The case of Boko Haram confirms Fearon’s argument that ethnic/religious divisions do not entirely account for civil conflict because of other economic and governmental factors which favor the organization’s insurgency. These conducive factors are the economic variables promoting the insurgency’s financial backing and the compulsion of youth populations. However, Fearon does not dismiss ethnic and religious tensions entirely. Nigeria embodies a nation where a majority of the territory has developed asymmetrically in terms of political involvement, economic prosperity, and access to education (Lamble). This geographic disparity between north and south has also been exacerbated by muslim/christian differences. However following Fearon’s research, the religious divide in Nigeria only motivates Boko, but does not act as the only explanation for their prominence (Fearon et.al 87).
When looking at the root causes of civil conflict, Fearon found that measures of “objective grievance fare worse as predictors than economic variables” (Fearon et.al 87). For Boko, the financing of their operations takes significant financial backing. Boko’s location near Lake Chad allows the organization to control the local fishing, rice, and pepper businesses along the Yobe river (Lamble). In this case, economic opportunity has allowed the “viability for insurgency” (Fearon et.al 87). Boko is not present in areas where there is only desert (Lamble).
Even though Mohammed Yousef’s original motivation revolved around Islamic fundamentalism and associating Nigerian misrule with western influences, in order to gain more supporters the organization has co-opted youths by providing economic assistance (Lable). This movement to recruit young members confirms Fearon’s reason for insurgency by understanding lower per capita incomes and local knowledge (Fearon et.al 90). Boko can easily recruit adolescent men when the “economic alternatives are worse” and the government remains unable to increase the economic growth of the northern region (Fearon et.al 90). Since conflict has halted agriculture production and few job opportunities remain, many parents force their sons to join Boko out of economic necessity (Lable). Otherwise, northern citizens must face displacement and migration towards the southern region (Lable).
These rationales for Boko’s insurgency tie back to the Nigerian government’s insufficient legal and economic accountability for the northern region. According to Fearon, “weak central governments render insurgency more feasible and attractive due to weak local policing or inept and corrupt counterinsurgency practices” (Fearon et.al 87). Hopefully Buhari’s strong hand and personal incentives to protect his northern homeland will quell Boko’s presence and spur more balanced development between the north and south.
Lamble, Lucy. Counting the Cost of the Boko Haram Crisis – Podcast. The Guardian: Global Development. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/audio/2015/jul/25/boko-haram-niger-nigeria-podcast
Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.