news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

USA/Africa: Reject "Terrorist" Designation for Boko Haram

AfricaFocus Bulletin: Action Opportunity
Jun 20, 2012 (120620)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in May, if passed, would require the U.S. Secretary of State to present a report on whether Boko Haram in Nigeria should be formally declared a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." Such a move, which would be a change in U.S. policy advocating a multifaceted approach to the threat from Boko Haram, would be a counterproductive mistake with far-reaching negative consequences for both Americans and Nigerians.

Update - June 21, 2012
Reuters article today says U.S. designated three Boko Haram leaders as "terrorists." - first step on a road in the wrong direction. Targeting individuals instead of dealing with structural problems. Please sign the petition at

Following on a letter in May by more than 20 leading U.S. scholars of Nigeria warning against such a designation (see, AfricaFocus Bulletin is launching a petition for AfricaFocus readers and others to join in opposition to such a step. While U.S. officials knowledgeable about Africa are well aware of the dangers in such a narrow counterterrorism focus, there is the threat that pressure from Republicans in Congress, as well as from officials in security-related branches of the U.S. government, could continue to rise. They may be aided by Boko Haram itself, which hopes that its violent actions against civilians in Nigeria will provoke wider conflict and raise its prestige in international terrorist networks.

While AfricaFocus often provides information on petition initiatives and other action options provided by activist organizations, initiating an AfricaFocus petition is a new step, and one that will be used only selectively, given the additional time involved. However, this seems to be an opportunity in which the weight of informed opinion may help prevent a policy change for the worse that would be extremely difficult to reverse once taken. And it seems an appropriate test of the potential for combining the expertise of AfricaFocus readers with the outreach possible through on-line petition software.

The damage done by a formal FTO designation is clearly apparent in the case of Somalia, where it has limited the options for negotiations, slowed humanitarian relief at the cost of thousands of lives, and caused enormous difficulties for Somali Americans seeking to support their families back home with remittances. Applying such a policy to Nigeria would potentially cause even more damage.

The petition text is below.

For additional background, including a letter by U.S. scholars on Nigeria to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking a similar position against FTO designation for Boko Haram, see

For other relevant background information, see also the links below, following the petition.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama and Members of Congress*

We urge you not to support the formal designation of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" (FTO). Such a move would be a counterproductive mistake with far-reaching negative consequences for both Americans and Nigerians.

It is correct for the United States to join the vast majority of Nigerians in condemning the group for the brutal violence it has inflicted on innocent civilians in Nigeria and their threats to national unity and security in that country.

But U.S. government designation of the group as a FTO, as currently proposed by several Members of Congress and some officials in the the Department of Justice, would increase rather than diminish the threat from Boko Haram. It would give the group additional visibility and credibility among international terrorist networks. It would increase the chances that the group would direct its attacks against U.S. targets.

Most significantly, it would reinforce counter-productive militarization of Nigerian government actions against the group. Repressive actions by Nigerian security forces in the past have already contributed to increasing support for Boko Haram among those affected. What is needed instead is a multifaceted strategy. Such a strategy must include not only security measures to protect civilians but also flexible diplomacy and serious attention to development issues, particularly in the disadvantaged North of Nigeria where Boko Haram finds support.

FTO designation would also cause enormous collateral damage, making it difficult for both the U.S. government and nonprofit groups to address humanitarian and development issues, particularly in the North. It would hamper any efforts by third parties to encourage dialogue and it would introduce new tensions into U.S.-Nigerian relations. It would also pose serious bureaucratic obstacles to travel and family remittances for Nigerian Americans and other Nigerians resident in the United States.

The Nigerian government is well aware of the counterproductive effects of a FTO designation for Boko Haram and has expressed its opposition. So have more than 20 of the top U.S. scholars on Nigeria. We urge you to heed their informed advice that FTO designation would be a serious mistake with long-lasting negative consequences for both Nigerians and Americans.

To endorse this petition as an organization, please send the name of your organization and contact details to

To sign the petition as an individual, visit

Organizational Signatories as of June 20, 2012

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS)
Just Foreign Policy
Priority Africa Network (PAN)
United African Organization (UAO)

* In Congress, the petition is specifically addressed to the chairs and ranking minority members of the committees on Homeland Security and subcommittees on African Affairs, namely

  • Senators Susan Collins (D-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (CT) of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs;
  • Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) of the Committee on Homeland Security;
  • Senators Chris Coons (D-DE, Chairman) and Johnny Isakson (RGA) of the Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on African Affairs; and
  • Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ); and Karen Bass (D-CA) of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

Additional background sources include

Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, "Nigeria, One Year After Elections," April 9, 2012

Lauren Ploch, Specialist in African Affairs, Congressional Research Service, Remarks at House Committee on Homeland Security subcommittee hearing "Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the U.S. Homeland," November 30, 2011

"Homeland Security Committee Report Details Emerging Homeland Threat Posed by Africa-Based Terrorist Organization, Boko Haram"

Cleen Foundation (Centre for Law Enforcement Education, Nigeria), "Responding to the Emerging Trends of Terrorism in Nigeria," Conference Proceedings, 2011

Charity and Security Network, "Safeguarding Humanitarianism in Armed Conflict: A Call for Reconciling International Legal Obligations and Counterterrorism Measures in the United States," June 2012

Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2012 - H.R. 5822

Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2012 - S. 3249:

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Peace & Security|

URL for this file: