The Baga Massacre

Baga is a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria.  Earlier this week, word began to trickle out of this remote region of a massacre–perhaps as many as 2,000 people killed–that took place in this town and surrounding villages.

There is a lot we still don’t know about what took place in Baga. But here’s what we do know.

This is what one village looked like on January 2.  The image, released by Amnesty International, was processed to make the vegetation and trees look clearer. Those bright red dots are healthy trees.

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This is what the town looked like four days later.

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The vegetation and trees are gone. Buildings are flattened. The pattern of destruction, says Human Rights Watch “is consistent with a systematic campaign of arson directed against the civilian population in the area.”

Boko Haram still controls the area, so we don’t know the precise extent of the damage at this point. The United Nations says over 11,000 people have fled to neighboring Chad. Local officials say some 20,000 people have been displaced.

Still, it is fair to assume that this was the largest, most audacious, and deadliest attack of the Boko Haram insurgency. So what will an international response look like? So far, the signs are not terribly encouraging. News of the attack was largely sidelined by the tragedy in Paris. It was only today, upon the release of these images, that a top American official–Secretary of State John Kerry– issued a forceful statement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that massacres in two Nigerian towns by the “evil” Islamist group Boko Haram this month constituted a “crime against humanity.”

“What they have done with respect to the slaughter recently is a crime against humanity nothing less,” Kerry told a news conference during a visit to Bulgaria.

“It’s an enormously horrendous slaughter of innocent people and Boko Haram continues to present a serious threat not just in Nigeria and the region but to all of our values and all of our sense of responsibility regarding terrorism,” he said.

“Boko Haram is without question one of the most evil and threatening terrorist entities on the planet today,” he said.

Kerry then raised the prospect of “engaging in a special initiative with respect to Nigeria and with respect to Boko Haram” though he revealed no details on the precise contours of that “special initiative.”

So what might we expect from the USA and international community? After the abduction of 200 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok last April, the global public outcry was far more pronounced. It even yielded this stunning image.

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Those girls have not been rescued. And the Boko Haram insurgency seems to be only metastasizing.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country–one in every five Africans is a Nigerian. And Nigeria’s economy, like most of the rest of Africa, is booming–growing by an estimated 7.4% last year.  But against this backdrop of an expanding middle class and improving health and social indicators is a grinding human rights tragedy that is sowing instability in the region’s most important country.

The Chibok abductions should have been  a wakeup call. The massacre in Baga demonstrates that the international community is still asleep at the wheel.