Enslaved or dead. These two scenarios are the fate of a tragic number of young women the world so fervently cared about just two years ago.
Exactly two years ago, on April 14, 2013, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. Boko Haram, the responsible radical ‘un-Islamic’ terrorist faction whose name translates from Hausa, a sub-Saharan African language, to “western education is evil,” has for years engaged in senseless slaughtering of primarily children, women and elderly people.
As of today, two years have passed since ‘our Chibok girls’ were abducted from their dormitories, forced into trucks and herded off in convoys to the Cameroonian border.
Two years later and one of the largest areas of violence in Africa has yet to be treated as such by the international community. Two years later and the Nigerian government has only recently asked for global assistance in their fight against Boko Haram.
Two years later and the girls are not all back. And yet, two years later, social media activism perpetuates self-aggrandizing notions of concrete contributions to ‘addressing’ many of the world’s travesties.
In response to the 2013 kidnappings, the hashtag "#BringBackOurGirls" trended as first ladies, activists, community organizations and individuals alike sought to share their thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.
Coincidentally, just over a month after the kidnappings, I found myself behind a government convoy transporting some of the schoolgirls’ parents from the Nigerian capitol city of Abuja. In those moments, I could not help but grin at the thought of the tweets directed at them in attempts to provide solace.
Before we left Abuja, I was inspired by the hundreds of people rallying together to hold their government accountable. Sadly, across the ocean, there was no such prolonged enthusiasm for the cause. While the protest in Nigeria continued, the hashtag had faded away from the social media spheres I had left behind in the U.S. Granted, it is irrational for individuals to invest themselves in every single world tragedy, but I was still abashed by the West’s relatively ephemeral "#BringBackOurGirls" campaign.
Despite this, progress has been made. As recently as February 27, Nigerian forces have collaborated to kill 100 Boko Haram militants and free hundreds of hostages in Kiushe, Nigeria. Unfortunately, news outlets outside of the affected nations dangerously underemphasize the seriousness of Boko Haram’s span of influence.
For example, in 2014 alone, ISIS killed 6,073 people. That same year in which Boko Haram claimed the lives of 6,644, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria concluded that ISIS committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Just one year later, the United States officially recognized the actions of ISIS as constituting genocide against Christians, Shia Muslims and Yazidis. Despite the similarities between the transgressions in the Middle East, and those in areas controlled by Boko Haram, the same vindictive language is rarely used when the latter commits similar egregious acts.
There is an inappropriate and disproportional amount of fervor concentrated on the human rights violations facing people in Nigeria, Cameron, Chad and Niger—individuals all threatened by the same relentless terrorist organization. Genocide Watch, the Coordinator of the Alliance Against Genocide, has defined Boko Haram as a genocidal criminal movement. Now is the time for the U.S. to follow suit and add pressure to destroy Boko Haram before the terrorist organization’s ties with ISIS and other potential global terror threats further strengthen.
Given all this politicization of the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is important that students engage in activism on behalf of affected populations; showing solidarity is extremely important, if only to inform the community in which we live. This past Sunday through Monday, the Coalition for Preserving Memory organized a 24-hour name reading ceremony memorializing victims of genocide. Even if the relatives of these victims did not hear their names directly, the alternate option of willful ignorance is a betrayal to our own communities and intellectual growth.
However, do not succumb to delusions of grandeur—typing seventeen characters on a website with a blue birdie cannot rescue the girls sold off into marriage or tricked into bombing markets as suicide bombers. Sharing an article you have not read about an issue with which you have no familiarity is as distasteful as it is embarrassing.
There are political nuances to passive expressions of solidarity that Duke’s very own Larry Moneta has faced when prioritizing, and there is no clear answer to the questions such words raise. However, those complications should not deter us from looking beyond hashtags and truly developing understandings of the current state of world affairs.
From the national and international levels, more needs to be done to invest in the education of girls and security of schools at large. The humanitarian situation in Nigeria and other nations affected by Boko Haram begs for intervention led by (cautious) international military forces. Simultaneously, the savior complex that often taints online activism should be avoided at all costs. While digital tools have been able to address major humanitarian challenges, as Professor at University of Connecticut Bhakti Shringapure has written, globally informed citizens should understand the distinction between meaningful help and “prejudiced representations of non-Western places.”
For now, while fifty girls have been able to rely on their own perspicacity to escape, many more remain missing, feared enslaved or dead. Today, we should all engage in discussions about Chibok and remember the futility of silence in the face of injustice.
When will the world again unite in solidarity to only forget till we are reminded at the next anniversary? Will we let the silence of these past two years continue? For the sake of humanity, I beg, say never again.
Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity freshman. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.
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Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.