- Politics and Social Issues
Follow the Money: Boko Haram & the International Slave Trade
Appearances and Drivers
There's been a ton of outrage on social media about President Obama's mysterious absence from the January 11th anti-terror march in Paris, in which over 4 million people - including world leaders from 46 nations, among them France, Germany, the UK, Israel, Italy, and Palestine - demonstrated unity against the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo on January 7th, 2015, which killed 12 and sought to curtail free speech around the globe.
Why the leader of the free world wasn't there remains unaddressed; however, it didn't take long for the criticism of the POTUS to morph into criticism over the U.S.' apparent inaction over the recent massacres in Nigeria, in which Boko Haram used little girls as human bombs in order to terrorize the region and continuously expand their African “Caliphate” into the plains in the North. The Nigerian death toll at the hands of Boko Haram has now reached over 2,000 in just one month, and the question now is - what's America going to do about it?
Although many have expressed a need, an urgency for some type of response from the U.S., no one has been able to clearly define what that would look like, nor how it would be funded. Most claim confusion as to why the U.S. would stand with France against terror (which contradicts the first argument that we didn't stand with France) but then fail to address terror in Nigeria, with some folks indignantly and vociferously claiming that the reason for inaction must be what it "always" is - inherent, systemic racism.
This conclusion is not only intellectually lazy, its premise is completely faulty - not only are these two events as different as night and day, they were driven by two completely different motivators; while it can be argued that the Charlie Hebdo attackers were (ostensibly) aroused to action by what CNN's Peter Pham describes as, "Islamist extremist ideology that rejects a modern world shaped by political, economic, and social liberalism," there is little doubt that Boko Haram's efforts are galvanized by the sheer profit reaped from the very lucrative slave trade in Africa.
The Slave Trade
According to the Global Slavery Index, Nigeria has a population of 168 million of which at least 701,032 are slaves:
"Women and girls [are taken] for domestic servitude and sex trafficking, and boys for forced labour in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, and begging." - State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report
These numbers, although harrowing, are by no means a sign of a new or isolated phenomenon; it is estimated that between 20 to 30 million men, women, and children around the world are currently forced into slavery through human trafficking, sexual exploitation, child labour, forced marriage, and of course, forced recruitment for deployment in armed conflict. West Africa has long been the gateway for the transatlantic slave trade, going as far back as the 16th century; where do you think the American colonists got their slaves from? However, six hundred years before the first Europeans appeared in Africa to purchase slaves, black Africans were already procured for trade by the Islamic Empire, transporting them from Chad to Libya, along the Nile, and up the East African coast to the Persian Gulf; the revenue and influence this route generated helped expand Islam across North Africa.
There continues to be a strident slave market in West Africa today, especially in Mauritania (ranked first in the world for slavery), Benin (where approximately 1,800 children have been trafficked into the Congo to work as miners, to fight with rebel groups, or to work in brothels), and of course, Nigeria. On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram captured over 300 schoolgirls from the city of Chibok, at first claiming that they'd exchange the girls for Boko prisoners, but later recanting and threatening to sell the girls as slaves in Cameroon and Chad when its leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed in a video that:
"There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."
As of October 14, 2014, 219 of the girls had yet to be recovered. Clearly, Boko Haram realizes it has plenty of buyers for its captures, and the promise of profit cannot be discounted as a primary driver behind the push to expand its control over greater swaths of territory. Using religion to unite and mobilize troops in warfare is nothing new either, and Boko Haram has based its identity as stridently anti-Western and pro-Islamic; with a corrupt and incompetent Nigerian Army as its only potential adversary, Boko Haram is free to advance its agenda, creating havoc and chaos to further destabilize any opposition to its scheme to establish a "Caliphate" such as that in Iraq (think ISIS).
A quick Google search will produce chilling images of just how far Boko Haram is willing to go to secure its interests; but as utterly macabre and obviously disturbed as these images are, the truth is that this type of carnage requires weapons; so, who is arming Boko Haram?
Should the U.S. be involved in efforts to stop Boko Haram?
On June 3, 2014, Leadership, a leading Nigerian newspaper, reported that 10 generals and 5 senior military officers had been found guilty by court martial of providing arms and intelligence to Boko Haram, a claim that contradicted statements made a week prior by Ministry of Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade when he denied that senior military officers were being investigated for their involvement with the terrorist group.
Boko Haram has an impressive cache of sophisticated weaponry and military vehicles, which they display prominently in videos and while conducting "operations" in local villages, but exactly who is providing these munitions is a lot harder to trace than it seems. According to U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell,
“There are hints that sympathizers in the Nigerian army will deliberately leave doors of armouries unlocked for Boko Haram."
Obviously, their colleagues in terror are able to provide weapons for them as well, and with the collapse of Libya, the black market for weapons has literally exploded in the region. But like every other event on the international stage, all markets run on money and the promise of profit; to understand the who, what, whys, and whens of any situation, simply follow the money. In the tangled web that is international terrorism, that can take a while. But rest assured, whoever's behind it is making the most money from it.
The Charlie Hebdo Difference
While the attacks against Charlie Hebdo took place in France, an ally Western nation that upholds the tenets of democracy and free speech, and which has the resources and infrastructure to secure these tenets as well as a system of law and order to bring terrorists to justice, the systemic attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria are just one manifestation of a long list of grievances that currently devastate the region, and which take place in a veritable power vacuum in which there are no structures anywhere to effectively counter terrorist activities.
To make any sustainable change in Nigeria would be to completely overhaul and rebuild not only Nigeria, but Africa, virtually in its entirety. Is this even possible? And if it were possible, at what cost would it be accomplished? Undeniably, marching in support of France is much more feasible than mounting yet another crusade against jihadists in Nigeria. Besides, didn't we already do this in Iraq? And who is happy with those results...?
This is the reason that ideologues have a difficult time understanding events and why the U.S. does or does not get involved in conflicts; because they perceive events through the lens of their ideologies, they assume everyone else does too, and that events are driven by ideals - when in truth, it's always about the money.