US Policy toward Nigeria: West Africa's Troubled Titan

By Carson, Johnnie | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

US Policy toward Nigeria: West Africa's Troubled Titan


Carson, Johnnie, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Johnnie Carson is US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. He presented this summary of US policy toward Nigeria before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on African Affairs July 10, 2012 Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and Members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about Nigeria. Since I served in Nigeria as a Foreign Service Officer at the beginning of my career, I have closely tracked the country's political and economic development. And for good reason: what happens in Nigeria affects us all, and that is why it is one of our most important strategic partners in sub-Saharan Africa. Let me mention a few facts that illustrate this point. At 160 million people, Nigeria is home to one out of every five sub- Saharan Africans. Its diverse and dynamic people are the greatest source of its strength, with the sixth largest Muslim population in the world, and Nigeria is the world's largest country to have approximately equal number of Christians and Muslims. It is the largest African contributor to international peacekeeping operations, and diaspora group in the United States.

Nigeria is a dominant economic and financial force across West Africa. It is the second largest recipient of American direct private sector investment in Africa, and the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. Nigeria is our largest trading partner in Africa, and our largest export market for wheat. Nigeria has the largest economy in West Africa, contributing over fifty percent of West Africa's GDP, and is the largest producer in West Africa of nearly all major agricultural products. It is also Africa's largest oil producer and with abundant reserves of natural gas. These facts are unmistakable: a stable, prosperous Nigeria can be a powerful force to promote stability and prosperity all over Africa.

Reading recent headlines, there is also no doubt that Nigeria's prospects are tempered by the many challenges it faces. Decades of poor governance have seriously degraded the country's health, education and transportation infrastructure. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day, and nearly one million children die each year before their fifth birthday. Public opinion polls and news reports suggest that there is a strong sentiment throughout Nigeria, especially in the North, that Nigeria's poverty is a result of government neglect, corruption, and abuse.

This brings us to the subject of today's hearing about "West Africa's Troubled Titan." The inability of the government to address the needs of the people, to grow the economy and to generate jobs generates a sense of hopelessness among many. It also helps feed a popular narrative among some that the government does not care. Boko Haram capitalizes on popular frustrations with the nation's leaders, poor government, ineffective service delivery, and dismal living conditions for many northerners. Over the past year, Boko Haram has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and and the United States strongly condemns this violence.

Before we prescribe actions, it is important that we understand what Boko Haram is and what it is not. The truth is that our understanding is limited at best. Boko Haram is composed of at least two organizations, a larger organization focused primarily on discrediting the Nigerian government, and a smaller more dangerous group that is increasingly sophisticated and increasingly lethal. This smaller group has developed links with AQIM and has a broader, anti- Western agenda. This group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of westerners and for the attacks on the UN building in Abuja. They also bomb churches to aggravate ethnic and religious tensions in an attempt to sow chaos and increase their public profile. Complicating the picture further is the tendency of some officials to blame Boko Haram for all of the bank robberies and local vendettas occurring in the North when these should be attributed to common Haram, the U. …

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