News reporting of Boko Haram tends to follow the same reductionist principles of most non-UK bad news events, focusing on specific details and ignoring context. It is possible to find out more about the history and politics of the organisation, but to the casual news reader they probably just come across as a crazy, murderous band. When seen in that light the response that seems logical for the authorities to take is to do whatever they can to crush and imprison its members, so that the problem will go away. However, further reflection suggests that this approach might not be so effective in the longer term.
Systems concepts can help to throw some light on why Boko Haram are operating. First, we can think about it as a 'wicked' problem. For example:
- We cannot produce a single definition of the problem; are they terrorists, gangsters or just religious fundamentalists who are really troubled by the world that they see?
- The current situation is shaped by its history, and will continue to evolve. Every intervention will cause a change in the situation, for better or worse.
- What is the endpoint? Boko Haram ceases to exist, its members are dead, fundamentalist Islam is no longer a significant force in the region, or what?
- It is not an isolated problem, and is deeply connected with other problems regionally and internationally.
- The western involvement in destabilising Libya unintentionally created to the availability of large numbers of fighting personnel and heavy weaponry.
- For centuries there have been tensions between Islamic and Christian communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Nigeria is potentially a very wealthy country due to the oil, but this wealth is concentrated in the Christian south. Endemic corruption means that wealth from the oil does not really benefit people in the Islamic north (nor many in the Christian south).
- Western (which can be seen as Christian) oil companies are implicit in supporting corrupt government regimes and oil company practices.
- Fundamentalist Islam has been growing in importance for several decades globally, and has been characterised by violent clashes and demonisation in the West.
From this analysis Boko Haram is just a symptom of huge regional and international forces, and crushing it will not in the long-term solve any problems, but could arguably add a further twist to the feedback loops driving Christian and Islamic peoples apart everywhere in the world.