A Twitter Gaffe, Susan Rice And The Grueling Fight Against Boko Haram BY BEENISH AHMED
Chadian soldiers stand at a checkpoint in front of a Boko Haram flag the Nigerian city of Damasak, Nigeria, on March 18, 2015. Damasak was flushed of Boko Haram militants last week, and is now controlled by a joint Chadian and Nigerien force.
Ambassador Susan Rice got a lot of flak on Twitter on Monday after she tweeted in mourning of one of Nigeria’s most famous authors — though he died two years ago.
“[T]oday is a somber day in Nigeria, as Chinua Achebe was laid to rest in his native village,” Rice wrote on Twitter. The current National Security Advisor served for years as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and as an ambassador to the United Nations — points Twitter users didn’t miss in critiquing her very delayed sorrow for the Nigerian literary giant. She later deleted the tweet.
Ambassador Rice’s tweet was a “basic personal error” — one that can’t be used to explain American political stances or policies toward Nigeria, according to Ryan Cummings, an analyst with red24, a global crises management assistance company.
But considering Achebe helps make sense of the vexed political climate in Africa’s largest economy. And anyway, Rice too later tweeted, “Any occasion to remember the life & legacy of one of Africa’s greats, Chinua Achebe, is worth noting.”
And more so given a looming election in the country — one few are very eager vote in. Only eight percent of Nigerians polled by Gallup say they have faith that the elections on March 28 will be fair. While this might make Nigerians appear apathetic, it’s important to consider the context: More than 1,000 people were killed in rioting after elections in 2011.
Achebe told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013 that if Nigerians are slow to take to the streets, it’s because they had been born down by a long history of conflict.
“A people don’t just jump up and protest after they have been nearly annihilated by war and then systematically subjugated for decades with their rights stripped from them for so long. In order to survive, people employ a number of tactics — they adopt a posture of subservience, quietness, etc., but it should never be interpreted as weakness.”
That might help explain why there haven’t been widespread protests against Boko Haram in recent months — despite estimates that the Islamist militant group controlledup to a fifth of the country at the onset of this year. An estimated 13,000 people have been killed since they first took up arms in the country in 2009.
“We never expected that [Boko Haram] will build up that kind of capacity,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told the BBC on Friday. “I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover the old territories that hitherto have been in [Boko Haram’s] hands.”
And with less than a week to go before he faces re-election, Jonathan is close to reaching this goal.
The Nigerian army said last week that it has pushed Boko Haram out of all but three of the 20 local government districts that it controlled at the start of this year.
But that’s left more questions than answers fro many in Nigeria. As NPR’s West Africa correspondent explained to Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin, “The elections were postponed for six weeks because of this insecurity issue, because the authorities said that the security forces wouldn’t be able to insure the security of the elections. But Boko Haram has been causing mayhem and panic for the past six years. So how come the authorities are suddenly able to get rid of Boko Haram? And they warn, also, that is this getting rid of Boko Haram. They may be pushed into their hiding places. And they may be not in control of territory.”
“The efficacy of Nigeria’s military intervention against Boko Haram is a culmination of various factors which were not present since the beginning of 2015,” red24’s Cummings said. “Improved weaponry and equipment, the use of foreign advisors and, perhaps most importantly, the assistance of regional countries where Boko Haram had established an operational presence, are all factors which explains the rapidity in which Boko Haram is being dislodged from Nigeria’s northeastern regions.”
Nigeria’s military campaign has gotten a lot of support from neighboring Chad and Niger, and reports such that Chadian soldiers have borne the brunt of it.
“We asked [the Nigerian military] to come, to receive this town from us, but they have not come,” Chadian Second Lt. Mohammed Hassan told the New York Times nearly a week after his troops wrested two towns in northeastern Nigeria back from Boko Haram control. “It is because they are afraid.”
Many Nigerians believe that Jonathan refused to deal with the threat of Boko Haram earlier for political reasons. He was greatly scrutinized when, in January, he condemneda militant attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but said nothing about an attack in his own country which left as many as 2,000 people dead.
Part of the answer lies in the country’s poor political infrastructure.
“Rampant criminality also infects politics,” according to an article by The Economist. “Gangsters aid politicians by intimidating opponents. In return elected officials share out funds plundered from state coffers.
Despite the insurgency and corruption, Cummings of red24 notes that Nigeria is a rather functional state — a fact that has kept foreign governments from getting involved in the fight against Boko Haram.
“A major issue which prevents foreign, particularly Western involvement in the Boko Haram insurgency, is the fact that Nigeria remains a functioning sovereign state and that Boko Haram is effectively a grassroots, Nigerian domestic group. As such, foreign intervention beyond logistical support was unlikely as such actions may undermine the sovereignty and legitimacy of the Nigerian state.”