Why Boko Haram Insurgents are ‘Slave Raiders,’ and What Can Be Done About It

Scott MacEachern

People in the borderlands between Cameroon and Nigeria commonly refer to the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram as “slave raiders,” Professor of Anthropology Scott MacEachern explains in The Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage. Since the 1980s, MacEachern has worked as an archeologist in a region where Boko Haram is active.

And “…there’s good reason to use that term,” he continues. “In many striking ways, Boko Haram’s raids for ‘wives’ parallel the slave raids of a century ago,” because they target young women, particularly in semi-lawless border regions.

Kidnapped girls and women are used by Boko Haram leaders to lure new recruits, often poor young men with limited opportunities. “It is almost impossible to find a legitimate, well-paying job, and so they are trapped on the margins of society, scrambling to exist from day to day,” MacEachern writes. “In ordinary circumstances, such young men will never be able to afford a wife’s dowry….Without a family, they will be trapped in perpetual adolescence, not accepted as grown men even in their 30s and 40s.”

MacEachern argues that seeing Boko Haram in this light could change how policymakers grapple with this insurgency, and others like it. While securing borders is necessary, MacEachern says that in the longer term states in the Lake Chad Basin should also work to improve young men’s social and economic options.

MacEachern’s new book, Searching for Boko Haram: A History of Violence in Central Africa , examines the origins of Boko Haram. He will be discussing his book on March 1, in the Nixon Lounge of the Hawthorne Longfellow Library, at 4:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public.

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