An unfortunate reality of living in a country that has been plagued by conflict and unrest for decades is a population who misses out on its education. When parents fear for the safety of their families, they can be hesitant to let their children go outside, let alone spend a day in a school which can be targeted in brutal warfare.
In Dakar, there is a sizeable community of about 4000 people from Central African Republic. Since 2012, CAR has been facing a conflict between two groups: the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka. The Seleka originate from the North of CAR, where there are practically no roads, no schools and the majority of the population is illiterate. The Western media portrays this unrest as a religious conflict between Muslim Seleka and Christian Anti Balaka, but according to Mandela Yapende, Secretary General of the “Collectif Touche Pas a Ma Constitution,” “ it is really about a lack of access to education, corruption, abandonment by the government, and manipulation that has encouraged Seleka to arm themselves and fight.”
The Collectif Touche Pas a Ma Constitution, an organization born in Dakar, with a coordination in France, has one mission: the defense of the constitutional law, human rights, good governance, and free speech for Central Africans. They meet biweekly to discuss pertinent issues, write articles, and write action plans and media strategies for how to fix problems in their country. Their articles have been published in local and regional news sources, and they are considered among the thought leaders of the Central African diaspora on issues surrounding CAR. They were successful in stopping unlawful changes to their constitution in 2013 through media blasts sensitizing the region, and they even organized a conference in Dakar featuring famous Senegalese Constitutionalist Mounirou Sy and Central African author and Professor Begon Bodoli Betina focusing on what the Central African Constitution actually says. In addition, their media campaigns were instrumental in the freeing of a political prisoner who was falsely accused of planning a coup against the government.
So why don’t organizations like the United Nations know what these educated, passionate Central Africans are saying about their country? It’s because most educated Africans are not learning the 21st century communications skills to make their opinions widely known. In today’s increasingly connected world, social media makes it easy to share ideas and discuss topics that matter, but in Africa, where the internet is a relatively recent phenomenon, it is crucial to instruct students on how to use it effectively to enter in global debates. Facebook has gained immense popularity in Africa, with 100 million users, or half of the internet connected people. Unfortunately, it is too often used to post pictures and jokes rather than sharing serious content with an educated audience.
Twitter, on the other hand, is increasingly being used to share news and opinions about myriad topics. In the case of Central African Republic, there are thousands of users on Twitter using the hashtag #CARCrisis to share pertinent news, opinions and theories, however they are mostly international organizations or foreigners. Twitter users interested about the conflict might search this hashtag, but will mostly see perspectives from outsiders.
In Africa, many changes are necessary to hear African voices. Schools at all levels should be encouraging creativity and promoting the ability to form and share personal opinions. It goes without saying that governments need to invest in bridging the digital divide, and prioritizing internet infrastructure in major cities and eventually rural communities. This will take a massive upheaval of the current rote learning system that exists presently. Furthermore, internet usage must be taught in school to guide people on the constructive ways to use it for research, networking, and communication.
Let’s give those who understand the realities of conflict, and who have deep seeded implications in them, a chance to share their solutions with those making the policy decisions. The United Nations and NGOs attempting to bring peace in conflict area should look at these groups of educated youth as a resource to be used in creating sustainable solutions for peace. Teaching 21st century communications skills and providing internet training is the best way to do this.