Boko Haram suspected of kidnapping 60 more women. Does anyone care?


Fans hold a sign in support of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram at the Group F football match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMADJEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

From the outset, it was probably inevitable. What was once an international army of protesters that spanned both continents and the Twitterverse has dwindled.

Nearly three months have passed since Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from a dormitory. Boko Haram is suspected of kidnapping approximately 60 more women and girls. And #Bringbackourgirls has, by nearly every measure, failed.

It’s not surprising. Internet activism has a finite life span. In a matter of days, it blinks into existence, then blinks into oblivion.

Still, the disinterest  now — even following additional Boko Haram kidnappings — has left some observers with a bad taste in their mouths. Teju Cole, a prominent Nigerian-American novelist who wrote a powerful essay called “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” in response to the 2012 Joseph Kony phenomenon, said the West’s fleeting interest in Nigeria conveys a “simple wrong.”

Part of the world’s disinterest can perhaps be explained by the fact that nothing has recently happened. Several times in the early weeks of the girls’ capture, their release seemed near. Channel 4 reported several stories that said the girls would soon be let go. Then Michelle Obama tweeted a widely-disseminated #Bringbackourgirls picture. Then her husband dispatched some advisers to Nigeria to lend a hand.

Then nothing.

The problem with the Western response to the Nigerian kidnappings, according to Max Fisher of Vox Media, is that it over-simplifies complex societal problems. “It turned out that neither Boko Haram nor its kidnapping exist in a vacuum; both are part of a larger, messier, and less morally clear-cut story than the well-intentioned, activism-minded burst of Western attention had anticipated,” Fisher wrote.

And those problems are manifested in additional kidnappings, one in a cluster of villages in northern Nigeria. A local village leader there told the Guardian the Islamic militants arrived and shot dead four villagers who tried to escape. “Some suspected Boko Haram members invaded … and kidnapped 91 persons,” Aji Khalil said. “More than 60 married women and young girls as well as [30] young men were forcefully taken away by Boko Haram terrorists.”

An anonymous official said the same. “More than 60 women were hijacked and forcefully taken away by the terrorists,” he told the Guardian.

As of Wednesday morning, it did not appear as though Western media or its consumers would pay the sort of attention to this barrage of kidnappings as it did the last. With the rise of ISIS, the interest in Nigerian kidnappings and missing schoolgirls appears expended.

“This is the nature of most broad-based, heartstrings-based Western activism in far-away countries, and partly because the problems turned out to be much deeper and the solutions much more difficult than they had imagined,” Vox’s Fisher wrote on Tuesday. “So it was easier, and less emotionally complicated, to quietly move on.”

Related:

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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