from Africa in Transition

Boko Haram and Ansaru in Northern Nigeria

April 05, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Wars and Conflict


Jacob Zenn, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, has written an important article, “Cooperation or Competition: Boko Haram and Ansaru After the Mali Intervention.” His central conclusion is that while Boko Haram originally emerged in northeastern Nigeria and was solely focused on domestic issues, it has come under the influence of the international jihad.

As for Ansaru, he argues it broke off from Boko Haram and has from its conception been heavily influenced by outside Islamists. Zenn discusses differences and similarities between the two movements and concludes that their goals—an Islamist state—are much the same and that tactical and other cooperation between the two is likely, despite the split.

The article is among other things an extensive compilation of relevant material from the Nigerian media and from Islamists websites. The content footnotes repay close reading, and in them Zenn often explains how he reached his conclusions, some of which are controversial.

Sources for what is going on among Islamists in northern Nigeria are problematic. The Nigerian press is mostly southern based and frequently misunderstands northern developments. It may betray a general bias against the North. Islamist websites and Boko Haram and Ansaru videos have, of course, a particular political purpose. Travel by outside observers in the region is now very difficult, not least because of the upsurge in kidnapping that Zenn discusses. But, Nigeria observers must use what is available, no matter the limitations. Zenn’s article is an important contribution, even if his conclusions cannot be the final word.