Skip to content

Understanding Boko Haram: Terrorism and Insurgency in Africa – Edited by James J. Hentz, Hussein Solomon

Understanding Boko Haram: Terrorism and Insurgency in Africa 

Edited by James J. Hentz, Hussein Solomon

About the Book

The primary objective of this book is to understand the nature of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

Boko Haram’s goal of an Islamic Caliphate, starting in the Borno State in the North East that will eventually cover the areas of the former Kanem-Borno Empire, is a rejection of the modern state system forced on it by the West. The central theme of this volume examines the relationship between the failure of the statebuilding project in Nigeria and the outbreak and nature of insurgency. At the heart of the Boko Haram phenomenon is a country racked with cleavages making it hard for Nigeria to cohere as a modern state. Part I introduces this theme and places the Boko Haram insurgency in a historical context. There are, however, multiple cleavages in Nigeria: ethnic, regional, cultural, and religious, and Part II examines the different state-society dynamics fuelling the conflict. Political grievances are common to every society; however what gives Boko Haram the space to express such grievances through violence? Importantly, this volume demonstrates that the insurgency is, in fact, a reflection of the hollowness within Nigeria’s overall security. Part III looks at the responses to Boko Haram by Nigeria, neighbouring states, and external actors. For Western actors, Boko Haram is seen as part of the “global war on terror” (GWOT) and the fact that it has pledged allegiance to ISIS encourages this framing. However, as the chapters here discuss, this is an over-simplification of Boko Haram and the West needs to address the multiple dimension of Boko Haram.

This book will be of much interest to students of terrorism and political violence, insurgencies, African politics, war and conflict studies, and IR in general.

For more details concerning the book, here is the following link:


Why Western Efforts at Counter-Terrorism in Africa are Failing? – Professor Hussein Solomon

Why Western Efforts at Counter-Terrorism in Africa are Failing? 

by Hussein Solomon[1]

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 4 (2016), Number 6 (November 2016)

Let us be frank. Despite the best efforts of various Western powers both individually and collectively to stem the tide of terrorism in Africa, they are failing. To put it differently, despite the millions of dollars spent on training Africa’s militaries, equipping them, providing them with intelligence and engaging in robust counter-insurgency operations, the terrorist threat is escalating in Africa. No fewer than 22 African countries are directly affected by terrorism and there are 3 terrorist attacks taking place every day on this blighted continent.

Part of the reason for the escalation of the terrorist threat no doubt relates the entry of new players in the African theatre. Consider here the case of Islamic State and its regional franchises from Sirte in North Africa to Boko Haram in West Africa and an off-shoot of Somalia’s Al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa. In my view, however, a bigger reason relates to Western efforts at privileging the African state in the war against extremists. Traditional Western efforts at counter-terrorism adopt a realist perspective with its concomitant notions of national interest which necessitates strengthening the `good state’ against the `bad terrorists’. In other words Western nations view African states as simply poorer and under-resourced versions of its Western counterparts. The central objective of Western counter-terrorism efforts then becomes to capacitate the African state.

The fallacy of this approach however is self-evident. African political elites have no sense of the national interest and they are predatory – designed to live against their people as opposed to with or for them. It is a sad truism that African citizens fear their own militaries as opposed to the soldiers of a neighbouring state. The implications for counter-terrorism are obvious. In Somalia, American shipments of arms to the Somali Federal Government in Mogadishu found its way into the hands of Al Shabaab through corruption in the ranks of the Somali National Army. The endemic nature of this corruption and its implications for the fight against the insurgents is also illustrated by the fact that one study has illustrated how 90 million pounds of British aid to Somali authorities were siphoned off and found its way funding Al Shabaab[2].

This nature of the state was also highlighted in the case of Nigeria’s Boko Haram and undermines the simplistic Western notion of the good state taking the fight to the bad terrorists. Boko Haram does not only exist outside the Nigerian state but also has allies and sympathisers within state structures. As one senior Nigerian military officer lamented, “The group [Boko Haram] is backed my powerful northern politicians who use the organisation as political muscle. We know who they are but the government is not ready to go after them and until those people stop supporting the group with funds, weapons and protection, we cannot defeat Boko Haram”[3]. It gets worse. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan claimed that Boko Haram’s supporters are not only confined to politicians but also senior military and intelligence officers. So how does one fight a war when the enemy is both outside there and within your ranks? The short answer: you do not!

In Mali, the ease with which the Islamists defeated the Malian armed forces is intimately related to issues of institutionalized corruption and the politics of patronage. During President Toure’s tenure, corruption became institutionalized in the Malian armed forces. Recruitment into the armed forces required a relative at the level of a colonel or general. Skill sets or the necessary discipline did not seem to matter. Under the circumstances, should we be surprised that the Malian armed forces crumbled so spectacularly in 2012 at the beginning of the Tuareg/Islamist insurgency? French intervention was needed to ensure that Bamako, the Malian capital did not fall.

The predatory nature of the African state hardly occupies the minds of policy makers in London, Paris, or Washington. This is unforgivable given the vast literature on the subject. Consider here for instance, Jean Francois Bayart’s seminalThe State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly[4]. In the process, Western states continued to treat their African counterparts as merely weaker versions of themselves. The emphassis was on capacity-building. The training of African militaries continued apace. Consider here the case of Mali’s Captain AmadouSanogo, who received extensive training in the US between 2004 and 2010. Upon returning to his country, he promptly staged a coup against the Malian government. Given the rapacious nature of African militaries, there is a real danger that military skills imparted by Western countries may well make a predatory African state even more predatory with new-found military skills and new military equipment compliments of a rather naïve West. In the process disenchanted African citizens may turn to Islamists in droves to protect them from a rapacious state. This danger was recognized by former US Ambassador Princeton Lyman when he warned, “The United States has to be especially careful that we do not become partners in a political process that drives people into the arms of Islamic extremists”[5].

It is self-evident that African states do not possess the wherewithal to fight the likes of Islamic State or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or its local franchises. The West will need to assist African states for some time to come. However the West needs to leverage the aid they provide to such states with pressure for greater democracy and financial accountability.




[1]Dr. Hussein Solomon is Senior Professor in the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State, South Africa and is Senior Research Associate of the Jerusalem-based Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa (RIMA).

[2]Hussein Solomon, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Africa: Fighting Insurgency from Al Shabaab. Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. 2016. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 62-63.

[3]Ibid., p. 100.

[4]Jean Francois Bayart. The State of Africa: The Politics of the Belly. 2009. London: Polity Press. 2nd Edition.

[5]Solomon, op. cit., pp. 122-123.

Green Verses from the New Testament: Book 1: Series on Green Passages from Religious Texts – Dr. Moshe Terdiman

Green Verses from the New Testament: Book 1: Series on Green Passages from Religious Texts

by Moshe Terdiman

Just two days ago I finished writing a book titled “Green Verses from the New Testament”. This book is the first one which includes all the verses in the New Testament dealing with nature or environment. This book is the first one in a series on green passages from religious texts. I published this book in a digital form through Amazon.

If you are interested in using religious texts in order to deal with climate change and its impacts, encourage environmental awareness, environmental protection, sustainable development, and interfaith environmental cooperation, this book is for you.
This book is the first in a series of books aiming at bringing green passages from religious sources to the general public as well as to NGOs, religious institutions, and individuals who would like to learn about the religious and moral environmental teachings which are included in the religious texts and to use it as a source of inspiration to act personally or in the public sphere on behalf of environmental protection and sustainable development.

This is the first book which brings to you all the green verses included in the New Testament. It includes a lot of verses concerning environmental issues such as: animals, creation, the role of mankind in the world, the relationship between god, mankind and nature, etc.

This book can serve as a source of study and reflection on the numerous religious and moral environmental teachings inside the New Testament. It can also inspire you to imply this study and reflection to your current life using the questions at the end of the book.

This book will be also used as part of the source material for an online course and workshop which these days I am working on its design on Interfaith Environmental Collaboration.

I hope that you will find it interesting and helpful.

Managing Morocco’s Islamists – Professor Hussein Solomon


Managing Morocco’s Islamists

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 4 (2016), Number 5 (November 2016)

That radical militant Islamism is on the rise in Africa is without a doubt. Whilst authorities and the international community concentrate their security apparatus on the likes of Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s Al Shabaab, it should be borne in mind that even after the military defeat of these groups, the pernicious ideology of Islamism will still remain. Recognizing this fact, the Moroccan government has embarked on a policy to tame and co-opt its own Islamists – the Justice and Development Party or PJD.

The government and the PJD were compelled to embrace each other as a result of a number of factors. Polls demonstrate that conservative Islamic values resonate amongst Moroccans. Given the deteriorating political and economic situation, specifically as it relates to the disaffected youth languishing in poverty and alienated from an authoritarian monarch, King Mohammed VI, it is unsurprising that radical Islam has gained adherents in the country. This was self-evident when in May 2003, five suicide bombers attacked tourist and Jewish sites in Casablanca. Scores were either killed or injured. This attack was the work of the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group. Members of this group soon became part of a larger grouping – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Other Moroccans have found the Islamic State more appealing and more than 1500 have joined its ranks.

King Mohammed’s rule came under fire from other Islamists too. The Justice and Charity party is a non-violent Islamist party which has demanded a civic state, popular sovereignty and minority rights. The Palace has also not found itself unaffected by the Arab Spring protests which swept through the region. Moroccan youth were at the forefront of protests from 20 February 2011. These protests compelled the king to surrender some of his powers to the prime minister and concede that the prime minister was to be the leader of the majority party in parliament.

In an additional measure to deflect popular discontent regarding the deteriorating economic circumstances as well as the constrained political conditions, the Palace sought an Islamist ally it could co-opt. The choice of an Islamist party reflected the conservative Islamic values Moroccans subscribe to as was alluded to earlier. It was DrissBasri, a former Minister of Interior, who authorized the formation of the United and Reform Movement which eventually morphed into the PJD. At the same time, the Palace ensured that it defanged and domesticated the PJD before it was allowed to contest legislative elections. A central pillar of the PJD, for instance, is its support for the monarchy which has ruled the country for 350 years.

AbdelilahBenkirane, the Secretary-General of the PJD who went on to serve as Prime Minister following the party’s electoral success has also been compelled to embrace moderation and compromise with the authorities. To understand the moderate option embarked upon by Benkirane one needs to understand developments in North Africa. In neighbouring Algeria, a civil war consumed the country for much of the 1990s. This followed the military aborting an election which the Islamists were set to win in 1992. More recently the ousting of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood from power after a year of inept rule as well as the Islamist Ennahda’s retreat from political power in Tunisia made clear to the PJD that they need to adopt a gradual approach towards the Islamization of their society and not scare of other elements of society – notably the military.

This gradual approach was reflected in the various elections the PJD participated in since 1997. Despite increasing its votes, and delegates, with each successive election, the PJD restrained itself seeking to earn the trust of the Moroccan political establishment. For instance, in the 1997 poll, the party only fielded 140 candidates, instead of the 325 for all districts. This gradual approach certainly paid dividends in that by 2011 the PJD secured the most amount of votes and Benikrane went on to become Prime Minister. In October 2016, the PJD secured another victory obtaining 125 seats out of 395 with Benikrane seeking to secure the support of some smaller parties to form a government.

The question however is how successful is this politics of co-option? Have the authorities managed to tame the Islamist threat the kingdom is faced with? In truth, the embrace between the Palace and the PJD has always been an awkward one with distrust exhibited by both sides. For instance, the secular Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) came second in the October 2016 polls achieving 102 seats to the PJD’s 125. The fact that PAM was formed in 2008 by a close adviser to King Mohammed VI suggests that in order to ensure that he is in control the King is playing off conservative Islamists with secular modernists. Moreover, the legitimacy of the electoral process itself has come under scrutiny given the litany of voting irregularities in the October 2016 polls. Khalid Adennoun, spokesperson for PAM, complained of 50 voting irregularities concerning the PJD in Tangiers. The PJD, for its part, expressed concern when one of its candidates was attacked and wounded in Rabat. In the process democracy itself has been debased with much of the electorate losing faith in the political system. Voter participation, therefore, was at a record low of 43 percent or 6,750,000 voters.

There is however a broader point to be made as it relates to political Islam. Proponents of political Islam promise clean and responsive government. The PJD when assuming the reins of power in 2011 promised economic development , better and more numerous employment opportunities and a war on corruption. In reality, as with many secular parties it has failed to deliver. Their time in power was characterized by rising unemployment set to become worse as the economy contracts. In addition, they have failed to halt corruption. Indeed, they themselves have been mired in a string of scandals. Members of the PJD have been involved in a drugs bust as well as a land-grab deal. In addition, two of their vice presidents have been found in sexually compromising positions.

The PJD has demonstrated that Islamist parties in power operate no differently from any other political party. Unfortunately, this reinforced the more radical Islamists’ message that the system itself is corrupt and needs to be torn down; that the PJD should never have participated in the political system in the first place. Far from managing and co-opting the Islamist threat, Morocco’s example may well fuel the fire of jihadism further.

Do African Lives Matter for African Leaders? – Professor Hussein Solomon


Do African Lives Matter for African Leaders? 

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 4 (2016), Number 4 (November 2016)

Africans have grown accustomed to the West ignoring their suffering. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Consider the fact that Belgian King Leopold II’s atrocities were historically ignored in Europe at the time and barely get a footnote in recent European books on its African colonies. To be clear, 15 million Congolese were murdered and numerous others were mutilated by this ‘civilized’ European king as he sought to extract rubber from this blighted country. More recently, more than 6 million Congolese have been killed since the 2nd August 1998. Once again, there is scarcely a mention on the front pages of The Washington Post or the New York Times.

At one level, perhaps, this is understandable. According to psychologists one is supposed to have greater empathy for one’s in-group as opposed to the proverbial other. What is particularly galling for Africans, however, is when their own leaders display such callous disregard for their lives. Worse, still, is the hypocrisy accompanying the callousness on the part of Africa’s leadership. Consider for instance the events surrounding the 7 January 2015. This was the date of the brutal terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices which resulted in 17 people being killed on the streets of Paris. The world rallied with the French and a mass march of 1,6 million people took to the streets of Paris. This march also included 40 world leaders, including several African leaders who mourned the lives of the innocent savagely cut short. This is as it should be.

At the same time, of the Paris killings, however, there was another atrocity taking place. In the dusty town of Baga, northern Nigeria, Boko Haram militants slaughtered 2000 innocent people. There was no similar Paris march. No African leader took to the streets to commemorate the lives of those lost. Even the Nigerian President at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, did not immediately respond to the tragedy which took place on his own territory where his own citizens lost their life in such a cold-blooded way. This prompts the question: Do African lives matter to African leaders?

I asked this question several times following the decision by my own government – South Africa – to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The South African decision may well be related to domestic politics. According to Anton du Plessis of the Institute for Security Studies, the Zuma administration is attempting to protect itself from an imminent Constitutional Court hearing in relation to the 2015 visit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when Pretoria refused to arrest him as it was obligated to do under the Rome Statute. Instead Bashir and his entourage were whisked out of the country by the South African authorities.

To be clear, the arrest warrant for Bashir was based on the charge that he oversaw the war in Darfur which resulted in the deaths of between 200,000 and 400,000 people and the displacement of a further 2.5 million people in Darfur out of a population of 6.2 million. The so-called leaders of Africa denounced the ICC decision ostensibly because heads of state should have immunity of prosecution. The counter-argument is simply this: as Head of State should the buck not stop with him? Do not forget that Bashir was not merely Commander-in-Chief by virtue of him being President of Sudan. He was a military man who staged a coup in 1989 to come to power. The second charge levelled against the ICC was that it was unfairly targeting Africa. Let us be frank: many of the ICC investigations were initiated by African countries themselves since they did not have the resources to conduct an investigation and engage in a trial themselves. Do not forget, too, that the ICC is a court of last resort. The attack on the ICC is simultaneously taking place at a time when Africa’s own domestic and regional judicial mechanisms have come under threat from Africa’s self-serving leaders who desire to escape accountability at all costs whilst they simultaneously steal from and brutalize their citizens.

Perhaps the most powerful response to these objections put forward would simply be this: Do African lives matter to African leaders? Their deep concern for Bashir is akin to sympathizing with the aggressor as opposed to the victims. After all who speaks for the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims who needlessly lost their lives in Darfur?

Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States: Yemenis in Djibouti and Ethiopia – Samson A. Bezabeh

“Although the Horn of Africa was historically one of the earliest destinations for Yemeni migrants, it has been overlooked by scholars, who have otherwise meticulously documented the Yemeni presence in the Indian Ocean region. Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States draws on rich ethnographic and historical research to examine the interaction of the Yemeni diaspora with states and empires in Djibouti and Ethiopia from the early twentieth century, when European powers began to colonize the region. In doing so, it aims to counter a dominant perspective in Indian Ocean studies that regards migrants across the region as by-products of personal networks and local oceanic systems, which according to most scholarship led to cosmopolitan spaces and hybrid cultures. Samson Bezabeh argues that far from being free from the restrictions of state and empire, these migrant communities were constrained, and their agency structured, by their interactions with the institutions and relations of states and empires in the region. Elegantly combining theoretical readings with extensive empirical findings, this study documents a largely forgotten period in the history of Yemeni migration as well as contributing to the wider debates on class, citizenship, and ethnicity in relation to diaspora groups. It will appeal to specialists in Middle East studies and to those who study the Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa regions, as well as to migration and diaspora studies scholars, nongovernmental organizations, and policy makers concerned with the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden region.”



Islam and Christianity in the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan – Haggai Erlich

Can Christianity and Islam coexist? Or are Muslims and Christians destined to delegitimize and even demonize each other? Tracing the modern history of the region where the two religions first met, and where they are engaged now in active confrontation, Haggai Erlich finds legacies of tolerance, as well as militancy. Erlich’s analysis of political, military, and diplomatic developments in the Horn of Africa from the late nineteenth century to the present is combined with an exploration of the ways in which religious formulations of the nearby ‘other’ both influenced policymaking and were reshaped by it. His work also demonstrates in a compelling way how initial Islamic and Christian concepts remain directly relevant in the region today, perhaps more so than ever before.