Xaralé, the Wolof word for “technology” is our Africa Week Theme this year. In 2020 alone, we’ve seen many reminders of the power of this tool in highlighting the voices of those silenced. Our Africa Week theme for this year highlights the powerful tool that is technology, and the role that social media platforms play in amplifying voices on the African continent. We’ve created this Public Service Announcement and are asking you all to share and repost the infographic on our instagram page (@asa.washu), with the hashtag #xaralexafrica. Keep reading to learn about each country.
SHUTITALLDOWN In Namibia
#ShutItAllDown is a protest campaign against gender-based violence, also known as femicide, and sexual assault in Namibia. In October 2020, protests erupted in response to the discovery of 22-year old Shannon Wasserfall’s body on October 6, 2020. Wasserfall went missing on April 10, 2020 and nearly four months later, her body was found in a shallow grave by local authorities after her father received two anonymous text messages claiming to reveal the location of his daughter’s body. The murder of Shannon Wasserfall has since been the catalyst for #ShutItAllDown as activists take to the streets of Windhoek and social media to demand government action and justice for all survivors of SGBV.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been an ongoing public health crisis in Namibia. A 2003 study by the World Health Organization has found that “over one-third of ever-partnered women in Namibia reported having experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some time, with 31% reporting physical violence and 17% sexual violence” In the past year alone, “more than 1,600 cases of rape were reported during the 18 months ending in June 2020” However, it is likely that the number of actual rape and other incidents of sexual and physical violence is much higher as survivors often do not report violence due to fears of retaliation from the perpetrator, family pressure, self-blame, and societal stigma. According to Ndapwa Alweendo, the spokesperson for Sister Namibia, “There’s a culture of silence in place to keep women and children from speaking out. There’s a stigma about coming out as a survivor of any kind of violence. This has been a problem in the country since the fight for independence.” State-mandated lockdowns and quarantines have especially made it difficult for domestic violence survivors to seek help as they are forced to isolate with their abusers. Bertha Tobias, a 20-year old leader of the movement summarized protestors’ request: “We just want to be able to go out of our house after 6pm and feel safe”
The #ShutItAllDown movement has largely been organized and mobilized by young Namibian women who are adamantly demanding that the government declare a state emergency over SGBV, release a concrete timeline of political action to combat SGBV, and prioritize the urgent review of sentencing laws for sex offenders and murderers. Despite the government’s promise to “strengthen the current legal and policy environment to deal with the GBV matters”, activists are skeptical due to the inaction of the 2016 and 2018 SGBV national action plans. Additionally, peaceful protestors continue to be attacked and arrested by state police forces, challenging the claim that authorities are working alongside those who are demanding justice. Nonetheless, activists refuse to back down until they feel that the government is actively taking steps to protect Namibian women. “All over the country, everyone is frustrated, concerned, traumatised – and everybody is tired.” “The revolution will not only be televised but it will also be tweeted and Instagrammed. We are using the power of social media as a collective.”-Protestor, Leebus Hashikutuva
At its core, #ShutItAllDown is a youth-led movement. As Alweeno described,”This is a sign from our younger generation that they are not satisfied with the usual political response. Social media has allowed activists to mobilize this into a national movement and brought international attention.” #ShutItAllDown is meant to disrupt day-to-day public life until women feel safer in their own communities. A campaign for women, by women, #ShutItAllDown exists on multiple platforms giving a voice to those who feel voiceless and expanding awareness of a widespread issue beyond the boundaries of Namibia.
CONGOISBLEEDING in The Democratic Republic of Congo:
The #congoisbleeding movement arose in protest of the silent genocide that has been happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly a century. Murder, rape, and torture have been plaguing the country since the early 20th century, the demand for its natural resources being the root cause. Men, women, and children alike are at the mercy of militia and rebel groups that are funded by multinational tech companies that harvest coltan – the major mineral used in iPhones, laptops, and plenty other electronic devices, the majority of which lies in Congo. The #congoisbleeding movement’s goal is to call more attention to the travesty in an effort to end the meaningless violence.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the sixth-most mineral rich country in Africa – gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, tin ,uranium, among many others. Perhaps the most economically important of these is coltan, which is used in many electronics like iPhones, computers, jet engines, game systems, and so on -64% of the entire world’s coltan resides within Congo. During the advent of the 21st century, demand for coltan spiked in response to the rise of new electronic devices like mobile phones, which led to a huge price increase for coltan. Congolese citizens, foreign nations, and militia groups turned their attention to this new source of profit and a frenzy for mining and selling coltan began. In return for military and financial aid from foreign nations like the US and the UK, countries near Congo like Rwanda and Uganda began to take Congo’s natural resources and sell it to the Western world. In the process, Congolese citizens are killed, raped, tortured, and displaced from their homes by militia and rebel groups from neighboring regions, namely Rwanda. The United Nations implicated nearly 100 multinational countries in profiting from the Congo’s coltan – serving as the impetus for the conflict. While big tech companies get richer, Congolese citizens suffer daily.
What’s currently going on in Congo is a genocide that has been silently happening for nearly a century, with sporadic media coverage by major news outlets over the past couple decades – most of the news however focuses on the conflict between rebel groups, rather than identifying the root cause – the Western demand for coltan. Through social media and technology however, this issue has begun receiving more attention. On Thursday, October 15th, the #congoisbleeding movement was born.
ENDSARS Movement in Nigeria:
The unrest began in Nigeria after a video emerged of police officers from the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) unit allegedly shooting and killing a young man in Nigeria’s southern Delta State. Since then Nigerians have been calling for the unit to be disbanded and have been protesting with the message #EndSARS. At the forefront of those protests are young people, who are usually the target of the SARS unit.
The #EndSARS hashtag has been around since at least 2017 and has been used to show the violence and share stories of those who have been victimized by police officers of SARS. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was created in 1984 in order to combat an increase in armed robbery and other crimes. However, these officers are known for taking advantage of their power and victimizing Nigerian citizens. For years there have been empty promises of reform. On October 11, 2020, President Buhari disbanded the unit, but this has been the fourth tie the government has made this announcement. Activists do not believe this is enough and want justice for the families of victims of SARS and for the end of police brutality in Nigeria.
On October 20, 2020, police officers opened fire on peaceful protestors in Lekki and Alausa. There are reports that shortly before the incident the government shut off CCTV cameras at the Lekki toll gate and turned off the electricity in an attempt to hide evidence of the shooting. “According to Amnesty International, at least 56 people have died across the country since the protests began, with about 38 killed on Tuesday alone” (Time). Witnesses at a protest in Alausa said they were attacked by a team of soldiers and policemen at around 8 p.m., which resulted in at least two people dead and one left injured. The Nigerian government has yet to address the violence that occurred at Lekki.
Thanks to social media, the #EndSARS hashtag and protests have gone beyond Nigeria, and people around the world are showing their support and solidarity with Nigerian citizens. A petition calling for the UK to take sanctions against the Nigerian government and officials has been created and more than 213,00 people have signed. On October 21, 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General issued a statement condemning the Nigerian government for the violence against protestors and called for an end to police brutality. Similarly, on October 22, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State, Micheal Pompeo has released a press statement condemning the Nigerian government for its use of excessive violence against citizens.
There is still a lot of unrest in Nigeria as protests continue for #EndSARS. In Lagos and other parts of the country, curfews have been placed and the Nigerian military has offered to place soldiers to protect businesses and government if needed. President Buhari has yet to address the shooting of protestors in Lagos on October 20 but has asked citizens to stop protesting and engage with the government to find solutions to this issue of police brutality.