Driving Community Change in Violent Environment.  The Power of the Pen #PenNotGun 

The #defyhatenow initiative works on providing community-based and data-driven solutions to the problem of hate speech, disinformation and misinformation globally. Our work focuses on creating a framework for increasing trust between stakeholders through mobilising civic action against all forms of online/offline hate speech and incitement to violence.  The initiative is hosted in Cameroon by Civic Watch, a non-profit youth led community-based organisation. Civic Watch amongst other roles, acts as an intermediary organisation that engages schools, and encourages confident civic debate in public spaces with the aim of creating self confident and tolerant people within Cameroon. Its main goal merges with the initiative’s mandate, which is community mobilisation to counter hateful rhetoric among young people both online and offline.

#defyhatenow was initiated in early 2014 by r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation gGmbH (Berlin), and supported from 2015 through 2018, with means of the German Federal Foreign Office via the ifa/zivik programme for civic conflict resolution as a comprehensive programme “Mobilising Civic Action Against Hate Speech and Directed Social Media Incitement to Violence in South Sudan” and after 2016 including its neighbouring countries Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. In 2019 the #defyhatenow community based organisation was legally registered in South Sudan, while further crisis intervention initiatives have been introduced in Cameroon, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Trapped in a range of conflicts and tensions threatening peace in many regions of the country, Cameroon has witnessed an upsurge in hate speech, incitement to violence and mis/disinformation which has negatively affected the peaceful cohesion on which the country was built. Social media have increasingly been used as a tool to fan the flames of tensions and conflicts in Cameroon as many have suffered from attacks on the different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram and more). These attacks have proven to be manifested offline in diverse forms ranging from defamation, harassment, destruction of properties and at times loss of lives, justifying the growing insecurity that has characterised most communities in Cameroon. Thus the need for initiatives to promote peace and social cohesion proved to be more than ever essential. 

The importance of introducing the #defyhatenow initiative in Cameroon in 2019 came just in time when these ills were escalating and the need to mitigate the ravaging flames was dire. With the need to raise awareness and develop means/tools to counter social media based hate speech, conflict rhetoric and directed online incitement to violence and to amplify the voices of ‘positive influencers’, there was great need to leverage efforts and mitigation actions deployed in different countries to Cameroon. 

For six years running, the two English speaking regions of Cameroon have been caught in an armed separatist conflict, with a devastating human and material loss in Cameroon. The mass destruction of properties and loss of lives has forced thousands to flee their homes, relocating in “safer” regions or out of the country. The conflict in the North West, South West, North and Far North regions has affected pupils, students and the teaching and learning process in Conflict hit regions in Cameroon. Attacks on schools and students including school administrators rapidly became very rampant with civilian population suffering casualties. According to the Human Rights Watch Report, over 850 000 children have been out of school since the start of the crisis. Although school gates and classrooms have gradually reopened in most communities, the safety of children, teachers and school administration is still a major call for concern in some communities. A direct impact of the crisis has been an unaccountable loss of lives recorded in these parts of the country, both on the separatist and military sides, with civilian casualties included; destruction of properties through mass burnings, kidnappings and displacement of persons in their undetermined numbers. 

It is light of the above that #defyhatenow calls on the use of pens (PenNotGun) to find solutions to problems plaguing our communities, and not use guns. Education and not Violence! The overall objective is to stress the importance of education, a cornerstone to development; raise awareness on the negative impacts of violence education, especially for future generations. Our greatest hope is to see school environments void of violence, this academic year and the years to come. We also call on all parties to seek dialogue channels towards resolving their differences, preserving #Education, saving the lives of children and those who have taken up the responsibility to mould the minds of our future leaders. Schools can be hubs for peace building in the communities where they are situated and the role of education in peace and resilience building remains very critical because it plays a transformative role. Education is the bedrock of a prosperous future for all !

#defyhatenow and its partner Civic Watch are resolute in mobilising online/offline community action to jointly call for the drop of weapons (guns) and immediate end to attacks on students, teachers and school administration for a peaceful and #HateFreeCameroon. 

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