Why negotiating with Boko Haram is a bad idea

par Elysée Atangana

Since 2013, there has been a series of liberation of Boko Haram’s captives. The release in 2013 of the Moulin Fournier’s family and the French priest Van Derbeuk in northern Cameroon is one example. It is also the case of the release in 2014 of the hostages of Kolofata in Cameroon. Most recently, the Nigerian government reported the release of twenty-one girls from Chibok in April 2017 and eighty-three in the beginning of May 2017.

These multiple releases allow us to think that negotiation channels between the terrorist group and the States combating it might actually exist. But shouldn’t we be reluctant to negotiate with terrorist groups like Boko Haram?

My take is that negotiating with Boko Haram increases its leverage against us. 

First of all, negotiating with this terrorist group encourages the recidivism of its actions creating thus a vicious cycle. The bottomline assumption is that negotiations to release abducted hostages often offer a window of opportunity for terrorist organizations to get ransom or even the release of their own fighters. This is one of the reasons why Boko Haram continued to abduct nationals and foreigners even after the release of the Moulin Fournier family. Several media reports mentioned that the release of several hostages took place after a payment of the financial ransoms. Le Parisien  stated in its edition of April, 26, 2013, that Boko Haram received 2.4 million Euro for the release of the Moulin Fournier family. According to the Journal international, 10 million euros would have been paid for the liberation of the French priest Georges Vandenbeusch. These financial ransoms allow Boko Haram to finance recruitment more fighters, pay its fighters and purchase military equipment in Traffic. 

In addition, the negotiation with Boko Haram allows him to demand the release of his adepts in prison. According to Radio Canada and le Monde, the 104 high school girls of Chibok released in April and May 2017 allowed Boko Haram to gain in return the release of several fighters. And once these followers of Boko Haram are released, they directly join the ranks of this terrorist group to participate in future acts of barbarism and violence of terrorist actions whose objective is not negotiation.

Once again, the idea is that on balance, states cannot afford to be blackmailed. It is true that the populations or people targeted by kidnappings are important to the nation. At this point one can say: So what? Why not, especially if this allows governments to save hundreds of lives. In fact, governments seem to be trapped in this vicious cycle because the outcome of those negotiations does not make it possible either to weaken the terrorist group or to put an end to their acts of violence. In some cases, it would strengthen the terrorist capacity of Boko Haram terrorists.

A question remain: How states around the Lac Chad Basin can do to weaken efficiently Boko haram?

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