Africa Experts Discuss Current U.S. policy toward Boko Haram in West, Central Africa at Congressional Briefing
WASHINGTON-- On Tuesday, February 9, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the House Africa Subcommittee, welcomed more than 200 attendees, including students, academics, ambassadors, members of the African diaspora, representatives of African civil society and the United States government to the first Africa Policy Breakfast of 2016 on Boko Haram and its impact in West and Central Africa.
Rep. Bass began the policy forum by observing "Boko Haram has now become a regional issue, and she told the audience “we cannot talk about economic development, you can't talk about implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act in countries without talking about security."
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, opened the forum with a keynote speech that laid out the United States' policy toward Boko Haram and called on the audience to advocate for a changed perspective on how we view African victims of violence.
"I extend the deepest condolences of the United States government to the loved ones of victims of these brutal attacks,” the Assistant Secretary began her remarks.
The Assistant Secretary said that American soldiers are providing airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that will help our African partners. She also announced that the United States expects to inaugurate the first round of U.S. training for a Nigerian infantry battalion later this month.
In closing her remarks the Assistant Secretary reinforced, "It is important that we stand up and say African lives matter."
Founded in 2002 as an Islamist movement against Western education and, by extension, the westernization of traditional Islamic culture, Boko Haram expanded rapidly principally in parts of northern Nigeria. Its legacy has been one of maiming, raping, internal displacement and death.
In 2014 the terrorist organization achieved international notoriety when militants affiliated with Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria. To date the majority of the schoolgirls have not been found.
According to the Institute for Economics & Peace’s 2015 Global Terrorism, Boko Haram is now the deadliest terrorist group in the world and its violent and deadly attacks now take place in several West and Central countries. As recently as January 30, Boko Haram launched a deadly attack on a village in northeast Nigeria where three suicide bombers murdered eighty-six people.
Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II, who from 2013 to 2015 served as the Representative of the United States to the African Union and is currently Dean at Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, discussed how Boko Haram has changed the way in which the United States and the nations of Africa address terrorism."
He stressed that the focus on counter-terrorism “creates the political space for Africans to engage with each other as well as to engage with partner countries like the United States."
This sentiment was echoed by President Obama when he made his historic visit to the African Union last year when he said, "forces from several nations -- with the backing of the AU -- are fighting to end Boko Haram’s senseless brutality.”
Dr. Raymond Gilpin, Dean of Africa Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University emphasized that the onslaught of Boko Haram "is not just terrorism." He argued that dilemma that is Boko Haram needs to be addressed outside of any two-dimensional understanding.
Calling the causes of Boko Haram "inter-related,” Dr. Gilpin argued that the reason Boko Haram evolved to its current state since its inception is because of a myriad of reasons , not just socio-economic discontent or religion.
Dr. Gilpin called for recognition of Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorist organization and for commensurate assistance to help the region combat this force.
Fellow panelist Sam Okey Mbonu, Executive Director and Chief Executive Office of the Nigerian-American Leadership Council, reminded the forum audience of the impact of Boko Haram on the African Diaspora community in the United States.
He said that attacks by the terrorists resonate deeply within the Diaspora community because almost every member of the Diaspora has family and friends who are victims of Boko Haram.
The Diaspora in the United States plays a major role providing critical support to relatives, and Mr. Mbonu recommended that the American government officials consider working more closely with the Diaspora.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL) shared her moving experience meeting some of the young survivors of Chibok who were kidnapped by of Boko Haram but escaped. She spoke of her efforts to help the survivors here in the United States as well as her ongoing social media campaign in support of the Chibok Girls.