Earth & Conservation

How Does Boko Haram Recruit Its Soldiers?

With a force of over 15,000 soldiers, Boko Haram is one of the deadliest terrorist groups. So just how did they get so many fighters?

According to some very grim statistical measures, the Nigerian group Boko Haram is the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world. In the last decade, the group has killed an estimated 20,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

A new report by the humanitarian aid agency Mercy Corps reveals Boko Haram's recruiting techniques and may provide the key to defeating the terrorist organization. Jules Suzdaltsev reports in today's Seeker Daily special.

According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram's army has grown to around 15,000 members, with the stated goal of creating an Islamic caliphate. To achieve this end, the group forcefully recruits young men from poor rural villages in northeastern Nigeria, as well as Chad and Cameroon. The average age of recruits appears to be about 30, although that number is trending younger each year and the group often targets teens and even children.

The Mercy Corps study reveals that Boko Haram's recruitment strategy depends on poverty. The group offers potential recruits money and loans, only to show up a few days later demanding immediate repayment. When a borrower can't pay, they are forced into the insurgency. Militant leaders exploit the common desire of youth to get ahead economically.

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Boko Haram also uses social pressure tactics, in much the same way as ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups. Mercy Corps interviewed dozens of former militants -- as well as 26 youth who resisted recruitment efforts -- to pinpoint the group's strategies. Almost all former members cited a friend, family member or business colleague as a factor in joining Boko Haram.

However, the study also suggests that efforts to fight back against Boko Haram's recruitment methods are starting to take hold. When the the group formed in 2002, Boko Haram enjoyed broad public support as an alternative to Nigeria's corrupt government, which was blamed for impoverished conditions in the first place.

But Boko Haram's increasingly violent methods and evident hypocrisy are turning the tide of public opinion. Western-backed counter-terrorism campaigns highlighting these elements are starting to work, dissuading at-risk youth from joining the insurgency. The very fact that Boko Haram is resorting to forced recruitment suggests that its ideological influence is declining.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

BBC: Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists?

Mercy Corps: "Motivations And Empty Promises": Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth

The New York Times: Boko Haram Turns Female Captives Into Terrorists