Comparing Small Wars: A Political Ecology of Two Insurgencies — ASN Events

Comparing Small Wars: A Political Ecology of Two Insurgencies (16929)

Michael Watts 1
  1. University of California, California, United States

This paper compares two insurgencies in contemporary NIgeria: the radical Salafist Islamism of Boko Haram in the north, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a secular movement for resource control emerging on the oilfields of the southeast Two regions with differing histories, cultures and social institutions bathed in the same political order have given birth two two seemingly different insurgent politics. Tijani Naniya, a historian who was Kano State’s Commissioner for Information and Culture, makes the point that against the backdrop of forty years of corruption and military rule in Nigeria, the return to civilian rule in 1999 was seen as a great opportunity. What was on offer was a range of political projects from the redefinition of Nigeria federation, to regional autonomy and resource control, to a return to shari’a. If Boko Haram invokes a return to a republic of virtue and the ideals of dar al-Islam, MEND proclaims the rhetoric of a renovated civic nationalism, of a new federalism and of community rights. Both are instances of what Nancy Fraser (2000) calls “the politics of recognition”. Each also reflects a common relation to the state: in both cases pre-existing armed groups were deployed (and armed) at a crucial juncture by the political classes for violent electoral purposes, but in each case the militants felt betrayed when their goals (implementation of religious conviction, payments for services rendered and so on) were not met. BUt each took form on the larger canvas of the political ecology of an oil state and what Dan Slater calls the "provisioning pacts" constituted by the operations of what I call the "logics of oil" (nationalization and fiscal federalism) both which have operated to produce a vast class of alienated youth excluded by all forms of authority: from the market order, from the state, from customary (chiefly) rule, and religious authority. It is form these dynamics that the two insurgencies emerged and took form.