On Easter Sunday, around 40 people were killed in another deadly church bombing in the city of Kaduna, in nothern Nigeria. While nobody has claimed responsibility, it is is widely believed to be Boko Haram’s doing.
The persistent attacks across the region on churches, schools and police stations (all of which represent establishments that the group seeks to supplant) have led many of its Christians to move south, where the majority already live.
Boko Haram is a loose grouping of fanatical deadenders, ignorant know-nothings whose rigid interpretations of Islam shock and appall Nigerian Muslim leaders, but the group has stumbled on a shrewd and dangerous strategy. For non-religious reasons, Nigeria’s oil-rich, rapidly growing and commercially minded South and its more agricultural, poorer, and mostly Muslim North are growing apart. Religious violence furthers suspicion and hostility between tribes and regions and puts the fragile (though, so far, enduring) framework of Nigerian unity to a serious test.
As former US ambassador John Campbell notes on his informative CFR blog, the Easter bombings in Kaduna were part of a broader wave of Boko Haram violence. Though government security forces have had some success against the group, it seems to be gaining ground. Kaduna, the administrative capital of northern Nigeria under British rule, is still a focus for northern Nigerian politics; Campbell points out that many northern politicians have homes there. Tension between Muslims and Christians in the city (as in many other Nigerian cities where the two faiths have a strong presence) is high; roughly 800 people were killed in April 2008 in violence linked to an election which saw what man Muslims perceived as a serious infringement by a Christian president of a longstanding arrangement by which the two faiths shared political power.
Africa as a whole will not do much better than Nigeria; almost one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa live in the country and its tribal and religious tensions mirror fault lines that run across the continent. The southern part of the country, though facing problems of its own with insurgencies in the oil producing region, is beginning to show signs of sustained economic progress. Yet that progress so far may be fueling regional and religious tensions rather than smoothing them over.
For Africa as a whole that question of whether economic progress might actually bring increased tribal, religious and regional conflict may be the most important issue that the world fears to face. Western NGO types like to think that all good things come together — prosperity, democracy and stability all work together in a benign and predestined way.
Much modern world history suggests that this is cockamamie, pie-eyed optimism, and that rapid economic growth and industrialization are political dynamite rather than tranquilizers. We can’t know in advance how things will work out in Africa, but events in Nigeria will help show the way.