Makokha Opiyo about demands for action and what may be implicated.

#bbog: When “Saving Girls” Does More Harm Than Good

2014-05-20 | Makokha Opiyo padlock


The demands for intervention related to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign overlook and undermine Nigerian women's efforts to liberate themselves and their girls. Recent history with Western government's military expansionist agenda agenda argue against, and passivity is hardly the only alternative according to Makokha Opiyo.

Makokha Opiyo is a feminist and columnist based in Kenya

Early last week, US White House officials confirmed that drones were now patrolling an area of Nigeria. Emboldened by the #BringBackOurGirls, the US military deployed its drones ostensibly to help search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by militant group Boko Haram last month. At the same time, US senators floated the idea of using Special Forces to aid in the search, with Sen John McCain going further to say: “I certainly would send in US troops to rescue them.”

The ‘Something’ We Shouldn’t Be Doing

The #BringBackOurGirls advocacy campaign has been urging western leaders to “do something” about the abducted girls. Yet, if recent history of western military intervention in Africa is anything to go by, intervening in Nigeria will be counterproductive to the rights of Nigerian women and girls.

More than a year after France’s military intervention to drive out Islamist militias in northern Mali, over 34 000 Malian refugees, comprising mainly women and children, remain languishing in deplorable conditions, wary of returning home. Facing similar problems are an estimated 350 000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), forced to flee to neighboring countries following another French military intervention last December.

Moreover, when we pressure Western governments, particularly the USA to “do something” in Africa, we contribute to a much larger problem: America’s military expansionist agenda in Africa. Remember #KONY2012? This viral campaign gave President Obama the moral imperative and legitimacy to send 100 armed troops into central Africa to “capture or kill” Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. Two years on, they still haven’t found Kony, although Obama recently sent more troops who now freely roam several countries including the Central African Republic. The US military benefited significantly from #KONY2012. With the #BringBackOurGirls hash tag, US military interests look set to benefit even more.

Doing More Harm than Good

McCain’s suggestion to “send in U.S. troops to rescue [the abducted girls]” brings into sharp focus the “savior” narrative being used to justify western military intervention in Nigeria. The savior narrative in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign is based on an arrogant, neo-colonial view of the Nigerian girls as the victimized ‘other’ of their culture. It further reinforces sexist and racist stereotypes of Nigerian culture, and privileges western culture by wholly ignoring the influence of colonialism, dominant religions or racial regimes, and cultural hegemonies.

The popularity of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and its savior narrative has in turn formed the basis of the “heroic interventionist” narrative, in which those who identify with the heroic Western white male (US military) get to feel good about themselves as their hero rushes in to defend the non-Western, non-white female (Nigerian girls). Yet, in doing so, #BringBackOurGirls denies the agency of Nigerian women, and instead promotes the ‘heroic’ western male as the true agent of change in Nigeria. In this way, intervention becomes not a victory for females, but a regression of the rights of women and girls in Nigeria.

The ‘Something’ We Can Do

I am not saying that we remain inactive when little girls are abducted. Far from it. But rather than intervene militarily to “heroically save” the girls, why not support the women of Nigeria in their ongoing struggle for self-determination. When we focus our attention on intervention through #BringBackOurGirls, we overlook and undermine the efforts of Nigerian women in empowering and liberating themselves and their girls.

We can post the #BringBackOurGirls hash tag, momentarily feel good about ourselves for “doing something” and then move onto the next internet fad. Or we can make a lasting impact on the lives of Nigerian women and girls by supporting the activists and journalists who persistently challenge the Nigerian government to provide adequate security for its citizens and restore peace in Northern Nigeria.

If history is anything to go by, communities that succeed in securing and protecting their liberties and freedoms do so only through laborious struggles to become free by their own efforts - never through foreign military intervention.


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