World powers turn a blind eye to Africa's pain

FORCED TO FLEE: Some of the 5,000 survivors of Boko Haram attacks on the Nigerian town of Baga this month, where 2,000 people were thought to have died.


    Jan 20, 2015

    World powers turn a blind eye to Africa's pain

    AS PART of the world mourns and questions itself over the killings at the French satirical magazine that need not be named, militant group Boko Haram has upped the ante in Nigeria.

    "Upped the ante" in the sense that it has killed more people, committed more atrocities and wreaked more destruction than the Paris attacks, the Taleban and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorists. So it is in the league-leading position right now.

    Unlike those cases, however, it seems those parts of Africa are so far removed from our consciousness (should I say oil interests?) that the global powers seem unnaturally reticent to intervene.

    When it comes to Africa, it seems like it has always been this way and that we have come to accept it. Does anyone recall how the Rwanda genocide slipped quietly past as the Bosnian war raged on?

    There were months of madness in 1994 as nearly a quarter of a million died as Hutu-Tutsi tensions exploded - 250,000 people.

    When there is intervention in Africa - such as Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's ouster - it is usually because it serves the purpose of a superpower. And it very rarely does.

    Remember Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army?

    He terrorised millions with an army that relied heavily on child soldiers, but really came to light only when a video went viral in 2012.

    In April, when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria, the biggest activity was not to mobilise security forces, but to go on Twitter with a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.

    Boko Haram is still enjoying relative impunity despite being labelled an Al-Qaeda affiliate by no less than the United Nations Security Council, on which Malaysia now so proudly sits.

    In a series of attacks in the town of Baga, which lasted from Jan 3 to 7, the militants killed an estimated 2,000 people and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands.

    The main reaction of the Nigerian government has been to deny the extent of the fatalities, claiming that it may just be in the hundreds. Which isn't as comforting as the local authorities seem to think it is.

    What is being done to counter the spread of militants like Boko Haram?

    Child soldiers, extrajudicial killings and sick forms of justice - in which rape and blasphemy laws (among others) are misused to torment the local population - are spreading like wildfire. And the world's most powerful body is not doing much.

    It is too much to tar Africa with one brush. Yes, there have been monsters galore: Idi Amin, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Macias Nguema and Joseph Mobutu, to name but a few.

    Success stories are rare, but they do exist. For example, Senegal and Kenya have experienced peaceful transitions of power between political rivals on a number of occasions.

    The current situation in many parts of the continent is arguably even worse than during the era of the kleptocratic dictators.

    A map of Africa may tell you one thing, but in parts of South Sudan, the Congo, Somalia and the Central African Republic (for example), the state has failed.

    You cannot blame the colonial legacy forever, yet it is surely horrific that in 2015, the world's powers can turn a blind eye to such chaos, suffering and evil.

    French President Francois Hollande may not be in credit with many people, but I respect his decision to act militarily in Mali against the Ansar-Dine militants who took over half the country in 2013.

    I would like to see the UN start by recognising the Boko Haram nightmare for the threat that it is and go swooping in.

    It is one thing when militants carry out guerilla attacks, and quite another when they take control of swathes of territory and administer it in barbaric fashion.