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The “woke” generation needs to wake up

If we wanted to bring about meaningful change and secure our future, the voices of the youth need to go beyond social media and result in an active expression of young people’s political power and rights.

In Deaf Republic, a poetry collection framed as a two-act play, Ilya Kamnisky writes: “And when they bombed other people’s houses, we protested but not enough, we opposed them but not enough. I was in my bed, around my bed America was falling.”

The author could just as well have been talking about the attitude that many young Africans have adopted; that of satisfied comfort that does not destabilise the state of things, neither the economy nor the political sphere. In Deaf Republic, deafness is used as a weapon against the soldiers. In Nigeria, and many parts of the African continent, deafness is a state of comfort and conformity.

How long and to what extent must one be oppressed before he or she decides enough is enough? The people of Sudan and Algeria have probably given us a good answer: about two or three decades. Oppression never takes place in isolation. It has many collaborators, and chief among them is silence, fear and deafness. Those are the “collaborators” Wole Soyinka referred to when he said, “The man dies in all who keep quiet in the face of tyranny.”

Read: Protesters in Algeria use nonviolence to seek real political change

What has made this silence even louder is the absence or near absence of intellectuals who stand against all forms of injustice. Who, then, becomes the sounding board of the ordinary man? To whom does the ordinary man turn in his search for a voice of reason? While in Uganda, Bobi Wine has picked up the baton, speaking adamantly about the need for change, in Kenya and Nigeria the voices of the youth do not extend beyond social media.

In his book The Rebel, Albert Camus asks, “What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.” The young African has yet to rebel against his or her leaders; against corruption or bad governance. This kind of rebellion is in fact rooted in a deep patriotism for one’s country and continent, not just for its present state but for its future too. In the case of the youth of Africa, what must he or she renounce? Asides demanding no further oppression, what must be changed?

The Algerian example

The young people of Algeria understand the importance of fighting for their future. This saw university students take to the streets to protest for the past 11 weeks. That urgency does not manifest itself in many other African nations, where governments have weakened the minds of citizens, causing them to think only of survival and the present.

The Algerian population has taken to the streets in a peaceful and nonviolent manner to protest against President Bouteflika’s running for a fifth term of office. Ryad Kramdi/AFP

There have been some protests and skirmishes in Nigeria, but those are not enough. They did not set out to bring about transformation. They were more like marches against some issue or another. For a generation that tags itself as savage and woke, the continent is unfortunately not feeling their impact on the political scene. This raises a lot of questions about the political and ideological education of this “woke” generation, which has resorted to safely staying at home with their thumbs on their phones.

The role of social media in protest

One cannot deny or eradicate or diminish the role of social media in protests. But it must be fueled by action. The greatest resource that many young Africans seem to be able to offer right now is inaction; a continuation of being deaf and silent. Despite indications that the youth will soon constitute more than half of the continent’s population, there is no guarantee that young people would bring about the change the continent needs to prosper.

We would do well to remind ourselves if the likes of Thomas Sankara, who, in his 30s, was implementing policies that brought about change in his country. Or the young Fela Kuti, whose music and constant clashes with the Nigerian government was testimony to his staunch stance against injustice and military rule. While conditions are different, oppression is not.

While conditions are different, oppression is not.

What any African young person should be engaging with most urgently at present is the need for change. It is the need to prove to Africa and her leaders that young people have had enough of deceit and corruption. That the youth of this continent, and therefore its future, is directly being affected by the decisions and indecisions of those in power now.

A protester in Nairobi, Kenya, displays a poster calling for Bobi Wine’s release.
Daniel Irungu/EPA

Read: Sudan: the symbolic significance of the space protesters made their own

In their book Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson state, “Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed.” They further state, “The reason that Britain is richer than Egypt is because in 1688, Britain had a revolution that transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation.”

It is amazing how many of us fail to see that inaction itself is death.

While the need for revolution is not lost on the African youth, there seems to be a fear that is holding them back from acting – the fear of losing one’s life. Lives are lost to road accidents stemming from bad roads, or from the police asking for bribes, or from the hospital due to bad health care, or from plane crashes because of a poor aviation system. It is amazing how many of us fail to see that inaction itself is death. That silence is death. But the pretence that what is happening to us is not happening; that deafness and blindness to the deterioration of the state of our lives, and the hope that tomorrow will be better or that things will magically change, has been the bedrock of failure in many parts of Africa. For a “woke” generation that has not awakened to its political rights and power, this spells doom.

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