International forces with American support are preparing to intervene in Mali, where Al Qaeda-linked militants have taken control of the north. The African-led mission will be made up of 3,300 African troops who will be tasked with assisting the Malian military in their attempts to dislodge the militants. Most of the African troops will be coming from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) members. The most influencial of the ECOWAS countries is Nigeria, which has its own problems with Islamic militants wielding unwelcome influence in its northern region.
The jihadist organization Boko Haram (which means, “Western education is sinful”) has been engaging in violence in northern Nigeria for years. Boko Haram has killed thousands during its years of operation, targeting religious minorities and western foreigners. The Nigerian military has struggled to put an end to the violence and has been accused of human rights abuses.
It seems a strange decision on the part of Nigerian officials to commit troops to a mission that aims to displace or defeat Islamic militants in Mali when they are facing jihadist violence in their own country.
Of course Nigeria is not the same as Mali. Defeating Boko Haram comes with many demographic concerns that do not apply to Mali. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with over 170 million people, and has a religiously diverse population. Mali has a population of a little below 16 million and its population is almost exclusively Muslim.
However, despite the logistic difficulties of intervening in Nigeria it seems that the humanitarian case for intervention is just as strong as the interventionist case for getting involved in Mali. Local demographic concerns have not prevented interventions in the past.
The mission in Mali is not scheduled to begin until September this year. When it does begin it will be the continuation of a foreign policy that has been a disaster in the Middle East and in other parts of Africa, and it will still be unclear why some countries are chosen to be the targets of intervention over others.