5. African Insurgencies: The Evolving Landscape

E-mail of panel organisers: mbo@nupi.no

In Africa, as elsewhere, armed struggles are in a constant state of flux. As new technologies, strategies, and ideas about the state, the life people live and pathways to resistance emerge, existing insurgencies adapt while new ones emerge. Global and regional forces – be they political, economic, or social – impact on the context of the armed struggles in multiple, and often unpredictable, ways. In some cases, local causes of conflicts become interconnected, intertwined, and layered to produce a constantly shifting landscape. Very rarely does a conflict zone remain stagnant, as change and mutation is the rule, not the exception. Nowhere is that more evident than in contemporary Africa, where new forms of insurgencies are emerging and existing guerrilla groups evolving and mutating. We understand today’s African insurgencies to be linked to competing systems of attempted governance. Contemporary African armed insurgencies are the essential, but by no means only, manifestation of these multiple and competing networks of power and rule. These systems of governance rely on the utilization of violence for security, resistance and predation, but any understanding of these armed groups must recognize the larger context in which they are embedded. Economically speaking, these armed groups are not purely extractive in motive, though the economic dimension of these systems of alternative governance should not be discounted (nor should they be assumed to be the driving force for rebels’ actions). With regards to social factors, it is also important to note significant generational factors. For example, armed insurgents tend to be youths, reflecting issues of social marginalization, stuck aspirations, generational tensions, and youthful aspirations of resistance. Moreover, these youths are largely young men and the violence that they engage in have recognizable gender dimensions, including rape, sexual violence, and mutilation of women’s bodies. Thus, an understanding of contemporary African insurgencies requires a critical examination of social factors, including the complex role of masculinity and violence upon women’s bodies.


1. 'The Boko Haram Insurgency and State Response: Understanding the Dynamics and Evolving Landscape of Terror in (Northern) Nigeria

Author: Daniel E. Agbiboa (University of Oxford, UK and Nigeria)


More than 5,000 people have died in Nigeria since 2009 when Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group from northeastern Nigeria, launched its violent campaign to wrest power from the Nigerian government and foist an Islamic state under the supreme law of sharia. Attempts at negotiating with the group, including the recent amnesty offer extended to its members by the Nigerian government, have stalled due to distrust on both sides and the non-monolithic and factionalised leadership of the group’s different cells. This article provides a systematic account of Boko Haram’s emergence, evolution, demands, and modus operandi. The socio-economic approach of this article helps to explain the Boko Haram problem beyond a usual religious or economic agenda, and to embed the development of the group within the dynamic, multiplex, and evolving landscape of Nigeria’s chequered political history and socio-economic grievances. In addition, the article critically evaluates how the Nigerian state has responded to Boko Haram’s relentless threat and, crucially, how it should respond. This includes a systematic engagement with the ongoing debate in Nigeria regarding what can be said for and against negotiating with Boko Haram members, and for and against fighting them. In conclusion, the article argues that the failure of military force to reduce spiralling violence in northern Nigeria calls for a strategic rethink that must be open to all the components that are conducive to armed insurgencies in the restive region.

2. Iterations of Shari’a within Boko Haram’s discourse

Author: Ini Dele-Adedeji (School of Oriental & African Studies, UK and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs)


Why does the debate revolving around Shari’a have such a polarising effect on the Nigerian populace? And, why has it become the main theme of the Boko Haram sect’s ideology? Within the literature on violence in northern Nigeria, the common approach tends to situate the Shari’a debate within a strictly political lens, where it is merely a political instrument among the political elite, as Ali Mazrui’s (2012) analysis does. This and other similar trends tend to largely overlook the central position the Shari’a occupies in the historical tradition of northern Nigeria as a strong point of self-definition for most of its Muslims. With Boko Haram’s aim being to establish a Shari’a state, this paper studies why Shari’a has continued to be a recurring frame or ‘rallying point’ over different time periods for mobilisation within northern Nigeria. This paper focuses on the role Islamic concepts and symbols, such as the Shari’a, perform in the mobilisation and perpetuation of violence by Boko Haram. It draws the focus beyond the trend in the literature which looks strictly at socio-economic factors. This paper argues that the function of constructed Islamic identities is largely ignored in probing the emergence of political violence in northern Nigeria. In addressing this lacuna, it examines the construction of Islamic identities around the Shari’a and the use of this resonance frame in interpreting political and socio-economic issues in the region. I argue that the Boko Haram sect draws from the strength of this frame in formulating its ideology and the mobilisation of members at the grassroots level.

3. The cost of not interrogating the locals: Libya and its aftermath

Author: Mikael Eriksson (The Swedish Defence Research Agency)


The aim of the paper is to critically review the deteriorating security situation in contemporary Libya. The driving argument of the paper is that the international community, when planning for Operation Unified Protector, appeared to have overlooked how local power-relations and the micro cosmology of tribal networks in Libya functioned. By also overlooking the global-local relationship, the international community came to stand naked in front of the security developments that would unfold as the NATO-backed intervention finally ended. Thus, the scope of this paper seeks to link the general understanding of conventional state structures with sub-national governance networks. In so doing it also seeks to provide an important link in the explanation of today's deteriorating security situation in post-conflict Libya. The research presented in the paper has been made in light of the detailed case studies on the Arab spring and the NATO intervention in Libya has recently been published. Recent research has provided the research community with a better comprehension of the events that lead to the toppling of Gaddafi. The record makes it easier to re-conceptualize more in detail how the current global order forcefully pushed liberal and illiberal (military) governance practices. It also gives valuable lessons for future conflict management in Africa's evolving security landscape.

4. Banditry on the sea: Niger Delta pirates and security implications in the Gulf of Guinea

Author: Azeez Olaniyan, Ekiti State University, Nigeria


One current challenge facing the gulf of guinea is the scourge of banditry ravaging the maritime domain, with grave implications on security of human and resources. With sporadic targets on sailors, oil workers, ships and foreign nationals, the gulf of guinea has emerged as the new danger zone in West Africa. One noticeable trend in the incidents of sea piracy in Africa is its shifting locus from the horn of Africa to West Africa. The International Maritime reported of sharp decrease in the piracy activities from 237 in 2011 to 75 in 2012 while it increases in West Africa from 49 in 2011 to 58 in 2012. Of the number of piracy activities in West Africa, Niger Delta militants account for the highest, with attendant loss of lives and disruption of oil and economic activities. But the concern of the piracy in the Niger Delta is not only in the number of attacks, but also in the degree of violence associated with it. Perhaps the pertinent questions arising then are: What are the contributory factors for increasing rate of violent sea piracy in the area? What is the relationship between the growing militancy, kidnapping in Niger delta and piracy activities in the area? And, what is the implication on the West African security architecture? Using the theory of greed and grievances, this paper interrogates these questions.

5. MNLA and MUJAO: armed insurgencies between “empty space” and connective society.

Author: Luca Raineri (Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy)


The article I endeavour to submit investigates the competing patterns of governance and discourse adopted by two prominent actors – the MNLA and the MUJAO – of the conflict in north Mali during the “occupation” of Gao in 2012. The comparative perspective will be sustained by  empirical evidence collected during a field research.

Drawing on most recent literature (Lacher 2013) criticising the widespread mis-perception of the “nebula”, or drug-terror nexus, where organised crime, Islamic radicalism and nationalist separatism supposedly overlap, the article aims to analytically distinguish each actor's role, motivation and ideology for engaging into conflict. The interpretative grid provided for by Reno (2014) will be mobilised to compare extractive vs ideologically orientated behaviours, thus departing from the standard literature on African guerrillas that uniquely emphasises rent-seeking motives (Collier 2000, Kaldor 2001). This approach will shed light on the opposite strategies adopted by the two movements with regard to international actors on the one hand, and local big men (Utas 2012), civil society and social movements (including the influential “Nous Pas Bouger” youth movement) on the other. The prevalent attention to (illicit) political economy will be combined with a focus on local grievances and struggles, embedded in the sociological setting.

The de-centralized, networked structure of both organizations, inscribed in the “connective” (Scheele 2012) nature of Saharan social relations, suggests that thresholds between local collective actors tend to fade. Claims of subjectivity (from an insider's perspective) and objectivity (for social science) attributed to armed groups should then be more fruitfully analysed from the point of view of the different discursive strategies and geopolitical imaginaries (Dalby 2010) deployed in their rhetoric.

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