Melchisedek CHETIMA

History, University of Ottawa, Canada

Fellowship : October 2018 to June 2019

Discipline(s) : History

Pays : Canada

Research project: Is History repeating itself? Boko Haram, slavery and Haman Yadji: dynamics, common features and the changing nature of violence in the border areas of the Mandara mountains

This project aims to analyse the emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the factors which have facilitated its establishment in the Mandara mountains, a border zone between Cameroon and Nigeria. The argument put forward is that Boko Haram is not only a contemporary manifestation of terrorism, but that it relates to a historical model which can be traced back to at least the 15th century, namely in the slave-trading kingdoms of Kanem and Borno. We believe that it is essential to incorporate this historical dimension in order to understand the intentions of Boko Haram activists to reintroduce sharia law, for three main reasons: firstly, the historical context of the practice of slavery and jihad is relevant to Boko Haram which uses it as a doctrinal and discursive reference point for the recruitment of young mountain dwellers and/or for their massacre and abduction (Higazi, 2015); secondly, the historical empire of Kanem-Borno and the Sokoto Caliphate are seen by Boko Haram as the golden age of the jihadist movement (MacEachern, 2015); thirdly, the occupation of the Mandara mountains has rekindled ancient fractures from the precolonial servile past and the predator-prey relationships of yesterday, which it is essential to research and analyse (Seignobos, 2015). We shall seek to demonstrate that Boko Haram’s presence in the Mandara mountains has been grafted onto the ubiquitous realities of violence and the difficult socio-economic situation of mountain dwellers, particularly from the beginning of the 1960s, with the forced descent onto the plains organized by the two postcolonial States of Nigeria and Cameroon. It served to reactivate the negative vision of colonization and the postcolonial State to the extent that the colonial clichés projected onto mountain dwellers, and the determination of postcolonial governments to make them come down onto the plains, are today being used to justify the identification with Boko Haram’s anti-western and anti-state rhetoric.


Melchisedek Chetima holds a Gordon F. Henderson Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on the historical context of Boko Haram, including the parallels and differences between the slavery period when the Mandara Mountains of northern Cameroon were a target of Muslim slave raiders, and the current situation in which Boko Haram deploys its apparatus against the same region. Chetima Melchisedek is the author of several articles published, among others, in African Studies Review, Africa Spectrum, Historical Journal et Cambridge Archaeological Journal. He is currently organizing a special issue of the Canadian Journal of African Studies on Boko Haram.

Major publications

CHETIMA, Melchisedek. (avec WASSOUNI, François), eds, « Daily Life With Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin/La vie Quotidienne à l’Epreuve de Boko Haram dans le Bassin du Lac Tchad », Canadian Journal of African Studies (Forthcoming).

CHETIMA, Melchisedek. « On ne Naît pas Ethnique, On le Devient ! », Anthropos 179-197.

CHETIMA, Melchisedek. (avec Gaimatakwan, A. Dujok), 2016, « Memories of Slavery in the Mandara Mountains: Re-appropriating the Repressive Past», dans Paul, E. Lovejoy; Vanessa, Oliveira (eds.), Slavery, Memory, Citizenship, Trenton, Africa World Press, The Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora, pp. 285-299.

CHETIMA, Melchisedek. 2018, «History of Slavery: Sites of Memory and Identity Politics in Mandara Mountains«, Cambridge Historical Journal (Accepted, Forthcoming).

CHETIMA, Melchisedek. 2015, «Mémoire refoulée, manipulée, instrumentalisée », Cahiers d’Études Africaines, Vol. 218, No 2, pp. 303-329.