Boko Haram has been operating in Nigeria since the beginning of the 2000s and is among the world’s most active militant Islamist groups. The fact that Boko Haram mainly conducts attacks within Nigeria has led some observers to analyze the group from a strictly domestic perspective. However, this thesis argues that given the weak states and porous borders in West Africa, the nation state is not the most relevant level of analysis. Rather, this thesis studies Boko Haram from a transnational perspective. Drawing on literature about transnationalism and the regionalization of civil wars, the thesis discusses to what extent Boko Haram should be considered a transnational phenomenon. It identifies the transnational aspects of the group and discusses what role informal cross-border movements, such as transactions of weapons, militants, and resources, have played in the development of Boko Haram.
The analysis shows that although Boko Haram’s violence remains contained within Nigeria, it also has some transnational aspects. The most prominent are related to the recruitment of mercenaries and militarized refugees, training in jihadist camps in other countries of the Sahel region, and smuggling of weapons. I argue that these transnational aspects have contributed to strengthening Boko Haram in a number of ways. For example, training abroad is likely to have provided the group with skills and knowledge that enables it to conduct more advanced and deadly attacks. Still, the transnational aspects of Boko Haram should not be exaggerated. The group has conducted only one attack outside Nigeria, and with the exception of some Boko Haram members traveling to Mali, the various forms of transnational transactions discussed in this thesis do not appear to have contributed to spreading instability from Nigeria to other countries in the region.
The transnational aspects of the Boko Haram conflict would have been difficult to identify through a traditional IR state level analysis. This illustrates the importance of applying a framework that focuses not only on nation states and official policy, but also on informal transactions and other types of actors in order to understand African conflicts and security politics.