On the Apparent Lack of Leadership Responses [opinion]

THE deafening silence of the Namibian government, as well as that of governments of numerous other African countries on the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok, northern Nigeria, by the militant Boko Haram group about a month ago, is highly distressing.

Among the country’s political leaders, only the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) (to their credit) seem concerned with the situation, as they issued a statement that appeared in last week’s letters section of this paper, condemning the events.

The SPYL secretary for international affairs, Edward Konjeni Kafita, expressed the youth league’s dismay over the silence of African leaders in regard to the kidnapping and other terrorist activities of Boko Haram and demanded an urgent response from African statesmen and women.

SPYL “called on African leaders, the African Union in particular, to immediately establish an African force to go after Boko Haram to arrest the perpetrators and return the young girls to their parents or to the school where they were abducted from.”

The youth league pointed out repeatedly that the hopes of many young people on the continent lie with the African Union – an organisation which to date, has not nearly done enough to commit to the plight of the abducted girls.

At this point, only the chairperson of the African Union Commission has voiced her outrage over the matter.

Speaking during the visit of the Chinese Premier to Addis Ababa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma described the situation as unacceptable, saying “we have to campaign against the abduction of schoolgirls, because girls need education, girls need to be at school. It is their right”.

Dlamini-Zuma requested support from all AU member states and the international community for the Nigerian government to energetically fight the abduction of girls, senseless killings and a series of other vices perpetuated by Boko Haram.

She, however, did not mention any possible involvement of the AU, let alone contributing troops, and also failed to explain why the rescue of the missing girls appears to be such a perilous effort.

It needs to be remembered that a month after their kidnapping, it is highly unlikely that the girls and their militant abductors are still located at the same hideout.

Boko Haram members are said to be always on the move, which makes it increasingly difficult for the Nigerian government and its military to get a firm grip on the terrorist group.

Last week, reports indicated that the girls might have been moved in convoys of cars, probably headed to neighbouring Cameroon. Residents in Borno state also alleged at the time that the border between Nigeria and Cameroon is ‘easy to pass’ if a monetary bribe or other goods are offered to immigration officials on both sides of the frontier.

Airstrikes in the forest, where the girls were and some are still believed to be held, are certainly not an option as they are likely to harm, if not kill, the young captives. A ground assault may not be feasible either, considering the heavily armed abductors are hiding out in an area that marks unfamiliar terrain for the Nigerian troops.

It also seems that the Nigerian military, with its active duty personnel in three armed services, totaling approximately 200 000 troops and 300 000 paramilitary personnel, has been ill-equipped in recent years and thus is unable to adequately deal with the increasing attacks of militant groups.

Being fully aware of the dreadful repercussions the recent kidnapping could hold for numerous Nigerian girls, their families and the country as a whole, the urgent need for the AU to intervene in this issue and not just act as a bystander, while one of its member states faces a heavy crisis, has dramatically intensified.

Lest it be forgotten, one of the objectives of the AU is to “promote peace, security, and stability on the continent”. Among its principles is ‘Peaceful resolution of conflicts among Member States of the Union through such appropriate means as may be decided upon by the Assembly’.

The primary body charged with implementing these objectives and principles is the Peace and Security Council. The PSC has the power, among other things, to authorise peace support missions and to “take initiatives and action it deems appropriate” in response to potential or actual conflicts.

Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act, repeated in article 4 of the Protocol to the Constitutive Act on the PSC, also recognises the right of the Union to intervene in member state in circumstances of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Four weeks after the abduction, human rights groups have raised questions as to when the AU will deem it necessary to intervene in this conflict.

Citizens all over the continent expect the African Union to raise issues of abuse, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and mass killings in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa with immediate effect. They also expect troops to be sent to the West African country and girls to be rescued at once.

Human lives are at stake and no one needs another AU statement to be issued in a couple of weeks, because then, certainly, any rescue mission will be in vain.

*Anne Marcus is a sub-editor at The Namibian. She has previously worked as a researcher in media law and aocacy.

Source : The Namibian