TIME Terrorism

Boko Haram Kidnaps Wife of Cameroon’s Deputy Prime Minister

Third attack since 22 militants were sentenced to prison in Cameroon Friday

Over 200 Nigerian Boko Haram militants attacked a town in northern Cameroon Sunday, kidnapping the wife of Cameroon’s deputy Prime Minister and killing at least 3 people, Cameroon officials told Reuters.

Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali had been at home with his family in Kolofata Sunday to celebrate the Ramadan fast when his wife and her maid were kidnapped in what government officials call a “savage attack.”

The militants also kidnapped the mayor of Kolofata (who is a religious leader) in a separate attack on the town, as well as five of his family members.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma confirmed to Reuters that Boko Haram militants had attacked the Ali’s home in Kolofata. “They unfortunately took away his wife,” he said.

The attack on Kolofata was the third Boko Haram attack since 22 Boko Haram militants were sentenced to prison Friday in Maroua, a major city in the northern part of the country. At least four soldiers were killed in the other two attacks over the weekend.

Boko Haram opposes Western education and seeks to create an Islamist separatist state in northern Nigeria. They kidnapped over 200 girls from a boarding school in April and threatened to “sell them on the market.” The girls have not yet been returned.

[Reuters]

TIME Terrorism

#BringBackOurGirls Still Hasn’t Brought Them Back

Nigerian mothers, with some girls who escaped Boko Haram, are covered in sheets to hide their identity Aderogba Obisesan—AFP/Getty Images

Some women escaped, but Boko Haram continues to kidnap and kill

Despite the encouraging news that 63 girls and women have reportedly escaped the grip of Boko Haram, the militant Islamic group still holds the more than 200 schoolgirls it kidnapped in April captive.

The hostages who escaped were taken from the Kummabza village on June 18 after four days of fighting, in which more than 30 of the village men were killed and all homes were burned. Vigilantes from the region now say 63 women and girls slipped away when the fighters guarding them were called out to help in an attack on military barracks and police headquarters in another town, Damboa, that was tougher than the terrorists had expected.

“The women seized that rare opportunity to escape when they realized they were alone in the camp,” Bukar Kyari, a local vigilante fighting Boko Haram in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, told CNN. “But we still have five women, including a nursing mother, missing.”

Meanwhile, in Chibok, the home of the schoolgirls whose April 14 kidnapping by the group sparked off the #bringbackourgirls campaign, things have not improved. According to a Nigerian newspaper, 50 people were killed and five churches razed there on June 29, when the town came under attack again. After the initial kidnappings, says the paper, about 20 soldiers were dispatched there. Villagers have opined they are not getting much support from their local government because Chibok is a mostly Christian town in a mostly Muslim region.

If we were to be Kanuri, the state government would have since come to our aid. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpuf
Speaking to our correspondent, a 66-year old resident, Mr. Ezekiel Inuwa, a retired civil servant but now living in Kautikari, and lost one of his sons in last Sunday deadly attacks on three communities in Chibok LGA, during church service that claimed over 50 lives, said, “If we were to be Kanuri, the state government would have since come to our aid. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpuf

The future looks increasingly difficult for the Chibok abductees the longer they are away. (At publication, they have been gone for 84 days.) If recent history is any guide, even if they return, they face a tough time resuming their former lives. If they come back with children, as other abductees have, those children will be considered tainted by their Boko Haram lineage. Even if they aren’t pregnant or mothers, the girls are quite likely to have difficulty finding husbands, as the suspicion of impurity tends to scare off suitors. (Notice how the returned abductees in the photo are covered in sheets to protect their identity.) In northern Nigeria, unmarried women do not have many options.

It’s purely speculation, but if the experience of the girls who were taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda is any guide, the girls’ captors could very well use the threat of shame and alienation from the community as a method of dissuading their captives from running away. Some of the kidnapped Ugandan girls were gone for as long as a decade.

On Sunday, June 29, no fewer than 50 people, mostly Christian worshippers, were killed in Chibok, while five churches, including Cocin, EYN and Deeper Life Bible Church, in Kwada village, about 10 kilometres from Chibok LGA, were razed when some gunmen laid ambush to the village during church service. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpu
On Sunday, June 29, no fewer than 50 people, mostly Christian worshippers, were killed in Chibok, while five churches, including Cocin, EYN and Deeper Life Bible Church, in Kwada village, about 10 kilometres from Chibok LGA, were razed when some gunmen laid ambush to the village during church service. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpu
TIME Nigeria

Nigerian President Cancels Trip to Town Where Girls Abducted

Nigeria Centenary
Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, arrives for a summit to address a seminar on security during an event marking the centenary of the unification of Nigeria's north and south in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Sunday Alamba—ASSOCIATED PRESS

It would have been the president’s first visit to the traumatized town

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan canceled a planned visit Friday to the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted last month by Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Jonathan cited security concerns after news of the trip leaked to the media.

The route from the capital of Abuja to the town of Chibok would have taken Jonathan’s convoy through disputed and dangerous territory, the Associated Press reports.

Reports of disgruntled under-fed and outgunned Nigerian troops have stoked fears of mutiny. The AP reports that soldiers have told the news service some in their ranks fight alongside Boko Haram.

This year alone, 1,500 civilians have been killed amid fighting between government soldiers and insurgents from the country’s Muslim north. The trip would have been a first for Jonathan, a southern Christian who has been accused of not doing enough for the country’s violence-wracked and predominantly Muslim north.

[AP]

 

 

TIME Nigeria

5 Reasons Boko Haram is Un-Islamic

A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012. Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

The militant Nigerian group's actions repeatedly go against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad

The official name of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group apparently responsible for the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls, is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad. That translates into English as “People Committed to the Propogation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” The name is wholly inappropriate. With their sustained campaign of murders and kidnappings, the members of Boko Haram conduct themselves in a manner that could barely be more alien to the Prophet Muhammad teachings. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, declared Boko Haram was “set up to smear the image of Islam.” The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries, told the Associated Press that violent extremists like Boko Haram “not only disavow their Islam, but their humanity.”

It’s always dangerous to generalize about a faith observed by 1.6 billion people – there’s a lot of room for interpretation between that many people – but it’s clear that Boko Haram’s atrocities go against the mainstream teachings of Islam. Here are five reasons why Boko Haram’s actions are fundamentally un-Islamic:

 

1. Boko Haram targets educational establishments.

In the local Hausa language, “Boko Haram” translates roughly as “Western education is forbidden.” In 2012, the group began targeting government schools with home-made firebombs. Over the last two years, reports Amnesty International, attacks by armed groups have forced over 60 schools in northern Nigeria to close, with Boko Haram claiming responsibility for some of the attacks.

Boko Haram’s hostility to education stems from its suspicion of what it views as the government’s secular education system. But that hostility strongly contravenes the teachings of Islam, a faith whose first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad was the word “Read,” whose scripture repeatedly enjoins Muslims to reflect, and whose traditions enjoin all Muslims – regardless of gender – to pursue education.

 

2. It claims to be waging jihad.

Boko Haram’s formal name makes it clear that the group is pursuing jihad. There’s debate among Islamic scholars as to what constitutes a “just” jihad, but mainstream scholars agree that jihad can only be led by a legitimate leader of a Muslim community, not self-appointed leaders like Osama bin Laden or Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, who has led the group since 2009. Even if the conditions for jihad are met, the Prophet Muhammad banned targeting non-combatants. Boko Haram has repeatedly flaunted that ban. In February, the group killed over 50 schoolboys, opening fire on a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria before burning it down. Last fall, Boko Haram gunmen shot 40 students at an agricultural training college as they lay asleep in their dorms. According to the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, women and children, rabbis and priests and other noncombatants are to be spared. Warriors cannot burn down property, destroy trees or fields, or commit atrocities.

 

3. It has declared war against Christians.

In a rambling video released May 5, Shekau declared war “against Christians generally.” He included in that group President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “and any unbeliever.” But the Quran tells Muslims to respect their fellow monotheists, specifically the Christians and the Jews, who are “People of the Book.” The Quran says: “Those who believe [Muslims], the Jews, the Christians….whosoever believe in God and the Last day and do good deeds, they shall have their reward from their Lord, shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they come to grief.”

 

4. It forcibly converts people.

The May 12 video of the kidnapped schoolgirls purports to show some Christian girls speaking their new Muslim names. The girls had been “liberated,” claimed Shekau, by having converted from Christianity to Islam. But he’s flouting a key teaching of Islam. “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” states the Quran. The verse, notes Usama Hasan, senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a U.K.-based counter-extremism think-tank, was revealed to Muhammad after some of the earliest Muslims’ children converted to Judaism and Christianity. Nobody can force anyone to convert to Islam, say scholars. Embracing the faith is a matter between individuals and their God.

 

5. It espouses forcing girls and women into marriage.

In the May 5 video, Shekau says the kidnapped schoolgirls should be married off. But Islam does not allow anyone – male or female – to be married without his or her own consent. According to one hadith – hadiths are the words or deeds of the Prophet Muhammad that, along with the Quran, constitute the basis of Islamic law – one day a girl married off against her will came crying to Muhammad, saying she hadn’t agreed to the marriage. Muhammad promptly declared the marriage invalid.

 

The members of Boko Haram certainly consider themselves Muslims but their actions make them traitors to their faith. We should start referring to them as a criminal group rather than an Islamist group. Their sickening deeds and rhetoric repeatedly demonstrate that not only do they lack kinship with the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, but they lack respect for the religion they claim to fight for.

Power writes on Muslim social issues. If the Oceans Were Ink, her memoir of studying the Quran with a traditional Muslim scholar, will be published next year.

 

TIME Foreign Policy

Lawmakers Mull Special Forces to Find Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram. Reuters

Top U.S. officials including Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Dianne Feinstein of the Intelligence Committee are undecided over the most effective way to help Nigeria find more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in April as U.S. intelligence support begins but boots on the ground remain off the table

The social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, has built worldwide pressure to find and rescue the more than 200 school girls abducted nearly a month ago by the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. But just how far should the U.S. go in the hunt for them?

President Barack Obama has sent in an intelligence, logistics and communications team that includes 16 military personnel. On Monday, National Security Council and Pentagon officials told TIME that that the U.S. has begun sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and is flying manned aircraft over Nigeria with the government’s permission for intelligence purposes.

The top ranking Senators on the Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME that they would support sending in special forces under certain conditions: Feinstein would send in the additional assistance only if Nigeria requests it, and Chambliss would do so with our allies.

Retired General Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, said that America would need to send “several hundred” Special Operations troops “to get it done right.”

“You’d have to do some work on intelligence, you’d have to prep the battlefield [and] you’d have to have the ability from the Nigerians to move with some freedom,” said Wald. “It’s not going to be easy, but given the mission I’m sure they could do something.”

One problem that Wald laid out is that the terrorist group has reportedly split off the schoolgirls into smaller groups. “This is going to take awhile,” he said.

On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s This Week that there’s “no intention” of putting boots on the ground, but “we’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use” to help the Nigerian government.

“The Nigerians are the ones who understand the terrain, they understand the people, they understand all the subtleties,” said Col. Steven Warren, a top Pentagon spokesman, about why the Department of Defense has not yet considered a special forces-type rescue mission. “It’s their backyard. They are the ones best positioned to conduct an operation to try and locate these people…[It] is the technical piece that we’re best available to provide here.”

Another Pentagon official told TIME that the Nigerians had yet to ask for boots on the ground to help the search, which is a particular problem for Feinstein, the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Chambliss, the ranking Republican.

“I don’t know what we do if the government doesn’t want help, and they have been reluctant to ask for help,” said Feinstein. “The people of Nigeria should have a say in that and if they want their government to ask for help, they have to make that known.”

Last week, Amnesty International reported that the Nigerian military may not be as strong as the U.S. government has portrayed them publicly, finding that it declined to provide assistance to the schoolgirls despite at least four hours of advanced warning “due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging.”

“This business of ‘fear of engaging,’ what do you have a military for if not to engage when your country is being attacked,” demanded Feinstein. “I would say that Boko Haram is attacking the people of the country. The army is there to defend the people, not to allow kidnapping of young girls, not to allow schools to burned down.”

“The Nigerians ought to be handling things in their own backyard, but frankly it’s a big vast country with a bunch of bad guys acting like cowboys and running around,” said Chambliss. “They can’t handle it. I think that’s why we’re treading very carefully, but we’ve got to be more forceful than what we’ve been thus far.”

Of course, even U.S. special forces may not bring the girls back. In 2011, the Pentagon sent 100 special forces troops to help thousands of African troops search for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, but have yet to capture or kill the warlord. Top LRA commanders have been taken out, however, and LRA attacks have drastically decreased. This year the Pentagon announced it would send in 150 more troops as well as CV-22 Osprey aircraft, and the United Nations has signaled that they are finally zeroing in on his whereabouts.

Chambliss believes our current intelligence assistance to Nigeria is “not good enough” and “not even a token.” But despite “great confidence” in the American military, even Chambliss is suspect that U.S. special forces could find a safe return for the abducted girls.

“Right now we just don’t the answer to that question,” said Chambliss. “We know it’s going to be difficult. The question is how do we do it…but I think we certainly have the capability of doing it.”

With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

TIME Nigeria

New Boko Haram Video Appears to Show Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Footage released by Boko Haram purportedly shows some of the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April as its leader says he'll free them in a prisoner exchange

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 4:47 p.m. ET

A new video released by the extremist group Boko Haram claims to show for the first time more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last month, amid growing outrage at the kidnapping and the government’s response.

The authenticity of the video, first published by AFP on Monday, could not immediately be confirmed. It depicts the girls wearing hijab and praying. In the video, a leader of the group boasts that the girls, who came from both Christian and Muslim families, have converted to Islam. “We have indeed liberated them,” the militant leader Abubakar Shekau says in the video. “These girls have become Muslims, they are Muslims.”

Shekau says he will only release the schoolgirls if the Nigerian government frees Boko Haram prisoners. “It is now four years or five years that you have arrested our brethren, they are still in your prison and you are doing many things to them, and now you are talking about these girls?” he said. “We will never release them until you release our brethren.”

A top Nigerian official quickly dismissed the notion that the government would release Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the safe return of the schoolgirls, AFP reports. “The issue in question is not about Boko Haram… giving conditions,” Interior Minister Abba Moro said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the United States has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video, and that U.S. intelligence agencies are scouring the video for clues.

“Our intelligence experts are combing over every detail of it for clues that might help in the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls,” Carney said.

A team of almost 30 American officials is already in the country assisting in the investigation; it includes four Department of State advisers, 17 Department of Defense advisers and four people from the FBI.

In an earlier video, Shekau had threatened to force the girls into marriage, saying he would “sell them in the market, by Allah.”

Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their school in Chibok almost a month ago, and an international social media campaign is demanding their release. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticized for his failure to prevent the attack and for his response. The United States announced last week that it was sending a team to aid in search and rescue of the girls.

-with reporting from Zeke J Miller in Washington

TIME White House

Michelle Obama on Nigerian Schoolgirls: ‘Barack and I See Our Own Daughters’

First Lady says U.S. is doing "everything possible" to free kidnapped girls.

+ READ ARTICLE

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke out against the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls last month in the White House’s weekly address marking Mother’s Day.

Delivering the address for the first time without President Barack Obama, the first lady said she and her husband are “outraged and heartbroken” by the kidnappings. “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters,” she said. “We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”

“I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home,” she said, as a team of military and intelligence advisors deployed by the administration to assist the Nigerian government began arriving in Abuja.

“This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education—grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls,” she said.

Obama tied the kidnappings to a broader struggle to give girls access to the education they deserve, highlighting the plight of 65 million girls who are not attending school across the globe.

“We know that girls who are educated make higher wages, lead healthier lives and have healthier families,” the first lady said. “And when more girls attend secondary school, that boosts their country’s entire economy. So education is truly a girl’s best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but for her family and her nation.”

“I hope that any young people in America who take school for granted—any young people who are slacking off or thinking of dropping out—I hope they will learn the story of these girls and recommit themselves to their education,” she added.

TIME Nigeria

Malala: Save My Nigerian Sisters

Malala Yousafzai, visits Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border, in Mafraq, Jordan, Feb. 18, 2014.
Malala Yousafzai, visits Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, Feb. 18, 2014. Mohammad Hannon—AP

Boko Haram's extremism and brutal activities are against the teachings of Allah. Islam is a religion of peace, where women are respected and education is valued above all

It makes me sad to think that almost a month has gone by since more than 200 girls were kidnapped by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. These are innocent young schoolgirls with their whole lives ahead of them. They have families who are going through unimaginable pain. Their only crime was no different than my own: all they wanted was to get an education.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” said Abubakar Shekau, the man they say is Boko Haram’s leader. I felt sick when I read this. What has the world come to? These people kidnap girls and then threaten to sell them! And in the name of religion? These extremist and brutal activities are against the teaching of Allah. Islam is a religion of peace, where women are respected and education is valued above all. As Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him) said, “It is the duty of every person to get knowledge.”

When the Quran was revealed, the first word from God was Iqra, which means “read”. The word Islam means “peace.”

Where I am from, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, more than 400 schools were bombed by the Taliban. My friends and I had to hide our books under our shawls when we went to school. We would wear plain clothes rather than our uniform. We feared for our lives. But more than that, we feared losing our precious school. We were not willing to give up education at any cost.

But schools are not supposed to be places of violence. They are supposed to be havens of protection for children. Where children go to learn, to dream of a better future.

I express solidarity with these girls and their families. I believe we all are like a family. The abducted schoolgirls are my sisters and I call on the international community and the government of Nigeria to realize their responsibilities, take action, and save my sisters.

We all must work together in times of trial, not just find fault. I hope that the help offered by the United Kingdom and America will help Nigeria’s leaders make sure these girls are safely returned home. The protection of all school children in Nigeria must be guaranteed.

The state of education in Nigeria needs to be fixed. There are over 10 million children of primary school age out of school. In other words, one out every six children out of school in the world lives in Nigeria. The Nigerian government needs to step up to deliver protection to its people and education to all its children.

And the world needs to invest in Nigeria. We need to support Nigerian girls and women calling for equality and justice. They are the only people who can ever bring lasting and meaningful change in Nigeria.

We all must stand up and raise our voices for peace and justice. I considered it my responsibility and a part of my campaign to continue speaking for my sisters in Nigeria.

Enough is enough. Bring Back our Girls.

 

Malala’s organization, MalalaFund.org, has launched a special fund in response to the crisis in Nigeria, with 100% of funds raised to go to local Nigerian nonprofit organizations focused on education and advocacy for girls and women.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Calls Kidnapping of Nigerian Girls ‘Abominable’

Hillary Clinton Nigeria Girls
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks during the National Council for Behavioral Health's Annual Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. on May 6, 2014. Patrick Smith—Getty Images

Adding her voice to the growing outrage over the kidnapping of more than 250 Nigerian school girls, Clinton said it's "criminal, an act of terrorism and really merits the fullest response possible first and foremost from the government of Nigeria"

Hillary Clinton decried the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria as “abominable” on Wednesday, adding her high-profile voice to a growing chorus of outrage at a situation that has drawn global headlines.

Speaking at an event in New York, the former Secretary of State and possible 2016 presidential candidate said the kidnapping of more than 250 girls by the Boko Haram militant group is “abominable, criminal, an act of terrorism and really merits the fullest response possible first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.”

Clinton was in town to speak at Philanthropy New York’s annual meeting—sponsored by the Ford Foundation—during which she addressed a range of issues facing women and girls.

When discussion moderator Robin Roberts of ABC asked Clinton about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to free the schoolgirls, about which Clinton has been tweeting, Clinton said the Nigerian government has been “derelict” in its responsibility for boys and girls for years.

She agreed with President Barack Obama that in order to find and save the girls, other nations need to become involved. “That I believe requires assistance from others including the United States,” Clinton said.

Obama Administration officials announced Tuesday that they were planning to send a team to Nigeria to help aid in the search for the girls, who were kidnapped in April. Obama called the situation “heartbreaking.”

A Boko Haram leader boasted in a video that emerged this week that “I abducted your girls” and “will sell them in the market.”

TIME Nigeria

Can A Social Media Campaign Really #BringBackOurGirls?

Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division Obiageli Ezekwesilieze leads a march of Nigerian women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja on April 30, 2014.
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division Obiageli Ezekwesilieze leads a march of Nigerian women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja on April 30, 2014. Philip Ojisua—AFP/Getty Images

#BringBackOurGirls has become a worldwide social media cause advocating for the return of nearly 300 kidnapped girls. But can it actually help, or is it destined to become another #Kony2012?

It may have taken a few weeks, but the world’s attention has fixated on terrorist abductions in Nigeria, thanks, in large part, to a hashtag.

On April 14, at a school in the Nigerian town of Chibok, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped while taking their final exams. The girls were taken by the extremist group known as Boko Haram (which roughly translates as “Western education is sinful”), who had disguised themselves as soldiers and forced the girls up into the back of trucks. Yet in the days that followed, appallingly little was done to help. The Nigerian military falsely claimed it had rescued the girls — only to retract the claim the very next day. The story barely registered with the international media.

Then, on April 23, Oby Ezekwesili, vice president of the World Bank for Africa, gave a speech in Nigeria in which she urged the government to intervene and “bring back our girls.” Soon after, Twitter users in Nigeria began to repeat her call, adopting the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

“This was not a coordinated campaign,” Ibrahim M Abdullahi, a lawyer in the Nigerian capital Abuja, told the BBC. “It was a number of individuals in Nigeria tweeting to raise awareness in the hope that the international community would eventually take notice.” By the time reports emerged that kidnappers had taken some of the girls over state lines to Cameroon and Chad and sold off as sex slaves, #BringBackOurGirls was beginning to do just that. A few days later, it had exploded around the world and, now, more than a million tweets have been sent with the hashtag, including those sent by Hillary Clinton and, somewhat surprisingly, Chris Brown. This timelapse map shows how the hashtag went viral:

Yet how much can a social media campaign actually help?

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has obvious parallels with #Kony2012, the well-intentioned but ultimately ill-conceived campaign launched by California-based NGO Invisible Children. The #Kony2012 campaign video outlined the organization’s goal to stop the Ugandan militiaman and cult leader Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army recruited child soldiers, and it clearly resonated on social media, becoming the most viral video of all time. Yet, the video lacked important context about the issue and, despite the worldwide attention, the campaign fizzled out spectacularly; a follow-up video on Kony failed to garner even a fraction of the attention on social media, though it was released just a month after the first. Today, Kony and the LRA are still free and continue to recruit child soldiers.

Yet there are important differences between the two campaigns. #BringBackYourGirls began, and remains strong, within Nigeria, whereas #Kony2012 was a case of outsiders looking in — and often missing the mark. The Nigerians who’ve taken up the cause of the kidnapped schoolgirls are familiar with the atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram, a complex and amorphous group that’s been operating in Nigeria since the early 2000s. Even more problematic is the fact that past attempts by the Nigerian military to stop Boko Haram have resulted in the deaths of dozens of innocent Nigerians.

Promisingly, #BringBackOurGirls has prompted physical protests, both within Nigeria and around the world, which in turn has stirred Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to promise, “wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out.” Nigerian police are now offering a reward of $300,000 for the rescue of the girls. And the Obama administration announced Tuesday they’re sending military officials and hostage negotiators to Nigeria to aid in the recovery efforts.

There’s still a danger that the flood of attention now being focused on the kidnapped girls will ultimately lead people to tune out, particularly if the search for the girls drags on interminably. But the worldwide attention has put Boko Haram on the radar, which means that subsequent crimes and attacks committed by the group are much more likely to garner international media attention, even if they’re on a smaller scale. Just this week, it was reported that Boko Haram had kidnapped another, much smaller, group of girls in Nigeria, as it has done sporadically for years. But this time, the news of the smaller scale kidnapping was reported widely and quickly, by international media outlets.

It’s true that a hashtag alone can’t even begin to combat the multiple systemic problems that have worked in conjunction to allow 276 girls to be taken from their very school, but it has shed some light on those problems. And even though it’s true that not every person who has tweeted #BringBackOurGirls will give much thought to the Nigerian schoolgirls, the attention generated by the hashtag means that important people around the world are now doing just that.

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