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16 Jan 2015 00:00
Blind-sided: African governments and people have failed to act in solidarity in the fight against terror on the continent and their approach to the threat is shambolic and unco-ordinated. (Reuters)
It has now become fashionable, each time a terrorist attack occurs in Europe or America, for Africans to make comparative analyses between European and African responses, often accusing the former of indifference.
After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing in which three people perished, many were furious over the media attention the incident received compared with the much more deadly attack in Baga, a remote northeastern city in Nigeria, where Boko Haram militants massacred 260 people in a ferocious shoot-out with government security forces but which did not make front-page news in the global media.
Last week this debate resurfaced as several people interrogated the swift and frenzied international response to the Paris killings while a deadlier massacre in Baga was ignored.
Questions have been raised over the controversial participation of African presidents in the Paris unity march against terrorism.
The contrast between the media’s response to the two incidents has fomented sentiments of double standards. The editor of a Cameroonian website, Cameroononline, kicked up a storm when he said that, since the life of a European is worth more than that of the African, he as an African cannot become “Charlie” – the slogan used to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly newspaper whose staff were killed in cold blood last week.
In my view, no matter how genuine the claim of double standards may be, it distracts us from fully comprehending the real challenge that we face in combating terrorism in Africa.
Problem lies with AfricansWe may blame Europe and the United States for not supporting Africa, but the problem lies with Africans.
African leaders have not demonstrated enough commitment to the business of combating terrorism.
As Africans, we seem misled by the altruistic belief that others will genuinely act in our own interests, while failing to understand that the world is governed by selfish human nature and that each person is the master of his or her own destiny. Europe will only help us if it is for its self-interest and convenience.
Terrorism has never been given serious consideration by our leaders and complacent populace. When the US called for a global war against terrorism at the dawn of the new millennium, our leaders resented and rejected it as a Western-imposed agenda to distract us from our core objective of development.
By turning our backs on terrorism, under the false pretext of development, we invited terrorists and gave them refuge in our backyards.
There is also the problem of the failure to act in solidarity in the fight against terror on the continent. How many African countries have provided moral and political support – not to mention military and other material – to Nigeria and Cameroon or to other African countries such as Kenya, Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Egypt, which are all facing terrorism in one form or another.
That record of support is shambolic and shameful. It was France that helped put together a coalition, made up of neighbouring countries to fight Boko Haram, by hosting a summit in Paris. There is no culture of collective security in Africa.
We cannot help ourselves but we want others to help us. We wait all the time for Europe to take the initiative for us before we put together an intervention force under the rubric of peacekeeping, which often comes too late and too insignificant to make an impact. When it suits us we cry for African solutions to African problems but if it is to blame, we point fingers at Europe.
The attitude of our leaders is also shameful. To understand why the world responded swiftly and decisively to the Paris attacks and not to the Baga attacks, one needs to compare the attitudes of the two presidents of Nigeria and France. President Goodluck Jonathan did not immediately condemn the Baga attacks or visit the tragic scene or even mobilise his countrymen to condemn the attacks. How then can the international community respond or show solidarity? It is like asking a stranger at a funeral to cry more than the bereaved.
Jonathan’s attitude reflects the nonchalant approach to terrorism in Africa and the ambivalence with which our leaders treat the issue.
On the other hand, French President François Hollande was quick to portray the Paris attacks as an assault on all French people, their jealously guarded liberty and freedoms – the key defining elements of the French way of life, culture and identity as a nation.
The attacks were projected as not merely attacks on the weekly newspaper and a Jewish supermarket, but attacks on France as a nation, thus turning them into a national tragedy.
Fighting terrorism in AfricaWhile the president and his government were busy mobilising their peers in other countries and strategising the French response to the attacks, the French people did not sit and wait for their government to come and tell them what to do. They took to the streets, orchestrating the largest people’s protest in French history. As a result, European leaders, the world media and the international community as a whole responded in a befitting manner. How then do we expect same reaction for Baga?
The Paris terrorist attacks have exposed huge gaps in Africa’s efforts to fight terrorism.
The response of the global media and the international community at large to incidents of terror is often dependent on the response of the nation under attack.
After the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013, which killed at least 67 people, the nation, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, rose united to condemn the killings. This also resulted in extensive coverage of the attack by the global media.
When Nigerians took to the streets en masse to protest against the kidnapping of young Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram in April 2014, the international community came out in full support of Nigeria’s efforts. The global media also accorded priority to the issue for nearly a month.
These examples seriously undermine the claim of double standards. What this tells us is that we as Africans must first play our part before expecting others to play theirs.
Martin Ewi is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies
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