I am Baga. I am an African. And it concerns me – all of this madness and mayhem. I am Charlie second to being Baga. Yet the eyes of the world are so focused on the Charlie Hebdo terrorism that the increasing insidious acts of terror in our backyard are being overlooked by even the African citizens and African media. Don’t get me wrong, a life lost, Baga or Charlie is a needless loss to me and the world, but ponder these facts with me…
Boko Haram is steadily increasing its grip in West Africa and particularly in Nigeria. Their acts of terror, violence and bloodshed are seemingly becoming so commonplace they are being overlooked and sidelined in the face of other news. The Baga incident shows an escalation by Boko Haram: the body count is said to be as high as 2,000. Baga town was razed, with most victims being children, women and the elderly who could not run fast enough to avoid the rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifle fire. Tell me how a death toll of 2,000 equating more or less to 133 Charlie Hebdo attacks is ignored by the world?
How about the young tender girl at the market place of Maiduguri, where at least 20 people were killed when explosives attached to her detonated? Although not clear, Boko Haram is thought to be responsible.
And yet we watched our African statesmen marching and mourning amongst the approximately 1.6 million in Paris who turned out in solidarity for the Charlie Hebdo attack. Where are the marches in Africa for the Baga massacre? Where are even the public condemnations and editorials of outrage for Baga?
The Africa Alliance of YMCAs takes a firm stand on the Boko Haram reign of terror and the recent Baga incidents: we shout out that it needs to be stopped. We need as African countries to stand together and act against the terror attacks raging in the West of our continent.
Along with Al Shabaab and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), all virulent threats to world peace, Boko Haram has a strong youth focus. It is the common youth in our society that you and I might know; the 15-20-year-old boy or girl next door; the one we may chose to ignore as a common nuisance who is easy prey to these terror groups! We even easily dismiss some as young people from dysfunctional families, depressed youth, unemployed and without income. Yet they experience widespread and deep disengagement from the social, economic and political systems and an associated growing sense of radical disaffection. Yes! This group of youth is angry; feels alienated and disenfranchised from society. They are not interested in merely talking about their problems and lot in life; they are desperate and burning for an opportunity to take action and change their lives; they believe joining a movement offers economic, social and psychological rewards, an adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity. These are youth who easily fall prey to recruiters who are mostly their friends, people they trust, and people who offer them what they are missing in life!
We must arise and offer our younger generation alternatives and choices to develop their identity, and feel engaged without resorting to violence and terror. We at the Africa Alliance of YMCAs are working on solutions that transform youth from subjects to citizens to effect positive change in their environment; giving them Voice, Space and Ability to Influence positively. We call on governments, civil society and private sector to step up youth empowerment initiatives to offer healthy and positive solutions to a generation of young people hungry for acceptance, engagement and change.
We call on our African governments to provide more decisive leadership in the fight against terror in our continent. Let us show we value the lives of our citizens more, lest we continue to be eclipsed by world events where few lives lost are seemingly more important than thousands in our lands.
Let us join together and show that we are willing to rise up, value ourselves and take care of our young people. How can we expect those outside of Africa to value us if we don’t? We must stop Boko Haram – for the sake of our own lives and the legacy we leave for the younger generation and the world.
So yes I am Charlie, provided it is not just for the French cartoonists, but for all those who are denied the right to express themselves or to simply exist. I am Charlie yes, but I am profoundly Baga!
* Carlos Sanvee is General Secretary of African Alliance of YMCAs.