Is Boko Haram re-creating a caliphate in Africa?

Is Boko Haram re-creating a caliphate in Africa?

Both Boko Haram and ISIS have emerged as serious security threats, which draw upon religious-historical ties to boost their images. ISIS is attempting to redraw the border of the Middle East, but could Boko Haram be seeking to re-create its own African caliphate?

Since July 2009, the Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awatiwal Jihad, meaning  ‘a People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’, which the local communities in north-eastern Nigeria refer to as Boko Haram, has been a major security threat. Boko Haram’s primary objective is to establish a caliphate in Northern Nigeria based on its extremist interpretation of Sharia law.

Amnesty International estimates that Boko Haram has at least 15,000 fighters. Its violent campaign has paralysed education and trade in the six north-eastern states, as well as some other parts of the northern Nigeria. Boko Haram’s violence has had a devastating impact on the agricultural economy in the north-east, with many farmers afraid to farm their land.

Dismantling territorial boundaries

Islamic State (IS)’s primary agenda is to ‘dismantle’ territorial borders in the Middle East, redraw the traditional borders of the Levant, and establish a “caliphate” ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Sharia law. After his men captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, blowing up the checkpoints between Syria and Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi swore to destroy the artificial boarders created by the Sykes Picot Agreement in 1916.

The Ottoman Empire – the previous caliphate – was ruled by a sultan who also bore the title of ‘caliph’ or ‘commander of the entire world’s Muslims.’ The empire was abruptly dismantled by the British and the French governments after WWI.

Like the Ottoman Empire, Kanem-Bornu was an African trading empire. Its territory included modern-day southern Chad, northern Cameroon, northeastern Nigeria, eastern Niger, and southern Libya. Its first capital was at Njimi, northeast of Lake Chad. Toward the end of the 11th century, Kanem-Bornu became an Islamic empire, when its leader, Ibn ʿAbd al-Jalīl, converted to Islam until the empire faded out between 1846 and 1893.

Reminiscent of the caliphate declared by Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram has previously had some success in holding territories and declaring caliphates in parts of Nigeria’s northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. Since then, coordinated and large-scale attacks both within Nigeria and across borders have become increasingly common.

Since its pledge of allegiance, Boko Haram has adopted the same tactics of beheading captured soldiers. Boko Haram has also expanded its campaign across the borders of the old Kanem-Bornu Empire; namely, Northern Nigeria, Cameroun, Niger, and Chad. Although Boko Haram started its campaign from northeastern Nigeria, the group is neither national nor international: its strong ethno-linguistic cross-border ties facilitate cross-border movements.

Stopping Boko Haram

Boko Haram has continued to intensify cross-border activities in the last three years, and its territorial ambitions have expanded beyond Nigeria to territories of the old Kanem-Bornu Empire with the exception of Libya. It enjoys the historic ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties created by the old Kanem-Bournu Empire; particularly the Sunni-Muslim interrelation of Kanuri, Hausa and Shuwa Arab groups that transcend national boundaries.

The deployment of an 8,700 man international force, comprised of units from Benin, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Nigeria’s armed forces is expected to lead to some improvements in the security of the broader region and prevent Boko Haram’s cross-border activities.

About Author

Tolulope Ola-David

Tolulope Ola-David is a Political Risk Analyst specialising in the political climate and social conditions of Africa.