#BringBackOurGirls: Zooming Out But Staying Focused

The world has been watching, lamenting, and agitating for over a month now about the 276 kidnapped girls from Chibok. We are still waiting and praying for their release or rescue, and while we wait, the world’s powers have been trying to catch up and see what they can do to help our Nigerian sisters.

Nigerian Girls in Captivity

The #BringBackOurGirls movement has gone from obscurity to oversaturating the media in the span of a couple weeks. It has garnered so much attention that on Thursday May 15th the US Senate convened a hearing with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls in its title. But has all this attention even been helpful or what exactly can the US do that wouldn’t make things worse than they already are?

Our Action Alert called upon Brethren to contact their elected leaders to raise awareness and ask them to encourage the State Department and other government actors to take notice and assess how we could help. But what is it that they’ve determined and how is the US getting involved? That’s what we went to this hearing to find out.

Much of what was discussed by the Subcommittee on African Affairs revolved around Boko Haram’s origins, the contextual situation of Northern/Northeastern Nigeria, and finally how the US and international community is already involved and how it plans to continue its involvement. Speakers from the State Department, USAID, and Pentagon all testified, and by the end of their testimony it was clear that although the concern was great, there are many tangible realities limiting any effective outside response to the kidnapping.

As Brethren are all too aware, life in Northern Nigeria is tough, and it has been that way for a while. This kidnapping did not happen in a vacuum, but rather is a grotesque manifestation of the insecurity that exists there all the time. The lack of good governance, quality education, reliable infrastructure, widespread peacebuilding practices, and stable local policing has created a region in Northern Nigeria where corruption is rife and many Nigerians are left to fend for themselves. Especially children. We heard in a separate Congressional briefing the day before that 10.5 million of the world’s 57.5 million primary school aged children that do not attend school are Nigerian. And of those 10.5 million Nigerians, 9 million are from the North. According to A World At School, these figures mean Nigeria has the largest number of out of school children in the whole world.

I say these things not to distract us from the plight of our girls, but instead to point us to some of the larger issues that this crisis was born out of. We are mistaken if we think that all of a sudden these social problems will be solved if the Nigerian government gets its act together and safely rescues the girls. We cannot allow ourselves to entertain such fantasies or even the idea that the US can solve these issues for the Nigerians. The problems that have presented themselves are much more complex than that. This last point was hammered home at the hearing.

We heard that an inter-agency team had been deployed to Nigeria with representatives from State/USAID/Pentagon “to provide military and law enforcement assistance, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support” (Jackson 2). But all of the panelists testifying would not go any further in speculating what the US would do in response, and although that seems very frustrating, it is probably a good sign.

Too often the United States has jumped head first into conflicts without thinking through what exactly its goals are or what unforeseen consequences could arise. Obviously we want to bring back the girls who have been kidnapped, but we also don’t want to go in and make more of a mess than what is already present. And we definitely don’t want to perpetuate the idea that once these girls are back home safe, that everything will be hunky dory in Nigeria. There is no easy solution, and that’s scary.

What we truly have to do is zoom out and see the big picture while still holding the plight of the girls in our hearts. This is where the final testimony from Nigerian peacebuilder Lantana Adbullahi comes in to play. Ms. Abdullahi, a Muslim peacebuilder who works for Search For Common Ground in Jos, Nigeria, praised the US and other countries for raising up the plight of the girls, but she was quick to add,

“While securing the girls’ release will be a short term gain, ensuring lasting peace in the region requires that the militancy issue be addressed from multiple angles. It also requires the engagement of all stakeholders – communities, civil society, government, and its international partners – to ensure context-specific and sustainable solutions to improve human security, peacebuilding, and the prevention of future atrocities.”

This is the tough pill that we must swallow. Peace does not come instantaneously or with a swift military response, but rather through the consistent embodiment of Christ’s peace through the hard work of reconciliation and empowerment that people like Ms. Abdullahi and our EYN brothers and sisters do each day in their communities. We must continue to pray for God’s great power to save these girls, but we must also pray for the guidance and humility to become faithful disciples that learn how to build and teach peace in our communities and around the world.

In situations like this, the world can feel utterly broken beyond repair, but we must never forget that our savior remains, as Pastor Brian Zahnd recently remarked, a carpenter who is repairing and restoring God’s good world.

Amen.

-Bryan Hanger

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