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Fighting online harassment and violence against African women6 minutes read

The consequences are far-reaching. The effects can be psychological and physical

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African women fighting online sexual violence

Technological innovations have without a doubt changed the way we live in the 21st century. One of such innovations that have proven to be a blessing to humanity is the Internet. From the ease of acquiring information to fast communication, you name it. But, like many other things, the digital space has its downsides. This is the case with online media. 

The online space has offered a platform for the voiceless and oppressed in the society to air their views and opinions on issues affecting them but at the same time, has served as the hub for verbal abuse, threats, bullying, cyberstalking and other similar vices. This dark side of the internet has become a major source of worry to many. Sadly, women are majorly at the receiving end of these vices. Women have been threatened, abused and harassed online for airing their opinions, for being women.

This is even worse in some African societies where patriarchy thrives and women are still looked upon as being inferior to their male counterparts. The invention of the internet offered a channel through which individuals are able to hide behind a screen, somewhere, anywhere. The anonymity of the internet makes it easy for bullies, harassers, and others to employ verbal abuse, intimidation tactics, blackmail and threats predominantly at women. The aim? To intimidate women and young girls into keeping silent, not sharing their stories, and in some cases, leaving the digital space altogether.

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One example of what women go through on our cyberspace in Africa is what happened in the aftermath of the 2019 Vice Presidential Debate in Nigeria. The host, Kadariah Ahmed received hundreds of hate messages and comments threatening violence against her. Those who sent the messages felt that Ahmed was biased with her questions and the manner with which she asked them. But is that reason enough to threaten someone with physical violence? We also have to ask ourselves would a male host have received the same level of online abuse and threats? The answer is no. 

A report by the European Institute for Gender Equality titled ‘Cyber Violence against women and girls’ listed various forms of online violence against women. They include slut-shaming, non-consensual pornography, revenge porn, sextortion, rape and death threats among others. It further reported that up to 90% of ‘non-consensual’ porn victims are women and the number keeps increasing. 

Another report by the Media Foundation for West Africa in 2018 found online harassment is one of the major challenges Ghanaian women face on the Ghanian Cyberspace. Furthermore, research conducted by the Association of Media Women in Kenya showed that among the common attacks targeted at female journalists in Kenya are cyber stalking, sexual harassment, surveillance and unauthorized use and manipulation of personal information, images and videos. The survey said that women journalists were targets for these types of targeted harassment because of the topics they cover. The topics are politics, sports, sexuality and lifestyle.

Many believe that the numbers of female victims of online abuse and harassment are underreported. The consequences are far-reaching. The effects can be psychological and physical – from total loss of confidence, and distrust to humiliation, loss of respect, and even suicide. In 2015, a 19-year-old Kenyan student committed suicide after a man she met on Facebook threatened to post her nude photos online.

This ugly incident happened during the opening of the Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa which was held in Kampala Uganda. The Forum brought together people from across Africa and beyond to debate issues impacting online freedom of expression and cybersecurity in Africa. Participants included law enforcement officers, communication regulators, media, human rights defenders, legal practitioners, tech experts amongst others.

What measures have been put in place to make the digital space safer for women and girls? What is being done to help fight online harassment of African women? Do tech companies have policies in place regarding abuse, harassment and threats? How easy is it to make a report?  Where are African governments in terms of legislation that will protect internet users and particularly women when it comes to these issues online? 

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The United Nations

In 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, presented a report to the Human Rights Council. The report emphasized the importance of adopting a human rights-based approach in combating online violence against women. In June 2018, the G7 made commitments to end sexual and gender-based violence, abuse and harassment in digital contexts. The G20 also stated they were committed to addressing cyberviolence towards girls and women to facilitate their online presence and participation. 

Nigeria in the fight against online harassment of women in Africa

In 2015, the National Assembly passed The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) bill into law. The Act aims to provide an effective and unified legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prevention, prohibition, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes in Nigeria. 

The Act criminalizes both cyberbullying and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is defined to include:

(i) knowingly sending grossly offensive, pornographic, indecent, menacing or obscene messages 

(ii) knowingly sending a false message for the purpose of causing harm

(iii) knowingly transmitting any communication to bully, threaten or harass another, causing fear of death, violence or bodily harm.

(iv) knowingly transmitting a message with a threat to kidnap, or request any ransom for the release of any kidnapped person

(v) knowingly transmitting any threat to harm the property or reputation of a person

The Act provides that an accused person who is alleged to have committed any of the Cybercrime offences shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than ten million Naira or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment. The court in her discretion can also make an interim order for the protection of victims from any further exposure to the alleged offences.

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How social media companies can help fight online harassment against African women

It appears that most online social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter rely heavily on their anti-abuse filters, account blocking and muting options in the fight against harassment, violence and bullying on their platforms. Though social media companies can directly report incidents of violence and harassment to the police, it appears they are not doing that. They appear to be taking only reactive measures. With this, online violence may continue to happen no matter the amount of effort put by the government and users to curb it. It is still at the discretion of the victims to decide whether to report or not. Earlier this year, women and feminist organisations complained that Facebook does not act on half of the abuse and harassment reports made on its platform.

The fight against online harassment against African women is one that can be won. But only when countries across Africa and regional bodies set up adequate legal frameworks to curb these vices and also back it up with implementation. But most importantly, there is an urgent need for African governments to establish agencies whose key roles should include sensitizing people on these issues through workshops, rehabilitating traumatized victims of online violence and also encouraging them to report these cases while guaranteeing their safety at the same time. 

In the end, we all lose when women and girls cannot freely express themselves in a space where anyone regardless of location, gender, affiliation, socio-economic class, educational level and more is “supposed” to be welcome.

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Culture & Tourism

Burna Boy: African giant didn’t get a Grammy, and that’s alright

We need to normalize loss. We can seek to console our champion for not coming out victorious in this fight. But we also have to be able to look ourselves in the face and say “yes, we lost, that sucks, and it’s alright.”

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Burna Boy: African giant didn’t get a Grammy, and that’s alright

We need to normalise losing. It sucks, but it is the reality of life. When you lose, things go out of focus. You feel the crushing pain in your gut, and the fog of disappointment that hangs over you will draw you into spaces of mental despair. It’s worse when you had a clear shot at the prize, and you’ve done enough to deserve it. Not getting it is a punch, a kick in the balls, a shattering of your deepest hopes, and a reminder of life’s fickle nature. Nothing is sure, and tomorrow can begin without you in it. 

Nigerians lost twice yesterday. We mourned with the world as news of Kobe Bryant’s death hit the internet. The basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, both passed away in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning, throwing the world into sadness. Bryant was a real-life superhero; the kind we looked up to as kids, the kind we hope to become with the advancement of age and the actualisation of our lives. The kind that made us want to raise our game, and pursue excellence as the only path to success. Kobe was larger than life, and to be cut short at 41 doesn’t only feel like a loss. It’s a robbery. Life took what it shouldn’t have. We didn’t give Kobe up. We got jumped. 

Rest in peace, Kobe, Gianna and the seven others who also lost their lives. No family deserves to go through this pain. Death is final, without do-overs and a second chance at existence. Its arrival is absolute. One minute you’re here, the next takes you out. Nothing is assured. We were never set up to last forever.

Nigerians are mourning again for different reasons entirely. Burna Boy’s African Giant did not win the anticipated Grammy Awards. At the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on January 26, Burna Boy carried the hopes of Nigeria and all who wished the country’s music well. A pop album—the most successful pop album since the commencement of the ‘Afrobeats to the world’ movement—had a fair chance at winning music’s most prestigious trophy. It gets grander when you realize that this was a continentally-accepted and supported project. African Giant wasn’t a simple musical work. It carried extra life. It repped the best of our music, from the heart of our creative hub in Lagos. It had the right major-label funding and sufficient structural support from Atlantic Records. The marketing campaign crossed continents, and the numbers carried the story of increased acceptance. 

Nigeria hoped. Nigeria dreamed. And let’s be frank with each other, Nigeria lost. 

Something died in my chest when the announcement was made to give the Grammys’ Best World Album to Angelique Kidjo’s Celia. Why? What is this curveball? This U-turn? This misalignment of the universe to hand Nigeria a loss? Who rewrote this script to move us from the center of the story, to the brunt of its climax? Was it even our story to begin with? This isn’t the ending our movie needed. This was the wack director’s cut. We don’t want it. 

But the signs showed early. Kidjo, the Benininoise 5-time Grammy winner had made music for the Grammy’s just as she had done in previous outings. Her latest winning entry is a beautiful salsa album dedicated to Cuban singer Celia Cruz. Released on April 19, 2019, It is produced by David Donatien and featured Tony Allen, Meshell Ndegeocello and the Gangbe Brass Band. 

READ: Angelique Kidjo wins World Music Award at the 2020 Grammys

The Guardian has called the album “magnificent” and The Financial Times gave it 5 stars. The album includes songs spanning all of Celia’s Cruz career reinvented with an Afrobeat feel. Of the song ‘Quimbara’, New York Times critic Jon Pareles says: “Backed by Michelle Ndegeocello on bass, the Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen on drums, Dominic James on guitars and the Gangbe Brass Band, Kidjo reconnects the salsa original to West Africa, layering the song with a tumbling six-beat rhythm, a brass-band undertow and a tangle of scurrying guitar lines while she belts with enough grit to rival Cruz herself.”

The Grammy employs a peer-to-peer voting system, comprised of technical music people. It’s political correctness for predominantly White people, who are the people who vote at the Grammy’s. Celia was engineered for them, with them in mind. That’s the type of album the Grammy celebrates. Not only because it was beautiful music, but it had all the traditional elements that the Grammy loves to celebrate. Is it a system that we’re comfortable with? No. But that’s immaterial. The award is a local show organized by locals for their local music. If they invite us into their spaces, do you think they wouldn’t be given to their bias and understanding of what ‘African’ music should sound like? 

Burna Boy made crossover music, but Kidjo also made foreign crossover music. One embraced pop and asked us ‘wetin man go do.’ The other hugged salsa while screaming ‘Yemoja’ in ‘Baila Yamaya’. The Grammy made their choice. Was it a bad choice? No. But it does evoke that feeling because I’m Nigerian, and I deeply desired Burna Boy to bring the success home. But Kidjo’s album slaps too. She’s not my winner, but she is the winner. Congratulations to her.

The African Giant album did not win the Grammy, but that doesn’t define its legacy and the enormous work that it has done. Burna Boy showed us that it is possible. With each release, each marketing move, each performance in foreign spaces, he assured us all that this height can be attained by a pop artist. That hasn’t changed, neither will there be an attempt to rewrite fact. For those looking for a string of positivity to hang on to, that’s it. Grab it with both hands and console yourself. Burna Boy is a winner at life. Your winner, our winner.

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2019…….🦍

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I’ve never been one to romanticize loss. It’s a reality of our shared existence as humans. People lose, people win. Sometimes the lines fall in your favour. Other times it doesn’t, and that’s alright. Loss is woven in the inevitability of our final departure of life. A loss is a loss, and no matter how much pep talks we give ourselves, and the consolation we conjure to make acceptance easier, it doesn’t change what has happened. Burna Boy has not won a Grammy. 

READ: Afro-Squad: The Africans nominated for 2020 Grammys

We need to normalize loss. We can seek to console our champion for not coming out victorious in this fight. But we also have to be able to look ourselves in the face and say “yes, we lost, that sucks, and it’s alright.” There’s a sense of feeling that this isn’t the end of this story. This is simply that part of the novel that the hero suffers a blip in form or performance. The resolution and climax are delayed, but we will hold out hope that it just around the corner, in the near future. ‘Afrobeats to the world’ isn’t done. We still have time to mount another campaign. But for now, we don’t have a Grammy yet, and that’s alright. 

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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Conservation News

A Nation Making Huge Strides in Rebuilding

Rwanda is making significant progress in moving on from its ugly past

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Image credit: East African Legislative Assembly

In April 1994, ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority boiled over, and what had been decades of mutual distrust ultimately escalated into a full-blown catastrophe. Over 800,000 Tutsi were murdered by Hutu militant groups, with many women raped, and hundreds of thousands of children rendered homeless.

The genocide, which stretched for three months, was met with a slow response from the international community, and many people were forced to flee into neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The events of that dark period in Rwandan history illustrated in movies like “Hotel Rwanda” and “Sometimes in April”, left a trail of effects, some of which included post-violence trauma, increased distrust, hate and proliferation of pregnancies as a result of rape.

Twenty-five years have passed, and it has been a long, tortuous road to healing for all Rwandans, but commendable efforts have been made. Reconciliation and rehabilitation centres abound in various parts of the country, and there has been significant investment in technology, making Rwanda one of the few shining lights in a continent plagued by poverty and corruption. It is also worthy of note that there is significant female representation in Rwanda’s legislative houses: for context, Rwanda has one of the world’s highest proportions of women in power as 61% of members of parliament and 50% of the cabinet are female.

One aspect of the reconciliation process that needs elaboration, though, is the social work profession. Established after the genocide, social work has been integral to Rwanda’s healing process, through homegrown solutions or indigenous models of development that address the many layers of social wounds. Social workers in Rwanda have been heavily involved in programmes such as community work, local collective action and the indigenous practice of girinka, which makes for the provision of one cow for every poor family. There are also initiatives, such as the Hope and Homes for Children, which cater to children who may have been abandoned as a result of parental trauma resulting from rape, family isolation, drug abuse, vulnerability and stigma towards children with disabilities.

Rwanda’s success story is one that many African nations can take a cue from. Who is to say that countries like Sierra Leone would not be a lot better off if there were more women in positions of power? What if there had been more concrete efforts to ensure reconciliation between the Igbo and the rest of Nigeria after the civil war? These are the unanswered questions, but it is beautiful watching Rwanda thrive after the horror show of 1994. 

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Art

How young people are changing the African narrative

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How young people are changing the African narrative

For non-Africans who have never visited the continent, the perception of the second largest continent in the world has always been that of a place of impoverishment and raw savagery; a place ravaged by horrible epidemic and war. 

This is largely attributable to an agenda-driven western media which sell these bogus tales about Africa to their global audience viewing the world through their reportage. Sadly, some of our local media are also guilty of this disservice to the mother continent.

As much as Africa, like other continents have its challenges, the positive stories to tell about the continent far outweighs the negativity found therein. 

The good news, however, is that young Africans – the new generation, are striving to change the negative narrative of Africa through their excellence in different fields within and outside the continent.

These young Africans are pushing the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields of interests, discovering new things and making landmark achievements. Whether in Technology, Fashion, Literature, Music and more, they are forging paths necessary for the sustenance of development in Africa. These crop of individuals are passing the message that Africa has a lot to offer the world through its rich human resources. What better way to be true ambassadors of the continent? 

Let us take a look at some of the young individuals championing the change of an age-long African perception in their different fields.

Technology & Innovation

Over the years, we have seen some of the most innovative minds in technology come from Africa. Notable figures like Philip Emeagwali who invented the world’s fastest computer and who also won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for an application of the CM-2 massively-parallel computer, Jelani Aliyu who designed the Chevrolet Volt,  Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, among very many others make this list.

One young African that is gradually making waves in technology is 35-year-old Jamila Abbas. Abbas is a Kenyan computer scientist and software engineer who is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MFarm Kenya Limited. MFarm is an android application that Abbas developed to solve the challenge of lack of pricing transparency Kenyan farmers faced.

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