TIPSHEET: Boko Haram is result of limited Western education

The Nigerian Islamist militant group that kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls is the ironic result of too little of the kind of Western education that the group decries, says a Vanderbilt University history professor.

[rquote]Boko Haram members believe that Western education “begets mannerisms, institutions, technologies and forms of recreation and entertainment that are antithetical to pious Islamic living[/rquote] and outside the moral and judicial permissions of Sharia law,” says Moses Ochonu, associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University.

Northern Nigeria became a British Protectorate in 1900 and colonial control was consolidated by 1907, Ochonu says. Wary of alienating Muslim elites, the British limited Christian missionary activities and established a two-tiered educational system that reserved Western education for a limited class of privileged aristocratic Nigerians. This education lag persisted over time and suspicion arose in the Muslim emirates that Western education was a source of un-Islamic ideas and practices.

“Boko Haram’s foot soldiers are largely young men without Western education, who were driven to the insurgency by economic disenfranchisement in a society where credentialed Western education and secular knowledge are requirements for upward socioeconomic mobility,” Ochonu says. “It is thus doubtful if these young men would be in Sambisa Forest fighting for Boko Haram if they had had the opportunity to acquire Western education, its credentials and its trappings.”

Ochonu can talk about the history of the Boko Haram group in Nigeria, why rampant corruption has undermined the state’s legitimacy and is so hard to combat in that country. He laid out some of his views on the website The Africa Collective.