It began on social media. With a simple hash tag that quickly gripped the world’s attention: #BringBackOurGirls – It was so powerful that this piece of news hit social media 3 weeks before mainstream News channels decided to air it. You don’t have to look too far to see how powerful social media can be (the Arab uprising, 2011 London riots).
A month ago, 234 Nigerian school girls (and boys) were kidnapped by an extremist group and have been threatened to be put into a life of prostitution and slavery unless the Nigerian government meets the group’s demands. Whenever I think about it, it fills me with anger and a deep sadness that this wasn’t reported on mainstream news quick enough. I could open a can of worms about media bias, general disinterest for what happens anywhere outside of Europe (except the Middle East) and a general lack of global awareness.
The hash tag both impresses and irritates me. It is impressive because it once again showed how word spread like wildlife, on a global scale, on social media. There are those who take a selfie, hold a bit of paper to show the words: #BringBackOurGirls – this is the bit which fills me with a mixed reaction. Yes: it is great to see those around the world showing solidarity and raising awareness of a terrible situation. Yet at the same time, it’s so irritating that it makes my toes curl up in contempt. Especially when celebrities jump on the band wagon. And then their admirers do the same, because their idol did it.
The hash tag has a double edged sword: it raises awareness but it doesn’t actively help the current situation. The very change which could bring back the school children rests in the hands of the Nigerian people. It is their lobbying, their relentless campaigns, pressure and protests that will make the Nigerian government take action. Not Emma Watson holding a bit of paper and looking pensive. Actions speak louder than hash tags – though hash tags appear to be a good place to start.
It fills me with rage that there are those who would harm innocent children to meet their selfish needs – but this isn’t exclusive to the situation in Nigeria. Everyday deep injustices occur here in the UK to innocent people only for it to be swept under the carpet. To be very blunt: why do we, in the West in our comfortable homes, comfortable clothes and comfortable lives, care more about the kidnapped schoolchildren in Nigeria, than we do about the number of families who lose their homes and livelihood in the UK? It is simple: because we are distanced from the Nigerian students. It is “easier” for us to feel sympathy for a terrible situation that is beyond our control.
Yes we must have empathy and humanity in us – it is essential that we all have this feeling. And most people holding up a bit of paper saying: #BringBackOurGirls do so with the best intentions. But ultimately, it is the people of Nigeria who can make a significant impact on their government.
This extremist group is not representative of the beauty, love, empathy and rich cultures that adorn all corners of Africa. They are not representative of the kindness, humility and zeal that exists in the hearts of millions of Africans. And most importantly, they are not representative of a new, stronger and modernising Africa on the horizon.