The late Samuel Huntington noted that conflict arises easily along the borderlands of major cultural areas, especially noting the bloody borders of Islam. When first exposed to this thesis, I wanted to call to mind the Thai-Malaysian border as it was back in the 1990's. It was an area of trade and international cooperation, promising that maybe ASEAN could work. Since then, however, the Muslim separatism groups of southern Thailand have roared back with a vengeance, wrecking one of the few counterfactuals to the Huntington thesis that I knew.
The attack in Nairobi also seems to be part of a similar Huntingtonian dynamic, suggesting that the whole belt of Africa from Senegal and Guinea on the west, across northern Nigeria,and into the East African Horn is at risk. These are all states where large numbers of non-Muslims share political space with large numbers of non-Muslims,the Muslim population is becoming more doctrinally aware, and there are few common bonds between communities. Southern Sudan has already separated from the Islamic north of the country, Nigeria is plagued by the militancy of Boko Haram and other groups, Somali Muslim irredentism has not disappeared despite the failure of Somalia as a state, and Ethiopia continues to live with its religiously bifurcated population. We can no longer warn about a tinderbox in these areas, for the tinder was lit long ago, and, as the Nairobi attacks warn us, the fire has begun.
The continent of Africa continues to need our prayers and sympathy. It is in for a rough ride.