A Western Blind Spot? Ctd

A reader responds to the question of Western coverage of Boko Haram compared to Charlie Hebdo:

A blind spot? Not at all. Violence in places with strong traditions of law and order is news.  Violence in places where there is less of such a tradition is not. Francis Fukuyama in his seminal two-volume work reveals to us how hundreds of years of effort under favorable geographic and cultural circumstances are required even to hope for such traditions. There is nothing racist or materialist about the lack of coverage.  It is nothing more than human beings refusing to regard what can plainly be anticipated as news.

The Dish, which is a fairly representative gauge of Western media coverage, has produced about 25 posts on Boko Haram overall. CNN had the terrorist group in its top 10 list of most talked about stories of 2014. Regarding the most recent massacre, we posted two roundups that included pieces from the AP, WaPo, Time, TNR, New Yorker, Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC, Guardian, etc. – hardly a blind spot of Western media, though others will argue that coverage wasn’t quick enough. Matt Schiavenza is on the same page as our reader:

The main difference between France and Nigeria isn’t that the public and the media care about one and not the other. It is, rather, that one country has an effective government and the other does not.

The French may not be too fond of President Francois Hollande – his approval ratings last November had plunged to 12 percent – but he responded to his country’s twin terror attacks with decisiveness. Not so Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. Since assuming the presidency in 2010, Jonathan has done little to contain Boko Haram. The group emerged in 2002 and has consolidated control over an area larger than West Virginia. And it’s gaining ground. Perversely, the seemingly routine nature of Nigeria’s violence may have diminished the perception of its newsworthiness.

Along those lines, Charlotte Alters adds:

The reports coming out of Baga are still sketchy, and there’s not yet an official death toll because Boko Haram still controls the area. The details of the Charlie Hebdo attacks were immediately available, and were accompanied by compelling video that quickly dominated every major news network. … More importantly, the attack in Paris was largely unprecedented (Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011, but nobody was hurt), while the massacre in Nigeria is part of a long string of Boko Haram attacks that some are even calling a “war“: the group killed over 10,000 people last year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and 1.5 million have fled their homes since the insurgency started. Plus, the fact that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a dramatic ambush of journalists may have added a layer of panic to the media coverage.

The latest on those “sketchy” reports:

Now, new satellite imagery obtained and released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) appears to confirm that considerable damage occurred in the towns of Baga and Doro Gowon in Borno state.

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The scale of the damage is remarkable. Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations at Amnesty International USA, says that the images and other evidence suggested that the death toll was “certainly 700, if not 2,000 or close to it.”

Meanwhile, a few more readers add personal perspective to both the coverage and coverage of the coverage:

In 1984, I was with a group of Canadian volunteers who came to teach English in Nigeria. We spent two weeks in Yola, then moved out to our postings in the state. Within two weeks after our departure, the central part of Yola (Jimeta) was in flames. There had been a conflict between police and a heretical Muslim sect called the Maitatsine. The crisis went on for days, and was only resolved, as we were told, after the army bombarded the central part of the city. The report was that 800 people had been killed.

Here’s the relevant part with respect to your story on Boko Haram: when the Canadian organisation contacted our families to reassure them that we were all right, it turned out that they didn’t know about the violence at all. 800 people (apparently) had died in Nigeria, and the Canadian media ran nothing about it.

Media silence on Boko Haram has only become an issue now because Western media were running stories on it in the first place, and then they died down. In 1984, the situation was worse and got no attention.

Another writes, “Try putting your son on a plane back to Nigeria”:

Thank you for bringing attention to Boko Haram, and specifically linking to Hilary Matfess’s piece. She’s got it exactly right. Boko Haram is not ISIS or Al Qaida fighting for a caliphate, exactly. Rather, it’s more like the rebelling army in a Civil War. And, if you ask an average Nigerian, it’s not so black and white as our media reports as to whom are the bad guys.

Boko Haram does this crazy shit because they’re nuts, don’t get me wrong. But Nigeria is the most corrupt country on the planet. Goodluck Jonathan sits on the top of the money pile, denying everything and doing nothing. The north has been marginalized politically and economically for way too long. Anyone who has been marginalized – going without clean water while politicians buy houses and art in Malibu – can tell you that when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.

On a similar note, my son’s students are offspring of oil executives and corrupt politicians (they freely say that’s their parents’ job title), as well as Pakistanis who have survived their villages’ drone strikes by the US. A mix of students from such backgrounds gives you perspective. When he teaches Speech, for example, students are required to research, deconstruct, and present an important speech from someone they admire. You would expect the choices of most of the students, but some of them choose from Osama bin Laden. When your best friend or family was killed in a US drone strike, you don’t expect them to pick the Gettysburg Address.

A Breakthrough With Boko Haram? Not So Much.

A week ago, the Nigerian government claimed that a ceasefire deal with the radical Islamic militant group would lead to the return of over 200 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok in April, but the girls not been returned as promised, and 25 more girls have been kidnapped in an attack on a town in northeastern Nigeria:

John Kwaghe, who witnessed the attack and lost three daughters to the abductors, and Dorathy Tizhe, who lost two, said the kidnappers came late in the night, forcing all the women to go with them, then later releasing the older ones. The attack cast further doubt on government reports that it has secretly reached a temporary ceasefire with the rebels in order to secure the release of more than 200 schoolgirls they are holding hostage. “We are confused that hours after the so-called ceasefire agreement has been entered between the Federal Government and Boko Haram insurgents, our girls were abducted by the insurgents,” Kwaghe said. “We urge the government to please help rescue our daughters without further delay, as we are ready to die searching.”

Chad, which brokered the truce, claims that the deal is still on, although some factions of Boko Haram are not abiding by it, and that the Chibok girls are still expected to come home once the details of a prisoner exchange are finalized. The new abduction, however, has cast serious doubt on the agreement. “Sadly,” writes Andrew Noakes, “there is now strong reason to believe the deal could be fake”:

The mystery of Danladi Ahmadu, Boko Haram’s “representative” during the ceasefire talks, is also cause for concern. According to journalist Ahmad Salkida, who has a history of close contact with the group, Ahmadu is an imposter. Salkida, who knows most of Boko Haram’s leading figures by their first names, has said he’s never heard of Ahmadu. Other sources familiar with the group have also expressed doubts about his claim to be a leading figure. It seems he is either completely bogus, or representing a little-known faction in the insurgency – and Salkida has been quick to dismiss the latter option.

He’s not the only skeptic, either. Many believe last week’s announcement had more to do with politics than reality:

“I sense Nigeria rushed to announce the deal with electoral-political calculations in mind,” said Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa Analysis at the Stratfor consultancy. “Getting a victory with the schoolgirls and a short-term truce with Boko Haram could be positive for President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign,” he said. The announcement of the truce came a day before a rally of the president’s supporters in Abuja, although he has yet to announce his candidacy. Some residents of Nigeria’s northeast, which has born the brunt of the insurgency, also saw political calculations behind the announcement and doubted the talks in N’Djamena would lead to a lasting peace.

Anne Look shines a light on Boko Haram’s many other captives, noting that the group “has taken hundreds of young men, women and children, using various forms of coercion or enticement, since the insurgency began in 2009”:

Activists working with men who have later escaped say the men report being given some training and say Christians are forced to convert. They say Boko Haram makes the new recruits charge out front in battle, a kind of human shield. Locals say Boko Haram has used other methods, too, to get men to join as they have gobbled up territory this year.

A resident of the Damboa district, Musa Ibrahim, says Boko Haram would try to entice the young men out in the villages, promising them money if they join, as much as $1,200 (200,000 naira). He says they would also come around to “tax” the communities – telling them contribute food or a certain number of able-bodied men or else. Boko Haram took over the district capital Damboa in July. They ravaged the town, which some say they accused of helping the military. It was similar to other raids across Borno state: burn the houses, loot, grab teenage girls, kill the men or conscript them.

A Breakthrough With Boko Haram?

On Friday, news of a ceasefire between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram raised hopes that the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok might finally be released, but with the truce already in doubt, nobody is daring to celebrate too soon:

Two senior government sources said on Saturday that they hoped the release would be completed by Tuesday. On Friday, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh announced a deal with Boko Haram for a ceasefire that would enable the release of the girls, who have been held since April.

But within hours, Boko Haram had already broken the ceasefire, killing at least nine people in two attacks – one on the village of Abadam on Friday night, and another attack on the village of Dzur on Saturday morning. “I can confirm that FG (the federal government) is working hard to meet its own part of the agreement so that the release of the abductees can be effected either on Monday or latest Tuesday next week,” one source told Reuters by telephone.

Atta Barkindo questions whether the ceasefire is genuine:

The first inklings of this particular ceasefire agreement were heard on October 16 when Danladi Ahmadu, who claimed to be the “secretary-general” of Boko Haram, told the Voice of America (VOA) that an agreement had been reached between his group and the Nigerian government with the involvement of officials from Chad and Cameroon. …

But there are some credibility problems with this ceasefire agreement. First there is huge scepticism about the identity of Danladi Ahmadu. In his VOA interview, Ahmadu even referred to Boko Haram as Boko Haram and not its real name, Jama’atu Ahlul Sunnah Lidda’awati wal Jihad. Additionally, it is difficult to ascertain if Ahmadu is representing a particular faction of Boko Haram or the group’s mainstream leadership. Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist with proven records of contact with the leadership of Boko Haram, dented the credibility of the ceasefire and appeared to suggest that Nigeria may have been hoodwinked by the broker.

And even if the deal is for real, Simon Kolawole points out that some people won’t be very happy about it:

In some circles … a ceasefire represents the ultimate surrender of the Nigerian state to terrorism, a huge dent on national ego and a sign of how weak the Nigerian government has become. To the military hierarchy, this may be viewed as a humiliation, for how can we be discussing with terrorists who deserve nothing but death after all the horror they have inflicted on soldiers and civilians? I also heard several comments that President Goodluck Jonathan agreed to the peace deal because he is desperate to be returned to office next year. We all have our opinions, of course.

Jonathan’s re-election bid is just one part of the “multilayered drama” in which, to Richard Joseph’s eyes, the kidnapped girls are merely pawns:

For a start, it has been unclear how Boko Haram is financed — and how much assistance it might be receiving from disaffected members of the northern Nigerian elite, as well as those holding government positions at the federal and state levels. “Underground” campaigns involving the use of armed thugs have been a staple feature of Nigerian party politics for decades, and international human rights groups have noted a “dirty war” conducted by soldiers and government-financed militias. These abuses, combined with the dysfunction of the armed forces, complicate external assistance.

The problem for Nigeria is that although the jihadists will eventually almost certainly be crushed, as were the secessionists in Nigeria’s civil war, the clock is ticking on a greater threat to the Nigerian nation, namely popular protests in northern Nigeria following February’s presidential poll, which President Goodluck Jonathan is certain to contest.

Abubakar Shekau: Back From The Dead?

The elusive Boko Haram leader, whom Nigeria had claimed was dead, appeared in a video on Thursday to taunt his enemies:

So much for the Nigerian government’s insistence that it killed him two weeks ago. In the video, Shekau, who claims for the second time to have declared an Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, is seen standing in an unidentified location, wielding a large gun, and wearing camouflage and a traditional scarf. Speaking in Hausa, a common language in the region, he states that no one but Allah can decide when he will die. “Here I am, alive,” he said. “I will only die the day Allah takes my breath.”

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the only news agency to obtain a full version of the 36-minute video, the footage shows gruesome acts of violence carried out by the extremist group, including amputations and deaths by stoning and beheading. In some shots, groups of people, including children, are gathered around to watch to the violence.

Adam Taylor adds:

Shekau’s “death” and reappearance show just how difficult a figure he is to understand.

As my colleague Terrence McCoy has noted, Shekau may lead one of the world’s most notorious extremist groups and have a $7 million bounty on his head, but basic facts about his life (for example, his age) are hard to ascertain. Stranger still, analysts believe that there may be more than one person posing as “Abubakar Shekau.” In one analysis, the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium looked at different videos released by Boko Haram and found significant inconsistencies in “Shekau.”

That seems to be the story the Nigerian military is running with, as it maintains that Shekau really is dead:

In a statement, the Nigerian Defense Headquarters insisted the man in the video, who it says it actually a militant named Mohammed Bashir, was killed last month during a battle in the town of Kondunga. Last week, the military released photos showing a strong resemblance between the bearded man in the video with a corpse found after the battle. Thursday’s statement said the new video, released by French news agency AFP, had no indication of when it was recorded and did not make any reference to events that have happened since the death of what the military called “the impostor.”