The ‘Haram’ in ‘Boko’:Why the Global North’s New Development Ideology for Africa’s Development must be Rejected

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By Chima Amadi
Nigeria is facing the biggest threat to her corporate existence as a nation in the ‘Boko Haram’ insurgency and its attendant loss of lives and property; emotional and psychological trauma wrought on the surviving victims of the cold blooded actions of the devilish sect;deepening of dichotomous fault lines that has been gingerly accommodated since independence and worst of all, the constant fear that citizens all over the country are forced to live in-not knowing were the next bomb blast might go off. The parlous and critical situation Nigeria finds herself is best comprehended against the backdrop of the description of the nation as one of Africa’s “Big Messes” by no less a personality than Professor Richard Joseph during the occasion of the Third Chinua Achebe Colloquium.

Boko Haram Gunmen
However, this piece will not undertake another causal nexus interrogation of the Boko Haram destructive phenomenon, for in my opinion, a lot is already in the public domain, both true and fabled in that regard, but I shall attempt to expose the misconceptions inherent in the general understanding of the Hausa word ‘Boko’ by investigating its etymology with a view to establishing that Islam in its nature is not averse to ‘Western Education’ as elements of the Boko Haram sect would have us believe but that rather, aspects of the Latter( Western Education) is a furtherance of key principles of Islamic civilization; I will then submit that that the ‘Haram’ in ‘Boko’ is indeed an early Hausa/Fulani understanding or deciphering of the deceptive western modernism that the colonial powers sought to entrench through their form of education and which today has been remodeled and marketed as a New Development Ideology for Africa and other Third World Countries. First, a few conceptual clarifications will suffice.
The name Boko Haram is pejoratively used in reference to the terror group Jamaatu Ahlis Sunnah lid daawati wal jihad . To most people, laymen and surprisingly,scholars alike,a literal understanding of the Hausa word ‘Boko’ is erroneously said to be a corruption or an adaptation of the English word ‘Book’ by the Hausa/Fulani population on encountering colonial style education. Interpretatively, therefore, ‘Boko’, will and is said to mean Western Education. ‘Haram’ on its own needs no contestation, being a borrowed word from Arabic that connotes things that are highly forbidden in Islam as against its antithesis ‘Halal’ which refers to things that are permitted.

A marriage of both words i.e ‘Boko’ and ‘Haram’ will literally mean ‘Western Education is forbidden’ which many people aggregate as the main ideology of the Boko Haram sect, a hatred of and for Western Education . This wrong understanding of the Hausa word ‘ boko’ has assumed prominent position among most commentators on the Boko Haram insurgency and academics alike,such that Paul Newman, arguably one of the world’s leading Hausa language experts and a linguistics Professor Emeritus at Indiana University,identified eleven instances of wrong application of the word Boko by authorities and institutions that should ordinarily know better; invariably culminating in a distortion of the real meaning of the moniker of the Jamaatu Ahlis Sunnah lid daawati wal Jihad.

Ranging from the popular online source Wikipedia to institutions such as the United States Government’s National Centre for Counterterrorism,Centre on Foreign Relations, prominent journalists and scholars within and outside Nigeria, were all identified by Newman to have embraced the faulty concept of the word Boko, thereby creating an impression that Islam, or at least in the understanding of the Hausa/ Fulani who created the word, forbids or abhors ‘Western Education’. This generally accepted but faulty view is encapsulated in the assertion by the renowned Political Scientist J. Peter Pham that “the name Boko Haram is itself derived from the combination of the Hausa word for book( as in ‘ book learning’) ,boko, and the Arabic term Haram designates those things which are ungodly or sinful”.

In questioning this simplistic etymological explanation of the term boko, Dan Murphy writing in the Christian Science Monitor Journal , doubted that there would exist a four letter word in Hausa to define two words which can as well be hyphenated to create a compound word like Western-Education. This precisely was Newman’s position in discarding the street understanding of the word boko. He argued that the first formal entry of the word boko( to the best of his knowledge ) was in G.P Bargery’s 1934 Hausa dictionary which associated the word with anything “sham”,”fraudulent” “inauthentic”.

Denouncing the view that boko is a Hausa adaptation of the English word book, Newman cited the work of the revered Hausa Scholar Liman Muhammad who forty five years ago in his study of the rich neology and lexical depth of the Hausa language listed 200 loanwords borrowed from English language in the area of ” Western Education and Culture” without the word boko included in them. Mohammed then gave a definition of boko to mean “something( an idea or object ) that involves a fraud or any form of deception”.

We shall continue with other explanations or definitions of boko from the same source,but at this point it is pertinent to insist that NEVER at any point did the Hausa/Fulani reject education per se but the secular undertone of Western/colonial style education which sought to delineate religion from knowledge was abhorred, for as adherents of the Islamic faith, it was incumbent upon them to deliberately seek to be educated. In fact, in Islam, it is an obligation that an adherent acquires knowledge . So important was this requirement that in the first revelation received by Prophet Mohammed(s.a.w),he was given a direct injunction to read as this verse in the Quran highlights( enhancements by Khalid El-Gharib):

“Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. Has taught man that which he knew not. ” [Qur’an 96:1-5].

In keeping with this direct injunction, the Prophet made it mandatory that all Ummah acquire knowledge as a sacred duty. It is,therefore,not surprising that what most credit to Western Education today has its direct roots in Islamic civilization. Unlike the early Christian practice that forbade the laity from acquiring knowledge that they thought would jeopardize the grip of the church on the affairs of the population, the consequence of which was the persecution of scholars( Galileo’s incarceration a good example) , adherents of the Islamic faith vigourously engaged in the quest for knowledge . Little wonder then that the development of Mathematical and Engineering concepts such as calculus, algebra ,algorithm and advancements in the field of geometry, medicine, optics , astronomy etc were strongly linked to Islamic scholars such as Ibn Sina, Jabir Ibn Haiyan, Yaqub Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi, Abu al-Qasim Khalaf bin ‘Abbas el-Zahrawi, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, & Ibn Khaldun etc( for over 600 year’s, Ibn Sina’s textbook on medicine Al Qanun was referenced by European medical practitioners).

My point? The Hausa/ Fulani population of the colonial era, in keeping with their religious obligations, were not averse to education in the truest sense of it, but saw through the smoke screen and deception of the colonial style education and quickly coined a derisive word for it in boko. This point is corroborated by the subsequent definition of boko given by Liman Muhammad, cited by Newman:
‎boko occurs with the word biri,monkey as part of a fixed compound biri-boko (lit. monkey-fraud)…refers to something that appears to be important or reliable, but is not, something that looks good on the outside, but is bad in the inside, something that is empty or hollow, but with deception implied,something that is unreal, fake, deceptive, phony, i.e, a smoke screen.

The above is the ‘haram’ the forbidden , in Western Education, which sought to erode the values, culture,norms, and belief system of the Hausa/Fulani and supplant them with Western secularism. The Hausa/ Fulani population of that era rejected that ideology and quickly stereotyped it with the term boko.

In keeping with the Hausa / Fulani deciphering of the deceptive intents and ideology of Western Education , marketed by the colonial authorities, African countries must of necessity see through the smoke screen of the New Development Ideology being marketed by neo-liberal agents of capitalism. This ideology which is driven by the Development Merchant System, a system marketed by the Bretton Woods Institutions in cohorts with other so called Development Aid Agencies and and their private collaborators in Transnational Corporations has no other intention than the continued development of underdevelopment in Third World Countries.

To achieve this, all kinds of policy prescriptions are dished out to these poor countries. The new cool now is the call for the wholesale liberalization of Third World Countries’ economies to foreign goods. Supported by the World Trade Organization(WTO), tariff and trade barriers imposed by these countries to protect their local economies are feverishly dismantled , with the negative consequence of de-industrialization.

Just a few days ago, the World Bank Country Director in Nigeria triumphantly announced that over $15 Billion dollars in International Development Assistance has been released to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014 ,consisting majorly of zero-interest credits and grants. As laudable as this gesture may seem on the surface, we must interrogate the concept of grants and credits advancement to Third World Countries and its larger implications. If truth must be told , the current debt burden faced by most of these countries is a direct consequence of such loans. The fact that it attracts zero interest is immaterial and a ‘boko’ , a deceptive fake, akin to a smokescreen gesture. Why? The fact is that most of these loans, where properly applied, are used to provide social , non commercial and non profit services and infrastructure and since they must one day be repaid and having not derived any profits from the initial investments, the benefiting governments are saddled with a huge debt profile added to the interests bearing ones they are currently battling with.

The options open to them once faced with the risk of a default in meeting payment schedules are ominous, as macroeconomic management of their economies is more or less subjected to the whims and caprices of the IMF and World Bank using their discredited Policy Support Instruments. These instruments which have failed wherever they have been applied in Third World Countries is a recreation of the Structural Adjustment and Washington Consensus style policy prescriptions that failed in the 80s and which a former Primer Minister of Britain Gordon Brown declared as “dead” following the US Mortgage crisis. They include a call to fully liberalize at the detriment of the growth of local industries; withdrawal of all forms of subsidies on social services; dismantling of any form of restrictions or control/regulation of the activities of Transnational Corporations; discouragement of state directed development and so many other ‘bokoesque’ policies.

The deception in the New Development Ideology is expressed in the double standards in the application of international trade rules as is currently witnessed in the WTO regime. While the WTO continues to pressure Third World Countries to remove all forms of trade barriers( tariff and non tariff ) to the advantage of the global North’s interests, the Uruguay Round commitments for the granting of access to the markets of the latter( global North) , especially to the former’s( Third World Countries) agricultural products remains a mirage. In response to the Third World’s demand for technology transfer, the WTO introduced new issues such as the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights(TRIPs), with all kinds of proprietary laws protecting jealously the acquisition of the global North’s technology; The Trade Related Investment Measures(TRIMs) is a push by the global North for the inclusion of Trade-in-Services for the first time in the WTO regime to the detriment of Third World Countries; the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) of the WTO is an invitation more or less to Transnational Corporations to disregard national laws of host countries and is the fulcrum upon which the huge capital flight out of Africa and other Third World Countries is based. The disaster that is the Europe promoted Economic Partnership Agreement is a story for another day.

The perpetuation of Africa’s so called Comparative Advantage in the area of raw material production/supply to developed countries over and above value addition to her natural resources is another Haramesque aspect of the global North’s New Development Ideology that must be rejected in its entirety. While the West concentrates on export of manufactured goods and the resultant creation of jobs for her citizens, poor African countries are sold the dummy that their strength lie in the continued over-exploitation of their natural resources in disregard of environmental concerns. The poor Terms of Trade of Third World Countries aptly reveals the deception in this development ideology.

The deception of the New Ideology is expressed in the insistence of its purveyors on a private sector led development as against state directed development . These marketers of a ‘boko’ development ideology conveniently forget that nowhere in the world has any economy advanced significantly to the point of development without the role of the state. Following the devastation of Europe after the Second World War, the Marshall Plan was clearly an example of the State playing its historic role in directing development and it succeeded beyond the expectations of those who canvassed and implemented the plan. The other point worthy of mention is that in the Marshall Plan, Europe was given the mandate to evolve and drive the process of its revival and development. In the New Ideology for Third World Countries, the panacea for development is conceptualized by the global North and the process and mechanism of implementation driven by same, as if Third World Countries are not capable of looking after themselves( this reminds us of the superior value motive behind colonialism).

Consequently, and in keeping with the example laid by the Hausa/ Fulani during the colonial era, African countries must see this New Ideology of Development for what it is, and resounding reject the ‘Haram’ in this ‘Boko’ ideology. They must delink completely from it and commence , immediately, evolving economic plans that take into proper account the class perspectives of development. The current focus on GDP growth rather than normative development concerns is not only counter-productive but diversionary. Nigeria with its famed GDP growth in the last 7 years and positive future projections still has about 66 percent or more of its population living below poverty lines as per the National Bureau of Statistics.

The State must not be wary of directing development,China and South East Asian Tigers’ model have shown that the State is not an anathema to capitalism once corruption is eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum. Third World Countries must shift from begging for Development Aid Assistance to demanding for a restructuring of the global economic governance system that currently sustains their dependency status . They must demand for transparency in the WTO negotiations and insist on the enforcement of Agreements that favor the export of her agricultural and textile products to developed markets without the impediment of non- tariff barriers and subsidies by the global North.
> The trend of also giving Transnational Corporations the latitude to carry on as they please must also be discarded, thankfully, in this regard , The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), in a statement just released announced that it has “adopted, through a vote, a historic and significant resolution to start a process for an international legal instrument on transnational corporations”. Indeed, there is a lot to learn from our Hausa/ Fulani brothers.

Amadi is the Executive Director
Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group

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