A religiously inspired armed group has been terrorising the north of the country for several years, and has upped the ante by kidnapping over 100 schoolgirls and taking them to a bush hideout. The group plans to “hand out” the girls as trophy wives and sexual slaves for its fighters, and is led by a mysterious man who claims he is acting on orders from God. There is a multi-million “bounty” on the head of the group’s leader. The group is fond of kidnapping small children, and forcefully conscripting them to join and fight for it.
You may have instinctively assumed that the paragraph above is about Boko Haram. Wrong. It is about Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The religion may be different but the violent tactics and kidnapping are similar. The LRA is Boko Haram’s Christian cousin from northern Uganda. The similarities between the two organisations are remarkable. Boko Haram’s kidnap of schoolgirls is not without precedent. Eighteen years ago the LRA kidnapped 139 schoolgirls from St. Mary’s College in Northern Uganda (an Italian nun named Sister Rachele Fassera followed the girls and the LRA fighters into the bush and negotiated the release of all but 30 of the girls).
VIOLENCE FROM THE NORTH
Both armed insurgencies mushroomed in the impoverished north of Uganda and Nigeria. The LRA’s campaign commenced after decades of northern leadership of Uganda was interrupted by Uganda’s first substantive southern President Yoweri Museveni. The LRA’s ancestor was an anti-government armed force called the Holy Spirit Movement; which was led by a spirit medium called Alice Auma. Auma claimed that she was possessed by a spirit called “Lakwena”. When Auma’s forces were routed by the Ugandan army, some of its remnants re-emerged as the much more violent LRA. The LRA is led by Auma’s relative: the former altar boy Joseph Kony.
Similarly Boko Haram’s violence became more intense after the Nigerian army destroyed its mosque, killed hundreds of its members, and its leader Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf was succeeded by the much more violent and implacable Abubakar Shekau. When the LRA’s Kony gives orders to his fighters, they are not merely carrying out his orders. Instead Kony presents his orders as divinely inspired edicts from God. Similarly, Boko Haram’s leader Shekau has justified some of his decisions as being based on instructions given to him by Allah.
|Geographic Base||Northern Nigeria||Northern Uganda|
|Ethnicity of Recruits||Mainly Kanuris from northern Nigeria||Mainly Acholi from northern Uganda|
|Kidnap Targets||Children and women||Children and women|
|Biggest kidnap||Over 250 schoolgirls||139 schoolgirls|
The way these things start is that there is a grievance that sparks the weaponisation of the terror group. However once they cross the Rubicon into violence, it is exceptionally difficult to reign in that violence. Typically a merry go round of violence then commences, escalates, and becomes so intense and cyclical, that everyone forgets what they are fighting about and just keeps amplifying its horrific violence against its enemy.
VIOLENCE AS THE MEANS AND THE END
The kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls has exposed the aimless nature of violence by groups such as Boko Haram and the LRA. This is not tactical violence with a cogent aim. It is violence for the sake of violence. Groups once regarded as terrorist organisations such as the IRA, PLO, Irgun, and the Tamil Tigers at least had identifiable aims (the struggle for an independent country). They were prepared to put their guns back in their holsters once they achieved their aims. Violence was the means, not the end. Not so for Boko Haram.
The behaviour of Boko Haram since the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls is an abject demonstration to those who think that negotiation with, or amnesty to, Boko Haram is the most prudent course of action. A group with logical aims would have realised that with the Chibok schoolgirls in its possession, it could negotiate from a position of strength and demand massive concessions from the government. It could for example have offered to release the girls in exchange for the release of Boko Haram members detained by the government, for ransom money, or for amnesty. Instead of presenting the customary list of demands as per archetypal kidnappers, Boko Haram did not ask for anything in return. Their leader instead flaunted the fact that the girls will be “sold” like chattels. In other words Boko Haram are so resolutely welded to confrontation and the use of force that they do not even realise the tactical advantage of having several hundred school children in their possession, with the eyes of the whole world on them, and the considerable leverage they could exert by dangling the carrot of the girls’ release. Instead they are willing to throw away all their bargaining chips by openly declaring their intention to “sell” the girls.
Although I have stated that Boko Haram and LRA violence is without a coherent strategy, there are some elements of its violence that are chillingly and cold-bloodedly tactical. Boko Haram and the LRA often force their kidnap victims and recruits to commit murder and other atrocities. This is intended to sever the social bonds between members and their communities. The scale of atrocities they commit means that members have nowhere to go since they cannot realistically return to, or be reintegrated back into, their communities and societies. Fear or reprisals if they return to their communities often welds members to the groups’ cause. Such tactics have been used before with terrifying effectiveness by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and by the Revolutionary United Front in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The kidnap and rape of schoolgirls is not random either. They do not kidnap small infant children because they are too small and weak to carry weapons and equipment. They usually kidnap children aged 10 and older, and pretty teenage girls. Their intention is to repopulate and sustain their membership on a long-term basis by producing offspring from the “marriages” between their members and kidnapped girls.
The vast majority of escaped Boko Haram and LRA rape victims, or those who return to their families pregnant, are often stigmatised. Also, very few men are willing to marry them. They therefore often leave their families and communities to start new lives far away in anonymity. Their fear of such rejection and such a fate often means that they have no choice other than to remain with Boko Haram/the LRA.
It matters not that most people may not share the belief systems of groups like Boko Haram and the LRA. The important thing is that many of the members believe in the groups’ aims strongly enough to kill people they do not know. This is what Nigeria is up against: an enemy that does not have logical aims that you can accept or reject, compromise on, or bargain with. Just an enemy that kills and terrorises simply because it can
Source: Gamji: http://www.gamji.com/