Friday, July 20, 2012

US State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO (plus UPDATE - Nov 2013)

UPDATE November 2013
US bows to pressure and designates Boko Haram, Ansaru as terror groups
14 Nov 2013

THE US has designated Nigeria's radical Islamist Boko Haram network and an offshoot known as Ansaru as terror groups, bowing to months of pressure to act.

. . . "By cutting these terrorist organisations off from US financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria's fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north," White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco said.

Nigeria welcomed the decision and hoped that the US would step up intelligence cooperation. . .

Representative Chris Smith, who chaired a hearing Wednesday on Boko Haram, welcomed the designation which US lawmakers have long sought.

"What these murderers have brought to Nigeria and surrounding countries is misery and death with no redeeming outcome," he said.


June 2012: US State Department

-- maintains socio-economic grievance is to blame for terror;
-- prescribes economic development as remedy.

By Elizabeth Kendal

On Thursday 21 June, the U.S. State Department designated three Nigerians as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). All three are senior leaders of Boko Haram with known links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): Abubakar Shekau (Boko Haram's most visible leader), Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi.

According to a statement by the State Department, the designation under Executive Order 13224, "blocks all of Shekau’s, Kambar’s and al-Barnawi’s property interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of these individuals."

However, the State Department resisted calls to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO). This is despite the fact that Boko Haram is a foreign organisation that engages in terrorist activity and maintains ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia -- two groups that have been designated FTOs. Morgan Lorraine Roach, Research Associate with the Heritage Foundation, maintains that Boko Haram does meet FTO requirements and warns that it would be a mistake for the US to consider itself immune from attack.

See also, Boko Haram: Obama Fails to Designate Nigerian Sect a Terrorist Organization
By Morgan Lorraine Roach, 22 June 2012

The State Department's failure to designate Boko Haram an FTO generated some controversy.  The matter was discussed on Tuesday 10 July, at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

U.S Policy Toward Nigeria: West Africa's Troubled Titan
10 July 2012, Chaired by Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
Transcripts of witness testimonies can be downloaded from this site.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) condemned Boko Haram's attacks as "unprovoked and unconscionable".  Smith reminded the hearing that "Boko Haram reportedly is in league with al-Qaeda in the Mahgreb and is involved at some level with Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, Islamists in Somalia and possibly even the Taliban in Afghanistan."

Consequently, the question from Smith and committee member Mr Turner, was why? Why is the State Department blocking the designation of Boko Haram as an FTO?

It appears that the US State department has resisted calls from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to designate Boko Haram as a FTO on the grounds that the State Department believes Boko Haram is not monolithic and that only a small faction within Boko Haram (albeit its leadership) has any interest in international terrorism. The larger faction, so the State Department's theory goes, is "moderate".

Furthermore, because the US State Department appears to believe that the root cause of instability in Northern Nigeria is socio-economic hardship and not Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, the State Department prescribes aid and economic development as the remedy. 

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State, testified that, "Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the north that the government must also address. A coordinated government effort to provide responsible, accountable governance to all Nigerians, while creating opportunities for economic growth, will diminish the political space in which Boko Haram operates."

Earl Gast, the Assistant Administrator for Africa, U.S. Agency for International Development, drew the same conclusions as Carson. "Consistent with the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, USAID's development activities target the root causes of the popular frustration with the Government of Nigeria that stokes instability in the North, Middle Belt and Niger Delta regions: poor governance, insufficient respect for human and civil rights, inadequate delivery of basic services, and a lack of economic opportunity, particularly for young Nigerians. . .

"Each of these efforts [aimed at advancing economic development] contributes to Nigeria’s development and mitigate the root causes of instability. . ."

According to Gast, Nigeria's political leadership can mitigate the root causes of instability by pursuing "reforms that will create a large, educated middle-income country, while holding itself accountable to engage and serve politically, socially, and economically marginalized populations."

Like Carson, Gast does not see Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, or even the southward migration of the Muslim Fulani, as an issue in, let alone a root cause of, the north's insecurity and instability. In fact, in both Carson's and Gast's testimonies, a word search for "Islam" reaps zero results / no matches.

During question time, Representative Smith questioned why Boko Haram's leaders were designated as SDGTs, while Boko Haram (the organisation) was not designated an FTO. Smith noted that Boko Haram is, at its core, pushing a radical Islamic position, seeking to impose Sharia law and promoting radical Islam.

In response, Carson reiterated the State Department's position, maintaining that Boko Haram is not monolithic or homogenous, and for the large part, it is only killing Nigerians and only for domestic reasons: i.e. to discredit the Nigerian government. "The phenomenon of Boko Haram is one of discrediting the central government in power, for its failure to deliver services to the people", he said. "As long as social economic conditions exist in the north to the extent that they do now, there will be a reaction . . ."

Chairman Christopher Smith lampooned the State Department for paying lip service to the insurgency in Nigeria.  He also flatly rejected any assertion that terrorism is caused by social and economic problems, telling Ambassador Carson, "It is all too convenient to suggest that somehow, just because there are depravations" that poverty is to blame. "Ideology that is highly, highly radicalized may exploit poverty at times, but poor people do not necessarily become terrorists and killers. That is an insult, frankly, to poor people,"

Smith lamented that the State Department seems to grossly underestimate the threat of militant Islamists who seek to impose Islamic Sharia law, and under-appreciate the radical Islamic fervour that drives Islamists to kill for Sharia.

See: US Congressional Panel Examines Boko Haram Violence in Nigeria
By Cindy Saine, Voice of America, 10 July 2012

Also invited to give testimony to the subcommittee was Darren Kew, Ph.D, Associate Professor, McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts Boston. Kew's analysis echoed that of Carson's and Gast's, but went much further.

With his opening words -- "The recent escalation of violence between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian communities is not a single conflict between the two great religions" -- Kew set the stage for an exercise in politically correct moral equivalence. As it turned out, it was worse than that.


Kew maintained that the context of Northern Nigeria's sectarian violence was Nigeria's "dramatic demographic shift in [the] number of Christians over the last 20 years. Heavy Christian proselytising in the minority-dominated regions of the 'Middle Belt', in the northeast, and in the far Northern regions of the country has won numerous converts in these areas, fuelling resentment amongst some members of the Muslim communities. . ." He added that that while some fringe Muslim groups do engage in proselytising, their success is limited.

Ignoring the reality that apostates are severely persecuted and even killed, Kew maintained that ethnic minority Muslim are converting to Christianity in pursuit of political power.

Contradicting Carson's and Gast's testimonies, that the April 2011 elections were Nigeria's "most credible national election since it returned to democratic rule" (Carson) and "freer and less violent than any since Nigeria's return to democracy in 1999" (Gast), Kew implied that the April 2011 election provided legitimate grounds for northern grievance. Kew aired failed presidential candidate General Buhari's claim that he (a northern Muslim) only lost because the poll was rigged, without providing any evidence in support of the claim.

Kew claimed that the militarisation of the Middle Belt is a cause rather than a consequence of sectarian conflict. Furthermore, he made constant reference to "Christian militias", without ever actually naming one.

Incredibly, Kew asserted that "pastoralist-farmer conflicts" occur where "predominantly Christian farmers have moved into traditional grazing lands for Muslim herders". In reality, the exact opposite is the case: desertification has driven the Fulani Muslim nomadic cattle herders south where they end up trespassing on and frequently destroying "indigene" predominantly Christian-owned agricultural lands. The southward migration of the Fulani is a reality and a problem felt right across the ethnic-religious fault-line, not merely in Nigeria.

Contradicting Boko Haram's claims about itself, Kew maintained that Boko Haram is not really interested in Christians, but is only targeting churches in a tactical ploy to "situate itself as the Islamic alternative to the corrupt status quo".

Echoing Carson's and the State Department's hypothesis, Kew claimed that there are hardline Boko Haram and "moderate" Boko Haram -- as if imposition of Sharia Law was a moderate proposition. He also recommended that while Boko Haram "currently holds the military initiative" (his opinion) it should build alliances and create a political movement "or some form of parallel party with which it is affiliated or which seeks to capture its message".

He recommended that the US take a "subtle approach" towards Boko Haram, isolating its "hardliners" while strengthening its "moderates".

A Nigerian Perspective

Standing in stark contrast, was the testimony of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). An eye witness, with first-hand experience and historical understanding, his statement is essential reading.

"Nigeria," said Oritsejafor, "is not a country divided by North and South, but a country divided between those who support freedom and equality in the eyes of the law, and those who promote persecution and violence as a means to an end.

"To an outside observer it may appear as though Boko Haram is not a monolithic group; that it is fragmented and disorganized, but I am here today to give you the Nigerian perspective. Since its creation, the Boko Haram network has never hidden its agenda or intentions. Boko Haram has openly stated that they reject the Nigerian State and its Constitution and seek to impose Shari'ah Law. To this end, Boko Haram has waged a systematic campaign of terror and violence. They seek an end to western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria.

"This is outright terrorism, not legitimate political activity or the airing of grievances. By refusing to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, the United States is sending a very clear message, not just to the Federal Government of Nigeria, but to the world – that the murder of innocent Christians, and Muslims who reject Islamism, and I make a clear distinction here between Islam and Islamism, are acceptable losses. It is hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality, when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted. . .

"In Nigeria, my people are dying every single day, and it is only a matter of time before the international terrorist links and anti-democratic Islamist agenda of Boko Haram turns its attention to the United States. In fact, this may already be a reality, in April of 2012 the NYPD learned that a U.S. resident living on the East Coast had sent surveillance, including maps and photographs of lower Manhattan and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels to an alleged member of Boko Haram based in Nigeria. . .

"We too, want to have freedom, freedom of religion, freedom to worship as we choose without fear, we want to have justice, based in equality and not driven by discriminatory religious practices. Let me remind us that this is not about economics but about an ideology that has a history of sponsoring genocide across the globe. . ."

SEE ALSO: Report says killings in Nigeria next to Bosnian war
12 July 2012 The Guardian (Nigeria)
U.S. claims limited understanding of Boko Haram
Oritsejafor accuses Obama of hypocrisy


For more on the relationship between economics and human rights, see:
Economics and Human Rights,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 July 2012

For information on the most recent violence in Nigeria see:
Nigeria: terror in Plateau state
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 168, 18 July 2012