Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch

Welcome to
Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch Blog. Our objective is to promote the institutions of democracy,social justice,Human Rights,Peace, Freedom of Expression, and Respect to humanity in Rwanda,Uganda,DR Congo, Burundi,Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya,Ethiopia, and Somalia. We strongly believe that Africa will develop if only our presidents stop being rulers of men and become leaders of citizens. We support Breaking the Silence Campaign for DR Congo since we believe the democracy in Rwanda means peace in DRC. Follow this link to learn more about the origin of the war in both Rwanda and DR Congo:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rhodes University Breaks The Silence On Congo War Mineral

Rhodes University of Grahamstown, students (Ea...Image via Wikipedia
Rhodes University Breaks The Silence On Congo War Minerals

The Nobel Peace Lauriate Desmond Tutu at Highway Africa
Delivering the keynote speech at the DCI conference for Highway Africa
Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa
Where do I start? Writing about this experience is quite a challenge. The number one place who topped all the schools I have visited is St Michael’s College in Vermont. I also enjoyed the wonderful students at the University of San Francisco given that they actually have a class on Congo. I must also say that the students at St Lawrence brought tears in my eyes when they sang STAND UP to move the students on their campus to get engaged with Congo advocacy. Now, I have just been to a college campus in Africa and must add Rhodes University on the list of schools to remember.

Rhodes University, in Grahamstown South Africa, had invited Friends of the Congo to come share with the delegates at their annual journalism conference about how it uses digital media, commonly called New Media, to expose resource exploitation on the African continent. Who could have thought ten years ago that social media could become a tool for advocacy? I have seen in the past two years the effectiveness of using social networks to spread information about the situation in the Congo. With these new tools in the hand of indigenous people, we all are bearing witness to a new digital revolution where the common medium is now controlled by the people rather than the mainstream media. Due to this fact, I saw myself embark in a new journey to break the silence on the African continent.

So… what is this conference that I attended? The fifth annual Digital Citizen’s Indaba (DCI) [], held on July 7 at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, drew together citizens, advocates, bloggers and activists from around the world to discuss how new media can revolutionize development work and give a voice to the unheard or silenced. This year’s theme, Africa’s Underdevelopment: Digital Citizens Talk Back, explored citizen media and the exploitation of natural resources, disasters, climate change and mega events. The DCI is a project of the Highway Africa Conference [] which took place on July 5 and 6.
It was a long travel to get to the campus. A 20-hour flight from New York to Port Elizabeth, followed by a 2-hour drive to the town, made me appreciate more the scenery of rural areas. It has been so long since I’ve been to Africa. It was nice to get to see the land of our ancestors once again. I completely forgot that I was in a country that had a huge British influence. I was shocked to see the wheel on the wrong side of the car, and surprised to see the car driving on the wrong side of the road. Then came the discussion with the student helpers, who came to pick us up from the airport, about what side of the road is right. My argument was irrefutable when I stated “driving on the right side of the road is the right way to do it!”
In Grahamstown, when checked in at the hotel, it was with a bit of sadness that I watched the music channel which only played American music for about four hours and when there were South African musicians that came on, their music sounded so Americans that I literally thought that Viacom owned the South African Broadcasting Channel (SABC). Was I in Africa? I came from so far to realize that there is slow death of the African culture as Africa is embracing everything from the outside without keeping its culture. I hope to expand on this matter in a future post, but this experience was quite telling.
Grahamstown, South Africa

The following day, I met two other speakers as we had breakfast together. They were South Africans who gave me a piece of their mind about FIFA and other local issues in South Africa. They both came from Jo’burg. I appreciated their openness in allowing me to see that issues that Americans face are not so different than the ones that South Africans are facing. The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental aspiration for every human being, but sometimes the greed of certain individuals interferes with the lives of millions and put ordinary, hardworking people out in the streets. It was nice to make that connection with them and appreciate the fact they were willing to share their experience.
When I arrived on campus, I really appreciated the hospitality of the student workers and people around campus. I have worked on conferences and know how frustrating it can be. From a pompous speaker who wants his hot water in the bathtub to be a certain temperature in their hotel room, to the students who forgot to go pick up a speaker at the airport as he has been waiting for 3 hours… all of these issues can be very frustrating. But what I noticed from the logistical team of the conference, is the patience and grace it had in dealing with all the issues at hand and the hospitality which has been unmatched during my stay in South Africa.
After participating in a few workshops that day, I returned to my room to prepare for the presentation I had to give the next day. I was asked to give a keynote speech as the person who was supposed to do it had a death in the family and could not join us at the conference. I had lots of ideas of how I should be speaking to the delegate about the topic at hand and Congo. I am always keen in making sure that people understand the historical context of issues to know what to do in changing the present. But the challenge was more so on how to contextualize Africa from a digital media perspective and make the Congo as the emblematic example of what happens in every African country. I was set for a long night with no sleep. But… the all-nighter paid off.
Delivering the keynote speech at the DCI conference for Highway Africa

The next day, I had 15 minute to make my case that the underdevelopment of Africa has its causes, but with tools at hand today we can address the many complex issues Africans face through technology. As I started my presentation, I was so happy to see so many young people in the audience. I have always been enthusiastic about the future of Africa when I see a lot of young Africans discussing African issues or even engaging in solving them. This event revitalized my resolve for a new Africa. By the end of the presentation, I made the critical point that Congo was a very important country for the future of Africa whereby there is no greater issue today in Africa as the situation in the Congo and it requires the participation of all.
The presentation was received well and I was added on a panel discussion on resource exploitation in Africa. This panel was quite interesting because at the end, a gentleman, if I should call him that, working for a mining company (he did not identify himself as working for a mining company but I later found out he did) dismissed claims of the wrong doing of a Canadian mining company by stating that they are doing a lot of great things. I will expand on this in a separate blog post. After that incident, I understood that what we do is very sensitive and is being watched by all the forces against the Congo that now I have to be a bit wiser about how to bring truth to the people. I really am thankful that the employee of a mining company took the time to be disruptive at an event to expose the true story of what they are doing in Congo and gave me now more motivation to write about the actions on that one company in Congo so the world could see how the Congolese continue to be exploited.
Archbishop Tutu after giving the closing speech at the Highway Africa

After the workshop, I continued to attend the different workshops and later that evening, Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a closing speech of the 4-day conference. His sense of humor is unique. He truly spoke to the heart of people. He reminded all of us how tough it was to fight the Apartheid regime by letting us know that not everyone supported their effort and some actually were ok with Apartheid. He concluded his speech by telling us “Remember where you come from!” I really understood that… as I have seen the many challenges that almost made me forget who I was… because when all is well and done, the only thing that is left in you is who you are. Who you are is defined by where you’re from. With no roots… a tree can’t grow! Strong roots will forever hold the tree through any turmoil.
Thank you Archbishop Tutu for a remarkable speech, and a very special Thank you to Elvira, Jane, and Hailey (Digital Citizen Indaba’s coordinators) at Rhodes University and all the beautiful students there who demonstrated excellent professionalism!
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