The Economist explains what we talked about today: Boko Haram

The Economist explains: Why Nigeria has not yet defeated Boko Haram | The Economist.

The crisis in the north-east needs to be seen in the context of generally rising criminality in Nigeria. Kidnappings for ransom are rife: celebrities and clergymen are plucked off the street in daylight. Hundreds of people are killed every year in land disputes. Thieves siphon off as much as a fifth of the country’s oil output in the Niger delta. Piracy is common. Rampant criminality also infects politics. Gangsters aid politicians by intimidating opponents. In return elected officials share out funds plundered from state coffers. Two years ago KPMG, a global audit firm, named Nigeria as the most fraud-prone country in Africa.

North-east Nigeria has been ignored by the government, and now they aren’t able to deal with it.

Boko Haram’s motivations lie not so much in religious fanaticism as in protest against government neglect. While fabulously wealthy, Nigeria’s government and elite shares very little with the masses, especially those in the north-east, traditionally the poorest and least influential part of the country. Development levels there are among the lowest in the world, despite being one of OPEC’s biggest oil producers. Nigeria’s government has also neglected to pour money into its armed forces, out of both greed and fear. Coups used to be common. So now unpopular leaders are fighting an insurgency without capable security forces, which often inflames the situation, for example when under-paid and ill-trained soldiers rape and pillage just like Boko Haram.

So until the government cleans up its act, we can unfortunately prepare for more of these horror stories.

Finally – It Made the MSM

A Hashtag May Help Rescue Jihadi-Enslaved Nigerian Schoolgirls – The Daily Beast.

We talked about this in several of my classes over a week ago.  This happened at the same time as the ferry disaster in S Korea.  Both involved young high school students.  But the ferry sinking got all the attention, and 260 young women from central Africa, kidnapped and facing sexual slavery, got not even a mention.

We speculated on why these girls and their plight were ignored by major news outlets.  My students figured that it was because “Africa is a long ways away”,  “it’s hard to get news from there,” and “Anderson Cooper can’t get there safely or easily.”

I didn’t volunteer what I really thought, but it’s not very nice, so I won’t write it here, either.  Suffice it to say that the world has finally noticed.  I just hope it’s not too late.

Overcrowded Planet

via In Nigeria, a Preview of an Overcrowded Planet –

In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country roughly the size of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

If the population growth continues, by 2100 they will surpass the US as the 3rd most populous nation, with over 700 million people.  According to United Nations Population Division data released in May 2011, the global population could increase to over 15.8 billion by 2100.  Most of the growth will occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lifelong residents like Peju Taofika and her three granddaughters inhabit a room in a typical apartment block known as a “Face Me, Face You” because whole families squeeze into 7-by-11-foot rooms along a narrow corridor. Up to 50 people share a kitchen, toilet and sink — though the pipes in the neighborhood often no longer carry water.

Students are packed into classrooms, up to 100 to a room.  High school and university graduates can’t find jobs – unemployment among the 20-somethings is 50% in urban areas.  Unemployed, dissatisfied youth are more likely to cause trouble, joining groups like Boko Haram.

So what are countries doing to make sure they can provide services for all those people?

Across sub-Saharan Africa, alarmed governments have begun to act, often reversing longstanding policies that encouraged or accepted large families. Nigeria made contraceptives free last year, and officials are promoting smaller families as a key to economic salvation, holding up the financial gains in nations like Thailand as inspiration.

Nigeria, already the world’s sixth most populous nation with 167 million people, is a crucial test case, since its success or failure at bringing down birthrates will have outsize influence on the world’s population. If this large nation rich with oil cannot control its growth, what hope is there for the many smaller, poorer countries?

Half of Nigerian women are under 19, and so population will continue to rise as they reach their child=bearing years.  The status of women is also on the line –

Large families signal prosperity and importance in African cultures; some cultures let women attend village meetings only after they have had their 11th child.

According to the article, there are also regional differences, as would be expected:

The average number of children per woman in the wealthier south of Nigeria has decreased slightly in the last five years, but increased to 7.3 in the predominantly Muslim north, where women often cannot go to a family planning clinic unless accompanied by a man.

Another issue with the continuance of large families is the decreasing amount of land

In Nigeria’s desperately poor neighbor, Niger, women have on average more than seven children, and men consider their ideal to be more than 12. But with land divided among so many sons, the size of a typical family plot has fallen by more than a third since 2005, meaning there is little long-term hope for feeding children.

How will these countries, and the other nations of sub-Saharan Africa, cope with their rapidly increasing numbers?  Will some natural tragedy befall them?  Will they be able to feed increasing numbers of people?  How will they provide services and infrastructure for all the new souls?  Will the rest of the world really step up to help?

African Gold Rush Kills Children as Miners Discover Lead Dust – BusinessWeek

via African Gold Rush Kills Children as Miners Discover Lead Dust – BusinessWeek.

Gold fever brought death to Umoru Musa’s nine-family compound in Sunke, a mud-brick village in northern Nigeria.

Five of the 25 children, including Musa’s 1-year-old daughter Nafisa, lost their lives in May after villagers ground ore from nearby hills they didn’t know were also loaded with lead. Rising prices for gold promised a windfall. Instead, they helped unleash the deadliest lead-poisoning crisis in modern medical history.

As the adults pulverized rocks with their grain grinder, they spewed lead dust across the ground where their children played and poultry grazed. They spread more of the material, lethal to children in high doses, around the communal well where they washed the ore to sift out the gold.

Because the area is so poor, with most people living on less than $1 per day, families have turned to processing ore to make money.  Many communities have been able to put tin roofs on housing, buy motorbikes, and increase the size of the cattle herds.  But it has come with a high price tag – the lives of their children.

At least 284 children under the age of five have died from lead poisoning in eight villages in Nigeria’s Zamfara state as a result of small-scale gold mining, according to government officials. An additional 742 are being treated for high levels of lead in their blood, a number which may rise to 3,000 by the end of next year, according to Médecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders.

The deaths are an unintended consequence of a 21st century gold rush. Villagers turned en masse to mining over the past two years, spurred on by more frequent visits from gold-buying middlemen. During that time, investors drove bullion prices up 58 percent in London as they sought a haven from the aftermath of the financial crisis. Gold reached a record $1,431.25 an ounce in London on Dec. 7.

Nigeria has banned mining in the region, but it is unlikely that families will stop processing the ore.  Clean-up efforts at several villages include removing topsoil and bringing in new dirt.  But it won’t help those who have already been damaged by the poison.  Long-term consequences of exposure to lead include permanent brain damage, nervous system damage, and birth defects.

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