Following the November 13 attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris, France, a large number of Facebook users around the world showed their solidarity with that country by replacing their profile pictures with the French flag.
Many Africans online joined the rest of the world in expressing sympathy and solidarity with France by doing the same. However, not everyone supported the idea, arguing that attacks in Africa do not receive enough global or even local sympathy.
One Facebook user, for example, wanted to know why there wasn’t a similar push to change profile pictures to the Nigerian flag after Boko Haram militants killed 200 people in the country.
Death and destruction at the hands of militant groups
Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered its fair share of violence from politically or religiously motivated organizations, killing thousands of people. Most of these attacks are from militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon; Al Shabaab in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda; the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, South Sudan and Central African Republic; and Séléka militants in Central African Republic. For example, on April 2, 2015, Al Shabaab militants attacked the Garissa University College in Kenya, killing 148 people. And on September 21, 2013, the group attacked Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people.
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, leading to a global campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. In July 2015, the group killed at least 200 people in Kano, Nigeria.
Amnesty International described a brutal attack on Baga, a town in Nigeria, by Boko Haram early this year as the group’s “deadliest massacre in recent history”. Controversy rages between the official estimate of 150 deaths against the 2,000 reported by other independent sources. The attack happened around the same time that Charlie Hebdo shootings took place in Paris, France. After the Nigerian attack, Global Voices author Nwachukwu Egbunike asked, “Why Hasn’t the Baga Massacre Made as Many Headlines as the Charlie Hebdo Attack?”
Out of 10 countries with the highest number of deaths caused by “terrorist activities” in 2014, four of them are in Africa. Nigeria ranks second, before Afghanistan but behind Iraq.
‘I refuse to acknowledge that some human beings are more special’
Nigerian-based Facebook user Sen John Ayokunle Falodun expressed his opposition to the French flag gesture:
To me its so strange how Suddenly people are praying for France, changing [default pictures] to French flag. And I started asking myself different Questions, do we value the lives of the less than 200 people who died in Paris more than the thousands killed by Boko Haram? How many French Nationals do we see use Nigerian flags as [default pictures] and then pray for Nigeria whenever [Boko Haram] strikes? How many of us have prayed for Nigeria in the wake of all the [Boko Haram] strikes? It is time Africa and Africans wake up to be counted mostly Nigerians. I believe it is inferiority complex that is responsible for this. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally against terrorism, and I feel pained by the incidence in Paris but i think what my people lack is the will.
Boko Haram killed over 200 in kano in a day, Did Nigeria do not have flag? I wonder why we like to take medicine for another person’s headache. Boko haram are killing us in numbers…yet no Nigerian use our flag or wrapped it on His or Her body.
Another Facebook user, Kimario Pankrass, said:
Facebook recommends people to change their profile picture to French flag which I would do to support the victim’s but do they have one for Beirut Lebanon where bomb killed people 24 hours ago, what about The constant attack in north east Nigeria by Boko Haram, also over 200 Russians died of bomb blast on a plane in Sinai, I refuse to acknowledge that some human beings are more special than the rest of us. Life of a simple farmer in Nigeria,African Americans in South Carolina, a baker in Beirut, a russian tourist and French concert goers should and must be valued the same and equal to life of a child in West bank. The world has a hypocritical double standard, please do not play to it. What happened in paris is despicable, but so is what happened in Beirut barely 24 hours ago. I suggested europeans change their profile to french flag, Africans change their flag to green and white (nigerian flag) and middle east change their to colors of Lebanon. […] If anything, change your profile to the image of the globe for a better world. Peace to the whole world.
Adamu Chiroma shared an article that had gone viral quoting the former aide to ex-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri. The use of the French flag for profile images, according to Omokri, shows “low self-esteem” on the part of Africans and Asians:
According to the cleric, “Terrorism is evil and condemnable. But we should not only cry when it happens in rich nations. We should treat it the same wherever it occurs. I sympathize with France, but why are Africans and Asians putting French flags on their profile when they do not put their own nation’s flag on their profile when terrorists attack their own nations? Are French lives more precious than their own brothers and sisters who are killed daily by home grown terrorists like the satanic Boko Haram and Al Shabab.”
‘We live in a global village’
Commenting on Omokri’s arguments against the use of the flag, Luqman K. Olateju thought the former presidential aide is short-sighted:
France and Paris are hugely important because they are the bastion of hope, freedom, opportunities and civilization for the world and particularly their people. What has your country done to provide the same for its people? I presume you’d say nothing. Your own countries have been ravaged by corruption, mismanagement and over many years, bad leaders. When your rich folks in Nigeria or even in Asia fall sick, they run to the western world for treatment. They cannot even stay in their countries hospitals to be treated because they don’t trust the health care there. That’s why Paris, London, New York, Brussels, Switzerland are important […] When the girls were kidnapped [by Boko Haram] in Maiduguri [in Nigeria], did you tell tell France, Britain or the United States to provide resources to help retrieve them, of course, not. They did it on their own.
Other Facebook users like Izuchukwu Justin from Nigeria saw nothing wrong with the gesture. He pointed out that Facebook has not forced anyone to use the French flag:
[…] you never woke up to see your profile pix covered with a French flag overlay/ filter, facebook never forced anyone to do that!, so why the f**k are you complaining Now??, Hey guys groW uP!, this is JUST to express solidarity for FRANCE, if you don’t wanna do it, i mean changing your profile pix, you want to show solidarity in your mind but not on facebook, GOOD!!!!. Also if you choose not to show solidarity nor pray for them, its yours! OK.
Writing on a citizen media site, Zambia Reports, Peter Adamu called the criticism of the French flag profile photo “primitive thinking and hypocritical”. He argued that acts of violence themselves don’t discriminate based on nationality, but instead target anyone in sight, as well as that France and other Western countries have given much in resources and support. Many people in Western countries participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, he pointed out, and even if they hadn’t:
Even if France and other European nations did not show sympathy with African death victims, 2 wrong don’t make a right. Moreover our African culture attaches much respect to death victims regardless of race!
We are one and we live in a global village so let support each other regardless of our Race!
Previously post on globalvoices.org