On December 10, the Financial Times published a fascinating article by Neil Munshi, dateline Maiduguri, on how businesses have adapted to operating in areas affected by Boko Haram. Specifically, Munshi cites Coca-Cola, Unilvever, and MTN, a telecommunications company. Since multinational forces dislodged Boko Haram from much of the territory it held in 2015, the three have expanded their operations and their markets in Nigeria’s northeast. Coca-Cola and Unilever have operated in Nigeria since colonial times, while MTN, based in South Africa, has extensive experience on the continent.
The companies cited appear to be highly nimble. They have shifted from employing southerners to employing locals, and making use of local distribution networks already in place. Though no longer controlling extensive territory, Boko Haram is still active in the countryside and recently overran a military base near Maiduguri, Borno, and earlier threatened the city itself. Their security teams therefore put a premium on early warnings.
The tone of the article, like much of the Financial Times’ Nigeria reportage, is generally optimistic. It certainly shows how well-run, experienced, and large enterprises can survive, and how people adapt to life in what is essentially a war zone. Nevertheless, most enterprises in the northeast are small, and the informal sector is likely a more significant part of the economy. Agriculture remains the largest industry in Borno state, and according to anecdotal accounts, many fields lie fallow.
Furthermore, for perspective, it is estimated that 1.7 million Nigerians are internally displaced as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency. That likely represents (the last nation-wide census for which data is available was in 2006) around 10 percent of the combined populations of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, the states bearing the brunt of the conflict. For most residents, the war between Boko Haram and the Nigerian security services has been devastating.