The Revolution is Not a Hashtag

By Nebila Abdulmelik

We often try to find new, innovative and creative ways of organizing and mobilizing around pertinent issues such as sexual and gender based violence, insecurity and conflict. Various mediums have been utilized – and more recently, with greater frequency, we make use of new media to express our outrage, to garner solidarity across borders and across thematic silos, and to spur action by our policy makers. The #JusticeForLiz campaign was a prime example of the power of social media in garnering global media and public attention and subsequently getting duty bearers to act, although not as quickly or as comprehensively as we would have liked. Liz was a 16 year old who was gang-raped on her way home from her grand-father’s funeral. The police responded woefully. The online petition on Avaaz’s site which garnered close to two million signatures from across the globe was a testament to the power of new technologies in spreading and sharing information and mobilizing global citizens to act. If nothing other than saving their public image, Kenyan authorities began to take action around Liz’s case which proceeded to court and is still awaiting a final conclusion with the arrest of two of the perpetrators.

Similarly, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which began locally in Nigeria to agitate for the immediate and safe return of hundreds of girls who were abducted from their schools in April, has since mobilized countless citizens across the globe from all walks of life. The world witnessed daily vigils, sit-ins, marches and protests in Nigeria and solidarity actions taking place on and offline in cities across Africa and across the globe. New communications channels were key, but not sufficient in mobilizing people to act and to amplify calls to bring back our girls. Similar to the previous example of the Justice For Liz campaign, if nothing else, the global attention and pressure on the Nigerian government shines a light on the injustices and the inadequacies of the government to respond to the needs of its citizens, and particularly that of its female ones. This campaign has been undertaken in the run up to elections in January which has complicated matters, although it does serve as an opportunity for the electorate to show its leaders what really matters and that promises must be delivered on. The mass mobilization is a form of ensuring accountability and at the very least, to say, “We are watching, and we will not be silent.”

Useful, engaging, vibrant and dynamic conversations are also taking place around #TheAfricaWeWant – Africans from across the globe defining and shaping the Africa they envision – both for the Global Post-2015 development agenda and Agenda 2063, Africa’s development trajectory for the next 50 years. This has also been linked with the African Union led #DGTrends focusing conversations and actions around instituting a culture of peace, democracy, good governance and human rights, ultimately #SilencingTheGuns – an ambitious goal that African Heads of State have committed to realizing by 2020.

While new forms of communication and media channels and platforms are useful in mobilizing, coordinating, drawing synergy and solidarity – they are not a panacea for our many problems. They also are limited in their utility when used in isolation – but become powerful when complementing offline actions. The revolution is not a hashtag. The revolution simply is.

Nebila Abdulmelik is the Head of Communications at FEMNET, a pan-African organization working to advance the rights of women and girls since inception in 1988. Nebila is a pan-Africanist and a feminist passionate about advancing the cause of social justice and amplifying marginalized voices in that process. She is also a poet who uses her poetry to speak her peace. Connect with her @aliben86, communication@femnet.or.ke or http://aliben86.wordpress.com.

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