The abduction of more than 240 Nigerian girls has shocked the world. But, unfortunately, their case is not an isolated one in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria's torment is shared by many other African countries, and the motivation behind the kidnapping derives from an ideology that is global.
That ideology is based on a warped and false view of religion. It is taught in formal and informal school settings worldwide. Of course, the hideous and crazed words of the leader of Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped the girls, are representative only of the most extreme fringe of this ideology. But, until we clean the soil in which this poisonous plant takes root, it will continue to blight the life chances of millions of young people around the world— and jeopardize our own security.
Across Sub-Saharan Africa, this problem is now vast. Mali, Chad, Niger, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Kenya, and even Ethiopia have all suffered or face acute anxieties about the spread of extremism. Many other countries have now identified extremism as their single most important challenge.
Governments are often confronting the challenge with courage and determination, and the use of African forces in many countries to try to keep peace is a tribute to that resolve. But the fact is that the problem is continuing to grow.
This is not by accident. When I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1997, Nigeria served as an example of productive cooperation between Christians and Muslims. The destructive ideology represented by Boko Haram is not part of the country's traditions; it has been imported.
As the population grows, so will the problem. Nigeria has approximately 168 million people today, with some estimates putting the population at 300 million by 2030, split roughly equally between Christian and Muslim. Without a climate of peaceful coexistence, the consequences for the country—and the world—will be enormous.
Poverty and lack of development play a huge part in creating the circumstances in which extremism incubates. But poverty alone does not explain the problem. And a major factor now holding back development is terrorism. Who would invest in northern Nigeria under current conditions? How can local economies thrive in such an atmosphere?