Friday, October 17, 2014

Nigerian Ceasefire: Too Good to Be True?

The world received unexpected good news today when Nigeria's defense minister announced a ceasefire between the Nigerian military and the infamous insurgent group, Boko Haram. More importantly, it was announced that Boko Haram had agreed to release some 200 schoolgirls that made international headlines (and more importantly, thanks to my colleague Vicky, headlines right here) six months ago when they were kidnapped by the group. Since the kidnapping, a coalition of forces has been combatting Boko Haram in an attempt to suppress what appeared to be unstoppable momentum as they continued seizing hostages and securing land. For a while, it seemed as though the Nigerian government was powerless against them, and hopes of the girls' safety diminished over the weeks.

Unsurprisingly the world rejoiced at today's news, and rightfully so - the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was demonic and tragic. However, after taking a step back, it's easy to question the seriousness of this ceasefire. One has to look no farther than the Ukraine to understand the fragility of such an agreement, and Nigeria is arguably more volatile than Ukraine when it comes to conflict. So the question remains: will the ceasefire hold up, and will it hold up long enough to return these girls to their families?

There's good reason to ask this question. As I wrote back in May, Boko Haram is arguably one of the most horrifying examples of an insurgency that exists today. Sure, ISIS operates on a much larger scale and has a penchant for executing prisoners and posting the videos online for the world to see, and there are innumerable other groups around the world seeking to instill fear in local regions and kill innocent people. But Boko Haram has a particularly senseless method of committing heinous acts, with apparently little motivation other than simply killing as many people as possible. The fact that they even kept 200 schoolgirls alive as hostages for this long is shrouded in mystery, as it does not conform to their routine mode of operation (for a while, it was assumed that these girls would be drugged and eventually sold as sex slaves, although if today's announcements are accurate, this was not the case).

This is not to mention the broader geopolitical status of the region, where it would be charitable to say they are not doing well. Nigeria has been battling Boko Haram for years now, and has embarrassingly been unsuccessful in diminishing their capabilities to project terror on various regions in the country. Not too far away is Mali with their own terrorism-related woes, and the Central African Republic which is equally volatile these days. Africa is seldom the place where hopefulness pays dividends when it comes to these types of situations.

Ultimately, it would be heartless to express nothing but cynicism and skepticism at the announcements that came today, especially given the travails to stem the Ebola epidemic in the western horn (not to mention the seemingly endless turmoil all over the Middle East and in Ukraine). We should be optimistic at this news. However, that optimism should be guarded, as there are several key factors that lend distrust to the motives of Boko Haram. For now, let's hope that these girls are returned to the families that have ached over them for so many months, and that Boko Haram has somehow finally come to its senses and will accept more peacefulness in such a troubled nation.

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