Boko Haram, the jihadist group that’s terrorized northern Nigeria, killed over 6,000 people in 2014 and ransacked over a dozen communities along the Nigerian side of Lake Chad in mid-January. The group’s violence is the ostensible reason for the delay of Nigeria’s upcoming presidential election and Boko Haram threatens to plunge Africa’s most populous country and largest economy — as well as some of its neighbours — into violent chaos.
But Boko Haram is hardly a static organisation. Its area of operation has shifted over the past few years, and it declared a caliphate in the territory it controls in August of 2014.
Considering the group killed as few as 110 people in 2010 and once seemed to harbour few specific ambitions to declare its own Islamic state, it’s difficult to predict how the organisation will proceed in the future — especially if Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s incumbent president, is replaced when a presidential vote is held as early as March.
Davin O’Regan, a researcher at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland,
created the following map for the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network to show where the group might be headed. He established the geographic mean center of Boko Haram’s attacks for a given year, then weighted that mean based on the locations of the deadliest attacks (the maths behind all of this can be found here).
Each triangle on the map represents the physical center of Boko Haram’s activities based on both the frequency and severity of its attacks. The ovals represent one standard deviation ‘s worth of distance from this geographic mean, giving a sense of where Boko Haram was operating in a given year (2012: blue; 2013: red; 2014: yellow).
This method of analysis and the resulting map makes it possible to visualise where and how the group is shifting its deadliest activities — information which may provide a glimpse into its future tactics.
In 2012, Boko Haram committed most of its attacks over a wider area than in subsequent years, and was deadliest in an area well to the west of where it now operates most frequently.
In 2013 and 2014, the geographic mean is appreciably closer to Maiduguri, a major city that Boko Haram attempted to take earlier this month. And in 2014, the oval reaches deep into neighbouring Cameroon.
Today, “a big proportion of the spike in fatalities in Boko Haram attacks is found in a relatively small region along the Cameroon-Nigeria border,” O’Regan told Business Insider by email. Boko Haram also “seems to ‘hug’ borders in general for the operational advantages they provide.”
This actually goes against some conventional wisdom, as O’Regan explains, running “contrary to many claims about Boko Haram expanding its control over vast stretches of territory and dramatically increasing its capabilities.” That’s not exactly what they’re doing. Instead, the group is moving towards the border.
The group’s activities are shifting east, towards the border with Cameroon, which is increasingly involved in the fight against the group. Boko Haram operating in a more remote and perhaps more limited area. But it’s also turning into a trans-national threat, posing a problem that isn’t confined just to Nigeria.
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