‘Bring back our girls’ and the sympathy of the West


If you live in Australia, and don’t have the underside of a rock as your home, you’ll be aware of what is going on in Nigeria. Well maybe not the country as a whole, but I’m sure you’re aware of the fact that 276 school girls were taken from their school by Boko Haram, a violent, Islamist group with al-Qaeda affiliations operating in north-eastern Nigeria. The public response from the West—at least the US and Australia—while perhaps slow to take off, has now reached unprecedented levels with campaigns, vigils, incessant media coverage, and calls for foreign governments and military to support Nigeria and help them to find and return the girls to their homes.

Now don’t get me wrong, the kidnapping is abhorrent and it’s good to see an issue from sub-Saharan Africa finally warrant media coverage and public attention from the West. The point is not about whether or not we should be trying to recover the girls by all means possible—of course we should. The point is that this particular issue has led to massive campaigns while other equally tragic events—albeit often on a smaller scale—have passed relatively unnoticed in the West.

Hopefully the media coverage has finally brought the many crises in the region to the forefront of the Western psyche.  Perhaps the current level of international support is a taste of what is to become the norm. Unfortunately, a realist/pessimist perspective would lead one to assume that the Western attention span will quickly fade once this particular crisis is ‘resolved’.

Remember Kony 2012? The level of attention given to that campaign —particularly on social media—was huge, yet the LRA still wanders the jungles of central Africa killing, raping, and in search of boys to bolster their troop numbers. That been said, the search for him continues in earnest, however if the lack of media coverage is anything to go by, the Western public is not very interested in him any more.

The point isn’t ‘don’t bother trying because it won’t work’; by all means, try something, anything to help. But let’s be more consistent about it. Should we pick and choose the crises that ‘interest’ us and support them, but ignore others? Lobby the government and see if something can be done about the girls, but be aware that this event—as tragic as it is—is one of many, all of which the West could potentially do at least something about to help.

Ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, al-Shabab in Somalia, and what about all the Boko Haram killings that happened before taking the girls?

Some would counter the above point by saying ‘but we can’t fix everything, at least we’re helping fix one problem’. One can agree with that, but also argue that we can probably manage to hear about, and be vocal against more than one such tragedy per year.

As an aside, has our consumerist culture led us to treat crises in the same way as regular shopping?  ‘No, no, one is quite enough for me thanks, I’ll take that one’.

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