There are very good reasons why the abduction of some 300 teenage girls from their school in a remote area of Nigeria has captured international attention.
Their kidnaping by the terrorist group Boko Haram came while the world was still trying to come to grips with the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and, later, the capsizing of a South Korean ferry.
Little attention was paid to the plight of the girls until a concerted campaign using social media and other forms of communication. It is instructive that pressure in the United States, including from First Lady Michelle Obama, and especially African Americans and African natives, has served to galvanize public opinion that has led to at least some international effort to locate and rescue the students.
While it is true that, as far as is known, the girls are alive, unlike the victims of the ferry boat sinking, who were also students, and, it is presumed, of the airline disaster, the kidnapping has raised important issues about the plight of females, especially girls, in a still largely male-dominated world. Boko Haram seized the students, its leader has said, to prevent them from being exposed to a form of education that the group rejects as it claims a highly dubious adherence to Islam.
It is difficult to refute the argument of those who have seized the opportunity to challenge the subjugation of women, starting with denying them equal education that can enlighten them about the world in which they live – a world where, even in the United States, they will not be considered equal to men.
Also, the pitiful reaction of the Nigerian government to the crisis has shown, once again, Africa’s unwillingness to deal with its problems. One of the largest and most powerful nations on a continent of some 54 countries is unable to put down a murderous rebellion by a handful of people and provide the most basic of governmental functions: security for its citizens. Even as more and more of these countries are being created, such as South Sudan, many of them are still dependent on former colonial masters, some of them for their very survival.
The dream of a united, self-reliant Africa, with all countries working together in harmony to dismantle the inherited neo-colonialist structures and shaping a better tomorrow for the estimated billion Africans who call the continent home, remains far from being fulfilled.
The impotence of the Nigerian government in face of the direct challenge by Boko Haram and the inevitable request for help from foreign countries only serves to make that point.