The African Women's Education Terror Antidote

The kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria by the Islamist group Boko Haram has merely shone a light on how the education of girls and women in Africa is viewed: with indifference at best and profound disgust at worst. Even though it is true that Boko Haram in general considers Western education "Haram" or sinful, and education of women in particular punishable by death, the reality is that at the best of times the majority of Africans have not viewed the education of their daughters as important as that of boys. When resources are scarce, the education of boys always takes precedence over that of girls. Despite a certain degree of activism by some women leaders, the progress of girls' education across Africa still lags behind that of boys at all levels and is particularly bleak at the postgraduate level. It is particularly bad for science education of women and girls.

Like many such groups, Boko Haram has an Islamist ideology; one that wants to have a Sharia-law based rule in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria. It has been in existence since 2002 and has been given succor by the corruption that passes for governance in Nigeria, as it does in the rest of Africa. Kidnappings, political assassinations and other political malfeasance are part and parcel of Nigerian politics. Over time the Muslim North has lagged behind the Christian South in education and wealth. A less extreme form of Sharia law has been the rule of the land in the North where Boko Haram wants this to be made more severe and more entrenched. It can be said that the group's birth and growth was a result of mismanagement, corrupt governance in a Nigeria where the disparity between the poor and the rich is a yawning chasm. It didn't have to be so, but today the difference between the North and the South is so stark that the two regions could virtually be two different countries.

All that said, the world should take this moment to reconsider and rededicate itself to this one idea: education of African girls is the only antidote to Boko Haram and similar Islamist groups in Africa. It's also worth remembering that, from a historical point, if all the billions the West wasted on corrupt politicians in Africa and other third world countries had been directed to the education of both boys, girls and women, the world would now be a much better place. The terrorism we are witnessing across much of Africa and the Middle East would not have been given birth to by corruption, ignorance and intolerance. There is no question that groups like Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations would not have found the fertile soil of ignorance and religious intolerance on which they breed so profusely. This is a lesson we should learn. It is a practice we should remedy for it is never too late to start.

We at AAHEP -- Africa America Higher Education Partnerships -- have realized that the only way forward for Africa is through education. We are passionate believers in education and are champions of the education of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM. For the last seven years we have worked to train women scientists to attain their Masters and Ph.D degrees. To us, women science teachers and women leaders steeped in the science disciplines, are the antidote to the horror show that we have witnessed and are witnessing all across Africa. It is obvious to see that much of today's bloody African conflicts are fueled by old mens' anger, their fear of losing power and ignorant acts born of unenlightened thoughtlessness.

We believe that what is needed is a new rethinking of where we invest our African development funds. Governments in the West must refocus their activities in Sub Saharan Africa to educating African girls and women, with a focus on STEM at all levels. They must convince African leaders that more resources must be directed towards educating a new generation of women scientists, who will be tomorrow's African leaders. It is imperative too that those private industries that have a stake in Africa pitch in, in helping the education of African women scientists -- by lending groups like AAHEP a hand to educate the best girl minds and women leaders in Africa.

If there be a panacea, we believe that the education of African girls is the one for tomorrow's Africa. To not adopt our prescription is to invite more groups like Boko Haram and the Somali Al Shabaab to be hatched and grow all across Africa. It is also to encourage today's bloody confrontations in Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Congo and elsewhere to be tomorrow's African bloody battlefields.