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Implications of the Muslim-Christian Education Gap in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

January 26, 2017


Implications of the Muslim-Christian Education Gap in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 1 (January 2017)

A recent study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed that there exists a considerable Muslim-Christian education gap in sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst Christians average six years of formal schooling, for Muslims the figure is fewer than three years[i]. Much of the reason for this gap lay in the colonial past on the part of the both the colonial authorities and Muslim communities. Western-style educational schooling in Africa was introduced by Christian missionaries. Colonial authorities were loath to allow these missionary schools to operate in Muslim-dominated areas in an effort to avoid religious conflict[ii]. In other cases Muslim parents fearing discrimination of and conversion to Christianity of their children prevented them from attending such schools. As David Bone[iii] writes, “It was the practice of some mission schools to educate only pupils of their own denomination, thus excluding professing Muslims. Even where Muslims were admitted, parents feared, with some justification, they would lose their children to Christianity and discouraged them from attending”.

Following independence, this education gap between Muslims and Christians has widened in various countries as the Pew Research Centre has underlined. A significant reason for this is the establishment of Muslim schools with Gulf funding where the Islamist message is propagated. Typically in such schools, the emphasis is on religious education and the Arabic language as opposed to secular subjects like mathematics and science[iv]. In the process, students from these religious schools were destined to fare badly in the world of employment opportunities. This, in turn, negatively impacted on their socio-economic status. Consider the following: Whilst 27 percent of the population in Nigeria’s Christian south live in poverty, the figure for the Muslim north is a staggering 72 percent[v]. In similar vein, whilst the poverty rate in Mali is 64 percent, the figure for the Muslim north is much higher than the largely Christian south. Timbuktu has a poverty rate of 77 percent. For Gao the figure is 78.7 percent and for Kidal is it a staggering 92 percent[vi]. Whilst the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is US $10,000, the figure for Muslim Somalia is a pitiful US $100[vii].

Should we then be surprised that all these countries are experiencing terrorism as frustrated unemployed young people join radical organizations? It is not a co-incidence that the poorest regions on the continent are most afflicted by terrorism.

Whilst the international community is assisting Africa in its fight against domestic and international terrorism, the reality is that much of this assistance is taking a military form. Whilst African states do need this assistance, the reality is that much more resources needs to be placed in providing good education to arm the next generation with the necessary skills where they can find good jobs in the future knowledge economy. This is all the more pressing given the youthful demographic bulge that Africa experiences.

On the more positive side, a recent study demonstrated that the choice of school is increasingly determined by distance from home and cost as opposed to religion. In Nigeria, for instance, only 4.2 percent of Nigerians listed religion as one of the considerations in school choice[viii]. The international community’s concern about radicalization and recruitment into terrorist groups is legitimate. However, the terrorist threat posed will not be defeated by military might alone. International actors must take heed of this education gap and start investing in quality, affordable secular education in Africa.

[i]The Muslims-Christian Education Gap, Nigeria Today. 16 January 2017. Internet: http://www/ Date accessed: 26 January 2017.


[iii]David Bone, Islam in Malawi, Journal of Religion in Africa. 1982. Vol 12(2), p. 136.

[iv]Hussein Solomon, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Fighting Insurgency from Al Shabaab, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. 2015.London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 31.

[v]Ibid., p. 99.

[vi]Ibid., p. 68.

[vii]Hussein Solomon, Critical Terrorism Studies and Its Implications for Africa, Politikon. 2015. Vol. 42(2), p. 225.

[viii]Melina PlatasIzama,Muslim Education in Africa: Trends and Attitudes Toward Faith-Based Schools, The Review of Faith and International Affairs. 2014. Vol. 12(2), p. 46.

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