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Searching for Boko Haram

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Searching for Boko Haram

A History of Violence in Central Africa

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

You’ve heard about the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Here’s the rest of the story.

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Anyone who casually follows international news is familiar with the harrowing story of terrorist group Boko Haram, which, in 2014, snatched 250 young women from their school in a Nigerian town. Most Westerners, however, don’t know the backstory of the lands where Boko Haram rose to power: the Lake Chad Basin. In this study, academic Scott MacEachern fills in these knowledge gaps. Long before Boko Haram grabbed headlines, MacEachern was studying the region as an archaeologist. He puts Boko Haram into historic and geographic context, explaining how the group’s tactics fit into the region’s centuries-long history of religious rivalry, violence and human trafficking. getAbstract recommends approaching this study expecting a cultural history, not a journalistic investigation of recent events. MacEachern doesn’t attempt to give a thorough accounting of Boko Haram’s atrocities. Instead, he focuses on explaining the conditions that led to the group’s rise and informed its strategies.


A History of Violence

Between 2009 and mid-2017, violence connected with the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram left nearly 18,000 people dead and forced millions from their homes. Despite these dramatic numbers, Boko Haram failed to gain international attention until the group kidnapped 250 female students from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok: a village situated in the mostly Christian state of Borno. Though its roots date back to the 1990s, the group’s modern identity emerged in the mid-2000s when a Kanuri preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, reorganized the Nigerian Taleban – inspired by Afghanistan’s Taliban – into Boko Haram.

Western media often translates the name Boko Haram as “Western education is forbidden.” A more accurate translation renders the name as “Deceitful education is forbidden.” To some, the jihadist group seems like just the latest manifestation of a centuries-old conflict between Christians and Muslims in Central Africa. Nigeria has seen no shortage of Islamic fundamentalists yearning for a more overtly religious bent to society. But the rise of Boko...

About the Author

Scott MacEachern is a professor of anthropology at Bowdoin College. He has conducted research in Central Africa since 1984.

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