My motivation to join YaLa

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— By Sylvie from Cameroon

October 2016,

Lawyers dressed in robes marched the streets of Buea, the capital of the South West region of Cameroon, demanding an end to a gradual eradication of the common-law system by the civil law, an end to French-speaking magistrates being placed to preside over cases presented by English-speaking lawyers, and an end to marginalization of the English-speaking regions in Cameroon. This was met with violence, beatings, and imprisonment of most of these lawyers.

Like a trigger, the teachers were next calling for a sit-down strike; no schools and no classes until the government put an end to French-speaking teachers being recruited in masses to teach kids who only spoke English, an end to the closing down of Anglo-Saxon education structures, and a demand for better working conditions.

As the teachers and lawyers held their ground and needed the government to meet their demands, trade unions and political parties joined in demanding for a complete shutdown of the markets, banks, offices, and a return to a two-state federation of equal status between the English-speaking part of Cameroon and the French-speaking part, as was agreed during the unification.

This led to mass protests of teachers, lawyers, trade unions, political parties, and the entire population. As a response, the government sent in its military to intimidate protesters and maintain control with whatever means possible. Spraying of itchy water cans, mass arrests, and mass shootings characterised the months that followed in Southern Cameroon.

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With the YaLa project coming up, I decided to join to learn how I could help my people make their voices heard. With knowledge gained, I made a video teaching them how to use Twitter and hashtags to tell their stories. In a matter of hours, my video had above 45,000 views and the entire Southern Cameroon youth became citizen journalists. I called them twitter warriors and with pictures and hashtags, we told our stories to the world. This was eventually picked up by Aljazeera, CNN, and then BBC.

Fast forward a couple of months, the excess use of this medium led the government to shut down internet services in the entire region and we could no longer receive live streams about how the government was killing and imprisoning its own people who, after 50 years of marginalization, finally decided to demand equality in a country that they are meant to call home.

Activists were arrested, teachers were arrested, youth were arrested, and it was left to Southern Cameroonians in the diaspora to keep on pushing the Twitter warfare for their people back home who had no access to the internet.

Here we are, 10 months into the Southern Cameroon struggle, the issues are still there, pressure from international bodies led the government to restore the internet and now all young Southern Cameroonians are citizen journalists and they know how to use Twitter and hashtags and make their voices heard to bring justice and peace to their region.

Thank you, YaLa Academy; You didn’t only inspire me to make that video but you helped the millions who now know the power of Twitter for citizen journalists.

Press and Freedom of Speech in Eritrea

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— By Teclit form Eritrea

A tiny country in the horn of Africa, Eritrea is mostly known for their human rights violations, lack of freedom of speech, press, and dictatorship. Eritrea borders Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and the Red Sea.

Press: In 1996, the temporary government of Eritrea announced a new law of press. Two years later, in 1998, private newspapers started to be published, and people started to follow and read them. Many critical articles were published, educators started to use these articles, and many youngsters, like students from the University of Asmara, started to work on these sites.

On September 18th 2001, the government announced that they would close private newspapers for the security of the country. Owners and writers started to be detained and kidnapped and we still don’t know where they are.

Not only them; even ministers, generals, military commanders, students, and religious people were detained when they demanded change and democracy.
I will always remember the journalists that sacrificed their lives for freedom of speech and press: Dawit Isaac, Amanuel Asrat, Fissehaye Joshua, Dawit, Temesgen, Matiwos, Mahmud, Sium Tsehaye…and many other unknown journalists are in prison.

Freedom of speech: In Eritrea, freedom of speech is not accepted. People can’t criticise events, things, or officials, and if heard, they are known as guilty in Eritrea. If you listen to a radio programme from abroad, you could be sentenced by security. At events, you are not allowed to speak unless you are in support of the government officials. Critics are not liked by the leaders. Many innocent people, like Asmara University students, are detained for more than 10 years. Some of them have escaped, while others have lost their lives in detention centers.

We Have the Say!

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— By Cecil from Kenya

The 2007-2008 post-election violence that Kenya experienced was all due to ignorance, ignorance of the fact that we were, as citizens, just but pawns in the politicians’ game of chess. They manipulated our feelings, incited our animosity and fanned the flames of hatred that were drawn along ethnic lines.
In Kenya, there are around 43 tribes. What richness in diversity! However, with time, this diversity has morphed into negative tribalism where each tribe seeks to have the larger piece of the national cake.

In 2007, during our national elections, there was the resounding hope that the government would leave power. I remember that our entire extended family had camped at our house for three days as we awaited the results that we hoped would favor the opposition. Funnily enough, with the surety that those we supported would win, we bought a music system ready to welcome the results with celebration. When the results were contrary to our expectations, we were entirely gob-smacked. We felt like we needed to do something, but what?

As people went out on the streets to contest the results, an undesired president was sworn-in in the dark of the night as a ploy to ensure that the citizens would have to accept the outcome. Indeed it was justified that we as citizens, the people with the say, were angry and rather disappointed that in a ‘democratic’ nation, our views were still swept under the carpet in such a condescending manner. It was as if the elections were just a formality with a predetermined winner. It was as if we were automatons ordered to execute whatever our ‘owners’ instructed. However, the line was crossed when politicians who felt duped used their supporters to perpetrate crimes that bordered, or even were, crimes of madness.

Some politicians, from their podiums, were and are still heard echoing statements such as, “Use machetes on those who are against us”. Such statements fueled cruelties that range from the murder of over 50 unarmed Kikuyu women and children, some as young as a month old, by locking them in a church and burning them alive in Kiambaa village near Eldoret, to the cold blooded shooting of civilians who were protesting in the slums of Nairobi. Tribalism continued to peel off its mask and reveal itself in its rawest form when women were raped and their husbands killed in the Rift Valley regions, when looters broke into stores and made away with whatever valuables they found in deserted cities, and when the displacement of people occurred all throughout the country.

Schools were closed, workplaces shut-down, and most other Kenyans, including myself, were locked in their homes, in fear of stepping out to an embroiled and volatile environment. Life was indeed brought to a standstill! However, if we, as Kenyans, knew our worth, and realized that we could express ourselves in other ways apart from violence, we would not have caused the death, displacement, and heartbreak of many. We should realize that politicians could potentially use us as tools, but the line should be drawn when they want to use us as tools for evil.

The anticipation surrounding this year’s election is palpable. It seems to be a two horse race between, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, who are the children of the founding fathers of the nation. Their rivalry dates back to when their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga, had differences on how power would be shared right after independence in 1963. Thereafter, Jomo became president and Oginga the leader of opposition. Seeing that the two were from the different Dholuo and Agikuyu communities, the ‘vendetta’ seems to have transcended generations and is at full swing once again this year. The unease in the air can be felt by all, as each of these and other language groups prepare to take their place on the political table, and if possible, snatch the highest seat. There is also the fear that what happened in 2007 will happen again. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission promises a free and fair election with the incorporation of digital voting, which we really do want. However, this time, if rigging occurs once again, we shouldn’t be used by politicians to accomplish their own self-centered desires, but in a spirit love, we should draw together as a nation and speak up for what we believe in….WITHOUT VIOLENCE.

Stolen Hope

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— By Farida from Togo

On February 5th, 2005, the national television of my country, Togo, went blank, only showing an image of the president. The neighborhood went silent, shops closed, lights were turned off, doors shut: there was panic everywhere. This was the first time ever in our country that all televisions stations went blank showing only the picture of the president. Rumours started circulating that maybe he had died. A neighbor came to our house and confirmed the rumors to my father, the president had passed away. Gnassingbe Eyadema was his name, and he ruled Togo with an iron fist for 38 years. He was the most feared person in the country, and at some point he was considered immortal. 
Deep in my heart I was relieved because I had longed for so many years to see my country freed from that dictator. I had silently prayed for it every time my father or one of his activists’ friends was jailed and tortured by the military at the command of Eyadema. I wanted to celebrate that moment with my dad, who was sitting in the dark; it was dark throughout the entire capital city because of a power outage  For the first time in my life, I saw my dad crying. I was very much surprised because I expected him to be relieved. This was the man who had jailed him numerous times in the past, tortured him for months, broken thirteen of his ribs, 9 of his toes, expelled him from the university for life, and killed several of his friends. I asked, “Dad why are you crying?” and he replied, “All my life, I was hoping that one day, Togo would be freed from this regime and this man will face trial for all the atrocities he has committed. And when I think that he gets to die, and my friends who were killed will never have justice, I feel devastated”. All I could tell him was sorry. At 8pm, the General of the Army appointed the son of the deceased president as the new head of state, even though our constitution states clearly that the president of the National Assembly was to take over when the president dies. Everybody was shocked and confused by this, a military coup, and this was the beginning of a new horror story in Togo. However, thanks to pressure from the opposition and protests, the regime finally accepted to allow the Vice President of the National Assembly take over as president, because the President of the Assembly was exiled to neighboring Benin. Elections were announced for the 24th of April. 
The electoral campaign of 2005 was extremely dramatic. The opposition formed a coalition to support one candidate and all predictions were pointing at his victory. Never in my life have I witnessed such vivacity in my country. Every campaign day was a celebration with almost everyone wearing yellow, which was the color of the main opposition party. “Ditia Kpoe Leyi,” was the slogan for the opposition militants, and it substituted as a greeting wherever you went. Then came Sunday April 24th 2005; the very day we believed would forever mark our history, like April 27th did when we got our independence 55 years earlier. Polls were to be opened at 7am, and by 5 in the morning polling stations were already overcrowded. People were determined to vote, and stay to protect their votes. There was lots of excitement and militants were touring polling stations to report on the voting activities and the trends at each station. At 5pm, polling stations closed and the vote counting started. At the station in my neighborhood, people gathered outside the school classrooms that served as voting rooms to hear the polling agents give the results. The screamings that came with the announcement that the opposition candidate, Bob Akitani, was the winner of that station, was close to the screaming that followed the victory of our soccer team at the African Cup of Nations qualifications. People were singing and dancing, and people all throughout Lome, the capital, were celebrating the victory of their candidate. Although I was 15 and didn’t vote, I also took part in the celebration. That was without knowing the worse had yet to happen.
As people were chanting victory songs in the whole city, militaries attacked every single polling station, teargassed and arrested numerous people, and seized the ballots. We were all in shock and couldn’t believe what had just happened. Two days later, at night on Tuesday April 26, which was the day before the celebration of Togo’s 45th independence day, militaries were sent in all the opposition stronghold neighborhoods to “neutralize” the youths, as the electoral commission was declaring the son of the deceased president, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, the winner of the elections against all predictions. Over 1,000 Togolese people were killed that night. In a country of 6 million inhabitants, that was a huge number. Over 60 thousand people fled the following days to Ghana and over 30 thousand fled to Benin. The city was torn completely and there was smoke, blood, and debris all over the place. On May 3rd 2005, I was reading about the victims of the massacres in a newspaper when I found the name of two students from my high school. One was in his freshman year, like me, and the other was a senior. Like about 1,300 other Togolese, their only crime was to live in a neighborhood tagged as an “opposition stronghold.” 
I was angered, sad, and had never felt that helpless in my life. And whenever I imagined that it could have been me, or a sibling of mine, I couldn’t help but cry. That was when I started writing about dictatorship, military repression, and human rights abuse in Togo. I wanted the world to know about us, to hear our stories, to feel our pain and our helplessness. From then on I have never stopped, and as of today I have published over 400 articles on Togo and have become one of the most known activists from my country. When I started blogging in 2009, I never expected my voice to be heard. I was just a 19 year old trying to express her anger against injustice and hoping for change to come. But the more I wrote, the more audience I built as people were connecting to my stories. People will contact me and ask me to write about their stories, because they are afraid to do it themselves. They assumed that I was not afraid of anything, because the multiple threats and attempts on my life never stopped me from voicing my opinion. But the truth is, I too am scared. I am scared of crying just like my father for failing to one day bring justice to my friends. And whenever I think of that moment, I say: “Farida, you must keep going. You must keep going, you must keep going.”
Writing not only gave me a voice, it also made me an opinion leader, and my attempt to reject that leadership role was a failure. I became someone that others wanted to hear from and seek guidance from. Whenever there is a political turmoil in Togo, people will reach out to me to seek my opinion. So I am trying to improve myself so that my words will not create more division, but bring more closure and have an impact for the betterment of my community.

How I Lost My Sweet Childhood Nickname, “Tiyenda”

— By Sam from Uganda

What I didn’t learn from home, I learnt from Kindergarten. I spent my first three years of life at home learning how to eat by myself, brush my teeth, bathe on my own, greet people while shaking their hands and looking them in the eye, making alarms in case of danger, and notifying mum in case I was feeling pain.

Since I was mum’s first born, she had all the time to be curiosity and to learn about mothering. She had to know what I was saying, why I was crying, and what I needed. Dad was an occasional visitor in the house since he was always on the move on errands and his other families. On days when mum was away, grand mum would always step in to play the motherly role, with occasional assistance from Uncle Sam, Richard, and Fred who ended up being my playmates because my siblings were too young. I was never allowed to leave home to play with children in the neighborhood, everyone lived in their own fenced house, and it was hard to know what was happening on the other side.

I started school when I was 4 years old and by that time; mum knew she had equipped me with all the basics I needed to socialize with the rest of the children. She instructed me to do what the teachers told me, never to fight, never to have bad manners, and never to leave school until I was picked up by someone from home.

Mum would pack for me enough food, with instructions not to admire anyone else’s food and not to beg from others. Bread, popcorn, and orange juice were a must have in my container, and once in awhile they would pack me chicken. My school was just a stone’s throw away from home, though I kept insisting on being dropped off in a car. Initially, I felt weird walking through the neighborhood while putting on a school uniform. I kept having this feeling that everyone was staring at me and making fun of my appearance. The car offered me some sense of assurance that no one was seeing me.

School had its own dynamics. The teachers dictated who to sit with and where to sit. I never wanted the front rows because of the unnecessary attention from the teachers and the expectation to learn faster than the ones seated behind. I was also shy, too shy to be seen in front by all of the class, but that is where the teachers instructed me to sit.

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“Here is a family photo taken in 1991. That’s me in the red trousers, next to me is my brother, Allan, next to Allan is my last born sister, Wini, next to Winnie is my mother’s cousin, Nsadha, and next to him is my sister, Lillian. Behind me is my Uncle Sam, my late mum, Loy, my uncle Richard, my uncle Ronald, my grand mum’s friend, Tezira, and my grand mum Leah. This was the first Christmas we were having after my father’s death.

Seating me next to a girl worsened my manners. I had barely interacted with any girls before and one of the instructions I had from home was not to have bad manners. In my head I thought the teachers were indirectly choosing a marital partner for me, and completely going against what mum had told me to do.

During breakfast, it was mandatory to share food with the neighbors. To me, sharing anything with girls was criminal and I utterly refused to follow that rule. The teachers tactfully changed my breakfast schedule for me to start sharing with the boys, but I remembered that mum had told me not to covet other people’s food, so I still refused. Whenever they offered me their food, I would respond to them with “tiyenda” (“I don’t want”).

Little did I know that I was innocently hurting other people’s feelings and self-esteem by refusing their genuine offers. As time went by, no one wanted to associate with me; as the rest were seated in pairs sharing their breakfast, the teachers decided to seat me by myself. I felt so hurt and isolated. My pain was worsened when the whole class started sarcastically calling me Tiyenda instead of Sam. I felt like they were mocking me as being proud, arrogant, and selfish because I refused to share with them. I started crying whenever someone called me Tiyenda. The teachers sat me down and advised me to start sharing and playing with everyone if I wanted them to stop calling me Tiyenda.

Hard as it was, I had no option but to abide, because I found the Tiyenda name too derogatory to bear with. I unconditionally started accepting food from all the kids. I had to do away with some instructions from home and started playing with the girls. All my classmates enjoyed playing with me and everyone wanted to share with me. I stopped feeling shy and I grew comfortable with everyone around me. I learned how to co-exist with my peers, and to this day I have never heard anyone call me Tiyenda again.

A Stand Against Oppression

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— By Abdulmu’min from Nigeria

It was back in high school some years ago, on the Lagos Island of Lagos State, Nigeria. We had finished prep class, and it was around 9:50 pm on Tuesday night, in the boys-only high school in which four different houses: red, yellow, blue, and green, served as the major difference in the lifestyles of the boys.

We were in our finals, and as the most senior students in the school, we had every other thing going easy. We usually had our whites sparkling, well ironed out such that it could tear one’s skin. Every student had to respect our seniority, those were the benefits of being a senior class student, except of course for the tight schedule of having to prepare for the senior school exams. Everyone barely had time to do other chores, so we had to do those chores after prep class, which usually ended at 9:30 pm leaving us with just 30 minutes before lights-out.

Lately we had been complaining about our stuff going missing from the large building which the final year students of the four houses occupied as dormitories. Every dormitory contained bunk beds, arranged in rows and columns, and locker rooms to keep some of our belongings. We had started to blame each other for the theft.

The Sunday before I was up at night, like every other day, studying, when I suddenly noticed one of the security guards, employed to secure the school, trying to find his way to the hostel, which was already locked, around 2:30 am. I alerted some of my housemates who were awake then to also see what I had seen, we decided to pretend to be asleep. Just as the security guard jumped in, I switched on the lights; the guard noticed this and absconded. There were about ten security guards in the school.

The next morning was a Monday morning, at the beginning of the week there was much to do so we didn’t discuss the incident. It was Tuesday and we had just 10 minutes left until lights out, and I was determined to end the treacherous acts of the guards.

I was standing with the utility prefect, Stanley, when we saw one of the guards by the name Innocent, heading towards the hostel. Now aware of what had been happening, once prep was over, Innocent alongside two other guards nicknamed Boko and Haram, Boko was friendly while Haram was the strong faced guy, would all come into the hostel claiming to send everyone to bed even before lights out, with the aim of getting everyone to sleep at the same time to give them enough time to do whatever evil act they had to do. Innocent was the team leader.

One funny thing about the Name Boko Haram is that, it’s actually the name of the dreaded terrorist group which had been causing insurgency in the Northeastern part of Nigeria, where over 280 schoolgirls were kidnapped.

Innocent wasn’t just heading towards the hostel, he had a bamboo stick in his hand. I told Stanley, “What the hell does this guy think he is going to do with that stick in his hand, hit anyone of us! Hell no, just see what I’m going to do tonight, this will have to stop.” As he got nearer to the hostel Stanley cowardly went into his dormitory, while I went to the front of mine.

There were five of us from blue house, Steve, Owuri, Tobi, Toba, and myself. I informed them of the incident and asked them not to move when Innocent arrived, we had to stop the act. Innocent was in the hostel and as usual chasing everyone to go to bed, he got to where we were standing and suddenly Tobi and Toba made away to their beds, while Steve, Owuri, and I were left. Innocent said “Go inside,” but we didn’t respond so he told us to get on our knees.

By then the whole building was quiet, Steve and Owuri were about to kneel down, when I moved forward going head to head and chest to chest with Innocent, even though he was the leader of the security guards. My words to him were, “Why should we go to bed? Is it because you and your gang want to come and steal our valuables, No! This would have to stop today.” 

Owuri had left, Steve was about to do the same when Innocent suddenly dragged him back and hit him hard on the head with the bamboo stick. Haram was with his boss by then and both were fighting against me. We were exchanging blows and words, more students now trooped out and aided the struggle against oppression after hearing the noise, and finally the fight against the oppression of innocent students had been won.

I thought to myself the school management wouldn’t have believed us if we had gone ahead to report the incident, since we had no evidence, but now we had fought, I had fought for us. They stopped coming to the hostel, which wasn’t their responsibility in the first place, and our properties were safe again. What if I had not taken my stand against oppression?

The Incredible Destiny of a Handicap

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— By Mamadou from Guinea

Once upon a time, in a small village in the midst of the thick green mountains of Foutah Djalon, lived some farmers whose source of livelihood was always determined by the season. During one of those seasons that it rained, there was a huge downpour and a son was born to the family of the Diallos. The rain barely subsided before his dad went from hut to hut in the entire village to share the good news with fellow villagers. The joy in the family knew no bounds. A week after his birth his parents gave him the name Mamadou. At this moment, no one could have imagined what the life of this little boy would be.

Three years later, Mamadou was growing up very fast for his age. He could play around the house of his parents under the admiring and watchful sight of his mother. One of the nights, Mamadou’s mother was awakened by his cry. Mamadou had become sick and this sickness would eventually change his life forever. His parents took him to the traditional doctors and healers in their village and other neighbouring villages to find a cure to this illness. These doctors could not help the child and convinced his parents that the young Mamadou has contracted an incurable disease from the evil spirits. This was the beginning of suffering for the little Mamadou and his mother. Some believed his mother is being punished for the sins she might have committed in the past and some claimed the boy is a wizard. A few months later into his illness, Mamadou lost his father and those who believed he was a wizard concluded he had claimed his first victim.
Mamadou lived under this condition until he was six years of age. At this age, he was supposed to be in school just like his mates. His mother had an important choice to make between leaving him at home to protect him from others and sending him to school so that he will have equal opportunity to excel in life like his mates. Fortunately, she settled for the second option. On the first day he was to leave for school, his mother was sad and in anguish, because she had doubts about if the other students would welcome him at school.


======Mamadou’s First Day in School:=========


The long awaited day arrived and he had to go to school. Very early in the morning, his mother woke him up and he prepared himself, wore his uniform and headed for school. On arrival, what his mother feared happened. When he arrived, all the children looked at him because he was the only one who walked with a stick. This was only the beginning of his troubles. At school, he had to sit with other children. The children had to sit two by two on a bench, a girl and a boy per bench. No girl wanted to sit next to him and yet he was not the ugliest in the class. He did not understand why all these girls rejected sitting with him. The teacher finally had him sit with another boy. At some point, he noticed several children who imitated his way of walking, which was quite different. He had resisted everything that has happened earlier in class but this time, he cried. He returned home in tears and with many other questions that also made his mother cry.

=====The Encounter that Changed His Life:========


Days and years passed quickly. In his nine years of study so far, he was never sent to write on the board like other students. Whenever his teachers wanted to send him there, his friends and his teacher made it clear that Mamadou could not go to write on the board. This happened until the day that his chemistry teacher Momo Camara forced him to go there (to the blackboard). “Mamadou on the board!” The teacher said and Mamadou, after nine years of studies, had to go to the board in front of his friends, he wrote, sweating, and finally everything went well. At the end of the course, Mr. Camara summoned Mamadou to his office. He said to him “Mamadou, it was not out of wickedness that I sent you to the board, it is because if I treat you in a special way you become a special person, which is not good for you. You know there are two types of disabilities: Physical disability and moral disability. You already are physically handicapped, with it alone, you can live your life but if you add the second (moral disability), your life will have no meaning. If you do not accept yourself as you are, know that others will never accept you. You have the choice.”


These remarks got him thinking. Since that day, Mamadou began to change the way he saw himself. He began to consider himself not as a person with a disability but as a person. From that day, he accepted no special treatment. Sadness was written all over his face whenever he was forced to sit on the edge of the field watching his friends playing football, sitting on a chair while his friends danced, or sitting alone while his friends are having a nice time with their girlfriends. Now when his friends play football, he is the goalkeeper. When they (his friends) dance, he dances too (hmmm, you need to see him dance) and as far as love goes (hmmm, that one is complicated). As each step passed, at each success, he shakes hands and quietly thanks Mr. Camara for the tips that he would share with each person who would be discriminated against. Grace to you Mr. Camara, my life now has a meaning, giving great happiness to my dear mother.


=========The School, His Saviour============


After eighteen years of study, the little Mamadou who was expected by all to be in a corner begging is now an engineer. He is gainfully employed and now lives with his family. That is not all. He works with organisations to educate parents to vaccinate their children against polio because he eventually learnt that his illness was because of poliomyelitis. He is also involved in encouraging parents to send disabled children to school because for him, education is the only way to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities.