Saturday, May 31, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls: Day 47

On 15th April 2014, over 200 school girls were kidnapped at night from the Chibok Government Secondary School in Borno State in Northern Nigeria.

Map of Nigeria showing Borno state and Chibok
Source: BBC article on the kidnapping on 15 April 2014

Although news of the kidnapping was reported by some international media outlets from the beginning,   the story somehow seemed to stay under the radar of mainstream media.

A few across the world followed this harrowing event from the beginning. In the early days of the crisis, the Nigerian government appeared to dither and was even unsure about the numbers of girls kidnapped. For example, the first report from the BBC captures the confusion: "Nigeria unrest: Gunmen abduct 'about 100 schoolgirls'"
When some onlookers expressed shock and outrage over the events, the official line was  that it was a delicate and complex situation that was hard for most outside Nigeria to understand.
It was only after a few weeks following the kidnapping that the story started to take centre stage in the international media arena. This was in part thanks to one of the most vocal voices on the kidnapping; Oby Ezekwesili. Ms Ezekwesili has been unflinching and resolute in her efforts to bring the school girls back home. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag started by Nigerians on Twitter was just one of the ways people across the globe learnt about the kidnapping. Suddenly, the world was talking about it and the notorious kidnapping became a cause du jour that was trendy to talk about. There were marches, protests worldwide and the curious pictures of random African girls meant to represent the Chibok girls. World powers started pledging support to the Nigerian government.
As the kidnapping story moved from the internet to mainstream television media, some of us designated ambassadors for Africa in other parts of the world were expected to explain why the Nigerian government was completely incompetent when it came to dealing with the situation. While the Nigerian president was unable to visit 

A pensive President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria as seen via Twitter photos

the area where the girls were kidnapped in his own country, he was able to take a 7 hour flight to Paris to a summit where African leaders unanimously declared war on Boko Haram. President Jonathan was equally available for another 7 hour flight to Johannesburg for the all-important inauguration of President Jacob Zuma.  
It is now the 47th Day since the girls were kidnapped from their school. No concrete leads. No concrete actions. Sadly, just as quickly as the world gained interest in the kidnapping, interest is waning. In the meantime, families are still missing their girls.

Martha Mark, Mother of Monica Mark. Source: Thinkprogres
One of the most poignant pictures for me has been that of Martha Mark the mother of one of the girls, Monica Mark.
This picture captures the fact that the kidnapped girls are real individuals. Real daughters, sisters, cousins and friends. Real next door neighbours, church members and team-mates. Real girls who like typical girls their age around the world think about school, friends, music, the future and boys. Another powerful representation comes from a New York Times article: "Bringing the Nigerian Schoolgirls Into View" . The article is accompanied by a photo-story showing the items left behind by the school girls. School uniforms, notebooks, slippers, dresses, photos, earrings, doodles in notebooks. Little things that show that they are not a faceless collective but real girls.
"Hauwa Mutah wants to be a biochemist. Monica Enoch loves to sing. Dourcas Yakubu is a shy girl who exchanged hand-written notes with a boy who called her “the remote control of my life.”"
As the girls remain in captivity one cannot help but ask questions. Why should self-appointed purveyors of morality be  deciding the direction the lives of these girls should take? Why should someone else force any religion on them? Why should the girls aspire to be no more than dutiful wives? This all makes little sense to me. As little sense as the inactions of the government that was elected to protect the rights of these girls, their friends and families.

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