News / Africa

    Nigeria's Civilians Bear Brunt of Islamist Conflict

    Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.
    Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.
    Reuters
     In this relic of a medieval African empire, streets that were once lively markets for silk and perfumes now trade gunfire between Islamist insurgents and the Nigerian military.

    Army checkpoints at intervals of 300 meters choke the roads through parts of Maiduguri, capital of northeast Nigeria's Borno state and epicenter of Boko Haram's fight for Islamic rule.

    Residents of Borno, for centuries the seat of one of West Africa's oldest Islamic empires, then called Bornu, feel trapped in the middle, targets for both sides in a more than three-year-old conflict they fear only a negotiated settlement can end.

    Along the bullet-pocked slums of Gwange and Kofa Biyu, on Maiduguri's outskirts, bearded members of Boko Haram hide amongst civilians in rubble-strewn streets that are largely deserted, save a few young children playing on sandy pavements.

    Grandfather Muazu Kalari said most of the adult males in his family - the ones most at risk of being killed by one side or the other - had fled since the Islamists moved in.

    "My three sons abandoned their children and wives, and so I'm left to fend for my grandchildren," he said, arranging tomatoes on a table for sale on an otherwise empty street.
        
    The unrest has its origins in 2009, when a cleric called Mohammed Yusuf led an uprising against the government, triggering a security crackdown in which 800 people died, including Yusuf, who was in police custody.
        
    Far from crushing Boko Haram, it triggered an angry backlash, transforming a clerical movement opposed to Western education into a violent jihadist sect that has since forged ties with al Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahara.
        
    Thousands have died in a conflict that has destabilized Africa's top energy producing nation. The Islamists, who frequently target the security forces, Christian worshippers or politicians, have shown no sign of giving up and no interest in an amnesty offer floated by President Goodluck Jonathan last month.
        
    In Maiduguri, people say a political settlement may be the only hope.
        
    "No one believes that the military with all their big guns can stop Boko Haram attacks,'' said Islamic cleric Maha Lawali. "They need to arrange a peace deal with these people.''

    An army raid two weeks ago killed dozens of people in the market town of Baga, on Lake Chad too the north, prompting calls for an investigation.
        
    Western powers, fearing that Nigerian jihadists are tilting more towards targeting their interests, have urged Nigeria to discipline its troops and address the underlying causes of the insurgency, which stem from the north's economic decline.

    Old Islamic States

    Last year Boko Haram said it wanted to revive a old Islamic caliphate, tapping into yearning for the days when Muslim sultanates thrived on trade crossing the Sahara to the Mediterranean.

    Bornu was the oldest such empire in Nigeria, founded in the 9th century along the swamps around Lake Chad, and Islamicized two centuries later by Arabic-speaking gold and ivory traders plying caravan routes to Tripoli and the Nile Valley.

    When Britain established a military outpost in Maiduguri in 1907, the Sultan of Bornu moved his palace there. In 1960, at independence, Borno's markets for textiles and fish from the lake prospered, but as southern oilfields began to dominate Nigeria's economy from the 1960s the north went into decline.
        
    Now, even in the safer parts of Maiduguri where shops bustle and taxi horns hoot, everything dies after curfew at 6 p.m.
        
    Chinese companies rebuilding roads have paused or pulled out, after Chinese construction workers were killed by gunmen earlier this year. Most flights to the city have come off schedule.

    "These days, all I do is sweat in a shop for nothing," said Tukur Modu, sitting in a store selling cloth with no customers.

    A climate of fear is palpable.

    "You pray in the mosque and for all you know there might be a Boko Haram member praying right next to you,'' said Danladi Gana, whose small shop sells locally made leather goods.

    "You don't know what you might say and they will mark your face, come back later and kill you - alone if you're lucky or with the whole of your family if you're not.''

    Fear of security forces is just as strong. Late last year
    Sabiyu Mohammed saw a roadside bomb hit a patrol. The soldiers started shooting randomly at people in the area, killing many, he said.

    Borno state military spokesman Sagir Musa said there was no evidence that Nigerian forces targeted civilians, but he admitted that some are killed in crossfire. That doesn't reassure residents.

    "The innocent people are the ones suffering from this face off between Boko Haram and the military,'' Lawali said, stepping up from his prayer mat. "We're caught in the middle.''

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora