Friday, September 9, 2011

How to undermine Nigeria's growing Islamist threat

CNN (blog)
Foreign Affairs
9 September 2011

Editor's Note: John Campbell, the former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, is the Ralph Bunch Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By John Campbell, Foreign Affairs

On August 26, a suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden Honda into the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, killing 23 people and injuring 81 more. Boko Haram, a shadowy radical Islamic movement that has been waging daily attacks in the north of the country, claimed responsibility. Some have argued that the sophisticated tactics are evidence of Boko Haram establishing links with international terrorist networks, most likely al Qaeda in the Maghreb or al Shabab in Somalia. Even before this attack, the United States, Britain, and Israel had publicly supported providing counterterrorism assistance to the Nigerian government. Now, momentum for such a solution is growing.

But such an approach could do more harm than good - for Nigeria but also for Washington, which cannot afford to alienate Africa's largest Muslim population. Since his election to the Nigerian presidency in April 2011, Goodluck Jonathan has undertaken an exclusively security-driven strategy for dealing with Boko Haram, stationing large numbers of military and police in the north, especially in Maiduguri, a city on the edge of the Sahara near the border with Chad, and the states of Bauchi and Borno.

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