This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Boko Haram and the Demography of Nigeria

The world has been riveted and repulsed this week by the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by a radical Islamic group known locally as Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language means "western education is forbidden." BBC News has a very good article describing the group and providing some background on its origins, which is quite recent.
Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
Since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among the area's Muslims to Western education. Many Muslim families still refuse to send their children to government-run "Western schools", a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority.
The kidnapped girls had made the mistake, so to speak, of wanting a western education--realizing that it is the key to success everywhere in the world. Local resistance to this idea, which has obviously existed for a long time, wouldn't be such a problem if death rates were still very high and the population was not growing rapidly. Despite the fact that northern Nigeria is a region where death rates are currently high by world standards, they are still much lower than they used to be and since fertility remains very high there, population growth is high, creating a situation where local economies offer few opportunities to improve one's life--except through western education as a way up and/or out. As I noted a couple of years ago, this is a prime situation in which a large group of young men without good job prospects can create the fuel for rebellion and violence.

The man who founded Boko Haram in 2002 was killed by the Nigerian police forces in 2009, and it was thought that this would shut it down. Instead, they regrouped and are making themselves known. Nigeria has already seen one bloody civil war in its post-colonial history, and we have to hope that this group can be permanently shut down without it going to that extreme.

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