The kidnapping of some 200 girls in northern Nigeria has sparked world outrage. It’s a perfect media sensation: exotic locale and remarkably nasty kidnappers from a northern rebel movement, Boko Haram.
I’ve long been a connoisseur of Third World nasties, starting way back in the 60’s with Haiti’s voodoo chief, Papa Doc. Most have been nobodies who achieved instant international prominence by shooting off their mouths, making lurid threats and committing some dramatic outrage.
The latest is Boko Haram’s chief, a certain Abubakar Shekau. This lunatic has become a world bogeyman by kidnapping the school girls, gleefully prancing in front of TV cameras, and vowing to sell them into marital slavery.
Howls of fury erupted from leftist women’s groups in the US, and from President Barack Obama’s liberal warrior women, Susan Rice and UN ambassador Susan Powers. Hillary Clinton lost no time in jumping on this vote-winning issue.
In a truly heartwarming gesture, China says it will send “specialists” to aid the hunt for the missing girls. This is really about China’s race for Africa’s resources and its growing competition there with the US and Europe. The US wants its troops there before the Chinese arrive.
Few people anywhere cared much about the thousands of Afghan villagers just buried alive by a monster mud slide. Even fewer that Boko Haram’s previous rampages in northern Nigeria have killed over 1,500 civilians. Or that the thuggish Nigerian army and police’s brutal reprisals killed thousands of Muslim villagers.
Few outraged westerners knew that stealing girls is a traditional pastime in sub-Saharan Africa and child brides are second only to cattle rustling. There was no understanding in Washington that the tribal chaos and bloodshed now seething in South Sudan is merely a continuation of traditional raiding for cattle and women between rival Dinka and Neuer tribes. Washington failed to take this into account when it engineered the breakup of Sudan to create South Sudan as an oil-rich US vassal state.
American foreign policy reacts to oil and gas as my cats do to catnip. Now, under the pretext of deep concern for the missing schoolgirls, the US and Nigeria’s former colonial master, Britain, are rushing intelligence agents and special forces to this vast nation of 170 million, Africa’s largest.
Faux humanitarian missions are the rage for western intervention in the Third World. Libya and Syria offer vivid recent examples. US special forces are now operating out of Djibouti and Uganda in east Africa, ostensibly hunting fanatics of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a bunch of drug-crazed primitives hiding in dense forests. The US air base in Djibouti is being expanded to accommodate 4,000 military personnel and more attack drones.
Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil and gas producer. Over 40% of its exports go to the United States, supplying 10% of America’s energy needs. Nearby Angola has become another major energy supplier to the US.
Nigeria has important mineral and farming assets. Yet it remains mired in the deepest, shameful poverty. One percent of the population controls all the wealth and steals billions annually. In fact, the UN estimates almost all of Nigeria’s vast oil wealth has been stolen, squandered or stashed in Switzerland. Oil revenues flow directly to the government, then to powerful state governors. The only thing that trickles down to Nigerians is rain.
Northern Nigeria, mostly Muslim, is dirt poor. Oil wealth goes to the better off Christian south. The north’s Hausa and Fulani peoples have bitterly resented the massive theft of the nation’s resources by the more nimble southerners favored by British colonial rule. In fact, Britain was at fault for creating the multi-ethnic mess that is Nigeria, another colonial Frankenstein state, like Iraq or Burma.
Boko Haram’s rampage must be seen in this context, a popular uprising against Nigeria’s limitless government corruption, poverty, and resource theft. Boko uses the idiom of Islam but there is nothing Islamic about it. As in other parts of the Muslim world, reformers call for imposition of Islamic law as an antidote to endemic corruption of governments and courts that has been too often fostered by Western colonialism.
Screaming “Islamic terrorism” won’t defuse Nigeria’s coming explosion. Considered one of the world’s most corrupt nations, Nigeria has to clean up its act – and fast.