Why did the world ignore Boko Haram’s Baga attacks?

People hold placards which read "I am Charlie" as they take part in a solidarity march  in the streets of Paris on January 11 2015. (Pic: Reuters)
People hold placards which read “I am Charlie” as they take part in a solidarity march in the streets of Paris on January 11 2015. (Pic: Reuters)

France spent the weekend coming to terms with last week’s terror attacks in Paris that left 17 dead. The country mourned, and global leaders joined an estimated 3.7 million people on its streets to march in a show of unity.

In Nigeria, another crisis was unfolding, as reports came through of an estimated 2 000 casualties after an attack by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga in the north-eastern state of Borno. Amnesty International described as the terror group’s “deadliest massacre” to date, and local defence groups said they had given up counting the bodies left lying on the streets.

Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult; journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram, and, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications. Attacks by Boko Haram have disrupted connections further, meaning that there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.

But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.

On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: “It’s shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram’s biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage.”

Musician Nitin Sawhney said: “Very moving watching events in Paris – wish the world media felt equally outraged by this recent news too.”

“Mom Blogger” @Mom101 asked: “How is this not the lead story on every single news network, every Twitter newsfeed right now?” That sentiment was echoed by a number of Guardian readers over the weekend.

So why did the Paris attacks receive more coverage than the Boko Haram killings?

“I am Charlie, but I am Baga too”
“I am Charlie, but I am Baga too,” wrote Simon Allison for the Daily Maverick, a partner on the Guardian Africa network. “There are massacres and there are massacres” he said, arguing that “it may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy – and, by implication, less valuable – than western lives”.

Allison recognises the challenges in reporting – “the nearest journalists are hundreds of kilometres away” – but also points to the significance of the attack: taking control of Baga, “Boko Haram effectively controls Borno state in its entirety. These aren’t just terrorists: they are becoming a de facto state.” Even more reason for the world to take notice.

But the blame does not just lie with western media; there was little African coverage either, said Allison. No leaders were condemning the attacks, nor did any talk of a solidarity movement, he said, adding that “our outrage and solidarity over the Paris massacre is also a symbol of how we as Africans neglect Africa’s own tragedies, and prioritise western lives over our own.”

Silence from Nigeria’s politicians
Many pointed to the palpable silence of many of Nigeria’s politicians. Last week, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his condolences for the victims of France but stayed silent on the Boko Haram attacks on Baga.

Media analyst Ethan Zuckerman said that the president is “understandably wary of discussing Boko Haram, as it reminds voters that the conflict has erupted under his management and that his government has been unable to subdue the terror group”. Nigeria’s elections are set to take place on 14 February. The president was also criticised for celebrating his daughter Ine’s wedding over weekend, in the aftermath of the killings.

Nigerian Twitter user @elnathan who has changed his Twitter identity to “I am Baga” in solidarity, shared a tweet from Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also expressed condolences over the Paris attacks but made no mention of the events in Baga.

He also pointed to comments on the official Twitter account of Ahmadu Adamu Muazu, from the ruling People’s Democratic party, who looked to downplay the death toll: “We know it’s a political period so some of this [sic] things are expected”. Muazu has since taken to the account again to say he has been working with the security services to ensure that “peace will soon be restored” to the people in Baga and other regions in the north-east of the country.

 A file photo taken on April 30 2013 shows soldiers walking in the street in the remote northeast town of Baga, Borno State. Boko Haram launched renewed attacks around a captured town in restive northeast Nigeria that week, razing at least 16 towns and villages. (Pic: AFP)
A file photo taken on April 30 2013 shows soldiers walking in the street in the remote northeast town of Baga, Borno State. Boko Haram launched renewed attacks around a captured town in northeast Nigeria that week, razing at least 16 towns and villages. (Pic: AFP)

‘The west is ignoring Boko Haram’
Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic archbishop of Jos in central Nigeria – an area which has also suffered terror attacks – added his voice to criticism of the west. Speaking to the BBC, he argued that Nigeria could not confront the threat from Boko Haram alone. “It is a monumental tragedy. It has saddened all of Nigeria. But… we seem to be helpless,” he said. “Because if we could stop Boko Haram, we would have done it right away. But they continue to attack, and kill and capture territories… with such impunity.” Over the weekend Boko Haram was also blamed for a suicide attack in a market in Borno state that left 16 dead in Yobe state. Kaigama called the for international community to show the same spirit and resolve against Boko Haram as it had done after the attacks in France.

Echoing the #bringbackourgirls hashtag, which was set up to call for the release of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April, some have taken to social media to show their support for the people in Baga. Using a number of hashtags including #BagaTogether, #weareallbaga and #pray4baga, Nigerians and others have posted their support for the affected area. Some objected to disputes over the total death toll, yet to be confirmed, getting in the way of the real issues, some objected to the scant media coverage, others simply called for solidarity. 

Maeve Shearlaw for the Guardian Africa Network

Black fear, black men

(Flickr / Magdalena Roeseler)
(Flickr / Magdalena Roeseler)

I can hardly remember a time before I was afraid of black men.

Maybe during those golden, fading afternoons when my father would play his guitar in the warm Namibian twilight or when my brothers would protect my sisters and I from the ever snarling neighbourhood dogs. Throwing large grey stones high into the air with a hiss of “Voetsek!” and a feint that would send the then massive beasts scampering down the road, through a gate and to a master who would toss the dogs treats for their trouble.

I must have been five or six at the time but a few years later I came to know that black men were trouble.

That when they walked alone or in ragtag, guffawing groups they were up to no good and should be avoided, run from or reported.

Growing up, we seemed to be warned against them at every turn.

We watched our mothers shrink away when passing lone ones at night and at school we were cautioned not to talk to black gardeners, menial staff and mine workers for fear of something our parents and teachers wouldn’t name but which we understood would end in some kind of personal and perpetual ruin.

Though lingering alongside any of these men would end in ear boxing, talking to young black mine workers was the way of the worst of us.

And, in Oranjemund, the mere suggestion that you had been in the vicinity of their single quarters would be met with a hiding far sharper than anything metered out for bad grades, messy rooms or backchat.

We stayed away.

And the large building where masses of black migrant workers would spend their time between work and short, shining trips back to their families in the North became a Mordor to be feared and skirted. Filled with dark, ostensibly bad men who could get us whipped faster than it took for us to whisper the name.

I obeyed.

We all did.

All us pretty pubescent girls, in our starched navy blue  uniforms did as we were told except a few who eventually left school with their bellies swollen with children who would be claimed as their grandmothers’ after their real mothers were whisked away to Windhoek and returned looking much more like themselves.

So we ran away from the young men in their telltale blue overalls, we shunned and teased gardeners and menial workers from a careful distance but what I didn’t understand was why I should be afraid of people whose skin looked just like mine.

Why I should shy away from people who looked just like my father in the curling, yellow photographs my mum kept in a Quality Street tin on the top shelf of their bedroom.  And why I was never told to do the same when faced with the overall-clad white men I’d see in town and on the bus or any of the white men of similar age, build and spirit.

I never got any real answer and I’m not sure my 12-year-old self ever felt the need to inquire, but when I moved from idyllic Oranjemund to bustling Cape Town, my fear grew as dark as the headlines which spoke of robberies and rape, murderers and menaces whose names clicked in my mouth like the sound of a door latch opening at night.

I grew wary.

I grew wary, worrisome and wicked.

Darting from one side of the road to the next whenever I felt I was being followed, hurling dirty looks over my shoulder at dark men who, to my mind, looked shifty and clutching my bag more tightly when walking past black men just going about their own days which were just as full of fear and foolishness.

Though, I know I was just trying to be cautious and I could rationalise my actions based on the merit of being safe rather than sorry.

Afterwards, it would make me feel ashamed.

I’d think about how people may see my brothers on a dark night on a lonely road and it made me sick to think that someone may be frightened of the gentle spirits who’ve done nothing but nurture me.

The brothers who taught me to read and who hurled stones at racist dogs before cheering my sisters and me up with apricots picked from a temperamental tree in our backyard.

The brothers who grew up to be the black men we are taught to fear often simply because they are male and black and this has become the default face of murder, menace, rape and robbery.

Seventeen years later my belated shame has changed my ingrained instincts not one bit.

I’m sitting alone on a restaurant patio at Old Mutual Plaza on a sweltering Monday afternoon and two shabby-looking black men make their way towards me and my drink sticks in my throat before  I calculate how quickly I can get up and go inside without spilling my half-finished smoothie or offending them.

I make my measurements but I stay put.

I drink my smoothie slowly and pretend to look past them at the park but my heart is thumping in my chest saying: Stand up, stand up, stand up!

But in the interval it’s saying: Just sit, just sit, just sit.

I want to stay because I know they have done nothing wrong.

I want to stay because I know that wearing a hard life on your sleeve doesn’t mean you’re a criminal or a crook.

I want to stay because I am black and so are they and I am sick of judging black books by their covers.

But I don’t.

At four paces, I grab my bag and walk briskly into the restaurant and the staff looks alarmed at my sudden entry. One waitress even peers out at the two men and sees nothing amiss.

“Is there anything wrong?”

“No, it’s just…those men…I was alone.”

At this the three other waitresses burst out laughing. They tell me it’s okay and that one of the men is the first waitress’ brother who has come to take her home.

He’s her brother.

He’s MY brother.

I look out the window and he looks at me.

And he’s not laughing.

Instead he stares at me the way hundreds of black men have glared at me before when I have made the mistake of thinking the combination of their class, sex and skin speaks of their character.

When I’ve held my bag and darted into shops and crossed the road with skin just like theirs, kindred in my own infuriating assumptions to fend off.

The waitress’s brother doesn’t let me off.

He points at me and shakes his head and his companion gives me a glance that leaves me in no doubt that he is sick.

Sick to death of his shabby clothing connoting crimes.

Sick of his sun-kissed self being an instant indication of  evil.

Sick of his sisters joining in the generalisations.

I pay my bill and walk out with my eyes to the ground and I hear the other man suck air through his teeth in disgust.

And that’s when the waitress’s brother suddenly smiles and says:

“ This is a very nice place. Did you have a good lunch?”

The smoothie was warm, too tangy and there were two ants floating at the top but, feeling frantic and forgiven, I smile back and say:

“Yes. It’s great. These ladies make the best smoothies in town.”

It’s a lie…

But so are a lot of things.

Martha Mukaiwa is a  freelance arts, entertainment and travel writer as well as a weekly columnist living in Windhoek, Namibia in-between short, spirited sojourns in South East Asia. She is an avid coffee drinker, spring cleaner and cinephile with a love for all things hobo and happening. Follow her on Twitter: @marth__vader



Suspected child suicide bombers hit north Nigeria town

Investigators at the scene of the Kano Central Mosque bombing on November 29 2014. Gunmen set off three bombs and opened fire on worshippers at the main mosque in north Nigeria's biggest city Kano, killing at least 81 people. (Pic: AFP)
Investigators at the scene of the Kano Central Mosque bombing on November 29 2014. Gunmen set off three bombs and opened fire on worshippers at the main mosque in north Nigeria’s biggest city Kano, killing at least 81 people. (Pic: AFP)

Two suspected child suicide bombers blew themselves up in a market in northeast Nigeria on Sunday, witnesses said, killing three people in the second apparent attack in two days using young girls strapped with explosives.

The blasts struck around mid-afternoon at an open market selling mobile handsets in the town of Potiskum in Yobe state, which has frequently been attacked by the Sunni Muslim jihadist group Boko Haram.

A trader at the market, Sani Abdu Potiskum, said the bombers were about 10 years old. “I saw their dead bodies. They are two young girls of about 10 years of age … you only see the plaited hair and part of the upper torso,” the trader said.

A source at the Potiskum general hospital said three people had been killed, excluding the bombers, while 46 were injured.

The town was hit by a suicide bomber in November when at least 48 people, mainly students, were killed during a school assembly. On Saturday, a bomb exploded at a police station in Potiskum.

Sunday’s explosions came a day after a bomb strapped to a girl aged around 10 years old exploded in a busy market place in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, killing at least 16 people and injuring more than 20, security sources said.

Boko Haram has been waging a five year insurgency to establish an Islamic state in the northeast of the country and the army’s inability to quash the movement is a headache for President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election in February.

Last year more than 10 000 people died in the violence, according to an estimate by the Council on Foreign Relations

The military lost ground in worst-hit Borno state last weekend after insurgents took over the town of Baga and nearby army base, killing over 100 people and forcing thousands to flee. The defence headquarters said on Saturday that the army was regrouping to retake the area.

In the city of Jos in Plateau state, Jonathan’s campaign team was hit by two days of violence.

The driver of a campaign vehicle was killed on Sunday by youths who also set fire to a police station, police spokesperson Abu Sunday Emmanuel said. On Saturday, two other campaign vehicles were burnt.

“The youths were chanting no PDP, no to Jonathan Badluck,” a witness said, referring to the ruling People’sDemocratic Party.

PDP spokesperson Olisa Metuh said in an emailed statement that the government “decried last Saturday’s unprovoked attack on President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign vehicles in Jos”.

Nigeria’s Cafe Neo: Hoping to become the African Starbucks

Cafe Neo in Lagos. (Pic: AFP)
There are three Cafe Neo branches in Lagos and one in Kigali. (Pic: AFP)

Men in suits order takeaway cappuccinos at the counter. A trendy young crowd occupies comfortable sofas, armed with laptops for a brain-storming session over cafe lattes, frappuccinos and soft jazz.

The morning scene wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in New York,  London or Paris but cafe culture is a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s biggest city, where until recently finding a decent espresso was a battle.

The bright young things and senior managers were in Cafe Neo, on Victoria Island in Lagos, which has been specifically designed to cater to the tastes of “repats”.

Ngozi Dozie and his brother Chijoke created the chain with returning Nigerians in mind, in the full knowledge that years spent abroad alter views, tastes and expectations.

Now the brothers hope to conquer Africa’s major cities with 100% African coffee before giants of the business such as Starbucks try to capture the market.

“The demand (in Lagos) is very high. There’s a significant minority of people who love coffee and want to drink coffee but haven’t had access to coffee,” Ngozi told AFP.

The “significant minority” have studied and worked abroad, coming back in their thousands from the United States or Europe as austerity measures kicked in after the global financial crisis.

While they were away, Nigeria – already Africa’s most populous nation with some 170 million people – became the continent’s leading economy — and a country ripe with opportunity.

With economic growth has come an emerging middle class, which has increased six fold to 4.1 million households between 2000 and 2014, according to a recent study by Standard Bank.

Indian inspiration
A number of US chains such as KFC and Domino’s Pizza are already in Nigeria and increasingly popular, despite the astronomical costs of running a business in the country.

Poor or non-existent infrastructure forces businesses to rely on huge electricity generators to keep the lights on when the public supply goes off, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day.

The brothers’ idea is to first conquer the Nigerian market before Starbucks, which has more than 20 000 cafes in 65 countries across the globe but none in sub-Saharan Africa.

A Cafe Neo steward prepares iced coffee for a customer. (Pic: AFP)
A Cafe Neo barista prepares iced coffee for a customer. (Pic: AFP)

Ngozi Dozie is not yet 40 and is himself a “repat”. Before embarking on the business venture, he knew friends who would bring back bags of coffee from the United States.

He said he was inspired by India, where Cafe Coffee Day has largely cornered the market, despite the increasing presence of international chains such as Britain’s Costa Coffee or Starbucks.

“India is a fantastic example with Cafe Coffee Day,” he explained. “We aim at something similar.

“We’re starting young right now and our aim is to grow as such that yes, Starbucks may come, but we want to be the choice of Nigerians, because there’s that affinity with something that comes from here, in Africa.”

Produce and consume
Neo has three cafes currently in Lagos and two others are scheduled to open early this year.

There is another outlet in Kigali. All the cafes only serve 100% Rwandan arabica, which has become one of its main selling points.

The chain is hoping to branch out across Africa and expects to have between 20 and 30 cafes in Lagos alone within the next four years.

“Neo, in Tswana, the language in Botswana, means ‘gift’, and of course it also means ‘new’ in Latin,” said Dozie.

“So, it’s a new way… a new approach to coffee,  a new approach where we, as Africans, drink the coffee that we produce, that’s been a gift for us, as opposed to exporting it and importing sub-grade coffee.”

Africa’s main coffee producers such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda currently export most of their products to the United States and Europe.

Kayitana John Bosco was brought over to Nigeria from Rwanda to train locals on how to make a proper coffee at Cafe Neo – and said it was time for a change.

“Our first coffee tree was planted in 1904,” he said of his homeland. “We’ve been producing coffee for more than a century. But brewing, the consumption… it’s really still down.

“I visited a coffee farmer in 2007. That old man had been doing coffee farming for 20 years, but he didn’t know the taste of it.

“So, his job was to do farming, harvest, send. He didn’t know where it was going or what it was used for.”

Kenya’s security act threatens refugees

During an April 2014 crackdown, over 350 undocumented Somalis were deported from Kenya and many more were sent to refugee camps. (Pic: IRIN / Ahmed Hassan)
During an April 2014 crackdown, over 350 undocumented Somalis were deported from Kenya and many more were sent to refugee camps. (Pic: IRIN / Ahmed Hassan)

Human rights groups are warning that Kenya’s controversial Security Amendment Act still poses a threat to refugees’ rights despite a high court decision on Friday that suspends parts of the bill for 30 days pending a full court hearing.

The suspension included a section of the wide-ranging bill, popularly known as the ‘anti-terror’ law, that amended Kenya’s Refugees Act. The amendment stipulates that, “the number of refugees and asylum seekers permitted to stay in Kenya shall not exceed 150 000.”

Currently there are over 600 000 refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people living in Kenya, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Although the cap of 150 000 can be reset by the National Assembly, rights groups fear that the new amendment will result in large numbers of refugees being forcibly returned. This would amount to refoulement, a serious contravention of international refugee law.

On Friday, the Judge ruled that other sections of the new act that deal with refugees will remain in place including a requirement that anyone who has applied for refugee status remain in designated refugee camps “until the processing of their status is concluded.” There are over 50 000 non-camp based refugees living in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, according to UNHCR.

A Court of Appeals will, within 30 days, rule on the constitutionality of 22 sections of the bill, which are being challenged by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) and the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord).

The Security Amendment Act was passed on 18 December after a heated debate in Parliament that culminated in a fistfight among members of the lower house. It was signed into law by the President the following day.

It took less than two weeks to draft and pass the law following a spate of terror attacks conducted by Somali terrorist group, al-Shabab in Kenya. On December 2, 36 people were gunned down by al-Shabab in a quarry close to Mandera town, an area close to the Kenya-Somalia border. Ten days earlier, less than 50 kilometers away, 28 bus passengers had been shot by the group.

Kenya has suffered more than 50 gun, grenade or improvised explosive device (IED) attacks since 2011, when it began its military operation against al-Shabab in Somalia.

Somali refugees disproportionately affected
Amnesty International argues that while the new law, if enforced, would inevitably lead to refoulement, it could also be discriminatory in its implementation.

“We’re very concerned about who will be targeted to be sent back,” Michelle Kagari, deputy regional director for East Africa at Amnesty International, told IRIN. “We have been documenting that refugees, and Somali refugees in particular, have been disproportionally targeted by the link between refugees, terrorism and Kenya’s security operation in Somalia.”

UNHCR estimates that by the end of 2015, refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia will represent nearly 70 percent of the people of concern to UNHCR in Kenya.

Fears about the targeting of Somalis are echoed within the Somali refugee community.

“The anti-terror law is mainly meant for Muslims, and the Somalis in particular,” Sheikh Mohamed Abdi, a Muslim cleric living in Dadaab, the largest complex of refugee camps in Kenya where the majority of refugees are Somali. “There is nowhere to run. We fled from Somalia because of terror-related problems and here, where we thought it was a safe haven, is becoming another hell.”

“There are some refugees who are not registered and staying in the camp and so the police can arrest them, assume they are terrorists and hold them for one year,” said Abdi Ahmed, the Section N chairman in Dadaab, and a community leader. “The entire refugee community lives in panic.” Under the new law, terror suspects can be held for up to one year without trial.

Even registered refugees fear the restrictions on movement that the new law will formalise. “Getting a movement pass these days is very difficult and for students, not having it means missing classes and sometimes exams,” said a Dadaab youth leader, who wished to remain anonymous. He believed that the law will make movement even harder.

The Security Amendment Act comes in the wake of a worsening climate for refugees in Kenya. In April 2014, thousands of ethnic Somalis were rounded up in Nairobi, and held at a sports stadium as part of an operation dubbed Usalama Watch. Similar crackdowns have occurred across the country. Many refugees who had been living in cities were sent to Dadaab.

Government defends law
Kenya’s Attorney General, Githu Muigai, has defended the new law. In his response to the petition filed by the opposition party and various human rights groups, through the Solicitor-General, he said that the discretion accorded to Parliament to temporarily increase the numbers of refugees allowed to remain in the country would ensure that refoulement does not occur

He further argued that the laws were necessary to combat terrorism. “We currently have forces in Somalia and it is important to note that the country has been attacked several times. The law, as it is, enables the security personnel to counter threats posed to Kenyans. The issue of life is more important than anything else,” said Muturi.

However, rights groups strongly rebutted this argument. “The government needs to deal with security appropriately and do it in a way that respects human rights. The two are not contradictory,” said Amnesty International’s Kagari. “All three amendments are not only violating the spirit of the constitution but also Kenya’s commitment under the refugee convention.”