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Western Inaction in Africa

Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau (BBC News)

Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau (BBC News)

The UN’s decision to put sanctions on Boko Haram is a very weak move and is going to do little except convince the public that steps are actually being taken to solve the problem. If you’re a Nigerian citizen living in the north, a sanction does absolutely nothing to ease your fears. Omoyele of Sahara Reporters argues that “Boko Haram commanders and their leaders do not travel with passports, they travel on the ground in hijacked vehicles; they don’t have any formal assets that anyone can point to – it is not a formal organization,”. This means that sanctions are basically a waste of time. Nigeria needs better-equipped soldiers, not soldiers with a budget so small that they have no technological advantage, or UN soldiers who can’t use adequate force to be effective. In addition to the UN’s inaction, President Obama only sent military advisers, and no weapons support. Nigerians aren’t stupid, they can direct armies, what they need is better resources such as logistical infrastructure.

Western inaction in Africa has never changed, and is not showing signs of change. When the United Nations chief told Rwandans “the world would “never again” let genocide tear their nation apart”, I believe he was telling the truth. The international community won’t ever let another genocide happen in Rwanda, but we have done nothing to make sure it, or other types of high scale violence, will not happen anywhere else. It seems whenever something catastrophic happens there is always talk of preventing the same thing happening ever again, but policy always seems too slow and weak to be effectual. Do we really have adequate mechanisms to prevent large-scale violence? Looking at Nigeria, Somalia, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the evidence is stacked highly against believers in the effectiveness of the UN.

What’s surprising about the Western inaction in Nigeria is that it is Africa’s largest economy and is of high importance to the United States. According to Gerald McLoughlin and Clarence J. Bouchat, “Nigeria’s continuation as a cohesive functioning state is important to the United States due to the bilateral economic relationship, Nigeria’s influence in the international community, and its pivotal role for U.S. interests in sub-Saharan Africa”. I would expect that the United States’ history of inaction in Africa would have at least been somewhat dependent on economic incentive, and this may explain why Obama pledged to send advisers to Nigeria so much quicker than in other circumstances. However, it is pretty obvious that Boko Haram is well embedded in the region and if action is slow, the conflict in Nigeria could be drastically prolonged and spread to other regions, which would definitely hurt the U.S. economy.

Of course, the conflict in Nigeria is not going to be solved by military assistance alone, one of the reasons that Rwanda has been so successful recently is because of its ability to attain huge amounts of foreign aid due to guilt from the genocide. Realistically, Western donor nations are not straining their budgets to provide this extra assistance and I believe that most would agree the Rwandan government has spent it wisely for the most part. However, judging by the UN’s initial response to Nigeria’s conflict, there won’t be substantial support, in aid or military assistance.

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