Africa: We Will Not Remain Silent4 min read.
A group of African singers, artists, academics, journalists, civil society and business leaders touched by the tragic killing of George Floyd issued a solidarity statement condemning police brutality and calling for renewed and increased relationship between Africans everywhere and African Americans. They are calling on the public to sign a Change.org petition they have posted.
In these strange moments of uncertainty and fear, the news from America has broken our hearts. We cannot remain silent. We cannot remain deaf and blind to the plight of our African-American brothers and sisters. We are shocked by the brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers. The unbearable sight of George Floyd suffocating under the knee of a police officer in uniform looks like a return to the Africa’s dark past under slavery and direct colonial rule.
George Floyd’s agony and death crowns a long litany of screams and supplications, adding one more atrocity to a chain of brutalities and racist killings. It has revived in us the old wounds of our souls and summoned painful, shared memories.
We cannot remain silent because we know how much we have in common with our brothers and sisters in our global black community – our African Diaspora. We know how your ancestors continued the resistance and the struggle for emancipation and dignity during the solitary traumas lived in the hulls of slave boats and the humiliation of plantations, and on the islands of freedom they built through the ages. That is the determined struggle for civil rights that you continue to wage fearlessly. Africans on the continent and around the world are grateful to African Americans and black leaders, writers, and thinkers for sharing with our elders the emancipatory idea of Pan-Africanism and for being connected with our struggles against colonialism and, of course, apartheid.
No, we cannot remain silent with the cruel killing of George Floyd and the cries of citizens, black and brown and white, in the streets of cities in America and in other continents, declaring to the world that Black Lives Matter.
We African people are 1.3 billion strong
How can we be silent when we know that your long walk to real freedom echoes the struggles of yesterday and resonates with the struggles we are waging here in Africa, your mother continent? We are waging these struggles to advance our common causes: democratic freedoms, dignity, equality, social justice, the rights and well-being of women and all minorities, the integrity of leaders and institutions, economic independence, and finally the control of our cultural and historic destiny.
We cannot remain unmoved when we also have good news to share with our African American brothers and sisters; news that goes beyond the clichés, rebukes all forms of racial profiling, and updates old beliefs into fresh reality: a new Africa is truly emerging before our eyes. A resilient Africa carried by our communities and a dynamic and enterprising civic society, animated by a generation of young people and women determined to lift the continent from the fatality of despair, and create a future of unity in freedom, dignity and abundance.
Together, we are the soldiers of hope engaged in the building of a new African nation, deeply rooted in our strongest cultural heritage, with the ideological and intellectual contributions of African-American achievements. In this spirit, we the people of Africa are one people, and one nation. We are a 1.3 billion strong nation stretched out over a whole continent, and with you in the African Diaspora, we are millions more. Together we can build the global African nation. It will be our nation, and we will name squares and schools after the countless other heroines and heroes of African descent. In memory of our common ancestry, the new Africa will be conceived as our common home.
We cannot remain silent
We cannot remain indifferent because we have so many projects to initiate. One common element of our societal (and economic) project will be to revisit together — with courage and honesty — our shared history. But we will go beyond the recent history and look at the Africa we lost. Our history did not begin with the tragic period of slavery.
We will explore the distant lands of our forgotten kingdoms and empires, the glorious destinies of our noble leaders, the scientific, technological and social advances that have shaped the evolution of our societies and have largely gone unacknowledged. Our common work should be to finally put at the center of our concerns the education and training of our children so that they are better prepared to face the complex challenges of what will certainly be a complex future.
Humanity originated on our continent
Finally our common task could be to develop mutually beneficial economic partnerships among those of us on the continent and those in the Diaspora, in order to create the conditions for true independence. And while we break our silence, we will claim our rightful place in human destiny. In these decisive moments when humanity is confronted with an existential threat linked to climate change, health pandemics, and a life-threatening rise of social inequalities, we must come together.
We have never forgotten that humanity originated on our continent. At this critical and fragile moment when humankind feels that it has reached a tragic impasse, it is our duty to help humanity build a better and more sustainable future for itself and for planet Earth, through the path of our founding values —’ubuntu’ and ‘nitté’ (our shared humanity), wisdom, equality, respect, solidarity, and brotherhood and sisterhood, so that our human family finally reconciles with itself in peace.
Today, in the memory of George Floyd and millions of other black lives who mattered, we Africans in Africa, mourn our loss and honor a rich moment of shared connection.
Princess Esther Kamatari
Prof. Abdoulaye Bathily
Amadou Mahtar Ba
Denise Epote Durand
Amadou Gallo Fall
Dr. Ebrima Sall
Prof. Achille Mbembe
Prof. Fatou Sow
Prof. Muhammadou Kah
Prof. Issa Shivji
Prof. Alioune Sall
Prof. Penda Mbow
Prof. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza
Prof. Francis B. Nyamnjoh
Prof. Hakim Ben Hammouda
Prof. Mahamadou Lamine Sagna
Prof. Jean-Bernard Ouedraogo
Dr. Marema Toure Thiam
Prof. Felwine Sarr
Prof. Alioune Tine
Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata
Hawa Binta Ba
Prof. Elisio Macamo
Prof. Demba Moussa Dembele
Prof. Mame Penda Ba
Prof. Shamil Jeppie
Prof. Ousmane Kane
Dr. Natasha Issa Shivji
Dr. Bouchra Sidi Hida
Dr. Salwa Beheiry
Prof. Jimi O. Adesina
Prof. Mamadou Goïta
Prof. Brahim El Morchid
Dr. Tijan M. Sallah
Fatou Jagne Senghor
Dr. Stigmata Tenga
Dr. Ebrima Ceesay
Prof. Abdoulie Saine
Mamadou Kwidjim Toure
Prof. Ousmane Thiare
Prof. Jainaba M. L. Kah
Dr. Assan Jaye
Mame Demba Sy
Prof. Bernard Founou Tchuigoua
Dr. Tendai Kadenhe Mhizha
Prof. Noel Magaloire Ndoba
Dr Omotola jalade Ekeinde
Prof. Malick Ndiaye
Prof. Emmanuel Akyeampong
Prof. Carlos Cardoso
Ben Murray Bruce
Dr. Mouhamadou Hady Ba
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Defend the Freedom of the Press
We, The Elephant, stand with our fellow journalists against the attacks meted during the coverage of the recent demonstrations. An independent, impartial, and objective media is a pillar of our democracy and crucial to both the state, the opposition, and the wider public. Freedom of the press is a non-negotiable.
Going by recent events, we are quickly sliding down a precarious path as regards freedom of the press. The spike in disinformation, influence peddling, hostility and attacks blurs the ability for the media sector to deliver, timely, critical and credible information necessary to help the public make informed decisions and hold meaningful conversations.
We are also particularly concerned by the targeting of specific media persons, media institutions, international journalists, and media industry practitioners.
In March 2023 alone, we have witnessed at least 45 reported cases of attacks, theft, harassment, and arrests by both sponsored state and non-state actors with some of the journalists affected suffering direct attacks and bodily harm.
The genesis of these attacks can be linked to the publication of the photos and issuance of summons by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) linked to the demonstrations on the 20th of March. The publication on the state agencies social media platforms was an exercise in error that included false, misleading and misconstrued claims against participants in the demonstration.
The unintended outcome has been the formulation, and instrumental-ization of hostility and violence against members of the 4th estate. So far we have witnessed the targeting of reporters, videographers, freelance practitioners, and photographers by police, hooligans, hired goons, and looters who’re kin to cause mayhem and evade justice.
Journalists as chroniclers of societal events, scribes of the evolution of political demands, and recorders of the unwarranted, gross violations, have a solemn duty to inform the public on matters of public interest. They therefore ought to be accorded their respect in time, their place in the political contestations as neutral arbiters, and respected as repositories of current and historical memories.
We urge our colleagues while out in the field to prioritize their safety, assess the risk factors, coordinate with their newsrooms, and the law enforcers, and review media ethics and the legal ramifications in the course of their work during demonstrations.
We urge freelance journalists to coordinate, liaise, and embed with their colleagues for safety purposes. We also urge for urgent investigations into the theft, assault and detainment of journalists, and call for speedy prosecution of the perpetrators. We also ask for refrain by public figures from spotlighting specific media persons and media houses, and ask aggrieved parties against media persons and institutions, to channel their complaints through the respective legal channels as provided by law.
The Elephant Desk
Addressing the Information Disorder: Building Collaboration
In deploying measures to address the information disorder, the trend is towards the establishment of multi-stakeholder collaboratives.
In a recent article, I discussed the need to address the information disorder (defined as mis- and disinformation) through collaborative multi-stakeholder collectives such as Fumbua Kenya. In this article, I take the next step of envisioning the ideal composition for such collectives. However, before doing so, I briefly explore other similar collectives with a view to drawing lessons on building collaboration.
A tried and tested concept?
For several years now, numerous stakeholders have attempted to address the information disorder in different ways such as fact-checking and conducting media literacy trainings. These solutions were often used in isolation. More recently, stakeholders recognized the importance of collaboration in deploying measures to address the information disorder. As a result, there has been a growing trend towards the establishment of multi-stakeholder collaboratives to address the information disorder as it relates to issues such as the pandemic or democratic processes such as elections.
Collaborative efforts have largely been dominated by media practitioners. For example, in Brazil, during the 2018 elections, a collective of journalists drawn from twenty-four different local media companies was established to debunk rumours, fabricated content, and manipulative content aimed at influencing the polls. This collective is known as Comprova. In the same year, a similar collective was established in Mexico with the same mandate. It was known as Verificado. A year later, Uruguay followed suit and established a collective under the same name. However, Uruguay’s iteration of Verificado broke the mould by incorporating academics, universities, and civil society professionals. With the examples of Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay, Argentina was able to pull together a collective of more than 100 news organizations under the Re-Verso banner. Much like Uruguay, Argentina’s Re-Verso took the collaboration further by including other disciplines such as forensic scientists who were able to assist the journalists in fact-checking audio messages.
With the experiences of these collectives, recent multi-stakeholder collectives have become increasingly diverse in their composition. For example, the BBC recently launched the Trusted News Initiative which brings together journalists, social media platforms and technology companies, and researchers. The mandate of the Trusted News Initiative is to increase media literacy, develop early warning systems, engage in voter education, and provide a platform for stakeholders to share lessons. Similarly, the Credibility Coalition, which is comprised of researchers, journalists, academics, policymakers, and technologists, aims to foster collaboration around developing common standards for information credibility. One of Fumbua’s members—Meedan—is also a member of the Credibility Coalition.
When these collectives were initially established, they were primarily driven by the recognition of the importance of collaborative journalism, and the need to reach broader audiences. As a result, their composition was heavily biased towards the media. However, subsequent iterations recognized the importance of broadening the pool of collaboration to factor in other disciplines. Some have articulated this importance explicitly. For example, Nordis, a consortium of researchers and fact-checkers funded by the EU Commission, explains that the diversity in their composition is aimed at developing new insights, technological solutions, recommendations for journalistic practice and tools educators can use. Perhaps most importantly, they hope to have concrete policy recommendations for legislators.
Extrapolating the basics
Based on the examples of multi-stakeholder collectives around the world, one can discern common trends. For one, most collectives seem to be centred around journalistic practice and as such are dominated by media organizations. While there has been a recognition of the role played by other stakeholders such as academic researchers and cognitive scientists, their involvement has not been as robust and deliberate. These collectives also often crop up in response to a major socio-political/socio-economic event such as an election, and this influences their composition and activity.
Most collectives seem to be centred around journalistic practice and as such are dominated by media organizations.
Fumbua has largely conformed to these trends, being comprised of a large number of media organizations, and having been established to address the information disorder around the 2022 general election in Kenya. However, Fumbua’s experience is unique in several ways. For one, Fumbua included a pre-bunking initiative which was the first of its kind in Kenya—StopReflectVerify. Fumbua also relied on social media personalities and performing artists to repurpose some of the core messages developed by the journalists within their collectives. The use of multimedia content enabled the collective to engage audiences in ways that align with the nature of information consumption on social media. Perhaps most crucially, Fumbua was able to use its network to engage with policymakers and regulators to attempt to impact public policy.
One size does not fit all
When one considers the experience of the diverse collectives around the world, it is clear that each iteration was significantly influenced by several factors which were unique to each situation. From the social issue the collective was designed to respond to, to the available resources and organizations willing to participate, it is clear that one cannot define, in absolute terms, what these collectives should look like.
However, what remains clear is the importance of such collectives being intentional about defining the scope of collaboration, the role of each member, and how each member’s activities will feed into the larger collective’s work. In building collaboration, such collectives should also be mindful of the information value chain in their ecosystem. For example, in Kenya, one would be remiss to exclude vernacular radio stations which remain a consequential player in the media ecosystem.
The diversity of these collectives should be informed by the unique issues they are responding to. Fumbua for example was able to engage a large cross-section of its audiences in a way that was familiar to them by deliberately including stakeholders at all levels of the media ecosystem and supporting these stakeholders by amplifying their content and helping them repurpose it. However, at a broader level, these collectives should be designed around changing how the populace interacts with and consumes information. It no longer suffices to raise awareness around the existence of the information disorder, or to flag information as false or misleading. For this reason, these collectives ought to be focused on impacting how information systems are designed. This goal, considered in the context of the particular collectives, should then inform their composition.
The Roots of Toxic Masculinity in South Africa
In South Africa and elsewhere, toxic masculinity is an outcome of modern individualism rather than tradition.
As I stepped into the nightly streets of Cape Town’s most dangerous neighborhoods, I sensed that my journey would be an initiation. The goal of my research project was to document the lasting impact of apartheid racism and gender inequalities on tough and street-smart men. Little did I know that I would make every effort to become invulnerable in my own kind of way, trying to prove my masculinity and academic prowess through ethnographic fieldwork.
Just like many of the men I met in South Africa, I was attempting to shed my vulnerability. However, it never fully worked, even for a privileged European white man like me. Ethnography is an art form rather than a science and it makes researchers vulnerable as they continuously affect and are affected by the research subjects. Moreover, the pressure I put on myself to produce something exceptional to gain respect and impress others took a toll on me.
The paradox of (in)vulnerability made both my research participants and I complicit, although on vastly different terms. For me, attempts to become an invulnerable individual with fixed gender identity led to relationship problems, substance abuse, irritability, and suicidal thoughts. The more I sought invulnerability, the more vulnerable I felt. This (in)vulnerability has received little attention in research, which often disregards the gendering of behavior or turns masculinity into both the cause and solution for a range of social, psychological, and medical problems.
Over the course of more than 10 years of research, I could feel the pulse of (in)vulnerability; the throbbing between disconnection and connectivity, rigidity and disorder, closure and openness. Perhaps this pulse is a fundamental aspect of life for everyone, regardless of social and cultural differences. But the struggle for invulnerability takes on different rhythms based on circumstances. I have been witness to the pain and struggles of the men I interviewed. Some committed suicide, others were murdered, had fatal accidents, or died from infectious disease before they reached their 40s.
Although I stayed in contact with some of these men, I retreated to my safe haven after completing my doctoral research. Writing my dissertation and book was draining, filled with anger and shame over my inability to support the people whose stories I documented, and my own shortcomings. I was not living up to the ideals of a compassionate human rights advocate or a productive academic who could be sharp, unyielding, and daring at all times. But the survivor’s guilt was just another manifestation of me believing that I could be an individual savior.
As I delved deeper into my research, I realized I had fallen into a well-worn pattern—a white European male traveling to Africa to prove his masculinity. It dawned on me, most of the behaviors that are associated with toxic masculinity are an outcome of modern individualism rather than tradition in South Africa and elsewhere. White men imported the gendered ideal of a self-made individual. The trope can be traced back to 17th-century English philosophers who defined the individual as the “owner of himself,”” who owes little to others, with a core identity composed of seamless traits, behaviors, and attitudes, rather than an assemblage of contradictory elements adopted through ongoing exchanges with others.
South African psychologist Kopano Ratele argues that well-meaning critiques of gender ideologies tend to homogenize and retribalize African masculinities as if they had no history. From this perspective, contemporary heteronormativity and male power are not necessarily a matter of “‘tradition”’ as a single and fixed structure. Yet, gender development work in Africa often uses the term “toxic masculinity” interchangeably with “traditional masculinity” particularly among low-income Black men.
During my doctoral research, I found that my own assumptions about the dark ages of patriarchy and their continuing effects on South Africans were based on a teleological model of progress that obscures how modern individualism creates toxic masculinity. My pursuit of invulnerability through ethnographic research was an attempt to “be somebody” in a world in which personhood is seemingly no longer defined by mutuality in relationships. For the most marginalized men I met in Cape Town, this pursuit was by far more distressing, in part, because these men were aware of the fact that they always depended on others for their very survival.
This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
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