Sunday, March 6, 2016

Boko Haram Roving Bandits

In a famous paper, Mancur Olson notes that governments in successful democracies and dictatorships behave more like stationary bandits than roving bandits. "In a world of roving banditry there is little or no incentive for anyone to produce or accumulate anything that may be stolen and, thus, little for bandits to steal. Bandit rationality, accordingly, induces the bandit leader to seize a given domain, to make himself the ruler of that domain, and to provide a peaceful order and other public goods for its inhabitants, thereby obtaining more in tax theft than he could have obtained from migratory plunder."

Boko Haram has been behaving like roving bandits, and they are paying the price. The NY Times reports:
After rampaging across the region for years, forcing more than two million people to flee their homes and farms, Boko Haram appears to be falling victim to a major food crisis of its own creation. Farmers have fled, leaving behind fallow fields. Herdsmen have rerouted cattle drives to avoid the violence. Throughout the region, entire villages have emptied, leaving a string of ghost towns with few people for Boko Haram to dominate — and little for the group to plunder.
It seems clear that Boko Haram won't be able to establish the caliphate they were hoping for. Dozens of Boko Haram emaciated fighters have surrendered. But most of the group can continue to do a lot of damage while using raids to feed themselves.  The multinational military force (including Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, with help from the US) will need to do a better job of protecting the area around the Sambisa Forest, where Boko Haram is based.

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