Bring Back Our Girls
On April 14, 2014, approximately 276 girls were awoken in the middle of the night by armed men, ripped from their beds, and marched into hiding. Most of these girls are still unaccounted for. These are the Chibok girls in Nigeria. They were taken and held captive by the terrorist group Boko Haram. 57 of them escaped almost immediately and one was found earlier this year. Over 200 of them are still being held. In 2014, you probably saw an endless string of celebrities and public figures holding signs saying “Bring Back Our Girls.” You might have even seen the picture above of First Lady Michelle Obama advocating for the girls’ release. I can’t image a situation in the United States, or most other countries, where an armed group can kidnap 276 girls and hide them for years. Yet, that’s exactly what Boko Haram managed to do in Nigeria.
What is Boko Haram?
Boko Haram is one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist groups. They wish to overthrow the Nigerian Government and replace it with an Islamic Caliphate. Actually, they have established an Islamic Caliphate in some of the areas they control. Boko Haram actually means “forbidden education”. Meaning that Western education is not allowed. The group has been around since the 1990s but didn’t turn militant until around 2009 and has clashed with the Nigerian government since then. Boko Haram was labeled a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Department of State in 2013. Boko Haram has expressed solidarity with Al Qaeda and in 2015 pledged allegiance to ISIL (ISIS).
Something changed in 2014, though. Boko Haram increased it’s capabilities and started conducting daily attacks against Christians, police, politicians, schools, and even fellow Muslims. In April of 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped the 276 girls, which brought international attention to Nigeria’s fight against terrorism. Nigeria responded with a large counter-terrorist offensive which weakened Boko Haram, but not enough to secure the girls’ release. Today, Boko Haram remains a powerful force in Nigeria, conducting attacks and influencing the region. It’s estimated that Boko Haram has killed over 30,000 people and kidnapped over 2,000 in their quest to establish an Islamic Caliphate.
Photo Courtesy of the BBC
Just days ago, 21 of those girls were released by Boko Haram. This came as a shock to the international community. No one was expecting Boko Haram to ever willingly release any of these girls. The first question asked was, “What did they (Boko Haram) get?” The deal was brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross in conjunction with the Swiss. Supposedly, millions of dollars and four captured Boko Haram militants were handed over in exchange for the 21 girls. Surprisingly, I’ve seen almost no mainstream media coverage on the issue and very little in social media. It’s great that these 21 girls are finally home. I won’t talk about prisoner swapping and its unintended consequences. I won’t dig into the policy of paying paying ransom. I simply want to say “Welcome home” to these girls. I can’t imagine what they have been through. I would also like to encourage the Nigerian government and regional and international leaders on continuing the fight against Boko Haram. Boko Haram is far from over, on the contrary, I’m afraid that this might’ve just emboldened it.
Whether Social Media Campaigns Work and the Final Answer.
Do we not care about the kidnapped girls anymore? I don’t think that’s the case. I think we have a news cycle that caters to our ever decreasing attention span. I think it was a shocking revelation that hundreds of teenage girls can be kidnapped and it caused so many people, who mean well, to take action in the only way they can, on social media. Just like the microphone of social media can amplify and aggregate negative words, it can also give traction to positive campaigns. Do you remember the organization called Invisible Children and their wildly popular #Kony2012 campaign? Countless retweets, likes, and shares. No change. You can say that knowledge is progress, but if the call to action is social media related, how can there be change? What about the Ice Bucket Challenge? How many of your friends and family doused ice water over themselves to spread awareness of ALS? Better yet, how many of your friends and family donated to the ALS Association in exchange or in addition to dousing themselves? Did it make a difference? It actually did, they used increased funding to map a gene that makes individuals more susceptible to ALS.