When the patent absurdity of using selfies and Twitter messages to convince Islamist savages in Nigeria to return their slaves is pointed out, it is sometimes argued that Boko Haram isn’t the true target of Hashtag Diplomacy. Instead, it’s supposed to either rally the “international community” in outrage, or pressure the Nigerian government into cracking down on the terrorists.
On the former point, if I’m ever in a tight spot on foreign soil, I hope “international outrage” isn’t the only thing standing between me and a firing squad or slave market. The international community gets outraged about a lot of things, and it doesn’t make a lick of difference. One reason for this is the willingness of heavyweight patrons like China or Russia to step in on behalf of small-time hoods like Bashar Assad of Syria. But perhaps more importantly, media-cultivated communal outrage is the objective of these crusades, not a means to an end. Once everyone has been seen expressing fashionable opinions – and the selfies-for-justice craze is explicitly about being seen holding up your dopey hashtag on a hand-lettered sign – they feel as if their duty has been done. The actual fate of the oppressed is a trivial concern, compared to striking the right poses and getting media exposure.
On the latter point, pressuring the Nigerian government isn’t going to accomplish much, as a Nigerian soldier explained to Sky News:
He spoke to us on condition of anonymity: “If my superiors know I have spoken to you, I will be jailed and tortured.”
But he described an army which is haemorrhaging morale and which lacks the will or the means to take on the terrorists.
He said his views reflected the feelings felt throughout the army about the war on terror in Nigeria’s northeast.
“They give us just AK47s to go into the bush to fight Boko Haram,” he told us.
“Our equipment doesn’t work and they give us just two magazines (60 bullets) to go into the bush.”
He went on to say many soldiers were complaining about not receiving their allowances and being made to wait weeks, sometimes months, for salaries to be paid.
“It’s not right,” he said.
“We feel so bad because we … are trying, the soldiers are trying our best but the civilians don’t realise what the Nigerian army is issued with, what they are given to go and fight the Boko Haram.
“They don’t know the calibre of the weapons that the Nigerian army is giving them.
“The calibre of the Boko Haram weapons is past (better) than the Nigerian army weapon.”
This point was underscored when the president of Nigeria, the ironically named Goodluck Jonathan, allegedly canceled a visit to the frontlines of Boko Haram terrorism because he was worried about his security. The security of the people who live there is not even a serious topic of discussion.
I’ll repeat my earlier critique of Hashtag Diplomacy: the selfie brigade isn’t communicating with anyone except each other, and the media that fawns over its high-ranking magazine-cover officers.