from Africa in Transition

Guest Post: Shades of Anonymous in Boko Haram?

August 29, 2012

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Sub-Saharan Africa


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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

Recently, Islamic cleric Ahmad Sheik Gumi criticized the government of Nigeria for its inability to fight terrorism and described Boko Haram as a "complex, interwoven social, religious and political disorder." He said the "social component of it was represented by criminals," and he stated that "Boko Haram is not an insurgency."

Over the weekend, the Daily Trust newspaper reported that the government is engaged in "indirect discussions" with Boko Haram through "back channels."  Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati commented on Boko Haram’s concern that "persons who are using the name of Boko Haram for political and criminal purposes are identified and checked."

Boko Haram’s amorphous nature has long frustrated security officials, observers, and analysts.  For example, presumed leaders and members are apprehended and detained, yet the group’s violent activities continue.  If Abati’s remarks are correct, the group’s unconventional form is now an issue for some elements of Boko Haram itself.

The hacker insurgency Anonymous offers useful parallels, perhaps.  As explained by Wired writer Quinn Norton in "Inside Anonymous,"  that organization’s success is understandable only if "you forget everything you think you know about how organizations work."  Writes Quinn, "Anonymous is a classic ’do-ocracy’ ... that means rule by sheer doing: Individuals propose actions, others join in (or not), and then the Anonymous flag is flown over the result.  There’s no one to grant permission, no promise of praise or credit, so every action must be its own reward."  Many of Boko Haram’s "operations" seem to fit this model.  As for the view that common criminals are carrying out much of the violence attributed to Boko Haram, the alliance between Anonymous and the Occupy Movement, a group said to be composed of "society’s rejects," represents a further intriguing comparison.

Ultimately, as Quinn points out, Anonymous became a "culture."  The implications are global.  Nigeria appears to be experiencing a manifestation, but in the shadow of Marikana, so too is South Africa.