Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army: Hunted Children & the Problem of Fundamentalism in Africa

(By Juan Cole)

The horrific story of the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from their school in Borno Province, northeastern Nigeria, by the Boko Haram terrorist group has again underlined the problem of violent fundamentalism in Africa. Reports say more kidnappings have been undertaken today.

Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002, has many resemblances to its Christian counterpart in northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Both groups have a holier than thou attitude to fellow believers. Joseph Kony, an ex-Catholic leader of the extremist Christian Lord’s Resistance Army, says he wants to impose the biblical Ten Commandments in a literal way. Christopher Hitchens wrote of Kony as described by an ex-associate, saying Kony “has found Bible justifications for killing witches, for killing pigs because of the story of the Gadarene swine, and for killing people because god did the same with Noah’s flood and Sodom and Gomorrah.” Kony also upholds male dominance, urging polygamy; he has allegedly fathered dozens of children with several wives. Both are characterized by magical thinking. Kony teaches that wearing a Christian cross is protection from enemy bullets. Kony led an insurgency to overthrow the Ugandan government but failed, and was forced into exile in the Central African Republic.

Kony and his men kidnapped thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of children, inducting them into his paramilitary. At its height it was alleged that Kony had 104,000 soldiers, many or most of them involuntary child soldiers.

Kony wanted to overthrow the Ugandan, but its army defeated his child soldiers, and his army was scattered. He is now a fugitive with a smaller band, perhaps in the Congo. President Obama sent a small troop contingent to Uganda to help with mop-up operations against his movement.

Boko Haram is the Nigerian Muslim counterpart of the Ugandan Christian LRA. It was founded in 2002. It has sometimes been called a Nigerian Taliban. It wants to overthrow the Nigerian government. In the past few years its adherents have killed thousands. It has melded with local criminal gangs and sometimes does bank robberies. Its leader, Abubakr Shekau, speaks of imposing a literalist understanding of Muslim canon law or sharia. The movement reacted against the legacy of colonial education, forbidding Western-style schools.

Borno province where the kidnappings took place had been autonomous until 1967 and is not tightly integrated with the Nigerian state. It had been a set of medieval emirates and the emir families are still notables. It abuts the Cameroons, where Boko Haram also has bases.

In both movements, weak government played an important part. Such movements are quickly defeated in countries with good militaries. the important task of increasing governmental capacity has to be pursued by the UN and other multilateral organizations. In the modern world, for any large patch of it to be poorly governed is a potential threat to us all.

Likewise, both movements depend on status inflation. If a group could get extra status for some pious deed, these fundamentalist extremists would seek even more status by performing it hundreds of times. This striving for extra religious status underlined that most adherents were not from wealthy or educated families. But seeking status through extremist religion also often betrays the spirit of the religion itself. The Muslim tradition never forbade women to be educated, and Muslim scripture encourages both sexes to seek learning.

Both groups turned into insurgencies, seeking the overthrow of their government. Both prey on children in areas of weak government or conflict situations. The Lord’s Resistance Army routinely kidnapped and raped girls.

Mainstream Christianity in Africa condemned the Lord’s Resistance Army. Likewise, al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo, the chief religious authority for Sunni Muslims, this week condemned Boko Haram.

One difference between the two is that the LRA was hierarchical, with Kony clearly the central leader, and when he suffered reversals it deeply harmed his movement. Boko Haram in contrast is a set of loosely related cells without a central leadership, which in a way makes it more difficult to defeat.

Just as in the end Uganda and other regional states got their act together in confronting the LRA, Nigeria faces a crucial turning point in its postcolonial history. Can President Goodluck Jonathan and his military recover the girls and take on Boko Haram? The case of the LRA shows that united and concerted action by African governments can defeat such extremist movements without outside intervention, though the US and others did lend a small amount of support in recent times. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has a military cooperative dimension. But it was late to the game in Mali, and it remains to be seen if it can help in dealing with Boko Haram. President Obama’s sending of some military advisors should be supplemental to an African military push. Otherwise, Africa had enough Western intervention in the 19th and 20th centuries to last for a while.


Related video

The Young Turks: “Schoolgirls Enslaved For Sale & Sex Brags Grinning Boko Haram Leader”


Time from a couple of years ago: “The Lord’s Resistance Army Hunts Children in Sudan”

16 Responses

  1. The Nigerian military’s propensity for rape and looting would likely mitigate any positive effects of a rescue operation.
    Craig Murray writes that tribal and religious networks may be the solution to this specific dilemma.

    • hello bill bodden
      regardless of one or one trillion…
      when one person in the world suffers, or is killed unjustly,
      then it is like the whole world that is suffering and like the whole world being killed

      stats in this case won’t help


      • They are all horrific, but it helps to put things in perspective and note we in the US are not in a position to be self-righteous.

    • Difference is, if you believe that the LRA and Boko Haram are truly indigenous developments of poor countries, well, there’s an infinite supply of poor countries with monotheist religions, and only one United States of Exceptionalist America. So if the US goes under, these religious guys will still keep popping up and making people miserable until some new global system of sovereignity takes hold. In fact, maybe our fate is to fall to such a movement ourselves, while still having enough residual power to do things even the Neocons would think crazy.

      Now if you think those two movements were NOT indigenous, but a product of outside missionaries from a very wealthy country, then your question must take on a new form.

  2. Give the individual groups quaint little names, like BokoHaram and LRA and ISIS and “Taleban” and all that. And try to intellectually analyze and describe and distinguish the nominal differences and create “policy” to address them (whether by military defeat, or by using them in the Great Geopolitical Game by arming them or “recognizing” them, link to ). But if taken with a broad look, they collectively seem like just a broad excrescence of the other phenomenon that’s more accurately and generically called “gunmen.” Their talismans and ragtag uniforms are hardly differentiating, as against their behaviors. And the salient characteristics are “male dominance,” “magical thinking,” rape in so many ways, and a hair’s-breadth distance from anomie and anarchy.

    Humans don’t absolutely need guns, all those wonderful REAL weapons of mass destruction of culture and decency, the AKs and other assault weapons, to commit this kind of horror — machetes and hammers work too, as we have seen. link to, and other idiocies, link to But the guns sure help let the Little Lords of the Flies get a leg up on all the people who are disinclined to rabid violence themselves… in a context of capitalist exploitation of common resources, untrammeled corruption, destruction of civic institutions, sneaky-petes sowing dissension and out of idiot habit doing their destabilizing crap, and now our Imperial Troops, acting not as world policemen (not the best frame, anyway, given what “policing” has largely become, e.g., link to but pick-a-side thugs, to be “lent by President Obama,” out of AFRICOM…

    Where’s the wisdom on how we humans can head off the serial rise of “charismatic” idiot mostly males, able to attract others whose mothers presumably tried to teach them better than this?

  3. The problem here is that of law & order. Corruption, weak police, and lack of resources make such situations possible. Other third world nations are affected too (e.g. gang rape in India and targetted killings/terrorism in Pakistan).

    As econmic disparity increases and social bonds become weaker, security situation is likely to get worse for the poorer naions. There are terrrorists and Qutb’s followers in Saudi Arabia and Gulf States as well, but the abundant resources allow a strong police state.

  4. Moji Agha

    Bill Bodden 2014.05.07 12:24
    The Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram, US neocons. Which has caused the most agony and death?

    Moji Agha 2014.05.07 09:13
    Dear Bill,
    The U.S./Israeli neocons NEED the likes of Boko Haram and vice versa. Over 60 years ago, Dr. Mossadegh of Iran predicted this mutual co-dependence of “external colonialism” and “internal despotism.”
    As you can see in the website of the Mossadegh Legacy Institute, referenced below, the Late Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh [the “Gandhi” and “George Washington” of Iran] predicted, over 60 years ago, what we are finally witnessing today, in sad and “horrific” fact, in our own “afflicted” era; and not just in the “colonized” global South:
    “[I hereby warn that] the current situation is not sustainable, because even [human] patience and the ability to endure [suffering] has a limit; and [I fear that] the day the cup of endurance of this afflicted people is finally filled, only God knows what kind of a horrific situation shall befall the Near East and, as a result, the whole world.”
    May 26, 1951, Etela’at Newspaper (Tehran, Iran)
    Please see here: link to

  5. The LRA has interested me for some years, because clearly it has aspects of renegade Pentecostalism reminiscent of the Palin-linked New Apostolic Reformation. Mainly, the obsession with demons, magic, curses, and child warriors. The NAR has this wacky comic-book based dogma that the End Times will be total victory for them and only them, led by superpowered kids born after Roe vs Wade (don’t even ask). Now consider the Karen insurgency in Burma, famously led by boy twins Johnny and Luther Htoo, a product of long-ago Congregationalist (!) missionaries from the US. They also believed in voodoo magic making them bulletproof. Something is going on here, and the lines all lead back to our own Christian theocrats. America’s capitalist power is seen by the ignorant as a sort of magic, and lacking any sort of egalitarian consciousness, they don’t fight it, they want in on it in the worst cargo-cult way.

    • Just wondering, whether it matters whether the particulars of the battery used to jump-start the battle tank are — lead-acid or nickel metal hydride or lithium ion, or what color the case is, or what the label says — the tank is a tank, the possible behaviors are still “kill, rape, steal, intimidate, dominate, destroy.” Interesting to study the battery chemistry and hookup, but how do us ordinary people get close enough to pour sugar in the fuel fill and sand in the crankcase, knock some connecting pins out of a couple of treads, and spike the guns? And keep the battery from being connected in the first place? Is it even possible, since whole new battalions of tanks keep popping out of Final Assembly every day, all with the same Fundamental characteristics?

      For some fun reading on the Situation, read the SITREPs here: link to

  6. We have some promising Republican candidates here for 2016. Magical thinking and tribalism still works for the right wing everywhere. But economic recruitment coercion and foreign enemies makes it so much more palatable.

  7. Is Detroit much different? East St. Louis? Memphis?

    Those cities are easier to police geography-wise, but the anti-education, apathy towards society monster has abducted and killed hundreds of thousands of American youth too. Not that all kids shouldn’t be safe from this inhumanity regardless of where they born.

    I think as a species we’re just one level up from reptilian enslavement of one another. Why can’t we purge the dysfunction?

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