Not beyond Boko Haram’s reach


Fik­ile-Nt­sikelelo Moya is an ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor at the Pre­to­ria News. Follow him on

@fikelelom OULD South Africa have its own Boko Haram? The ques­tion has been trou­bling me for a while, and not just be­cause the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent re­ported that Is­lamic State had been re­cruit­ing South Africans for its un­holy war.

What I know of the South African Mus­lim com­mu­nity is that, like ev­ery com­mu­nity in this coun­try, it is di­verse even in its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the tenets of its own faith.

So my con­cern about whether Boko Haram could find a home here is not based on an as­sump­tion that we have zealots among the lo­cal Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

As far as I am con­cerned, Boko Haram and as­so­ci­ated out­fits like al-Shabaab use Is­lam as a cover for their anti-so­cial instincts. They use the Scrip­tures as cam­ou­flage for their rack­e­teer­ing schemes.

If you be­lieve Boko Haram and its fel­low trav­ellers are in­spired by the Qur’an, then you might as well be­lieve the Si­cil­ian mafia maims and mur­ders in de­fence of the Catholic Church’s teach­ings.

That said, it is im­por­tant to re­call two as­pects about Boko Haram that must make us, as South Africans, wary of cre­at­ing fer­tile ground for this group or oth­ers like it who use re­li­gion as a de­coy for ne­far­i­ous in­ten­tions.

The first is that as a re­li­gious (even if only by name) project, Boko Haram prom­ises be­liev­ers a bet­ter life in the here­after pro­vided they do cer­tain things in this life.

Sec­ond, its name is de­rived from what can loosely be in­ter­preted to mean “Western ed­u­ca­tion is bad”.

We have, in South Africa, at least two el­e­ments that have helped the rise of Boko Haram.

We have an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that con­tin­ues to fail its young peo­ple and an ev­er­in­creas­ing feel­ing of alien­ation for those who hear about how a few wealthy con­tinue be­ing wealth­ier while they be­come poorer.

In South Africa, we have an in­creas­ing num­ber of young peo­ple who, at the end of their school ca­reers, re­alise they have been duped. We call them job­less grad­u­ates and their num­ber in­creases with ev­ery grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony.

Some of the grad­u­ates are re­spon­si­ble for their plight as they seem to have crammed their way through col­lege and are hope­less at bring­ing their learn­ing to real life.

Oth­ers are sim­ply un­lucky and with time, should be able to find mean­ing­ful work.

For those who will not find any re­ward for their ef­forts as stu­dents, the ques­tion of whether “Western ed­u­ca­tion” is of any

Cworth, will visit their mind.

The same ques­tion in­evitably gets asked by their younger sib­lings, who have seen what they con­clude is the fu­til­ity of their brothers and sis­ters’ en­deav­ours and be­gin to won­der whether there is any point in en­dur­ing 12 years of school and more of higher ed­u­ca­tion if the only re­al­is­tic prospects for them are as a petrol at­ten­dant or a do­mes­tic worker.

With re­gards to the re­li­gious allure of out­fits like Boko Haram, it might be use­ful for those too ready to shout that re­li­gion is the opi­ate of the masses to ad­just their lan­guage. They should re­mem­ber that if an opi­ate at all, it is a crutch on which the marginalised seek to nav­i­gate a treach­er­ous life.

Be­fore we laugh at those who do seem­ingly strange things in the name of some heav­enly prom­ise, we must ask our­selves why we live in a so­ci­ety that crushes the hu­man spirit so badly that sane peo­ple would end up be­liev­ing that do­ing stupid things might bring them some sal­va­tion, and then ask what we can do to change this.

One just has to spare a thought for that young­ster who, when the ma­tric re­sults are re­leased early next year, will find them­selves in what can only be called an ed­u­ca­tion pur­ga­tory – where they have done enough to muster a pass, but not enough to make that re­sult count any­where, least of all at a ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion.

See­ing that they are likely to con­tinue the cy­cle of poverty, what is there to stop such a young per­son from se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing the op­tions of­fered by re­li­gious zealots like Boko Haram and the crim­i­nal econ­omy that does not seem to suf­fer eco­nomic down­turns or job freezes?

So, to counter the threat of for­ma­tions like Boko Haram, other re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism or­gan­i­sa­tions and crim­i­nal en­ter­prises, South Africa has no op­tion but to strike first.

Since for­ma­tions like Boko Haram are like the Hy­dra that recre­ates it­self when cut in half, the best way of elim­i­nat­ing them is to never give them room to flour­ish in the first place.

We can laugh at the fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians who eat grass and drink petrol be­cause their pas­tor said they could, but we should not be blinded by our mirth.

As we have seen with Is­lamic State, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, re­li­gious zealots are not al­ways the stuff of ridicule. They can be deadly. We must save our youth be­fore they even know they need sav­ing.


TER­ROR OF TER­ROR­ISM: We must not be over­con­fi­dent that a group like Boko Haram could not op­er­ate in our own coun­try like it con­tin­ues to do in Nige­ria, says the colum­nist. Boko Haram has waged a ter­ror war in Nige­ria for over five years and has been try­ing to es­tab­lish a caliphate in Borno since 2009.

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