uti possidetis. Most claims to secession are based on a preexisting sense of territoriality, whereas there are relatively few that are premised on the rights of peoples to self-determination. It has been pointed out that claims to secession are often tabled as a bargaining position rather than as a nonnegotiable demand. However, the secession of South Sudan has created a genuine precedent, and there has been an upsurge of secessionist movements that reflects this reality. In addition, there has been a proliferation of fresh border disputes, which reflects the increased competition for valuable resources such as oil. This would suggest that some of the landscape of border politics is undergoing a shift. However, a number of factors continue to work in favor of the reproduction of existing borders. Paradoxically, the fact that guerrilla insurgencies tend to breed in borderlands, from where movements either aspire to take over the existing state or seek to carve out zones of de facto control, means that the borders themselves are not challenged. War economies depend on transboundary flows in which local populations themselves are deeply invested. Moreover, the flight of displaced populations and refugees toward borders may create greater insecurity at the margins but also tends to reinforce borders in both a legal and a practical sense. Finally, the struggle to determine the basis on which trade and transport is managed involves associational actors operating at the national level. Equally, fishermen, herders, farmers, and other local actors frequently invoke national affiliations to justify their own right to exploit resources within border zones. At the border itself, one observes a convergence of international, national, and local political scales in a particularly striking manner.


Philip G. Roeder

National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities. The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.