Angelo C Louw

27 years old

Editor of UNCUT, SA’s #1 Youth Magazine

What surprises me most about this entire situation is not the fact that young girls are being used as collateral in an ideological war, but that we’ve allowed it to get to this point. While the #bringbackourgirls narrative is nothing new to a continent in conflict, stepping back from such instances in an era of advocacy for an African collective in decision-making is counterproductive toward the cause our leaders are trying to sell.

As an International Relations graduate, I am well aware of the restrictions to intervention within a country’s boarders because of their right to sovereignty. I know that there are all sorts of procedures that need to be followed before any external state or entity is allowed to step in to any country’s domestic disputes. But, our leaders – the same ones who go around preaching “African Renaissance”, upholding the idea of African solutions to Africa’s problems – have established through the African Union that intervention may take place if a member country is not able to manage internal conflict. The fact that the West had been called in to intervene is an indication that such a point was reached. The question remains, though: If we had acted sooner, would we have been able to curb the situation?

Sadly, we’ll never know; but quite frankly, I’s rather us have tried and failed than sit in the situation we find ourselves in. The possibility of successfully retrieving the kidnapped girls would have been worth the resources utilised. A simple OFFICIAL response – any response at that – would have sent out a message to the world and Africans would need reminding that we are serious about our stance on Gender-Based Violence and the empowerment of the girl child, and not just jumping hoops for brownie points from international funders who have placed the address of gender inequalities at the top of the global agenda.

I understand the idea that good fences make good neighbours, but a white suburban approach to politics is a slap in the face to the notion of Ubuntu – that warm fuzzy feeling that supposedly makes us Africa. What is Ubuntu? Well, it is not just some fluffy notion of community that marketing firms exploit and misrepresent in their media messages. Anyone who’s grown up in a previously-black neighbourhood will tell you that your neighbour’s issues are your issues – and when warranted, issues are dealt with as a collective, as a community. It is that blurred line between the “stranger” next door and those living in your home that is Ubuntu. It seems that ever since our top dogs have moved into the leafy suburbs, they’ve completely forgotten this way of life.

I recently moved into one such suburb and was really alarmed when I requested that the authorities intervene in a violent domestic dispute next door. I was shocked that despite several eyewitnesses to the incident, the police made no arrests because the home owner’s wife told them it was just a misunderstanding. Last week, a domestic abuse case in Ekurhuleni made headlines because police failed to intervene sooner. Beeld newspaper reported that a man held his family hostage for years, electrocuting his children and burning them with a blow torch. One neighbour said that she notified the police about this man’s heinous activities several times and that they only stepped in when his 11-year-old son managed to escape the house. The mother – who remained silent for all of these years – only cracked regarding the abuse due to police pressure.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s initial response to the kidnapped girls was similar to that of these abused women. He even issued a release to the media announcing the return of the girls – which he retracted a few hours later – in a bid to save face, and perhaps political credibility, in an awful situation.

The problem at both a local and continental scale, as I see it, lies in the fact that we (Africans) have not yet moulded institutional responses to situations like these – responses that are rooted in our own beliefs and ideology. Most of our laws stem from colonial law enforced by “past” oppressors. While we have identified that legislation of this nature has been designed to disenfranchise African states, the few who have the power to advance this agenda are too comfortable were they reside to realise the plight of ordinary Africans.

Think about it, the only time we really saw an African response to the kidnapping of these girls was after Michelle Obama set the agenda on social media. It saddens me that almost two centuries after slavery was abolished, we are still waiting for the permissions of our slave masters to think, let alone act. What value is there to our freedom when our leaders have not broken free from their shackles? What power do I, as an individual, have to make a change in society when the chains of oppression tightly bind the legislation that is meant to enable me? With this in mind, how are we able to respond to situations like a kidnapping at this scale when we are failing to handle domestic issues at a much smaller scale?

I am optimistic about the aims of the African Union and the idea of an “African Renaissance” – for so long as the powers that be see it as a reality and not just a selling point to investors, tourists and potential voters – and I am of the view that bringing back OUR girls would be a good place to start in the reinvention of the African continent.