The rhetoric of civilisation and the logic of Boko Haram

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THE evil presentments of Boko Haram in Nigeria are not just an isolated story of tragedy in one corner of the world. For cash or for whatever cause, a group that uses the innocent lives of school girls to gain attention from the world deserves more than condemnation. Something is rotten in a world that can live in peace with the violation of innocent children anywhere.
But my present article is not in actuality about the evil extremism of Boko Haram or the tragedy of the disappearance of a multitude of Nigerian school girls. It is about the ‘live and let die’ modern world in which we are living, a world  whose condition has made the actions of Boko Haram and Joseph Kony a normality, and such trauma, as the Nigerian girls and their parents are going through, a rule rather than an exception. It is my emphatic gesture that the spectacle of pain and the economy of cruelty being suffered by the unfortunate people of Nigeria now is only an explosion of the violence that all Africans in one way or another are going through in their daily lives.
I would also want to argue here that the barbarity of Boko Haram being visited on the innocent children of Nigeria is not in any way an African problem, but a world problem, a civilisational crisis, which like many global crises is playing out its deadly effects in Africa. It would be my invitation to the thinking world that a need is present for us to go beyond Facebook and Twitter solidarities with Nigeria and reflect on this throw away world where in reality both Boko Haram and ‘Our Girls’ are victims of a modernity that has made claims to such furnitures as Civilisation, Enlightenment, Renaissance and Globalisation while on the other hand it has exercised the cruelty of slavery, colonialism and coloniality on the other fraction of humanity. It is not a historical accident that in 2014 we are witnessing an increase in the globalisation of terror and war, from the so-called Arab Spring to this kidnapping of school children in Nigeria; we should be able to read the worsening of the African condition because of its entanglement in a decadent modernity.
Coloniality and borrowed names of ourselves
Artisanal Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdani, in his book, Saviors and Survivors asks a fundamental question why the atrocities by the United States of America in Iraq were called in the global media, a counter insurgency, while those of groups backed by the Khartoum regime in Darfur were called genocide in spite of the similarities in the two mass killings. It would be profitless here to examine the wealth or the poverty of Mamdani’s argument, what immediately enriches my observation is that there is toxic politics of naming in the world where, in the global media and entire knowledge economy, America and its allies decide who a terrorist is and who a freedom fighter is to be. A vivid tyranny of naming exists, and once one is called a terrorist he is banished from rational discourse and must not be listened to. Critically missing in most literature on terrorists and terrorism is an examination of how those who claim to fight terror are actually imbricated in terrorism.Advertisement

I recently was among many who were part of an epochal audience in South Africa where leaders of the world came not only to bury Nelson Mandela but to tell Africans that Nelson Mandela was a legendary statesman who must be emulated. This happened not even a decade since Mandela’s name was removed from the list of terrorists in the world. Far from it, however, is that the rulers of the world changed their view on Mandela, it is Mandela who changed from a fiery freedom fighter who was “prepared to die” for the black poor to a humble conciliator who was willing to turn the other cheek to imperialism.
That the shinning legacy of Nelson Mandela left the violence of capitalism and imperialism in South Africa still intact is witnessed by that official terrorism in South Africa where poorly paid police officers gunned down forty four poorly paid miners in Marikana. The dead miners and the dead police officers are in my argument no different from “our girls” in Nigeria and Boko Haram. In Africa, fundamentally, we are all tools and objects in the service of global capital and coloniality.
Africans, the concerned among them, will remember that the menace that Jonas Savimbi visited on Angola abruptly ended in 2002 with his demise after decades of evading death. And concerned Africans will remember that the well-funded Savimbi died at the hands of government forces not a long time after Bill Clinton had a conciliatory meeting with Eduardo dos Santos and mended the bruised relations between Luanda and Washington. Savimbi’s Israel supplied radio system that he had used for years was finally the one that led his killers to his bush base. It is every bread eater’s guess who had protected Savimbi for years and who finally gave him away when it suited their interests. Whatever names Africans are called, Jonas Savimbi, Boko Haram, Joseph Kony or “Our Girls”, they are all objects in a vulgar global power play.
The World in Africa and Africa in the World
In the African media and in academia, there are two compelling schools of thought on the enduring legacy of colonialism and imperialism. There exists in the first hand, journalists, politicians and some scholars who think Africa must be done blaming colonialism and European imperialism for her ills. On the other hand we have those concerned Africans whose argument is that Africa is yet to fully recover from the perils of continuing coloniality and imperiality. Only a casual scrutiny of such disasters as the Marikana Massacres in South Africa and Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria confirm beyond doubt, that Africa is still a vivid site of Western colonial and imperial designs among other technologies of economic control and political domination. Marikana in particular represents that spectacle where capitalism sets to terrify all those in future who might entertain the idea of confronting it by using deadly force and using one victim against another.
For the reason that Boko Haram is an affiliate of Al-Qaida, it is important for the thinking world to take a close look at the genealogy of Al-Qaida and related organisations. In 1979 when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, America actively trained and funded Al-Qaida militants that fought off the Russians until they withdrew. Under what was code-named “operation cyclone” in 1986 the CIA trained, according to John Pilger, more than 10 000 Islamist fighters for Al-Qaida. On the other hand in Pakistan the British M16 trained hundreds of Mujahedeen fighters in the art of making bombs.
In an attempt to assassinate long-term enemy Muammar Gaddaffi, in as late as 1996, the CIA enlisted trusted allies, Al-Qaida. And not far from now in 2011, concerned Africans will remember that Al-Qaida was one of the groups that ganged up against the Libyan strongman alongside NATO allies, without a single sense of irony and paradox. The thousands of militants that America and allies have trained and armed for the many proxy wars around the world are scattered all over the globe, some have turned around to fight America itself and to pursue other causes, in the process making the entire globe a very uncertain and unsafe place.
Concerned Africans have good reasons to be alarmed when, on the invitation of the Nigerian establishment, it is the NATO allies that have been trusted to provide the technology and expertise that is needed to track down the insurgents and recover the missing girls. The invitation, understandable as it is, sends a clear message that the safety of Africans can only be guaranteed from Europe; symbolically it is a desperate invitation for smart recolonisation. Another way of looking at it is that the Europeans are the best to come and fix the enduring problems that they have in history created for Africa. It is a historical misfortune of some extents that African Muslims are pronouncing jihad on African Christians on Nigerian soil, when both religions as we know well came as accompaniments of colonialism and slavery from Europe and Asia respectively. The fundamental question to ask is whose creature is Boko Haram?
The Boko Haram onslaught in Nigeria, in all respects, is not fundamentally different from the insurgency of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda who is keeping thousands of innocent school children in the dark forests and has been evading capture for years now. Both groups brandish new weapons and ammunition, top of the range modern military vehicles and are evidently well funded. Recently, the closest Africa came to solid evidence of how Europe continues to under-develop Africa is when self-confessed British dog of war Simon Mann disclosed in a book that the coup they intended to carry out in Equatorial Gunea in 2004 was a well sponsored operation of the British and some Asian oil barons. Jailed Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor, himself a CIA accessory, confessed before his country that the war on the side of which he fought against insurgents was the handiwork of the West, before he left the country for exile in Nigeria.
Most of what are called African problems that require African solutions are actually problems that the world has created in Africa and which require a radical transformation of the world system and the world order. It is a futile exercise for Africa to try to decolonise when Europe continues to resist to de-imperialise. Kenyan historian and political scientist, Ali Mazrui has likened this African historical condition to the incident in the United States where a little girl had the heart of a baboon transplanted onto her. The little girl survived a few weeks before her human body eventually rejected the foreign organ. In Africa such organs as the state, the judiciary and even the legislature, including systems of governance are foreign and colonial organs, their continued failure and collapse in Africa must be understood as they are the failure of the European colonial project in Africa and not the failure of Africa.
Who Gave Birth to Boko Haram?
So called terrorists and tyrants do not fall from the sky. They are a product of concrete historical and political conditions, or sometimes a figment of the criminal imagination of those who seek to benefit from the terror or the tyranny. The world’s public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky have observed how the USA used the unfortunate events of 9/11 as an excuse to impose a tyrannical security regime in the entire globe that has allowed them and their allies to invade any country and bully any state that stands on the way of their interests, using the war against terror as an excuse. Observably, in the entire crusade of the war against terror, the United States of America and their NATO allies are both the arsonists and the firemen.
Besides the knowledge that is now in the public domain that America and allies have severally financed, trained, armed and used Al-Qaida militants, concerned Africans would remember that in the height of the attacks against Gaddaffi in Libya, NATO allies distributed money, military training and weapons wantonly to anyone who claimed to be against Gaddafi. Nigerian statesman, Olusegun Obasanjo warned about this scattering of military skills, weapons and financial resources to all sorts of militants in the desperation to topple Gaddaffi. True to Obasanjo’s wise concerns the rebels that have caused instability in Mali and the Boko Haram that are currently terrorizing Nigeria are brandishing new weapons, advanced military vehicles, trained militants and other modern instruments of war that came straight from the hands of NATO, the leaders of the war against terror. John Pilger has repeatedly pointed to this paradox where America and allies irrigate terror and tyranny in the world and then work up in the morning claiming to be leaders in the global war against tyranny and terror. The thinking world now knows that the weapons of mass destruction that America and allies were searching for in Iraqi are actually nuclear reactors that they had supplied to Saddam Hussein in happier times.
Boko Haram is not made out of accidental demons that have come from the abyss to haunt Nigeria and the earth, but are a product of a world history that the so-called mature democracies in the world have manufactured and conditioned. The group is using money, weapons and military skills that they have received from the best armies of the world that make up NATO. Boko Haram is also made out of poor and homeless refugees who have lost families and homes in conflicts in other countries, people with nothing to lose, the living dead who are angry with life and society and whose cause is to kill God himself and then die.
These are people that nobody has listened to in a longtime and that nobody looks at, and they have found a way to get attention, kidnap our children, murder our women and visit chaos on society. The richest and the happiest people in the world do not sleep now because of otherwise useless people. The prosperous people of the world who live in super-power countries of the world that are protected with unmanned drones and nuclear arsenal are the most unsafe and unhappiest people of the world because of long bearded little men who have nothing to lose. The fundamental question is how and why has our world produced so many people with nothing to lose and who wish the world dead?
Can we listen to a terrorist?
Legendary drug lord, Patrick Lane, once claimed that the greatest causality of the menace of drug trade and drug abuse is the war against drug trade. It is that war which gives drugs the serious illegality that makes them profitable and an article of adventure. The attention that Boko Haram is receiving from the world now is exactly what they are looking for; to be noticed, to be in the headlines and in the agenda of important people in the world is a relish of the outlaw. Besides this, the war against terror, as we have seen, has done a lot to cultivate terror and to promote tyranny in the globe. Recently, Nafeez Ahmed suggested that America might be very happy about the ghoulish activities of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria as they give an excuse for American occupation of the region and the eventual frustration of Chinese oil interests in that part of Nigeria. Ahmed alleged intricate American intelligence and covert operations in Algeria, Chad and Niger Delta that are designed to secure American access to cheap oil at whatever cost to humanity.
Given that those who claim to fight terror appear to be in the main the cause of terror, if not to be terrorists themselves, I invite the thinking world to the taboo event of listening to a terrorist. What goes on in the mind of an Al-Qaida jihadist or that of a Boko Haram militant? Scrutinising the mindsets of terrorists is as important as studying the agendas of those who claim to protect us from terror. This is so because terrorists and those who claim to fight them are almost always safe from violence and the trauma that ensures. It is defenceless innocents who suffer the violence of war and terror. The innocent Nigerian school girls are neither an evil super power nor terrorists, but just dispensable lives caught in between the dark forces of global terror.
On the 29th of October 2004, Osama bin Laden, in a speech that has since been classified by Bob Blaisdell as one of the most “infamous speeches” in the world, opened up to explain to the Americans why Al-Qaida conducted the 9/11 attacks that shocked humanity. Al-Qaida, according to Bin Laden, “had not considered attacking the towers, but things reached the breaking point when” they “witnessed the iniquity and tyranny of the American-Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon.” Al-Qaida was moved by “those moving scenes of blood, torn limbs and dead women and children” in Lebanon. As an individual, Bin Laden says he could not stomach in Lebanon “ruined homes everywhere, and high rises being demolished on top of their residents, bombs raining down mercilessly on our homes.” Most noteworthy is that “in those critical moments” Bin Laden says “I was overwhelmed by ideas that are difficult to describe, but they awakened a powerful impulse to reject injustice and gave birth to a firm resolve to punish the oppressor.”
The argument that Bin Laden advanced was summarised in that “Just as you violate our security, we violate yours.” America must never, in the thinking of Bin Laden “toy with the security of others, deluding himself that he will remain secure.” In the global media and even in the academy, no one has seriously taken time to tell the world that 9/11 was revenge by those who were angry at the aggressions of America and her allies in Palestine and Lebanon. What the world is being told is that Islamic extremists who hate freedom and democracy are attacking America, and that the whole world should gang up against this terror, “you are with us or against us” said George Bush Junior.
Al-Qaida, in the words of Bin Laden, sought to draw the world’s attention to what “Bush senior did, causing mass slaughter of children in Iraq, the worst that humanity has ever known.” To Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, America does not stand for freedom and democracy, “it stands for dropping millions of pounds of bombs and explosives on millions of children in Iraq” in order to “depose an old agent and to appoint  a new agent” in the Iraq government “to help steal Iraq’s oil, and other sorts of horrible things.” Bin Laden insisted that powerful politicians in America benefit financially from wars that America fights in different places of the world, from reconstruction contracts that private companies connected with the elite in America get in countries like Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The principal question that Bin Laden asked is “should a man be blamed for protecting his own?”           Or “is defending oneself and punishing the wicked, an eye for an eye … is that reprehensible terrorism?” There is clearly a war of interests and that of values between America and her allies and Al-Qaida and those they claim to represent and protect. The misfortune that I wish to observe in this short article is that this understandable war has spilled into Africa; innocent children have been caught up in the web of foreign violence in Africa. America and allies have managed to universalise their own wars and turned them into global wars.
Africa has become a battle ground for those who are fighting their own wars, wars that in reality have very little to do with Africa. The Oil resources and other rich pickings of Africa have also attracted the attention and the violence of powerful global forces that see war and conflict as a fertile opportunity to siphon as much wealth as possible from Africa. The ancient clashes of the Christian and the Islamic faith have also found a stage for their theatres in Africa. Listening to Bin Laden’s testimony vividly indicates that terrorists, even the venal and the rabid among them, are not born, they are produced by events of war and violence in the world. “As I was looking at those destroyed towers in Lebanon” says Bin Laden “I was struck by the idea of punishing the oppressor in the same manner and destroying towers in the USA, to give it a taste of what we have tasted and to deter it from killing our children and women.”
Terror and the War against Terror as colonialism In Africa
In the same manner that Cold War European skirmishes of the Communist Block and the Capitalist Block vividly plaid themselves out in Africa, dividing Africans between communists and capitalists, the violence of terror and the war on terror is increasingly becoming a principal challenge in Africa; from Kenya to Nigeria. In the same way that the violence of the slave trade and that of colonialism was violence that visited Africa and became an enduring burden whose effects continue to be felt, Africa will bleed for a long time from the injuries of European wars whose spectacles explode in Africa and where Africans become the primary casualties. The ‘holy’ war between the two colonial religions of Christianity and Islam are costing Africans in Nigeria a wealth of innocent lives and pulling Africa backwards in terms of development and stability. Not only in the many global financial crises, but also in political catastrophes that have begun in Europe, Africa ends up taking the burden of symptoms of a diseased European civilisation that has effectively globalised its problems.
In the erudite analysis of Mahmood Mamdani, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda which imperiled more than a million African lives had its roots in the divisive colonial legacy and global history of imperialism that divided the people of Rwanda into warring “settlers” and “natives.” The entire enmeshment of Africa with its own traditional history, the Christian legacy and the Islamic legacy was supposed to be, in the canonical observation of Ali Mazrui, a “triple heritage.” As a “triple heritage” this contact of civilisations under ideal circumstances would have enriched Africa and made her a convivial harmony of modernities. Far from it, with slavery, colonialism and globalisation, it turned out to be a violent clash of civilisation where Africa’s harvest has been entanglement in crises, wars, terror and underdevelopment. The war on terror and terror itself are in Africa, a presentment of imperialism and alien visitation. As Africans, both Boko Haram militants as perpetrators of violence and the Nigerian school girls as victims are just objects and human raw materials in the brewing of a decadent global civilisation championed by imperial Europe.
Imagining Africa from Africa
One of the bestselling books published in 2014 in South Africa is The Fall of the ANC: What Next?, authored by two brilliant African intellectuals. The book draws from Patrick Chabal and Doloz to critique the ANC as a failed party that is chaotic and corrupt. Patrick Chabal and Doloz’s argument that corruption and chaos is the normal state of affairs in Africa is magnified with amazing gusto in this book that is also littered with taxi rank invectives against ANC politicians. Ironically, in 2012 Chabal wrote The End of Conceit, repenting of his misplaced judgement of Africa and pleading with other European scholars to rethink their conceit against Africa. So, two brilliant African academics are resurrecting European insults to Africa that the Europeans themselves have repented of? This is not only in academia but also in culture and politics and religion. Africa duplicates European knowledges and mimics European sensibility in everything to catastrophic ends. From Europe’s trash can, Africa’s fine scholars are retrieving what they believe to be the leading ideas of the day.
African thinkers are proving incapable of inventions as they diagnose African problems and prescribe solutions using European terms and lens of thought. After decades of disastrous borrowing and inheriting from Europe, Africans should now learn from the failed economies, collapsed states and borrowed wars that Africa has to be imagined from Africa and in African terms. The terror of Boko Haram in Nigeria is just a symptom of a diseased European global order that urgently needs recall. An African order can be imagined whose politics, economies and culture are decolonised and can allow Africa to contribute her unique gifts to humanity. The persuasive rhetoric of us living in a modern civilisation thanks to Europe is a monumental falsehood, our reality is that of the colonialities of terror and the war against terror as represented in Boko Haram and its violent presentments in Nigeria presently.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: