By Guy Feugap, World BEYOND War, July 23, 2021
Once considered a “haven of peace” for its stability and “Africa in miniature” for its cultural, linguistic and geographical diversity, Cameroon has been facing several conflicts within and at its borders for some years. These conflicts are exacerbated by an unprecedented deterioration in the social climate. Indeed, relations between citizens are increasingly characterised by verbal and physical violence. Improved access to the Internet and digital communication tools have encouraged the proliferation of hate speech.
Whether held by isolated individuals or groups, whether improvised or premeditated, hate speech that proliferates in the public space is harmful to peace and social well-being. WILPF Cameroon and its partners conducted in 2019 a gender conflict analysis in Cameroon, which highlights the significant impact of hate speech and tribalism as threats to peace and underscores the need for education and awareness-raising responses to mitigate their grip.
Mindful of these issues, WILPF Cameroon and Cameroon for a World BEYOND War, Youth for Peace and NND Conseil, have decided to create young “Peace Influencers” among their peers, in particular, and among social network users in general. To this end, a training workshop was held in Dschang (in the West region) on 14 May 2021, already to train them in leadership. Following that workshop, the second one to train young peace influencers was held in the same city on 18 July 2021. 40 young men and women, University students and members of civil society organisations, were trained in digital communication tools and techniques, in the presence of a representative of the administration, the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education.
The idea of this training, which fits in the current security framework in Cameroon, is to train young people to use social media for good purposes, to train peace influencers to promote harmonious living together and social cohesion through online sensitisation on non-violence. These young people were trained to be role models, to teach peace on a daily basis through their behaviour, to contribute to the stabilisation of social peace by being true ambassadors of peace through their commitment to help the country regain peace. It is expected that in the future, the action thus started will reach and impact other people all over the world.
The first training module was a general overview of the abuses on social networks, especially Facebook. These are places for the expression of hatred and deviance. The youths learned how to reframe the harmful behaviour of individuals so as to create a “positive buzz” to make a difference to the content they share on a daily basis. The second module conducted by the leader of ICT Media Africa was aimed at understanding social networks and dealing with online hate speech, i.e. ethnic, tribal, religious, etc. It should be noted that in Cameroon, about 4 million young people are present on Facebook, with about 2.5 million connected per day. Many people report hate speech and in turn contribute to its propagation, believing they are denouncing it. It is therefore important in this case to signal any content inciting to hatred, not to like such content and not to share it. Young people are now trained to check the authenticity of the content they receive before sharing.
Drawing on a WBW training on Canva graphic design, Cameroon for a World BEYOND War presented on visual communication for better impact of peace education campaigns. For the next steps, a Community of young people has been formed and will use the knowledge gained to run a campaign, with the following communication objectives: sensitisation of young people on the dangers of hate speech, the legal tools for repressing hate speech in Cameroon, the risks and impacts of hate speech. Through this campaign, they will bring about a change in the attitudes of young people in particular on cultural difference, through social networks, show the benefits of cultural diversity, promote harmonious living together.
In line with its vision of peace education, Cameroon for a World BEYOND War intends to mobilise resources to provide these young people with additional training to optimise their presence on social networks for the benefit of peace. Young people in other parts of Cameroon are eagerly waiting to receive such training, which we have identified as one of the ways to make our country a peaceful place.