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Vol. 78/No. 21      June 2, 2014

Abduction of girls in Nigeria
sparks outrage in Africa, world
(front page)
NEW YORK — The kidnapping of nearly 300 young women and girls from a school in northeastern Nigeria has sparked a public outcry throughout the country, across Africa and beyond. The protests are an indication of the worldwide character of the fight for women’s rights and changing social attitudes on the question in Africa and much of the semicolonial world, given impetus by the rapid development of capitalist production and modern forms of class struggle.

At the same time, the kidnappings have drawn attention to the uneven character of economic development in Africa; growing disparities between city and countryside; and to the persistence of polygamy and centuries-old tribal conflicts, even as such remnants of pre-capitalist society are breaking down.

On April 14, armed members of the Sunni Group for Preaching and Jihad, commonly referred to as Boko Haram, ordered girls residing at a school in the town of Chibok, home to the Christian Chibok tribe, into trucks and drove away. The 276 captured students are between the ages of 12 and 17. As of May 18, 223 are still in captivity.

Boko Haram, which loosely translates as “Western education is sin,” has offered to release their captives in exchange for imprisoned members of the group and threatens to sell the girls into slavery or marriage.

Many are angry at the Nigerian government for failing to protect the schoolgirls, despite the fact that government forces received information on the impending raid four hours before it happened. Relatives told the London Telegraph May 11 that the students had been held in a camp just 20 miles from Chibok for 11 days without any government attempts to free them.

“Nothing happened until people spoke out in Chibok, in Abuja, in Lagos and around the whole world,” Miamah Richards, a leader of Kechie’s Project, which provides scholarships to girls in Nigeria, told the Militant at a rally of some 200 outside the Nigerian Consulate here May 10. “The government could have stopped this from happening.”

While less common and tolerated than in the past, abduction of women persists in parts of Africa, fostered by continuing tribal conflicts and the practice of polygamy. “Kidnappings are a daily occurrence in Nigeria, four, five, maybe 10, but to abduct almost 300 girls — that’s unprecedented,” Richards said.

Family members demonstrate continuously in Chibok, and protests have taken place in cities in Nigeria, including Abuja, the capital. Other actions have been organized in dozens of cities in Africa and around the world.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with 170 million people. While English is the official language, there are hundreds of indigenous languages, tribes and ethnicities. The northern part of the country is predominantly Muslim, the south mostly Christian.

The country recently surpassed South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy with large foreign investment from the United States, United Kingdom and China. Gross domestic product growth has averaged 7 percent a year over the past decade.

This process is rapidly expanding the ranks of the working class. Women made up 43 percent of Nigeria’s 51 million-strong labor force in 2011, up from 34 percent 20 years earlier.

Industrial and other economic development has been concentrated in the south, with the oil industry in the southeast. Meanwhile, disparities have grown between the south and north.

Malnutrition and child mortality is twice as high in the north, less than 10 percent of 1-year-olds in the north receive basic vaccinations compared to more than 30 percent in the south. Most of the north lacks electricity, while most of the south is electrified. The north has much fewer roads, health clinics or other modern infrastructure. Lake Chad, a key resource in the northeast, has shrunk by 90 percent in the past 40 years, devastating fishing and farming. Spreading deserts claim more than 770 square miles of cropland every year.

Origins of Boko Haram

Boko Haram was founded by the Salafist preacher Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. Backed by a layer of propertied individuals in the Muslim north, it was formed a few years after the end of military rule and the strengthening of political power by capitalists in the predominantly Christian south. Yusuf set up a mosque and an Islamic school in Maiduguri, the capital in the northeast state of Borno where the Muslim Kanuri tribes are dominant. Echoing populist demagogy of a layer of northern politicians, Boko Haram advocated a return to the past: Islamicisation of law and all aspects of society.

In 2009, Boko Haram led a rebellion in Borno, fueled by resentments over government corruption, growing poverty and social dislocations brought by capitalist development. The uprising was met by a brutal government crackdown. Yusuf, as well as hundreds of other Boko Haram members and civilians were killed. Wives and children of alleged Boko Haram members were kidnapped and Boko Haram was driven out of Maiduguri into the Sambisa Forest. From this base, the reactionary group lashed out against Christian churches, schools and villages, mainly in the northeast, but also in other parts of the country.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has killed at least 2,300 people, 1,500 in the first three months of this year alone. Government forces have since carried out retribution against Muslim civilians, fueling resentment and creating fertile ground for recruitment to Boko Haram.

Governments and religious figures throughout the Muslim world denounced the kidnappings in Chibok. The Iranian vice president for Women and Family Affairs issued a statement May 9. The same day Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, the country’s top religious authority, condemned the abductions. The previous day the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, with 57 member governments, did the same.

‘Too late to restrict women’

“Nigeria can’t stand still, they can’t restrict women from education, they can’t restrict women at all, too late in history for that,” Franca Okeya told the Militant at the New York rally. A New York City government employee, she is originally from Nigeria. “This is not a Nigerian problem, this is a world problem,” she said. “Women are standing up, getting involved, from France to China, from Brooklyn to Nigeria, we can’t be kept out.”

The changing attitudes toward women in Nigeria are one part of a broad sea change rooted in capitalist penetration throughout the semicolonial world, which has drawn women into the labor force and workers’ struggles by the millions. This is true in Bangladesh and Cambodia, for example, which in recent decades have emerged as new centers of world garment production.

The social consequences can be seen in the public outrage sparked in India when a young woman was raped and killed in December 2012 in New Delhi. And it can be seen in the determination and confidence of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by Taliban in October 2012 for condemning the Taliban campaign against women’s education in the Swat region of Pakistan.

“There are over 10 million children of primary school age [in Nigeria] out of school,” Yousafzai, who began speaking out for women’s education in 2008 when she was 11 years old, said in a statement May 9. “In other words, one out of every six children out of school [worldwide] lives in Nigeria. The Nigerian government needs to step up and deliver protection to its people and education to all its children.”
Related article:
Capitalist development in Africa strengthens working class
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