News / Africa

    Terror Label for Boko Haram Debated

    A crowd gathers near a car damaged by an explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011.
    A crowd gathers near a car damaged by an explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011.
    Nico Colombant

    While violence involving Boko Haram extremists occurs on an almost daily basis in northern Nigeria, a debate is taking place in the United States over whether the radicals should be labeled as a foreign terrorist organization.

    The U.S. State Department currently designates 49 extremist groups as foreign terrorist organizations. Only one of those groups comes from sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia's al-Shabab extremists.

    Peter Lewis is the director of the African Studies program at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He calls Boko Haram a violent insurgency, but says it would be a mistake for the State Department to add it to the list of terror groups. "We are short on facts other than the undisputed fact that Boko Haram has become a deadly insurgency, not just a security problem, or a challenge, but an organized, capable insurgency in northern Nigeria," he said.

    Lewis says very little is known about the group's leadership structure or possible external ties.  He says much more is understood about the context of poverty, corruption, poor governance and religious rivalries within which Boko Haram operates.

    "Boko Haram, while it is a small movement, while it is essentially a sect that has a claim on the loyalties and ideas of only a tiny minority of northern Nigerians, nonetheless taps into a broader sense of resentment, of anger, a sense of marginality and a broader catchment and demographic of alienated, unemployed, poorly educated northern youth," he said.

    Lewis says alleged Boko Haram spokespeople may even have ties to the Nigerian government and pretend they have links with regional terrorist groups to attract more attention and outside funding in the effort to stop the insurgency.

    One analyst in favor of the terror label is former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter.  He disagreed with Lewis at a recent Washington conference. "It is really a terrorist group.  And Peter said let us not designate it [as such].  I would like to hear your explanation as to why.  It is a terrorist group.  If you kill 28 innocent people worshipping in a church, it is a terrorist group," he said.

    Jeter was referring to bombings during Christmas holiday church services last year on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja.

    Other Boko Haram attacks have targeted security forces and Muslims.  Leaders who have come forward in the media have said they want to impose Islamic Sharia law.  The name Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin," was initially given by critics of the radicals as a way to make fun of them.  

    Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York, recently wrote about Boko Haram in an opinion article in The New York Times.  Herskovits said that if the United States placed the group on the foreign terror list, it would make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.  She also said such a decision could turn the U.S. government into an enemy of many of northern Nigeria's  Muslims.  Herskovits says pressure is growing from some lawmakers and U.S. government agencies to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

    John Campbell, from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, says U.S.-Nigerian ties are extremely important, and that these debates should not be taken lightly. "We face the challenge of developing a policy response to Nigerian developments that reconciles our strategic interests with our abiding goal of promoting democracy and sustainable development in the giant of Africa," he said.

    Last year, U.S. lawmakers from the House Committee on Homeland Security also proposed that Boko Haram be added to the list of designated foreign terror groups, but so far officials from the State Department's Africa bureau have disagreed, and the northern Nigerian radicals have remained off the list.

    On its website, the State Department says the designation plays a critical role in the U.S. fight against terrorism and is an effective means to curtail support for terrorist activities and for pressuring groups to get out of the terror business.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora