Boko Haram, Joseph Kony and the “FTO” or Foreign Terrorist Designation, 2012 and Today.

The question has arisen in one corner of the Twitterverse as to why in 2012 Joseph Kony’s Army of God” was declared a Foreign Terror Organization and at the time Boko Haram (more accurately termed “Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad” but hereinafter “BH”) was not.


The arguments for Kony and his “Lords Resistance Army” were fairly straight forward and easily understood.  He was running an insurgency in Africa, had graduated to a small war, and was using “children” that had been impressed, drugged, brainwashed, and then trained as “soldiers” to run said war.  His army was actually prosecuting a war, both against the government of Uganda and the people.  He was staffing his army PRIMARILY with kidnapped children, and he had the misfortune of having generated a movie about his Lords Resistance Army.  While the Movie (an Internet Viral sensation) may have been “Current fact poor” it energized enough folks that his declaration was almost a virtually required response from the American Government.

The actual FACTS should have stood on their own.  Kony had been prosecuting a disjointed and only marginally successful war against both the Ugandan Government and the Ugandan People, based on a highly bastardized understanding and interpretation of Catholic Lore.  (LRA originated as the Holy Spirit Movement in Ugandan hill country.  When the original leader was caught and deported, Kony took over due to his relationship to the original leader and his being in general the only available person strong enough to succeed her).  Kony had been actively kidnapping his troops for years, and for a time thousands of children “night commuted” walking from villages into towns/cities to sleep in schools and churches to avoid being kidnapped and impressed into the LRA.

By the time the net-based movie “KONY2012” was released, the LRA had been thinned and mostly dispersed to neighboring countries.  It helped the American Government that they had the movie and the LRA’s Christmas Massacres (2011) to work with for the designation.  It is, however difficult for a reasonable person to disagree with the FTO designation for the LRA and Kony, except perhaps to suggest that the designation ought to have come years sooner.

IN the same general time frame that the US government was debating the LRA designation, there was also a move to designate Boko Haram (BH) as a FTO as well.  At the TIME the BH was an active insurgency in Nigeria.  BH was then an 8 year old movement, which had been responsible for numerous small scale actions over the course of 7 of the prior 8 years.  In 2011 they began to transition from a small scale insurgency into something that was being noticed outside of Nigeria.  Through 2011 and early 2012 they were making a name for themselves, developing “insurgency street creds” by performing increasingly large attacks with an increased body count. 

Due to the increasingly deadly attacks, there was a move to demand FTO designation to BH (likely riding on the wave of outrage generated by KONY2012) within portions of the US Government.  At the time, the AfricaFocus Bulletin posted the following in a request for the rejection of the declaration as an FTO for BH:


Petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama and Members of Congress 

We urge you not to support the formal designation of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO). Such a move would be a counterproductive mistake with far-reaching negative consequences for both Americans and Nigerians. 

It is correct for the United States to join the vast majority of Nigerians in condemning the group for the brutal violence it has inflicted on innocent civilians in Nigeria and their threats to national unity and security in that country. 

But U.S. government designation of the group as a FTO, as currently proposed by several Members of Congress and some officials in the the Department of Justice, would increase rather than diminish the threat from Boko Haram. It would give the group additional visibility and credibility among international terrorist networks. It would increase the chances that the group would direct its attacks against U.S. targets. 

Most significantly, it would reinforce militarization of Nigerian government actions against the group. Repressive actions by Nigerian security forces in the past have already contributed to increasing support for Boko Haram among those affected. What is needed instead is a multifaceted strategy. Such a strategy must include not only security measures to protect civilians but also flexible diplomacy and serious attention to development issues, particularly in the disadvantaged North of Nigeria where Boko Haram finds support. 

FTO designation would also cause enormous collateral damage, making it difficult for both the U.S. government and non-profit groups to address humanitarian and development issues, particularly in the North. It would hamper any efforts by third parties to encourage dialogue and it would introduce new tensions into U.S.-Nigerian relations. It would also pose serious bureaucratic obstacles to travel and family remittances for Nigerian Americans and other Nigerians resident in the United States. 

The Nigerian government is well aware of the counterproductive effects of a FTO designation for Boko Haram and has expressed its opposition. So have more than 20 of the top U.S. scholars on Nigeria. We urge you to heed their informed advice. 

To endorse this petition as an organization, please send the name of your organization and contact details to For more information, visit

It is interesting to note that the above bolded paragraphs being the rationale for NOT designating BH as a FTO amount to;

       1) It will giove them street cred and will make them easier to support.

       2) It will make the US a target for BH

       3) It will entice the Nigerians to militarize and handle the insurgency in a military manner

       4) It will make humanitarian aid more difficult

       5) It will make developmental aid (USAID and Peace Corps types of aid) problematic

       6) The Nigerians don’t really want this

       7) It will increase tension between Nigeria and the US.



Those arguments prevailed in 2012.


Today we are dealing with a mature though not HIGHLY effective insurgency which has bloomed fully formed on the World Stage, which. like any other “Overnight Sensation” has been incubating for a dozen years.  Instead of a group capable of small attacks, minimal body count events, which disappeared into the general background noise of the world unless you were actually looking in the correct direction or were immersed in the field (like, for instance Michael Yon we are now observing a much more visible movement.

One might well ask if the US Government did a good thing in rejecting the FTO designation for BH 2 years ago.





Boko Haram timeline


Boko Haram Petition to reject FTO Designation

Boko Haram Discussions in Congress

Again, the above represents my own opinions and thus any errors or omissions are mine.





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