Africa Day was celebrated this past, May 25, with the theme, “Silencing the Guns in the context of the COVID19”, Taye Balogun Yussuf, a filmmaker and activist, speaks to Michaela Moye on activism, advocacy and African development in relation to security.
Peace, public health and poverty are frequently tagged in conversations about Africa, often with a focus on the negative. What needs to be done to transform Africa’s image?
The transformation of Africa’s Image would begin with the education or re-education or decolonization of our educational system. Most Africans have been made to believe that there are particular instructions that are valid, and if it does not come from this x-amount of people, in this sense the colonials, it is not valid. How we can now change the narrative of what they have made us believe? I think, in doing so we would have succeeded in emptying our so called historical hard drive and created folders that are peculiar and has historical context to where we are coming from as Africans and where we are going to. I think this should start from the primary education level. Conferences, meetings and seminars are spaces where we can have more adult conversations, but when it comes to catching them young, I think it’s very important we get them at the primary level, the very early educational level.
How does the COVID-19 pandemic influence violence, conflict and displacement?
This is a typical case of a person that has been invited to give a talk in Brazil and this person does not even have a passport, not to even think about getting a visa. I think mostly, the African Union was not ready for COVID-19 and this is as a result of procrastination that happens in the structure of the African Union Commission. There has been a lot of incredible increase in discussion in terms of policies – national based, regional and continental policies – in terms of our security measures, arms trade treaties and [other] treaties. However, what we do not have is the implementation plan. We as Africans are famous for creating amazing policies but we do not [exhibit] the energy, will and passion to actually implement these policies. This is costing us a lot of things now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are now seeing the vacuums within their own health systems. COVID has actually exposed us even more to our unpreparedness concerning violence, displacement, issues of internally displaced people and refugees. It is very evident we need to have a more cohesive plan within the African states and see how we can build up the security implementation plan.
Is the African Union doing enough to silence the guns on the continent?
What we need to know is that the African Union Commission is a body that doesn’t have power at the national level. What they can do is address or open more conversation at the continental level on gun control with policy papers, analyses and convening of experts.
If we ask “is the African Union doing enough about the proliferation of arms on continent?” we also ask, “who are we targeting?” The African Union has been funded by the EU, the Chinese government and sometimes they get some money from Australia and the UK. All these countries mentioned sell guns to African countries and the quick blanket excuse that they usually give is, “we are providing these guns for the Africans to be able to protect themselves.” You know for sure that Somalia has civil unrest, internal displaced people; South Sudan has civil unrest, violence triggered by – whether or not -tribe or faith; so when these guns get into the continent, for whatever purpose, they do not care. We need to hold Western countries accountable for some of the so called capitalist mindset and pretense that they are the ones who care so much. For instance, the United Nations is sited in the U.S.A, the country has the highest number of cases with regards to gun violence in the entire world. This is a result of the purchase gun policy in this country. We need to now look at how we curb buying guns from these Western countries. There are different treaties like the Nairobi Convention, Arms Trade treaty and a lot more, but the same people who are selling these guns, are the same coming to tell us to stop…so we are fighting the invisible. Again, the AU can decide to do this but again they are handicapped since they do not have money to sustain themselves. We need people who can act, and that is the reason why we are clamouring for more a local bottom to top approach. If we go to the grass roots and have meaningful conversations: How are you getting these guns? How do they get to you? How many guns are you buying? What is your weapon budget? Why do you need all these guns? Who are you fighting? There are hospitals that have not been built, schools that need to build, why spend such money on weapons that you do not use? AU is trying but not doing their best completely.
What sort of advocacy approach needs to be taken by CSOs, NGOs and other stakeholders, to ensure the establishment and sustenance of strong institutions?
Quick advocacy…and this is driven by the spaces I have been to in the last two years… I think there is a citizen movement happening across Africa. In 2010, we had the Egypt uprising, we had the Tunisia uprising, then we had in Gambia and just recently we had in Sudan. Citizens are really tired of the norm and more and more we are beginning to realize that leadership is about listening and accountability to those who voted you in. CSOs and NGOs are operated by human beings who have a nationality. They have a voice within their own community and at the national or local level. What we are saying is that we need to now bring all these people together… town hall or similar meetings where people can actually drop their voices and channel sudden things. I think whatever I’m saying is we have adopted straight to our system Eurocentric [practices], they are not Afrocentric. More and more the CSOs and the NGOs on the continent cannot sustain themselves. So if we have to wait for these organizations, we would be acting in the shadows of the western NGOs who come with their own agenda and funds and tell you what to do with it, pretty much tell us what and how to do everything and this doesn’t work. Once we go back to the basics: Who are we? How do we resolve issues? And we can be able to now adopt our new style of advocacy, perhaps having different conversations in different communities can actually trigger this. You know who has the strength and weaknesses in certain things and that would be the bottom to top approach. Before you can represent my house, I should know that you can talk for us, just because someone is the father of the house, doesn’t mean he can represent the house. Maybe the child can be a better representative. We need to drop the hierarchy type of thing that we have just been marinated in the western agenda and policies. We need to go back to the community-driven, bottom to top approach.
You utilize media and art in your activism. Tell us how ‘Music is our Weapon’ and how other emerging and established change makers can use cultural expression in their own work?
I have chosen to use this route because I think this is a powerful channel to reach out to a lot of the young generation who are the future of tomorrow and that is what ‘Music is our Weapon’ gives. I made this film to give young people the inspiration and aspiration to dream and use whatever they have within their reach to advocate for something that they believe in.
Once you are being funded by an international organization, that particular fund has been given to you for a particular project on the continent, then it’s not yours. Based on this, what we have as a continent, is our expression and mostly people express what they feel through art. This is not restrictive to Africans; this is in general. We document our history through art, we communicate through art, and we organize ourselves through art. There is a saying in Yoruba that “when words are lost, you use proverbs to look for them.” All these are things that we do to express ourselves and we are constantly shedding that off because the ones who are giving us money to do our advocacy work, campaigns work and programmes work do not share the same values we do. We are now focusing on meetings rather than the art; we incorporate art as an entertainment part of the agenda. Artist have voices too, smarter than some of the directors. Artists need space, they do not think structurally but have a special way of approaching things and solving issues and that is the reason why art has been really powerful in terms of getting engagement especially by the youth. Africa is known to have a very high population of young people, and if we have to harness their youthfulness, we have to speak to them in a language that they understand: art, music, film, poetry, books, and painting. What our leaders are doing is to keep those developmental and policy jargons in their own book and not engaging the young people. The more we know, the more we question and no African leader wants to be questioned. We need more social justice type of content, to provoke and inspire change at all levels – local, regional and national.
To read more about Silencing the Guns, click here
To read more about the relationship between conflict and development, click here
To read more about arms sold to Africa, click here