In Nigeria’s Borno State, the local government is investing $100 million to make farms vastly more productive. The hope is the effort will also keep poor residents with limited prospects from joining militant Islamist groups.
Residents of Kenya’s Lamu Island awoke on July 7 to find leaflets emblazoned with the insignia of Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist militancy. Locals said the message was clear: If you are Christian, get off our land.
“We warn Christians and Kenyan government to stop oppressing our Muslim brothers,” read a flyer seen by The Wall Street Journal.
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Most of the Christians in predominantly Muslim Lamu county received land through a government resettlement program in the 1960s and 1970s. A new port project has increased property values, antagonizing Muslims who say they aren’t getting their fair share.
In mid-June, tensions intertwined with land and religion boiled over. Attackers shouted “God is great!” as they stormed into towns and villages, executing Christian men. More than 80 people in and around Lamu county were killed. The assaults stirred turmoil in eastern Kenya, a big step toward al-Shabaab’s goal of undermining east Africa’s biggest economy.
Across Africa, mounting competition for land stressed by population growth and climate change is exacerbating poverty and pushing some people to militancy. Tensions between Muslims and Christians are stoking the flames. Regions that could be the breadbasket of fast-growing African economies have been ravaged by fighting.
“In the best of times, our people were poor. Now they are made destitute by insurgency,” said Kashim Shettima, governor of Nigeria’s Borno state, whose plans to invest $100 million in agricultural improvements have been slowed by the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.
Africa’s demographic boom is stoking these disputes. Half of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are under 20 years old, the United Nations says. Tens of millions of them are streaming into cities looking for work. But rapid population growth means the number of poor Africans who rely on denuded farmland is growing.
The consequences are reverberating far from Africa. In May, President Barack Obama said terrorism in Africa and the Middle East is the greatest threat to U.S. interests.
In August, Mr. Obama will host African leaders at the White House to discuss pan-continental concerns.
In Kenya, “All these attacks are in areas that are contested over who owns the land,” said Benson Maisori, deputy commissioner for Lamu county, which includes Lamu Island, a World Heritage site. And the violence has continued—both with more attacks on the northern coast and on July 20 with an attack in the southern coastal city of Mombasa that left three people dead.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has blamed local political leaders exploiting ethnic divisions for the recent attacks. His spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, said that Mr. Kenyatta is also looking at land disputes in the investigation into the attacks. This month, Mr. Kenyatta said an effort was under way to digitize title deeds, which he said would boost efficiency.
“There are all kinds of historical issues around land in Kenya,” said Mr. Esipisu. “Those historical issues are being dealt with.”
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, meanwhile, competition for arable land has fueled years of warfare along the vast country’s eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo’s government has little control over the area. Few residents can prove they own the land they occupy. And constantly moving fighting has created a large mass of refugees that put more pressure on the region’s land. The conflict has dissuaded companies from tapping resources like gold and oil—depriving an impoverished region of riches.
In Uganda this month, government troops killed more than 40 assailants who came across the border from Congo. Ugandan officials said militiamen armed with spears and machetes were trying to seize land in the oil-rich area. Officials later found three mass graves of some dozen people each, believed to be the victims of tribal clashes in the area.
African officials and their foreign partners say one way out is to give farmers a more promising future.
Some of those efforts are surfacing in areas hardest hit by militants.
In Nigeria’s Borno state, a Boko Haram stronghold, Gov. Shettima has spent about a third of the $100 million he hopes to invest in agriculture, $2 million of it on a contract for American-run firm WM Group to install huge irrigation systems at the parched heart of the insurgency. But Borno’s deepening lawlessness has hindered WM’s work.
Dan Lloyd, a WM partner, reckoned it would take him six months to clear six plots across Borno, install hulking steel irrigation systems, and train locals to run them. That was 18 months ago.
In March, a car bomb killed six police officers and shattered the windows of a tractor parked next to one of the irrigation rigs. Months earlier, soldiers killed 15 suspected militants holed up just beyond his rotating steel sprinklers. The government said one of Mr. Lloyd’s pilot sites is too dangerous to visit.
The three rigs he has installed now turn lazily above plump black-eyed-pea plants and knee-high rows of corn.
Mr. Lloyd has cleared a fourth field where Baba Kura Lawan, a fruit farmer who abandoned his own land after Boko Haram fighters killed 27 of his neighbors in January, will lead hundreds of farmers in a government-backed cooperative.
If Mr. Lawan can make the land productive, and if Mr. Lloyd’s employees can keep the irrigation system running, Gov. Shettima has promised to buy dozens more.
“I want to sell more sprinklers, but I also want to see them make a difference,” Mr. Lloyd said. “Things need to calm down around here first.”
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Perfect storm: too many people, entrenched tribalism and of course, Islam.
Attempts to suggest that there is not a population problem in Africa are insane. Clearly there is. Even Jared Diamond — leftist scientist who wrote the book “Collapse” on how some outposts of population in history had completely collapsed — said that overpopulation was a trigger for the Rwanda genocide.
Many people insist that technology will always find a way — after all — wasn’t Malthus famously wrong? He wrote just before the Industrial Revolution took off. I suspect he was not wrong, just writing an unusual juncture in history.
It is true that all of Diamond’s examples were very isolated (Easter Island, for example). Yet the book is worth reading in spite of that.
Population pressures are being aggravated by tribalism and radical Islam. They are partly related, as Muslims are particularly opposed to any attempt to reduce their population growth, seeing it as an evil plot on the part of the Crusaders (this holds true everywhere in the Muslim world, not just Africa).
And Boko Haram is getting scary. Most people are not that interested in the news from that part of the world. But by following it with my Google news alerts, I can see that is deteriorating rapidly. They are taking over whole towns now. They are killing more and more of the traditional Islamic leaders, who for all their faults, were better than Boko Haram.
Just a few years ago, the traditional Islamic leaders would hold elaborate “durbars” with fancy costumes that attracted tourists. The photos date back to 2009. Just five years ago. Now, the places are war zones.
It seems to have taken a turn for the worse with the dreadfully named “Arab Spring,” which should be renamed “Arab Chaos.” Taking out Gaddafi was a terrible mistake: his weapons are no doubt now assisting Boko Haram.
And it is reverberating all over: why are so many Africans trying to get to Europe? Because there is no future for them in their overpopulated countries.
And you can bet that there will sufficient idiotic Greens and leftists to help them on their way.