John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Northern Nigeria and the U.S. Response to Syria

by John Campbell
September 4, 2013

A youth rides past a bicycle along Anka-Sokoto road in northeastern state of Zamfara August 13, 2013. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


As President Obama and the Congress decide how to respond to the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, Alex Thurston has published a sobering post on his Sahel Blog. In his “A Northern Nigerian Prediction about Syria, Validated” he briefly recounts a conversation from 2011 with a northern Nigerian Muslim who predicted that the U.S. would “bomb Syria.”

Thurston observes that “many Muslims, and not just Arab Muslims, look at American military actions in the Middle East as habitual, predatory, and destructive.” Thurston observes he is not a pollster, and I am not one, either. But, his conclusion fits my own experience. The U.S. approach to Israel/Palestine, Iran, Libya, and perhaps soon Syria is seen by many in northern Nigeria as fundamentally anti-Islamic. Evidence is, of course, anecdotal. For example, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 some 70 percent of all baby boys born in a particular Kano hospital were named “Osama.”

It’s sad. Northern Muslims are by no means predestined to be hostile to the United States.  For example, the U.S. refusal to endorse the third term aspirations of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was deeply unpopular in the North, resulted in a momentary boost in American popularity. Like everywhere else, in northern Nigeria, “all politics is local.” Manifestations of American friendship and respect for the North and Islam in a local context can overcome or mitigate anger at U.S. policies in other parts of the world.

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  • Posted by iliyasu adamu

    What do youmean by that? If we call our childs OSAM, so what does that mean we are a terrorist. We northerners we are waiting for US to come and kill as after they have finish with SYRIA

  • Posted by Chike

    As an aside, US is doing very little in the way of public diplomacy & public diplomacy starts from foreign policy. There are costs to a blind defence of Israel and a perception of bias towards Israel.

    This is a mill stone around America’s neck.

    But other aspects of public diplomacy are totally neglected. There’s very little person to person contact between the US Govt and the global public. The US should learn from the British with their British Councils or the Germans with their Goethe Institutes or even the Chinese with their Confucius Institutes.

    For example, most of the travellers from Nigeria to China come from the South East (Igbo). So the Chinese already have a Confucius Institute at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka (which can help teach traders the basics of the Chinese language).

    In contrast, the US basically has no strategic outreach or serious plans to do so. Public diplomacy doesn’t have to be expensive, but there has to be commitment – and neither the US government nor the US people have that commitment.

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