‘That makes it fine then. Thank you for the correction, we can continue to ignore the Boko Haram crisis.’
This is clearly how the Nigerian government thought the conversation would go when they sought to amend the ‘error’ that had been widely published about the recent attacks in Baga.
The question one needs to ask is why does it seem that reducing the numbers of deaths makes the situation any better? The fact that there are any people who have perished at all should be cause for the same amount of uproar.
Within Africa we enjoy playing the numbers game when it comes to how serious a tragedy is.
We treat death like a party; the higher the numbers the more serious the event.
Why make a fuss about having one girl missing when we could have 250? It is not a real event until the number hits the triple digits. Why be bothered with one person being shot dead in a police shootout when we could have police kill whole groups of miners?
What this seems to say is that there is a need to supplement the quality of an African life with quantity. In order to make a human life matter we need the numbers, but we never have the names and faces.
These are always irrelevant.
When we scope a news article for simply the digits and never the story we say that African lives are worth less.
Within the international realm we make good news when whole groups of us have died or disappeared. It cannot be three or four of us, we need to make it a party.
#BringBackOurGirls was an international phenomenon because the number of girls missing was truly mind-boggling. How in the age of Google Earth can we not find 200+ girls? The world had no choice but to get behind it because of the scale of it.
The heinous acts that prompted the two hashtags are based on ideals of western values clashing with fundamentalist Islamic ideals. Both involved the lives of people. If we do the maths (because it is about the bottom line), if all lives matter equally should we not have had nearly ten times the uproar for the Nigerian girls as we did for the French deaths?
Where is our international march featuring the ‘who’s who’ of political figures? Our own leaders were falling all over themselves in order to proclaim that they were Charlie but barely uttered a peep about bringing back our girls. The 2000 deaths have barely managed to cause a whisper as it is continuously drowned out by the roar of defiance coming from the #CharlieHebdo saga.
Furthermore the names of African victims are rarely released. They often fall into the oblivion of numbers, allowed to become another statistic. Only those who are prominent in some way (a relation of a politician, a foreign national of another country for example) are given names, faces and back stories.
So the killing of 28 bus passengers in November by al-Shabaab near the town of Mandera, on the border between Somali and Kenya, remains just that: the death of 28 nameless, faceless bus passengers.
And what of those in Niger who died protesting against Charlie Hebdo? Where are their names, their backgrounds, an in-depth exploration of their dreams and ideologies?
They have no identities in the media. They simply add to the numbers that are part of the story. Had this occurred in the West, we would have read about the lives of the victims, their families would have all been interviewed and we would have known everything about them, because in death they mattered.
In Africa, the dead mostly remain nameless. It would seem in death we do not matter outside of adding ‘meat’ to a story.
Maybe therein lies the problem. Terrorist attacks are happening so often on the continent that they no longer shock us to our core.Two killed in a bomb blast in a Nairobi market; 15 girls kidnapped here; a suicide bombing there. It is only if we can squeeze those many into one incident that there is enough potency to make it so that it actually matters.
We need to start valuing the lives of Africans.
A great deal of this lies in how we portray the loss of African lives in the media. It depends on the amount of depth and clout that is given to stories within local spheres. If one girl gets kidnapped it must be treated as if it is the end of the world because it is. And when something happens to one person or 50 people it matters just the same.
We need to name them and not wait for media outlets and information providers abroad to name them for us.
We need to name ourselves before others can give us names.
Once we give those names we need to care about them enough to cause an uproar, because they do matter.
If we fail to fix this, we shall get to a point where we are missing 500 girls, enduring massacres of 5000 people and having entire mining villages shot down but no one will bat an eyelid because ‘at least it isn’t 250 girls, 2000 people and a few miners.’ We will find these numbers rising because we seemed to not care when the numbers were smaller.
Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of holaafrica.org, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter: @tiffmugo
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.”
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.
Terrible incident. Our deepest sympathies to the journalists and their families. We are one with France in mourning #JeSuisCharlie
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.
‘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.
#BagaTogether 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.
Disputing over the number killed is irrelevant to me. Innocent people have died, this needs to stop #BagaTogether
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”.
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.
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.”
When I received Pastor James David Manning’s “Black Folk” sermon for the second time on Whatsapp two weeks ago I cringed. It was first forwarded to me by a Malawian living in South Africa and, this time, from a Zimbabwean living in the US. This signaled to me that his controversial sermon had resurfaced for the holiday season and was going viral amongst Africans on social media. When a Kenyan friend in the US first showed it to me two years ago, I dismissed its relevance. I thought that surely no one would take it seriously given that is was encouraging self-deprecating attitudes among Africans based on historical inaccuracies. However, when it resurfaced two weeks ago, and none of the senders provided a comment regarding the absurdity of his words, I realised that this damaging sermon in which he proclaims that all black people have a problem was being taken seriously.
The video is part of a Manning’s sermon captured in 2012 from his pulpit at the All The Land Anointed Holy (ATLAH) World Missionaries Church in New York City in which he professes to his mostly black audience that “black people have a problem”. In what may be best described as a rant, Manning points at what he deems are the failures of black people worldwide. The premise of his argument is that black people both in Africa and its diaspora never contributed anything of significance nor did they build anything. He further goes on to say that even when they were brought to the US., they only built things under the white man’s supervision, which he provides as evidence that they cannot manage a country either. Manning proclaims that black people just “don’t understand the world we live in”. The irony of his whole argument is that Manning justifies his statements using a long list of examples that begs him to look in the mirror: Manning is the epitome of the man he denigrates. He is a black man who doesn’t understand the world himself.
Manning’s historical digressions
Manning’s analysis is predicated on historical inaccuracies and unfounded stereotypes about the continent. They show general misunderstanding about the conditions of black people historically and in contemporary times that need to be addressed.
Manning’s first claim is that “Africans never built [a] boat that’s sea worthy” which is far from the truth. Precolonial Africa consisted of some of the most competent sailors. African navy’s existed all across Africa. In North Africa as an example, Egypt and Chad navigated the Nile with the use of papyrus, ceremonial, and war canoes. In East Africa, Somalia and Ethiopia were known to have “sea worthy” boats. Somali soldiers fought battles against the Portuguese along the East African coast as early as 1500s. In South Eastern Africa, there is evidence of large warships carrying up to 120 people that sailed its waters. During the Indian Ocean slave trade, a large number of Africans were forced to work on ships as sailors due to their seafaring skills. Lastly, in West Africa nations were infamous for their sea faring activities which were led by powerful, organised militaries. Images of their military and navy were often depicted in West African artwork. In fact, there is evidence that people of African descent travelled to America long before Columbus. Historian Ivan Van Sertima dedicates his book, “They Came before Columbus” to precolonial African contact with America. Contrary to Manning’s statements, not only did Africans build boats that were lake, river and sea worthy, they were ocean worthy.
His second claim is that Africans did not build a single monument. However, there are existing monuments all over the continent that are still standing that disprove this claim – the most obvious being the Egyptian pyramids. Manning of course quickly aligns with divisive sentiments which center on treating Egypt as separate from the rest of the continent and claims that “Egypt is not in Africa”. Egypt and its people are as African as they are Arab. They have never been never been homogenous in spite of the claims justified by scientific racism or representations made of them. Recently, Hollywood’s depiction of Egyptians as white has received such harsh criticism. It has led to calls to boycott the movie, Exodus Gods and Kings (2014) and a Facebook page dedicated to more accurate portrayals of Egyptians as primarily brown and black peoples.
One only has to look at ancient Egyptian’s self-portraits to see how Egyptians were portraying themselves to realise that denying their African heritage is problematic and is a symptom of historical attempts to regroup Egypt as a “pure” product of Asia (Middle East) due to political or economic ideologies. However, it needs to be noted that when Europe was dividing Africa at the 1885 Berlin Conference, Egypt was considered African and colonised with the rest of the continent. Egypt was an integral part of the Pan-Africanist anti-colonial movements and was a founder of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union. Many of these ideas separating Egypt from the rest of the continent have been sustained by Afro-pessimists like Manning who share underlying premise is that black Africans could never have built the pyramids, (alien origin theories of the Pyramids seem to be popular) However, the theories that say black Africans still fail to explain why Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt. Neither does it explain the creation of other monuments such as the Obelisk in Ethiopia which was stolen from the Axum Empire years back.
His third claim was that there are not great cities. In fact, Africa had many great civilisations and empires which are too many to mention. They include the Kush, Nubia, Meroe, Axum, Songhai, Kongo, Angola and Mali to name a few. In fact, Timbuktu in Mali was cosmopolitan educational hub well renowned by scholars and philosophers around the world. Other great cities were renowned for trade such as Great Zimbabwe, which was a large enclosed trading center and settlement constructed from granite located in Zimbabwe that accommodated up to 20 000 people. Similar sites that smaller in size can be found in other parts of Africa. Nevertheless, contrary to Manning’s claims, Africa had great cities in its past. Africa also has great popular cities in its present that are great to work, visit or live in. Lagos, Nigeria home to 21 million people is considered a great African city. It is an economic hub that recently surpassed Cairo, Egypt as the largest city in Africa.
In his other claims Manning states that Africa built no sewer systems or no houses made out of stone, “only grass and wood.” In fact Africans built housing and buildings out of very diverse material including granite stone, thatch (not grass), mud, and wood. His claim that they also needed to be two story is also problematic. The idea that Africans need to adopt certain material or meet height requirements for their dwellings to be considered a “house” is ludicrous and Eurocentric. What use is two story house in areas that are prone to weather conditions such as frequent earthquakes? Houses should be built based on available material in their environment and the climate conditions there. With regards to the global problem of inadequate sewer systems, pit latrines are such systems. They may not be like Europe’s, but nonetheless the conception of a sewer system was there and was implemented. In sum, his ideas on “progress” and modernity mean being more like Europe. Moreover, many houses in the Global North are made of wood and are one story.
Manning offers a narrow analysis of contemporary global politics and economics. He problematises the situations situation in Rwanda and Zimbabwe as example but provides no context. There is no mention of how both national and international politics and economics have informed the situation in these countries. There is no mention of Europe’s ongoing involvement in Zimbabwe or Rwanda and their involvement has played a role in creating the situations there. Manning seems content on placing the blame for Africa’s woes squarely on Africans.
In fact, not even the beloved Nelson Mandela is spared. He states that “the worst thing that could happen to South Africa was when they gave it to Mandela and Black Folk”. He states that he understands that apartheid was wrong (meaning that he does not agree with white minority rule). However, he contends that they should have not “given” it to Mandela. An argument that is highly problematic because Mandela was democratically elected by the majority in a democratic process. In fact, many will argue that South Africa wasn’t the National Party’s to “give” in the first place. Manning substantiates his tirade against majority Black rule by saying that it’s because “disease, AIDS, and crime is running rampart in Johannesburg”. Again, he fails to put it all in perspective – crime and other public health concerns are not limited to Johannesburg nor African-ruled countries. Lastly, he fails to account for the Western Multinational Corporation’s role in exacerbating the AIDS situation through patent monopolies.
He makes similar statements about Nigeria in his claims that “Nigeria produces oil every year, yet the children there are hungry and starving”. He does not mention how the big oils companies exacerbate the situation by degrading the environment, exploiting workers and extracting from Nigeria. This is not to say that the Nigerian government does not play a role in the current situation. However, his propensity to defend profit over people is reminiscent of Afro-pessimist attitudes in which Africa is blamed for all of its problems.
Manning’s tirade is not limited to Africa – he also disparages leaders such as Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm and Barack Obama. He uses examples from Africa in his sermon to denigrate African-Americans on the basis that they are descendants of Africa. Although, I understand how an American audience could believe his tirade against Africa. Generally, Americans should be more susceptible to such propaganda about Africa. After all, America is constantly bombarded with negative images of Africa. Additionally, African history is not taught in American schools. Therefore the image of Africa that remains in the popular American culture is one of a continent that did not produce anything and is frozen in time. However, what really surprised me was the number of Africans from all over the continent forwarding this sermon. The image of Africans internalising his negative ideas about Africa whilst Great Zimbabwe, the Pyramids, and Obelisk looming in their own backyards is very problematic. It prompts me to wonder if our educational systems were failing to teach us about each other when the words of an outside person with little understanding of Africa bears so much meaning.
Grant it, “Doctor” Manning holds a Masters degree in divinity from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. His PhD however, comes from the ATLAH Theological Seminary – his own unaccredited educational institution. Although he is neither historian nor is he Africanist (or arguably a Doctor), he posits himself as an “expert” on African people, politics and economics. He challenges black people to take a long look at the ‘truth’ about their present day situation based on their history. However, his analysis is predicated on historical inaccuracies and unfounded stereotypes about the continent which is dangerous for African and African diaspora identities. At this juncture, we should be able to able to quickly quash – not believe – such ideas about the continent. We need to arm each other with facts about the continent and not the Africa that is a figment of the imagination of an already controversial pastor who has built his religious career from stirring controversy.
The popularity of his video also prompted me to wonder what was currently happening in Africa that was leading people to accept words of such pastors without really interrogating the information we were being told. Perhaps part of the acceptance of Manning’s sermon speaks to the rise of preachers and prophets in African countries, which we need to pay closer attention to.
Sitinga Kachipande is a blogger and PhD student in Sociology at Virginia Tech with an Africana Studies concentration. Her research interests include tourism, development, global political economy, women’s studies, identity and representation. Follow her on Twitter: @MsTingaK