Cattle feeding the armed groups in CAR

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For many nomadic Fulani refugees from the CAR cattle has become a memory painted on the wall of their shelter @Mirjam, 2012, Cameroon

Mi tampi, mi walaa, tampere, fuu welleke’
‘We are tired, we lost everything, exhausted, all has gone’; These are just a few words that the three Fulani, one man and two women, whom we met in Bangui last week, repeated in the exchange we had in a bar at a busy road. They refer to the difficulties they have been confronted with over the past decades. I had asked for a meeting with some Fulani who fled to Bangui. A Muslim student who followed my course in Bangui was willing to make this happen. We could not meet in PK5, the quarter of Bangui where the Muslims were uniting to hide for attacks of the anti-Balaka. These attacks are no longer taking place, everybody assures me, but when I propose to go there and meet the Fulani who are displaced and live in an empty school building in PK5 I am held for a complete lunatic, ‘What.. no, no, you cannot go there’. People are still afraid that something might happen, but also the anti-French sentiments seem to be deeply rooted and may lead to difficult situations for people like me, white.

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Meeting ‘displaced’ Fulani from PK5 at a bar at the road @Mirjam 201

Meeting Nomadic Fulani in Bangui
My wish to meet some Fulani was inspired by the many stories about their plight. Since 2012 we (with Adamu Amadou PhD student) are working with the Fulani refugees from CAR in Cameroon and in Chad (with ma-student Eli Doksala from Chad), and the flow of refugees and displacement of Fulani is still continuing. They have been the victim of many different armed groups, their cattle serving as a resource for these groups. Already in the 1990s children of nomads were kidnapped for ransom, later they were simply robbed of their cattle. This has now been going on for 20 years. The cattle of the Fulani seems to be  a resource as valuable as gold and diamonds. But the young Fulani men have also joined the armed groups and formed their own armed groups, apparently for their protection. The number of displaced and refugee Fulani is not known. The many we met in Cameroon and in Chad, also outside the official refugee camps, does however indicate that the situation is serious [see for instance HRW report].

The Fulani nomads in CAR
The Fulani in CAR have different origins and come from different countries. In the 1980s they moved with their cattle into CAR where there was space and grasslands, and a need for meat. They settled and now the second generation of these newcomers already has families and the third generation of Fulani nomads is residing in CAR, where they are known as Mbororo. The name Mbororo is in fact a derogatory term, it is the name of their cattle, the so-called Mbororo are many different lineages, Ali Jam, Uda-en, Wodaabe, and so on. The 1980s and first half of 1990s was a period when they were welcomed. The spaces of cattle and agriculture were well separated and the symbiotic relationship between herders and farmers was not just a dream.

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Amadou in conversation with a Fulani chief in Bangui @MIrjam 2012

However, from the mid-1990s political struggles were translated in unrest in the countryside. This was intensified when in 2003 Patasé was toppled by Bozizé (with help of the French and the Chadians and the chaos in the country was only increasing. With the absence of the state any measure to enforce the guidance of farmer-herder contracts disappeared completely. The Fulani were increasingly considered an exploitable source of wealth. In the interviews Adamou held in the camps in Cameroon and the one interview we held with a Fulani leader in Bangui (December 2012) the expression of powerlessness, of not being heard and being victimized was dominant.

Fulani resistance
As there was no protection offered to the Fulani, resistance and rebellion could only be expected. Armed self-defence groups turned into bandits (Saibou Issa: les coupeurs de route: histoire du banditisme rural et transfrontalier dans le basin du lac tchad (Paris, Karthala 2010)). Baaba Ladde was the first warlord who organised a movement of Fulani and got indeed publicity for the cause. He had his base in Northwest CAR at the Chadian border. Baaba Ladde, a Chadian, directed his actions and discourse against the

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Fulani (wodaabe) with her (sedentary) friend in a village between Bangui and Garoua Boulai @Mirjam, 2012

Chadian State, Idriss Déby. In fact he started his rebellion in 1998, but moved to CAR in 2008. After reconciliation talks he became a member of the Chadian government and later deserted again; then again became a civil servant in a Chadian sous prefecture. In 2014 he returned to CAR, where he was arrested in Bangui in November. He was sent to Chad in January 2015 and is currently in prison. Part of the armed forces of Baaba Ladde joined the Seleka, namely the group headed by Ali Darass, an old friend of Baaba Ladde. He ‘settled’ in central CAR and created the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique.

Ali Darass
Ali Darass is said to be from Niger, and ‘uses’ the story of the Fulani crisis for the justification of his movement. His territory is expanding. It is alleged that he is an ally of the government and therefore not stopped; one of the rumours around this is that the president whose name is derived from a Fulani name (Faustin-Archange Touadéra), supports the Fulani and UPC. The other story is that as the UPC is not against government measures to control the conflict like the DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). He is openly willing to support these.

And very recently a new group presenting themselves as defenders of the rights of the Fulani was born: 3R (Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation), that is said to have attacked villages and people, creating a bloodbath in November 2016 in the region North-East, the region where Baaba Ladde also had his fiefdom. This group 3R is accused of serious atrocities. However, their leader Sidiki is invited around negotiation tables and tells a different story. He denies all atrocities supposedly committed by his men.

 ‘les peuls negocient et ont de bonne comportement autour de la table’

(…) said a UNICEF employee when we were discussing the very difficult situation in CAR at the head office in Bangui (27 January 2017). Do the Fulani have a reason to resist/rebel? Also in the stories of our research in Bria, Bambari and Paoua the Fulani are very present both as rebels/resistance fighters and as victims. They have become a new military force in CAR, and are expanding their territory very fast. The seeds sown by Baaba Ladde seem to have taken a new direction in their growth over the past few months.

The Fulani nomads are filling the ranks of their generals, of 3R and Ali Darass, out of anger that their cattle is feeding other armed groups that are fighting in the CAR; this vicious circle can only be broken if the government will take control over the areas again. But that is still a dream for CAR, despite the presence of international forces mission MINUSCA .And until a solution is found the Fulani nomads will also continue to be part of the flows of refugees and displaced people who have no home but an empty school in Bangui.

“People in Motion”: Voice4Thought festival 2016

People move, in motion, in politics, in themselves

21-26 September, Leiden

Impressions from Mirjam and Eefje, directors of the festival

Valséro, a critical and engaged artist from Cameroon, was right when he said: “We are all ‘people in motion’, and to understand why there are problems between us and them, let’s have a look in our own societies? Why do we do the way we do? We always search for outside explanations, but what if it is simply us?”He joined us at the festival because he was eager to think!

This was the best compliment we could expect to receive. The Voice4Thought festival is not merely a festival, it is meant to be a moment, a few days when people can meet, discuss current issues and share ideas on how matters could improve.

Opening

The opening ceremony on Wednesday 21 September at the Museum of Antiquities was a surprise  [ ]. The opening dance choreographed by Ita was splendid. Joumana, Director of the Prins Claus Fund was touching in her speech . She revealed her personal story of movement and pointed out that we are moving in the world and need to keep on moving in order to shape that very same world. Her presence was special as both V4T and Prins Claus Fund share the ideology of exchange between art and academia.

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Dancer Yaya at the Museum of Antiquities

The dance of Yaya from Chad was the highlight of the afternoon. He was fascinating. Painted in yellow,  he nearly struck fear into (the audience and staff at the museum) because his paint should not leave traces on the floor or on the beautiful temple in the middle of the hall. That temple and the danger in his performance made Yaaya flourish even more. It felt like he danced for us, and only for us.. and the experience was breathtaking. His dance was inspired by the Fulani, a nomadic people roaming all over the Sahel. Their freedom of mobility was overflowing from his dance.

The kind words of Aphroditi (LeidenGlobal) and Ton Dietz (ASCL) concluded the opening with spoken words and Didier, an exceptional and admirable talent from Chad, did the same with singing words. In the end guests, artists and members of the foundation  had drinks together to mark the beginning of a week of amazing performances and experiences.

J’suis pas là pour contrer la bible mais confirmer qu’il est invisible

Que tu sois de l’Islam ne fait pas semblant de regarder le coran

Que tu sois du christianisme ne fait semblant de feuilleter la bible

Il faut le reciter pour mieux le métriser

Il donc la lire pour éviter le pir

Ohlé ohlé ohlééééé

Juste la paix, la paix qu’il nous a donnée

Juste l’amour, l’amour qu’il nous a laissé

DIDIER, Juste la paix

Youth participation

The conference of the pupils from a Leiden-based school resulted in a very enjoyable film. It showed how stereotypes often define the other and how all of us make assumptions which most often do not coincide with reality. The pupils’ interpretation of ‘people in motion’ was one of searching for the other in society and especially why and how we define the other. Some of the movie’s participants were astonished by their own beliefs about the other, and they realized that what they perceive is not per se who the other really is. After all, we are us/ourselves and the other at the same time.

# let’s talk: Being in motion; a debate

With this discussion we find ourselves at the heart of the ‘refugee problem’ and the way a society can and has to handle it. First of all, we define it as a problem. But for whom is it a problem and why? The panel discussion tried to turn the question around – refugees are not a problem, but instead they are at the center of the force of our society. History shows, as Irial Glynn, migration historian LU, explained in his opening lecture, that the contribution of migrants to our societies is immense and a world without migrants is unthinkable.

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Dr. Irial Glynn at the beginning of the panel discussion

From the panelists we heard many hopeful stories, as they had all come from somewhere and have been successful in their own way. But the stories of Yemen (Rana), of Ivory Coast’s civil war (Amee), now a decade ago, the Mali conflict (Aziz), still puzzle policy-makers. Those panelists representing the ‘solution’ were not bringing forth very encouraging thoughts. Embracing African ideologies is far from the reality in Europe, and a successful business can only be a solution for few. Yes, indeed, we need to listen to the voices of ‘people in motion’ and Isaac’s story was moving.  His call to listen actively and do something for his people, the pygmies in the forest of Congo, deeply illustrates the problems that we encounter daily, such as the complete denial of people’s rights and the rejection of migrants’ creativity and promising contributions to our society. Instead, we build borders and frontiers become of hard stone. The panel did ultimately reflect the reality of the world although its call for a listening ear aimed at the people in motion seems to be still a call in the dark.

Exhibition – Exposition In Movement

It all began with offering people the floor to present themselves and to show who they are.

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Artwork of Sapin Makengele

The exhibition which opened on Friday fulfilled exactly this objective. The pamphlets that were shown, made by Sjoerd Sijsma together with several researchers from Leiden University, are a presentation in themselves. Jomard, a refugee from Syria, shared a genuinely moving pamphlet in which he discloses the story of his itinerary from Syria and into Dutch society. The artworks of Zoe, Sapin and Cindy, displayed during this exhibition were an interpretation of movement both in political and geographical sense. References to the African continent, where political movements are increasingly influencing its societies, were at the center of these presentations.

#letswatch

In a week of various artistic expressions, a film cannot be absent. First we scheduled the film “Le Président” in which Valséro had a cameo appearance, criticizing the Cameroonian government while singing his song “Le président”. In the end, the final choice for a movie screening landed on “Stranded in Canton” presented by ASCL. The film, exploring the affairs of a Congolese entrepreneur in China was a beautiful addition to the stories of the ‘people in motion’. Prior to the projection, Lieve Joris read out aloud an intriguing excerpt from her book ‘Op de vleugels van de draak’. Both the book and movie presentation sparked a discussion among the audience and the evening was concluded with the possibility for networking and ideas exchange.

Collaboration

From 18th of September onwards, during the entire week, guest artists had been working on their repertoire. They were asked to collaborate with Dutch and ‘refugee’ artists. Together, the ‘people in motion’ managed to create emotion. The Friday evening concert began with the enchanting performance of the Iraqi group, led by Carolien on piano and Sattar  on various instruments. Then, we listened to a delightfully presented spoken-word lyrics of Dutch origin, exclaimed by Mette and accompanied on guitar by Gosse. This was followed by a beauty story and the slam lyrics of Amee from Côte d’Ivoire and by the ambassador of slam Aziz Siten’k  from Mali.

#letsdance

The Saturday concert, being the climax of the festival, made everyone initially a little bit nervous.

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Bamba Aminata a.k.a. Amee

Its execution proved it to indeed be a climax. Croquemort creatively presented himself with the Band4Thought who played as well during the first edition last year. The band had meanwhile been in Tchad at Croquemort’s festival and a complete synergy between the group and the slam artist had been achieved. They had truly become a band. The performance was moving; e-motions remained no longer hidden. The other highlight was the song written by Ernst Jansz and based on the research work of historian Maartje Janse in which academy and art crossed paths.

Amee was again stunning, with the saxo, the piano and just herself. The closing act was Valséro, backed by Martijn, DJ and music producer from the Antilounge record label.

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Political rapper Valsero

Together on stage, their synchronised performance was overwhelming. Valséro and his songs critique Cameroon and its regime, but simultaneously assess the world and the inequality in it. By and large, a very special man whom we hope to welcome back in the Netherlands.

The concert was exquisite, it showed new coalitions, real, tangible people in motion, people together, a new rencontre, new music. It brought the beginning of a possible future which only we can forge!

#Letswrite

The blog workshop on Saturday gathered together human and political rights activists, writers and researchers. It aimed to inspire and to encourage (potential) bloggers to share their unusual and sometimes harsh experiences and to find ways in which to convey the message properly.

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Blog workshop in progress

Being a blogger, Abel Maina tells, requires to verify your information and to conceive methods to engage your listeners either through social media channels or, like our cartoonists,  through visual art. The V4T blog workshop’s motto is to ‘show the unseen, write about the untold’. No matter how challenging, the network of bloggers V4T has begun to establish sets out to support freedom of expression in any possible sense.

Reporting:

Some of the outcomes and proceedings of the festival are not that apparent at first and cannot be defined by a clear-cut physical event at a specific time. The mediation of the Internet and social media turned into visitors many more than only those who were “there” at “that” time. Furthermore, it expanded the meaning of being an artist as there were participants not fitting in the regular definition of the term.

From Thursday onward, the festival became the setting for reporters with critical minds who gave their interpretations of what they saw and experienced. Fils de Maina from the Chadian diaspora in Paris introduced the festival to an international audience through his live streaming and comments on all the events. The audience was stimulated to ask questions and give remarks through social media during and after the events thus simultaneously creating a valuable archive. This approach more than tripled the number of visitors of the festival which reached far beyond the physical boundaries of even Europe.

The Voice4Thought team themselves were reporting by means of social media and created a live blog on the V4T website, documenting in several media the highlights of the festival as they were occurring. A few engaged volunteers as well as professional photographers created a gallery of wonderful photos to capture all artistic production and people’s emotions.

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Cartoonist at work

And last but not least, the ninth Art was represented by the cartoonists Samy, Adjim and Augustine. They expressed their critical thoughts by drawing in more than one clever way and many times making hilarious analyses of our festival.

As the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the threats to several cartoonists in the past years has made it very clear, it has become a challenge to speak up and to delicately employ the freedom of expression. The cartoonists’ witty creations proved that this goal is obtainable and their subtle presence enlivened the whole festival.

Cameroon Alert!

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Text from a Facebook post 23 June 2016: Common lawyers rubbish new penal code Bill: A penal code that says ministers cannot be arrested or tried (immunity). A penal code that says any judge who tries  a minister and sentences him will be sent to jail. Wonders!!

Gradually we’re starting to get more information from West Cameroon, where a strike by lawyers has been evolving into a general strike among teachers and finally protestsscreenshot_20161212-085944 in several towns in this part of Cameroon that were met with violence by the State. Today, 12 December: A call is being made on the internet for declaring a Ghost Town in Southern Cameroon (see Facebook post); what will be the response? The essence of the argument in the protest is the imposition of the Francophone laws, teaching etc. on the Anglophones, a discourse that stands for so much more.

Common Lawyers strike
It started with the strike of the Anglophone Common Lawyers. I witnessed through the eyes of a former student from Leiden the long process leading up to the strike: the first steps were made this summer. It went from a peaceful protest to a harsh and violent encounter between the lawyers and the government. On Thursday 10 November 2016, several lawyers in Buea were beaten, and their wigs and gowns seized.

From a Facebook Post summarizing the process, beginning December:

Hello Prof. Mirjam! The Common Law Lawyers of Anglophone extraction have been on strike across the entire Common law jurisdictions of the North West and South West regions. This is on account of the systemic extinction of the Common Law principles by officials of ‘La République’. Prior to this strike action we had tabled a series of demands to the head of state. It is a shame that instead of responding to our demands, the government turned a deaf ear and instead employs its traditional policy of divide and rule as a means of frustrating our cause.
Consequently, we have resorted to remain resolute, determined and steadfast to our cause. We are henceforth synergizing with other unions to advance the cause.

Cameroon on fire?
Are the protests that we are witnessing today an outcry over years of neglect and oppression? And will they finally lead to change in Cameroon? For long, journalists and academics have been wondering why there was not more protest in Cameroon. I asked this question several times to my Cameroonian friends whose answers would vary; from ‘we do not like conflict’ to ‘oppression is too harsh’. Are today’s protests a turn in Cameroonian history? Will the Anglophone grievances be picked up by the Francophones who suffer similar marginality, who are also neglected by the state and have a ruler whose family has been bathing in wealth for the past 34 years? The splitting of the country in Francophone and Anglophone parts at independence (1961) has ever since served as a language to formulate anger and to search for justice.

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@From the blog post of Vera Bakker

I cite from a friend’s detailed report to me (in the week of 12 December). He was writing this in a cybercafé while the protests were ongoing on 30 November 2016:

But the unique aspect of the union of French speaking and English speaking Cameroonians is that it was not one through a formal union treaty. It was an informal arrangement between the peoples of the Cameroons who only share the commonality of German colonization from 1884 to 1916 who decided to cohabitate from October 1961. That is why the union has been described as a ‘Tontine Union’ in reference to the commonly found informal associations which function on the basis of unwritten agreements.

We preach no violence. At least not before peaceful options have been exhausted! But it was high time we got Yaoundé to understand that we have inalienable rights. It was high time we got Yaoundé  to understand that we are all children of God, made in his own image and lines. That we have been recognized by the international community as a people; and so we stand side by side with them as two peoples equal in status. That, flowing from that, we shall never again glorify the status of second class citizens.

Deep roots
Walter Nkwi, University Professor in Buea,  shared his analysis with me per e-mail (12 December 2016):
‘(…) Of course the problem of Bamenda [the anglophone capital of the North West Region, MdB] cannot be explained in a single email. It has deep historical roots and cannot be separated from the political upheavals of the 1990s. Over the years, the city has been abandoned by the ruling government to the extent that there is virtually no road.fb_img_1481529808525
This time around the story started with the lawyers who insisted that the government should translate the OHADA Law, which is a business law for the whole of French Africa. Interestingly this law has been there since 1999 or so. Apart from the translation the lawyers also demanded that the government should withdraw all the Francophone magistrates, who cannot pass and write judgment in English, from the Anglophone courts. This was also because the government had been insensitive to the fact that while the Francophones are trained in civil law the Anglophones were trained in common law. After a persistent plea to the government and the government stubbornness to listen to their plight they now called a strike.
In the midst of the strike, Anglophone teachers of secondary and higher education called a strike, firstly, in solidarity with the lawyers and also because the francophone had adulterated the English education; University of Buea [the capital of the anglophone South West Region, MdB] and Bamenda joined and all now are asking for a federal system of government while others are asking for complete secession with the francophone government. An attempt to diffuse this problem by the Prime Minister in Bamenda failed. This led to a rally in Buea to preach national unity by the CPDM [main political party, of president Paul Biya, MdB] stakeholders. This was happening just after Frundi [opposition leader, central in the riots in the 1990s] had visited Buea to attend the students who had gone on rampage on 28 November demanding for their bonuses, also known as the Presidential excellent award. Their names were omitted at the level of the Ministry of Higher Education and the university authorities were still in the process of getting the problem resolved. However, in Buea the rally “went well” but the attendance was very timid.
The CPDM delegation left for Bamenda where they met stiff resistance from the population, mostly the youths who put up barricades, blocking all the entrances into the city. The military replied with grenades and life bullets and in the confusion some youths were killed. The other youths resorted to burning down the electric and telephone poles as well as the police station at the Meta quarters and military cars. CPDM vote holders were even taken hostage at Ayaba hotel, one of the big hotels in Bamenda.
Bamenda, Buea and Cameroon at large are very tense. Anything can start at any time. The personnel of the University of Buea has been on strike for one month now and nothing is moving. Administrators have abandoned their offices and once in a while the police, in full combat gear, comes round. Nobody can say what will happen next. Like during the French revolution of 1789.  All the ingredients for a great outburst in Cameroon are present. There is an inefficient and corrupt government; a dismembered civil society; a very high level of unemployment; an efficient military; popular masses suffering from the main base of the state; a lousy 300 parties democracy; inadequate health facilities; inadequate portable water; very poor road infrastructure etc. All need a single spark to set everything alight. The conflagration can come at any time.

I have told you in trust my mind.’

Walter permitted me to publish this text that hardly contains his anger but is also an analysis that needs to reach the eyes of the readers.

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Android Youth : The prix de la Francophonie 35>35

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Fatoumata Kebe presenting her project to teach astronomy to children in suburbs of Paris, 29-10-2016 @Mirjam

“We see the rise of a new generation of digital natives today. Our task must be to empower a new generation of digital citizens at the global level – starting with education, new intercultural skills, and deeper media and information literacy.”

Speaking is UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova during a conference held in Canada in 2015. Her remark epitomizes the approach to youth in the project and policy field.
The Android Youth is both seen as the future of and a threat to ‘our’ world which is funded on a belief in democracy, equality and welfare for all. This ideal world and the norms and values behind it are driving discussions about the pathways for youth and the policies that accompany them. In the context of the fight against terrorism and radicalization, the youth, especially the massive numbers of young people in Africa (an estimated >60% of the population) and in sub-urban spaces in Europe and the USA, are considered a potential threat to the world order. There is quite a number of young people who no longer believe in the legitimacy of the models that have shaped their states. The search for social, economic, and political identities, has become central to their lives. The advancement of ICTs, including social media, has made this a far more complex matter: Facebook has become one of the major communication and search tools for youth all over the world.

Hopeless
For many of the youth we are referring to here, in countries like Chad,  Mali, and Senegal, it is not easy to access roads to prosperity. The norms, values, and opportunities of rural livelihoods do not match with the aspirations of the often urbanized youth – also in rural areas youth is increasingly used to urban lifestyles, a.o. because of their access to internet.
Instead, they are confronted with ideas, new styles, with hopes for different futures condensed in the advertisements of mobile telephony companies, the beer advertisements, and also by discourses by politicians watched on TV, or accessed through the social media. One such discourse is about youth migration towards Europe that resonates their hopelessness and their difficult search for identity. African and European media have made this into one of their major discourses, obscuring others.

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Android Youth

Competition
My recent observations however, do reveal another tendency that could steer the youth discourse in a different direction:  the appearance of competitions for innovative and business-like initiatives of youth. This resonates with ‘development’ approaches that no longer talk about projects, but businesses, innovations, and social entrepreneurship. I observed some of these ‘competitions’ closely,  like the start-up award of Total, the start-up competitions of Reach4Change (which I assisted in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad), pushing the youth into competition to carve out a prosperous future. Access to these competitions is through internet and social media, Facebook in particular. The procedures around these prizes are entirely ‘Facebooked’. On 29 October I was present at the first award ceremony in Abidjan of again another new initiative: the prix de la Francophonie 35>35 in which 35 youth aged between 18 and 35 compete.

This is how the competition was announced:

L’Appel à candidatures court du 17 février 2016 au 31 mai 2016 
sur le site web : www.francophonie3535.com.

Au 31 mars, la plateforme enregistrait 900 visiteurs en moyenne/semaine 
sur le site web : www.francophonie3535.com.

Hence only accessible for innovative Android Youth!

First steps 
Richard Seshie, the organizer of the Prix de la Francophonie, is himself a youth entrepreneur. He represents those who have studied abroad and set up enterprises abroad but decided to come back to give it a try in their home country. For Seshie this is  Côte d’Ivoire. Here, he aims to combine event management with a social and engaged component. This event that he linked to the Francophonie, the international organization that unites the countries where French is one of the main languages, sprang from his creative and entrepreneurial brain. He did not yet get the support that he wishes, but the start is there. Microsoft was one of the main supporters of his initiative; for them a chance to access the Android Youth. He does his best to give his event publicity, for example by linking it to other events and writing press releases. Despite the organizational flaws of this first edition Richard promises to give a lot of attention to the winners and has high hopes that they will be connected to a different business world through this prize. But, what is probably more important, he is convinced of the idea. This is for him the way forward!

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The candidates with their certificates @Joky

Innovations
The 29th was a chance to meet these Android innovators. I was amazed by all their stories. The crème de la crème of the Francophone world together, from countries as diverse as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Mauritius, Togo, Vietnam, USA, Mali, etc. They had all come on their own expense to join the ceremony of the Francophonie 35th we already had a chance to listen to the thrilling story of the banker from Mauritius who decided that life needed something more than banking and started to work with blind children. Amazing was the Malian/USA lady, Fatumata Kebe, who closed her presentation with her plea for teaching astronomy to children in Parisian suburbs. She was awarded with the Super Prix de l’Initiative Féminine Jeune Francophone de l’année. I later met the two amazing Guinean men who developed their video activisms ‘Destin-en-Main’, and the Cameroonian young man who lives in Ouagadougou and turns plastic garbage into isolation material for houses.

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Winner of the Super Prix! @Richard Abidjan TV

Also an amazing story of the Nigerian lady, with a pastoralist background, who developed a system to produce animals’ food,  and finally the Chadian Didier Lalaye, who we met earlier in some of my previous blogs  with his project  Dawa m-health that brings health to people in remote areas. He won the super prix: Jeune Personnalité Francophone de l’Année.

They are all innovative youth, often able to travel and hence they have been confronted with other worlds and developed a vision on their own societies. screenshot_2016-11-06-14-10-22Although some of these young people are from a relatively well-to-do background, most of them are not. They are all part of worlds where it is not easy to make a living, or where most of the youth do not see how to carve out a future. They are on their way to become important people in their societies, representing alternative routes for the youth. This becomes clear from the reception of the two young men from the organization Destin-en-Main in Guinea, and the reflection of the people in Chad on their winning candidate Didier Lalaye on Facebook, on local radio and in the public discourse.

Chances and international politics
So what to think of such public events, where the innovative Android Youth of the Francophonie, most from various African countries, are caught into paths to success that have similarities to the famous idea of the ‘American dream’? How does this resonate with the ordinary youth in Abidjan, in the suburbs of Paris, in the rural hinterlands of Mali, in N’Djamena; will this message reach them at all? Is there any possibility for them to play their part in these innovations? Will the approaches of UNESCO, and many others, finally prove to be right? Will the Android Youth be the countervailing power and hence carry the message of the ‘ideology of democracy and welfare’ to the masses?

In the speech delivered by Didier Lalaye after he received his prize, he put his finger on the dilemma many youth are facing. But his speech revealed as well that these inventive youth are opinion makers and socio-political activists in their societies. He turned the question of the youth’s success into a political agenda.

‘A small rant: if we are in digital innovation, it means that somewhere we should have support of the internet but unfortunately in my country, Chad, it is since March 2016 that the government cut Internet. This is so disappointing! To all who are present here: those who might or do host the Chadian government as heroes internationally, are wrong. It is rather a government that is trying to destroy the dreams of the youth. I want you to reflect on that!

I dedicate this thing (the trophy) to all young people in Chad who do not even have the chance to post a video on YouTube. I am here because I live in Holland (to do a PhD). If I would have been living in Chad I would never have had access to the Internet as it should be!’

If the International Community wants to fight against radicalization and the end of poverty it might be best to start fighting against injustice in the ‘façade democracies’ that do not allow their youth to prosper! UNESCO and Microsoft should reconsider their roles!’

Poverty and Youth: a recipe for change in Mali?

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Sheep along the road in Bamako @Mirjam, mob phone

El-Eid Tabaski in Bamako
It is Friday 9 September and I am sitting in a taxi that takes me through traffic-congested Bamako. Sheep are packed along the roads, waiting to be eaten during the Muslim feast of Tabaski on Monday, 12th. People are in town to organize this feast: to get their hair done, buy new clothes, and buy sheep. Bamako is busy. Yesterday, the driver of the 4W-drive big car of the organization which invited me, Groupe Odyssee, funded by the Dutch Embassy, was complaining. Sheep are expensive and clothing the family is almost impossible, but one has to do it. The taxi driver this Friday is shouting as he navigates through the city – at the moto taxis, at the pedestrians who do not watch out, at the congested roads, and the bad roads. And then at each roundabout he calls some children hanging around to give them a kind of millet cookies. He explains: it is Friday-sadaqa, a gift for those who do not have anything on the holy Friday, the Muslim prayers day.The children are twins, from poor mothers. I see poverty not only at these roundabouts. More than I remember (but memory is a tricky thing) young people are sitting along the roads, doing nothing, while many others are doing small jobs, carrying heavy loads, selling nil, trying to make a living. Bamako is full and more (young) people are coming every day. The mountains are no longer green, the bush is replaced by houses. Houses that are shacks. But also, as in every town in Africa, big houses of those who do well. They do well despite the war, and despite economic difficulties. The contrast pains.

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shops along the road @Mirjam, mob phone

War
It is war in Mali. One can feel it and one can see it in Bamako. The occupation of the North in 2012 has deeply affected the city. Especially the attacks that followed after as a direct consequence of the situation in the North. Hotels are barricaded, soldiers are on the street, military is visible everywhere. But this feeling is especially fed by the stories and the analysis made by friends and colleagues. They do not see much good in the government. The president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) is becoming dissociated from the people. The last actions to clean the city are just an example. The déguerpissement of the sides of the streets, sweeping away the small shacks that are the shops and workshops of (often young) people who have no jobs and try to make something out of nothing every day. They lost to make place for the Summit de la Francophonie to be held in Bamako in 2017. People are angry about this and see their vote for IBK go up in smoke. He does not do much for them.

Urban youth protest! 
Recently (mid-August) one of the most popular radio-journalists and public figure was arrested: Ras-Bath (Youssouf Mohamed Bathily). He was arrested because he was telling the truth about the situation in Mali, questioning the actions of the government. Ras-Bath has his own radio show ‘Carte sur Table’ and is extremely popular among young people. When he was arrested many youth from Bamako went to the street to support him. Facebook was invaded with support messages. The government is not keen on demonstrating youth and the demonstration was oppressed with two young people killed. Subsequently the mobile internet connections were shut down.

Boni Youth
Early September another event reached the headquarters of the international press: Boni, a small town in central Mali, was occupied by ‘jihadists’.The story is a little fuzzy. Apparently the military had retreated from Boni, leaving it in the hands of the population. The youth groups, so-called Jihadists, who have their camps in the region, took their chance to manifest their power and ‘conquered’ Boni… for a few days. The military finally took it back. Instead of questioning what happened and who these young military, associating clearly with jihadist movements, are, they are coined as terrorists and will be trialed if they can be arrested. But indeed, who are these young men, part of the youth population of Mali?

Disgruntled youth
In another blog and a publication of Boukary Sangaré, we tried to find out what is behind these stories other than criminal acts and terrorism. They are also part of the disgruntled youth, who form more than 60% of the Malian population and who feel that there is not enough attention for them, that they are forgotten. The Boni youth have a pastoral nomadic background. Pastoral nomads in central Mali feel marginalized and indeed their livelihood is threatened by shrinking pasture areas, difficulties related to ecology, and now the insecurity in the region. These pastoral youth have no real future within their own livelihood and tend to search for other possibilities, among which the Jihadist movements.

Mali is expected to be one of the youngest nations in the near future, with more than 60% of its population younger than 25. They need a future. Although the Boni and Urban youth seem to differ a lot, they do share conditions of life and the impossibility to build a future: feeling (and being) marginalized, no employment, poverty. Changing ministers in the government will not help to solve these problems. NGOs and international programs propose as one of the solutions the creation of employment for the youth. This sounds as a possibility to relieve part of the problem, but as so far shown creating jobs is not easy in a poverty economy. Furthermore, even when young people are invited to give their take on the solution of the problems in international forums or discussions organized by NGOs, these are often not the illiterate youth from poor urban neighborhoods, or  from pastoral nomads communities.

Life continues
And while poverty and youth mingle, multiple billions are spent on the UN peace mission in Mali that dominates and creates the city today, and the Malian government will spend lots of money on the reception of the Summit de la Francophonie in January 2017. The (educated) elites profit from the NGO machinery that was set in motion. The sheep will be killed, many children will not be dressed as they should have been for Tabaski, although their parents tried their best. The youth will quell a whole history of frustrations with another tea. When will the youth be invited to join the negotiation tables?

‘Ensemble pour un Tchad Émergent’?

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Posters from the elections campaign still present in N’djaména with one of the MPS election slogans (photo from internet)

On August 8, 2016, Idriss Déby Itno was (re)installed as president, for his fifth term.  The electoral victory was celebrated exuberantly and was well attended by international guests. Present were i.a. the presidents of Mali, Niger, Mauretania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the minister of defence of France and several representatives of European Union and the USA. Their particular presence shows how power is divided in the world.

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Chiefs of State in Louis IV chairs attending (@RFI)

The war on terrorism was one of the major topics in Déby’s speech, and these presidents ‘profit’ from the strong presence of Chad in this fight. With the other leaders they are the power holders who support each other, hidden behind the façade of a ‘Tchad émergent’. Electoral fraud investigation follows international rules and cannot be invoked by the will of the people.  The leaders were guided through the beautiful and luxurious hotels in the cleaned up neighbourhood Sabangali, along the river Chari, where they were received in one of the most high-end Hilton hotels. The airport roads were cleaned and the entrance to N’djamena beautified.

Background
At the (litteral) background of this ceremony, were protests and ‘villes morts’, despite the ban on demonstrations. On the morning of the 8th, after the march had already been dispersed with teargas, a young man was killed and another man got wounded somewhere else in N’djaména. According to the testimony of a motor taxi driver, he had nothing to do with the protests. He simply came by bus, to the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to visit his family. These were the casualties to be accepted, so it seems. Not much publicity was given to it. Musicians were invited to celebrate by singing the louanges for the regime at the different roundabouts in the city. One of the musicians asked for more attention to the problems the population is facing in Chad. As a reaction, the national TV broadcasting the ceremonies and events was taken out of the air and the musician was kindly asked to move on.

That day N’djaména was not for civilians, but for politicians.

Future of misery
The outcome of the elections in Chad is heavily contested. The Chadian population seems to put up with the fraudulent facts. They have no choice. The movements, protests, people who were killed are not heard, their plight forgotten. The interests are clear: stability and security in Central and West Africa. A friend in N’djamena told me: ‘We do not matter, they forget us, we are non-existent’. The coming five years Chad will not raise itself out of poverty, movements and protests will be a monthly occurrence. Such is the forecast of pessimists. The signs are there that they might be right.

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N’djaména’s hidden side, but reality (@Mirjam)

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N’djaména ‘vitrine de l’Afrique’: Place de Nation

Many Chadians live a difficult life, also those who thought to have a bright future. The petrol income has dropped to such a low level, that the oil fields are closed down and the personnel who were so wealthy and living spectacular lives, are sent home, being suspended. The huge number of motor-taxis in N’djaména shows the hidden youth unemployment. For the last three months teachers and professors have not received any salary. And even though the reasons behind the strike by students and professors are legitimate, it does not help to get paid. They hope to take up work if their salaries are being paid in September.

Knowledge Power
The non-functioning university, however, does not seem to bother Chadian leaders in the least. Is this a deliberate policy to keep knowledge institutions deprived of good means? A population that does not know the full picture will not protest. Since the elections, there have been ‘technical problems’ with the internet on a daily basis. Facebook and WhatsApp no longer function. The closing down of several sites, however, are discussed as being a political act. The movements and protests around the elections were basically featured through Facebook and Facebook activism by the diaspora was really reaching part of the population in Chad. Add to this the high costs to make a call or to link to the internet and read an email and it becomes clear that for a large part of the population information is inaccessible, they are made deaf and blind. This does not, however, stop the younger generations to access social media through VPN techniques which have gone viral in Chad.

The State informs through state media, informing the population (who have a TV) about the huge investments of the government in the city, the marvellous plans of the President for his new term and of course showing pictures of the ceremonies and festivities sharing the image of ‘Le Tchad émergent’. The state treasury’s last billions are spent on image building for the international community.

Presidential elections in Chad: Confusion

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‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’
(Facebook Messenger)

10 April: day of the votes
No Facebook, no Whatsapp, no sms messages: this all leads to a weird silence. ‘What are they afraid of?’ asked Croquemort, Chadian protest slam artist, on Facebook. He is in Europe so he is able to post. The answer of other diaspora Chadians is that it is the fear for the people. We are wondering: what is happening in Chad today? Are we witnessing a real change in the political landscape? Is it possible that the sitting dictator/President will be sent away by the ballot box? Will he allow such a transition?

In this blog ‘report’ I summarize my experiences of the Presidential elections in Chad where, eventhough the official outcome has still to be finalised, it is clear that the current President Déby will remain in power, after having already served during a  period of 26 years. This is bad news for the large group of people who voted against him. The first results circulating on Facebook and in bars and the outcomes as announced by the government on 21April are so divergent that the future of Chadian politics is very insecure.  Read more about the elections in the blog of Deuh’b Emmanuel

 

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Kebzabo’s Facebook picture: in front of the masses…

The campaign
The campaign started on 20 March (see previous blog) and the closer the day of the elections the more posts on Facebook. The day before the elections  numerous were the postings on Facebook supporting Saleh Kebzabo, the main opposition candidate to the President. At the ‘Place de la Nation’ Kebzabo assembled more people than the outgoing President Déby did a few days earlier. In Moundou, Kebzabo created a huge crowd in the streets. The pictures posted on Facebook also showed a huge amount of people supporting Kebzabo in Fianga. No doubt that this is real. And it seems indeed that Déby, who certainly wants to be in power for the coming years, did not expect such an overwhelming support for his rival Kebzabo (and by the way for a third candidate, Médard, the mayor of Moundou, economic capital of the south). It is expected that Déby will do everything to keep his power. But from what we have been observing, his power base is crumbling. Are people really fed up with him?

Diaspora
Skepticism about the influence of the diaspora and social media in the political process seems to have definitively settled with the events in Chad. It can simply not be denied how social media have been influencing the process and will influence the process in its ability to follow the elections and report about it. Citizen journalism at its best!

9 April was the day the military would vote. They voted and were expected to support the sitting President. One bureau in the North, where military voted, became the issue on Facebook. The voting was not done in a private environment, but everybody could follow who the soldiers would vote for. Eight soldiers who very openly refused to vote for Déby but supported Kebzabo, were arrested and put in prison. One of them was able to call his family and they (via contacts in the Netherlands) were able to connect to the most active diaspora Facebook-writer in Paris (‘fils de Maina’) who posted the story on Facebook. Nothing is hidden; the story is scandalous.

Voting: informal results
On 10 April more information about the voting was released by members of the diaspora, who obtain this information through calling with their informants in Chad; Despite the biometric cards, stories about fraud and many strange things that are happening during the elections circulate. Apparently the voices of the population can no longer be silenced. (blog Marielle Debos)

In one of his posts, fils de Maina analyses the elections and comes to a stunning conclusion: It could indeed happen that the votes are turned in such a way that Déby will win, but this time the population will not accept.

And then there were the weird moves of the French and the European Union – who urged the population to accept the results – and their demand to Kebzabo to accept the offer of the Déby to become Prime Minister: were they preparing the victory of Déby? The international community is following the elections eagerly as they do not wish Deby defeat, as that would probably mean an end to the Chadian interventions in the war on terror.

A friend confided in me during a Facebook Messenger exchange: ‘We are afraid of what will come’.

Sitting in my house in the Netherlands, Croquemort and I were convinced that there should be a second round, after all, Déby could not claim the first round, given the results that were published on Facebook.

21 April: announcements of (preliminary) results
Thursday night (21 April) MPS supporters’ rifles burst into N’Djamena’s air. After the winning results for their President, they were full of joy. Their bullets injured a lot of people and could be interpreted as a warning not to demonstrate. ‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’.The fraud election results, showing 61.5 % for President Déby and hence a prolongation of his term, will most probably lead to unrest in Chad. The future is very uncertain.

Of course everybody was expecting fraud, but the openness of it is stunning! After three empty announcements that the election results would be published, finally, on Thursday 21 April, Chadian television. broadcasted the press conference. The results were read first by the president of the CENI, (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante) and then by others. They went from the northern to the southern provinces. I was (in the Netherlands) with Croquemort, who was increasingly getting angry and was stupefied
by the announced results. Saleh Kebzabo, who was the croq electiosnbig winner in the pre-results which circulated on the internet, happened to be the big loser. In a few southern provinces he had around 50 %, but the huge victory was not given to him. Instead, Idriss Déby got most of the votes, losing only in a few provinces. In N’Djamena he had 50%, in the northern provinces over 80%, and  a mere 24% in the south. We knew this would happen, but had hoped for results that would have allowed for a second round between Kebzabo and Déby, but alas… The regime of Déby has taken the situation in its hands.
N’ Djamena and other cities are militarized, surveillance is everywhere.

The moment of waiting had come for the opposition to take the future in their hands. Will they indeed develop a shadow government? Or will they all turn to the party of Déby, like four of them already did? Everything can be bought. These four simply have chosen to become part of the system and have a good job, incorporated in the government.

RFI (Radio France International) reported neutrally. The French have asked Kebzabo to accept a post as Prime Minister. He has not accepted. Further silence from the side of the French. And the EU? The Americans?

Facebook, Whatsapp and SMS were all still blocked. No exchanges possible since 10 April, the day of the elections, except for those who know how to circumvent, how to hack.

29 April: Protest?
Facebook and all other connections are back. On 29 April the opposition announced the real results: Saleh Kebzabo and Laoukein Kourayo Mbaiherem Médard (the mayor of Moundou) are on top (resp. 31 and 24%), Déby is the fourth with 10 % of the votes. How these figures were composed is not clear, but they come closer to the informal outcome as was reported just after the elections.

Information is politics!

read as well the blog of Makaila and see this post of Maina with his as ever strong statements:

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