Boko Haram Could 'Destabilize' The African Continent, Nigerian Archbishop Says

02/12/2015 01:36 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2015
  • Julia Craven Politics Reporter, The Huffington Post
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- Boko Haram, the militant group estimated to have killed at least 15,000 people since it began its insurgency in 2009, represents a threat to the entire African continent with effects that could be felt by the West, Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama says.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama asked Congress to authorize a three-year military campaign against the Islamic State. However, Boko Haram's violence, which has left more dead bodies than the Islamic State, could arguably affect the U.S. more as the group potentially alters how the West operates economically.

"I'm not sure they understand the magnitude of what is happening and how, gradually, this is capable of destabilizing the entire nation, the surrounding countries and, eventually, all of Africa," said Kaigama, president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, who spoke to HuffPost by telephone from his home in Jos, near where Boko Haram is active. "When Africa is affected in such a manner, you can be sure that the West will feel the heat also."

Kaigama said there are wider implications to the group's activities and he isn't convinced Westerners understand the impact Boko Haram could have outside Nigeria.

Foreign direct investment in Nigeria topped $21 billion in 2013 -- the most the nation has seen since 2007. The U.S. is Nigeria's largest foreign investor, and the majority of America's direct investments are in the nation's petroleum and mining industries.

"Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, its largest economy. It's the motor of a continent that we acknowledge is increasingly important strategically and economically for the world," said J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. "And it's held hostage by a murderous gang of violent extremists, who are growing increasingly more and more virulent."

As it has expanded, Boko Haram has clashed with armies in Chad and Cameroon -- nations that have longstanding trade relationships with the U.S. and the European Union.

America is a leading investor in Chad and Cameroon, mainly through the Chad-Cameroon petroleum pipeline project. Cameroon also exports cocoa, rubber, timber and coffee to the U.S. Another country Boko Haram's violence has reached, Niger, sends mineral oil to America.

The group currently has significant portions of the Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states under siege -- an area Pham estimates to be slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia.

Because of the intracontinental nature of Boko Haram, Kaigama said, international governments should collaborate with Nigerian officials to respond to the horrors being committed by the organization and their allies.
Recently, Western media outlets have come under scrutiny for providing more coverage of the Parisian terrorist attacks last month than Boko Haram's massacre of more than 2,000 people in the nation's Baga region.

"There should be a corresponding demonstration of good will toward eradicating the menace of Boko Haram," Kaigama said. "This is spreading, and I wouldn't be surprised if it spreads to Europe or even reaches America. So it's better to arrest it now."

Kaigama said he was moved by the displays of solidarity for France, but he wanted to see a similar response for victims of the Baga massacre. He questioned why certain areas of the globe are afforded special treatment in times of crisis, while others are left to fend for themselves.

"Even though I admire what went on in France, I thought that it should have spared a thought, a moment, for the victims of this brutal attack in Nigeria," he said. "In the face of this failure -- of the Nigerian government to arrest the situation caused by Boko Haram -- I thought the world should spare a thought. And they shouldn't just say, 'It is their problem, it's not ours.'"

Kaigama said international intervention would aid in crippling the group's supply lines as well as interrupting its training and recruitment processes -- but he understands why it might not be a feasible partnership.

"I'm not sure people understand the Nigerian government and the Nigerian mentality," he said. Kaigama noted how Nigerians believe they know the extent of Boko Haram better than possible foreign allies since they're on the ground.

Though Western shows of solidarity have been slim, Nigerians are standing with each other in the face of homegrown terrorism.

Maiduguri, the principal town in Borno State, has suffered some of the worst hits since Boko Haram began attempting to establish a caliphate in the region. But, according to Kaigama, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme has stayed in the city with the remaining members of his congregation.

"They filled up the church and celebrated Christmas. It was a wonderful demonstration of faith even in the midst of terrible terror," Kaigama said. "In good or bad times, we try to be together."

Also on HuffPost:

Boko Haram: Nigeria's Homegrown Terror

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