Opinion: the #BringBackOurGirls campaign
Could Nigerian lawyer, Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi, have suspected the avalanche that would follow his speech? During one of the first rallies shortly the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls on April 14, 2014, he called upon Nigeria's government to help "bring back our girls", coining the title of the biggest social media campaign to date.
"Bring back our girls," cried the women and mothers who confronted the Nigerian government, which was apparently unable to respond to their pleas with other action or warm words. Only days later, the protests spread to Nigeria's capital Abuja and to far off places like the US, where the American public demanded a US military intervention to rescue the girls. US First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted a picture of herself holding a poster reading #BringBackOurGirls.
The campaign calling for the rescue of the Nigerian schoolgirls took on a life of its own. It now had little in common with the initial message of Abdullahi and the campaign founders. The civil society protests against a corrupt and incompetent government had turned into a call for yet another US military intervention in the region.
Memories of a Kony campaign
The US conducted 546 military interventions in Africa in 2013 alone. Most were conducted under the mantle of US national security interests. You do not have to believe in conspiracy theories to agree with the Nigerian-American writer and activist Jumoke Balogun, who wrote a very pointed message to the campaigners on the website Compare Afrique: "Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for 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."
The frenzy surrounding the #BringBackOurGirls campaign brings back memories of a similar hashtag craze in 2012. The #Kony2012 Twitter campaign was brought to life by a small US non-governmental organization, who shot a video of their search for the rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony. At the time Ugandans had demanded to know why the Ugandan army had failed to find the infamous leader of the militia that had repeatedly kidnapped and recruited children, inspite of a massive military deployment. Nigerians are asking a similar question.
The short lived hashtag campaigns by Jolie, Obama, Clooney and others, which evaporate into thin air after a few days on the web, are often no more than an annoyance. But they also bring with them the danger of more military intervention and less democracy, as described by the Nigerian-American author, Teju Cole.
Christian fundamentalists are meddling
Yet there is another problem, which the celebrities have obviously not considered. Not only the US military, but also US Christian fundamentalist groups have discovered the #BringBackOurGirls campaign for themselves. Nigeria's Borno State is one of the only areas in Nigeria's dominantly Muslim North with a large Christian population. Anybody who has come across the distasteful and simplistic Bible Belt fundamentalism in Darfur in Sudan ('Evil Arabs murder righteous Christians/ Animists'), can comprehend the concerns of Nigeria's activists.
And while we are on subject of Darfur: In an interview given in Juba in 2011, Hollywood star and self-proclaimed Sudan activist, George Clooney, compared Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir's politics to a strategy in basketball. "He's very predictable. We know all the moves. If you play basketball with somebody three times, you know that they've got no left hand."US journalists were thrilled; Sudan analysts appalled.
"Dear world, your Hashtags won't #BringBackOurGirls", wrote Nigerian author Balogun in her column. And she is right. George Clooney and Angelina Jolie are good actors. Michelle Obama is a great First Lady. But they should stay out of African politics, which Africans would like to shape by themselves and without the US Marines.