My understanding of the “SaveOurGirls” hashtag campaign is that it began on Twitter among Nigerians as a spontaneous method of protesting the Goodluck government’s apparent indifference to the kidnapping of several hundred girls by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. As such I think it’s completely appropriate.
My immediate reaction to the First Lady’s entering the campaign was discomfort and I’d like to explain why. When the president or First Lady or Speaker of the House or other major official or semi-official public figure enters into a popular campaign it has several effects. It attracts attention to the campaign. It coopts the campaign. Whether intended or not it gives the campaign political and even diplomatic meaning it might otherwise not have had. None of these are under the First Lady’s control. Her mere participation is enough.
I think that the main thing the U. S. should do with respect to the kidnappings and more generally with respect to the Nigerian government’s activities against Boko Haram is maintain a low profile. I think it’s a problem for Nigerians to solve and, should they need additional resources, for the African Union to solve. I’m uncomfortable with colonial powers taking a leading role in the matter. Or even honorary colonial powers.
I think that the much-publicized (and occasionally mocked) photo of the First Lady is a sincere expression of feeling on her part and, obviously, she’s entitled to her feelings. But as a public figure I’m not quite as sure that she’s entitled to express them publicly especially if that expression is taken as a commitment of American resources.
It’s been suggested that the participation of the First Lady puts additional pressure on the Goodluck government. I think that’s a fair argument in favor but I’m not completely convinced.
Discomfort on my part is not opposition. It’s discomfort and I’m trying to decide what I should think about all of this.
What should I think about U. S. participation in a clearly internal Nigerian problem? About “hashtag diplomacy”? Please help me decide.