The case of Boko Haram directly mirrors many of the factors James Fearon and David Laitin outline about their theories about civil war and conditions for insurgencies. By Fearon and Laitin’s standards, Boko Haram is certainly a “small, lightly armed band practicing guerrilla warfare from rural base areas” (Fearon and Laitin 1). They outline conditions that today we can see in Nigeria that foster the development of Boko Haram. Poverty, a large population, and instability all contribute to Boko Haram’s rise as a radical terrorist group. Boko Haram reins its influence on the Northern states of Nigeria, where the terrain is familiar to them and they have targeted both civilians and the army. They have been able to target the military and government structures because of the lack of stability in those institutions. As Fearon and Laitin contend, “insurgents are better able to survive and prosper if the government and military they oppose are relatively weak—badly financed, organizationally inept, corrupt, politically divided and poorly informed about the goings-on at the local level” (Fearon and Laitin 4). This is the case in Nigeria, where the population is the largest on the continent, and the country falls victim to the so-called “resource curse,” where it has a wealth of oil but lack of civilian profit. These factors have led to government corruption and misrule, leaving gaps in security for Boko Haram to attack. Not to mention civilian unrest and mistrust of the government allows for easier recruiting for the radical group.
A main point that Fearon and Laitin assert in their analysis of insurgencies is that we cannot attribute ethic differences as the sole reason why groups like Boko Haram arise and survive. Boko Haram is an extremist group so radical it often attacks other Muslims, “and even mosques” (O’Neil 774). As Farouk Chothia states, Boko Haram “regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president” (Chothia). These facts show that religious labels give no indication to the “sides” in this ongoing conflict. The complexities of the different sects of religions cannot be a simplistic explanation for the rise of groups like Boko Haram. Fearon, Laitin, and O’Neil will all admit ethic tensions surely play a role in these conflicts, though “grievances and ethic differences are too common to help distinguish the countries and years that see civil wars” (Fearon and Laitin 6). Fearon and Laitin will assert that political ideals, economic factors, terrain, funding practices, and environment all add complexities to these conflicts that cannot be overlooked.
Overall, Fearon and Laitin give insights that are reflected in countries like Nigeria that are unfortunate recipes for domestic conflict. Poverty, population size, and instability are probable indicators of conditions that foster insurgencies, whereas ethnic and religious differences are too simplistic a reason to supplement a civil war.
Chothia, Farouk. “Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists? – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC News4, 4 May 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
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.