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The insurgent group Boko Haram has grown steadily from an organization focused in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, to the rest of Borno State, to surrounding states, and surrounding countries throughout the Chad Basin. What is driving this expansion? Danielle Villasana’s images do not give us answers but they do direct our attention to a key dimension of the conflict, environmental conditions, such as questions of population density and the willingness to attack non-state targets, especially those that are more exposed in rural areas.
As the Islamic insurgency moves through the region, it blows up bridges and zips through arid landscapes on motorcycle expanding its control by operating with agility in sparsely populated areas, attacking soft-targets such as schools (Boko Haram translates imperfectly as “western education is forbidden,”) and instilling fear through heinous attacks that often include kidnapping, such as the spectacular mass abduction of young girls. By building its networks and connecting to other militant networks in the region, Boko Haram has burgeoned to become a regional powerhouse that has allied with transnational terror networks.
Villasana’s images document the suffering caused by the growing insecurity in the region, from hospitals, to schools, to places of worship. Her image of a crumpled bridge in the middle of an arid landscape gives a sense of how a mobile force that does not distinguish between military and civilian targets can divide a theater of operations through guerrilla tactics. As the insurgency has spread through Nigeria’s northern countryside, IDPs have sought shelter in cities that have invested in security. Villasana documents this shifting social configuration that can be quite dire, however, she also features glimmers of hope amidst the widening war, such as an interfaith prayer for reconciliation, a mobilized international humanitarian apparatus, and the resilience of children. Yet, the conflict continues to spread and larger questions about how environmental conditions are abetting that expansion loom.
— Alexander L. Fattal
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
Copyright information: Photos are copyright ©Danielle Villasana.