Digital Life
12:35 pm
Mon May 5, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls Reaches Activists Around The World

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I am Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Continuing with our top story today we want to look at what activists have been doing around the world in response to the kidnapping of those 200-plus schoolgirls in Nigeria. On Twitter, activists have started a hashtag campaign #BringBackOurGirls to keep focus on the crisis and to keep-up pressure on the government.

We wanted to learn more, so we've called upon Nicole Lee, a human rights activist and until recently president of TransAfrica. That's a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. that was found by African-Americans to advance the interests of Africa and the Caribbean in U.S. policy. And she's with us now in our studios. Welcome back to the program. Thank you for joining us.

NICOLE LEE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: I wanted to start off by asking you about the Twitter campaign at the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. I was wondering what we know about how this started. And I was also wondering if it is in part kind of an indictment of the media coverage and the mainstream media about this.

LEE: Well, it's amazing because certainly we know there are all these Twitter spheres, if you will. So there is an African Twitter. And so this started on African Twitter. I know I saw it about a week ago #BringBackOurGirls. And it was very clear that it was coming from Nigeria. It was Nigerian Twitter followers that were really retweeting and retweeting and it became a trend.

There were others that were also trying to capture it, but I think the message of #BringBackOurGirls really caught on because it makes anyone who's tweeting it - you have to take ownership of these young women, even though they're - Nigeria. You may not have ever been to Nigeria, yet we all have to take ownership of the girls. And I think that that's one of the reasons why it's so very powerful. It's indigenous to Nigeria and it's something that we all can support.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of this sense of ownership of it, what is your role as an activist, as an American activist, at a time like this?

LEE: You know, I think about 30 years ago when we were working on the anti-apartheid movement as Americans and as TransAfrica - and what was our role back then? And I really think it is to stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria, with the families. That not necessarily - we don't always need to be in the lead, but we can always follow and we can always support. One of the things that's really changed in the last 30 years is the diaspora organizations, but just the diaspora members. So we have so many Nigerian-Americans here now or first or second generation Nigerians that are really taking the lead in New York and in Washington.

I was at the demonstration in Washington. And it was amazing how many young Nigerians were out. And it was also amazing how many Americans who are not from Nigeria - white, black, Latina - also came out and really supported it. So I think, at a time like this, we really need to first get our lead from what the diaspora are saying here in the United States. And what I'm hearing them say is they want to hold the Nigerian government accountable.

MARTIN: Is there something that, you know, putting on your hat as a long time lobbyist - is there something in U.S. policy that you feel could be used to address this government to government?

LEE: You know, there's a couple things that certainly come to mind for me. I mean, one of the things that we don't talk about here in the United States is this growing internal displacement problem in Nigeria. A part of the reason why we have conflict in countries like Nigeria is because people are not heard in the democratic process. That's something that our government can certainly be talking about.

But then also there are issues of resources. And resource are so very important. In the same Northeast region that we're talking about where these girls were kidnapped, we also have a situation of displacement, where people are not getting resource from the oil sharing. That's something that our government certainly can talk about and get involved with. But also the fact that people don't feel heard in the democratic process. So the fact that these girls - like some of your guests have already talked about - are literally being used as pawns, if you will, in the upcoming election. I mean, at least that's what it looks like from the reports we're getting.

Certainly, we hope that our State Department is talking about that. We hope that the corporations, the vast corporations - American corporations, that are doing business in Nigeria are also asking questions and see it as their role - not to certainly attempt to take away sovereignty from the government - but to ask serious questions. There's certainly, you know, a lot of profit being made right now in Nigeria. We need to make sure that the people of Nigeria can live in safety and in prosperity as well.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I wanted to take note that you recently concluded eight years of service as the president of TransAfrica, which is kind of a very high-profile organization in Washington D.C. Can I ask about the timing? Why now?

I mean, is it in part because as an activist you want the freedom to offer critique from outside? I mean, originally the kind of role of TransAfrica was to elevate the interests of Africa and the Caribbean within the halls of the U.S. government. Is partly what you're saying with your resignation that you feel a need - that there are - sometimes you need to critique these governments and the way to do that is from the outside?

LEE: I mean, I think that there's a lot of different reasons. Certainly, right now there's a plethora of issues that have now kind of fallen into my lap, if you will, that I definitely want to talk about. But in terms of critique, I actually think it's more a critique of American leadership, if you will.

Listen, you know, my personal opinion is as a leader of a nonprofit, it's amazing - opportunity. You need to really though do your job in seven to 10 years. This is not a dynasty. This is not Nicole Lee's dynasty. I really wanted to make sure that I contributed to TransAfrica, but at the same time didn't get founder's syndrome, even though I'm not the founder - didn't get that founder's syndrome where I thought that I was the only person that could do the job. And that's really something that I wanted to hold myself accountable to more than anything else.

I am so excited though, because I see the changes in TransAfrica - the young people that are now involved, the diaspora folks that feel comfortable engaging in our organization. It's just - it's been an amazing ride.

MARTIN: Nicole Lee is a human rights activist. She is currently involved with the hashtag campaign #BringBackOurGirls. It's aimed at keeping focus on the kidnapping of those 200-plus schoolgirls in Nigeria. She recently concluded eight years as president of TransAfrica and she joined us in Washington D.C. Nicole Lee, thank you for joining us.

LEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.