Special Reports

Who is Boko Haram’s ‘new leader’?


According to Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has a new leader. Speaking in a press conference, Deby claimed that the notorious Abubakar Shekau, who has long led the group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths mostly in northern Nigeria, was no longer at the helm.

Instead, the president said that a man named Mahamat Daoud had now taken over and, moreover, was open to dialogue with the Nigerian government.

Where exactly Deby got his information from is unclear, but even if there is truth to it, we should not rush to conclusions. For example, although the announcement that Shekau is no longer in charge has provoked fresh rumours of his demise, it is worth noting that Shekau’s death has been reported and then retracted several times in the past. It is also worth noting that Boko Haram is not a monolithic organisation – there are internal divisions and different groups all labelled as Boko Haram because of their shared origin, and many spokespeople have claimed to speak for the group in the past to little real effect. If the group does have a ‘new leader’, what this would mean is not straightforward.

Nevertheless, there are some questions we can answer.

Firstly, is it true that Shekau has been replaced?

Well, yes, in that he is no longer the sole head of Boko Haram. He now reports to a boss in charge of Islamic State West Africa, who reports to a boss in Syria, who in his turn reports to the so-called Caliph Ibrahim (aka Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi), the supreme leader of Islamic State.

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