Africa’s change makers: Ordinary men, women who do extraordinary things to create change in their communities.
London, Feb. 15, 2020 (AltAfrica)-They are change makers, people who make things happen. Yet they’re not presidents and policymakers; they’re not rich and famous … they’re ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things for one reason: to create change in their own communities.
These are people who will move mountains, rock by rock, to realise their vision for Africa.
Through their voices, art or skills, these change makers do more than dream of a brighter future for Africa, they take steps to create it
They are the real change makers – and they’re standing up to make a difference.
Jide Martins is the CEO of Comic Republic in Nigeria, who creates African superheroes to inspire children and pass on moral values.
Jide Martin remembers tracing every comic book that he received as a child. That’s how he started to draw.
Young Jide would also tackle dilemmas by asking: “What would Superman do?”; and since the iconic cartoon character would always do the right thing, this also served as a moral compass.
Little did Jide know at the time that his fascination with comics was laying the foundations for something bigger later in life, but it was only after finishing school and studying law that this destiny would be realised.
As Jide’s love of comics endured into adulthood, he noticed that the most popular movies featured superheroes.
‘I thought, “Yes! This is comic season!” This is the time I was meant for,’ recalls Jide.
Inspired to use the same superhero motif – of doing the right thing, regardless of circumstances – Jide wanted to combine his creativity and passion for comics to blaze a new trail in storytelling by using superheroes to communicate for change.
‘We don’t have a lot of African superheroes, so I thought, “Why not create some?” But wasn’t just about having black heroes; it was about having heroes in general,’ Jide explains.
His cartoon characters would reflect local cultures, familiar places and daily realities that people could identify with. After talking to like-minded creatives and sharing his idea, his concept began to come to life.
‘Comic Republic’s characters entertain, tell stories and strive to pass on moral values to this generation and the next,’ says Jide.
While the stories’ settings focus on familiar contexts – even mirroring the bus routes and buildings that people know – the characters also promote diversity and gender equality. Female characters feature prominently, as Jide believes that women should be empowered.
The comics’ effectiveness in igniting young imaginations is evident in children’s reactions to the stories.
‘A woman in charge of an orphanage sent us photographs of kids who had all dressed up as superheroes by using their bed sheets and coloured cloths. They’d also made masks from paper and painted their faces. This happened after they read our comics, because the kids wanted to be superheroes! She sent us the pictures to thank us,’ recalls Jide.
Real-life stories like this are what motivate the Comic Republic crew to keep sketching out colourful tales of triumph over adversity for both young and old
Musu Bakoto Sawo
Married at 14 and widowed at 21, changemaker Musu Bakoto Sawo is now a tireless women rights advocate in The Gambia, leading the organization Think Young Women.
When 30-year-old lawyer Musu Bakoto Sawo is another of our change makers. If she is not teaching law at the University of The Gambia, she is a tireless human rights advocate, working as the national coordinator of Think Young Women.
The non-profit organization promotes the participation of women and girls in society. Part of its work is to end violence against girls and women, including child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Musu herself was married at the age of 14 and had gone through female genital mutilation as a child. She was 21 when she became a widow and inherited nothing. Education was the only reason she says she could thrive.
“When I was about five or six years old, my parents took me to my grandmother’s house. I was mutilated over there. I did not imagine the repercussions that excision would have on me,” says Musa.
She is now passionate about addressing the injustices that women face daily in The Gambia. She uses her experience in capacity building, research, networking, programme development to engage with human rights mechanisms and grassroots, national, regional and international organizations and platforms.
“I say to the girls: come out and be the change that you can be because your children may be victims,” explains Musa.
Musa also lends her capabilities to The Girl Generation’s technical team where she contributes towards creating a social movement to end female genital mutilation.
“My desire is to have a generation of enlightened and strong young women,” she says.
One of the change makers is Guiella Gildas, co-founder of Ouagalab, a space for young people to access and learn about digital tools.
Launched in 2011, Ouagalab provides an enabling space for young people to access and learn about digital tools, no matter their resources or level of skill. It is also a meeting place and incubator for innovation, prototyping and collaboration, and is intended to stimulate entrepreneurship – especially ideas for social companies.
This close-knit culture of sharing and developing digital know-how creates a ‘collective intelligence’, as Guielle calls it. He believes that collaborative work amongst young people supports a country’s sustainable development and will ultimately reinvent the continent’s future. He dreams of establishing Ouagalab as Africa’s Silicon Valley.
‘Places like Ouagalab will take forward the digital economy in Africa. This is happening in places where young people are using what little resources they have to be able to do big things.
‘When children achieve something, it’s like releasing a genie from a bottle. They feel that anything is possible and that they can do even more. When you have a passion from a very early age, you strive to find out all about it and reveal the mystery surrounding it,’ enthuses Guielle.
Cultivating a digital culture
After finishing school, Guielle was unable to pursue his own passion for electronics as no tertiary institution in his country offered that specialisation. Instead, he trained in IT and telecoms.
‘I didn’t get a computer until quite late because my parents couldn’t afford one. I’m sure there are thousands of children who have had to wait even longer than I did or who have never had one,’ says Guielle.
This is why he asserts that old IT equipment should be reused and not discarded as waste. Knowing that many children do not have access to computers, Guielle refurbishes old equipment – alongside young people – in order to set up IT rooms at their schools.
Guielle is also passionate about open source software, seeing it as a leveler between those who do not have the means to buy software and those who do. Removing obstacles to young people’s use of digital tools is a priority.
‘We need to implement actions that enable other people to find their voice. This is why we like using these digital tools with children, so they can they grow up believing there are no obstacles,’ adds Guielle
Stories and videos courtesy of UNICEF