— The First Lady (@FLOTUS) May 7, 2014
Why are a few hundred people on an airplane more worthy of the world’s attention that a few hundred school girls who are kidnapped and sold into bondage?
The kidnapping of girls in Nigeria at the hands of the Boko Haram rebels is finally getting traction in news cycles, thanks primarily to Twitter and social media. This week the United States offered to help find them, almost three weeks after their abduction.
Why the slow world response?
Writing on Maclean’s, Katie Engelhart asks, but does not answer, the question, but compares it to the disappearance of a plane.
Compare that to the night of March 8, when Flight 370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A global hunt of historic proportions followed. In the ﬁrst month after the disappearance, eight nations joined the investigation and $44 million was spent searching the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Australian and British vessels equipped with specialized listening equipment scanned for pings from the plane’s black box recorders. Media outlets responded with wall-to-wall coverage. (CNN gave us holographic airplanes, cockpit re-enactments and discussions of black holes.) Meanwhile, according to an article by Amnesty International, the Nigerian government “has yet to communicate a plan or take action” on the missing girls. There has been no broader commitment to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency, which is often better equipped than Nigerian forces and which has claimed responsibility for more than 1,000 killings this year.
Secretary of State John Kerry told the BBC that the slow response is not the fault of the United States.
“We have been in touch from day one, and our embassy has been engaged and we have been engaged,” he said. “But the government had its own set of strategies, if you will, in the beginning. And you can offer and talk, but you can’t do if a government has its own sense of how it’s proceeding.”
Africa can often be a blind spot in Western eyes but not in this case, says Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa based in Washington DC.
The Nigerians, like the Americans, have a mixture of arrogance and pride, he says, but they changed their mind when they realised the strength of international outrage.
That is to say, social media is different than real life and there’s a limit to what social media “hashtag activism” can accomplish, the New York Times’ Robert Mackey says.