Deciphering Radicalisation: Misuse of a concept

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Douentza 2013 @Boukary Sangaré

This blog post is part of a series of blogs that I will publish the coming months within the framework of the Voice4Thought Festival on Digital Radicalization (23-29 September) and the Voice4Thought @Dakar events (15-18 November). In these blogs I will try to understand (also with other authors) what radicalisation means in different situations in the Sahel, and the world. What are the undercurrents? What historical parallels are there? Why is it happening now? With this text I try to understand how the hype of radicalisation – that was probably first of all a discourse born out of fear and othering – became a reality and has in Mali even transformed into ethnic scapegoating:  ‘la question peule’.

A concept
The meaning of the concept ‘radicalisation’ anno 2017 is related to a context defined by fear and panic for violence, in the name of religion and anti-western sentiments. It is especially used in western media and policy circles to depict a situation that has to be countered. It has become related to negative action, to violence and extremism. Zoe Reddy, artist and conservator, and Cindy van der Aa, artist and designer, compiled the exposition ‘Radicalisation: a range of defiance’ during the V4T festival 2017 and kunstroute in Leiden. Zoe made a video clip in which she tried to get to the fundamental signification of the concept radical. She deconstructs the meaning of radical, which brings it to: a radical affects the poster kunstroutefundamental nature of something, i.e. it leads to change. She questions where the word or concept comes from and what meaning it has gained over time. How has it become equal to violence, extremism in our times? In our present day world we seem to have forgotten about the root meaning of the word. Many people who were radical did bring very positive change. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were considered radicals (with a negative connotation) by the regimes in power, but they have changed values in our world deeply and not negatively. In today’s world however radicalisation related to violence and extremism has become a means to create opposition and accuse others of being wrong. It allows those who are in this discourse and reality to define the other as a negative force, whom we need to destroy to make our world safe again. On the other side of this opposition the so-called radicals formulate their own ideologies and have their own reasons to act as they do. In the process they may in the end adopt radical strategies to reach their goals. A concept and the meaning we give it acts, it has consequences in the real world.

Central Mali
How the concept acts becomes clear in the situation of Mali, where since 2012 a complicated war has become a (international) fight against radicalisation, violence and Muslim extremism. In Central Mali the Fulani/Peul have become central target and players in this war. They have become more conscious of their ‘marginal’ position vis-à-vis the Malian state and made their demand for a better life heard. The unemployment, lack of good pasture areas and a general neglect of development in their home area are the root causes of these demands. Insecurity in the region that only increased every year pushed them as well to defend themselves. The non-response to their demands has pushed some of the Fulani into the hands of armed groups that are often inspired by religious ideologies and a similar discourses of marginalization. The Fulani are of old inhabitants of Central Mali. They are citizens and have shared spaces with other groups for so long in relative peace. However with the turn in history after 2012 they have become enemies of the state and are considered radical and extremists that the State has to fight.

Media(ting)
Adam Thiam, a well-known journalist in Mali, wrote a booklet ‘Centre du Mali: enjeux et dangers d’une crise négligée’ (2017). At the end of his nuanced analysis he also presents the thesis of ‘la question peule’. Although this was certainly not his intention this expression has nourished sentiments in society that are based on fear and also on the unknown. Southern Malians feel threatened by these northern situations and the apparently nomadic-jihadist spirit that settles in the North.

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internet image of Fulani

An analysis of Mali newspaper articles and its online conversations (chats) also show an increasing anxiety towards the role of the Fulani/Peul in the problems in Central Mali, reporting on violent actions, and creating an image of the Peul as the enemies of the State. In the articles and reactions an undertone of racism transpires. ‘La question peule’ has become internalized as the threat for mainstream society in Mali. (First explorations in Media research within the programme:  ‘http://www.ascleiden.nl/research/projects/fulani-sahel-caught-between-hammer-muslim-extremism-and-anvil-state-mali-nigeria). As Boukary Sangaré concludes in a forthcoming article ‘la question peule’has become a fact (‘Le centre du Mali: vers la question peule’, in Deciphering Radicalisation, Langaa, 2017, forthcoming) promoted by the frames in the media. Fulani are arrested en masse with the approval of many in the general public who have internalized the radicalisation discourse as the synonym of violent extremism with a religious inspiration.

Internalisation of ‘la question peule’
Where cohabitation used to be the way to discuss Fulani-farmer relations, or to experience the presence of Fulani in society in general, there is now the discourse of ‘la question peule’ in which they are depicted as radicals, jihadists and extremists. This is not only a discourse, but a discourse that leads to action: the arrest, fear of policemen for the Fulani, etc. that in turn leads to a sharpening of the discourse, or probably better said: a confirmation of the discourse. And gradually this becomes the normal way of doing, the accepted style. Newspaper articles no longer shy away from these and in the online world accusations etc. are repeated and the oppositions confirmed. The word radical has become synonymous with jihadism, and violent extremism. The acts that result from the internalization of this discourse is at the same time a reason for people to re-act radically. It would be wise for policymakers, the mainstream citizens of Mali, for those who govern to decipher their own understanding of concepts they use and see if in their acceptance of this discourse there is probably also a possible critical point of view possible. This might lead to a real debate about the so-called radicals. More understanding of the reasons to become radical, and in some cases extreme and violent. It is important to be conscious of the origins of our thoughts and not hide behind a wall of shared values without questioning these. Inviting artists to decipher the concepts and situations could be an interesting first step to open a discussion in society.

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We should know: #FreeNadjo #FreeSolloh

Pondering…
Sonja Barend, the celebrated host of Dutch TV shows until 10 years ago, has written an honest memory of her youth, in which the search for her father and his Jewish identity is central. This father she never knew is one of the many Jewish men who disappeared during the second World War in the Netherlands. Her mother was the one to open the door for the policemen and answered yes on their question if her husband was in. They brought him to the Scheveningen prison in June 1942. He would stay in this prison for radicals and resisters of the German regime during 6 months, before being deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz where he died on an unknown day in 1943. Why this happened and how it happened – all not known. In her intimate reflections on her imagined father Sonja wonders about the people who then lived next to him and who should have known about these deportations, and on that moment that her mother said ‘Yes’. The main question in recent autobiographical literature memorizing WW II is: ‘should we have known?’. In a publication of 2012 Bart van der Boom raises the question if ‘ordinary’ Dutchmen in the war could have known. And if so, were they able to understand the severity, that was unimaginable. People lived their lives based on experienced history and this was simply too strange. The book led to fervent debates. The end of WW II is 72 years ago. The ‘not seeing’ has become a collective traumatic memory.

This part of Dutch history comes to my mind when reading the comments of the Chadian diaspora on the situation in Chad. We live in 2017 in a world full of communication technology, that allows us to see more than 72 years ago, but do we really see what is happening under authoritarian regimes, or maybe a better question: do we want to see?

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Symbol of the resistance movement Iyina in Chad as it appeared in whatsapp and messenger pictures

Arrests of young leaders
The arrests in Chad of youth leader Palmer Nadjo Kaina on 6 April and nine days later of Bertrand Solloh are not widely known to the world. These are just examples of many other arrests in Chad and elsewhere. Who notices these arrests? Why are they relatively silenced? Nadjo is leader of the youth movement Iyina (meaning ‘we are tired’ in local Arabic) and Solloh is responsible for Iyina’s communication and a member of ‘Tournons la page pour la démocratie en Afrique’ (Let’s turn the page for democracy in Africa). Both are civil society organisations that have become active (again) around the presidential elections of April 2016. The reasons for the arrests are vague. Nadjo, who was arrested two times already in 2015 and in 2016, has been accused of a possible disturbance of the public order by organizing a manifestation on the 10th of April, the day of the severely criticized elections in 2016. Iyina invited Chadians to remember this day and to wear the color red. Solloh was accused of participating in this organization. Other members of Iyina subsequently went in hiding or even left the country. For more than two weeks nobody knew where Nadjo and Solloh were. Even the Minister of Justice responded that he was not aware of the situation of these young people. Their lawyers had no access to them. Only on the 24th of April they reappeared in the capital city’s prison with the announcement of their possible judgment the day after. On the 27th they heard a requisitory of 5 years against them; the verdict will be on 4 May.

Were they detained in the prisons of the ANS, the secret police, or in the new prison Amsinéné in N’Djamena?  The conditions in these prisons are not well known. The last reports of Amnesty on these conditions date from 2012. A recent master’s thesis of the University of N’Djamena from 2016 reports about injustices. Isn’t it ironic that this happens when a new film on the prisons and actions of the DDS (former secret police) under the previous president of Chad, Hissein Habré, has just been released, and whose creator, the well-known Chadian cineast Mahamat Haroun Saleh, has been nominated Minister of Culture? Nadjo and Solloh are part of a new generation of political detainees in Chad.

(Not) knowing
News about the young men is not part of daily talk in N’Djamena. Those who open their mouth fear to be arrested. ‘They all left, I might be arrested’ is one of the comments of a friend and member of Iyina. Spreading fear is one of the results of the attitude of the government who also arrests, interrogates and sometimes then liberates, like the 60 youngsters who protested/manifested on the 10th of April acting in answer to the call of Iyina. These are brave actions ending in intimidation and I can imagine that it is difficult or even impossible to escape feelings of fear. As some Chadians claim: we are living the horrible times of the DDS again. Many people prefer to keep silent.

The only sphere where it seems possible for Chadians to comment and denounce acts of the Chadian government is on social media. The blog forum Yadaari and Makaila-blog posted a few blogs about the situation. Sporadically Twitter refers to the situation in Chad: the hashtags #FreeNadjo and #FreeSollo, or #FreeSolloh were born in the tweets of Laurent Duarte, coordinator of the international movement ‘Tournons la Page’. But it is especially on Facebook that comments and actions are announced. These Facebook Posts are mostly from the hands of diaspora activists, who also organize manifestations in Paris and elsewhere. Screenshot_20170422-155902The content of their posts is not only about facts, but as well about the laxity of the Chadian population who they urge to take their destiny in their own hands. A regular commentator is the Strasbourg based journalist Tahirou Hissein Daga. Although the frustration of these Facebook users who find themselves outside the country and feel something needs to change is understandable, the question is if they are  justified? What would they do in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation? But also if you live your daily life, does one really see? They are probably not right in the accusation of people who live in difficult circumstances in Chad. Being inside and act is not easy and reminds me of the situation during World War II, with which I opened this blog post. But those who are outside, like the diaspora and hence the international actors, they can see!

We should know
It is only after a long silence that the international community picks up this news, though still sporadically. To find their announcements and articles one has to be interested in Chad. The action that has become somehow public was the request and short report of Amnesty International and some publications on RFI (French news agency). Recently there was a denouncement of these arrests and a call for liberation in a common call. Why is the world not more active in denouncing these human rights violations? Did we not learn from our WWII history? Must we wait, like then, for 72 years to analyze an authoritarian rule and its atrocities? This, while there is enough information to know that there is clearly a violation of human rights? In this case we cannot argue that we did not know, on the contrary: we should have known.

And Chad is just an example. It is part of a larger tendency of authoritarian rule in different countries in the world. Some cases are well known and widely discussed, others are relatively silenced as is the case for Chad.

It is important to alert the international community by revealing the facts, and also by recalling the collective memory of WW II; by realizing that similar things are now happening in the world; realizing that we might be able to play a role to diminish the misery of the people in Chad, to diminish the risk of traumatic collective memories. We live in a global world, the realities of Chad should also be ours.

Ugly contrasts in Chad

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N’djaména, discussing possibilities of civil society @Mirjam

I returned from Chad on 19 February. I had been attending a conference on governance and citizenship organized by CRASH (Centre for Research in Anthropology and the Humanities). CRASH is a free space for research, as was shown also during the conference: there were discussions about civil society, the protests, state responses and the crisis that Chad has found itself in since the elections of April 2016. This was daring, for the situation in Chad is tense.

Crisis
Since August 2016, when I also visited Chad, things had changed quite a bit. The crisis had really settled in the country. Internet, then already cut for three months, was only back by the end of December 2016. After a long period without salary, December ending was the moment of payment, but most people received only half of what they used to (no primes). People could celebrate the New Year, but still, things were bad for all the families I visited. Visible in the streets: economic activity low, bars empty, and the stories were also clear. As negotiations with the unions opened, some people expressed their hope that this would help. But their hope seems in vain as there are deeper layers to the crisis, and the actions of the government are deepening emotions of loss. Back in the Netherlands after a week I heard that the students were resuming their strike.

Visit to Toukra, university campus
screenshot_20170301-172824On Wednesday 1 March, I was shocked by the posts on Facebook about the killing of children in a school in Walia, a southern quarter of N’Djamena; shot by police forces because they were protesting against the arrest on 28 February of 69 young people who were suspected of creating chaos during a campus visit of the Ministre de l’enseignement superieur (Minister of Higher Education) and his Senegalese colleague (25 February); already for a few months the students had protested regularly a.o. against the retreat of their stipends. One form of protest is the molest of government cars; as a student explained to me, this is their only way to express a voice for change. My friends in their thirties remembered this had been their acts as well when they were in college, two decades ago. Arresting these youngsters is not necessary, condemning them even for terrorist acts is worse. On 1 March, the 69 students were condemned for 1 month closed detention for outrage à l’autorité de l’Etat, plus each a ransom of 75 Euros.

Conflict at school: closure
On 10 February, just before I arrived in N’Djamena on the 12th, in Mongo, a city in central Chad, children were killed as well. A friend from Mongo witnessed what was happening. He came to see me in N’Djamena and told me his interpretation of the events: A conflict between two girls from different ethnic groups and one prejoratively insulting the other, became a bigger fight. The police went in and shot with real bullets; one child dead, others wounded. When the corpse was released from the hospital, the college children (lycée) grabbed the corpse and carried it to the military camp, to give it to the person who killed the child. The forces turned out again and killed another child and wounded more. The wounded are in the hospital in N’Djamena as the hospital in Mongo does not have the capacity to help them; the children are buried, schools are closed, no action from the ministers or government to calm the situation except repression. Other versions have been told: in an article of RFI it was related that the shooting was done by the son of one of the generals; however, the fact of the two deaths and many wounded is verified. The stories circulate and will not stop to divide the population.

Whose rights?
These children simply ask for their rights, but they are denied citizenship by their government. The conclusion of the CRASH conference about the difficulties of civil society in Chad are an everyday reality. And even worse: those who deserve citizenship are being killed.

L’UNESCO s’est trompée. Le Tchad a 70 ans de retard sur le plan educative? Donc en 1947? Trop peu. Si c’est 1947 d’un autre pays africain, le tchad est en 100 ans de retard. (text from FB post, 27-2-2017)

The story does not stop here: this academic year will be an année blanche at the university – no stipends, and no teachers to teach; a university complex that has no electricity, nor  internet connection, and education systems that are rated 70 years behind. The children in this education system protest and are killed. At the same moment, the chique hotels of N’Djamena receive the ‘salon d’étudiants d’Afrique’ (23-25 February) organized by a son of President Idriss Déby, who recently returned from France where he studied, and his friend. The guests that come from all over Africa are hosted without limits on expenditure.

Pendant trois jours, du 23 au 25 février 2017, les jeunes Africains auront l’occasion de rencontrer, directement, sur place, au palais du 15 janvier de N’Djamena, des responsables des prestigieuses écoles, universités ou instituts de formations africaines.

Although it is a good initiative, in principle, comments heard in N’Djamena are critical. ‘The country is in crisis and then these elites dare to spend all this money on the happy few’. In an interview the organiser replies to these critiques:

The doors are open for the poor students from Chad who suffer from the crisis.

He does not realize how this remark summarizes the ugly contrasts in Chad!

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.

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!’

Ahmadou: a nomad leader in Mali

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Ahmadou overlooking Bamako.

Ahmadou’s first call to me (in Holland) via mobile telephony was in 2007. He called from this ‘remote’ place in Central Mali where until that time telephone connections were impossible. Ahmadou had never traveled further south than Douentza. Only in 2012 he traveled to Bamako, the capital city of Mali, to visit me there as it was impossible for me to go to Douentza or Boni because of the conflict and chaos in the region at that time. Anno 2015 he is a regular traveler to the south, involved in politics around the conflict, and he calls me at least twice every week. Ahmadou’s life has changed profoundly both as a consequence of mobile telephony and of the 2012 conflict.

I have doubted for a long time whether I should present Ahmadou as a counter voice in this blog. Ahmadou is an old friend. He herds our cattle in the Seeno, that is the southern part of the 2012 occupied zone, then called Azawad. Ahmadou and his family became deeply involved in the conflict despite themselves, but irreversibly so. Ahmadou’s role as a leader in these changes has turned him definitively into a counter voice. I described the (re) union of the Fulani nomads in a former blog. And it did not stop there.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAA simple herder…
Some background information about Ahmadou: he was born around 1960, we are age-mates. We first met in 1990, when I started (together with Han van Dijk) an ethnographic research in Serma, the hamlet that also serves as a meeting and service point for the nomads during the rainy season, when they work their millet fields. In November, after the harvest, many nomad families leave the region to search for pasture areas further away. Ahmadou’s father was our host. We got to know the family well and when we finished the PhD research we decided to buy a cow to establish a long relationship with the family. And that is what happened. Friendship and cows are intimately related in Fulani life. Ahmadou’s father passed away in 2010 and Ahmadou became head of the family; together with his brothers he continued to manage the family herd (including ours). Ahmadou married two wives. He has 8 children. One son (the eldest son of his second wife) was sent to the Koranic school, quite a rare decision for nomad’s children. The other sons herd cattle and camels and work the fields during the rainy season. His daughters have all married within the family group. They continue to live close to each other. Ahmadou’s mother lives with him, her eldest son. So far Ahmadou’s life is the life as expected from a Fulani man, except for the son in the Koranic school.

Ahmadou and his new phone.

Ahmadou and his new phone.

…or a leader?
Ahmadou also took another decision in his life. His father was head of the family group, responsible for administrative matters, and mediator in case of conflict. Ahmadou followed his father’s path and also became lineage leader. He took his task a little heavier than his father had done and developed into a politician, with good relations with representatives of different parties, who he called regularly. Finally he chose to follow one of the opposition parties. Here, he deviated from the Fulani elites. In that period he also bought land in Boni (the town near his rainy season camp) to build a house. His aspirations were changing. His son in the meantime returned from the Koranic school as a Muslim teacher (Mallam). Gradually Ahmadou positioned himself as more than a lineage leader, he became intermediary to national politics, and also developed ideas that went beyond the ideas of the Fulbe elites, whom he increasingly considered extensions of the State. He did not expect any good from the State that for him represented basically oppression and impossibilities: the forest service did not allow them to exploit the resources they needed, the hospitals are far away, the police acted against them, etc. Ahmadou was reinforced in his idea that the Malian State was not really ready to support the Fulani nomads, and he did not expect much help from the Tuareg. He experienced the presence of MUJAO (a Jihadist group) as more protective and providing security than the others.

2012-11-14 16.45.43In that atmosphere Ibrahim Moodi approached him in 2012, to help him establish a movement of the Fulani nomads. At the same time he realized that joining the jihadists would not be a good future, hence he embraced the idea for the Fulani nomad’s union and became one of the leading figures in that meeting and organization. The meeting was held in autumn 2014, and afterwards he and two others (among whom Ibrahim Moodi) went to Bamako to meet with UN, EU and others. They returned to Boni with some hope, but when nothing was done for them, they became a little desperate. Instead of any help, they experienced increasing insecurity, criminality, and in fact complete absence of any security in the region. Other Fulani groups started to organize themselves in self-defence groups (see short vodcast made by Boukary Sangaré). Ahmadou and Ibrahim kept quiet and continued to believe in a dialogue.

BurgukoobeShocking April 2015
Their trust in a future was crushed by the events of April that really left all in shock. On 1 April the police were attacked in Bulli Kessi, the village of Ibrahim Moodi. As a counter act the police (most probably afraid for Jihadists) killed three young Fulani men, who were accused of being Jihadists. Shortly after, on 3 April, the police, this time in Boni, were attacked again and two civilians got killed. On 7 April the gendarme/police came to Serma where they arrested 18 men, among whom were Ahmadou, Bura (secretary of the Fulani movement), and some young men, who they all accused of being Jihadists and possible attackers of the police. On 11 April Ahmadou, Bura and three of the young men were transferred to the prison in Sévaré/Mopti. The others had paid considerable sums to be free. In Sévaré they could hardly communicate with the authorities, nor with the police (language barrier), and they did not in the least understand why they were arrested. They had nothing to do with these attacks and tried the dialogue way; also, they were convinced that it is better to keep out of the Jihadist movement. The arrest was experienced as a violation of their rights; the deaths of the three young men in Bulli Kessi as a direct attack on the Fulani nomad community. After negotiations and no clear evidence against them, they were allowed to leave and headed back to Boni/Serma. Intervention by MUNISMA (the UN mission in Mali) led to the replacement of the policemen by ‘northerners’. MUNISMA and the European Union did send a humanitarian mission to do research on the situation, also after alert mails from Boukary, Han and myself. The Fulani-case is taken very seriously by these organisations. They should regret their lack of action after the call of the Fulani leaders last November, though. (More about the April events in this article by Boukary Sangaré.)

Fighting for his people
When Ahmadou called me last week from Bamako, where he was to ‘arrange’ all kinds of things, he made it clear to me that the replacement of the policemen was indeed an improvement: he could at least communicate with these men, but in order to keep them as friends he had to ‘pay’ them. Order had returned somehow. Nevertheless, he did not trust the situation: another attack against them could be expected soon; he also suspected his elites to be behind all this, as they are in league with the Malian State. The beginning of a trust relationship that Ahmadou and Ibrahim had tried to establish crumbled to nothing. Ahmadou now felt obliged to come to Bamako, to fight for an honest treatment of his people, leaving the cattle in the hands of his sons, despite the bad quality of the pasture this year. It has certainly become clear to him that he cannot expect any substantial aid and support from the Malian State.Mirjam and Ahmadou in 2012.

Mirjam and Ahmadou in 2012.