North central Africa, the band of territory across the world’s second largest continent, south of the Sahara and north of the rain forests, continued to see religious violence over the weekend. In northern Kenya, “goons” attacked two churches with grenades and guns, killing 15. In Timbuktu, religious radicals with links to Al Qaeda destroyed historic shrines used for pilgrimages by generations of devout Sufi Muslims. And in a gunfight in the Nigerian city of Yobe, policemen shot and killed three men believed to be part of Boko Haram, the radical sect responsible for hundreds of religiously motivated murders of Christians across northern Nigeria since Christmas.
In both Kenya and Nigeria, leading Muslim clerics and laypeople are condemning the religious violence, but to little effect. In Kenya the radicals are believed to be acting with Al Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda group retaliating for Kenya’s part in helping to push the fanatics back in neighboring Somalia. In Nigeria, Boko Haram is in part a rebellion against older and more established Islamic clerics and traditional authorities seen as insufficiently radical and too compromised by participation in Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt politics.
No solution is on the table for any of these problems. Religious polarization and violence looks set to build in the African zone where the two largest religions in the world meet. How the growing religious conflict affects state building and development across a potentially rich and progressive swathe of Africa, and whether this area develops sanctuaries and bases for terrorists aiming at Europe and elsewhere are two of the more interesting questions of our time.