June 01, 2014

Mahamadou Issoufou

Mahamadou Issoufou


The President of Niger almost recognized this when asked about the recent rapid spread of Boko Haram:

In 2004, a governor [of Borno State] in Maiduguri had calmed Boko Haram by the distribution of subsidies. But in 2009 his successor stopped them, and Boko Haram began its military incubation.

In other words (if true), thousands of people have been killed, and hundreds kidnapped, because of personal exasperation. 

In the developed world, our problems are much less acute. And we are fortunate in actually needing large numbers of educated and trained people. Yet we have nevertheless made a similar mistake, and there is now often little connection between the market in education and the market in employment. The economic value of a university degree has correspondingly declined (of its intellectual or cultural value I dare not speak, for the vast majority of students now regard their education merely as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself), and it has become obvious to more and more students that the main purpose of their tertiary education is to lower the rate of youth unemployment for the propaganda benefit of government. In many countries, worse still, students are now being made to pay, by means of indebtedness, for their own unemployment. But while the economic value of a degree has declined, it is something they cannot do without, for without it they have no chance even of a job for which they would have been overqualified a few decades ago. Thus they are on a treadmill from which they cannot alight. Awareness of this accounts for the Indignés in Europe and the Occupy Wall Street movement in America. They are Boko Haram in a minor key; for them, too, the personal is political. 

It was in the capital of Niger, incidentally, that I learnt an important lesson in political economy. I had until then naively supposed that in a country so desperately poor, service industries would be cheap. On the contrary, I discovered that they were astonishingly expensive, far more expensive than in, say, Palm Springs, despite wages at slave labor rates.              


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