Kevin Sood is Today News Africa foreign policy correspondent based in Riverside, California. Kevin earned his bachelor’s in political science from the University of California and his master’s in political science from California State University. He focuses on the State Department, U.S. government and U.S.-Africa ties.
Last month, reports claimed Abubakar Shekau may have died while conducting a suicide bombing raid against rival militant group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). If the infamous leader of Boko Haram is dead, this could spell doom for the jihadists in months to come. However, the group’s militant leader has been known to have been reported dead four times in the past, but top officials within the CIA and Nigerian government believe that the militant leader may have spent his 5th and final life.
Groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS tend to be less hierarchical which allows for a smooth transition of power when a predecessor dies. Shekau’s creation of a cult of personality within Boko Haram; however, and the precedence he set for mass violence, may lead to the dissolution of the group altogether as any charismatic leader looking to fill Shekau’s shoes may be at odds with ambitious contenders. It should be interesting to see in the coming months whether the group can survive its most turbulent times ahead.
COVID -19 and the rise of Ghebreyesus leadership within the WHO has brought about a change of discourse in Africa towards science and medical ingenuity. African nations have little tolerance for such militant groups. In May of 2021, the nations of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger assisted the Nigerian military in pushing back Boko Haram from enclaves around Lake Chad. In recent months, the group has also factionalized into smaller sects such as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), which has had skirmishes with its original mother group.
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The push back by African nations comes as a response when last month, the group seized territory only 2 hours away from the nation’s capital. In April of 2021, it was reported that the territory Boko Haram seized posed a vital threat to the nation’s stability, yet Nigerian military officials denied accusations of this claim.
Currently, the group still holds fortified strongholds around Nigeria’s Lake Chad region while its struggles to hold back COVID-19. JAS’s leader Abubakar Shekau has scoffed at public health warnings such as those of strict social distancing during religious gatherings. Shekau claimed social distancing guidelines were a pretense by the West to prevent Muslims from practicing their faith. He has even gone so far as to describe the virus as part of a war on Islam by evil forces. It is not clear whether the pandemic will hinder or benefit the group in coming months.
Such attitudes by religious fanatics seems to be a growing trend not only in Africa, but in the U.S. overall. Radical right-wing groups professing to be Christians and/or Trump supporters seem to harbor the same attitude of the coronavirus being a political ploy. Boko Haram may choose to harbor these same beliefs, but the virus does not discriminate against one’s personal religious convictions.
However the world has changed much since Boko Haram’s beginnings. In 2014 to 2015, the world saw a sweeping uptick in Islamic militant groups penetrated into developing nations taking over vast swaths of territory. Nigeria was no exception as in 2015 Boko Haram appeared on the scene to take over territories around Nigeria’s Lake Chad Region
Yet again, the world has changed much from 6 years ago. The global consensus is that science must prevail in the face of global religious fanatcisms, and prejudices and beliefs relating to traditionalist notions have now taken a back seat to nations’ priorities. What has brought about this change in consensus? COVID-19. Can militant religious groups such as Boko Haram survive in a growing interlocking world? Only time will tell.