It's premature to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization


House Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee are urging the Obama administration to designate Nigerian militant group Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

The question is why, when the bulk of the of the evidence suggests that although the group--which is actually many, fractured groups--has in recent months stepped up operations, its link to international terrorism is more chimerical than real and that the organization encourages a false link because it increases the fear it can cause.

Designation by the State Department as an organization that threatens the security of U.S. nationals or the U.S. national security may be the very thing that Boko Haram wants, in other words. Certainly some group members haven't been shy about promoting itself as a jihadi organization, as a 14 minute video apparently from its most visible leader, Abubakar Shekau, posted online April 12 demonstrates.

"Allah has told us in the Koran not to be discouraged, not to be frightened and not to be downcast because we are victorious," Shekau reportedly said.

But rhetoric and reality aren't the same, and while Boko Haram bears monitoring, its appears premature to place Boko Haram on the list.

Besides handing Boko Haram a propaganda victory, it might also take the focus away from the best way to defeat Boko Haram, and that's to address the north-south dysfunction in Nigeria. As Jennifer Cooke, director of the African Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently noted during a March 23 panel, dealing with Boko Haram requires community engagement to address grievances about the poverty, lack of education and poor health conditions that plague much of northern Nigeria.

Militarizing the issue through terrorist designation could be additionally counterproductive, since, as Cooke noted, police are better equipped than military forces to handle those kinds of actions.

In short, there appears no advantage to moving quickly to designate Boko Haram as anything other than a bunch of criminal thugs, which is what they are. - Dave