"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
A suicide attack took place in Diffa, in the east of Niger, close to the border with Chad and Nigeria. There are 9 dead and some 40 injured, but the figures may change as several of the injured are in critical condition. The suspicion is that Boko Haram is behind the attack. There are several militant / Islamic groups active in the Sahel, including off-shoots of Boko Haram.
It’s not a unique event, as there have been more attacks in Niger, though mostly on the Western border with Mali. Particularly covered in the media was the attack on U.S. soldiers at the end of 2017. It put a lot of attention on the nature of the U.S. military presence here (including the new drone base being built by Agadez), and the overall presence of foreign troops in Niger (including the unclear legal context, unclear mandates, and unclear operations).
The overlap of Islamist movements and a wide range of local demands and conflicts is clear. There have been numerous secessionist movements in the regions over the past hundred years. Islamism – and in particular questions of interpretation as both sides of conflict lines are Muslims – may be a driver of the conflict, but it’s certainly not the only and probably not a root cause. When I worked for ICCO on the Mindanao conflict in the Philippines the historic evolution of the opposition to the Manila government from left-wing framing to Islamist framing was very evident. The economic drivers in the Sahel are also clear. I recently read Lawrence Wright’s, “The Looming Tower”, a great read. One of the most interesting parts was to read about the development of Islamism in the Egyptian context, including the ideological, political, strategic, and religious arguments and splits within the movement.
The famous (summarized) von Clausewitz quote that, “war is politics by other means” probably means that violence is likely to remain part of human relations in one way or another. And the appeal of (suicide) bombings for the weak is clear – they may have few other options to have an impact. Yet an attack by poor African Muslims on other poor African Muslims in a remote corner of the world remains shocking. It also seems very, very pointless.
Niamey, Niger, 07.06.2018