Understanding the rise of Boko Haram and its discontents
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Religious extremism has plagued Africa for many years. From its earlier permutation in North Africa in the 1980s and 1990s to its recent expression in East and West Africa, every part of the continent has had its own story to tell about the violence unleashed by religious fanaticism. Boko Haram, a largely domestic group in Nigeria, has become one of the main players on the terror-front in the West African region. Although Boko Haram’s grievances are rooted in cultural cleavages and a sense of injustice regarding identity affiliation in Nigeria, the group’s activities are increasingly becoming regional involving neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin. Recently the group has been parachuted to the international limelight. The kidnapping of young schoolgirls in Nigeria has suddenly racked the international media’s attention, raising issues regarding Boko Haram which have been issues long before the social media increased awareness, especially by using the very popular hashtag #bringbackourgirls, on the social media site, Twitter. Boko Haram, like most insurgent groups in Nigeria, emerged from a background of an age-old conflict, which can be described as a conflict between different identities in the country. It is, however, important to remember that a variety of identities do not necessarily lead to conflicts. The fact that a country has several ethnic or religious groups does not make conflict inevitable; it is only when mobilisation around identities occurs or they are politicised that they constitute the basis for conflict.3 Within this article, however, it will be noted that the conflict can be attributed to many influences and factors which should be examined and taken into consideration.