A journalist whose work we at Mediolana always try and keep tabs on is Aylin Kocaman, the Istanbul-based analyst and television presenter. In one of her recent columns in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat – Which West is the Solution for Nigeria? – Kocaman makes a very important, much-overlooked point in the context of the kidnappings of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by the neo-salafist radical group Boko Haram: that education, and not ill-advised military adventurism, is the only viable long-term solution to such problems.
Kocaman posits that the Western world as a whole (and presumably the United States and United Kingdom in particular) has in recent decades tended to view one-sided conflicts characterised by large-scale aerial bombing as their international relations instrument of choice; this strategy's lack of efficacy can be seen in present-day Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and its repetition in West Africa should quite correctly be viewed as undesirable. Non-violent, grassroots-focused action centred on education is what is needed.
But what precise education-based steps could be taken to neutralise Boko Haram? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana believe we have a three-point plan that could significantly change the dynamics of the group – and lead to a demilitarisation of the region in which they operate:
1. Purchase the Best Education Money Can Buy. As tempting as it is to view them otherwise, the leadership of and key actors within Boko Haram are human beings with human desires. From their precarious position in arid, impoverished and virtually infrastructure-free Nigerian states such as Sokoto and Katsina, could they really resist an offer of a new identity and life in London or New York, with enrolment for their children at exclusive private schools? Such an arrangement would show up the hollowness of the collective's claim that modern education is something to be detested; in terms of international relations, it could represent a powerful contrast to the cynical relationships traditionally cultivated by major powers with client state elites to preserve pernincious status quos.
2. Let 1,000 Branch Campuses Bloom. Given its abundant natural resources, Nigeria can in no way be described as an inherently poor country – there is more than enough capital in the system to establish an 'education city' in northern Nigeria similar to those popping up in Asian cities such as Dubai, Doha and Incheon. The Nigerian government should inaugurate this beacon of hope as a matter of the utmost priority – and begin incentivising creation of the graduate jobs needed to keep this new source of transformative human capital in the country. Massive and sustained allocation of resources into Nigeria's generally abysmal public school system is a necessary corollary to ensure that needless human despondency is minimised.
3. Usher in a Reign of Accountability. As computers and factual knowledge spread relentlessly across the world, governments – including Western governments – have a choice: either embrace transparency, or be destroyed by it. Given that hackers and perhaps even whistleblowers will now be in a position to perpetually embarrass authorities that abuse the powers given to them, it makes perfect sense for states to adjust to this new reality by forestalling discontent at the outset and managing their resources equitably. As a rule, groups such as Boko Haram only manage to get a significant foothold in countries where extreme levels of corruption have eaten away at state capacity, and poverty is widespread: removing obscene asymmetries in wealth and opportunity is a vital part of countering groups espousing violent ideological action.