ABUJA, Nigeria — Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, Coca-Cola Co and many other high-profile individuals, powerful corporations and national governments have led the awareness charge on Boko Haram.
After five years of civil war, the kidnapping of over 200 school girls served as the catalyst for the global community to take interest in Nigerian affairs. Suddenly, Boko Haram became as well known and reported on as other notable terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. According to journalist Alex Perry, the publicity was “the kind of attention… [Boko Haram] only could ever have dreamed of.”
In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air and in a cover story for Newsweek, Alex Perry explains why the international Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls may in fact be playing right into Boko Haram’s hands. He is careful not to give Boko Haram too much credit, however, instead believing the massive attention came as a surprise for the group. “These guys are really badly educated,” Perry explains in regard to inconsistencies in the group’s strategy. “They’re dumb, essentially.”
Poorly educated or not, there is no denying the attention the group has received. Boko Haram’s mercilessly violent acts have been broadcasted across the globe. For a terrorist organization that derives its power from the fear it instills in people, the mass advertising of their vicious acts is only adding to their power.
Bertrand Monnet, a professor with expertise in terrorism at EDHEC Business School in Lille, agrees with Perry’s perspective. “The US, French and British governments have provided essential support to their Nigerian allies… However, by mobilizing the international media, they have given Boko Haram an even stronger weapon: publicity,” Monnet writes in a comment piece on The Telegraph.
Since the kidnapping and the launching of #BringBackOurGirls, 1,000 Nigerians have been killed by village massacres and bomb attacks. In a horrible twist of irony, the attention has prompted Boko Haram to conduct two more mass kidnappings.
Raising awareness on atrocious acts is not inherently negative, and there have been positive results from this campaign. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is the Royal Emir of Kano, a territory in northern Nigeria. He has long been speaking against both Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, uncovering corruption within its ranks.
“What I like about the attention,” Sanusi says to Perry, “is that we’re now moving beyond these superficial analyses. Now people are asking the real questions. It has exposed the incompetence and corruption of the government.”
Sanusi’s words serve as a reminder to not vilify a pure-heartedly motivated international community, but instead to think critically when shedding unprecedented amounts of attention onto a particular issue.
– Julianne O’Connor