With the recent castigation of the western media and African citizens by their peers for appearing to display more compassion for the victims of Paris attacks than to the scores of people perpetually slain by constant terrorist attacks in Africa and the Middle-East, we take a deeper look into where the real blame may lie.
Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. They sound like three encouraging words in these trying times we now witness as each and every free willed person amongst us is forced into the recently dubbed ‘war against terrorism’. Coined in the late 18th century during the times of the French revolution simply as one amongst many revolutionary slogans, these words (Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité) have grown to associate themselves with the Republic of France and are now associated with the colours of the French national flag. These words would inspire the building of a great nation in the aftermath of the revolution. Either that, or they’re just a bunch of words.
After the very recent Paris attacks, the world was left in shock. Or at least Paris was. But then world leaders condemned the attacks, few of them seized the opportunity to show-off their mastery of the French language in their public addresses. Monuments, statues and famous buildings were illuminated in the colours of the French national flag as a sign of solidarity. Candles were lit in the streets of Paris amidst swift response to the tragedy. The manhunt for the perpetrators was fast underway as a three-day mourning period was declared by President Francois Hollande. The media went crazy and of course the social media, almost expectedly went frantic.
While Facebook gave us all the opportunity to show support to the people of France by applying a filter of the French national flag to our profile pictures, all social media alike were used to express opinions on the horrific attacks which left over 129 people dead. Many of us in Africa faced a degree of backlash from our peers for voicing out against the attacks while far greater scores of terror victims in our part of the world go unnoticed by the rest. Every well-informed Nigerian knows the level of carnage the nation (most especially its North-Eastern region) has had to suffer in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. Their frustration is justified. But their frustration alone, and nothing more.
Our general disdain for Mondays blinds us to the gift of a new day. On Monday 14th of April 2014, that privilege was lost by almost a hundred of our compatriots. The Nyanya bus park was to be the unfortunate scene of a deadly explosion as over 88 average earners, school children traders and so many alike all embarked on their separate commutation through the Nyanya bus park unaware that the agony of the early morning traffic would be the least of the day’s misfortunes. This was quickly followed by the kidnap of over 300 school girls in the North-eastern town of Chibok. The war against Nigerian civil liberty had been taken to a more menacing depth.
The freedom of girl child education was under threat and thus the world rose up in defiance against the kidnap of our school girls as the central government was under intense pressure not to simply sweep this issue under the carpet. Nigerians played their part. The world played its part. While Nigeria has struggled to eradicate the threat of Boko Haram for years, our continental cousins have also been victims of terror attacks, most notably Kenya, having experienced its second deadliest terror fatality at the hands of Al-Shabaab as the terror group mounted an attack on students of the Garissa University College earlier this year.
While the leaders of the developed world display a body language of blatant disinterest, African leaders are left overwhelmed with extremism within their borders, barely as equipped with arms and intelligence as their western counterparts. More emphasis was being placed by global ‘shot callers’ on minimizing terrorist activity in the Middle-East, a situation so poorly handled that they also seem to have been caught pants-down as they have been forced to handle the recent influx of over a million refugees into Europe in recent months alone.
We could blame anyone. The Americans haven’t really lived up to expectations in their self-assigned role of global policing and peacekeeping. At least not in the past decade or more. Terrorism is slowly creeping into Africa, seeking to stifle development and strike fear into our hearts. If they win, Africa will never progress. We will be flung straight back into the stone ages. If the west hardly spares us their time now, how much easier do we expect things to be in the near or distant future? This is where we stand up and demand to be counted. We cannot get an audience by attempting to bring down the integrity of the French because their ancestors were responsible for the death of many Africans during colonialism, or by generalizing Africans as sycophants for displaying a higher degree of sympathy for the victims of the Paris attacks. While some may deserve such criticism, I believe we all should borrow a leaf from the book which France exists by.
Ask the average teenage girl of her ideal city for an enjoyable holiday (including lots of shopping) and more often than not, the reply: Paris. I don’t intend to bore you with the gist of Paris’ beauty (if you haven’t heard, better go and look it up). The city represents the image of a nation which embraces multi ethnicity, and is well ahead of other European countries in the attempt to integrate both Muslim Jewish and Christian communities. Their Healthcare is completely free, they have great love for homemade products, from clothing and food to their toothbrushes and toothpastes. All the qualities which we lack as Nigerians.
I remember driving past the scene of the Nyanya blast barely a week after the tragedy. The aura of death filled the air as the once ever-bubbling bus park was deserted. The crisis management team had done their best to clean up the scene but there was no wiping off of this event from our memories. Or was there? I saw no candles, no flowers hardly any prayers of solace. Just selfish prayers from people too busy worrying about the safety of their life to console the families of those who had recently lost theirs. We didn’t welcome those looking for missing loved ones into our homes. When it was no longer a trend to talk about the Nyanya bomb blast, everyone forgot. For a country that so charismatically strives to live up to the standards set by our western counterparts (both in good and in bad), we had failed ourselves.
At this, there is no logic behind expecting a wider coverage of casualties in the terror attacks because we showed the media that we simply didn’t care. Are we ready to step out in the streets and protest against the threat to our freedom? Is it even a safe idea anymore? Our level of seriousness towards our misfortune determines the weight of whatever information is being conveyed to the rest of the world about us. Why do we then complain when the BBC spends more time covering the Paris attacks than the time spent covering similar terror activities in Africa and the Middle-East? It may be wrong but how surprising is it?
Until we stop being that group of people who would rather set out individually to buy a small petrol fuelled electricity generator during periods of power outages than liaise with our neighbours on how to face the community issue, we will always have to settle for a passenger seat in the world and its affairs. We must learn to practice brotherhood, promote equality, and fight for freedom. We must give meaning to the words Freedom, Equality and Fraternity if we want the world to stand still when we lose our brothers and sisters. Because if we believe in equality, then we believe that they deserve to be as free as we are, and it is only through fraternity, the love for our own brothers and sisters, that we can force the world to pause when we lose one of our own.
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. I can’t think of a better set of words by which to describe the French, nor a better set of words whose symbolism, there is a great dearth of in Africa. Perhaps that was why many Africans mourned with Parisians after the attacks. Or perhaps because it seemed like a popular thing to do. We need to take ourselves as seriously as we want the rest of the world to take us, and this can only happen when we eradicate the unfortunate ideology that in Africa, fraternity is just a word, equality is just a dream and freedom, a myth.