I am a fairly avid face book user. It’s an alternate space that mirrors the real world. People online tend to congregate in the virtual nation spaces that mimic their own. People with similar interests or backgrounds are drawn to each other. Virtual spaces, even those which encourage open identities like facebook, encourage an openness with ones thoughts, opinions, convictions, likes or dislikes. They offer valuable insights into the pulse of the moment and are a data treasure trove for marketers, strategists or culture vultures. We are big on talk. Facebook is a big on talk Nations wet dream.
It is easy to feel this world has the same dynamics as the one I hustle in everyday. I am a Nigerian. When I get excited about the possibilities of online activism amongst social networks changing the status quo killing my country I have to remember that my corner of facebook is not Nigeria, at most I engage within a corner of the Nigerian space in facebook.
It’s hard not to be excited, online news moves fast, things are hard to keep under wraps, issues are openly dissected, coalitions are sometimes built, some real world actions are birthed online and distance is inconsequential BUT...
We need to understand that without connecting virtual and real space change actions, especially at grassroots level, there will be no revolution. But we will be busy walking those treadmills to nowhere, lulled by partial victories in pockets quickly negated by the fundamental flaws sending a million cracks in every sector all at once. This is what we do now. Even with the possibilities our online engagement presents this is what will continue to happen.
Let me use one example.... On facebook many are apoplectic about the possible return of ex Military dictator IBB to power, canvass for a fight against him and I am lulled into thinking this represents reality. Of course this is not the view of all Nigerians on facebook but amongst those I follow the vocal ones tend to toe this line. I accept my little corner as reality and my work as done. In the real world (my corner of it) 80% of people I ask don’t care who rules and say they won’t vote. Some don’t see the difference between IBB and anyone other “wayo” politician out there. A few openly support him a few don’t. Many say no matter how good a person is once they get to power they will change, even them. Many are to young to understand how he contributed to their everlasting hustling. Then we have people who firmly believe being duplicitous, ruthless and grasping are admirable traits necessary for survival and success in Nigeria today. There are many and IBB is a poster child for such, no?
How does the civil society link up? Is it keying in to the facebook phenom to fill gaps and create new possibilities? First I must share. I have had recent personal conflicts with the whole civil society/NGO movement.
I think it is a great thing but, I’m beginning to think it lulls us into complacency. At its worst it may be conveniently creating a parallel space where a huge number of talented, committed Nigerians(and many “job men”) walk the treadmill to nowhere, doomed to make no difference because we have shut ourselves from where we need to be; in politics, in Government, in where the change we want needs to happen. For those who benefit from the status quo this is fantastic. Caught up in the cycle of focusing on symptoms and not root causes, we do not form the right alliances, cannot seem to maintain them without controversial battles, most often viciously compete for the same funds, shift our agendas to access funding trends and sometimes burn out and embrace the oddly soothing cynicism that replaces justification. We skirt the issues, impact on negligible fractions of the populace and are caught up in “creative” solutions instead of head on engagement. Thanks to Efe Omorobge for articulating the last sentence in response to the Nigerian artistes fight against piracy.
Despite all the activity Nigerian development indicators continue to dip in the most unbelievable and shameful way and our life expectancy reduces steadily.
The problems must be complex but there is one simple reality and that is that we need to do things differently. Not just the Government. We all do cos it aint “werking” right now.
Our online efforts must not get caught up in our own hype; they must make strategic linkages to realtime actions, structures and movements to fulfil the potential online social networks have to shake things up. They complement the increasingly professionalized civil society sector and level the speaking ground for anyone with internet access and zeal. I believe it is the key to big change. I just hope it doesn’t become a sea of individual soap boxes, closed in virtual neighbourhoods and coalitions to nowhere.
Please feel free to blast me and tell me Im saying nonsense. Sometimes I don’t even know how to articulate what irks me, but at least your responses help me see through the dark.
Now excuse me while (like the good hypocrite I am) I jump on a facebook/twitter soap box and participate in the latest civil society or NGO endeavour. It’s what I know for now. I need a way up. Can someone speak to me?