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Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Ajamu Baraka explains how the 2011 NATO intervention into Libya empowered Boko Haram, and discusses the real motives behind U.S. engagement in Nigeria

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

More U.S. officials, military personnel, and weaponry are being deployed to assist the Nigerian government with the search for girls kidnapped by Boko Haram earlier in April. But as the press continues to follow the story, it leaves out the historical context and the conditions that led to the rise of Boko Haram. Our next guest argues that one place to start looking is at the 2011 NATO intervention into Libya.

Joining us now is Ajamu Baraka. Ajamu is a human rights activist, geopolitical analyst, and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Thanks for joining us, Ajamu.


WORONCZUK: So the U.S. press continues to report on what’s going on in Nigeria, mostly to say that it should be understood in terms of the internal religious and ethnic tensions. But you say that the NATO intervention into Libya can help us understand the rise of Boko Haram. Take us through that argument.

BARAKA: Well, I believe that basically you can’t understand what’s happening in Nigeria and the destabilization from this particular group from what happened in Libya [incompr.] Northern and Western Africa as a consequence, that basically as a consequence of the destruction of the Libyan state, you created a political momentum that allowed the Islamic, radical Islamic forces to be invoked. And you had also the creation of stronger ties between those movements and organizations that resulted in direct training and funding of Boko Haram.

So, many people believe in the West, and in particular the U.S., that this was a movement that sort of sprung out of nowhere. But it has deep roots in Nigeria, and as a consequence of what’s happening geopolitically in Northern Africa, it’s been strengthened as a consequence. So the only way we can understand Boko Haram is to contextualize it within the overall activities and realities of Africa.

WORONCZUK: Another name that has been left out in the reporting of what’s going on in Nigeria is Royal Dutch Shell, which has been in Nigeria since about 1958 and has reportedly been involved in repressing a lot of popular dissent in Nigeria. Take us through how these oil companies have also played a role in the internal conditions of Nigeria.

BARAKA: Well, Shell, along with Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, all have enormous material interests in Nigeria. And as a consequence of those interests and the reaction from Nigeria, the Nigerian population [incompr.] what they see as the unfair exploitation of their resources and the collaboration between these oil companies and the Nigerian government exporting the natural resources, not really investing back into the country.

There is a security crisis from the point of view of the oil companies, I mean, in the southern part of the country. Theft, sabotage, has been the everyday reality in southern Nigeria. While there may not be a direct connection between what we are seeing in northern Nigeria and the role of the oil companies, there is the indirect connection, in the sense that many of us believe that the main objective of U.S. policy in Nigeria is less so connected to their concerns about these Nigerian girls that have been kidnapped, but looking for a pretext to further entrench themselves in the internal politics of Nigeria.

The Nigerian authorities have been somewhat reluctant to allow more involvement from the U.S. military intelligence apparatus in their country. They’ve been resistant to, for example, designating Boko Haram as an international terrorist organization, believing that they could address the issue themselves. But as a consequence of this, this latest controversy, they have felt the political pressure to in fact allow the U.S. entry.

The real objective, though, is not so much the situation in northern Nigeria. I think the real objective of U.S. policy is to get themselves down to the south. That’s where most of the oil is located, and that’s where their real security concerns are located.

WORONCZUK: If I’m not mistaken, also, some AFRICOM officials have been sent to help find–to help assist the Nigerian government find the kidnapped girls. And AFRICOM actually doesn’t have any bases within Africa; it’s actually within Germany. Do you think that the deployment of all this U.S. personnel is to help generate some support in order for AFRICOM to eventually maybe move in to Africa through Nigeria?

BARAKA: You know, there’s always a political and psychological component to military activity, and we know that there have been–there was significant opposition in Nigeria, including in most parts of Africa, to further U.S. involvement in the continent, and in the U.S. also, somewhat. So this situation has provided a sort of propaganda bone for U.S. policymakers to again cloak themselves in the wrapper of humanitarian concerns, to generate real support on the part of the American people for a closer involvement in the affairs of Africa. So, yes, I think that this is a convenient situation for U.S. policymakers to slowly introduce the American public to the fact that they have been expanding their activities in Africa for the last few years and to give it a sense of normalcy and acceptance on the part of the American population.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Ajamu Baraka, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, thank you so much for joining us.

BARAKA: Thank you.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Ajamu Baraka is an internationally recognized human rights defender whose experience spans four decades of domestic and international activism. Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. His latest publications include contributions to two recently published books "magine: Living in a Socialist USA" and "Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral."