#BringingBackOurGirls: In (Conscious) Defense of Slacktivism, International Cooperation, and Solidarity

BRINGBACK

I am not Nigerian, and I do not have constitutional rights accorded to me by the Nigerian government. I cannot participate in Nigeria’s national democratic process. I have never been to Nigeria.

I have not known the pain of having a child abducted. Neither am I familiar with the group trauma experienced by the Chibok community, or the thousands of other people—the communities—who have been devastated by Boko Haram’s unspeakable actions, and further victimized by the Nigerian government’s indefensible inactions.

And yet, I have posted almost every reputable update of which I’ve become aware regarding the nearly 300 Chibok girls.  On every occasion that I have clicked “share”, a twinge in my stomach has reminded me of my own powerlessness and has made me feel guilty and vain for engaging in so-called slacktivism.  Yet, I clicked and shared updates about the Chibok girls and Patience Jonathan’s abusive antics anyway, and I even used the hashtag #Bringbackourgirls a couple of times, feeling self-conscious about it the entire time. Yes, guilty as charged.

Over the couple of years that we’ve known each other, Jumoke Balogun and I have probably had no less than twenty conversations about the same and similar issues. I even wrote a piece for CompareAfrique concerning my frustration with constant uber-outrage in the Afropolitan (whatever that is) community. I get it. All too often, we protest too much and accomplish too little.

But that’s not what’s been happening here.

Rather, the movement to #BringBackOurGirls, which actually originated in Nigeria, has thus far demonstrated the virtues of solidarity and grassroots international cooperation, within and beyond the African diaspora. It has shed much meaningful light on how to make visibility and voice to the invisible and voiceless. It has reminded us all of the value of naming and shaming–naming the girls to remind the world that they, too, are human beings, and shaming terrorists, Nigeria’s incompetent government, and the structural and institutional racism and misogyny that allowed an atrocity of this magnitude to go unnoticed two weeks and unresolved for over three.

As a black woman in the United States, this movement has become as meaningfully encouraging as it is frustrating because for the first time ever, I am witnessing men and women come together to notice when a group of black girls goes missing, and demand decisive action.  Equally significant has been the pan-African unity on the issue, as to sentiments, and strategy. That people of West Indian and Caribbean, North American, Afro-European, and African descent have rallied in support of the Chibok girls, their families, and indeed, all of Nigeria is no small feat. Stereotypes and resentments, slurs and discussions about whether or not it’s mean to call someone “Akata”, hyphens, distinctions, national boundaries and ethnic demarcations–we have finally realized–are not important. Human life, female life, black female life, we have recognized together, is important, and must be defended and protected and esteemed, and we must do our very best with the lawful means available to us to protect our own.

Make no mistake about it: The failure of the Nigerian government to do anything about the kidnapping for weeks, as it instead busied itself with a world economic forum, is an egregious human rights violation by omission. And the failure of the press to cover the story until recently, has been shameful. The movement to #BringBackOurGirls is the pan-African world, with the cooperation of the larger world community, saying “enough is really enough.

I completely disagree, then, that there is nothing that I, an American of African-American and West Indian origin who is married to a Senegalese man, can do about the plight of the Chibok girls with the help of a couple hashtags. Too much evidence exists to the contrary.  The Internet has allowed those of us outside of Nigeria to connect with, and support, people in Nigeria in ways that would otherwise be completely impossible. Those of us with constant access to wireless internet connections have been able to pick up the slack for those who are equally outraged, but undermined by power outages. Some of us have relied upon social media to organize physical marches, in solidarity with the heartbroken protesters on the ground in Nigeria. When some of us are asleep, some of us are up, in different time zones, mobilizing, strategizing, informing each other, and, lobbying our respective governments to give the girls the time of day.

And we have been successful.  Let’s be honest: if it had not been for us–activists, scholars, policymakers, artists, celebrities, dignitaries, and every day concerned citizens of the world throughout the world–we would not be experiencing the very necessary virtual Nigerian Spring that we are experiencing today. President and Mrs. Jonathan would not have been exposed for the shallow and incompetent politicians that they are. Our media outlets would never have rushed to catch up with the efforts we were already making. Our legislators would have remained focused on “high-priority issues.”  The brutal realities of the world are that girl children of African origin and descent are not, by themselves, considered important, and Nigeria is still too-often dismissed as nothing more than a corrupt land filled with fraudsters and undeserving of any airtime.

And let’s be honest about something else, too: Jumoke’s concerns about American military expansion are valid and important. The issue is not that “this is not the time” to talk about whether or not the United States’ interest in finding the Chibok girls is purely benevolent. Relevant issues remain relevant irrespective of occasion and circumstance, and concerns that the United States is using the situation as an excuse to increase neo-imperial dominance within the African continent are no small matter. What is problematic, however, is the either/or paradigm within which Jumoke writes. To ignore the very reasonable and utilitarian calls of the missing girls’ parents, and other Nigerians for foreign military assistance because the United States government’s interests are probably not purely humanitarian is absurd.  To privilege even the most noble anti-colonial political interests at the expense of the Chibok girls and all Nigerians’ lives, is, simply put, unacceptable, and #Icant.

Jumoke’s contention that the American military would use Chibok crisis to engage in military expansion specifically because of the #BringBackOurGirls movement is not convincing because the United States has long had a military presence in Nigeria, and already uses drones (from outside of Nigeria) in an effort to gain intelligence on Boko Haram. The assistance that the United States will be offering will be mostly technical and advisory, meant to support Nigeria’s military instead of supplant it.

Paradoxically, the failure of the American government to offer military assistance to Africans when assistance is needed is not something many of us have been quick to forgive or forget.  Over the last week, Nigerians at home and abroad have called upon the United States to partner with them in bringing the Chibok girls home, unabashedly, even as their leaders remained petulant and obnoxious and ineffective, forcing us to consider if when we advocate respect for the sovereignty of African states and respect for self-determination of African peoples, we are talking about governments or the peoples those governments purport to represent. In this case, the United States seems to be responding to the will of the Nigerian people on an humanitarian basis.  The purity of the American military’s intentions will not be questioned by the parents of the kidnapped children, who are likely much more concerned about the intentions of their own military and elected officials.  We already know that the American agenda is an expansionist one, and that expansionism is in conflict with African sovereignty. What is at issue is whether or not the world powers hear African peoples’ cries, and perhaps, finally, the answer is yes.

Legally and politically, the burden of protecting Nigerians does lie with the Nigerian government. However, it is a well-recognized human rights principle that when a state completely fails to protect its people as the Nigerian government has, the world community has a moral obligation to step in.  And step in we have, citizens of the world, with the resources available to us, out of a sense of shared humanity for our Nigerian sisters and brothers who have suffered under Boko Haram’s terror for far too long. We have implemented pan-African human rights activism at the grassroots by optimizing usage of our social media networks. We have called attention to the tree that fell down in the forest. We will now pledge to keep the critical dialogue going–dialogue that is itself flourishing and creating conscience in the previously unaware and uninterested–over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and via blogs, television, radio, and print media, keeping pressure on our governments and our militaries to act swiftly, effectively, and morally. Now.

Marissa Jackson is currently a law clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  She will join NYU as an Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering in the fall. She serves on CompareAfrique’s Board of Advisors and currently lives in Detroit.

Comments

27 Responses to “#BringingBackOurGirls: In (Conscious) Defense of Slacktivism, International Cooperation, and Solidarity”
  1. Mrs. Ibi says:

    Great article Marissa. Mrs. Ibi concurs with some of the points you raised. Her comments to Jumoke’s article were also pretty insightful and wonderful.

    • Evilyn Garnett says:

      Thank you Ms. Jackson.
      We all feel helpless, outraged and confused about this. Thank you for keeping this in the public’s mind and for laying out the issues in a helpful way.

  2. boney says:

    I find the opinion expressed offensive. Are you Nigerian? Or American? What are you doing for the girls?

  3. Alfia Johnson says:

    While I whole heartedly appreciate your commentary (or rebuttal ) to the issue of international involvement – namely US involvement, and the positive effects of international solidarity, I will add this point. The problem of Boko Haram is, at its core, a Nigerian problem, in lieu of the fact that for all intensive purposes, the continent of Africa and the world feel threatened by its presence. The information that I have received from Nigerians in my circle is that they represented from its foundation, a group of onetime supporters of government, who in not getting what they wanted, in a nut shell made it their agenda to destabilize the country at all costs. My point is that this is a complex problem with a need for a diversity of input for solutions. Boko Haram just killed more people yesterday than the number of girls kidnapped, they have been wiping out villages in the north – Borno State, bombing Abuja, and randomly killing anyone they choose for a number of years now. International solidarity is a good thing, however what will take place in Nigeria, as result of an influx of international military, which many of my Nigerian comrades fear, is an all out war. It is a known fact that Boko Haram is being funded from both the inside as well as outside of Nigeria, as they are more equipped than the Nigerian military for a variety of reasons. Thus, until the country itself comes together to deal with this problem, gets serious about changing its modus operandi, creates a real security strategy, and weeds out the supporters of these nefarious beings, the seeds of Boko Haram will continue to exist. International solidarity definitely has it’s place, as President Jonathan did appear to finally wake up because of the #BringBackOurGirls movement. However, as stated earlier, Boko Haram is a complex problem that requires an engagement of multiple entities to develop a solution. I don’t know if a “Nigerian Spring” will be possible. Perhaps, although I am reminded of what happened with the “Occupy Nigeria” movement and it’s aftermath. I have hope that people must be tired by now, and that this time is somehow be different, but we shall see.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am in agreement with you, having living in west africa before & during the Biafra war. (11 continuous years) so I’m a bit more familar with African politic, and understanding of where you’re coming from,
      Concerning Boko Haram People.. As a former expatriate.

      By now we are familar with a photo of 2 U.S. Marines, escorting a captive BH member..(???’s)
      Well here’s my take:
      What amazes me is how our marines got in the position to carry out & make such an arrest? Not that they the kidnappers shouldn’t apprehended and arrested. But if it’s really true, seem like they (our marines) would’ve turned them over to the Nigerian military or police.. If for no other reason then Diplomatic Reasons. After all, we’ve been told they’re there to aid,,, via intelligent, remember ? And on that point, I’m in agreement.

  4. Felix Ochoro says:

    Alfa… there’s nothing african much less Nigerian about criminals walking into a school at night and kidnapping defenseless children… and yes…there’s nothing african about all the injustices we allow in the name of sovereignty… we must call african leaders to a standard… and yes on questions of fundamental human rights… there’s no borders … cannot politicize all our failures under the guise of compelxity…. Africans and our leaders have the responsibility to pretext, feed, educate, treat our own …this is our primary responsibility when we fail …is should never matter where help comes from and what ‘agenda’ we believe informs interventions… before we look to explain the ‘interests’ of the west in helping we must ask ‘where was africa in this … Ethiopia,Congo , Benin , Kenya….

    • Alfia Johnson says:

      Mr. Ochoro:

      I am in agreement with you, as I firmly believe that African leaders must be held accountable for the protection of their people. I attempted to carefully construct my comments to re-iterate that help is essential, but it is Nigerians who must demand that certain strategies and actions are in place so that this situation will not be re-occurring. I am personally shocked at the amount of time it took for a real response from the President, as I have been keenly following what has been going on since a friend of mine was in the UN building in Abuja when it was bombed a few years ago ( she was not hurt). I do hope that a real resolution manifests very soon.

  5. CurtisKojo says:

    I am in agreement with you, having living in west africa before & during the Biafra war. (11 continuous years) so I’m a bit more familar with African politic, and understanding of where you’re coming from,
    Concerning Boko Haram People.. As a former expatriate.

    By now many have a photo posted on Facebook of 2 U.S. Marines, escorting a captive BH member..(???’s)
    Well here’s my take:
    What amazes me is how our marines got in the position to carry out & make such an arrest? Not that they the kidnappers shouldn’t apprehended and arrested. But if it’s really true, seem like they (our marines) would’ve turned them over to the Nigerian military or police.. If for no other reason then Diplomatic Reasons. After all, we’ve been told they’re there to aid,,, via intelligent, remember ? And on that point, I’m in agreement.

  6. emmtos says:

    Please. Thanks for this! God bless you

  7. Biafrans says:

    Can this writer claim ignorance at the daily slaughter of Biafrans all over the expired contraption called Nigeria, where full churches being blown to pieces every Sunday?
    Was the write ignorant of the constant messaging from Biafrans all over the world highlighting the true happening in that Satanic British genocide colony ‘Nigeria’?
    Well, like they say (and as one who claim to be a law clerk that ought to know better), ignorant is never an excuse! The fact that many hypocrites & and frua overs who ignored Biafrans all these while, blindly join such a cheap fraud by malicious gangs of ‘One Nigerians’ criminals, bent on diverting attention at the horrific genocide on Biafrans, does not exonerate anyone that peddle such fraud!
    There can be no excuse as to why none of the pathetic people carrying that fraudulent campaign ‘BringBackOurGirls’, never care to question When every evidence points to the usual ‘Nigeria’ fraud!
    What is right should have been to give full support to #BringBackBiafra nobel campaign!

  8. Javier says:

    To believe that the US military will act “morally” or that the US public will push back against their government’s military expansion in Africa (as supposed to pushing more for it) as a result of #BringBackOurGirls is naive at best, and lethally short-sighted at worst.

  9. Bob says:

    This excellent article needs to be posted on the Huffington Post website side-by-side with the Jumoke Balogun article. I find this piece far more compelling.

  10. T. Uwamahoro says:

    Thank you Marissa for this. J’aime le fond et la forme:
    “Those of us with constant access to wireless internet connections have been able to pick up the slack for those who are equally outraged, but undermined by power outages.”

    And then you addressed the always difficult question on sovereignty. Is it about the people or the governments? “…forcing us to consider if when we advocate respect for the sovereignty of African states and respect for self-determination of African peoples, we are talking about governments or the peoples those governments purport to represent. In this case, the United States seems to be responding to the will of the Nigerian people on an humanitarian basis.”

    All that I am anxiously waiting for now is for the hashtag to #BringBackOurGirls.

  11. pius Ani says:

    Thank You very much Marissa , I would have offered you my local traditional Kola if you are in Nigeria for this article . People like Jumoke are the one doing more harm than good with her unthoughtful writings .
    Simple question is can we just because of fear of American secrete military expansionist agenda fold our hands watch this carnage continue .
    having seen the obvious inability and helplessness of the Jonathan government to contain this crises , what is is professor Jumoke trying to lecture Nigerians .
    I guess is simple unconscionable for Jumoke to write what she wrote because i am very sure that if any of her relatives are among those kidnapped girls , she would have not made such comments .
    for your writings and standing with us , Marissa thanks alot

  12. Dan says:

    I think it is worth noting how this campaign is being waged. Like the Kony campaign, this almost certainly not a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy. Everyone should watch Generation Like from PBS Frontline:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/

    Social media is used to make people believe they are spontaneously getting interested in a product (in the documentary, it is the movie Catching Fire). Similarly, governments can be quite sophisticated in making people believe they are part of a grassroots campaign:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing

    When Michelle Obama holds up a #hashtag and Angelina Jolie has a succinct 1 minute outcry, we should suspect an organized astroturfing opperation to expand US military presence in Africa. Selective outcries at “bad guys” allows the US military, itself a gross human rights violator, to invade where it wants without taking responsiblity for its own crimes, the crimes of it’s allies (like Rwanda and Uganda in the Congo), and the economic basis for it’s destruction of non-Western economies through the imposition of austerity through the World Bank and IMF.

    Thinking the US, Michelle Obama, and Angelina Jolie can have a positive impact through a call for military commitment in any region is a bit like expecting Darth Vader to help out with his Death Star in a troubled region on his way through the galaxy. Even a cursury look at the US human rights record and its imperialist expansion. When will we have a social media campaign calling for reperations for the Congo? Libya? For the US support of dictators in Egypt? Drone strikes and black sites in Somalia? For bleeding Nigeria of it’s oil wealth? Will Michelle Obama hold a #reperationsforafrica sign? To ask such a question is to answer it. We can’t be so naive as to pretend this is a grassroots movement. Remember, one of the justifications for colonial imperialism was that Africa still had slavery after the West had decided to do away with it. How did that turn out?

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