Dear Americans, Your Hashtags Won’t #BringBackOurGirls. You Might Actually Be Making Things Worse.
Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria.
It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care.
Here’s the thing though, when you pressure Western powers, particularly the American government to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good.
You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa. AFRICOM (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls.
Last year, before President Obama visited several countries in Africa, I wrote about how the U.S. military is expanding its role in Africa. In 2013 alone, AFRICOM carried out a total of 546 “military activities,” which is an average of one and half military missions a day. While we don’t know much about the purpose of these activities, keep in mind that AFRICOM’s mission is to “advance U.S. national security interests.”
And advancing they are. According to one report, in 2013, American troops entered and advanced American interests in Niger, Uganda, Ghana, Malawi, Burundi, Mauritania, South Africa, Chad, Togo, Cameroon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Sudan.
The U.S. military conducted 128 separate “military activities” in 28 African countries between June and December of 2013. These are in conjunction to U.S. led drone operations which are occurring in Northern Nigeria and Somalia. There are also counter-terrorism outposts in Djibouti and Niger and covert bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles which are serving as launching pads for the U.S. military to carry out surveillance and armed drone strikes.
Although most of these activities are covert, we do know that the U.S. military has had a destabilizing effect in a few countries. For example, a New York Times article confirmed that the man who overthrew the elected Malian government in 2012 was trained and mentored by the United States between 2004 and 2010. Further, a U.S. trained battalion in the Democratic Republic of Congo was denounced by the United Nations for committing mass rapes.
Now the United States is gaining more ground in Africa by sending military advisors and more drones, sorry, I mean security personnel and assets to Nigeria to assist the Nigerian military, who by the way, have a history of committing mass atrocities against the Nigerian people.
Knowing this, you can understand my apprehension for President Obama’s decision. As the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole said yesterday, the involvement of the U.S. government and military will only lead to more militarism, less oversight, and less democracy.
Also, the last time military advisors were sent to Africa, they didn’t do much good. Remember #KONY2012? When President Obama sent 100 combat-equipped troops to capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in Central Africa? Well, they haven’t found him and although they momentarily stopped looking, President Obama sent more troops in March 2014 who now roam Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Consequently, your calls for the United States to get involved in this crisis undermines the democratic process in Nigeria and co-opts the growing movement against the inept and kleptocratic Jonathan administration. It was Nigerians who took their good for nothing President to task and challenged him to address the plight of the missing girls. It is in their hands to seek justice for these girls and to ensure that the Nigerian government is held accountable. Your emphasis on U.S. action does more harm to the people you are supposedly trying to help and it only expands and sustain U.S. military might.
If you must do something, learn more about the amazing activists and journalists like this one, this one, and this one just to name a few, who have risked arrests and their lives as they challenge the Nigerian government to do better for its people within the democratic process. If you must tweet, tweet to support and embolden them, don’t direct your calls to action to the United States government who seeks to only embolden American militarism. Don’t join the American government and military in co-opting this movement started and sustained by Nigerians.
Jumoke Balogun is a Nigerian-American. She is the co-founder and co-editor of compareafrique.com. Seeing Nigerians of all tribes and religious affiliation together in her hometown of Oshogbo, in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and elsewhere protesting and controlling the destiny of their nation fuels her to do more and be better. She dreams about handing down a festival of slaps to President Goodluck Jonathan and Patience Jonathan.