Every second, 11 people use social media for the first time. Today, in 2020, an estimated 3.6 billion people use social media worldwide, which is more than half the world’s population. This number is projected to increase to almost 4.41 billion in 2025.

Africans, both residents and those in diaspora, are uniting to raise awareness on current issues in Africa.  The reason for the rise of digital activism in Africa is threefold. First, users want to raise awareness to pressing issues in Africa. Youth no longer rely on traditional media to raise awareness on pressing issues on the continent. Second, social media is used to effect change. Highlighting issues on international platforms can pressurise leaders to change or desist, given the global backlash they face. Lastly, they are expressing their opinion. Gone are the days when a citizen’s opinion was only heard through their ballot in elections. Africans are fed up of poverty, corruption and dictatorship. They are holding leaders accountable by voicing their opinion on social media.

The gifs are for giggles but really, digital activism works…

Let’s look at hashtags in Africa that blew up on social media.

Nigeria – #EndSARS (October 2020- )

The latest hashtag is #EndSARS against police brutality in Nigeria. There was a spike of police brutality during COVID-19 lockdown in Africa. For weeks, thousands of Nigerians and online activists protested for the dissolution of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Created in 1992, this infamous police unit is accused of extortion, extrajudicial killings, rape and torture. The unit particularly targets young Nigerians who are well dressed or visibly display technological devices.  The tension between government and protestors escalated. On the night of 20 October 2020, members of the Nigerian Armed Forces opened fire at peaceful End SARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos. The exact number of casualties is still unknown, however it is estimated that 12 protestors were killed. There have been complaints about missing persons. Amid the ongoing protests, President Buhari announced that the unit would be disbanded. However the youth are still demanding the immediate release of arrested protesters and justice for victims of police brutality.

Namibia – #ShutItAllDown (October 2020)

The Shut It All Down campaign raised awareness of sexual and gender-based violence in Namibia. The campaign also called for a state of emergency to be declared across the country. Women are not safe in Namibia. In 2019, police handled at least 200 cases of domestic violence each month. As a result of the campaign, the government promised to tackle sexual and gender-based violence. Protesters want specific deadlines on government policy actions; the resignations of Namibian gender equality minister, Doreen Sioka and her deputy Bernadette Jagger; and the declaration of a state of emergency.

She is Africa | Digital activism in Africa | Demonstrations in Namibia

Democratic Republic of Congo #CongoIsBleeding (October 2020- )

Congo is Bleeding campaign raises awareness of the human rights violations, and exploitative mining of natural resources by multinational corporations corruption, child slavery in the Congo. Congo produces half of the world’s utilised cobalt. Cobalt is used to make lithium-ion batteries and magnetic steels in phones and laptops. Close to 40,000 child slaves dig this metal that eventually is a component of our Apple, Samsung and Huawei gadgets.

She is Africa | Digital activism in Africa

Zimbabwe #ZimbabweanLivesMatter (August 2020 – )

Zimbabweans and the international community united online to protest against the economic turmoil, arrests and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. The online campaign resulted in more than 700,000 tweets in a single day, drawing support from international celebrities and prominent sports people. The protests were in response of unfairly arrested and targeted people. In May, political opposition members Joanna Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were abducted and sexually assaulted by state agents. In July, the government targeted and arrested Hopewell Chin’ono and political activist Jacob Ngarivhume. According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 60 people have been arrested for protesting. President Emmerson Mnangagwa labeled the planned street protests an “insurrection” meant to topple his administration.

Ghana and Ivory Coast #ChildTrafficking (2020 -)

The Child Trafficking online campaign is shedding light on the noticeable increase of child trafficking cases in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Children are being trafficked from Burkina Faso and Mali, then enslaved on cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast. About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa where more than 2 million children are engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions.  The world’s biggest chocolate companies have missed deadlines to uproot child labor from their cocoa supply chains in 2005, 2008 and 2010. Next year, they face another target date and they probably will miss that too. 20 years after pledging to eradicate child labour, Nestlé, Mars and Hersheys still cannot guarantee that their chocolate was not produced without child labour.

Liberia #RapeNationalEmergency (September 2020)

Thousands of Liberians protested against rising incidents of rape in the capital Monrovia and to draw attention to the country’s alarming rate of sexual assault. According to Statistics by the Bureau of Corrections at the Ministry of Justice, there were more than 600 reports of rape, aggravated assault, sodomy, sodomy with criminal intent between January to June 2020. Further, only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction. Following the protests, President Weah declared rape a national emergency, set up a national sex offender registry an installed a special prosecutor for rape.

Ethiopia #OromoProtests (2016 – )/ Hachalu Hundessa riots

The Oromo have a long history of oppression, land loss, and marginalisation by the central government in Ethiopia, dating back more than a century. Since 2016, there has been a series of protests dubbed #OromoProtests.  The latest wave of protests was sparked by the killing of Oromo songwriter, Hachalu Hundessa. Hundessa represented the Oromo tribe by singing about the plight of the marginalised group on various national and international platforms. The Oromo protests demanded justice for Hundessa’s murder and the immediate release of political prisoners. Violence erupted between police and protesters in several cities across the country. Over 300 people were killed and over 3,500 people arrested.

She is Africa | Digital activism in Africa | Oromo protests in Ethiopia

South Africa #AmINext (September 2019)

The murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT), ignited offline and online protests. Uyinene was running errands when she disappeared. She was abducted, raped and murdered at a local post office by a post office employee. “Am I Next?” was the question all women were asking, given South Africa’s statistics on gender-based violence.   The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that yearly, 12.1% of 100 000 women are victims of femicide in South Africa. South Africa is also ranked as the fourth highest country in the highest murder rate of women.

She is Africa | Digital Activism in Africa | Poster held by a South Africa at the #AmINext march

Cameroon #AnglophoneCrisis (September 2017- )

The Anglophone Crisis (or Ambazonia War/ the Cameroonian Civil War) is a conflict in the southern region of Cameroon. In September 2017, separatists in the Anglophone territories of Northwest Region and Southwest Region (collectively known as Southern Cameroons) declared the independence of Ambazonia.  The conflict spread to most parts of the Anglophone regions within a year. The war has killed approximately 3,000 people and forced more than half a million people to flee their homes. Although 2019 saw the first known instance of dialogue between Cameroon and the separatists, as well as a state-organised national dialogue and the granting of a special status to the Anglophone regions, the war continued to intensify in late 2019. The 2020 Cameroonian parliamentary election brought further escalation, as the separatists became more assertive while Cameroon deployed additional forces. The long-drawn war has affected everyone in the country.  As of last year, close to 1 million children remained out of school due to the conflict, according to UNICEF, while 80% of schools remained closed in the North-West and South-West regions.

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