Boko Haram is spreading fear in Nigeria. Now, this radical Islamist group has also become a household name in the Western world due to the abduction of some 250 school girls in north-eastern Nigeria in the village of Chibok in mid-April 2014. Although the Nigerian government reported that the girls were found a couple of days afterwards, it turned out it was not true. Rather, president Goodluck Jonathan and his government seemed to take no attempts to bring back these girls to their parents. In the meantime, Boko Haram announced that these girls would be sold on markets, basically as slaves.
In turn, the Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim Abdullahi coined in a speech a new hash tag on Twitter, #bringbackourgirls. It became viral and the hashtag has been used more than a million times, including by Michelle Obama. Particularly activists in North America but also many Nigerians tweeted about the missing schools girls in an attempt to raise awareness and help local protest groups in Nigeria.
Calling for U.S. military intervention?
However, Jumoke Balogun argued in an article on Compare Afrique that #bringbackourgirls would actually be dangerous because it would call for more U.S. military involvement in Nigeria. The Nigerian-American journalist further argued that people with good intensions would help an attempt of the US military to expand its influence and implies that this would have bad consequences for any African country and even more so for its people. In contrast to much of the reporting on the abduction, she is able to give much more of an insight how the U.S. is currently involved on the African continent. In short, Balogun says that using #bringbackourgirls is highly problematic. The abduction is a Nigerian matter and should not be a matter of outsiders. I think she is wrong.
Any global citizen who cares what is going on in the world should raise awareness about events that shake the globe. There are no boundaries, there is no sovereignty existing for activists that are concerned with human rights issues – we are all one, regardless of sex, race, religion or any other category. The world in the 21st century is a global village, there almost seems to be a necessity for me to care – although not all cases will get the same attention. Thus, it seems that particularly the U.S. is trapped between a position of acting as an imperial power when it is intervening in some sort (usually with the accusation that it is solely following economic interests, in the case of Nigeria it would be oil) while when the U.S. does not act it is accused of a by-stander (like during the Rwandan genocide or now in the civil war in Syria). A dilemma that is hard to be resolved as long as the U.S. does not find smarter strategies to go about violence around the globe and continues to invest in its military instead to institutions like the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Inactive government and no solutions
Clearly, the Nigerian government until a couple of days ago did not care about the girls and the families. There has not been a feasible strategy to fight Boko Haram besides military means – which has turned out to be a failure. Doing nothing is not an option though – thus, isn’t the hashtag awareness campaign a way to raise the issue in the capitals around the world and built up the necessary pressure on the Nigerian government to tackle the issue? This would mean in the short-term to free the girls and in the long-term to overcome the threat of Boko Haram in a way that the deeply rooted structural issues in the region are finally tackled.
Importantly, the article of Balogun is not suggesting any alternative. What can be done to bring the girls back? What are ways to reduce the influence of Boko Haram? How to go about the insecurity in northern Nigeria? I am not able to give any answers to that. However, I would for sure agree with her that a pure military strategy supported by Western countries would not be the way to solve the insecurity. The fact on the ground is though that Boko Haram is a real threat not only in northern Nigeria anymore, but is destabilizing the whole country (like the attack in Abuja with 75 civilians killed in mid-April 2014 and an attack in Gamboru Ngala that murdered as many as 300 civilians) and is also arriving in neighboring Niger.
The pressure on the Nigerian government inside and outside the country is already bearing fruit. It is questionable though whether it is a good way to resolve the violence and bring back the girls. The Nigerian president now declared a “war on terror” on Boko Haram and wants to defeat this extremist group. Surely, it remains to be seen if a military strategy will bring the success that Goodluck Jonathan hopes for. As long as the structural injustices in this remote part of Nigeria continue, it is hard to believe that any progress can be seen.
Online activism and awareness is “trendy”
For sure, any kind of hashtag-activism is by necessity simplifying the issue. That has been the problem of the Save Darfur campaign as well as Kony2012. Both were mainly based on U.S. colleges and spread a feel-good atmosphere for young Americans to care about the rest of the world, and show that Americans would not be the ignorant ones as they are often stereotyped. At the same time, these campaigns often portrayed “Africa” and not the complexities that come along with any violent conflict. However, both had an important impact despite the fact that Darfur is still chaotic and Kony has not been captured until today. Nonetheless, the activism of young people around the globe caused the United Nations and the African Union to act.
Awareness campaigns will continue in the future, with an ever broader involvement of people around the globe. It is of course rather easy and comfortable to just send a tweet – but a very important support for the activists on the ground, in this case the protest movements in Nigeria. It is thus a consequentionalist approach that will prevail, a utilitarian way as envisioned by the philosophers Bentham and Mill: change has to be feasible. That is exactly why there is no larger campaign out there on Syria because it is simply not feasible to be solved with a simple activism campaign. Rather, the greatest positive impact should be done and there is the realistic hope that with more pressure the Nigerian government is forced to wake up and actually bring the girls back to their parents.
Hopefully, it will not stop there but the Nigerian government is under bigger scrutiny to actually implement all the nice papers they have on their desks so that the people in the rural areas can see progress. Only then the campaign of #bringourgirlsback has not only helped the girls and their families, but brought positive change to communities that have been excluded for way too long.
Foto: (c) Twitter / estherclimate