Why Paris attacks overshadowed Boko Haram carnage

Africans’ bashing of the media rather misguided?

Several weeks ago as the world’s attention was fixated on the Paris terrorist attacks that claimed just 17 innocent lives, and plunged France in shock and turmoil for three days, Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram took terrorism to another level.

It slaughtered hundreds if not thousands of children, women and men in Baga, Northeastern Nigeria.

Unlike in May 2014 when the ‘Bring back our girls’ hashtag and campaign trended worldwide and raised awareness about the 300 (the girls have never been found) school girls that had been abducted by the terrorist organization, this time around their massacres haven’t sparked the same global outrage. Instead it’s the Paris attacks that have garnered the media’s attention.

Although it’s hard to fathom particularly for Africans, and those who care about Africa, why and how the death of just 17 people could captivate the world’s media and politicians’ attention and not the mass butchering of Nigerians, there could be some rationale to this.

Doro Baga ( AKA: Doro Gowon) 7 Jan 2015

A satellite image of razed structures in an area of dense housing in Doro Baga on Jan. 7 following an attack by Boko Haram. The inset demonstrates the level of destruction of most of the structures in the town. The red areas indicate the only remaining healthy vegetation.

There are various schools of thought as to why the Paris attacks garnered more attention than Boko Haram’s horrific massacres in Nigeria.  One could be due to the fact that majority of the French victims were journalists or cartoonists.

The Kouachi brothers’ assassination of 10 Charlie-Hebdo cartoonists and journalists struck a cord with journalists and media organizations worldwide (including African) obviously because the attacks had hit home.

The media fraternity regards the slain journalists as one of their own. Indeed they were, hence the nonstop coverage was somewhat warranted.  Boko Haram victims on the other hand, were ordinary Africans.

As CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour said shortly after the attacks, “This attack was a clear attack on the freedom of expression, on the press, and on satire”; the Paris attacks more than anything else, targeted freedom.

Freedom is a very essential value of the French society and the West at large including western media. Therefore, it was understandable, at least from a journalistic perspective, for journalists and the media to rally behind fellow members of the fraternity.

The other reasoning is perhaps because four of the 17 Paris victims were Jews; the gunning down of the four Jewish men at the Kosher grocery store added an anti-Semitic tinge to the tragedy.

Almost by default the media is going to give prominence to this story, definitely to the chagrin of Africans.

In addition, believe it or not, the French authorities did an impeccable job by rapidly swinging into action to pursue and eventually kill the terrorists.

Immediately after the French police regained control of the situation, the French government called for the million-man “Unity March”. On Sunday January 11, 2015 millions of people took to the streets in Paris and other French cities in an unprecedented show of unity and defiance in the face terrorism.

Judging simply by numbers, of both ordinary citizens and world leaders that attended, the Paris March was an incredible success, and the media, in my humble opinion, was absolutely right to cover the ‘titanic’ event.

The sea of people across France, and other European capitals was marching in solidarity with the Paris-based Charlie-Hebdo, a satirical magazine.

On the contrary, for the Boko Haram victims, how many Africans put their usual personal business aside and marched for the slaughtered Nigerians? How many Kenyans marched in Nairobi? Or how many Ethiopians marched in Addis Ababa? The answer to these questions is clear: no one.

Had Nigerians and other Africans organized themselves and marched for Boko Haram victims, in hundreds of thousands or in millions, in Abuja, Lagos and other cities across the African continent, it is conceivable the media, the western media, would have had no choice but to cover the “Million-Man” marches with profound interest. The African mass protests would have forced the media narrative.
And by the way, where in the world was the Nigerian or African leadership? Ridiculous as it may sound, the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, with politics and the forthcoming presidential election on his mind, as soon as the Paris attacks happened, hastily released a statement condemning the “dastardly terrorist attacks”.

No such statement was issued about the massacres in Baga; he actually waited for about a week to visit the almost decimated town.
A significant number of Africans have expressed outrage about Boko Haram attacks’ lack of media traction, and the Paris attacks’ media sensation.
In the days following Paris and Boko Haram killings, one Mikael tweeted, “I question a world that has the capacity to talk about 12 French victims @ #CharlieHebdo but not the 2k killed by Boko Haram this week”.

Likewise, my Facebook friend Kassim, a prominent African journalist echoed Mikael’s sentiment by posting on his timeline, “2000 people feared dead in Nigeria Boko Haram attack- Not much in the news, 12 killed in France, rolling news”!

While I share and totally understand Mikael and Kassim’s anguish, I would argue that instead of criticizing the media for covering Paris attacks, or faulting the West for ignoring Africans in Nigeria, our fury should be aimed at spineless African leaders like President Jonathan, and his entire government.

President Jonathan and his government have not only failed to appropriately respond to the Boko Haram attacks but have also systematically attempted to downplay the massacres by scaling down the number of victims.

President Jonathan is the man that should be rallying his nation and the world against the terror group; he is the man who should be ordering deployment of the Nigerian military in big numbers to take the fight to Boko Haram.

It’s true that in recent days the Nigerian Military, with the help of regional forces has gone on the offensive against the terrorists and has recaptured about 7 towns but this is too little too late. Boko Haram still controls a big chunk of the country, and it’s still a major security threat to the region.

President Jonathan’s failure to tackle corruption in his country could also explain his government’s reluctance to take on the terrorists.
In its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, Transparency International indicated 45% of respondents in Nigeria felt the military was corrupt/extremely corrupt.

There’s no way this military is going to go after Boko Haram, and who knows maybe they share bribes or loot, or some senior members of the armed forces or government  benefit one way or another from the attacks, hence the hesitancy to aggressively pursue heartless jihadists.

Boko Haram’s reign of terror has forced millions to flee their homes and country, and the militants have also mounted attacks in Nigeria’s neighbours Cameroon, Niger and Chad. In these countries the cruel militants have killed hundreds, and torched property.
Given their recent meetings in Niamey, Addis Ababa and Yaoundé, Nigeria and its neighbours in the region are trying to forge a united front to take on Boko Haram, and the African Union (AU) has already endorsed a 7,500-strong multinational force to battle the terrorists but it’s doubtful just this contingent will neutralize Africa’s “ISIS”.

As the rest of the world joins the anti-Boko Haram campaign, Nigeria, seems to be dragging its feet: the country’s National Security Adviser, SamboDasuki is on record saying “UN is not needed in Nigeria” to fight Boko Haram. This kind of attitude is doing a disservice to the campaign.

The Nigerian government should be mobilizing and accepting all kinds of help; be it from immediate neighbours like Chad, Niger and Cameroon or from other African countries.

Nigeria should also seek help from regional and international bodies like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), South African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC), the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), US and the UN.

President Jonathan should put politics aside, swallow his pride and work the phones asking fellow African leaders to help in terms of troops, funds and technical assistance.

It is incumbent on the Nigerian government and other African leaders to form and lead a coalition against the terror group for if left unchecked, the “cancer” that is Boko Haram will continue to metastasize.

The jihadists will continue to slit throats, burn and loot property, force people out of their homes, and the entire African continent and the world will endure the unpleasant consequences for a long time.