AfricaFocus (Washington, DC)

Africa: Reject 'Terrorist' Designation for Boko Haram

Photo: Vanguard
Bomb blast in Kaduna (file photo).

Bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in May, if passed, would require the U.S. Secretary of State to present a report on whether Boko Haram in Nigeria should be formally declared a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." Such a move, which would be a change in U.S. policy advocating a multifaceted approach to the threat from Boko Haram, would be a counterproductive mistake with far-reaching negative consequences for both Americans and Nigerians.

Following on a letter in May by more than 20 leading U.S. scholars of Nigeria warning against such a designation (see http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/mil1206.php#bh), AfricaFocus Bulletin is launching a petition for AfricaFocus readers and others to join in opposition to such a step. While U.S. officials knowledgeable about Africa are well aware of the dangers in such a narrow counterterrorism focus, there is the threat that pressure from Republicans in Congress, as well as from officials in security-related branches of the U.S. government, could continue to rise. They may be aided by Boko Haram itself, which hopes that its violent actions against civilians in Nigeria will provoke wider conflict and raise its prestige in international terrorist networks.

While AfricaFocus often provides information on petition initiatives and other action options provided by activist organizations, initiating an AfricaFocus petition is a new step, and one that will be used only selectively, given the additional time involved. However, this seems to be an opportunity in which the weight of informed opinion may help prevent a policy change for the worse that would be extremely difficult to reverse once taken. And it seems an appropriate test of the potential for combining the expertise of AfricaFocus readers with the outreach possible through on-line petition software.

The damage done by a formal FTO designation is clearly apparent in the case of Somalia, where it has limited the options for negotiations, slowed humanitarian relief at the cost of thousands of lives, and caused enormous difficulties for Somali Americans seeking to support their families back home with remittances. Applying such a policy to Nigeria would potentially cause even more damage.

The petition text is below.

To sign on as an individual, go to http://signon.org/sign/reject-terrorist-designation

To add an organizational endorsement to the groups initially listed below, please send the name and contact information for the organization to africafocus@igc.org The organization name will be added to the petition in the web version of this Bulletin.

For additional background, including a letter by U.S. scholars on Nigeria to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking a similar position against FTO designation for Boko Haram, see http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/mil1206.php#bh

--Editor's Note

Petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama and Members of Congress

We urge you not to support the formal designation of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" (FTO). Such a move would be a counterproductive mistake with far-reaching negative consequences for both Americans and Nigerians.

It is correct for the United States to join the vast majority of Nigerians in condemning the group for the brutal violence it has inflicted on innocent civilians in Nigeria and their threats to national unity and security in that country.

But U.S. government designation of the group as a FTO, as currently proposed by several Members of Congress and some officials in the the Department of Justice, would increase rather than diminish the threat from Boko Haram. It would give the group additional visibility and credibility among international terrorist networks. It would increase the chances that the group would direct its attacks against U.S. targets.

Most significantly, it would reinforce counter-productive militarization of Nigerian government actions against the group. Repressive actions by Nigerian security forces in the past have already contributed to increasing support for Boko Haram among those affected. What is needed instead is a multifaceted strategy. Such a strategy must include not only security measures to protect civilians but also flexible diplomacy and serious attention to development issues, particularly in the disadvantaged North of Nigeria where Boko Haram finds support.

FTO designation would also cause enormous collateral damage, making it difficult for both the U.S. government and nonprofit groups to address humanitarian and development issues, particularly in the North. It would hamper any efforts by third parties to encourage dialogue and it would introduce new tensions into U.S.-Nigerian relations. It would also pose serious bureaucratic obstacles to travel and family remittances for Nigerian Americans and other Nigerians resident in the United States.

The Nigerian government is well aware of the counterproductive effects of a FTO designation for Boko Haram and has expressed its opposition. So have more than 20 of the top U.S. scholars on Nigeria. We urge you to heed their informed advice that FTO designation would be a serious mistake with long-lasting negative consequences for both Nigerians and Americans.

To endorse this petition as an organization, please send the name of your organization and contact details to africafocus@igc.org.

To sign the petition as an individual, visit http://signon.org/sign/reject-terrorist-designation

Organizational Signatories as of June 20, 2012

AfricaFocus Bulletin Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS) Priority Africa Network (PAN) United African Organization (UAO)

In Congress, the petition is specifically addressed to the chairs and ranking minority members of the committees on Homeland Security and subcommittees on African Affairs, namely

Senators Susan Collins (D-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (CT) of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs;

Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) of the Committee on Homeland Security;

Senators Chris Coons (D-DE, Chairman) and Johnny Isakson (RGA) of the Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on African Affairs; and

Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ); and Karen Bass (D-CA) of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

Additional background sources include

Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, "Nigeria, One Year After Elections," April 9, 2012 http://www.state.gov/p/af/rls/rm/2012/187721.htm

Lauren Ploch, Specialist in African Affairs, Congressional Research Service, Remarks at House Committee on Homeland Security subcommittee hearing "Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the U.S. Homeland," November 30, 2011 http://tinyurl.com/83u4kpk

"Homeland Security Committee Report Details Emerging Homeland Threat Posed by Africa-Based Terrorist Organization, Boko Haram" http://tinyurl.com/7t9mcmb

Cleen Foundation (Centre for Law Enforcement Education, Nigeria), "Responding to the Emerging Trends of Terrorism in Nigeria," Conference Proceedings, 2011 http://tinyurl.com/6qqq2k4

Charity and Security Network, "Safeguarding Humanitarianism in Armed Conflict: A Call for Reconciling International Legal Obligations and Counterterrorism Measures in the United States," June 2012 http://www.charityandsecurity.org/SafeguardingHumanitarianism

Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2012 - H.R. 5822 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.5822:

Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2012 - S. 3249: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:S.3249:

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/nigeria.php

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InFocus

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Bomb blast in Kaduna (file photo).

The U.S. has named Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, along with two others - Abubakar Adam Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi - as 'Specially Designated Global Terrorists'. Read more »