Before you spread the word, take time to think first. How many times have you been fed a pitiful image about Africa that prompted you to suddenly become a temporary social media activist? You can’t remember? How many times have you watched a documentary framing an issue that speaks to a crisis in Africa, and you shed a tear and were moved to repost the video to your FB timeline, or even shared it inbox to raise awareness on the matter? Countless I imagine. I love this age we live in. One thing happens five time-zones away and we are inundated with reports of it in less than 5 minutes. We are buried in the innards of the information monster and we seem to be oblivious to its numbing effects on us.
So constantly we are faced with the reality of dual living; the social media avatars we present, and the real us strutting the corridors of life and sucking up to the demands of bread and water. Armed with Blackberrys, Android devices, iPhones, pads, and pods, along with the power platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and the likes, we suddenly assume the active global citizen that lends it voice to almost every passing concern. We like, share, comment, spool, anything that gets our attention and quickly move on to the next big thing. We have so perfected the art of using emoticons that we even literally believe that a ‘lol’ means the user is bursting out in actual laughter.
There seems to be only one thing that is consistent, and that is the desire to belong to something bigger than us. But as for actually getting involved in something bigger, we stand in apparent contradiction to our avatars. Sad innit? A while ago I wrote a blog post on the treadmill dynamic and why social media activity is like going somewhere but walking on a treadmill. We engage in so much visible activity but no tangible impact. As soon as I saw the Joseph Kony video earlier this week, I knew that suddenly we will have many social activist rekindling their passion for social justice. However, by the weekend, I expect that their profile pictures would have return to more real images of friends, parties, idols, etc.
However, I want to put a strange twist on the whole matter. I think the age of information has made we young Africans look totally disconnected from the realities we live in, and this has become public shame, aided by the same information cycle we so cling onto. I bet you that most of us knew nothing about Joseph Kony until when we watched the video by Invisible Children. Now we have become experts of his crimes and we are screaming Wolf! The question I should ask is must it take an American to help us pay attention to the rottenness of our bones? Are we Africans so numb that our sensory functions have been outsourced to help us feel our pains? There has been a constant stream of news on the Ugandan rebel movement of which the name ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ has been an existential concern for many and Joseph Kony not a strange name. But have we paid enough attention? No! We gloss over news on African as though we live in Omelas and have taken the deadening drooz. We don’t care, or we are too used to our condition that caring is not an appropriate response anymore.
I have found the average African to be this way: until calamity knocks on our individual door, it’s a matter that only our emotions can contain. And even when it breaks down our doors, our brains are compartmentalized to address only what is threatening on our immediate existence, and cast-off the rest for our future generations to absorb. This is the trouble with us. We do not care for what our brothers across our borders are facing. And this in its aggregate form has become the object of State policy. This is why ethnic cleansing happened in Rwanda and no African country lifted a finger. Instead we watched it on CNN and BBC and merely decried man’s inhumanity to man. This is why, despite all the early warning signs, we waited until a whole nation was almost limbless before we grudgingly stepped in. While the atrocities continue in Congo, we are all buying our tech devices, forgetting the inhuman condition from which the raw materials for these tools are mined.
Invisible Children Inc. has served us with the inconvenient truth of our blind reality. No matter how controversially framed their story is, or how sleek their savvy marketing technique to convince us of what they want to sell, my spin from this is that we are so dead in our condition that we have to be constantly dug out and be reminded we live in a real world, with real issues that we must daily confront. Yes we are confronted with the danger of a single story, but let’s not forget that we aren’t the ones telling the story. Someone else is doing so. Therefore we have no justification to question that story when we haven’t told anything different. You see the world responds to those who can tell stories, and emotional ones for that matter. The more you tell it, the better you become at convincing others that your story is the only one there is. The only way to disarm the other is to present another, and one that is perceivably stronger in narrative.
So before you register as a part-time African social media activist, ask yourself how conscious you are to Africa’s challenges. How alive are you to your responsibilities to help her renaissance? We young Africans must take a more proactive role in paying attention to our continent and get more involved in influencing change where needed. Computer screens and mobile devices are too small a window into Africa, for all we will be able to see are the ugly side of things. There are lives to be celebrated, victories to proclaim, and positive stories to be told. Perhaps if we were actively engaged in these, we would have known that Joseph Kony is not even in Uganda any longer, and that he has grown so irrelevant that what is left of him is about 250 armed men, and that he is only waiting to be captured and tried. Africa, mind yourself oh!