Editor’s note: Reports from the Armed Conflict Location and Events Dataset (ACLED) has indicated a shifting pattern in the Boko Haram terrorists violent activities, especially in the Lake Chad region. The findings showed that while the terrorist group is losing ground in Nigeria, it’s expanding its reach and activities within the contiguous countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) including Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.
No Home Field Advantage: the Expansion of Boko Haram’s Activity outside of Nigeria in 2019
Since emerging in Borno State in North East Nigeria in 2009, the vast majority of Boko Haram’s violent activities have been concentrated in Nigeria. In the ten years the group has been active, more than 70% of violent events associated with the group and 80% of the associated reported fatalities have taken place in Nigeria.
This pattern appears to be shifting in 2019, as more of Boko Haram’s violent activities are occurring outside of Nigeria. In 2019 to date, only half (50.4%) of violent activities associated with Boko Haram (both the Shekau and Barnawi factions) have been in Nigeria (see ACLED, 10 April 2019 for discussion of these separate factions).
Unlike previous instances in which Boko Haram engaged in significant activity outside of Nigeria, the 2019 expansion of Boko Haram’s violent activities into neighboring countries, and the types of violence it is engaging in, allude to a resilient and resoruceful insurgency.
Increasing violence associated with Boko Haram in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon has dire implications for the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin and stabilization efforts in the region.
Boko Haram in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon
Boko Haram first expanded outside of Nigeria in 2012, when it was involved in two violent events in Cameroon and Chad.
The event in Chad was a skirmish between Nigerian military forces and militants involved in a smuggling operation; the event in Cameroon was an attack launched by the militants on a border town in which no Cameroonian nationals were among the 15 reported fatalities.
Nigerians remained the primary opponents in these events. By 2013, however, these cross-border operations were focused on non-Nigerian targets; in June 2013, for example, Boko Haram militants attacked a prison in Niamey, Niger, which resulted in three reported fatalities and three injured prison guards. Though Boko Haram has continuously engaged in cross-border operations since 2012, the majority of violent events involving the group (nearly 72%) and associated reported fatalities (81%) have remained in Nigeria.
As Boko Haram has continued to engage in operations in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, different patterns of violence have developed in each country. 52% of events involving the group in Nigeria are battles and 30% are violence against civilians. Whereas in Chad, nearly 60% of the violent events associated with Boko Haram have been battles; in Cameroon the proportion is just less than 40%; and in Niger it is 48%.
In Niger and Cameroon, Boko Haram is engaged in proportionally more violence against civilians (39% and 41%, respectively). This pattern may be a function of Chad’s more robust security sector and the proximity of the Chadian capital (N’djamena) to the conflict, as compared to the capitals of Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, which makes confining Boko Haram a more acute problem for the Chadian state.
So far in 2019, nearly half of all violent events involving the group have occurred outside of Nigeria – a proportion that is unusually high for the group. Boko Haram’s geographic pattern of activity in 2019 thus far resembles 2016, when almost 48% of the group’s activities where outside of Nigeria.