Zack Beauchamp warns that if Boko Haram wants to sell the over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls it kidnapped last month into slavery – as its leader claims in the video above – it would be terribly easy for them to do so:
According to Walk Free, nine of these countries [in the West Africa region] —Mauritania, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Gabon, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Cape Verde — are in the 16 countries globally where people are most likely to be enslaved and trafficked across international borders as property. That means over half of the world’s worst slaving countries are in the same neighborhood as Nigeria. While Nigeria itself isn’t on that list, it has an arguably more dubious distinction. Nigeria is enormous: it has about 168 million people, over half of West Africa’s total population. This means it has the largest enslaved population in the region — roughly 700,000, by Walk Free’s estimate. That’s the fourth largest slave population in the world, surpassed only by those in India, China, and Pakistan.
The prevalence of slavery in Nigeria and around it makes it terribly easy for Boko Haram to sell the kidnapped girls if it so chooses. Human traffickers coexist alongside other criminals around the region — drug smugglers, arms dealers, and Islamic militant groups. Each of these groups, in their own ways, weaken and corrupt local police and border enforcement so they can ply their trades. These weakened institutions are part of why West African countries have had so little success cracking down on the local slave trade.
Terrence McCoy reports on the Nigerian protest movement, which is frustrated with the Nigerian government’s slow and inept response to the kidnapping:
Nigerian President [Goodluck] Jonathan, who has taken sweeping criticism for what some have perceived as disregard for the crisis, addressed concerns on Sunday. “Wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out,” Jonathan said, adding that officials had no idea where they were. Then he proceeded to criticize parents for not being forthright with police. ”What we request is maximum cooperation from the guardians and the parents of these girls. Because up to this time, they have not been able to come clearly, to give the police clear identity of the girls that have yet to return,” he said.
The events illustrated an escalating clash between a protest movement and a government many say has been feckless in its pursuit of the children. Adding to that tension is dismay that the government seems to have no idea where the girls are — because Village elder Pogo Bitrus told The Washington Post it’s clear to locals.
“Some of them have been taken to the northern part of the state, and these are the ones with the bad experiences in the mass marriages,” Bitrus explained on Monday morning while waiting for a protester at an Abuja police station, who he claims was “detained for no reason.”
Nina Strochlic gets the sense that the government is trying to pretend nothing is wrong:
Indeed the government’s entire approach has been one of denial bordering on fantasy. “They don’t believe that this is real; they live in a different world,” says Nigerian journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore. The country has seen a rapid, spectacular escalation of violence in the past few weeks, with 19 people killed in a bombing in the capital late last week, following on 70 killed in a blast the day before the abductions.
Yet, while bombs are going off in Abuja and girls are being kidnapped and sold into slavery by the hundreds, the government is desperate to put on a confident face as it welcomes a thousand dignitaries to the World Economic Forum summit for Africa on Thursday. “They just want to do the WEF in Nigeria, like ‘Nothing is wrong with us, come to Nigeria and invest!’” says Sowore.
Last week, Kema Chikwe, a leading figure in Nigeria’s ruling party, raised the question of whether the kidnapping even occurred. “How did it happen? Who saw it happen? Who did not see it happen? Who is behind this?” she asked.
Though she is glad the Western press is finally paying attention, Karen Attiah remains uncomfortable with our “gendered notions of African children that deserve protection from African conflict”:
African boys seem to have received the lion’s share of western preoccupation when it comes to conflicts on the continent. A google image search for the words “child”, “conflict” and “Africa” are mostly images of male child soldiers holding semi-automatic weapons. Many people familiar with conflict know of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, or the boy soldiers of “Invisible Children” of Uganda. Perhaps boy child soldiers invoke a western fascination with the myth of African males, who naturally brutish and violent and are easily coerced into killing one another because, “primordial hatred”. But do many people know that in 1996 in Aboke, Uganda, more than 100 school girls between the ages of 13 and 16 were kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army? That many of them were rescued by their school mistress? That it took almost ten years to get most of them back? I have not heard much mention of the Aboke girls at all in coverage of the missing Chibok girls.
Beyond lack of coverage, I questioned on Twitter the language we use to talk about girls who are abducted in conflict situations. News media reports said that a number of the girls have been “sold as brides to Islamic militants for $12” Is it appropriate to call these girls “brides” or “wives” in our reporting just because the militants may refer to them as such? In scanning the Nigerian media, I did not see the words “brides” or “wives” feature as heavily as I did in Western reporting.
Meanwhile, eight more girls were reportedly kidnapped last night:
Villagers said the men arrived in trucks and started shooting. “Many people tried to run behind the mountain but when they heard gunshots, they came back,” one villager told Reuters. “The Boko Haram men were entering houses, ordering people out of their houses.” A police source told the news agency that a truck had taken the girls away. The abducted girls were aged 12-15.