I propose that the case of Boko Haram confirms Fearon and Laitin’s argument that political conflict can not be explained by merely pointing to ethnic/religious conflicts due to a number of more significant factors. State weakness, instability, and chronic poverty are better predictors of civil conflict than indicators of ethnic or religious diversity. The civil wars and insurgencies of the 20th century were the end results of decolonization that left fragile states with limited administrative control (Fearon 88). Indeed, this was true in the case of Nigeria where regional differences between the north and the south under colonial law resulted in a highly decentralized state (O’Neil 734). Since Nigeria’s independence, the country has witnessed a number of regime changes that have contributed to the country’s instability.

According to Fearon, countries “deriving at least one-third of export revenues from fossil fuels is estimated to more than double a country’s odds [of civil war]” (Fearon 85). This follows in the case of Nigeria because crude Petroleum oils make up over 79% of Nigeria’s exports (The Atlas of Economic Complexity). “Unfortunately much of the oil that is produced within Nigeria is stolen by militias like Boko. “Corrupt national and local politicians steal or squander the lion’s share of revenues from the oil that is not stolen” (O’Neil 776). Insufficient government control of natural resources and corruption have greatly contributed to the political conflict. This proves that Boko Haram is as financially motivated as it is politically motivated. Not only this, the fact that Boko controls much of the economy (local fishing and rice industries) near Lake Chad makes joining the militant group attractive to young men.

Dependence on the military has also been constant throughout the Nigeria’s history. “This avenue has been particularly important for the ethnic Muslims of northern Nigeria, who have been educationally and economically disadvantaged compared with southern Nigerians” (O’Neil 753). Regional inequalities in wealth as well as chronic national poverty have contributed to the high level of political conflict in Nigeria. “Per capita income (measured as thousands of 1985 U.S. dollars and lagged one year) is strongly significantin both a statistical and a substantive sense: $1,000 less in per capita income is associated with 41% greater annual odds of civil war onset, on average” (Fearon 83). Nigeria’s GDP per Capita ranks 179th in the world at just $2,800, which helps explain why there is such a high level of civil conflict.

To sum it up, the case of Boko Haram follows Fearon and Laitin’s logic. Ethnic/religious differences do contribute to some of the countries problems but Fearon understands that there are other factors at work here. Nigeria’s weak central government marked by its inability to control oil production could be the most significant reason for the rise of political conflict. Multiple regime changes have left the state in an unstable condition that have laid the foundations for internal conflict. Lastly chronic poverty has pushes young men, especially in the north, to join Boko for financial reasons.


Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.

O’Neil, Patrick S. Cases in Comparative Politics. 5th ed. W W Norton and Company, Inc, 2015. Print. (727-777)

Center for International Development; Harvard University; The Atlas of Economic Complexity



  1. I agree that the case of Nigeria confirms Fearon and Laitin’s argument. The conditions in the country support insurgency movements, like Boko Haram. For instance, Boko Haram has had success attacking the government and gaining ground in the north, where they are more familiar with the terrain than the government is. Additionally, the government of Nigeria is weak and incompetent at stopping Boko Haram and keeping control of its country. The government and military’s inability to effectively stop the terrorist group and to govern it’s people, in general, has enabled the rise of Boko Haram. Lastly, the poverty of the country has contributed to the existence of Boko Haram, as the poverty has made joining Boko Haram more appealing, especially if they have control of important economic resources. Fearon and Laitin make the case that, while ethnic or religious differences may be a cause for civil war or conflict, they are by no means the only cause and are not the primary cause. In the case of Nigeria, Boko Haram may be motivated by their religion, Islam; however, they have also killed many Muslims, who also practice Islam.

  2. To add to gabrielboni4’s point made for the reasons behind state weakness many of these nations that are so splintered and unstable, many of these nations are composed of peoples and ethnic groups that historically are not good neighbors or partners in any society and would have remained separate if not for the forced colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries. As seen in the case of Rwanda, the tribes that acted in the civil war, the Tutsi’s and Hutu’s were opposing tribes that were pitted against each other by the European colonists who believed that due to the Tutsi’s more Caucasian features were more suited for rule. This repeated subjugation by fellow minority or indigenous groups causes a great schism between ethnic groups and on the inevitable departure of colonial powers leaves a large scar in the partnership between historically warring groups. Coupled with the lack of opportunities for disenfranchised groups in these nations, many of these groups are essentially force and shuffled into select industries that limit their political influence and further disenfranchise them in their nations. This is one of the most foremost reasons for political conflict within a nation such as Nigeria.

  3. I also agree that the Boko Haram group serves as an excellent example of Fearon and Laitin’s argument. It is easy to place blame of political violence upon arising conflicts of ethnicity and religion. However, as you have stated, there are large number conflicts that provide a greater insight and understanding into how political violence can erupt within a state. In the case of Nigeria, the main conflict began as a result of British rule instilling an education system in which they felt to be the most adequate. Many of the citizen’s within this area disagreed with these “western” schools and their curriculum. Unfortunately, the Boko Haram took advantage of this dispute and utilized the opportunity to create their own institutes as means to recruit for their group. However, without this discrepancy over education, the militant organization would not have been as successful in persuade others to join their fight. This shows that although it may seem at first that this specific violence had arisen from either ethnic or religious conflicts, underlying issues had an even greater contribution.

  4. Going off of Sarah’s point, religious and ethnic differences are not the only factors that contribute to civil war. Many foundational political differences have caused internal conflicts within countries. This relates to O’Neill’s theory of institutional and ideational rationalities to political conflicts. In the case of Nigeria, institutional rationality would be the fact that there is weak government control and the lack of oil production has caused unrest. The country is notorious for political instability due to the multiple turnovers in regimes. Although Boko Haram is mainly based on ethnic/religious differences, many other factors are contributed to political conflict such as economic. Nigeria is a third-world country and has never really broken through the threshold of becoming an industrialized nation. Because of this, there is political instability in the country

  5. It is evident that ethnic and religious factors could be a contributing cause to civil conflict in Nigeria and the successful rise and empowerment of Boko Haram. However, there are many other significant and suitable factors in play that have allowed Boko Haram to easily gain dominance throughout Nigeria. First, as gabrielboni4 shows in his argument, the constant regime changes have allowed Nigeria to become very unstable. The population is unable to identify with a regime for an extended period of time to the point that they trust them, and therefore are left vulnerable and without guidance. As a result, they then turn their attention to other enticing organizations or insurgencies, such as Boko Haram, under the impression that it will make them better off. In addition, Nigeria’s northern economy struggles to produce enough economic opportunities for its people, leaving those less privileged in a state of poverty. Unfortunately, the aspect of poverty is a prominent factor that drives the lower class of Nigeria to be forced or encouraged to join Boko Haram to be better off financially. In many cases, parents will encourage their sons to join the organization in the hopes that they will make a steady income. Since Boko Haram controls the local markets and is uncontested by the weak Nigerian government, they can offer much greater opportunities to an individuals economic needs. Thus, I agree with gabrielboni4 that the factors of a multiple regime changes, poverty, and an insufficient government are far greater contributors to civil conflict than religion and ethnicity. These factors have allowed Boko Haram to assert their dominance throughout Nigeria and successfully entice and recruit the minds of the public.
    – Jon Naji

  6. The case of Boko Haram does indeed seem to confirm what Fearon and Laitin argue, for many of the reasons stated. While Nigeria is a multiethnic nation, the tensions between these ethnicities cannot account for the rise and persistence of the Boko Haram organization. Religion is a strong factor, but it seems that economic factors are even stronger in explaining Boko Haram’s continuing existence and strength as an insurgent group. In the relatively impoverished area, where Boko Haram operates, there are few other options for young men to support themselves and their families financially, other than joining this paid job as a member of this terrorist organization. The conditions of insurgency seem to explain Boko Haram’s endurance as well, such as Boko Haram seeming to have superior “local knowledge” than the relatively weak central government of Nigeria, and the fact that the Nigerian military seems unable to clear the base of Boko Haram militants, an impenetrable forest they have not been driven out of. And while Nigeria has a large economy, the northern states where Boko Haram is based are impoverished, so that there is a stronger incentive for young men to join this organization, as Fearon and Laitin would predict. The weak government of Nigeria, and the conditions conducive to insurgency there, explain Boko Haram’s resilience.

  7. I completely agree with your thesis, but especially so with your point on the economic factors. With such a low GDP, people, and especially young men, are willing to try anything to make money. According to the Case Study Text book by O’Neil, 40 percent of Nigerians would pick a thriving economy over a good democracy. This statistic highlights how bad the economy is, especially considering how great it could become. So, while a large number of factors do explain the conflict, the major factor is the option that Boko Haram gives to young men without a better option. To fix this, the government must provide these men with a more viable option; infuse the economy, fix the education system, and get rid of any corruption.

  8. I highly agree with your analysis of the case of Boko Haram. Nigeria has experienced regime changes, ethnic and religious tensions, poverty, and corruption. Fearon and Laitin would agree that ethnic diversity is not the cause of Nigeria’s civil conflict, although it does play a role. Natural resources such as oil and the economy are the main cause for this civil conflict. A person can be easily confused and say that ethnicity drives and ignites civil war/conflicts but the economy (or poverty) represents a better explanation, including political corruption and abuse of power. The exports and revenues of natural resources could have helped Nigeria as a whole but corrupted politicians and those of the political elite take advantage of the situation.

  9. I agree with your thoughts on the case of Boko Haram, especially when you pointed out the withering GDP and constricting economic factors. This forces the population, especially military aged young men to take action. Also, Boko Haram seems to have more knowledge about the local area than the staggering central government considering the Nigerian military is unable to annihilate the Boko Haram base. Since Boko Haram runs the markets which stimulate the local economy, from a financial standpoint ti makes more sense for the locals to join Boko Haram than to oppose them. There are many causes for a regime change such as poverty, and a weak centralized government that is seemingly disconnected from the people. Just these two factors alone have given Boko Haram the ability to gain control throughout Nigeria build their militia.

  10. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of the parallels between Boko Haram and Fearon and Laitin’s argument, that there exist more important factors of civil conflict than simply ethnic divisions, namely Nigeria’s weak economy based on oil exports. As Fearon and Laiton point out in their piece, states whose economies are dominated by the export of oil, like Nigeria, face fewer and less convincing reasons to stimulate the economy in other ways because those in power benefit highly. This causes high levels of poverty and inequality between the upper and lower classes, in this case giving motivation to young men to join Boko Haram, which has proven its worth as a mechanism for young men to obtain money. An excellent point was brought up in this analysis that aside from stealing revenue from oil exports, Boko controls much of the agriculturally-based economy as well, providing young, fit men with opportunities to earn a living and potentially rise out of extreme poverty.

  11. I think that this is a really interesting take. I think that you are definitely right, and there is definitely more to civil war than ideological differences. In my opinion, it seems that many of the civil wars we have seen in the past century have occurred in states that possess a very strong military presence in their government, as well as high levels of poverty and inequality. While ethnic and ideological differences can definitely still play a role in instigating civil war, I think the factors you have laid out can definitely carry more weight than differences in religion. In addition, a large military presence and the presence of some sort of “divide” between the rulers and the ruled can also fuel the fire that is civil unrest.

  12. You provide an excellent analysis this post outlining the parallels of Boko Haram and the arguments from Fearon and Laitin. Nigeria’s economy provides the structure that favors economic growth over proper democratic institutions. The chronic poverty that persists in Nigeria helps create an unstable and angry citizenry and an unstable and corrupt government. This combination allows the abuses of power to persist in Nigeria. Furthermore, this unstable and weak economy and government allows Boko Haram to see success in its insurgencies. The northern region of Nigeria, where some of the poorest people live, are where Boko Haram thrives. This provides evidence that poverty, with the government doing little to affect change, allows problems such as Boko Haram to persist.

  13. I agree with the post that we cannot solely focus on religious or cultural differences although they do play an important role in conflict within countries. I think that the analysis of the strong military presence in Nigeria is correct and true in many states struggling with civil war and internal conflict. I think it is important to recognize the existence of weak government in states engaged in civil war. A weak government is the source of one of the problems you explained which is inequality and low GDP/capita. These two factors allow for the formation of terrorists groups and leave people to flee to terrorist groups in search of some sort “legitimacy” and income.

  14. I would also agree that the case of Boko Haram confirming Fearon and Laitin’s argument about political conflict. While it is clear that these ethnic and religious differences within Nigeria play an important role within this conflict, it is not enough to be the sole reason. I think that the countries inability to properly protect and and serve its people as well as the economic issues the people are facing enable Boko Haram to continue to create conflict. These additional factors also play a significant role within the case of Boko Haram.

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