Lately there has been a considerable amount of attention towards the numerous struggles for freedom and justice throughout the Middle East and North Africa (yes Egypt and Tunisia are indeed in North Africa) and rightfully so. We are witnessing an era of seemingly unprecedented events involving the grassroots mobilization and asserting of their human and civil rights.
Wrapped up in the plethora of media coverage, lies the debate concerning the role social media played in revolutionary protests and struggles for freedom. Casually glancing through CNN or any other major news outlet’s web page one would be hard pressed not to come across a number of articles and stories arguing how much credit, if at all, social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter) can be given to the success of anti-oppression forces, mainly the ousting of Mubarak.
The problem with many of these conversations is that so much focus is put on the power of social media (and the role Obama and U.S. should have played, but that is another blog). Far too often these conversations lost sight of the actual people. They fail to contextualize the depth of the struggles for freedom, justice, and equality and their spirit. W.E.B. Du Bois once said,
“There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.”
The triumphs in Tunisia nor the ousting of Mubarak in Egypt have been new or isolated events. Throughout the history of the world especially that of Africa, there have been countless examples regarding the strength and resilience of the human spirit and its triumphs over systems of oppression.
On March, 6 1957 lead by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana became the first Sub-Saharan nation to win its independence from Western colonial powers, marking just the beginning of what would lead to the independence and sovereignty throughout the continent. We saw then, what we are seeing now, the collective spirit of a people determined to stand and demand their freedom and dignity. The spirits and courage pushing aside fear and ‘tradition’.
In 1957 and long afterward Ghana and many other African nations used Pan-Africanism as a tool for mobilization, cooperation, and its political agenda as a tool in the struggles for their independence. Today, we are seeing the same thing. Throughout North African and the Middle East social media is being used as a tool to further the cause of freedom and justice. But it is the people themselves marching and dying in the streets, it is the people enduring unimaginable atrocities in order to demand a better future for their children, it is the people.
Far too often we zero in on the tools themselves, dumb down what is really going on, and divide up credit so that we can capitalize on it. But we can not lose sight of nor diminish the extraordinary resilience and spirit our dear brothers and sisters throughout both the African and Arab world are showing right now more than ever.
In closing, I neither suggest social media did or did not play a role in recent triumphs over oppression. I do however fear we are unknowingly commodifying revolution. we are promoting a false notion that thought leaders are sitting in their homes at their desk, leading, rather than on the streets mobilizing. We must never lose sight of the fact that revolution is happening now right now, on the ground and in the streets, outside the confines of cyberspace and radio waves. And in the worlds of Gil Scot Heron,
“The Revolution will not be televised… You will not be able to stay home… You will not be able to plug in, turn on, and cop out.”