Violence in Africa, a continuing threat

African countries are certainly no strangers to violence, thought the past few years have seen an extended period of relative peace. The incredible bloodshed of the 90’s seems a distant dream at this point.

However, since the awful attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi ten days ago, it’s possible that other groups have been emboldened to stage dramatic attacks on weak civilians.

Boko Haram, an Islamic separatist group in Northern Nigeria, shot and killed more than 40 students at an agricultural college in Nigeria. They arrived in the middle of the night and shot them all while they slept. The college could not afford proper security, though it’s doubtful that the even would have been fully prevented. Security details in Africa, particularly for Africans is sadly lax.

It is certainly possible that the attack had nothing to do with Westgate at all, though it isn’t coincidental that in both cases, high profile symbols of Western style development were targeted. While past attacks included embassies, ports and high profile targets like New York City, I fear that global terrorism might be moving to easier and smaller targets in Sub-Saharan Africa. This, of course, puts us involved in global health and development at awful risk.

During my conversations with my colleagues over the past week, the most common phrase has been “these are the risks we take.” While it’s certainly risky for us, for Africans trying to improve the lot of their countries, it’s entirely worse.

I think of those 40 students, who were guilty only of trying to educate themselves and perhaps become successful farmers or entrepreneurs. It’s entirely sad.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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