“These Nigerian girls would appear to be a long way short of their freedom if it’s conditional upon the release of 'Islamic terrorists'. Will #BringBackOurGirls maintain its current unqualified outrage?”.I said this at the time because of an inevitable conflict of purpose: no effort should be spared in securing the release of the girls, and "we don’t negotiate with terrorists". Negotiations were being brokered by a Nigerian journalist reported as being trusted by both the government and Boko Haram. But predictably, the US administration quickly reminded Nigeria that this course was an unacceptable means of securing the girls’ freedom. On May 24, at a Paris summit with US, British, French and Israeli foreign ministers, Jonathan finally scrapped any such negotiations. Coincidentally or otherwise (but this cynic/realist goes with the latter), this was accompanied by a falloff in outrage from various prominent outspoken leaders, evidently including (so far as I could see in media reports) the US first lady. Less than three weeks later, Barack Obama celebrated the swap of five Guantanamo detainees for one US marine following negotiations with the Taliban. Without diminishing the tragic and brutal nature of this action by Boko Haram, there is an important broader context. Firstly, prior to those kidnappings, Boko Haram’s actions had resulted in the deaths of many boys, including within schools, which attracted very little media attention outside Nigeria. A February 25 online report appears to be the first to note that Boko Haram’s actions were spreading from attacking and killing schoolboys to also include the kidnapping of schoolgirls. Secondly, in the first half of 2014 alone, Boko Haram has killed more than 2000 people in Nigeria (claims have also been made of 4000 deaths in the first three to four months of 2014). Thirdly, it seems that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of girls was, at least partly, a response to the Nigerian government’s own security forces’ actions since 2012 in attempting to destabilise the militia group by taking (“arresting”) its members’ wives and children. It is also reported that officers within the Nigerian military are linked to and/or involved in supplying arms to Boko Haram. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the campaign has at least forced Jonathan to act beyond spinning the narrative, although his office remains reluctant to give the Bring Back Our Girls movement any such credit (to say the least). His recent actions have been overwhelmingly due to the domestically driven campaign, which is where his re-election attention remains focused (and thus likely also informed by his US image consultants). Jonathan now faces the challenge of securing the girls’ safe release without the option of a prisoner swap, with his forces stating for some time that they know the "exact location" of the girls. Boko Haram will be intent on ensuring that any such "military solution" is far from successful. At this 100-day mark -- which coincides with a huge global gathering sponsored by the British government and UNICEF (Girl Summit 2014) to secure commitments to action against the worst violations against girls -- the schoolgirls of Chibok stand as a stark reminder of such globally fickle outrage about severe violations of the rights of children, and, evidently, especially of girls. Those girls seem to be as far away from their freedom as ever, although I hope I am wrong.
Why we’ve lost interest in the Nigerian schoolgirls, 100 days on
It has been 100 days since the Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped. What did #BringBackOurGirls achieve, and where has the outrage gone? United Nations adviser Robert Johnson writes from Nairobi.