By: Richards Murphy
The curse of natural is apparently real or more accurately, cursed interests in resource exploration are real. This evil often goes about masked as something less sinister. Take for instance the insanity that is today’s Afghanistan, which began in a fashion not too different from what Boko Haram is acting out in Nigeria today. Somewhere in the convoluted mix of transitions and mishmash of Mujahedeen, Taliban and al-Qaeda was UNOCAL, an oil multinational and its effort to construct pipelines through Afghanistan from the petroleum-rich Caspian Basin in Central Asia. By the way, that guy that went on to be handpicked as Afghan President upon the routing of the Taliban in 2004, Hamid Karzai was a consultant to UNOCAL before that appointment, something he and the company continue to deny and the records have been purged to make the denial easier. He happened to have also been a deputy foreign minister for the Taliban.
A pipeline dream set another country on fire. Syria is today the scene of multiple proxy wars, which is senseless if only for the bizarre alliances that are engaging on industrial scale human slaughter. It might have been given different names to hide the true intent but nothing can subtract from the fact that the crisis revolves around two proposed gas pipelines that would traverse Syria; some have referred to that ugly scenario as “Pipelinestan”. Afghanistan remains fresh in the mind.
In April of 2012, Tuareg rebels overran northern Mali under the name of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) , French state broadcaster, France 24 ran ahead of others to give extended airtime to Mossa Ag Attaher, a spokesperson for the rebels, with a chest caption that stopped short of recognizing Azawad as a country. France 24 continued its attempt to report Azawad as a sovereign nation for several days. It even christened an ambassador for the enclave at some point. In a volte-face France later supported the government in Bamako to contain the rebels. The then French President Francois Hollande sold the story of how his country’s interest was about stopping the rebels in West Africa before they become a threat to Europe.
It has never been about terrorism for France. “In the long term, France has interests in securing resources in the Sahel – particularly oil and uranium, which the French energy company Areva has been extracting for decades in neighboring Niger,” said Katrin Sold of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) one year after in 2013.
There was additional incentive for France to give up the Azawad misadventure at that time. It merged that group was not acting in isolation but was part of a larger ambition to fuse modern day Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Central African Republic and Sudan into one vast wasteland controlled by fanatics.
What France has not given up, however, is the obsession for the energy possibility in the Sahel and Sahara. It held a security summit to discuss Boko Haram which resulted in the launch of Sahel Force in June this year. If that force is of any use it was to catalyze the near rebirth of a terrorist group that Nigerian military had decimated to the point of defeat. Nigeria’s militia fighting Boko Haram – the Civilian JTF, Internally Displaced Persons and several survivors of Boko Haram attacks had recounted in the past how they witnessed airdrop of supplies to the terrorists across Nigeria’s borders with francophone neighbors – Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In 2015, eight French nationals were apprehended by Cameroonian forces for fighting on the side of Boko Haram. They were promptly handed over to former colonial master France once the then French Foreign Minister, Mr. Lauren Fabuci, who simply ordered for the transfer of the suspects. Nothing was heard afterwards by way of trial.
It is not surprising that Boko Haram fighters that earlier fled into these neighboring Francophone countries have slinked back to renew attacks in Nigeria shortly after the French summit that was supposed to have fashioned a solution to their madness. If the authorities in Nigeria get their homework right they should have observed by now that something has changed. The true intent of Boko Haram is emerging and doing so fast. A pointer to this is the July attack on the team of researchers that went prospecting for petroleum in the Lake Chad Basin area (the name does not signify Chad ownership).
Some things stand out. One, the attack was major, not one of those skirmishes where Boko Haram fighters want to inflict damages, instill terror and flee back into their hideouts. The intention was apparent annihilation on a scale that will ensure no scientist would be willing to return to the area for any prospecting. Secondly, the intensity of the attack was possible with a combination of sophisticated weaponry and accurate intelligence that made the ambush deadly. Both considerations suggest state backing for the terrorists and only one country has demonstrated interests that correspond to such capacity in the past. It has the resources to match. Furthermore, not much is heard anymore of Boko Haram’s desire for strict implementation of Sharia, which implies that the crux of the matter is about cornering resources and not the creation of a theocratic state.
A possibility that has not been openly discussed is that the same Francophone trio that have not done enough to combat Boko Haram would easily overrun the planned theocratic state, install a proxy government, stabilize the region and then turn over the real estate to their colonial master, France, for the exploration of crude oil and Uranium to begin in earnest. Advances in fracking technology make oil exploitation viable in this area once commercial quantities are confirmed.
The Nigerian government must therefore ensure it is not caught napping. Afghanistan and Syria are warnings it must pay heed to since things can stay bad for a long time once they are allow to degenerate beyond certain points. The era of thinking it is fighting only Islamic State (ISIS/Daesh) backed Boko Haram terrorists is past. These ones are propped up by another sovereign state and this is even more glaring now that the cover of religious fundamentalism no longer holds.
It is time to confront the relevant international groups and supranational bodies with facts. France must not be allowed to create its own version of Afghanistan or Syria in West Africa and Nigeria is definitely the worst place to activate such insanity not in the least using Boko Haram, made up of sociopaths and psychopaths. The toll would be high not just on the region but on Europe as well. As it was with the Middle East destabilization and the refugee crisis it unleashed on Europe, only the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean stand to filter the refugee flow to Europe and Africans are getting better at beating these hostile barriers. Nigeria cannot burn for another country to light its cities and the world would think there would be no consequences.
Murphy, a conflict resolution expert writes from Maryland, USA.