On 14 April 2014, nearly three hundred girls in Nigeria were abducted from their boarding school in the northern-eastern state of Borno. Three weeks later the discussion regarding the fate of these girls has shifted from the bottom of your CNN screen to a major story in the 24-hour news cycle. Western leaders are weighing in and western media arguing why you should care. More importantly, as CNN claims, there are “6 reasons why the world should demand action.” These 276 Nigerian girls have become the West’s latest crusade in Africa.
Of course we should care. We should care because these are innocent victims, caught in the crossfire of global tensions between the West and sub-state actors who are reticent to conform to superimposed liberal values. Of course we should care because these girls could easily be our own daughters, granddaughters, sisters, cousins. Of course we should care because we are human.
Because we care, we feel like we should do something. But that something may come at a terrible price if it is not the right something.
Good intentions aren’t enough. And sometimes, good intentions can have grave consequences for the victims involved.
While I commend the media and the many outraged activists who have put this story on the front page and in the minds of policymakers, I fear that they have not taken into account that their good intentions, their care for these young victims, may be quite dangerous and threaten the lives of the very people they hope to save. They have provided little suggestion as to how the Nigerian government with or without the assistance from Western powers should intervene to rescue these girls.
In reality, our tools at extracting hostages are still quite blunt. Often there are innocent casualties in the process. A hasty intervention might lead to a slaughter. The threat of an intervention might pressure Boko Haram to sell the girls more quickly, dispersing them throughout Nigeria and abroad, making it much more difficult to locate and rescue them. Worse yet, the threat of an intervention might incentivize the execution of these young girls. Their lives as commodities, to be frank, may become too much of a risk for Boko Haram.
This doesn’t mean we should do nothing. But it does mean that we need to be patient and find a solution that does not risk the lives of those we are trying to assist.