20 May 2014

Nigeria: #BringBackOurGirls and the Trouble With Hashtag Diplomacy


Thanks largely to a huge social media campaign, there is now unprecedented pressure on the Nigerian government to somehow secure the release of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. The more publicity the better, the theory goes. Unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as that. SIMON ALLISON wonders if all the attention has only made it harder for everyone involved to reach the necessary compromises.

Kidnappings are a fact of life in Nigeria. It is a rare day that passes without a kidnapping. According to one database, there were 3,608 kidnappings in 2013 alone, and 2,285 in the first four months of 2014. It is an epidemic.

But it's also a business. Kidnap victims rarely die - that would defeat the point, which is to extort ransom money out of desperately worried families. There are established mechanisms to negotiate a ransom and pay it, and more often than not the kidnap victim makes it home in one piece.

It's in this context that Islamist militant group Boko Haram made the decision to abduct as many schoolgirls as they could get their hands on (nearly 300, although no one is sure of the exact number). They weren't looking for ransom money,...

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