On the ‘Salon International des Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (SITIC) sur le thème central ”Les TICs, moteur de développement durable”’ (International Forum on ICT, main theme: ICT, motor of durable development); 9-11 September N’Djamena, Chad:
‘Le SITIC au Tchad, c’est comme vendre une cabine de bronzage à un noir, c’est comme vendre un peigne à un chauve, c’est comme donner un os à un chien, c’est comme.. (à completez…)’ (‘The SITIC Forum in Chad, it’s like selling a tanning booth to a black person, it’s like selling a comb to a bald person, it’s like giving a bone to a dog, it’s like (please complete…) Facebook post of Slam-artist Croquemort, Wednesday 17-09-14)
Africa’s societies are young, hence the youth are Africa’s future. Nicely said, but who are the youth, what are their doubts and can they be the future? What does ‘being the future’ mean in a country where the ‘hub of ICT’ is announced as the future, despite the fact that on the ground access to internet is the most expensive of the world, for political leaders do not allow the public any broadband access. This imaginary hub presented at an exclusive forum in one of N’Djamena’s high class buildings is only accessible for the big car-owners, the educated avant-garde. The organization is a collaboration between the State, business, the mobile phone companies, ICT-NGOs, etc. Through media exposure the forum is highly visible for the international world, but hidden behind high fences for the ordinary Chadian public. In there, you may find the young of Africa participating, however: a minority, whose lives are full of this bubble in which they might even sincerely believe, even though the practice back in their homes and neighbourhoods is one of very expensive internet, no electricity, and phone connectivity that often derails. How long can regimes conjure such empty future promises to their people without any consequence? I wonder…
Accessing new ideas through Facebook
The people outside the fence are not completely disconnected. Their access to internet is limited to the adopted version of Facebook in their cheap Tecno phones. Nevertheless, it allows them accessing new ideas that are somehow digested and re-digested into new knowledge; leading to their own interpretations of what is happening behind the fences where the ICT hub of Africa is presented. How long can regimes and internationals keep to such bubbles, without facing the rage of the young? Life has changed for the youth by accessing Facebook, but it is far from the SITIC promise, because political decision prevents further access to such developments. Do politicians fear the youth? This reminds me of the remark of one of my Chadian colleagues who said: ‘La peur a changé du camp’, which means that actually the regime is now fearing the population who, by accessing more information, are becoming increasingly conscious of their situation of inequality, and seem to throw off their yoke of ‘la peur’. It leads them into different directions of their own development, their self-realisation.
Croquemort, the slammeur of Chad, with whom I was travelling through N’Djamena and the South, was invited into the hub but decided not to participate. He rather would not be part of this illusion.
Empty music versus political music
Some of those youth have the talent to make music. The music scene is rising in Chad, not in the least because of the use of new technology. Hip hop clips are created to accompany the music. It is again basically for those who have money or who are able to ‘create’ money. Theirs is a hope for a future with more luxurious elements, with money and bling-bling. They tend to develop ‘empty’ music. Political music, so they say, or music with a message, does not pay, at least not by those who go with the flow of the regime. So they make empty music to please, and with it they will get the consent of the regime, and more than this: they become the ally of this regime and receive goods and money, to be able to become part of the inside, to get within the fence.
But what about those musicians who try differently and develop a ‘voice’ in their music? Can they escape the longing for the luxury the others do gain, but whose bling-bling has been realized in compromises? Not making compromises can mean one’s (musical) end; being famous helps to be protected against the whims of regimes; so politics and music is only for the brave and the outstanding.
Preston, in his early 30s and a producer of music in his self-built studio, embraces both the political kind and the empty kind of music. The latter, after all, pays and is also what – part of – the youth wish for. And indeed, what is against it after all? A creative thinker and a visionary, Preston helps me to understand the music scene and the thinking of the young men and women who are into political music. For him, music is a way to develop the youth, but it is also a way for the youth to contribute to positive social change. Music informs and helps to develop society. Those who make political music form a band of resistance that shares mockeries about the regime and criticizes inequality. Preston has an incredible trust in the capabilities of the Chadian youth, hence his urge to develop the Chadian music scene. For now, this scene is dependent on Cameroonian technicians and musicians, a dependency that is difficult to manage for autonomous Preston.
Preston’s studio is one of the most tangible technology hubs of Chad. With dearly earned money, Preston has built a studio that almost reaches international standards. He has bought four digital cameras to be able to film a concert professionally. He works with the best artists and has employed a Cameroonian who is technician for the production of CDs and clips. They make interesting clips, sophisticated, with style.
Preston has clear motivations to create this studio: he wants to give a space to the youth to express themselves and to contribute to the development of this country in their own way. Artists will always send out a message, and by doing so they help to change. But let’s not forget that for many of these young artists, it is bling-bling , success and money that attracts most.
The village youth’s hopes
The youth that we meet in the market place in the village Torrock (400 kilometers south of N’Djamena), are really fond of the slammeur (slam artist) Croquemort and they all want to share some words with him. In their eyes I see hope; hope that they can reach out to a future as a musician as well. For now, they are far from the ICT hub, their village is slowly awakening, some youth access (Tecno) Facebook relations – such a contrast with the village market, where the main ICT is bili bili (millet beer) and agriculture the driving motor of the household economy that will also be the plight of most of the youth that now attend school. There will be no jobs for them. The music festival that was held in the village in June this year opened their eyes for music and hence a new dream was born. This dream will turn into an illusion when they return to village life after their schooling, where there will be no e-hub for them.
Living the dream
The artist, is he really living the dream others aspire to? Can he escape from the world of misery by expressing himself? Or is he increasingly conscious of the misery in this world that he gets to know better through the creation of his music and texts, and through the knowledge he gathers on his travels, the people he acquaints with, Facebook and email, etc. More knowledge might in the end not make him live the dream. Instead, it might make his mind endlessly reflecting, not able to stop thinking. But nevertheless, he keeps to his political music, leaving the empty music with bling-bling to others, creating his own illusion of change and possibilities, commenting on and criticizing the e-hub illusions, hence taking risks and hiding his ‘peur’ and hoping for a better future.