It’s almost as if last week’s massacre of 2,000 villagers in the town of Baga in northeast Nigera by Boko Haram never happened. Without the twenty-four hour media coverage given to every aspect of the tragedy at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent narrative of Islamic terrorism creeping into the benevolent West, Baga became “virtually non-existent”” with few people outside of the region being aware of its existence in the first place.
Boko Haram first came to the attention of many Westerners due to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Faced with hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls, the Nigerian government’s response under President Goodluck Jonathan was lackluster, despite marches in the streets of Nigeria and global pressure to act to bring the girls home safely. Continuing to expand its territorial reach, on January 4th, Boko Haram easily ceased the military base in Baga. Baga was the last town in the Northeastern region under government control. Over the course of five days, Boko Haram burned the town to the ground and indiscriminately slaughtered men, women, and children. An estimated 10,0000 people fled to Chad to escape the indiscriminate killing. Hundreds of others drowned in an attempt to cross Lake Chad.
As a follow-up, a young girl thought to be associated Boko Haram detonated an explosive devise in a busy market in Maiduguri in Northeast Nigeria on Saturday, taking 16 more innocent lives.
Meanwhile, the world rallied around the victims of the Paris attacks.
Boko Haram has become skilled at exploiting the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian government to prevent and counter their attacks. Although their ideology remains to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, their tactics have evolved. Once known to drop leaflets warning average citizens to avoid certain areas and government buildings prior to an attack, Boko Haram has shifted the way it operates to include kidnapping, indiscriminate violence, using young girls as suicide bombers, and razing entire villages seemingly without expressing any justification for this change in tactics.
With the knowledge that the world was not paying attention, President Jonathan swiftly condemned the attacks in Paris but has yet to release a statement about the over 2,000 people massacred in Nigeria. “With elections approaching Goodluck has no incentive to expose himself as a weak leader in the face of Boko Haram. The military has repeatedly asked for more support and has not received it,” explains Cleophus Thomas, III, a doctoral candidate at George Mason University focusing on African rebel movements and the founder of Somalia Newsroom.
“Silence is a way to avoid acknowledging their failures as a state.”
Jonathan was keenly aware that, unlike the Westgate Mall attacks in Nairobi in 2013 by Al Shabab, no Westerners were victims or involved in the massacre in Baga. Westgate received worldwide attention because the mall was the center of expat activity. During a week where seventeen Western satirical journalist died in Paris and over 2,000 Africans died in a remote village in Nigeria, the Africans were dismissed by the media as unmournable bodies.
“The Paris attacks showed that the media is more interested in exploring its own victimhood than the victimhood of Africans in Africa,” added Thomas, “It’s problematic because we are supposedly in the era of globalization but, there is no globalization of the news; news is only important if it affects us personally. This is especially true for Africa because only certain areas in Africa are important, and even those areas can easily get overshadowed by events in [Western countries] that are considered more important.”
The virtual silence of the media allows for the continuation of the narrative that normalizes then dismisses the deaths of black bodies as simply “Africans killing Africans”, the international version of “black on black crime”. Meanwhile the deaths of Westerners become immortalized in a narrative that promotes the idea that the foundation of Western civilization is at stake if we can be exposed to the very same terror that robs ‘those people over there’ of their peace of mind and security on a daily basis. Instead of emphasizing how interconnected our world is in the face of global terrorist threats, last week reminded us that black bodies are undeserving martyrs.
France François is the award-winning blogger behind the Black in Cairo blog. Follow her on Twitter at @Frenchieglobal