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Special Reports

Boko Haram: Framing an Islamist Insurgency

The Nigerian government has been engaged in a narrative struggle with Boko Haram in order to win popular support and end the insurgency. The struggle at the narrative level mirrors the struggle at the combat level, with Nigeria possessing significantly greater opportunities, resources, and allies to win the war against Boko Haram. That the war has not ended nearly five years after it first began, suggests that Boko Haram’s narrative strategy connects with northern populations, which in turn has helped it recruit fighters despite the high attrition rate of its forces. Two historical conditions have helped Boko Haram’s messaging campaign. First, the narrative taps into deep national divisions (ethnic, religious, political, regional, economic) that have prevented Nigeria from achieving nationhood, almost 100 years after the north and south were joined together. Second, it has exploited Nigeria’s political history, especially the visceral antiparty toward military dictatorships, which offers a cautionary tale of oppression, force, corruption, and ethno/regional favoritism and created suspicion and hostility between the military and civil society. Read the full report.

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