Infernal Paradise – the entangled rationales of Boko Haram

Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency has pitted neighbor against neighbor, village against village, posing a serious and sustained threat to northeastern Nigeria’s regional security. To date–and with no end in sight–an estimated 45,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced, in addition to damage or destruction to hundreds of schools, mosques, churches, and government buildings in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad.

During the conference, we will examine multiple factors that underpin the motivations and violent acts of Boko Haram. We will also attempt to elucidate the reasons that lead many civilians to support or join the organization as well as the mechanisms that ‘force’ them into the Boko Haram landscape. To understand how and why Boko Haram has gained support and acceptance, it is necessary to have a closer look at what occurs at the grassroots level. All the speakers invited to the conference have long-term socio-professional experience in the region, as residents, researchers, development-aid workers, and politicians. Their contributions will provide a uniquely multidisciplinary perspective, reaching far into the past and delving into causal factors of Boko Haram’s rise before the group was in any way a part of the socio-political landscape. The conference’s focus will extend well beyond northeastern Nigeria–the birthplace and epicenter of Boko Haram’s ravages–providing insight on the group’s growing influence and other important new developments in neighboring areas, including eastern Niger, southern Lake Chad, and the Mandara Mountains in northcentral Cameroon.

Roundtable discussions will inevitably lead participants beyond the realm of what is strictly religious or theological, into the everyday living conditions of local populations suffering systematic neglect and/or exploitation by various governmental authorities. Socio-economic stagnation, difficulty in accessing education, and virtually non-existent public welfare all serve to enhance populations’ vulnerability, compelling them to exploit any and every opportunity that presents itself. Young people in particular tend to respond to such adversity and chronic misery by adhering to extremist ideologies, many of which seem to offer a sense of purpose that their lives and futures otherwise lack.

What is the role of the global economic system in the functioning of Boko Haram? How are the predatory practices of the modern state perhaps directly linked to the gestation of Boko Haram and extremist ideology? How should we understand Boko Haram’s rejection of the modern, non-denominational system of education? Does it express rejection of all literate authorities or does it mean they do not want to become literate themselves? Is it possible for us to consider members as ‘separate’ from the rest of the population? These and many other questions require reflection and response.

The guest representatives from the local populations will engage in discussions with academics. We hope that their first-hand experiences combined with the academic and political perspectives will enable us to better understand the complexities that underlie the apparent success of Boko Haram’s socio-political movement.

Article about the conference (Norwegian) – click here