Do black lives in Africa matter?
No nation in Africa is receiving more attention right now than Wakanda. And why not since, as Anthony Lane writes in The New Yorker, Wakanda is “a model of serenity,” that also is “wisely ruled,” in addition to being “an unplundered homeland, blooming from liberty rather than from bondage.”
Of course, one answer to that question might be that Wakanda is a figment of the imagination, the fictional birthplace of the “Black Panther,” superhero of the eponymous motion picture that reviewers in the mainstream media have been praising to the skies.
A second possible answer: In real African countries, terrible things are happening. For example, last week in Dapchi, in northeast Nigeria, armed gangs of men stormed through 15 villages massacring Christians, destroying their churches and ransacking their villages.
Toronto Star columnist Tarek Fateh pointed out that these atrocities “could not find space in any major newspaper or TV network other than the Daily Express in the U.K.”
Those attacking were Muslims of the Fulani ethnic group. Their Christian victims were mostly Tivs. Many Fulanis are nomadic cattle herders. Tivs are mostly settled farmers. Fulanis see no good reason not to graze their cattle on Tiv lands, even if that destroys Tiv crops. So this conflict is not only about religion. That makes it no less lethal but it does make it easier for journalists to ignore.
Meanwhile, however, and in the same general region of Nigeria, members of Boko Haram — a group unambiguously motivated by religion — last week seized a girls school. At least 100 students are now missing, presumed kidnapped, enslaved and soon to be “married” to Boko Haram jihadists.
Four years ago, you may recall, 276 girls were abducted from Chibok, a village in the same region. That led to the highly publicized but ineffectual #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
“Whatever happened to #BringBackOurGirls?” Christopher Dickey, the Paris-based foreign editor of the Daily Beast tweeted in regard to the latest abductions. “The lack of international interest in this case reflects the fickle character of the news cycle.” Yes, that. But perhaps it reflects more than that?
Boko Haram has slaughtered thousands of people, including 900 Nigerians last year, “marginally more” than in 2016, according to the BBC. It increasingly deploys women and children as suicide bombers, preserving its able-bodied men for more conventional combat. Its terror has spread into neighboring Cameroon and Chad as well.
Three years ago next month, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State which, though recently defeated in much of Syria and Iraq, remains as active as ever in Africa. My colleague, Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), reports that in Niger, former al Qaeda commander Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui leads a group that has “fought in the caliphate’s name since 2015.”
Last October, that group claimed responsibility for killing four American and five Nigerien soldiers. Another Islamic State franchise dominates the northern Puntland region of Somalia in the Horn of Africa.
In Mali, in West Africa, an al Qaeda affiliate killed two French soldiers last week. In that country and surrounding lands, Mr. Joscelyn notes, al Qaeda has become “especially prolific.” At least 22 Malian soldiers were killed in five separate raids in north and central Mali last month alone. Jihadist terrorism also has seeped into neighboring Burkina Faso.
The International Crisis Group warned last year that the entire Sahel, the vast and impoverished region south of the Sahara, “remains on a trajectory toward greater violence and widening instability. Jihadists, armed groups and entrenched criminal networks — sometimes linked to national and local authorities — continue to expand and threaten the stability of already weak states.” Not just al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but also Ansar Eddine and al-Mourabitoun appear to be strengthening.
In a report published this week, “Evolving Terror: The Development of Jihadist Operations Targeting Western Interests in Africa,” FDD senior fellow Daveed Gartenstein-Ross confirms that assessment. “The threat that jihadist groups in Africa pose to Western interests has grown over the past decade,” he writes, “as groups operating in North Africa, the Sahel, West Africa and the Horn of Africa have honed their capabilities.”
He and his fellow researchers cite 358 “successful, thwarted, or failed attacks” against Western interests in these regions between January 2012 and October 2017 – triple the number between January 2007 and December 2011. Perhaps more consequentially, African terrorists are learning and innovating. “Jihadist operations have generally become more sophisticated,” the report concludes.
The media show little interest in these bloody developments. Those enthusing over the heroism of the Black Panther and the charms of Wakanda appear entirely oblivious.
In his Vox review, Tre Johnson calls the film an “opportunity to celebrate everything from Afrofuturism to the natural hair movement.” He adds: “Wakanda has emerged as a vision of what’s possible.” Those with the vaguest notion of current African reality know that’s utter nonsense. But few will be so politically incorrect as to point it out.
Even social justice warriors are turning a blind eye to real-life Africa. Black Lives Matter claims to have a “Black Lives Matter Global Network,” calls itself “part of the global Black family,” and asserts its commitment to “liberation for all Black people.”
So how about the black people of Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and the many other African lands who are right now facing slaughter and enslavement at the hands of self-proclaimed jihadists? Do their lives matter? If not, why not? And if they do, why not talk about them once in a while?
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for the Washington Times.
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