Nigerian Forces Battle Islamist Uprising in Northern Region

Nigerian troops are struggling to put down a violent uprising in the northern part of the country led by the radical Islamic group Boko Haram, sometimes called the “Nigerian Taliban.” The death toll has passed 300, and thousands of people have fled their homes. The first clash erupted in Bauchi state on July 26, when militants attacked a police station where some of their leaders were being detained. Fighting has been fiercest near Maiduguri, capital of neighboring Borno state, but has spread to Kano and Yobe states as well. Authorities accuse the militants of burning down a number of churches in the area.

The Nigerian government has declared that it has gained the upper hand, but the army and police offensive to crush the militants is ongoing. Boko Haram, an extremist Muslim group led by a radical preacher named Mohammed Yusuf, calls for imposition of stricter Islamic law and opposes Western influences, especially in education. Yusuf has vowed to rid Nigerian society of “immorality” and “infidelity.”

A third of Nigeria’s 36 states, all in the Muslim-dominated North, have introduced Sharia law in the past decade. Nigeria’s population of 150 million are split roughly equally between Muslims and Christians. Relations between the two populations, though generally peaceful, have been marred by violent clashes in recent years.

Related Links

  • Nigeria Says Routed Islamic Rebels; Manhunt for Leader
    This Reuters article reports on the fighting between government forces and Muslim extremists in northern Nigeria.
    (Source: Reuters, July 30, 2009)
  • Nigerian Troops Battle Islamic Militants in North
    This report by VOA News discusses Nigeria’s struggle against Islamic extremists.
    (Source: Voice of America News, July 29, 2009)
  • Nigerian Islamist Attacks Spread
    Story from the BBC about the attacks by an Islamic fundamentalist group in northern Nigeria.
    (Source: BBC, July 27, 2009)
  • Map of Nigeria
    Map of Nigeria from the University of Texas. The map shows the country and its neighboring countries in West Africa. Maiduguri, the scene of major fighting, is located in the far northeast in Borno state.
    (Source: The University of Texas)

Other Issues in the Region

The Legacy of Colonialism

The European colonizers who divided the African continent among themselves, gave little consideration to the people living there. They disrupted borders separating various ethnic groups and frequently overturned the governments of those groups. New borders often pushed warring groups together, setting the stage for civil conflicts and border wars that have continued to this day. Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are among the countries that have been torn by corruption, political unrest, and brutal wars.

  • Fierce Fighting Spreads in Ivory Coast Showdown
    Fighting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, escalated after continued assaultsby forces backing diputed president-elect Alassane Quattara. Conflicts between pro-Quattara forces and supporters of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo have been ongoing since Gbagbo refused to step down after the November 2010 presidential election. The months-long standoff between Gbagbo and Quattara has reignited the country’s 2002-2003 civil war. More than 1,500 people have been killed since the violence began. The African Union, the United Nations, the United States, and Ivory Coast’s former colonial ruler France have called on Gbagbo to step down and cede the presidency to Quattara. (Source: Reuters, April 1, 2011)

 Economic Development

Economic development remains a major challenge for African nations. After colonial rule ended, many African nations continued the colonial practice of exporting raw materials instead of using those materials to produce manufactured goods. Like the colonial powers before them, leaders of the newly independent African nations and a few multinational corporations based in Europe, Asia, and North America have benefited greatly from the export of natural resources. Meanwhile, in all but a few African nations, civil wars and cross-border wars, corrupt governments, foreign debt, and the AIDS crisis have severely hampered economic growth.

However, Africa is changing. A growing awareness of the need for economic diversification is taking hold and inspiring action. Education and democratic principles are increasingly recognized as keys to progress. But some concerned leaders say that along with these principles, there must be fair trade, reduced subsidies and tariffs by the major players in the world market, greater rights for African workers, and greater empowerment of women. About 55 percent of Africa’s people are under age 18, and this group especially needs education and employment if Africans are to break the cycle of poverty. Africa’s human capital and abundant natural resources offer great potential, but these assets need to be developed for the good of a greater number of people in Africa.

  • AU Summit Identifies Key Priority Infrastructure Projects
    Members of the African Union Assembly endorsed key projects identified by an infrastructure subcommittee at the African Union Summit in January 2011. Projects will address infrastructure needs in transportation and energy sectors up to 2040. (Source: African Development Bank Group, February 1, 2011)

Health Care

The African continent faces many serious health issues. They range from high rates of infant mortality to shortened life spans for those who survive past infancy. The reasons that many Africans have shorter than average life spans often stem from the continent’s high rates of poverty, malnutrition, and disease. Public health departments in Africa must deal with a variety of illnesses, including those transmitted by insects (such as malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, and sleeping sickness, which is spread by the tsetse fly). Other diseases are associated with parasites and bacteria found in improperly cooked food and contaminated water. Still other serious diseases, such as hepatitis-B, are spread through viruses transmitted from human to human. Tuberculosis and polio are also a concern, as is the occasional outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. The greatest health concern is the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to over 70 percent of the world’s AIDS-infected people and where around 19 million Africans have died of AIDS.

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