Introducing: #rpAccra speaker Farida Nabourema
Photo Credit: Farida Nabourema
re:publica aims to give a stage to digital activists, advocates of the free Internet, and online change makers. In 2018, re:publica hosted the activist Chelsea E. Manning, who spoke on Wikileaks and her work as a network security expert. In 2016, Edward Snowden joined via videocast to share his work on enforcing human rights through new technologies. At re:publica Accra 2018, we are honoured to provide a stage for Farida Nabourema (http://www.faridanabourema.org/) who is not just a social activist and writer, but the voice of Togo’s pro-democracy movement. Farida founded the Faure Must Go movement in 2011 where she organized thousands of Togolese youths to stand against the dictatorial regime of Faure Gnassingbe. In 2014, Farida published a book titled “La Pression de l'oppression” (The Pressure of Oppression) discussing the different forms of oppressions that people face throughout Africa and highlighted the need for youth and women to be politically engaged. Farida is the Executive Director of the Togolese Civil League, an NGO that promotes democracy and human rights in Togo trough grassroot organizing, civic education and advocacy. At rpAccra she will be speaking about her activism and how activists use digital tools, as well as the way governments use digital tools to oppress critical voices:
1) What is the current state of the political situation in Togo and what do you want to change?
Togo is ruled by the oldest autocracy in Africa. The same family has been in power for 51 years. For the past one year or so, more and more citizens are calling for change and we are demanding the end of dictatorship. We want a country where we citizens have a say in the way our country in governed and would like to hold our leaders accountable. We also want a country where we are treated as citizens, not as servants of a political elite.
2) How did you become involved in the citizen movement in Togo and what is your personal motivation?
I have been involved for about 15 years now since I was a young teenager because my father before me was an activist and so was my grandfather before my father. I never really planned on becoming an activist. I just saw myself participating in activities against the military regime, attending protests to demand change and writing to denounce the atrocities faced by our people. I always say that I was not inspired to become an activist, I was triggered to it. I am more fueled by the pain that comes with knowing people who were victims of this regime and the extreme poverty my people live in.
3) How are you as an activist using digital tools to fight against the regime and what digital tools is the government using to fight back?
I started using the internet for my activism in 2007 via social media. Back then Hi5 was the most prominent social media in Togo and I would write in groups to tackle the abuses on the regime. Eventually I created a blog in 2009 (http://www.faridanabourema.org/) on which I published hundreds of article. Then YouTube and Facebook also offered me a platform to educate people on the political and economic crimes of the regime. When we first launched the movement Faure Must Go In 2011, we did it via a video on YouTube. It was the very first time that a Togolese Citizen asked for the president to resign in a video with an open face. I was actually the only known face of the movement and many people assumed I was being manipulated and used by some powerful politicians. I was 20 years old so it was understandable. They couldn’t have imagined that I was the driving force because it wasn’t common for girls to have so much guts.
Over the years I became the most followed Togolese activists on social media and a prominent figure of the struggle. I told my comrade that if the military regime ruled on the ground, we will rule online and they must not stop us. Social media emboldened us because on it we could speak express ourselves without necessarily compromising our physical security and back in the days digital surveillance wasn’t really a thing. I call our officials “the walkie talkie generation“. It took them some time to realize the power of social media, and by the time they did, we citizens have already acquired so much power making it harder if not impossible for them to defeat us now. I use social media to educate people, to raise awareness, to issue alerts, to recruit comrades, to name and shame political leaders that abuse their power, to call for the release of political activists and to promote civil disobedience.
The government tries today to contain our efforts by investing in digital surveillance. In Togo they bought the Pegasus virus (by then NSO agency) to spy on activists. At some point last year they shut down Internet in Togo but that didn’t work in their favor. We are working on building what I call our “digital resilience”. And there are way too many of us Togolese activists living all over the world for them to be able to win a digital war against activists. When they shut down the Internet, we have alternative means to communicate and share information - their attacks actually embolden us.