Life and Death in the Middle Belt: A Clash of Civilizations in Nigeria
Muslims and Christians are both growing more radical in Nigeria, home of the would-be underwear bomber. Almost nowhere else in the world does the rivalry between religions lead to bloody conflict quite so often.
In Bauchi, there are rumors that militant Muslims are preparing to attack Christians in Jos, 100 kilometers (62 miles) away. Is it true? Or just an attempt to spark fear?
Nothing is certain in Jos, a city of close to a million inhabitants in central Nigeria's so-called "Middle Belt," a broad region between the 8th and 12th parallels north. Somewhere in this region, a shifting line separates Nigeria's predominantly Islamic north from its Christian south. Many Christians fear that followers of Allah are trying to expand southward, and Jos lies in the midst of the conflict.
The Former James Wuye
Pastor James has come to Jos for a few hours. This is not a good sign, because wherever Pastor James turns up, terror isn't far away. He has just come from Bauchi, and he too has heard talk that the Muslims there are arming themselves.
The 50-year-old pastor is one of the most prominent peace activists in Nigeria. One reason he's so famous is that he appears often with Imam Muhammad Ashafa from Kaduna in north-central Nigeria. The men preach the same message: "No matter whether you are Christians or Muslims, live your religion but don't kill anyone." Another reason the pastor is so prominent is that 20 years ago, going by James Wuye, he was known as a feared Christian militia leader in Kaduna, about 200 kilometers west of Jos. He lost an arm battling the people his current partner at the pulpit represents. "I hated the Muslims," he says. He came to his senses in the mid-1990s, and since then he has called himself a "conflict manager." Pastor James is a busy man today, preaching peace throughout Nigeria.
The country has a population of about 150 million; its roughly 400 ethnic groups speak more than 400 languages. Half the nation prays to "Allah" and the other half to "God." Hardly anywhere in the world has the ongoing rivalry between Christians and Muslims claimed so many victims, with at least 10,000 dead.
There has been killing everywhere. Muslims have been hunted down in the southern port city of Lagos, while Christians have been victimized in Kano in the Muslim north. But the majority of deaths occur in the Middle Belt, in places like Kaduna and Bauchi, and particularly Jos, where followers of the two religions live relatively close to one another.
In almost no city in the world is the clash of civilizations more evident. Without a wall, Jos is a divided city. Entire neighborhoods go up in flames, over and over, most recently in November 2008. Each new conflagration claims hundreds of lives. In 2001 Muslims set fire to the enormous indoor market buildings in downtown Jos, which house more than 10,000 market stalls. Most of the casualties were among members of the primarily Christian Ibo tribe. After each new conflict, the divide between religions becomes more raw.
A Colonial Divide
Arab traders brought Islam to the Sahel zone about 1,000 years ago, but for a long time it played only a secondary role as a religion. Trade, including the slave trade, was more important to the caliphs and emirs than faith. Christian missionaries penetrated up from the south a little over 100 years ago, following the country's British colonial masters. But the British allowed the emirs to prevail and prevented the missionaries from advancing any further. One consequence of the colonial masters' decision is that schools and universities in the south today are much better than those in the north.
The military governments that ruled Nigeria until 1999 used authoritarian means to hold together the multiethnic nation. Then came democracy. A new constitution and informal agreements brought a measure of stability -- for example, under new rules, the presidency will change hands between Christians from the south and Muslims from the north at least once every two terms, while the vice-president and the president will each be from one of the two religious groups.
But such agreements have not guaranteed the peace.
- Part 1: A Clash of Civilizations in Nigeria
- Part 2: 'The Government Covered Up the Real Numbers'
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