It has been almost a month since Islamic extremists kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in northeastern Nigeria. While U.S. news has been saturated with coverage of a missing Malaysian plane, a tragic South Korean ferry disaster, a racist NBA team owner and Lindsay Lohan’s miscarriage, a story about the suffering families of hundreds of abducted young women and girls on the other side of the world has received little attention.
The abduction has all of the elements of a story that would be covered wall to wall by 24/7 news networks: a violent terrorist group, a government struggling to protect its citizens and the lives of innocent young girls hanging in the balance, simply because they wanted an education.
The details are harrowing: On April 14, 276 young girls were kidnapped from their boarding school by Nigerian militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, which in Hausa spoken in West Africa, loosely means “Western education is forbidden.” The girls, who range in age from 15 to 18, are reportedly being sold into marriage to the militants for $12.
The terrorist group, which may be ties to al-Qaeda-linked groups in Africa and has been called an “emerging threat” to the U.S., has waged a war against westernization for more than a decade. In just five years, the extremists have already taken “more than 4,000 lives, displaced close to half a million, destroyed hundreds of schools and government buildings and devastated an already ravaged economy in the North East, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions,” according to data released by the International Crisis Group.
So why the lack of coverage? Eileen Shim of Policy Mic, a youth orientated news and opinion site, has been one of the many critics to see the media’s early inaction as as part of a general lack of attention to issues in Africa.
“So why haven’t we heard about it?,” she rhetorically asked in a recent post. “Simply put, because the world has very different views on South Korea and Nigeria. One is among the richest countries in the world and a powerful Western ally with a high quality of life and strong international presence. The other is in Africa, where, you know, these things happen all the time — or so we’re led to believe.”
For Vladimir Duthiers, CNN’s West Africa Correspondent, stories about the region, though important, are challenging to tell for a number of reasons.
“I don’t think U.S. media doesn’t care about this story, but as journalists, when we do the news, it’s very difficult to get people to engage with the story regardless the subject,” he told Fusion over the phone from Lagos, Nigeria. “On top of that, this story, because of how dangerous the situation currently is and how remote it is, journalists are not able to get to the area because it’s controlled by Boko Haram.”
And for broadcast journalists gathering video to report on Boko Haram means “you’d be forced to have a military escort which is like having a target on your back,” Duthiers said. “And, it’s a part of the world where people don’t speak English. So, how are you going to put a camera on that and get people to talk to the world when you have all of those challenges?”
Vladimir Duthiers reports on Boko Haram
As a result, many Twitter activists have taken to social media to see that the story gets out. Some believe that the lack of attention on the situation is not just about there being a fatigued news audience, but about race and geography.
“When it comes to the priority on brown girls, it’s not the highest,” said Omolola Adele-Oso, who is originally from Lagos and has organized a protest at the Nigerian embassy in Washington. “But, we’re all on overload about what’s going on the world: war, fighting, what’s going on in congress. The media has their agenda when it comes to what they want to focus on. Unless they’re being pushed to report certain things, I don’t think it’s a priority.”
Hashtags like #WhereAreOurGirls and #BringOurGirlsBack have sprung up and were trending in Nigeria and other parts of Africa during the last two weeks. Celebrities like Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, Keri Hilson, Shonda Rhimes and others have tweeted about it.
Through social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, organizations like the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) have announced protests in several states across the country and in London, calling for the international community to get involved if the Nigerian government accountability and intervention.
Demonstrations were held on Saturday in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC. On Monday, there will be a protest in London and on Tuesday, a protest has been organized in front of the Nigerian embassy in Washington, DC.
The added pressure may have helped. On Friday, 18 days after the girls were kidnapped, the Nigerian government announced that a “major military operation is expected to begin near the Sambisa Forest,” where the Nigerian government believes Boko Haram, is holding the girls. There will be troops on the ground, Nigerian Air Force fighter jets and police helicopters, to surround any way in or out of the forest in order to trap the rebels. And on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry has promised U.S. help.
“We’re talking about parents who sent their children away to school, and one morning they wake up and they’re told that their daughters are taken in the middle of the night by terrorists,” Duthiers said. “What would you do if your sister were missing like this? In the united states you have a recourse. But there, they don’t.”