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Next Step for Nigeria? The Rise of Boko Haram

As tensions swell in Mali over its rising Islamist insurgency, nearby Nigeria has been grappling with its own increasingly active group of terrorists, Boko Haram.

The 2010 election of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, fueled Boko Haram’s legitimacy amongst its Muslim base. Unlike Ansar Dine in Mali, which recruits internationally, Boko Haram has exploited corruption and poverty in Nigeria to attract its members. Even educated and middle class men are increasingly rejecting western and Christian ways of life and joining the ranks of Boko Haram, making this insurgency even more threatening due to its entrenchment within society.

In order to address Boko Haram, the foundation of their legitimacy (Muslim-Christian tension) must be undermined. At a recent event held at the Jamestown Foundation, Jacob Zenn, an analyst for western and central African affairs, discussed Boko Haram and how to combat its effects.. Generally, Muslim Nigerians live in the north, while Christian Nigerians live in the oil-rich south, widening the gap between the religions as Christians profit economically and civilly. Zenn argued Muslim Nigerians, even non-members of Boko Haram, see Nigeria as an Islamic nation governed by a corrupt, Christian ruling class.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Nigeria in early August and reiterated the United States’ willingness to help in the fight against Boko Haram.  However, a State Department official correctly identified that President Jonathan has attempted to defeat the insurgency only militarily and not socially. While the Nigerian government has purportedly held talks with Boko Haram, the group is only becoming more powerful. Much like Mali, the increasing severity of this crisis has escaped the western media and it seems likely Boko Haram will go uncontested  until western interests are directly threatened.

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