Image from Anne Kansiime
I write this letter to you out of desperation. I am desperate because since theCharlie Hebdo killings of last week in France as well as the Baga massacre in Nigeria- which also happened last week- there are many of you who are upset that there was not much initial coverage of the Nigeria atrocities in western media. Coverage on CNN, BBC and other major Western outlets began a few days after I had read about it on Al Jezeera. I noted this anomaly but I was not at all surprised or upset by the monotonous repetition of the Paris shootings every time I turned on the TV. On the heels of the Baga attack came the story of the suicide bomber, a 10 year old girl exploded in a crowd, killing and maiming more people. Once again I was not surprised that there was little immediate coverage of this horrific story. Before long the hashtag #I am Charlie had appeared and social media was abuzz with condemnation of the attacks on grounds of freedom of expression. At the same time, Nigerians and some African papers were running stories and pictures on the horror that was still unfolding in Northern Nigeria. Over 2000 people killed, bodies strewn in forests and streets, whole villages set on fire. It was at this point that the elusive thing that I knew was missing became starkly clear: The voice of African leaders was missing. While western media rattled off condolence and condemnation messages from heads of state all over the world on the situation in Paris, there was a deathly quiet about Boko Haram killings still going in Nigeria.
I scoured the internet for a Statement from President Goodluck Jonathan wading through the millions of “I am Charlie” solidarity stories. I searched for a statement from the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, from other heads of African states, from the SADCC region, from ECOAS. Nothing. Only Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa came out strongly on the issue of Boko Haram’s terrorist activities. I really did not care whether western leaders said anything about Nigeria because it is not of them that I have expectations but of our own leaders. Then came the kicker, an article stating that six heads of African States had flown to Paris for the unity rally and an image of one of them wiping tears from his eyes. It is this last act that has me desperate to communicate with you.
Please can we stop expecting everyone in the world to treat us better than we treat ourselves and each other. Please can we stop expecting solidarity marches in Palestine, Israel, Europe or anywhere else, even Mars for that matter. We do not have any solidarity marches on the continent of Africa, or perhaps I may have missed something?
When our own so called leaders in Africa do not deem it fit to condemn the many acts of terror by Boko Haram, from the missing girls of Chibok the bombings in Abuja and so many others, WHY should western leaders or the media focus on these acts that are happening in relatively remote Africa when they have Paris burning under their noses?
African leadership is a disgrace, a sham, and we see this from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and spanning the length and breadth of the continent. This is what we should be angry about, that we have people in leadership positions who have no clue what they are doing and who do not genuinely care about the plight of their people. We should be livid that we have incompetent and ineffective leaders who bury their heads in the sand while a lethal insurgent group like Boko Haram gains traction on its destructive march towards its catastrophic mission. We should be enraged by the corruption that cripples entire nations so that they are propped out by external western NGO’s to whom these so called leaders have simply outsourced their responsibilities, rendering African people beggars. Just think of the Ebola Crisis and recall African leaders shamelessly demanding western assistance and stating that they were acting too slowly. Western agencies came out strongly to say that they there to assist and support governments with the Ebola crisis because clearly the expectation on the part of leaders in the affected countries was that agencies like WHO and Doctors without Borders should shoulder the burden of that crisis in its entirety.
I do not mean to oversimplify the often complex maneuverings of global geopolitics or to trivialize the extent of direct or indirect involvement that western politics and even media have had on the current situation in Africa. However it would be remiss of me if I did not hold our leaders accountable for the very minimum: public condemnation of terror attacks, compassion for the victims of Boko Haram and their families, offers from neighboring states to assist with boots on the ground (if nothing else). Nothing like this happened when the girls from Chibok were abducted, and nothing has happened then or since to demonstrate goodwill among Africans as exemplified by western leaders coming together for a unity rally in Paris and offering practical assistance to the French for counter- terrorism measures. In fact I put it to you that African leaders do not care about African people and the people who perished in Paris appear to get more attention from African leaders than the thousands who have perished in Nigeria. This is demonstrated by the six leaders who flew to Paris to stand in solidarity with France. In the light of the problems on the continent I have to say that this is shameful and my hope is that when elections come this year in all countries where there is an opportunity to change leadership, Africans will remember things like this as they cast their ballots.
Please let’s start to really reflect on our own somnolence in the face of looming annihilation. Let us look at how and why we elect the kind of leaders we have and why we seem to be powerless to get rid of bad leaders. Let us reflect on why we have come to expect, to feel entitled even that the west should care about what happens in Africa more than we ourselves care. Let us reflect on our lack of collective self-worth that has us expecting outside help to solve our own problems, while at the same time resenting the help for the price that it comes with. Yes, Western help does not come for free and we continue to pay a high price for “help”, the least of which is its toll on our collective self –esteem and dignity. The word -solidarity- means to stand with, to march shoulder to shoulder with. The world cannot stand with those who do not see it fit to stand up for themselves. No one can cry more than the bereaved. Our lives, African lives will matter to no one if they do not matter to ourselves. #IamNigeria. #Africanlivesmatter #nonebutourselves.