Strategic Foresight Initiative Nonresident Senior Fellow Maria J. Stephan cowrites for Foreign Policy on international activist movements spurring democratic change:
On July 8, Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, did something his predecessor considered unthinkable: he sat down with the #BringBackOurGirls activists who have spent the last fourteen months holding daily vigil for the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from their school in Chibok by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. “Nobody in Nigeria or outside could have missed your consistency and persistence,” Buhari said during the meeting, praising the tenacity with which the group pursued their task of making the world care, and keep caring, about the fate of teenagers taken from the northeast Nigerian town. He used the meeting to promise that a regional military force would be in place to fight Boko Haram by the end of the month.
The meeting was more than an acknowledgement of what the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which took over the Internet for a brief moment last spring, stood for when it was founded; it was an acknowledgement of what it has become. When the campaign first began, some critics dismissed it as short-lived hashtag activism. But #BringBackOurGirls has proven itself to be a grassroots movement — a collective of over fifty key leaders and a broad-reaching network in the thousands — that has increasingly focused on issues that underlie the kidnapping: a right to security, to education, and protection from terrorists, and calling for an end to the corruption and bad governance that experts have found goes hand-in-hand with protracted violent conflict.