Violence erupted near the city of Jos in central Nigeria over the weekend as groups of machete-wielding men rampaged through villages killing 100s of mostly women and children. The attacks were apparently retaliation for similar violence less than two months ago that left about 300 dead.
The first reports on the violence putting the number of dead at 8 were quickly shown to be sadly optimistic. The government has reported that up to 500 were killed, while sources in the area have provided various figures, generally around 200 or 300 dead. All seem to agree, however, that the majority of the victims were women and children, including pregnant women and infants, many of them beheaded.
The apparent focus on killing women is particularly distressing, coming as it does on International Women’s Day. (The violence occurred over the weekend, but was mostly reported on Monday, International Women’s Day.)
Scores of people are thought to have been killed in clashes between pastoralists from the surrounding hills and villagers close to the central Nigerian city of Jos.
[…]Witnesses said that the pastoralists staged an overnight raid in the village of Dogo Nahawa, firing into the air and then attacking those who came out of their houses.
“They came around three o’clock in the morning and they started shooting into the air,” Peter Jang, a Dogo Nahawa resident, said.
Yvonne Ndege, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, said at least 19 Muslim Hausa-Fulani men had been arrested 30km from Jos, where Sunday’s three-hour systematic orgy of violence took place.
[…] The reported arrests come as security officials faced criticism for failing to prevent another outburst of sectarian violence only weeks after hundreds died in Muslim-Christian clashes.
[…] It was not immediately clear what triggered the latest unrest, but four days of sectarian clashes in January between mobs armed with guns, knives and machetes left hundreds of people dead in Jos, which lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
In the latest news on this story, Al Jazeera has just reported that “Nigerian authorities have arrested nearly a hundred people in connection with attacks near the central city of Jos that killed more than 500 people.”
I was particularly interested, in reading through the coverage of this story in various news outlets, to see how the (apparent) two sides in this conflict – and the roots of the conflict – would be discussed. So often, violence in Africa is described as “tribal” – with all the connotations of the primitive and uncivilized that conjures up. Violence between Jewish settlers and Palestinians is not described as tribal. When African Americans in LA attacked Korean grocery stores, it was not seen as tribal.
Even viewing this in religious terms, as much of the news coverage seems to do even while mentioning the tribal aspect, doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate. Though there does seem to be a fairly clear religious demarcation between the groups involved – Christian on the one hand, and Muslim on the other, Christians apparently slaughtering Muslims in January, and Muslims getting their own back this weekend – it is by no means clear that the roots or causes of the violence are really religious in nature at all, even if the area “lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.”
In comments to Al Jazeera, Patrick Wilmot, a sociologist and African affairs analyst based in London, placed the blame for the violence on a lack of economic development in the area. He also noted that Nigerian political leaders “manipulate … fears of religious and ethnic differences and as a result it’s a kind of tinderbox.” Which suggests that the “tribal” or religious dimensions of the violence are at least in part a smokescreen for the ongoing violence, oppression and corruption – “Sorrow, Tears & Blood” – of the Nigerian government.
Further complicating any reading of this as another tale of primitive “tribal” violence in the dark continent is the fact, touched on but not explored by the news coverage, that the Christian Borom are villages who engage in agriculture and trade, while the Muslim Hausa-Fulani are largely nomadic herders. In other words, a range war – such as was seen in the United States during the late 19th Century. A conflict over land use, and therefore also over economic development, as the London analyst suggested. And a corrupt government that for decades siphoned off billions in resource revenues into private coffers and Swiss bank accounts rather than do anything to foster development and growth in the country, and exploits religious, ethnic and cultural differences in a divide and conquer strategy for staying in power.
At stake here is more than just exposing a bias in the media, and in the West, toward seeing things in Africa – particularly violence – in terms of the “tribal,” the primitive, ideas of the dark continent. If the root causes of the violence are not properly understood, and addressed, the violence will never end. Seeing it in tribal terms, there is no issue to be addressed and so no ending; only an endless cycle of ethnic cleansing of one sort or another, of massacre and reprisal.
For more information on the current outbreak of violence…
- BBC News – Nigeria ethnic violence ‘leaves hundreds dead’
- Death Toll From Nigeria Violence Hits 500 – NYTimes.com
- CBC News – World – Attacks in Nigeria left 500 dead: reports
- Bodies of babies found after Nigerian massacre | World news | guardian.co.uk
- Nigeria sends in troops after massacre kills 500 – Mail & Guardian Online – South African newspaper
- Jos crisis: 400 given mass burial. – Nigerian Tribune, “the oldest surviving private newspaper in Nigeria,” where this isn’t even the top story
- 300 feared killed in fresh Plateau violence – Nigerian Guardian newspaper
- Pregnant woman among Nigeria slaughter victims | The Australian
- Nigeria troops on patrol after slaughter – The Age (Australia)
For background on the situation, as well as the larger context in Nigeria….
- BBC News – Nigeria violence in Jos: Q&A
- Al Jazeera English – RIZ KHAN – Nigeria’s leadership crisis – television discussion
- Al Jazeera English – Africa – Timeline: Tensions in Nigeria – succinct overview
- Al Jazeera English – Africa – Horror of Nigeria clashes uncovered – a similar outbreak of violence earlier in the year
- BBC NEWS | Africa | Debate: Is Nigeria a failed state?
- BBC NEWS | Africa | Fela Kuti’s Nigeria: 10 years on – Nigeria’s most popular musician
- BBC NEWS | Africa | ‘Blood oil’ dripping from Nigeria
- Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Mondomix
- Fela Kuti – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Nigeria – No political repression?
[A note on sources: Al Jazeera and BBC both view Africa as falling very much within their bailiwick, and tend to have some of the most extensive coverage of the region – and best sources – of all the major international news outlets.]