Kerry: Stopping Corruption Key to Fighting Extremism

29 August, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the best way for governments to stop extremist groups is to fight corruption and reduce poverty.

Kerry was speaking during a visit last week to Nigeria. He met with the country's top Muslim leader, Sa'adu Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, in northern Nigeria. Kerry said it is up to governments to give people reasons not to join extremist movements.

"To win the struggle for the future, nations need to do more than just denounce bankrupt dead-end ideologies that the terrorists support. They also have to offer their citizens an alternative that is better."

Kerry added that people who believe the government system is failing them may eventually become demoralized.

Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag seized in the town of Damasak, Nigeria.
Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag seized in the town of Damasak, Nigeria.

Boko Haram

The Secretary of State condemned the Nigerian-based Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. The group has been fighting for seven years to establish an Islamic government in northern Nigeria. It has so far killed more than 20,000 people and displaced up to 2.7 million.

"Boko Haram boasts no agenda other than to murder teachers, burn books, kidnap students, rape women and girls, and slaughter innocent people, most of whom are Muslims."

Nigeria's military has made progress against Boko Haram in recent years. But the fighting has put millions at risk of starvation.

As Secretary Kerry arrived, the military claimed it had killed senior Boko Haram fighters in an attack in the northeast. A military statement said the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, was also believed to have been "fatally wounded."

The secretary linked the fight against groups like Boko Haram to rampant government corruption in Nigeria. Analysts say one reason that so many of the country's 170 million people are living in poverty is corruption.

Anti-corruption campaign

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was elected after promising to fight corruption. He says he has made the issue a priority. He spoke about his efforts after meeting Kerry in the capital Abuja.

"We will retrain our staff," Buhari said. "And those who run afoul of these rules will be prosecuted, no matter who is involved."

Some observers say Buhari has broken campaign promises by putting too few reforms in place to crack down on looters. But Kerry said the U.S. supports Buhari's anti-corruption policies.

"Already, President Buhari is working with civil society to encourage official transparency and accountability. It is so important to restoring trust among the people."

Kerry also issued an indirect warning to Nigeria's military, which has been accused of carrying out atrocities.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued reports on the military's activities. Both reported cases of soldiers torturing Boko Haram suspects and killing members of another separatist group and a Shi'ite Muslim sect.

"It is understandable that in the wake of terrorist activity, some people are tempted to crack down on everyone and anyone who could theoretically pose some sort of a threat. Extremism cannot be defeated through repression or just creating fear."

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Chris Stein reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English, with additional information coming from the Associated Press. Pete Heinlein was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bankruptadj. when a business runs out of money and cannot continue

demoralizedadj. losing confidence and hope

slaughter v. the violent killing of a group of people

rampantadj. growing quickly in a way that is hard to control

priorityn. something important that is put ahead of other things

run afoul – adj. some into conflict with something

looter – n. person who takes money or belongings, especially in emergencies or riots

transparency – n. the state of being transparent, clear

sect – n. a group of people who share a particular set of beliefs, often extreme