#BringBackOurGirls campaign is not enough to tackle difficult issues

Opinion: Simple slogans can’t replace dialogue and hard bargaining

Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

Sun, May 25, 2014, 12:01

Something about the “BringBackOurGirls” campaign reminds me uneasily of the Kony 2012 video that went viral at an astonishing rate. The fate of the Chibok girls is terrifying, and the grief of their friends and family more than worthy of international attention.

But just suppose by some miracle Boko Haram did bring back these girls? Would international media attention cease and ignoring northeast Nigeria resume?

Although the world is only noticing now, Boko Haram has been active for five years and by 2013, according to Amnesty International, at least 70 teachers and over 100 schoolchildren and students had been killed or wounded. At least 50 schools had been either been burned or seriously damaged, and more than 60 others had been forced to close.

Thousands of children had been forced out of schools and more than 1,000 teachers had to flee for their safety to other Nigerian states.

Yet it was only in recent weeks that the media began to pay attention, and just this week that the UN imposed sanctions. That attention can be withdrawn just as easily.

Three psychologists published a study on Kony 2012 in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Their conclusions were that the highly emotive but inaccurate Kony 2012 video was very good at stirring outrage and demands for action, but the follow- up video, which was much more nuanced, scarcely registered.

Magic solution The first video presented the elimination of the criminal warlord Joseph Kony as some kind of magic solution. People like clear-cut, simple solutions. But the situation in Nigeria is complex. Obviously, as a radical Islamist group, Boko Haram in no way represents mainstream Muslims. Boko Haram also kidnapped Muslim girls seeking education.

Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, has reiterated in recent weeks the fact that the majority of Christian and Muslim Nigerians live together peacefully. Society of African Missions priest Fr Maurice Henry, home after decades in Nigeria, told me that when radical Islamists tried to stir up trouble in an area where he used to work, they were denounced by both Christians and Muslims.

However, while emphasising that oppression of Christians is localised and not the norm, the cardinal also said that in the Muslim-dominated states: “Official state and local government policies and actions often discriminate against Christians, to the extent of real persecution and denial of genuine religious freedom.

“Examples are in areas such as the availability of land for churches; access to the public media; provision for Christian religious knowledge in public schools; and equal opportunity for employment and promotions in public institutions.”

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