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Text Messaging as a Weapon in Nigeria

Authors: Asch Harwood, Research Associate, Africa Studies, and John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies
September 22, 2010


While organizations like PeaceNet Kenya have demonstrated the positive power of mobile technology for conflict resolution, the role text messaging played in instigating this year's sectarian violence in northern Nigeria serves as a grim reminder of how technology can also be used in destructive ways.

Anticipating violence around the 2007 Kenyan presidential elections, PeaceNet, an umbrella group for Kenyan NGOs, in collaboration with Oxfam, established a system of collecting information via text messaging on potential conflict. This enabled human rights advocates working at a “nerve center” to alert local groups to intervene and avert violence.

No such mechanism to manage the flow of information existed in Nigeria when sectarian violence erupted in January, and has continued, in the "Middle Belt," where the country's Christian-dominated south and Muslim-dominated north meet. This Muslim-Christian fault line corresponds to the division between herders and farmers and between Hausa-Fulani, historically the dominant ethnic group, and the Barom, a minority tribe that is, however, the majority in the Plateau province.

The rivalry between Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen and Christian Barom farmers is often attributed to desertification that pushes cattle herders further south into agricultural areas. Text messages played a role in turning this rivalry into ethnic and religious massacres.

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