Yesterday, on January 11, 2015, the world witnessed an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity in Paris. In an extraordinary coming together, between 1.2 million to 1.6 million people marched to pay tribute to the recent victims of Islamist terrorism. Apparently the last time such crowds filled the streets of France’s capital was at the Liberation of Paris from the Nazis in 1944.
‘Paris is today the capital of the world,’ President Hollande asserted.
In the central Place de la République, a sea of French flags were waved, alongside signs asking ‘Pourquoi?’ (Why?). Groups spontaneously broke out into ‘La Marseillaise’. The entire event was percolated with shock and outrage at the barbaric attacks which saw seventeen people, including journalists and police, killed in three days, beginning with the now infamous massacre at the offices of the political weekly, Charlie Hebdo, a magazine renowned for its satirical attacks on all sorts of people and beliefs, including Islam.
Elsewhere, at least 3.7 million people took part in silent marches throughout France, the biggest public demonstration ever registered in the country.
In Paris, world leaders rushed to attend the march. In fact, over 40 presidents and prime ministers marched together, with arms linked, on the streets of Paris.
What was notable was that Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita held hands with President François Hollande of France at the head of the march. For a moment, an African leader was front and centre in an event that was globally televised and where the refrain of ‘Je suis Charlie’ was heard everywhere.
This is all very interesting and reflects perhaps the signs of the times. A mass outpouring of outrage and distress at the seventeen killed is understandable in this era where terror seems to strike at any time. I am for not one second diminishing the horrific events in France and the threat posed to all civilised peoples by Islamist extremists.
Yet I cannot avoid a certain unease at this mass march in which African leaders jostled to appear and where African flags were seen being waved in in the Place de la République.
Last week, in the town of Baga in northern Nigeria, the terror group Boko Haram captured a military base. The Islamists then proceeded to drive through the town shooting and firing rocket-propelled grenades. When they departed, they left 2,000 dead in the streets, most of whom were children, women and elderly people. Countless more were injured and/or traumatised and the town was effectively destroyed.
Thus far, more than 10,000 people have been killed over the last five-years by Boko Haram, with more than a million people displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands fleeing across the borders into Chad and Cameroon.
Why is Abuja not ‘the capital of the world’ today? Why is it that African leaders will fly to Paris to express camaraderie and unity after seventeen Europeans are murdered, but are entirely absent if and when 2,000 Africans are butchered? Why has there been no similar march of solidarity by 40 world leaders in Nigeria? Let’s even drastically lower expectations: why has there been no march of solidarity by even one African leader to express sympathy and concern for Nigeria? Are African lives really so worthless?
Je suis Charlie? Oui, absolument.
Mais je suis aussi Baga !
* Ian Taylor is Professor, School of International Relations, University of St. Andrews (Scotland, UK) Chair Professor, Renmin University of China, China, Professor Extraordinary, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and Honorary Professor, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, China