Will the parents of at least 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped more than a month ago by the terrorist gang, Boko Haram, ever see their daughters alive again?
That agonizing question has provoked intense diplomatic efforts involving the governments of the United States and several European and African countries, and an international, social-media-driven campaign to rescue the girls that include demands from some for the U.S. to, if necessary, take military action to get the girls back to their families.
There is a great deal to be said about what this terrible crime reveals about, and what it could mean for, Nigeria. But, first, it’s important — even though it offers no comfort — to put this horror in its global context: as yet more evidence that even amid the technological advancements of the 21st century, human beings’ capacity for brutality seems to be as great as ever.
Despite the conventional wisdom, this failing isn’t to be found just in Black Africa. Just last week, for example, the United Nations-appointed official seeking to end the civil war in Syria quit out of frustration, underscoring that the war there, which has cost the lives of 150,000 men, women and children, will continue. Statements from French and U.S. officials left little doubt that, despite agreeing last year to stop waging chemical warfare against his own people, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued to do so in his campaign against rebel forces.
Further, a report issued last week stated that the worldwide conflicts of the last two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War have forced more than 33 million people to become refugees — and that last year the number of those displaced rose to record levels. Four million of the eight million people displaced by war in 2013 lived in Syria, according to the report of the Norwegian Refugee Council. The report also determined that nearly 500,000 people in Nigeria were displaced by conflict last year, largely the result of attacks by Boko Haram, which effectively controls the country’s northeastern region.
Mystery surrounds location
Even if the Obama administration, Great Britain and France, the lead non-African actors in this, and Nigeria were so inclined, all the military and diplomatic public statements made thus far have ruled out a military rescue: because it’s not clear if all the girls are being kept in the same place; and because the Nigerian military, weakened by the country’s pervasive governmental corruption, would likely be untrustworthy in battle.
Boko Haram’s threat to Nigeria is also furthered by the fact that its neighbors — Benin, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad — have themselves not tried to stop Boko Haram from using their border areas as a refuge from the sporadic Nigerian attempts to hunt them. Trying to forge the countries into a military pact against Boko Haram — to prevent it from threatening to destabilize any one of them — is the reason they, along with officials from the U.S., the European Union, France, and Great Britain, met in Paris at the end of last week.
All this diplomatic maneuvering sounds very far away from doing anything that will end the terror those young Nigerian girls and their parents have been enduring these past five weeks. But the fact is, barring a surprise and unlikely military raid, the diplomatic option is the girls’ only chance of rescue.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.