3 weeks ago over 200 teenage girls were abducted from their boarding school by Boko Haram militants in Northern Nigeria. What followed next was 3 weeks of international media completely ignoring these girls and the Nigerian government doing nothing to recover these girls. Tragically, reports filed in that the girls were being sold off as the Boko Haram moved through the northern territory. Out of sheer despair and the need to call attention to the plight of the girls, Nigerian Attorney Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi created the hashtag #bringbackourgirls on twitter, an adaptation of a chant he had heard on TV.
It took 3 weeks but the online campaign finally gained momentum worldwide with nearly 2 million re-tweets and celebrities and high profile individuals using it. What was lost in all this, is that not only has the Nigerian government done little to respond to the numerous calls to find these girls, nor are the Nigerian authorities effective in dealing with Boko Haram who thus far have been responsible for hundreds of deaths in addition to numerous abductions of women and children in the North, making the region one of the most dangerous places in Nigeria.
It’s certainly ironic that 200 black girls can go missing and the whole world ignores this until American celebrities notice. But what’s even more disturbing is the fact that we in Kenya can talk of how devastating Boko Haram is while our own daughters suffer similar injustices in Kenya. The Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence better known as the Waki commission found that there were over 900 cases of sexual and gender based violence and described this as just the tip of the ice-berg. It is estimated by human rights organizations that up to 40,000 cases of sexual violence may have occurred during the 3 month period leading up to and after the signing of the National Peace and Reconciliation Accord (NARA).
The fact that rape and sexual violence was used extensively during the PEV and in particular targeting women and girls has been quietly swept under the rug, even as much of the attention has been deftly diverted from the victims of PEV to suspects charged with crimes against humanity at the ICC. It has now become part of our national narrative, to accuse the Office of the Prosecutor and the then chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of not only failing to conduct thorough investigations into the PEV as recommended by the Waki report, but also of coercing, bribing and causing witnesses to lie about suspects charged and about the events of 2008.
In just 2 short years, the ICC has been morphed from being the sole resort for justice for suspects to being dubbed a “western” court that is purely political and targets Africans. In all of this humdrum rhetoric the women and girls who suffered so brutally are completely forgotten.
Along come Boko Haram, and their brazen abduction of over 200 girls and all of a sudden even the political class in Kenya is concerned about the situation. The graphic irony in this is that, just like our own suspects who are charged with crimes against humanity, the ICC is also alert to the fact that there is reason to believe Boko Haram is guilty of similar crimes. See: http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/Documents/OTP%20Preliminary%20Examinations/OTP%20-%20Report%20%20Preliminary%20Examination%20Activities%202013.PDF
The sort of hypocrisy displayed by Kenyans when it comes to victims and the ICC is completely unpalatable. Whenever it suits us, we lambast the ICC, witnesses and victims as “paid by westerners.” Whenever it suits us, we lament the plight of women and girls who are savaged in conflict by militia. We cannot, in all good conscience find the actions of Boko Haram alarming and repulsive while at the same time conveniently glaze over the rape of our own women and girls as though they don’t exist.
The reason it took 3 weeks for the world to even notice that 200 girls had been kidnapped into sexual slavery is because we, as a continent do not care about women and girls and we are least concerned for their safety or lives. If we ourselves don’t care about African women, why should the rest of the world? If we can actually argue that the ICC is working for western political interests when it seeks justice for hundreds of victims of sexual violence in conflict simply because of our own political affiliations then why should we expect the same ICC to give women and girls justice when it comes to Boko Haram?
In the eyes of the law, suspects of crimes against humanity are equally subject to a judicial process regardless of our own emotional or political ties. It’s quite possible that if some political arguments were to be considered then even Boko Haram is being “oppressed by western paid elements in a Kangaroo court.” If you find such a thought unacceptably illogical when it comes to Boko Haram, then you should find the same when it comes to all other suspects.