For a few brief days, the girls kidnapped in Nigeria captured international attention. The slogan #BringBackOurGirls, complete with hashtag, abounded on Twitter and, following Michelle Obama’s example, politicians and public figures the world over were photographed clutching posters bearing the same message.
But now, sadly, attention has moved on; the schoolgirls – taken by the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram who stated their intention was to sell them into slavery – remain in captivity and Britain’s own feeble efforts to assist go almost unnoticed.
An RAF Sentinel left RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire, on Sunday. It is a spy plane equipped, according to the Daily Telegraph, with ‘ground mapping radars to build up detailed 3D images of terrain’ and it saw widespread use in Afghanistan.
Somewhat pathetically, however, the plane has not got to Nigeria; it is in Senegal more than 1,300 miles away from its destination. It is currently grounded with an unidentified problem and the Ministry of Defence have no idea how to fix it. They are, according to a spokesman, hopeful the plane will join the efforts to rescue the girls ‘sooner rather than later’. Doesn’t that statement resonate with a keen sense of urgency?
In many ways David Cameron is right; Britain and the West cannot simply dispatch troops, gunships and special forces to Nigeria to take command of the efforts. It is, after all, a sovereign country and one that is stuck in an increasingly wretched conflict with this appalling Islamic fundamentalist group, and it has to be allowed to decide for itself what outside assistance it wants and needs.
But that doesn’t preclude the British and other governments from heaping pressure on to the Nigerian authorities as it is evident how inadequate the response of Goodluck Jonathan’s government has been. For weeks, the president refused offers of international assistance; meanwhile, the girls were reportedly camped less than 30 kilometres from their school for 11 days, with no attempt made to free them. Haaretz has reported how Nigeria has been unable to deploy surveillance drones bought from Israel several years ago as routine maintenance has not been carried out and spare parts had not been ordered. The broken British plane just adds to this catalogue of ineptitude.
The fleeting nature of the international outrage over this issue is curious, especially as Boko Haram is stepping up its campaign of violence and has become a major destabilising force in the region. More than 250,000 people have been displaced in the north of the country and in the last two days alone bombings killed almost another 120 in the city of Jos and a further 48 were killed as three villages were attacked in the north of the country. Boko Haram's aims are to turn Africa's most populous country into a hardline Islamic state, where elections are banned, secular education stopped and contact with the West cut. The desperate poverty in the country, particularly in the north, acts as a significant recruiting sergeant for the cause; international involvement and cooperation is vital to overcome this movement.
But one gets the horrible impression that it is tragically being dismissed as just one of those things that happens in Africa.