Boko Haram

Boko Haram

The History of an African Jihadist Movement

Alexander Thurston

Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2017, 352 pages

Book Review published on: April 13, 2018

Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement is a detailed examination into the rise and ideology of the African jihadist terror group. The central thesis of this book is how the dynamics of religion and politics, along with government corruption, power, poverty, and inequality, created a perfect storm in the northeast region of Nigeria that led to the emergence of a radical branch of Islam.

Organized into five chapters, the book starts with the historical background that leads to the rise of its founder, Muhammed Yusuf. Subsequent chapters cover Boko Haram’s particular interpretation of Islam; their tactics and supporting ideological justification; the growth of the conflict in northeastern Nigeria and the government’s and local vigilantes’ response; and the impact this conflict had on Nigeria’s neighbors.

Author Alexander Thurston provides an easy-to-understand chronology of Boko Haram’s emergence along with a tremendous amount of detail on key players, dates, and locations. Whereas trying to validate all the information would be difficult due to obvious propaganda biases from both Boko Haram’s and the Nigerian government’s sides, many of the questions he poses in each chapter result in well-reasoned speculations. Nonetheless, the book makes for an excellent primer on Boko Haram and the conflict in Nigeria.

While the details of the historical events, names, and places are very informative and are obviously unique to the northeast Nigeria, there are virtually no new revelations for students of irregular warfare campaigns. Like so many other guerilla-style wars, the conflict with Boko Haram will continue to ebb and flow due to political changes, porous borders, and backing from outside sources, all of which are common in these type of irregular warfare campaigns.

Thurston is a visiting assistant professor of African studies at Georgetown University and has written another book about Salafism in Nigeria, thereby lending credibility to the book’s analysis and documentation. Boko Haram is well written and is cited accordingly. Overall, I would recommend this book to military and political leaders, especially those who have little familiarity with Boko Haram.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired, Lansing, Kansas