Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New images from Africa | Dreaming of a Human Face

Images quickly flip over our screens, opening up new worlds, as ordinary, young Africans are calling for justice and peace. On the other side, we see the powerful and their wealthy families who, with power and violence, cling desperately to their positions and ill-gotten gain, by uprooting thousands and brutally murdering others. It just brings disgust and horror, especially when we discover that our own leaders and business people remain cautious and quiet.

What happened the last few weeks in North Africa and the Middle-East does have an impact on us here on the southern tip of Africa. Yet, in many faith-communities, some go in with their ‘spiritual’ lives, almost as if nothing happened. Yet it does affect us, because this is one Africa, one world, Gods world.

I was part of a gathering of religious leaders, who grappled recently with the question, how do we bring these different images together, how can faith communities bring about, unity, reconciliation and justice? This was a consultation on the Accra Confession.

How are we to respond then to the revolts happening. Firstly, it is critical to understand from North-Africa, but also other parts of Africa, for example Ivory Coast, what is happening. A superficial reading, might understand this to be a spontaneous explosion of build-up expectations. The self-immolation of the 26 year old, Tunisian fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, after he simply had enough of police brutality, is according to this analysis, a moment of catharsis. Hence, this is a spontaneous uprising of hope against merciless repression.

I agree with this explosion of hope, however the shifts taking place, are much deeper and it was really other tweeters, who opened my eyes to these deeper realities. This reading takes serious the agency of younger generations in a new world. Bouazizi represents the experience of younger generations, who grew up in a skewed world, economically and culturally. This generation however also have within themselves, dreams and images of a different world, a world which they try to create for themselves. These dreams are based on the possibility; at least as experienced in new virtual spaces of social media, where the world is weaved into one. Here the important question is whether you are part of the bigger net. If not, then you don't have 'friends', connections or 'followers'. Indeed, as some-one said recently, social media is changing the meaning of these words. But more importantly, it’s in these networks where stories, information and value flows together. The point is therefore not so much to Facebook (verb!), but to connect; or its not to Google (verb), but to get the information.

In this matrix, the image of one fruit seller’s disgust under a repressive police-force, and skewed economic system are transposed within minutes and flows seamlessly, over my timeline and it becomes our disgust. A social net are formed of activists on the ground, others in exile/diaspora and a band of cell-phone or citizen journalists. Now the name Bouazizi and his unknown hometown called Sidi Bouzid gets a hastag # and becomes a powerful symbol which binds other unknown people together, people discontent with the exploitation of unknown people, other ordinary and wounded fruit sellers. Others start to share their own stories and experiences of exploitation and soon it becomes a social movement, a movement of unknown and unacknowledged, yet who are now recognised and acknowledged within this network. They get a name, a powerful name, which connects the timelines of thousands, if not millions over the globe. This is another face of globalisation, linked by #Bouazizi or #SidiBouzid.

In a different time Bouazizi would have remained an unknown figure in a far-off country where police brutality and economic tyranny against the nameless, could have continued. We would have explained: of course, we don’t know them; we didn’t know it all happened. During that time government forces could have decimated masses of nameless peoples, put on their imperial robe and convinced the masses via images from a bunker on state TV, that they are actually appointed by God and therefore untouchable.

It doesn’t work like that anymore. Nothing stays hidden anymore and because of that, we are in this together and we are responsible. Now, the 'international community' are implicated in the murders of a cruel dictator,if they remain quiet. Now, Wikileaks and social networks can function as tools, which support people of hope, the new prophets to cast down contemporary false images. It helps us to see what is really going on. It cast light onto the dark corners. The emperor is unmasked, dethroned.

So, today, we have a new struggle of faith. This is a struggle which is embedded in a generation, who dreams, but also a generation who connects and are part of a network. She is perhaps a young Egyptian student, who simply wants to finish her medical studies to serve her community. He is a fruitseller or a mechanic, like his father, who loves to stretch his abilities in fixing things. They are a group of young mothers, from Burkina Faso, who works in the cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, for their family back home. It is a interconnected dream and struggle where erstwhile ordinary, unknown people have a face, a name; they are recognized and acknowledged as the having dignity. Here the color, gender or language in which you worship God, doesn’t count. What counts, is Gods dream, a dream of fullness of life for all. Steve Biko describes this dream as follows, ‘We believe that in the long run Africa's special contribution to the world will be in this field of human relationship. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa-giving the world a more human face' (1971:51)
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