TACOMA, Washington — Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group, has thrown a large section of Africa into disarray with its attacks. The group aims to overthrow the current government of Nigeria and replace it with a new, Islamic rule. The group is notorious for its attacks against police forces, politicians, schools and Christians. Its name, Boko Haram, literally means “Western education is forbidden,” referring to the group’s anti-Western sentiments. Boko Haram has publicly threatened the United States while also targeting Western embassies in Africa. Boko Haram gained international attention in 2014 when the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria. This led to a large-scale counterterrorism movement that incapacitated Boko Haram, but the group prevailed and is still active today. Fortunately, Wakil Idi has a plan for countering Boko Haram recruitment with IT training.
Terrorism and Poverty
Boko Haram’s attacks also affect all the countries around Nigeria. The group finds many of its recruits from bordering nations like Cameroon. Cameroon is located in Central Africa and shares its northern border with Nigeria. Cameroon is an extremely impoverished country, with a poverty rate of 71% as of 2014. More than half of Cameroon’s impoverished live in the northern region where the country is most susceptible to Boko Haram attacks.
Boko Haram takes advantage of Northern Cameroon’s poverty, convincing the youth to join the group using religious and financial incentives. Boko Haram preaches its ideology in the rural areas, convincing villagers that it is fighting for a holy and righteous cause. In fact, due to Boko Haram’s fallacious declarations, many people near the border consider Boko Haram a religious group rather than a terrorist group. Many others join Boko Haram to earn wages to support their families. With the high levels of food insecurity and malnourishment in the north of Cameroon, it is difficult for many to scrape by. To the struggling youth, joining Boko Haram is an opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty.
When incentives fail, Boko Haram uses outright violence to force youth into the group’s ranks. If the youth do not join the group, the youth and their families are threatened with violence and death. In a life or death decision, most youths choose to join the terrorists. Boko Haram also destroys entire villages, ransacks family homes and burns schools. The group takes away every reason for the youth to stay in their communities, coercing them into joining Boko Haram.
Wakil Idi’s Solution
Boko Haram, with its extensive resources and brutal tactics, is a difficult opponent to face. To weaken the group, it is necessary to cut off the influx of new members by showing the youth there are better options. One of the most effective methods for countering Boko Haram recruitment may be to give the youth practical skills for future employment. At his IT training center in Kousseri, Cameroon, a northern border town, Wakil Idi is doing just that.
Idi, a Kousseri native, believes that countering Boko Haram recruitment begins with improving unemployment. The sense of purpose and salary from Boko Haram alleviate the feeling of helplessness that comes from living in poverty. For this reason, some youth have a warped perception of the terrorists, viewing them as saviors giving the youth a chance to change their lives. Idi wants to show the youth that there are alternatives to this path, countering Boko Haram recruitment by providing IT training to the youth of his community.
A Way out of Poverty
Idi offers the youth a safer, ethical way to pull themselves out of poverty. At Idi’s IT center, the students learn basic computing skills that will help them attain a job. So far, he has mentored more than 200 young people and is a positive role model for the youth of his community. In addition to teaching youths, Idi also employs university graduates who had difficulty securing a job elsewhere. He pays them a salary that allows them to provide for their families. By giving them useful skills for the future and wages to feed their families, Idi is countering Boko Haram recruitment by alleviating the sense of helplessness that pushes so many youths to join the terrorist group in the first place.
Boko Haram exploits people living in circumstances of poverty to gain recruits, promising the youth wages and giving them a sense of purpose. However, with people like Idi countering Boko Haram recruitment, there is hope for the youth of Cameroon.
– Alison Ding