Does Africa Matter?

During the rush hour this Monday morning, a bomb blew up at a bus station on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, killing 75 and injuring more than 200.


The explosion destroyed 16 luxury buses and 24 minibuses and cars, and threw body parts all over the scene, where hundreds of people were getting ready for their morning commute. The explosion also left a four-foot crater in the ground.

As you might expect, the president visited the site of the attack and condemned the group that likely is responsible for the attack.

What’s strange is that you probably are hearing about this attack for the first time.

That’s because this bombing — the worst in the capital city’s history — took place in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

Here’s a picture of Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, talking at the scene of the attack (I’m betting you never heard of him either).


This bombing appeared briefly on the “digital front page” of the New York Times Tuesday morning.  I happened to see it on my iPhone, where the article looked like this:

nigeria iPhone

The physical front page of the New York Times on Tuesday looked like this:


If you look way in the bottom left corner, you will see the article about the bombing in Nigeria’s capital:


So it was a blurb on the front page — which is better than not being on the front page at all.  But most U.S. news sources I’ve seen this week have provided no follow-up to this story, which is why most people in the U.S. have no idea this horrible event even happened.

If you type “Abuja bomb site” into YouTube, there are some videos of the aftermath of the attack.  Here’s a screen shot from a 2-minute CNN video:

CNN video

What has been all over the news is the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

That makes sense, especially since the Marathon is coming up on Monday.

I’m not criticizing the focus on Boston, which took an emotional toll on the United States.  I grew up in Newton, a suburb of Boston, and that attack shook me.  I’ve been to the Boston Marathon several times and I can picture the site of the bombing.

What made the Boston attack particularly bad was that athletes from around the world came to Boston to compete in an event that is supposed to be a celebration of the best in athletics. And bombings don’t usually happen in major US cities.

The Boston bombing was well-covered. Indeed, it was hard to miss the manhunt that took place in Boston and kept the cities of Boston and Watertown on lockdown for most of the day on April 19, 2013. I remember being riveted that whole day until the second bomber was located.

But think about this: the Boston Marathon bombing killed three people and injured 264.

The bombing in Nigeria’s capital this Monday — an attack you likely did not hear about until just now — killed 75 people and injured more than 200.  Both of those numbers are likely to go up in the coming days as Nigerian officials sort through what happened.

What I’m wondering is why there isn’t more coverage of this horrific bombing in Nigeria’s capital city.

I’m guessing that a big part of the reason is that most Americans don’t know much about Africa.

For starters, I’m quite certain that very few US students — or adults — know that Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, or that its capital is Abuja.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that most Americans — young and old — would be challenged to locate Nigeria on a blank map of Africa:


How about it?  Could you find Nigeria?

Even though it has more than 175 million people, which makes it the seventh most populated country in the world, Nigeria isn’t on most Americans’ radar screen.

I did not know, until I looked into it this morning, that Nigeria is predicted to pass the US in population by 2050.

It would be good to learn more about Nigeria, and about Boko Haram, the group that is likely responsible for the bombing in Abuja.

Here’s a recent paragraph from a recent CNN article that makes the case for why we should know something about Nigeria:

With a population of 175 million, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and is considered a political and economic powerhouse in the continent. The key U.S. partner is rich in oil, a major trading partner with China, and is the hub of global business in the region.

What’s interesting is that the CNN article that makes the case for learning more about Nigeria is not even about the bombing in Abjua (though it does mention the bombing in the 24th paragraph of the article).  CNN is covering another horrible story out of Nigeria — the abduction by Boko Haram of more than 100 school girls in north eastern Nigeria, and how that brazen act signals that Boko Haram is expanding its power in Nigeria.

How can the worst-ever bombing in the capital of Africa’s most populated country hardly even register on the US news scene?

This is the end of my post — what follows is a post-script for people who care about Google Earth…

When I started to look into the bombing in Abuja, I tried to locate the precise site of the bombing on Google Earth so I could better empathize — and it was very difficult to find the site.

I read conflicting reports about the location of the Nyanya Motor Park (and for the record, Google Earth does not know where Nyanya is located).

First, I read on the BBC that

The blast ripped a hole 4ft deep (1.2m) in the ground of Nyanya Motor Park, some 16km (10 miles) from the city centre, and destroyed more than 30 vehicles, causing secondary explosions as their fuel tanks ignited and burned, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Then, I read, on Al Jazeera, that

The bus station, 8km southwest of central Abuja, serves Nyanya, a poor, ethnically and religiously mixed satellite town.  Nyanya is filled with government and civil society workers who cannot afford Abuja’s exorbitant rents.

How can the site of the bombing be both 16km from the center of the city and also 8km southwest of the city?

I then read this account from USA Today, which seems to corroborate the 16km distance (10 miles is about 16 km):

The blast left a hole 4 feet deep in the ground of Nyanya Motor Park about 10 miles from the city center. It happened at 6:45 a.m. as people were traveling to work.

There was no immediate claim for Monday’s bombing though bus stations are a favored Boko Haram target. In March 2013, the extremists drove a car bomb into the main bus station in Kano, Nigeria’s second biggest city, killing at least 25 people.

Boko Haram’s campaign to make Nigeria an Islamic state with Sharia, or Islamic law, enforced throughout the country poses the greatest threat to its cohesion and security and threatens nearby countries where the fighters have gone to train and fight.

[By the way, Boko Haram basically translates to “western education is sin.” I first heard of Boko Haram last May from Karina, an 11-year old from Nigeria who is home-schooled here in Durham, NC.  Karina even wrote a guest blog post about Nigeria.]

I finally did an image search for a map of the Abuja bombing, and I found this satellite picture at the end of an article from the BBC:

BBC visual

When I went onto Google Earth, I looked about 10 miles (16km) from Abuja’s center, and I was able to locate a cloverleaf.  The triangular structures in two of the leafs of the cloverleaf helped me determine that I found the right place:

bomb site

To provide some context, here’s the site of the bombing in relation to Abuja’s city center — and I measured… it’s a little more than 10km away — not 16km.  And it’s south EAST of the city center, not south west.


But hey, it’s Africa — so the details don’t matter, right?

We need to start paying more attention to events in Africa and around the world.

About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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35 Responses to Does Africa Matter?

  1. Linda Edwards, class of '67 UWISTA says:

    Mr. Goldberg, I salute you for this incisive piece. Go well.

  2. YA! says:

    I believe this article speaks more to the partisan attitude of America and the leaning of Americans to all things not- American. I was surprised how other media sources classified the incidence as “breaking news” and the regular updates provided. If America fails to report it or treats it as second rate news, then that is America’s. Failure to step up to the plate!

  3. peteca1 says:

    Steve – nice to see some brutal honesty as we evaluate our own culture. Does Africa Matter … well to a vast number of Americans the answer is probably NO! To me – it matters a lot. But that’s because I have been to Africa many times and have good friends there. The remarkable thing really is the perception amongst westerners that “Africas can fall off the edge” of the global cliff … and it doesnt matter. I’m prepared to BET you that there is no way that Africa can implode – without that affecting everyone else on Earth in a dozen diffrent serious ways. And by the way … Nigeria is a complete TIME BOMB that will distintegrate and implode inside Africa. Kiss West Africa goodbye when that goes down. Pete, California

    • Ray King says:

      Sorry Pete i disagree “West Africa” especially Nigeria is a Economic Time Bomb! this is a Phase that every countries have dealt with in the past, with Nigeria this too will Past, just like South Africa!

  4. Mindstar says:

    You paint with a very broad brush. The terror attack was featured on Yahoo and I read several articles about it. I am also well aware of the chaos in Nigeria. That country has been going downhill since independence and certainly since the Biafran War

    • Steve Goldberg says:

      I do paint with a broad brush in this post — but I work with high school students (who happen to be on Spring Break) and I’ll be curious to hear how many of them know about this bombing when I see them next week. Thanks for your comment!

    • I am still rooting for the independence of Biafra some day.

  5. Ogo says:

    Nigeria is one of the United States allies, why can’t Nigerian government ask for outside help to deal with this problem. I believe it is because some muslems will not want that to happen. If this corrupt nation is given assistance in term of resources to combat the problems, it will be misappropriated. Nigeria has enough money and man power to confront the situation, if the government will build a road block against corruption. The country is infested with greedy politicians that do not care about the populace. In answer to does African matter, if Africa does not matter to Africans, why should it matter to anybody.

    • Kane O says:

      It may not be politically correct to agree with you, but you are right, nonetheless. I am ashamed of how my people conduct the business of public safety, as they do of public life, generally. Unspeakable corruption and stealing of public funds do not allow the leaders to address the business of governance. Why should outsides care more for you than you care for yourself? It is not natural!!!

  6. Ogo says:

    “Just this month, a Nigerian soldier alleged in a Voice of America interview that some members of the army were assisting Boko Haram”. I rest my case.

  7. Anthony Ogoro says:

    What ever happens in Nigeria stays in Nigeria.Jonathan and his corrupt politicians thought the militants will strike only in Northern Nigeria. Who cares if the bombing was reported outside Nigerian networks. Now that the whole world heard about it, does he want Western world to protect the country for them? He thought he was safe from them. Now he knows, as the president, is not immune from those militants. Where were the so-called security agents when these idiots were acquiring these weapons? Nigerian is getting to a stage where money cannot buy anybody safety net.

  8. Kay Soddeke says:

    Advocate on Mr. Goldberg, God Bless you!

  9. IBRAIM ISA KIDA says:


  10. Fancy says:

    I have been thinking exactly the same thing since the news of the bombing broke, how Ukraine, Boston and MH370 was all i heard on cable tv and CNN. Not to say that those weren’t horrible events, but the almost complete avoidance of the Abuja bombing clearly indicates the attitude of the American govt and its people to happenings in Africa. Rwanda was a case in point, this same indifference was the prevalent stance among leaders of the industrialized nations until the situation degenerated into genocide. There’s a lot of ways the govt of America can help curb this Boko Haram, for example helping to block their financiers, and arms suppliers, but unless they stand to gain something, they’ll probably not lift a finger, maybe until Nigerian situation degenerates into a full scale war and millions of refugees are lining up at the American embassies in the country. Just glad someone is at least talking about Africa, thanks Steve.

  11. Felix says:

    Steve, thanks for a very incisive article about a Nigerian malaise and how the West has chosen to stay inoculated about happenings in this land of many opportunities but failed (or better still) derailed aspirations. I read comments from fellow Nigerians who create the impression that terrorism is a fight for the President and those in power ( note I did not say Leadership), this a topic for another time. The truth be told, it is a fight for us all. The bomb blast at Nyanya bus park did not distinguish between Muslims, Christians, young, or old. No Nigerian is immune to the activities of terrorists. Every citizen must therefore play there part in this war against terror. After all, these bombers are not spirits; they are human, live amongst us, and have their individual identities. At the international front the true friends of Nigeria must rise to the challenge and provide whatever help is necessary to bring this menace to an end.

  12. kalahari1955 says:

    very good artice, and i , by the way do care about what is happening in africa. i ve been to nigeria and many other african countries and its a shame that these countries are only used for their minerals,oil…….and the people left to themselves to struggle for survival…..

  13. Abeo says:

    I kind of agree with Anthony. I am a Nigerian living in Nigeria. The people are tired of the insensitivity of Jonathan’s government. It’s sad that these islamists are targeting innocent people. I hope they stop doing that and start targeting these so-called politicians who claim to be on the side of the people. We are tired of the corruption. We are tired of the suffering. We are tired of the negative image this government provides us with. To the writer, I appreciate your article. Thank you for bringing us out for the world to see. Thank you for being sympathetic to us. As for the accusers posting here, remember that when you point a finger at someone, you are pointing your remaining fingers at yourself. A lot of you live and work with good Nigerians. It is unfair to paint a whole nation black just because of a few people. Nigerians (like it or not) have added positively to the world economy. Be a little open-minded for the world’s sake. No one is totally free of guilt. Every nation has its problems. But together, we can make our world better.

    • James says:

      You have me a bit confused! You started off doing the same thing you end up admonishing others not to do…”its unfair to paint a whole nation black just because of a few people” remember? Like ascribing the attributes of a segment to the whole, not so? But then you say things like..”the people are tired of the insensitivity of the Jonathan’s government”…”we are tired of the suffering”…”We are tired of the negative image this government provides us” !!?? By what verifiable stats do you make these sweeping statements? The writer has done a scholarly, selfless research to highlight a problem and perhaps provoke a solution, but what do you do? You display your intellectual blindness by descending into the abyss of subjectivity and self pitying name-calling! You will do well to open your eyes and see that Nigeria’s problems are inherent and systemic. They were there from the time the colonialists left behind those experimental contraptions they called nations and they have simply refused to go away! The corruption, the negative image, the suffering etc. They ain’t getting worse. When the “real” people of Nigeria get tired of the sufferings, they will change it. Whether this will happen slowly or quickly now is what I do not know. Meantime, leave your partisan hysterics out of an otherwise objective and scholarly debate!

  14. Mr. Ade says:

    First of all a do appreciate you candid expose on the situation in Nigeria. To make matters worst, when these same news item is aired on any of the government media, it is usually edited to give outsiders the impression that its not so bad, 200 may be killed and the news would say about a dozen people only!
    Secondly, I personally believe that this artificial problem created by Boko Harram is specifically targeted at making sure that the present government fails in all it service delivery. He Jonathan might not a saint, but what is represent is what those hungry for power would do anything to tarnish!
    Nigeria is indeed a force that cannot be easily ignored in Africa. The youth population alone when given enabling environment have the potential to displace India or any emerging third world country, but when that happens, alot of myopic and hungry despots would lose out. For these reason and other spiritual reasons – I believe the evils of our forefathers- is also catching up with us.
    May God save us before its too late!

    • Ogie says:

      Since we are such a force that cannot be ignored, then we need to react like a powerful force and sort this out ourselves. Just like US did not relent in sorting out the Boston Bombers, we need to find out and capture those who killed these innocent citizens of our country. We need to sort out those elements that are behind this backward and shameless group called Boko Haram. This has been going on for nearly 8 years. What is hampering our effort in sorting this out? Corruption??

  15. Thanks for this education, I hope this article will get to the intended audience.

  16. Eza Boto says:

    That un-caring attitude is not of americans only! Yes americans are self-centered and think America is the world. But it is also of the western world in general. Their interest in Africa has never been and will never be genuine or humane. It is all about self interest. All they want from Africa is the riches and after that nothing! But I blame the African leadership for that lack of respect towards Africa. The current generation of Africans leaders is full of corrupt puppets. Unlike the generation of the independence years, they don’t care about Africa. It is left to the next western educated generation to change that attitude by dealing with the westerners on equal basis, without complexes whatsoever!

  17. mystae says:

    A lot of thanks to Mr. Steve for making the hidden problems of Africa known to the outside worlds of the selfish Americans and Europeans whose interests are purely exploitations to African riches. Yes, Africa and particularly the Nigerian nation and it’s citizens are too corrupt, but fail not to put it in your memory that these African political lutters work hand in hand with their European or American counter-parts for such a deal to succeed. Some of these lutted funds are cashed into European/American banks which their governments will never question on what these dubious funds are for and where they are from? If the international community wants sanity for Africa and Nigeria in particular, let meaningful measures of proper cleansing be applied right from their local banks who are the recipiants of these lutted funds and have withheld trilions of past lutted funds within the Sixties and present period of most African independence. If these banks would be sincere to themselves and come up with their truths whereby everything is exposed, then Africa will be a safer place to live.

  18. ogamba says:

    Congrats Goldberg! At last someone is speaking out and creating awareness.

  19. Eman says:

    Nigeria does matter! Africa as a whole matters!. We are all globally connected. What happens in African Economic power house and United States ally / trading partner, Nigeria affects us (sooner or later). Like it or not, you cannot ignore the most populous African Country, soon to be the third most populous in the world. Nigeria’s problems date back to its Colonial days. The British should have divided Nigeria into Several small countries. The Cultural and religious differences between Northerners and Southerners is Enormous. On a recent visit to Nigeria, I noticed that Muslims are becoming more and more radicalized, if this issue is not addressed quickly, it may eventually lead to a civil war. Ultimately, I believe the solution is to have a nation referendum to decide what to do with the country. There are problems in the Niger Delta, in the Northern part of the country etc.. The Nigerian Govt is in denial. There are no military solutions to these problems. The Nigerian military is under equipped, ill trained and unprepared for modern/ Urban warfare. Their incompetence, inability to adapt or create a rapid reaction force is beyond belief. The militants are attacking from the same general area every single time and there’s still no solution. Some villagers in the area seem to know where the militants are based, so far the Nigerian security forces have not done anything about it.

  20. john fonz says:

    Micheal Jackson once said that ”all i wanna say is that they don’t really care about us” . I can’t forget the meaning of that saying, so am already aware..

  21. Ona Ekhomu says:

    This is a great piece Mr. Goldberg and I am thankful that some Americans are paying attention to some of the serious threats that can affect society at large if they are not dealt with. Africa does and should matter like everywhere else. I hope more people like yourself start paying attention so we can deal with these grave threats to living in peace without fear of terrorism.

  22. Ray King says:

    Goldberg Well Written Article!

  23. Godfather. says:

    You know what steve? You dont ever solve a problem genuinely from the leaves down, you tackle ’em from the roots up. America as we all know dont care bout anything Non- American if there’s nothing to be gained economically or otherwise which for me is cool cos there is no law against that except ofcourse u wanna talk morals. But the suppossed entity called ‘Nigeria’ only does exist as a nomenclature. Until the political will & the courage to solve that question Nigeria? is summoned, we are just going to take 2steps forward & 10 steps backward. So wherein lies the progress. There is economic poverty, moral poverty, poverty of speech, poverty of the mind, spiritual poverty, name it Steve! Even the so called Rich in Nigeria are actually poor! Until those that call themselves Nigerians come together and imbibe the word ‘SACRIFICE’, then the outside world cannot be blamed for anything. The problem is foundational!!

    • ogamba says:

      “SACRIFICE”? This word is not applicable to nonentities, and Nigeria is a nonentity. Biafra, maybe yes, Oduduwa State, maybe yes, but sacrifice for Nigeria, never! If you don’t believe me, wait until the oil runs out or becomes worthless, and the caricature country will rapidly disintegrate into the various incongruous parts (tribes) that make it up.

      Thanks again Steve for this important outlet you have created. I hope it develops into a “think tank” for the Nigerian issue.

  24. Larry Dee says:

    Great article, it shows that besides our artificial boundaries we all carry the same human spirit. Truly, Nigeria is plagued with ‘suicidal’ leaders who are bent on nurturing corruption and pay no attention to continuous public outcry. Sadly, most of their loot ends up in western banks, the same way Boko Haram gets their weapons from the west. The US middle school shooting where young children were gunned down and the resulting assault weapon debate also comes to mind…! is the root of all evil, when shall we put human lives ahead of wealth accumulation?

  25. Godfather. says:

    And mind you Steve, Boko Haram is just one of the million ways to die in Nigeria. You got bad accident inducing roads, you got mediocre & inefficient medicare, you got half baked kids out of school who have no idea of what next, you got bare faced oppression by the custodians of our collective wealth on the true owners of this wealth, descent housing is a tall wish for majority of Nigerians, healthy nutritious meals are so expensive & out of reach for the average Nigerian, electricity supply is a luxury, i can go on & on. So the only difference is the boko guys are brutalb& death is immediate but dont all these reduce one’s life span. Really surprised theres a populatioj growth in Nigeria, but then its because Nigerians are too docile a people. You push ’em to the wall, thry break the wall. The Western world are protecting their interest. Good! When do we Africans start protecting ours??????????

  26. jay O says:

    Thank Steve
    What Americans must know is that Nigerians are the best American friends in Africa. Point of note: within 24 hours after 911, Islamist in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria began to celebrate and killed over 400 Christians. This was hardly reported anywhere. If the Nigerian govt imposes compulsory elementary education in the North, may be that will help, but boko haram is opposed to western education. How come that they can write and read English?

  27. Anthony says:

    Thanks for sharing your excellent observation on why there was little coverage of the horrific bombing in Nigeria’s capital city. You are right that most “Americans don’t know much about Africa.” It is true that in editorial management, readership/viewership play significant role in news coverage and this alignment is what drives the advertising dollar. However, the ‘American’ media has a responsibility to educate readers on topical global issues.
    I agree with you, “Very few US students — or adults — know that Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, or that its capital is Abuja.” It does not sound good at all!

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