Searching for Boko Haram: A History of Violence in Central Africa

Searching for Boko Haram: A History of Violence in Central Africa
Oxford University | English | 2018 | ISBN-10: 019049252X | 248 pages

by Scott MacEachern (Author)

For the past decade, Boko Haram has relentlessly terrorized northeastern Nigeria. Few if any explanations for the rise of this violent insurgent group look beyond its roots in worldwide jihadism and recent political conflicts in central Africa.

Searching for Boko Haram is the first book to examine the insurgency within the context of centuries, millennia even, of cultural change in the region. The book surveys the deep history of the lands south of Lake Chad, richly documented in archaeology and texts, to show how ancient natural and cultural events can aid in our understanding of Boko Haram’s present agenda. The land’s historical narrative stretches back five centuries, with cultural origins that plunge even deeper into the past. One important feature of this past is the phenomenon of frontiers and borderlands. In striking ways, Boko Haram resembles the frontier slave raiders and warlords who figure in precolonial and colonial writings on the southern Lake Chad Basin. Presently, these accounts are paralleled by the activity of smugglers, bandits (coupeurs de route–”road cutters”), and tax evaders. The borderlands of these countries are today places where the state often refuses to exercise its full authority because of the profits and opportunities illicit relationships afford state officials and bureaucrats. For the local community, Boko Haram’s actions are readily understandable in terms of slave raids and borderlands. They are not mysterious and unprecedented eruptions of violence and savagery, but–as the book argues–recognizable phenomena within the contexts of local politics and history.

Written from the perspective of an author who has worked in this part of Africa for more than thirty years, Searching for Boko Haram provides vital historical context to the recent rise of this terroristic force, and counters misperceptions of their activities and of the region as a whole.


“MacEachern’s work will be useful for specialists in a variety of fields.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“[E]xceptional….Offer[s] significant new insights into the rise of jihadist violence in Africa.”–Foreign Affairs

“In the present turbulent world, the focus that Scott MacEachern brings to ‘frontiers,’ and to the long history of the ‘extraordinary landscapes’ which they cross in changing ways over ‘deep time,’ is deeply informative about the Lake Chad Basin and Boko Haram, while also offering a rich example of the kind of empirical study to be undertaken elsewhere in the world.”–Jane Guyer, Johns Hopkins University

“Drawing upon his deep expertise and extensive fieldwork along the Nigeria-Cameroon frontier, Scott MacEachern takes a fresh and innovative look at Boko Haram: one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups. Through a finely-tuned historical and cultural lens, MacEachern skillfully contextualizes the emergence of Boko Haram. In doing so, he adds a long-awaited foundational layer to our understanding of a group that continues to grab global headlines.”–Matthew T. Page, author of Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know

“Usually archaeologists write about a remote past with few links to the present. But in the case of Boko Haram in North Nigeria, Scott MacEachern shows how a problem of our times, violent extremism, is better understood through its deep roots in not only the history, but also the prehistory of the south Chad basin, the border area between Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. The long-term ecological and political processes of these frontier lands resonate in the dynamics of this jihadist movement, and the distant past offers surprising insights into the present. Written with refreshing clarity and an intense personal engagement, this book offers a crucial analysis of the role of frontier areas in jihadism.”–Walter E. A. van Beek, University of Leiden

About the Author
Scott MacEachern is Professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine. He holds MA and PhD degrees in Archaeology from the University of Calgary. He has done archaeological research in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, the United States, and Canada, and travelled extensively in Africa.

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