by Cecilia Sinkala
The kidnapping of over 250 girls in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram is seemingly a cut and dry issue. The girls are innocent and the men are evil. There is mass condemnation of the act from around the world. Everyone agrees that the girls must be saved and Boko Haram must be stopped. But within that agreement there are many conflicts and uncomfortable realities about what it will take to bring back these girls.
The first conflict arose in America about the use of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. This hashtag was tweeted over one million times on Twitter and even First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of her holding a sign of the hashtag.
But with her tweet came a negative reaction from people in the conservative media. Fox News commentator George Will said that the hashtag was liberals being self-congratulatory. That because Boko Haram’s actions won’t be directly impacted by the hashtag that it was essentially worthless. Conservative blogger Jim Hoft made a thoughtless tweet that said that “liberals” actions were useless because it was too late and the girls were already sold. Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh used this as an example of President Obama’s weakness and conservative pundit Ann Coulter tweeted a photo of herself holding a sign that said #Bring Back Our Country in an effort to mock Michelle Obama. (Source)
This isn’t the first time hashtag activism has been criticized and while I think that’s a worthwhile conversation to have, this critique is disingenuous. All of these reactions treat these girls with a tremendous lack of empathy. And none of them come up with alternate solutions that could help these girls. They’re just using this situation as a way to attack President Obama and it’s pretty sickening.
But not all critique of the hashtag is baseless. Nigerian-American Jumoke Balogun wrote an article that makes the case that Americans’ use of this hashtag will only make things worse in Nigeria. The thesis is that the pressure Americans put on our government will only succeed in expanding America’s military presence in Africa and nothing else. AFRICOM (United States African Command) is the military body that oversees US military actions in Africa. Its primary mission is to “advance U.S. national security interests.” This means American action in Nigeria will mainly serve American interests, not Nigerian. The article brings up a salient example of the last hashtag effort that brought about military action in Africa, #KONY2012.
Obama sent 100 combat-equipped troops to Central Africa to capture Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony but they didn’t find him and even stopped looking for him. There just isn’t any evidence that supports direct American involvement will help rescue the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. (Source)
This is a perspective I hadn’t really heard but I think it’s really important to take into consideration. Americans have a nasty habit of taking a situation we have no relation to and making it all about us. I think it’s important for Americans to tweet about the situation to give it awareness but still defer to Nigerians who have the complete context of the situation. I also think Americans have this complex about “saving Africa” that manifests in situations like this. Americans need to learn how to step back and support the people who are close to issue instead of wanting to go in and save the day.
Another really important aspect of this situation is the reason why Boko Haram kidnapped these girls in the first place. Human trafficking is a big problem all around the world but especially Nigeria. It is considered a hub for trafficking where girls are kidnapped and then sent around the world to be enslaved. The biggest problem is that the United States is the biggest destination spot for human trafficking in the entire world.
This map shows how human trafficking travels. The reddest countries are the largest origination spots while the bluest countries are the largest destination spots. (Source)
Even if all of the girls are found, it doesn’t deal with the root issue of human trafficking. Nigeria and the United States cannot push all of the blame onto Boko Haram. Their inaction on this issue has allowed this awful crime to flourish in their countries and ruin countless lives. They must take some culpability and take further action to crack down on existing human trafficking in their countries as well as preventing future trafficking crimes