The kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the extremist sect Boko Haram is starting to make big waves in the international media, partially due to the horrifying nature of the story and partially due to the sheer unlikeliness of managing to kidnap so many people without anyone knowing where they’ve been taken. The story now is being focused on the reaction of the Nigerian government – a government which is famously incapable of caring for its own citizens, and more bothered about continuing to bring in oil revenue from the West. This is a government which responded to anti-oil protests in the Ogoniland region by executing the leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a move which spectacularly backfired in terms of providing terrible PR for the country for years afterwards.
They are now proving just as incapable of dealing with Boko Haram, an Islamic group whose name means roughly ‘Western education is a sin’ – hence their targeting of schoolgirls. The Nigerian government seems helpless to stop the terrorists that inhabit the desert north of the country, and has instead started arresting leaders of the protest groups that are calling for action in the capital, Abuja – yet another piece of terrible PR for this hapless regime.
Boko Haram seem to be another part of the wave of militarized Islam that has been sweeping across the Saharan region in recent years. We saw similar ideologies in the extremist groups that hijacked the Tuareg revolution in northern Mali in 2012, before being beaten back with the help of French troops. What this seems to signify is yet another suggestion that the global ‘war on terror’ has been an abject failure and a new approach is needed. It turns out invading predominantly Muslim countries and bombing people from drones may be very effective in killing individual terrorists, but is singularly ineffective in stopping new terrorists being created – if anything, it just seems to encourage people to take up arms against the West and the Western-backed governments in Africa that they see as oppressing their co-religionists.
Beyond even the war on terror itself, the extremism in countries like Nigeria is further fuelled by Western-led policies. So much of Nigeria’s resources are concentrated in an oil industry which benefits only the Western countries that use the oil and the corrupt politicians who cream the profits from the top, leaving only a minimal amount to provide much-needed services to the long-suffering people of Nigeria. Unsurprisingly, this has led large parts of the country – particularly those outside of relatively well-funded areas like Lagos and Abuja – to have no faith in their government, or worse, to actively despise it. Such developments can only encourage populist religious movements like Boko Haram, that promise to ‘save’ the people from poverty and misery as long as they follow a set of religious laws.
Rather than focusing on wars and on attempts to force democracy onto people (if ‘forced democracy’ isn’t itself an oxymoron), we need to find a new way of halting the spread of this kind of extremism. We need international development policies that actually help countries pull themselves out of poverty, rather than relying on Western oil money to survive. And we need to stop tolerating regimes that are friendly towards Western corporate interests, but damaging and authoritarian towards their own populations. We can only hope that the kidnapping of these girls, however terrible it is, will help to push our leaders towards these new policies, as they realize that extremism will not go away if faced with violence alone.
Article prepared by Ana Shell