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Je suis Afrique #JeSuisAfrique

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
By Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, a native of Ghana, is an author, editor, freelance journalist, ghostwriter, public speaker, and lecturer. Her memoir, Willow Weep for Me (W.W. Norton & Co.) was hailed by the Washington Post as "A vividly textured flower of a memoir. One of the finest to come along in years." She is the editor of three anthologies: Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women (Hyperion); Shaking the Tree: New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women (W.W. Norton & Co.); and, The Black Body (Seven Stories). In addition to helping other authors line edit and copyedit their manuscripts, she served, for a brief period, as editor of "The Statesman" newspaper in Ghana. * Ms. Danquah, who earned an Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, with an emphasis in nonfiction writing, has published articles in newspapers, journals, and magazines, such as The Washington Post, the Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times, Allure and Essence. Her essays and poems have been heavily anthologized and used in high school and university textbooks. * As a ghostwriter and editor, Ms. Danquah has worked with celebrities and other high-profile individuals in the worlds of entertainment, business and politics, writing and editing book proposals as well as full-length books, many of which have been "New York Times" bestsellers. She has lectured at Otis College of Art and Sciences, Antioch College's MFA in Creative Writing program, and at the University of Ghana's School of Communication Studies, as well as their Department of English. * In addition to this column on African literature, Ms. Danquah writes a weekly column of cultural criticism, "The View From Here," for the Daily Graphic newspaper in Ghana. Currently, she is completing her first novel. She divides her time between Accra, Ghana and wherever her wanderlust and frequent flyer miles take her.

Posted on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 11:45

The girl couldn’t have been any older than 10, a bomb strapped to her body, concealed by her hijab.

On the afternoon of January 10th, she was sent, this girl, into Maiduguri market in north-eastern Nigeria by terrorist group Boko Haram.

When the bomb detonated, her body was split in two, catapulted in opposite directions across the busy market. In addition to the girl as many as 20 people were killed in that explosion.

we must build an independent capability and will to protect the lives of our children and their futures

Meanwhile 200 kilometres away, not far from Lake Chad, in the town of Baga, Boko Haram was carrying out the final stages of a massacre.

Now there are corpses everywhere—on streets, in buildings and homes, even the bushes, most burnt beyond recognition.

The insurgency has spread to well over a dozen neighboring communities with the death toll estimated as high as 2,000.

The majority of the victims are women and children.

Even before that, on New Year’s Day, Boko Haram swept into Malari, yet another town in the north-east and abducted 40 boys and young men, ranging in age from 10 to 23, many of whom will likely be trained as soldiers or turned into suicide bombers.

You’d think that such incredible carnage in a concentrated area over so short a period of time would warrant international attention as front-page news, accompanied by a rush of outrage and condolences from world leaders.

You would think so…but you would be wrong.

It makes me deeply uncomfortable to compare tragedies because every human life has weight, importance; every human life matters—but that is precisely why I feel compelled to make this comparison.

You’d have to be completely daft to not notice the stark difference in the world’s reaction to the massacres at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish-owned supermarket in Paris that claimed the lives of 17 victims, as compared to its reaction to the aforementioned events in Nigeria.

While nearly every media house in the world provided non-stop coverage of the attacks in Paris, with the exception of posts and tweets on social media there was virtually no international coverage of the attacks in Nigeria.

Statements condemning the Paris attacks came from all parts of the globe, from prime ministers and priests, Moslem organizations, advocacy groups and celebrities.

Even Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan issued a statement in which he pledged his support in the fight against terrorism.

“President Jonathan,” it was written in the statement, “also sees the attack on Charlie Hebdo as another manifestation of the depravity and brutality, which the world has to contend with in what must become a truly collective effort by lovers of peace, progress and freedom.”

For his own country and people, however, President Jonathan, who is hoping to be voted in for a second term in next month’s elections, had nothing to say.

There was no official statement of condolence.

This weekend as homes and people in Baga were being set aflame, and somebody’s 10-year old daughter was being outfitted with explosives, President Jonathan was giving his foster daughter’s hand in marriage at a lavish, high-profile wedding.

Jonathan wasn’t alone

Such is the hypocrisy and lip service of African leadership. But President Jonathan wasn’t alone in his silence…or hypocrisy.

Not a word from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the sub-regional governing body, or any of the presidents of its 15 member states.

Not a word from Kenya, which has also experienced numerous acts of terrorism over the past several years, and whose president heads the East African Community (EAC), the bloc for that sub-region.

And nothing at all from Rwanda, a country that knows what it means and how it feels for one group of citizens to massacre another while the entire world silently watches yet pretends not to see.

Interestingly, in April 2014, on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta formally apologized for East Africa’s silence and inaction during that atrocity.

“Our region also stood aside,” said President Kenyatta, “and for that we owe the most profound apology to the people of Rwanda. We have learned that no one from far away can be relied on to come to our aid; we must build an independent capability and will to protect the lives of our children and their futures.”

Only the African Union, which will hold its annual summit in two weeks, has issued a formal statement condemning the recent acts of terror by Boko Haram but without any call to action.

It is worth mentioning that several Francophone West Africa leaders saw fit to show solidarity with France, their former colonizer, by being present at the rally for unity that took place.

That march in Paris was one of the largest in France’s history, attracting over 1 million people, nearly 50 of which were world leaders.

Those leaders who went to France to take a stand for freedom of expression just so happened to be the presidents of Mali, Niger, Togo, Benin, Gabon and Senegal—all nations which, in recent years, have come under heavy fire for censoring, targeting, threatening, arresting, or jailing journalists.

How’s that for irony?

As the “Je suis Charlie” rallying cry began to dominate social media sites Ghanaian businessman Pak-Wo Shum boldly posted this to his Facebook page: “I am not Charlie. No offense to France. No offense to Charlie Hebdo. But Charlie cannot be more important than over 2000 souls taken this week[.] Sorry, I cannot be Charlie. I am Africa.”

All of us, on the continent and in the Diaspora, who understand ourselves to be Africa must reclaim our power, not simply with our voices but also with our votes.

If we don’t create change and call for action, who will? Since July 2009, Boko Haram has killed over 11,000 people.

We are being monumentally failed by our so-called leadership; by the very people who were elected or appointment to serve, protect and represent us.

How can the rest of the world ever come to believe that black lives matter, that our humanity is no less important than anybody else’s, when our own leaders, those who should see us in their very reflections, so obviously do not?

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