Stillwater News Press

Opinion

May 14, 2014

DONNA BRAZILE: Get the girls back; treat the problem

STILLWATER, Okla. — The terrorist told the schoolgirls, “Don't worry – we're soldiers. Nothing is going to happen to you.” The man gathered the girls in the schoolyard. Then he and other “soldiers” began yelling, “God is Great!” That's when the girls knew they were in trouble.

So began The Associated Press' chilling interview with a 16-year-old Nigerian girl who escaped the Boko Haram terrorists over three weeks ago. Her schoolmates weren't so lucky; 276 children remain captured. Now, the girls will be sold as sex-slaves – or “brides” – as the terrorist leader euphemistically put it.

Behind the headlines, and the horror and outrage they generate, there's another story. Nigeria, despite being the largest economy in Africa, is in trouble. The terrorist kidnapping of schoolgirls is a symptom of a deeper disease. The symptom needs immediate treatment; the girls must be brought home, safe and unharmed. But then the underlying disease must be diagnosed and treated.

There's massive unemployment in Nigeria, especially among the youth. Economic inequality and gender inequality are creating an atmosphere of despair and desperation. Wambura Kimunyu, a blogger in Kenya, tweeted, “There's an ominous thread that ties Boko Haram in Nigeria with Al Shabaab Terror in East Africa, the uprisings in Egypt (and) the growing problem of youth disenfranchisement and youth unemployment in Africa. Our populations are young, they exist largely at the margins of society, and there are few prospects for them.”

Boko Haram, like terrorists and gangs everywhere, recruits the desperate, the depressed, the fearful. Boko Haram, like demagogues and oligarchs everywhere, fears an educated people.

 "We ran and ran, so fast," said the 16-year-old who escaped. "That is how I saved myself. I had no time to be scared, I was just running." She fled with other girls along a dark, lonely, dangerous road, finally aided in getting home by a man on a bicycle.

"I'm the only girl in my family, so I hold a special place and everyone was so happy," the girl told the AP. "But that didn't last long. I am really lucky and I can thank God for that. But God must help all of them. ... Their parents are worrying. Every day, everyone is crying."

One of her classmates who didn't escape wants to be a doctor. If not rescued, she may spend her life as a sex slave. A search by male neighbors for others had to be abandoned when an old man they encountered warned they were close, but all would be killed if they tried to confront the captors.

Local authorities told the Voice of America that the Nigerian government is “outmatched and outgunned.” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged in 2012 that the organization had infiltrated his government at many levels. Boko Haram has brutal ideological extremists, and also violence-prone young men who are "just" criminals. Amnesty International says the group has killed over 1,500 Nigerians this year.

After we treat the symptom – getting the girls back, immediately – we need to start treating the disease: gender and economic inequality across Africa, and around the world.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.

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