Radio Silence

Why the Western world ignores third world crises

Lizzie Goncharova

Lizzie Goncharova

Over the course of several hours, 147 people were killed and countless others wounded in what has been determined to be the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya in seventeen years. On April 2, four gunmen entered Garissa University College in Kenya, separating the students by religion and murdering without mercy. And there is a decent chance you haven’t heard about it.

This, of course, is nothing new. Africa is geographically distant from us, and ignorance of the political and social status of each of its countries is commonplace in America. However, when horrific attacks such as the Garissa massacre and countless others occur, it is imperative that we show global support. After all, mass murder is not something that we condone in our Western society. We should be upset when it happens elsewhere.

A number of journalists have made statements defending the media outlets for their minimal coverage of terror events in Africa. Many spoke in particular about the coverage of the Boko Haram attacks in Baga, a town in Nigeria’s northern state of Borno. The attacks there took place only a few days before the widely-publicized Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. Twelve people were killed in the office of the French satirical magazine, and four more were killed the following day in a Jewish supermarket. In comparison, the nearly two thousand casualties of the Baga massacres were given relatively little notice. This lack of adequate coverage is due in part to the difficulty of getting the full story.

“Journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram,” says reporter for The Guardian, Maeve Shearlaw, explaining the difficulties faced by those covering the story in Baga. “Unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications.” These obstacles make reporters uneasy about chasing these important stories, but even when they do, there is the issue of verifiability: making sure the casualty count and other important facts are correct.

This lack of adequate coverage is due in part to the difficulty of getting the full story.

“Everyone has been burned at one time or another,” says Mark Porubcansky of MinnPost, “and no one wants to report something as fact, only to have to back down.” This fear for their reputations, especially in the wake of the Brian Williams scandal, leads the media to choose safer news stories where they can be sure of their information.

It is not only the media who have given the shaft to these devastating events. After the Boko Haram attacks, the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, gave his condolences and support to France in a released statement without mentioning the horrors that had happened in his own country.

“The president believes that the cowardly and ignoble attack by violent extremists is a monstrous assault on the right to freedom of expression,” said the statement released by his office the day following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office. With no such statement condemning the militant attacks in Baga, a lack of internal support is demonstrated. This omission by President Jonathan creates the sense that even to Nigeria, Western terror attacks are more significant than those of developing or third world countries.

The news media were not the only ones who failed to give adequate support to the events of Boko Haram in Baga. On social media, too, there was very little buzz about the terror occurring in Nigeria. The most stunning displays of outrage and unity from the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred on social media outlets, such as the “Je Suis Charlie” protest that started on twitter and spread worldwide. While social media campaigns did respond to the Boko Haram’s kidnapping of more than 270 school girls in April of 2014 with the plea, “Bring Back Our Girls,” there has been no such campaign for the Baga attacks. Why all of the silence now?

Part of what connects us to the Charlie Hebdo attack is its relationship to important American ideals. As an attack on freedom of speech and expression, we see it as an attack on a core American value. Showing support for the victims of such an attack, though it occurred on foreign soil, evokes a sense of national pride and sociologically reinforces the importance of that ideal in our country. We can feel a strong sense of empathy for those in France because we understand their values and culture as being relatively similar to ours.

Part of what connects us to the Charlie Hebdo attack is its relationship to important American ideals. As an attack on freedom of speech and expression, we see it as an attack on a core American value.

Unfortunately, this understanding does not reach countries such as Nigeria and Kenya. We should have seen the Baga and Garissa massacres as attacks on religious freedom. But there is a mentality in our society that horrific events such as these are endemic to regions in Africa and the Middle East. The normalcy we associate with violence and oppression in these countries allows us to view the terror attacks with a dangerous apathy. With the world as globalized as it has become, it is necessary for us to support countries in conflict and show that we, as an international community, still strive for a goal of world peace.