This year, in celebration of Africa Day, I found myself working doggedly behind a computer to launch the new YouTube space of Africa Alliance of YMCA’s (AAYCA). Which is particularly ironic, since the task we were performing, was to create a webspace for Africans to converge and share, with the full realisation that many Africans won’t be able to access the website in the first place. This represents a larger problem than many realise. A critical problem in fact. Africa is falling far behind in the opportunities presented by information technologies, and attempts by media and communication specialists to keep Africa present in the new virtual world are a drop in the ocean of what is needed to ensure African growth and stability.
At the core of the Africa-ICT debate is the long-held belief that information communication technologies are a necessary luxury – that when food security, health and infrastructure development are priority concerns, high-speed computer and internet technologies seem like a luxury. A luxury, even though African leaders will quickly acknowledge, when it suits them, that ICTs bring improved education, health, political transparency and financial access to the world.
It is a complicated divide that few have found a way to reconcile because of the multitude of social development concerns that seemingly take priority, not the least of which is to maintain political stability and control in regions that experience regular civic conflicts and human rights violations. At a superficial level, the question is always asked: how can it be more important to improve the internet gateway in a country than its hospitals and medical facilities? How do you justify the allocation of resources to developing substantial ICT strategies and infrastructures when the education system still fails to meet a minimum standard? If you do provide the technologies, the question then becomes, what will people DO with the new technologies that will help feed them?
For many social activists, the message, and the right to convey that message is key. It is our single biggest priority when attempting to improve the lives of others and of our society as a whole. All human communication can be crystallised to what is being said and what is being heard. We have become exceptionally good at finding ways to manipulate and control this exchange to suit our own needs. We have turned this exchange into a power-control game that has had massive repercussions for our individual well-being. Ideally, the exchange should be balanced but when one participant in the exchange has more knowledge, they retain more power and control. When one participant in the exchange has more power, and has actively worked to control what is being said by the other, then the communication between the two is controlled not by speaker but by the listener. The speaker is only given that space because those in control have already determined what will be said. This is the ultimate root of a lot of Africa’s problems. In a continent where education, social policy, press freedom and governmental control are often designed to ensure that messages spoken and heard only serve to support the doctrines of the country’s leaders, the information exchanged is essentially the same message. And that message is decided by people who serve their own interests.
On Africa Day, although some might see a lack of action because the AAYMCA were sitting behind computers, we see instead a determined purpose, born out of months of planning and preparation, because of the realisation that the one thing Africa needs right now is a space where messages cannot be controlled, manipulated or subjected to a dominant influence. A space where people, in our case Africa’s youth, are able to meet and provide their own messages while freely listening to those of others. There is learning in this process. There is inspiration and the development of unity and purpose.
Perhaps, this is the real reason the ICT strategies and education are so under-supported in Africa. Not because resources are scarce, but because ICTs offer a tool which cannot easily be controlled. Even press freedom across the continent is fraught with fundamental and critical failures. In some countries, the media expect to be paid by the subjects of their reports for their presence at events, while in others, press freedom is constrained within the borders of government policy. Messages outside of these doctrines need to be bought and paid for as if freedom were a luxury product few should be able to afford. In some, women are not allowed to write, speak or be seen, and issues of gender, sexuality, reproductive health and rights over the body are taboo. In these countries, the internet is a threat and giving citizens access to the internet limits the amount of domination any one organisation or individual can have over them. Importantly it potentially turns the dominated into producers of their own power, and provides them with the knowledge, options and means to reject the controls they have always been subjected to.
This is then the entire purpose of the AAYMCA’s Subject 2 Citizen (S2C) project, the YouTube arm of which we were launching on the day Africa celebrated her African-ness. On Africa Day, we were determined to create and support one place that we could ensure is free of control. And even for those who cannot access this space, we are determined to ensure their messages are present and shared.
The S2C project intends to simply take youth from positions where they are subject to control, and reposition them as citizens who take responsibility for the direction of their lives. The citizen becomes an agent of change, an agent with the knowledge and power to speak freely, to agitate and demand effective improvements to their community and society from those who dominate and control. The S2C YouTube space then becomes a crucial tool of awareness, education and motivation and is controlled by the youth themselves, by the very people who are learning to speak against the influences and dominations that marginalise them. And it is working.
In the two days the space has been live and available, we have seen an appreciation for the opportunities it provide that goes beyond our expectations, an awareness of what this will mean, coming from the youth themselves. We stood by our youth on Africa Day and sowed the seeds of a social evolution because change needs to come, it is long overdue and we can no longer stand back and allow control to go unchecked. We find faith that the time of change is now, not because we have determined that it is so, but because we have heard the call from those who whisper afraid but defiant in shadows and who can now speak clearly to a worldwide audience.
As Reginald crabbe, a user of the S2C YouTube space said:
“When the struggle for Africa's freedom from imperialism and colonialism started in the 50's songs were sang to constantly remind the freedom fighters of the course and focus of their efforts. The songs composed by South Africans during Apartheid were ways to communicate with each other about the struggle information and inspiration. This S2C song [YouTube] is the beginning of a legacy that young people in the YMCAs across Africa are today leaving for this and other generations to come. The cry for the renewal of Africa! This is a song of HOPE, FAITH and ACTION of seeing a new Africa, a continent endowed not only with resources but the human and institutional ability to maximise the dream of engaging her new birth through the civic empowerment of her greatest resource - "youth". Lets stand together!”
Picture: A screenshot of the music video for the song Subject 2 Citizen, by Chemphe feat. African YMCA Youth which is available on the AAYMCA YouTube page.
The AAYMCA YouTube space can be found by visiting: www.youtube.com/user/4rmsubject2citizen
By: Christine Davis – Africa Alliance of YMCAs Volunteer
Newly elected Executive Committee President of the Africa Alliance of YMCAs (AAYMCA), James Ekow Rhule, has been a member of the Ghana YMCA since 1982 and served as the National Youth President for the Ghana YMCA (1984-1991), the Western Zone Coordinator for the AAYMCAs (1995-2001), Chairman of the AAYMCA Youth Committee (1998-2002) and most recently, Vice President of the AAYMCA Executive Committee (2006-2010). This month’s issue of Siyahamba will feature a full profile on Rhule, and this week we asked Rhule for his opinion on the progress and importance of youth development and leadership work in Africa:
Q: What are your views on youth leadership and its impact on society and youth?
A: It is important to cultivate youth leadership as it engenders fresh and innovative ideas, and brings about a movement away from the status quo. For this to materialise we need to develop a very strong mentorship programme to sharpen the leadership skills of the youth.
We should not be afraid to put the youth in leadership positions, with the excuse that they will make mistakes. Mistakes are a necessary part of any learning process. Mistakes create opportunities for correction and the adoption of new strategies for achieving positive results.
Q: What are your views on the current situation of youth in Africa and how government and other organisations respond to their issues?
A: The situation of youth today could be described as that of uncertainty and hopelessness. They are faced with a number of socio-economic challenges such as lack of education and unemployment. They feel let down by politicians who ride on their backs to power. Due to lack of employment, a number of the continent’s youth are leaving in droves to Europe and the Americas, often through hazardous routes. Many of them die in the process.
I dare say that many countries in Africa have not adopted youth-focused national strategies for addressing the concerns of young people to ensure youth mobilisation, development and deployment in a positive manner. There is a general absence of national youth policies; and where these are available they are hardly implemented.
That said, we have seen some efforts in many countries to appoint young people to ministerial positions. We are, however, interested in greater commitment towards enabling greater access to education and training, and to job creation among the youth. It is through these that the youth would become empowered enough to contribute towards the development of their respective countries.
Q: Do you have any personal messages you would like to share or communicate?
A: I’m very concerned about child labour issues in Africa. We all have a responsibility for safeguarding the future of our children by ensuring that they have access to education and are treated with love and care to enable them to grow up with confidence and a sense of responsibility. In this regard, I wish to call on governments in Africa to work towards the total elimination of Child Labour in their respective countries.
On 16 June 2010, International Day of the African Child, amidst Africa’s 2010 Fifa World Cup frenzy, the Africa Alliance of YMCA’s can’t help but look back on history and give an appreciative nod in awe to the youth this day marks and celebrates.
International Day of the Africa Child is celebrated every June 16 as a testament to the power of children’s and youth voices and action. It is in fact, an international reminder, that on 16 June 1976 in Soweto, South Africa, a peaceful march by South African school children turned violent and become a significant contributor to the eventual decline of South Africa’s Apartheid system.
It seems remarkable then that a little over 30 years later, a new generation of African children and youth are marching to a different song on the streets of South Africa during the 2010 Fifa World Cup because of the sacrifices made by other children on this date. They clutch and call on their vuvuzelas, clothed in their country’s colours, faces flag-painted as they march through streets and stadiums calling support for their national teams and if their team isn’t playing, calling support to any African team that is.
Soccer is Africa’s biggest sport. It is played by the poor and the wealthy across race, culture, gender and religious differences in schools, streets and stadiums throughout Africa. It is a sport that relies on the contribution the one can make to the many and the support the one can provide in achieving the goals all strive for. For the first time on African soil, Africa’s favourite sport is being played by Africa’s youth, on the world’s most important international stage and the youth of Soweto in 1976 are in large part responsible for that.
Without the 1976 Soweto Uprising, there is little doubt that international pressure for a South African regime change would not have been as forceful or effective. The state sanctioned murder of hundreds of children at the hands of South Africa’s police force acted as a powerful visual call to action and intensified the ongoing international embargo’s placed on South Africa’s economy.
The youth of 1976 understood the pressure of the world they were fighting against. They understood their voices would be silenced and made invisible by the state-controlled media, understood that the politics of the time would not listen, understood even that the sheer numbers of their voices would act as a threat and that political response would be swift and unforgiving. But, the youth understood also, that the quality of life they led was dictated and determined by a carefully orchestrated system of controls and limitations. They were subject to the biased and manipulative influences of a powerful few who would never allow them to experience a full citizenship to the country within which they were born. Yet, despite all they were facing, they stood, marched and demanded change, and received it. Through their acts, Africans throughout the continent are now able to watch their national teams compete and challenge each-other, and go further by supporting all African teams who battle against countries across from Africa’s oceans.
New media technologies in 1976, such as televisions which are commonplace in many households now, worked against South Africa’s tight control of the internal press and globally distributed now famous images of children, still wearing their school clothes, as they ran frightened and carrying the bleeding and broken bodies of their fallen friends from their police. The voices, images and cries of the fallen hundreds and their need for a better education system were carried to a world-wide audience. The voices of the African youth, their message of peace met with brutality, became the symbol of the inherent power youth represent, of a need to move youth from subjects of control and manipulation to fully recognised and incorporated citizens working towards a betterment of society for all. Those same media technologies, evolving into today’s free social media platforms have become the spaces youth themselves can control.
In the end what began as little more than a peaceful march by youth speaking out against an inferior education became a significant push in the fall of an unjust system. Today, in part because of those youth, the world convenes on African soil in a democratic space to peacefully compete, but also to celebrate the best their countries have to offer. Today, Africa’s youth showcase their pride at their citizenship and their belonging to countries that have learned through the actions of generations of youth before them, to accept and nurture their power.
The Africa Alliance of YMCA’s salutes the past youth of Africa on this day and pays tribute to them for shaping our understanding of the power youth play as active citizens. We celebrate the positive contribution Africa’s youth and children are currently making for positive change in our continent and commit our movement to continue our efforts to transform youth from subjects to citizens.
Picture: Youth celebrating South Africa's opening goal in their first 2010 Fifa World Cup match.
Credit: Christine Davis
By: Christine Davis, AAYMCA communications volunteer
By: Christine Davis, AAYMCA communications volunteer