Our girls are still not Home: Boko Haram and the Politics of Death

Boko-Haram-1The ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Northeastern Nigeria has deteriorated over the last week with the cross-border military clashes between Boko Haram and the military forces of Cameroon and Chad, and Boko Haram’s attacks on the northeastern Nigerian cities of Monguno and Maiduguri.

On Sunday, initial reports from the strategically important city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State visited by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan only the day before, claimed that Boko Haram had routed the Nigerian forces deployed to defend the city. However, updated reports on Monday indicated that the Nigerian military was able to prevent the fall of Maiduguri, at least temporarily.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Nigeria on Sunday and pledged that the United States would support efforts to meet the threat to the internal security of Nigeria and surrounding nations. The presidents of Chad, Niger and Cameroon along with the Nigerian administration have declared that they will carry out military actions to crush the Boko Haram insurgency.

The Chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stated that the situation in Nigeria will be a priority item at this week’s AU meeting. Nigerian authorities, however, have rejected the need for AU or United Nations intervention. For them, West African regional authorities can address the issue through collective military actions.

My position, however, is that a purely military response will only exacerbate an insurgency whose roots lie in the complex socio-historical conditions and internal contradictions of Northeast Nigeria. Those conditions include massive poverty, feudal social and economic relationships that are deeply entangled with ethnic and religious affiliations, and an elite intra-class politics in which the control of the Nigerian state apparatus is the ultimate prize.

The advocates of a purely military response ignore or are unaware of the fact that before Boko Haram went underground to wage its military campaign against the Nigerian state, it represented a mass movement that had a significant popular base. And while the war may have eroded that popular base and Boko Haram’s connections to the elite of Northern Nigeria, to ignore the social/economic conditions and religious ideological factors that still provide the foundation for Boko Haram’s recruitment and popular support is to fall prey to the simplistic caricatures projected in the Western media and mimicked by the African press.

There is no doubt that Boko Haram has committed egregious crimes against humanity. But so has the Nigerian government. In every major city and town that is being contested militarily, from Baga to Maiduguri, it has been documented that the Nigerian authorities committed massive human rights violations including torture, extrajudicial killings, house burnings, kidnapping and rape. The targets of those violations were members and suspected members and supporters of Boko Haram and their families.

Abstract moralism will confuse the complex confluence of social and historical forces that shaped and are shaping the realities of Nigerian society and contextualize the rise of Boko Haram. Embracing the simplistic explanation that Boko Haram represents an alien force of wide-eyed fanatics who use terror tactics to conquer and rule over territory and people may be attractive to the intellectually lazy, but it by no means explains the reality of the situation, even if that characterization reflects some elements of truth.

There are no innocents in this conflict except the people who are losing their lives, having their towns and cities destroyed and children disappeared. Powerful forces in both the U.S. and Nigeria are benefiting from the chaos and death in that country. The U.S. African Command ( AFRICOM)’s strategic objective of establishing closer military relations with nations in Africa in which the U.S. has vital interests is certainly being satisfied as a result of the insurgency. And because of the security issue, the Northern-based All Progressive Congress (APC) has a good opportunity to dislodge the Democratic Party ( PDP) of President Goodluck Jonathan in the upcoming Nigerian elections.

But no matter who wins the election next month or whatever military force is raised and thrown against Boko Haram in the future, it is likely that the insurgency will continue. That’s because the fuel for the insurgency will continue to be provided by elites in Nigeria and the U.S. as in other parts of the world where armed groups resist (and exploit) the politics of indifference, Western counter-insurgency violence, poverty, official corruption and the hypocrisy of the Western civilizational model.

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst.  Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. He is a contributor to “Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence” (Counterpunch Books, 2014). He can be reached at www.AjamuBaraka.com


The Charlie Hebdo White Power Rally in Paris: A Celebration of Western Hypocrisy

image.adapt.960.high“The “civilized” have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the conscience of civilized world. (James Baldwin)

I have witnessed the spectacle of Eurocentric arrogance many times over my long years of struggle and resistance to colonial/capitalist domination and dehumanization. The grotesque, 21st Century version of the “white man’s burden,” which asserts that the international community (meaning the West) has a moral and legal “responsibility to protect,” is one current example; the generalized acceptance by many in the West that their governments have a right to wage permanent war against the global “others” to maintain international order is another.

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The Day that Black Lives did not matter in Panama

December 20, 1989 is a day of infamy for the people of Panama. On that day, the most powerful military in the world descended on a poor black communities in the middle of Panama City and carried out one of the most brutal war crimes ever committed in the late 20th century. Many in the U.S. have forgotten or never even knew that when George H. Bush ordered U.S. troops into Panama, Panamanians experienced their version of 9/11. By the time the carnage ended a few weeks later, U.S soldiers had murdered more than 3,000 Panamanians – changing the lives of Panamanians forever.

The attack was  a brazen expression of ‘cowboy justice’ by a rogue state that took no heed of international constraints and instead took it upon itself to carry out an “arrest” of General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the De facto head of the sovereign state of Panama.

In the process of this “arrest,” the largely black community of El Chorillo, with a population of more than 25,000, was decimated by the U.S. military. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed in an act that predated and mirrored the destruction of Fallujah that would take place some twenty five years later in Iraq. Reports from human rights organizations indicated that beyond the attack, which in itself constituted a war crime, U.S. troops committed numerous other war crimes, from summary executions to the wanton destruction of civilian property and the failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets.

Buildings known to be inhabited by civilians were fire on by troops and there was the deliberate bombing of apartment buildings by the U.S. Air force. Survivors described how bodies were piled up and “disappeared” by U.S. troops. All of this death and destruction was carried out so that U.S. officials could demonstrate to the world that they were going to enforce their hegemony through force of arms – and to shed President George H.W. Bush’s image as a ‘wimp.’

The black lives taken by the murderous assault on Panama 25 years ago should be a sober reminder that U.S. state violence is not confined to ghettos and barrios of the U.S., but is a central component of the racist, colonial, capitalist project that is the U.S.

That connection is being made by the activists who have entered into political consciousness and taken up the tradition of black internationalism that has always informed radical black resistance and the struggle for our collective human rights. As brother Robin Kelly points out, the young organizers involved in the current resistance against the actions of the police in the U.S.:
“…remind us, not only that Black lives matter – that should be self-evident – but that resistance matters…. The young people of Ferguson continue to struggle with ferocity, not just to get justice for Mike Brown or to end police misconduct but to dismantle racism once and for all, to bring down the Empire, to ultimately end war.”

The invasion of Panama, the torture report, the ongoing occupation of Haiti, mass incarceration in the U.S. – all are linked by the global web of U.S. and Western institutions of domination. The understanding of those links, an understanding that has always characterized the anti-oppression lens of black resistance, recognizes that the call for a demilitarization of Black and Brown communities cannot be made without a demand to demilitarize U.S. foreign policy, to stop supplying arms and logistical support to terrorists in Syria under the guise of supporting a “moderate opposition,” to end support for Israeli colonial repression of Palestinian people, to stop the training and supplying of repressive police and militaries around the world, and to end the military occupation of dozens of countries with U.S. military bases.

The black victims of El Chorillo are still calling for justice and accountability. We stand in solidarity with those calls. We must remember them and keep their terrible experiences close to us. We will not forget them or the countless victims of this mad, rogue state that is only exceptional in its brutality and hypocrisy. Black lives matter when WE make them matter through the positive assertion of our collective humanity in the course of our fight for self-determination, people-centered human rights and the global defeat of a system of white supremacist colonial/capitalist hetero-patriarchy. History requires nothing less of us.