Aug 19 2014

Mixed messages: Social media, rumours and responses to the #Ebola outbreak in #SierraLeone’s capital, Freetown

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LSE’s Jonah Lipton is currently living in Freetown where he is doing his fieldwork. In this post, he reveals the role social media is playing in spreading mixed messages about the Ebola outbreak in the country.

Sierra Leoneans have been struggling to make sense of their country’s Ebola outbreak over the last few months. The Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health and Sanitation has reported 775 confirmed cases so far nationally, although very few of these are in the capital, Freetown, where I am currently based. Since President Koroma declared a “State of Public Health Emergency” on 1 August, Sierra Leone has gone into crisis mode. The army and police have been deployed to seal off roads connecting the epicentres of the outbreak in the East of the country. Places of assembly, such as bars, cinemas and schools are closed countrywide, and commercial transport is running on a limited basis.

A satirical photo circulated on WhatsApp of President Koroma and a senior minister amid official recommendations to restrict physical contact

A satirical photo circulated on WhatsApp of President Koroma and a senior minister amid official recommendations to restrict physical contact

While physical gatherings have been restricted, the spread of news, advice and speculation has not slowed down. A lot of this information is circulated on WhatsApp, a very popular smartphone application for sharing photos and messages among personal contacts and groups. It was through a message posted in a WhatsApp group comprised of young people from my neighbourhood that I first became aware of the initial Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Guinea early this year. At the time I passed off the report and disturbing accompanying photos as a hoax. This speaks, in part, to the inseparability of “truth” and “parody” (and many gradients in between) that is so central to WhatsApp’s use. WhatsApp is as much of a forum for spreading jokes, stories, and satire, as it is a genuine vehicle for informing and mobilising, to the extent that the distinctions become blurred and permeable. Continue reading

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Aug 18 2014

#GreatWarInAfrica: World War One veterans trigger new wave of social change in Cameroon

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Walter Gam Nkwi recounts the impact of returning Cameroonian soldiers from Spanish Guinea on the Cameroon Grassfields after the end of the First World War in 1919.

As soldiers returned home to the Cameroon Grassfields in the north of the country from Fernando Po in Spanish Guinea, they brought with them new ideas which introduced “modernity” to this region. These former soldiers became not only evangelists, but also pioneers of “new love” in the region.

German trenches in Garoua

Cameroonian soldiers fighting for Germany are in the trenches in Garoua

The first German missionaries entered Cameroon midway during the 19th century, but they only started to make headway in the Cameroon Grassfields in the first decade of the 20th century. The German missionaries (The Pallotine Fathers), who introduced Christianity, left the territory when Germany was defeated in 1916. As a result, soldiers, recruited by the former colonial power Germany and who had fought battles in Nsanakang, Douala, Yaounde, and Mora, became the driving force of social change through spreading Christianity. They had converted to Christianity in Fernando Po under the guidance of German war chaplains. These ex-soldiers were scattered throughout the Cameroon Grassfields and took upon themselves the duty of spreading the “glad tidings” among their own people.

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Aug 18 2014

#LaGrandeGuerreEnAfrique : Les Anciens combattants de la Première Guerre mondiale déclenchent une nouvelle vague de changements sociaux au Cameroun.

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Walter Gam Nkwi parle des répercussions engendrées par le retour des soldats camerounais de la Guinée espagnole dans le Grassland camerounais à la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale en 1919.

De retour chez eux, dans la région du Grassland au nord du Cameroun, ces soldats rentrés de Fernando Po en Guinée espagnole, apportent de nouvelles idées. Celles-ci introduisent ‘ la modernité ‘ dans la région. Les anciens soldats sont maintenant devenus non seulement des évangélistes, mais aussi des pionniers d’un ‘nouvel amour’ dans la région.

Soldats camerounais dans les tranchées à Garoua luttent pour l’Allemagne

Soldats camerounais dans les tranchées à Garoua luttent pour l’Allemagne

Les premiers missionnaires allemands sont arrivés au Cameroun au cours du 19ième siècle, ils n’ont cependant commencé à s’avancer dans le Grassland camerounais que lors de la première décennie du 20ième siècle. Les missionnaires allemands (les Pères Pallotins), qui ont introduit le christianisme, ont quitté le territoire lorsque l’Allemagne a été vaincue en 1916. Par conséquent, les soldats, recrutés par l’ancien pouvoir colonial, l’Allemagne, et ayant combattu à Nsanakang, Douala, Yaoundé, et Mora, sont devenus la force motrice de ce changement social par la diffusion du christianisme. Convertis au christianisme à Fernando Po par des religieux allemands, ces anciens soldats ont été dispersés à travers la savane camerounaise, avec pour mission la responsabilité de diffuser « la bonne nouvelle » parmi les leurs. Continue reading

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Aug 15 2014

Book Review: Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Laureates of African Descent Edited by Adekeye Adebajo

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LSE’s Atta Addo calls Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Laureates of African Descent an illuminating and well-researched volume which, despite a lack of a strong central concept, should be read by all those interested in Nobel Peace Prize winners of African descent.

Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa, and author of works such as The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War and Building Peace in West Africa, has assembled an impressive list of fourteen expert African and African-American contributors — a mix of scholars and practitioners—to write for this illuminating and well-researched volume. The book, dedicated to the memory of perhaps Africa’s most esteemed Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918- 5 December 2013), is a collection of abridged biographical essays on the thirteen African and African-American winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. The collection is an attempt to, in the words of Adebajo, “draw lessons for peacemaking, civil rights, socio-economic justice, environmental protection, nuclear disarmament and women’s rights” against a backdrop of what eminent Kenyan scholar, Ali Mazrui has called Pax Africana (an African-owned peace) (p.4).

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The thirteen winners whose stories are told have championed nonviolence and human rights and fought oppression in various spheres and contexts. They include, in chronological order of winning: Ralph Bunche (1950) for having arranged a cease-fire between Israelis and Arabs during the war which followed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948; Albert John Luthuli (1960) who won as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) for its non-violent resistance again apartheid; Martin Luther King Jr. (1964) for combatting racial inequality through nonviolence; Anwar Sadat (1977), joint winner with Menachem Begin of Israel for their contributions to peace in the Middle East; Desmond Tutu (1984) for his role as a unifying force in black South Africa’s non-violent struggle for liberation; Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk (1993) for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new democratic South Africa; Kofi Annan (joint winner with UN, 2001) for his work for a better organized and more peaceful world; Wangari Maathai (2004) for her contribution to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights; Mohammed El Baradei (2005), joint winner with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for efforts in support of nuclear disarmament and world peace; Barack Hussein Obama (2009) for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Neyma Gbowee (2011) for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. Continue reading

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Aug 14 2014

Book Review: Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt by David Faris

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Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age is essential reading for those interested in online activism, inasmuch as it provides a case study for Egypt as well as potentially for the rest of the world, writes Samaya Borom. This book tracks the rocky path taken by Egyptian bloggers operating in Mubarak s authoritarian regime to illustrate how the state monopoly on information was eroded, making space for dissent and digital activism.

The keen interest in the role that social media played in the lead up to the dramatic ousting of president Hosni Mubarak during early 2011 in Egypt was evident in virtually every media outlet and news organisation worldwide. Images of revolution were splashed across television screens, media devices and online and were coupled with commentary concerning the willingness of the Egyptian people to be frontier digital activists. Yet what wasn’t reported was the pre-existing intimate relationship that the Egyptian people already had with social media, and how these historical relationships forged the way for the more open types of communication that characterised the Arab Spring and ultimately, lead to the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011.

Egypt_SocialMediaDavid Faris‘s book Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt concentrates on political events in Egypt between 2005 and August of 2011- a time when multi-candidate elections were held and there was a consensus that Egypt was becoming more open to ideas of government transparency. Of course, because of the nature of the socio-political landscape, quantitative data and metrics about the use of social media during this time was notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to obtain, so Faris relied on a qualitative approach through in-depth interviews with bloggers, activists, journalists and others. Data was also obtained via the American University in Cairo, the Middle East Monitor and by personally attending conferences, meetings and strikes, which together provides for comprehensive coverage of the use of social media throughout Egypt.  The breadth of scholarship undertaken is undoubtedly related to the author’s doctoral dissertation, from which this book originates. Continue reading

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Aug 13 2014

Photo blog: Taking back the coastline of Cape Town

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Charlotte Scott tells the tale of the two sides of Cape Town.

Cape Town is my home, but it is not always a city of opportunity or safety.

Decades of racial segregation have left behind a tale of two cities, one prosperous, the other poor and riddled with violence. Black and coloured ‘townships’ lie all along the fringe of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.  They are characterised by informal housing, blocked public toilets, inaccessible roads, under-resourced schools, periodic flooding and violent gangsterism. In a cruel twist of fate, many are also situated along some of the most breath-taking coastline this city has to offer. A coastline home to spectacular marine biodiversity, the best surfing conditions around the country and a culture that is uniquely South African.

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Yet, to many township inhabitants the coast is just one more dangerous place to avoid and one more affluent area where they won’t feel welcome. The City’s tagline “This City Works For You” has been appropriated by some into “This City Works For A Few”. Continue reading

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Aug 11 2014

#GreatWarInAfrica – Equatorial Guinea and the German Schutztruppe during the First World War

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LSE’s Mahon Murphy explores the loyalties of Cameroon soldiers who fought for Germany in World War 1.

The battle for control of Cameroon during the First World War involved five Empires (Britain, France and Belgium versus Germany, with neutral Spain looking on) and was not confined within the borders of the country itself. Cut off from supplies by Britain and France’s control of the sea and virtually surrounded on land, German soldiers were faced with defeat and the threat of internment and forced labour in the prison camps of Dahomey (Benin). The only option left for the German troops was to retreat across the River Campo to the south and into Spanish-controlled Rio Muni. This retreating army comprised approximately 200 German officers, 6,000 Schutztruppe (troops recruited in Cameroon), 6,000 Cameroonian women and roughly 4,000 servants and carriers.

Cameroonian troops ready for action during World War 1

The German-trained Cameroonian troops were viewed as excellent fighters

The Governor of Spanish Guinea (Equatorial Guinea), Ángel Barrera y Luyando, like the majority of Spain’s military elite, was pro-German and saw the possibility of earning the “Prussian” military decoration he had coveted before the war if his German charges were treated well. On reaching Rio Muni in mid-1916 and surrendering to the Spanish authorities, Barrera had the German Officers and 3,000 Schutztruppe brought to the capital on the island of Fernando Po, to be interned until the end of the conflict in Europe. Continue reading

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