Today, a real-life sequel of sorts involves not European interlopers, but a terror organization running its deadly wares through western and central Africa. The colonialists this time are ISIS.
Aggressively expanding into western and central Africa, ISIS has just gained a huge new ally in this strategy. Like fellow pro-ISIS fighters in Libya to the north, the Islamic terror organization Boko Haram of Nigeria has pledged loyalty to ISIS.
In style and substance, Boko Haram is fully in step with ISIS. A terrorist group, they have conquered and plundered towns and villages throughout northeastern Nigeria. Whole parts of the war-ravaged Nigerian countryside have fallen into their domain. Slaughtering whole villages, enslaving women and children, and indiscriminately bombing civilians are some of their calling cards, tactics shared with ISIS.
Boko Haram’s pledge of loyalty, or “bay’ah,” to ISIS was backed up with other signs of imitation and allegiance. Videos released by the group featured the ISIS black flag on tanks. Their other media products reflected the public-relations characteristics for which ISIS has become famous, including sophisticated social-media efforts and recorded public executions.
ISIS promptly accepted the gesture of submission from Boko Haram. In doing so, they gained a valuable ally. So did Boko Haram.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and one of the ten most populated in the world. It is the largest oil-producing country in Africa and the world's eleventh-largest. A large section of that nation has been effectively lopped off and taken over by Boko Haram—and now ISIS.
Immediately, ISIS can put into service Boko Haram's fighters as their main force of shock troops in Africa. Their new Nigerian cadres are the most formidable terror organization based in Africa. Just last year, Boko Haram conquered a piece of Nigeria the size of Belgium.
This new, westernmost arm of ISIS is planted firmly in a major African nation with enormous oil reserves. This poses a new, heightened and potentially long-term threat to America and the West.
Boko Haram gained much in the bargain. From ISIS, they can count on powerful public tools for recruiting new members, as well as ready access to arms and, presumably, cash. Boko Haram is now fully on the radar screen of the world’s radical Muslims, enjoying enhanced prestige for being absorbed into ISIS.
The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, already has international renown. He and Boko Haram made international headlines a year ago when they kidnapped more than 275 Nigerian schoolgirls. In a video released in April 2014 after the abductions, Shekau declared his hatred of “western education” and Christianity and vowed to sell the girls “on the market.”
Boko Haram can take the fight to other areas throughout western and central Africa. They can look to capitalize on weak governments and civil strife in areas around them, the same unstable conditions that have fueled the rise of ISIS globally. This is the situation throughout much of Africa, including countries bordering Boko Haram’s territory. Other terror groups in the area, such as Ansaru and AQIM, may link up with them.
ISIS's acquisition of Boko Haram brings a large swath of Nigeria into the group's rapidly growing, geographically checkered nation-state. There remains, however, the problem of the distance separating ISIS forces in Libya and Nigeria. More than a thousand miles lies between them. That fact is a serious logistical challenge for ISIS. But it is also a major problem for the people living between Africa's two ISIS outposts.
Historically, peoples separated geographically but united by culture or ideology find ways to unite. Parallels in history suggest a couple of obvious scenarios for the two current ISIS blocs in north Africa to unify. One is simply to create a working “axis” agreement between the two groups. We have seen this many times from allied nation-states separated by large distances. Germany and Japan, for example, struck such a partnership prior to World War II. ISIS controls both areas and groups, making such a formalized axis redundant.
The other alternative is far more alarming--especially for those caught between ISIS’s dual African domains. The two groups may drive towards each other and seek to unite by force. Modern-day Germany came into being this way under the “Blood and Iron” leadership of Otto von Bismarck. It was by force that the iron chancellor hammered together Prussian principalities into a cohesive German empire in the late nineteenth century. This enabled the rapid rise of Germany as a world power.
Between Libya and northeastern Nigeria is the nation of Chad. Chad’s government and forces have been leading the multinational force to take out Boko Haram. Anyone who can read a map can see where some of ISIS’s next forays are likely to be.
- Andrew Thomas, Editor and Founder, Stars & Banners