Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Age of Phony Compassion and Fake Hash tag Celebrity Activism



Over the past few weeks, many have been in an uproar over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls in Borno State Nigeria. They were taken from their school as the slept and huddled off in trucks to places in the Sambisa forest outside of Maiduguri and possibly beyond.  Albeit nearly three weeks after the actual crime occurred, the concern is needed and well deserved.  But somehow, I feel that the interest is fake and phony and I will tell you why.

When I was a child, growing up in Memphis in 1960’s, activism was real, tangible and hands on. This type of activism in the age of social media and remote control sedentary decadence is rare mainly because the modern western influenced psyche assumes that action is limited to what one can accomplish with a keystroke or the push of a button. It allows one to be reticent and hidden in their personal urgency to acknowledge and even confront evil in any form or manifestation it may engender.

The #bringbackourgirls is just the recent example of this artificially contrived concern for a criminal act that in all honesty, many did not care about either through ignorance and not being informed or because it did not gain traction until some famous person they idolized brought it to their attention. Consequently making it retro chic to be concerned and to care and thus promote the hash tag. Otherwise there would have been a concern for all the past ill and crimes committed by the Islamist organization Boko Haram. But the record and fact exhibits and documents such was not the case.

There was no #dontburnourboys hash tag when just this year in February, the same Islamist attacked a boarding school in Potiskum, Nigeria in the northeast of the nation that resulted in the killing 29 students and one teacher. All of which were burned alive. Likewise, there was no #stopkillingourchildren when Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and his band of militants opened fire on students in their sleep at a secondary school in Nigeria's troubled northeastern Yobe state, or when they set fire to a locked dormitory in Damaturu, Nigeria and then shot and slit the throats of students who tried to escape through windows during a pre-dawn attack in which 58 students were killed. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the attack in June in the village of Mamudo which left 22 students dead. In all of the above attacks, all of the dead were teenage boys or young men between 10 and 18 years old.

Now again, the attention pertaining to the girls is deserved, but why was their no attention to the aforementioned attacks on students the same age?  Was it because they were males, was it because they were burned alive and had their throats slit which may be less appealing for attention than kidnapped children? I cannot answer any of the prior queries but I can assert that something is amiss. Either in the west we feel more attached to women in need more so than boys or men in need, or either we are stupid creatures of the moment caught up and motivated by celebrity trends of the day and actually do not really care what happens in faraway places like Nigeria, regardless of religious affiliation or gender.

Now before you say I am making excuses, missing the point or just “hating”, I must add that I lived in Nigeria for more than a year when I was doing my post doc. Moreover, although I lived in Owerri in Imo state and Lagos more than half of my time there, I have been to and worked outside in the LGAs around Maiduguri and the Sambisa Forrest where I did onchocerciasis eradication (river blindness). It was so thick we had to park our land cruisers and walk miles to our target LGAs. Not to mention I have worked and stayed in Calabar, Jos, Kano, Benin, Kaduna, Onitsha, Afkipo, Afikpo South, Port Harcourt, Ngor Opala and too many other places in Nigeria to name. So for me it is personal.  I know about Boko Haram and personally, they are just like Uganda's cult-like Lord's Resistance Army with the only difference that the latter is Christian. And while Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted Christian institutions such as churches, most people killed in attacks have been Muslims. I understand that Boko Haram was created in 2002 by a radical Islamist cleric in Maiduguri, Borno state, after he was expelled from two mosques in Maiduguri by Muslim clerics for propagating his radical views.

So to me, the attention is well deserved, but to be honest we must admit that it is fake and phony. If such were not the case, we would have hash tags for this week’s bombing that killed 130 people, or the bombing the following day that killed scores more – but we did not.  Just like we don’t care, don’t know, and don’t want to know about what is going on in the Central African Republic where Christians are chopping up and beheading and even eating Muslims left and right.

I won’t say that we don’t care (black people) because the victims are black, but I will say for most in the west, there may be some sort of shame and guilt over Rwanda’s genocide, or the exploitation of child soldiers in Uganda and the killings in Darfur, Sudan; for we know the record indicates conservatively speaking, since 1996, 6 million Congolese have been killed. And in all of these cases we know that our President, who looks like us black folk, has turned a blind eye to Africa. First when he waived the ban on sending military aid to nations that use children as soldiers in 2013, and specifically with respect to Nigeria, when the Obama Administration, after John Kerry took over as Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence P. McCulley, accused the Nigerian government of “butchery during a confrontation with Boko Haram terrorists in Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, and in May 2013 threatened to withdraw U.S. military aid from the West African nation.”

So the way II see it, I am glad of the attention, yet at the same time I know it is fake and phoney and comes with barely an iota of concern and compassion. But such is the standard in this new world of hash tag diplomacy and celebrity activism and a sad standard it is indeed.

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