It amazes me every time a story such as the one we are witnessing today–the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the terrorist organization known as Boko Haram, occurs that–it suddenly eclipses everything I know about the African continent.
Many of us with roots deeply planted in the African homeland are disgusted when this happens. It becomes a mantra driven by the 24/7 news cycle that trumps everything else we know about the continent.
But it strikes me even more today when many people ask questions about why Boko Haram is doing what they are doing.
Someone even asked me if it is safe to travel to Cameroon these days. They are thinking about a tour of Cameroon and they are not sure if they should book the trip anymore. They are hearing a lot of things about Boko Haram in Cameroon. Is it safe to travel there, I am asked?
And here lies the crux of the matter–the danger and the damages that the Boko Haram disaster is costing to the entire continent. These are what I like to call the intangibles–lost opportunities for travel and investment from the average Joe when negativity rules headline news about Africa.
I might add that the same happens to Mexico and many countries in South America when news about drugs gangs and kidnappings happen there, across the Southern American border with Mexico. And suddenly no one wants to travel to Mexico for Spring Break anymore.
The business environment that attracts what is called Foreign Direct Investment or FDI into many African nations is being impacted in many ways by this tragedy.
Writing about ‘How Africa Is Losing Billions To Conflicts’ on May 8, Nigerian writer, Niyi Aderibigbe cites an Oxfam report which puts the cost of conflict-related activity since the end of the Cold War until 2007 at an estimated $241 billion.
Aderibigbe thinks about a Nigeria without Boko Haram, an Egypt without the political crises, a Libya without civil war, a Somalia without conflict, a Mali as well as a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) without conflict. He says, “that’s Africa with additional $18 billion saved. This can be expended on further developing the continent’s much needed infrastructure deficit.’
He does not end there.
‘For what it is worth, Africa is seeing marginal but commendable strides in terms of leadership, with the continent now able to boast of leaders and individuals that are championing a new era of growth, despite all odds. Democracy is gradually taking root in Africa and leaders are becoming more accountable. Thus, if high levels of poverty, failed political institutions and economic dependence on natural resources were the major causes of conflicts, Africa is managing to steer itself through the midst of challenges, as countries on the continent are embracing political stability, birthed exponential economic growth.’
In ‘What’s Wrong With Our Well-Intentioned Boko Haram Coverage,’ on May 9, The Wire’s Arit John states that Western media coverage of the issue has ‘reflected the oversimplified and paternalistic narrative western countries have of Africa, a narrative that underestimates the damage of colonialism and overestimates the ability of those former colonizers to help at the same time.’
The African news narrative has been altered by this tragedy. Of course—the Boko Haram saga needs to be condemned and Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan and is his administration, even while slow in dealing with the problem, need our support as they work on the situation. My hope is that the Boko Haram people are punished severely for their deadly actions.