Politics and poverty responsible for Jos conflict

By | January 25, 2010

I wrote last week about violent conflict and modes of identification. It comes up again in this nice piece by FT’s Tom Burgis:

Like previous outbreaks in 2001 and 2008, the latest bloodshed in Jos is wrought in the name of religion. Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross said both Christians and Muslims were among at least 160 killed while other estimates put the toll much higher.

Kuru is almost exclusively Muslim. So too is Anglo-Jos, a neighbourhood of the city where the walls of torched homes have been daubed with Christian slogans. “Jesus the mighty man in battle,” reads one. Inhabitants of Christian quarters, meanwhile, say they are terrified by reports of Muslim vigilantes masquerading as security personnel.

But in Nigeria, religious differences often go hand in hand with ethnic rivalry or serve as a facade disguising it. There are more than 200 ethnic groups within the country’s uneasy federation and regular if often localised disputes among them have claimed thousands of lives in the 10 years since the military handed power back to elected civilians.

Jos, which is situated on the volatile fault-line between the predominately Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, has been among the worst affected areas. There, economic hardship and a long history of resistance to the Hausa-Fulani sultanates further north have been politically manipulated to create what one religious leader calls a “Molotov cocktail” of hatreds.

Some trace the roots of the brutality to the long decline of what was once a cosmopolitan boom town.

Members of the Hausa community, the predominant ethnic group in Nigeria’s north, began migrating to the area in large numbers 100 years ago when British colonial rulers started extracting tin on an industrial scale. Accomplished traders, they prospered not only from mining but also from distributing the agricultural produce of local tribes, among them the Christian farmers of the Berom.

World wars fuelled demand for tin; the gentle climate attracted large numbers of expatriates. Former UK prime minister John Major even did a stint at a local bank in Jos before returning to the UK.

But by 1967, when Nigeria was descending into civil wars, the tin mines had begun to decay. Mismanagement and the economic distortions that followed the discovery of oil rendered them uncompetitive. Residents say the resulting loss of livelihoods was compounded by a government austerity programme in the 1980s.

Underlying the animosities is a perception that the Hausas’ relative success in switching to new lines of business has come at the expense of the Berom. “Round the town, most of the businesses are being run by Hausa men – that has driven their jealousy,” says Mohammed Isa, 56, a Hausa sheltering at a makeshift refugee camp after being forced from his home by Christian gangs.

In full here. It is FT so it is somewhat gated.

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  • http://www.observationsofafrica.blogspot.com/ Tauratinzwe

    I almost went to teach in Jos in 1970 (couldn’t get a visa due to just ended war). Again nearly went to Jos in 1982. Sad that the area is suffering so much. It is also sad that the news coming from the area is so simplistic and ultimately unhelpful.

  • http://www.observationsofafrica.blogspot.com Tauratinzwe

    I almost went to teach in Jos in 1970 (couldn’t get a visa due to just ended war). Again nearly went to Jos in 1982. Sad that the area is suffering so much. It is also sad that the news coming from the area is so simplistic and ultimately unhelpful.