Boko Haram is on the run but can a lasting peace be found?

THE Nigerian military has in recent weeks confounded expectations by recovering much of the territory it lost to the Boko Haram insurgency last year, and has launched a huge air and ground offensive for the remaining holdouts in Gwoza, Bama and the Sambisa Forest.

\n

boko

\n

Neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and especially Chad have overcome their differences with Nigeria and joined the fight, seeking to close down Boko Haram’s sanctuaries and cut its supply lines.

\n

Operational cells remain in place in some cities, attested to by the continuing suicide bombings that will likely increase as Nigeria’s March 28 election approaches.

\n

Predatory hit-and-run attacks on villages continue, though these are random acts calculated to show the cult is still in business. No one doubts that this war will continue, at some level, for a long time.

\n

But without rear bases, supply lines or local support, an organisation that not so long ago had grand plans to carve an Islamic state out of the lands surrounding the Lake Chad basin has been severely degraded.

\n

The question is why it took six years.

\n

The explanation is that the war against Boko Haram has had numerous phases and the present one really began only at the beginning of last year. During 2013 a state of emergency and a military campaign in the northeast suppressed the movement for at least six months.

\n

But when the insurgency reappeared, it was with a vengeance: it was better resourced, with tanks and armoured vehicles, and with a strategy of armed propaganda that employed the dual tactics of suicide bombs and social media to terrorise Nigeria, destroy the credibility of the government and the military, and make Boko Haram appear unstoppable.

\n

Boko Haram’s single most infamous act — and one that more than any other caught the attention of the world — was the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.

\n

It also for the first time sought to capture and hold on to territory, imitating its mentors in the Islamic State. The Nigerian military has struggled to respond to an unfamiliar style of warfare that was part terrorism and part insurgency.

\n

The counterattack began with the recapture of the city of Mubi in mid-November, and after fits and starts was in full stride by the middle of last month.

\n

The new Nigerian military we are seeing has retooled with Russian T-72 and T-55 tanks, attack helicopters and armoured vehicles, including of South African make, that have been adapted for bush warfare.

\n

Nigerian Special Forces have retrained for a counterinsurgency war and, when the full story is written, the role of South African veterans in helping prepare the Nigerians should be acknowledged.

\n

Boko Haram has no answer to the combined air and land attacks of the multinational task force and the tide has turned. The insurgents, used to attacking frightened and unprepared young soldiers, razing defenceless villages or strapping suicide vests onto young girls to bomb worshippers or children, are no match for properly trained and equipped fighters with devastating air cover. Even if this war is not yet done, the counteroffensive has crushed the narrative of Boko Haram’s inexorable rise.

\n

Now we must ask: once the battlefield has been cleared, how does one ensure a more lasting peace for northeast Nigeria and the wider region, and prevent another resurgence of Boko Haram terrorism?

\n

Many analysts regard it as an article of faith that the insurgency can be explained only by the socioeconomic conditions and marginalisation of the northeast.

\n

Whether President Goodluck Jonathan or his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, win the election, they will have to produce a new development and antipoverty blueprint for northern Nigeria.

\n

But it is important to remember that there are tens of millions of equally poor people elsewhere in Nigeria and throughout Africa who have not resorted to a campaign of murder verging on genocide.

\n

An insurgency that has virtually destroyed the economy of northeast Nigeria, displaced millions of people from their homes or livelihoods, brutally killing 15,000 of them and destroying more than 1,000 churches, is not a protest movement against economic inequality. The war itself has thwarted the efforts of Nigeria’s state and federal government to bring economic development to the region.

\n

Boko Haram has little popular support.

\n

A guerilla force that relies on the support of the local population does not burn villages, rape women, kidnap children, and murder scores of innocent people without regard to faith.

\n

The view that a well-armed and tactically adept military formation could spring spontaneously from a relatively backward region of northern Nigeria is willful blindness.

\n

Who trains them? How are they able to afford the weapons and logistical systems that in a very short space of time turned a ragtag army into an insurgent force capable of taking on a conventional army?

\n

Unlike the Islamic State, Boko Haram does not have oil revenue to fund its operations. Unlike the Algeria-based al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, it does not feel compelled to ransom those it kidnaps. There were millions of dollars available to buy back the Chibok girls, but Boko Haram never felt any need to put them on the market.

\n

Robbing banks or capturing Nigerian military armouries is not an explanation. The cash in the banks in Borno state, assuming that they were all robbed, would not pay Boko Haram’s food and petrol bill.

\n

Most of the ordnance captured in recent weeks, including armoured vehicles and missile launchers, was never part of the inventory of the Nigerian military. And the hundreds of motorbikes and even speedboats certainly were not.

\n

It is time for the international community to take seriously the considerable evidence of outside financial sponsors — either those with political motives or wealthy backers of the global movement of religious extremism.

\n

The capture of key Boko Haram leaders could help provide further intelligence to hunt down these sponsors who remain untouched while terrible misery has been inflicted on millions of Africans.

\n

This is an opportunity to identify them, arrest them and charge them at the International Criminal Court — or, at the very least, cut off the money supply and the weapons flows.

\n

If not, Boko Haram will be back for another round.