Over the weekend a Facebook friend of mine tagged me in a photo. Standing solemnly, he displayed a handwritten sign saying ‘Bring Back Our Girls’. The gentleman was joining an international social media campaign that has roped in thousands of people, including celebrities such as rapper P.Diddy and US First Lady Michelle Obama.
The ‘girls’ that everyone is asking to be brought back are the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram in Chibok, northern Nigeria last month. These poor girls, attacked while they slept in their dormitories, deserve to be reunited with their parents and the evil men who are threatening to sell them off and now using them as a bargaining chip, deserve to feel the full force of the Nigerian military.
I’ve been watching news of the abducted girls with a lot of interest and nothing has piqued it more than social media’s reaction to the kidnapping. It seems to me that everyone has jumped onto the bandwagon, expressing their moral outrage that the Boko Haram could dare do such a thing. Which is fine. However, I have a few bones to pick with ‘Twitter-activists’. They are often ignorant of the background of the issues that they are getting so hot under the collar about (for example, how many of them have even a slight understanding of Boko Haram’s insurgency? Or simpler yet, how many can point Nigeria out on a map?) and they, in their naivety, actually think they can affect change by tweeting a 140-character message with a picture. Sorry people, unless you are professional game trackers, intelligence chiefs or, barring that, a NIGERIAN, your show of outrage is a simple waste of your time.
The girls don’t need a Twitter hashtag beseeching Boko Haram to hand them back to their parents. What the girls need is the Nigerian security apparatus to pull up their socks, work with their regional and international partners and smash their captors. It is foolhardy to think that even if the girls are handed over, Boko Haram will simply stop being a threat to the peaceful existence of innocent Nigerians. If they don’t get militarily defeated, it will be only a matter of time before the do something similarly outrageous.
The issue of terrorism and civil unrest isn’t one that can be solved by social media. Does anyone
remember the infamous Kony2012 movie and social media campaign led by the US-based NGO Invisible Children? If I’m not mistaken, isn’t the man still very much alive, doing exactly what he was doing before the Kony2012 brouhaha?
Its not that I’m unsympathetic to the girls suffering (or for Joseph Kony’s victims), rather I prefer to highlight and act on issues that are closer to home. For example, before getting outraged about kidnapped girls in Nigeria, can we first make sure that girls living in our own communities enjoy all the opportunities that are availed to them? I mean, why not start a social media campaign against the still high physical and sexual abuse that girls face? What have we done about the still low numbers of girls graduating university when compared to their male counterparts? I understand that these issues aren’t as ‘sexy’ and catchy as the Boko Haram kidnapping, however that doesn’t make them any less real and worthy of our collective outrage. As Jesus Christ once said, “before you remove a speck in someone else’s eye, remove the log in yours”. We have plenty of logs in our eyes and I think it best to concentrate on what we can improve and transform rather than making ineffectual gestures than mean nothing and change nothing.
The New Times published this blog earlier