Gabriel Banda Peace Notes, 12:
Abducted Nigeria Girls and the America Brand
Gabriel C Banda
THE recent abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls at Nigeria’s Chibok Girls Secondary School has deeply stirred worldwide concern, including demonstrations and high social media postings.
The abduction and other violent attacks, sabotage, massacres, and destruction before and after April 15, 2014 are of concern not just in Nigeria and Africa but the whole world. Captured girls are from backgrounds of Christianity and Islam.
The Chibok incident is touching our common humanity. Those who condemn the abduction and other violence by militants include Muslims.
It is important that responses to the abduction lead to the safety and freedom of the hostages. With relevant approaches and even some types of external support, it is possible for Nigeria’s authorities to swiftly make recovery of the captives.
Responses and approaches should minimise harm to the girls, their families, communities, and society. While there is a wider anti-terrorism and anti-banditry context, approaches used should not endanger the safety of the held school girls and other persons in other parts of Nigeria and beyond.
Some of us were worried when, with innocence, Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan said his government had made approaches to the United States to help in dealing with the hostage situation. Later, United State’s President Obama and John Kerry and Britain’s David Cameron said they would be involved in supporting Nigeria deal with the abduction.
And France was reported to be ready to get involved. It has also been reported that Israel’s government offered to help Nigeria in this Chibok issue. In the Middle East, the Israeli, Palestinian, and anti-Israel forces are some of world’s most skilled and efficient forces when it comes to fighting in non-regular warfare. Yet open involvement or suspected involvement of Israel and others may lead to negative effects.
Officials from governments of Nigeria, USA, Britain and others should have been careful about talking about the involvement of forces of external governments in the Chibok hostages mission. External interest may be well meaning but can contribute to deepened hostilities.
Already some officials from external governments have been quoted as discussing Nigeria officials and government’s unannounced and closed door responses and positions.
But openly asking for external military assistance in rescuing the hostages and combating bandits has many implications. Who comes in to assist will also affect direction of the rescue and the whole conflict.
Officials of Nigeria and external governments should avoid making pronouncements that can lead to negative effects on the held girls. They should also consider the effects of the announcements on relationships in the Nigerian society and the neighbours.
There may be some fear that external forces may take over control of the anti-insurgency work and people then begin giving the activities some American or other external branding. Branding may go together with marketing the brand through activities of “visibility.”
The entry of external forces may or may not be worrying to the captors. Captors might feel they have made some achievements by bringing into the conflict offshore troops from western governments. They may feel their status raised. Some bandits may welcome the USA and external involvement, seeing this as a new stage to proudly go to and take the conflict to another level.
Actions to free the Chibok girls and also protect the public from acts of sabotage need wide support. But open involvement of external forces may make persons who don’t support terrorism but are still critical of, or opposed to, the USA and other governments not to be supportive of the mission against the Chibok captors.
Currently, the primary task is to get the release of the school girl hostages. One has to be careful about not getting this to be overridden by other actions, attitudes, and policies towards terrorism. The general action against terrorism and banditry is important. Yet some policies and stances may affect recovery of the hostages.
For instance, Americans and others have official policy, generally inflexible, about not bargaining and negotiating with terrorists, captors, and hostage takers. Yet there may actually be instances where negotiation with bandits is a useful step to safety, conflict resolution, and deeper understanding. A hope is that policies and positions should not endanger the Chibok school girls.
With governments collaborating, it is easier to quickly deal with abductions and the conflicts behind them. But how they get involved is important. For some governments, some presence in the Chibok crisis is useful for the external governments’ own continuous training and preparedness.
It is possible for governments of the United States and others to be so involved in Chibok as part of their worldwide anti-terror programme that they may put their brand on the Nigeria situation. This may create difficulties for the held hostages. Anti-American feelings may rise when US and other forces openly get involved. Existing hostilities and conflict may escalate.
A risk is that the Chibok abductions may be considered by external forces to be part of their own worldwide fight against anti-western banditry and violence. They may view Chibok with their past and current lenses and incorporate it into “the fight against terror.”
Some governments have fairly advanced equipment and technology, but you need more than machines to solve human conflict. Some methods Americans and others have used in some parts of the world have worked well while some have led to responses of more violence and terrorism. Negotiators and those intervening must be sensitive to local knowledge and processes, otherwise they may create problems.
External involvement has potential of aggravating hostile attitudes and actions by bandits involved in abduction. Some people are already hostile to forces and peoples of the United States, Israel, and allies. External involvement may provide branding that may create further problems for the situation.
Some military presence, approach, and rescue attempts do not ensure success but may create big problems. Crucial is understanding of local environment, local social issues, and local negotiation dynamics. Insensitive external input may endanger our young sisters.
While banditry and terror occur in many parts of the world, there must be close focus on local conditions, approaches, and issues. Working on relationships and human approaches is what finally settles issues. External supporters must study local ways of doing things, settling conflict, and reaching agreements. Roots of grievances should be considered.
You need to involve those with some influence on abductors and government. This may include the use of elders, persons of religious and spiritual influence, and other persons in reaching the abductors and moving towards release, safety, and freedom of the young women.
In many parts of the world, there is abduction, enslavement, and abuse of women, boys, and other innocent civilians by militant combatants. There is use of non combatants as hostages and even human shields against attacks. The innocent are used for bargaining in grievances.
Militants seem to feel the result justifies the means. They believe the extremity in the use of the Chibok girls as bargaining factors against government forces will bring them desired results. In the captors’ view, the Chibok girls, attracting worldwide concern, are some huge bargaining chip.
Although assistance may be required from all angles as the Chibok event is a concern for the whole of humanity, there must be caution on how external support gets involved.
Priority of government, families, and many in the world should be to have the girls released, even if it means going against policies of external governments.
The key expectation of the families of the Chibok school girls and the wider society worldwide is safety and freedom from violence for the captives and other communities.
The announcements of external interests and involvement may delay or endanger the safe return of our young sisters. External support, even with goodwill and sincere intentions by providers, must be handled very carefully.
The Chibok event can provide chance to do something about abductions, enslavement, and human trafficking worldwide. It can be time for Nigeria to find effective solutions to insurgency.
While external support can be useful and some forms of it should be allowed, in this situation, to succeed effectively and sustainably, the Chibok girls rescue process must be locally rooted and not externally branded.
Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing and the arts, social development, and peace issues. He holds an MA in Peace Studies, University of Bradford.
GCB, May 2014, LUSAKA.