On 14th April 2014, an Islamist terrorist group called the Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girl students from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Nigeria. This event created widespread outrage in Nigeria as well as around the world against the Nigerian government. Apparently, the government was not doing enough to fight the Boko Haram or prevent such kidnappings. A social movement around #BringBackOurGirls was formed, and the hashtag was used over 1 million times in 3 weeks. Everyone from Michelle Obama to Cara Delevingne shared the tag, making it an international sensation. Demonstrations were organized in New York and Paris and it was hard to find someone on social media who hadn’t come across the term.
However, 4 years after this incident, it seems like this movement did more harm than good.
1. It Gave Boko Haram More Bargaining Power
Unfortunately, kidnapping of young children in Nigeria by the Boko Haram happens more regularly than you think. The militants use these girls as a way to obtain resources from the Government, and sometimes even when the government doesn’t comply, the girls are eventually rescued or released. However, after the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag went viral, the militants had the world’s attention, something any rebel group craves. According to one former member of the Boko Haram, it made the group’s leadership realize that they were in a golden situation for bargaining with the government. Freed Chibok girls say they were properly fed, given fabric to sew new clothes and even provided with medical care from doctors whenever they were ill, this was the complete opposite of other girls in Boko Haram captivity described. It sounds good, but it’s not. Many believe that the movement is the main reason why most of the girls are still in captivity today, 4 years after their kidnapping.
2. It Meant The Chibok Girls Could Never Go Back To Normalcy
The #BringBackOurGirls movement made celebrities out of the Chibok girls. Their names and faces were everywhere – from the streets of Abuja, and during protest marches in Paris and New York. A list of the girls’ names was even displayed in newspapers and on television in Nigeria. When some of the girls were rescued, they were put in front of dozens of cameras and broadcasted around the world. However, the girls remain in government custody because the Nigerian military says it cannot guarantee their safety if they go home. Any other girl rescued by the Nigerian military would have been but the Nigerian government is unwilling to risk the international uproar that would come with the re-abduction of a Chibok girl.
3. It Legitimised Western Presence In Africa
Since the #BringBackOurGirls movement was to force the Nigerian Government to intensify efforts to rescue the Chibok girls from the Boko Haram, the pressure to ‘do something’ about the situation also led to Nigeria asking western countries for military assistance. The U.S. armed forces already have their presence in Niger, Libya, Uganda, Somalia and Djibouti. Now, after this incident, they also have a presence in Nigeria and host regular military exercises to train Nigerian soldiers to fight the Boko Haram. This growing U.S. military presence in Africa had been a matter of concern, but after the Chibok kidnapping, Nigeria is now looked at as a country rife with terrorism, one that needs western forces to rescue. This was the perception of the Middle East in the late 90s, look how well that turned out.
4. It Undermined Other Such War Crimes In Nigeria
Since 2014, Nigeria has had many more killings and kidnappings. However, the focus of the international community and local government still remains on something that happened 4 years ago. Instead of putting resources towards achievable rescue missions, a lot of attention is still on the Chibok girls. Amnesty International estimates that over 2000 girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2014, with many forced into sexual slavery. As recently as 19th February 2108, 110 girls were abducted from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical Secondary School in the northeast town of Dapchi. Now, a new group of Nigerians fears for their return, but with global #BringBackOurGirls pressure, only a fraction of the government’s efforts will go towards this rescue mission.
5. It Exposed The First World-Third World Divide
While the #BringBackOurGirls movement was great for creating awareness about the incident and putting pressure on the government to do something, it ignored the context and setting of the conflict in Nigeria. By putting a western filter on an African problem, it only made things worse. Many western politicians mocked the social media around the movement saying things like, “Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh-oh Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior?” and they had a point. Would the terrorists even care about the movement as a pressure tactic? In fact, they reversed that and made it a pressure tactic of their own.