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By Steve Peacock
The violence in northern Nigeria is mistakenly viewed as a religious conflict rather than simply a tribal dispute over land, according to the Obama administration.
Despite the ongoing Muslim destruction of churches and the slaughter of Christians – including many murdered during worship services – the U.S. Agency for International Development claims that the misunderstandings make it difficult to administer aid programs.
USAID, therefore, has launched a program titled Project PEACE – an acronym for Programming Effectively Against Conflict and Extremism.
PEACE says it will hire contractors to help the agency analyze the “true” causes of conflict and consequently provide more effective humanitarian and conflict-resolution assistance, according to planning documents that WND located via database research.
The cost of Obama’s new “knowledge generation, dissemination and management” initiative is $600 million.
The unveiling of PEACE comes as the slaughter of Nigerian Christians is on the rise.
As WND reported earlier this month, an international Christian ministry says Muslims recently killed hundreds of Christians gathering for worship.
Patrick Sookhdeo, international director for Barnabas Fund, said at the time: “The simple act of going to church on a Sunday has become a perilous one for Christians in many parts of Nigeria.”
Indeed, Nigerian media have reported that the Muslim jihadist group Boko Haram has pledged to “eradicate Christianity.”
The USAID documents, however, contend that Boko Haram simply shares with other groups anger “over the nation’s poor governance.”
Efforts to “improve state service capacities and working to enhance the service delivery capacity of local governments” would help reduce such anger and resultant conflicts, the agency says.
The Statement of Work governing the PEACE procurement does not say that USAID specifically plans to intervene in Nigeria. However, an accompanying guidance document explicitly cites Nigeria’s Christian-Muslim conflict as a “case study” for Obama’s global endeavor.
Supposed misconceptions about such strife interfere with attempts to prevent or mitigate problems, according to the USAID Conflict Assessment Framework 2.0 document.
“Hence, the first task of conflict management is to distinguish the symptoms of the conflict from its sources. … In other words, the sources of conflict must be addressed, just as a doctor tries to treat the disease and not just the symptoms.”
The guidance document – on which USAID requires prospective contractors to base future service proposals – then addresses the contentious state of affairs between Christian and Muslim communities in Jos, Nigeria.
Prior to mentioning, however vaguely, the frequent “clash in episodes of violence,” USAID alludes to the tendency of parties in conflict to dishonestly adopt “tactics and positions to advance their interests.”
“In some cases, particularly when the interests of key actors differ from those they claim to represent, a key actor may purposefully hide or deflect their intentions through rhetoric,” the agency says.
Specific to Nigeria, it then dismisses the religious element of the hostility.
“Yet, although the symptom of conflict is intercommunal violence along sectarian lines, the source of the conflict will not be found in theology. Rather, the conflict’s source [is] competition for land between a group that perceives itself as indigenous to the area and another seen as more recent settlers.”
Attempts to focus on the theological nature of the fighting have failed to halt the ongoing clash, since those parties purportedly ignore the underlying motivation for feuding, according to USAID: “Those who perceive the conflict as a religious war have been unable to gain traction in resolving the conflict because, at its root, it is more about the governance of contested resources.”
Grievances such as this “almost always precede physical acts of violence,” the document says, hinting that the indigenous Christian majority is the primary source of tensions with the Muslim Hausa minority.
“For example, in Nigeria, control of the city of Jos has long been a particular source of tension between the Muslim ‘settler’ Hausas and the largely Christian ‘indigenes.’
“Although the Hausas are a minority in Plateau state, they are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria overall. Thus, many Berom and other Christian groups voice fears of Hausa domination at the national level.
“Meanwhile, the Hausa minority harbors similar fears of being forced out of Jos.”
Both sides have subsequently spread “rumors” of imminent threats as well as “allegations of silent killings, weapons stockpiling, and so on,” the document continues.
“Tensions are so high that any minor incident between two individuals across the religious divide could escalate rapidly, facilitated by the barrage of hate messages and other alarmist texts sent across extensive cellular networks.
“Occasional outbreaks of violence do in fact occur.”
Contractors selected under Project PEACE would, among other tasks, analyze the historical and cultural contexts of ongoing or developing conflicts.
They also would be responsible for tapping into existing USAID resources – distributing reports on lessons learned from prior interventions, for example, or training USAID personnel in how to develop and implement new assistance programs as conflicts emerge worldwide.
In addition to ensuring that USAID program responses “are informed by an understanding of what is required for effective peacebuilding,” contractors would attempt to identify “bright spots” in the conflict.
Despite the imposition of Islamic law, or Shariah, in 12 northern Nigerian states in 1999-2000, the governor of Kaduna state brokered a political agreement between Christians Muslims that remains in force.
“As Christian-Muslim clashes have raged in nearby states, Kaduna has faced tensions and occasional fighting, but has remained relatively peaceful in the face of extremist provocations.
“One neighborhood in southern Kaduna, Barnawa, is particularly remarkable for having remained peaceful throughout the 2000 and 2002 crises,” the government documents state.
“In both instances, Christians and Muslims worked together to protect each other and to prevent outsiders who were intent on engaging in conflict from coming to their neighborhood.”
It is this sort of “bright spot” that contractors would use as a starting point to develop assistance programs and foster peace among groups in conflict and their governmental leaders, USAID believes.
USAID is holding a “pre-proposal conference” May 31 to discuss the program with interested contractors.