Social activist and blogger. Farida has been a fearless advocate for democracy and human rights in Togo since she was a teenager. Through over 300 articles written on her blog and other sites, Farida denounces corruption, dictatorship and neocolonialism. In 2014, Farida published a book in French titled” La Pression de l’oppression” (The Pressure of Oppression) in which she discussed the different forms of oppressions that people face in Africa, and highlighted the need for youth and women to be politically engaged.
Can you tell us about the current citizen movement in Togo and how you became involved in it?
The current movement in Togo, usually referred to as #Togodebout (Togo Standing), is the culmination of years of advocacy from activists, political parties and civil society groups in Togo. In August this year, the opposition party (National Panafrican Party) called on its militants to protest the reinstatement of the 1992 constitution—which eliminates term limits, two-rounds elections and the diaspora vote. The protest was massively repressed, and left numerous people dead. As a result, civil society groups and activists called on opposition leaders to join forces and demand the resignation of Faure Gnassingbe who has been ruling Togo since the death of his father in 2005. I have been involved in the struggle against the Gnassingbe regime since I was a teenager. In 2011, I co-founded the FAURE MUST GO movement which has now become the slogan of the struggle in Togo. We strongly believe that the way Faure Gnassingbe took over following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, does not qualify him to rule Togo.
What role are you currently playing, and what strategies do you use to mobilize for change in a hostile environment?
As a small French-speaking country of low interest to most Western powers, we don’t usually get foreign attention. That’s how over 400 of our countrymen were killed within two weeks in 2005, and it went uncovered. I have used social media to promote the struggle in Togo, to recruit community leaders and organizers and to plan actions both in Togo and with the diaspora. The Togolese opposition leaders have recognized the role I played in bringing foreign media attention to Togo. Being the most followed Togolese activist on social media, especially Facebook, my page at some point became the focal information point for the Togolese in the diaspora, especially after the Internet was shut down, and information became scarce.
As a woman activist confronting power, what kind of challenges are you facing?
When you are fighting a dictatorial regime, challenging their rule means putting yourself and your family in danger regardless of your gender. In the early years of my activism, I was bullied for my gender and my young age. But I took it as a challenge, became fierce, took risks, and did what men twice my age lacked the courage to do. With that I earned the respect of my peers and leaders. I have all sorts of nicknames ranging from “Amazon” to “Joan of Arc” or the “Iron Lady”. Recently, sexually-based attacks have become the regime’s tool to fight me. They build fake sites to paint me as a prostitute, a porn star, create stories of me being a husband snatcher, all in the hope to stigmatize me. It doesn’t work and, to be honest, I have so much more respect for prostitutes than I do for corrupt politicians and dictators! So, hell yeah, I will take being called a prostitute any day, anytime, over being a despot.
What does feminism mean to you, and what do you think your voice and activism means for girls and young women in Togo?
I was raised by a man who taught me at very young age that all human beings are born equal. My father gave us all the same opportunities, the same freedom and the same attention. There was never a day that I told I was different because of my genitalia. I was told to always fight for justice and to stand by the weaker, the abused and the oppressed. And so whenever women are weakened I stand by them, I fight with them, I defend them not as women but as a humans. And I would do the same if men were to be in that position. Feminism is part of my struggle but my struggle is not limited to it.
In repressive environments activists are often labelled as ‘disturbers of peace’. What does peace mean to you? What would it look like in Togo?
Tell me about it. The most favorite word of the Togolese government is “peace”. When we started our protests back in August, they organized a counter protest which they titled “Don’t touch my peace”. The kind of peace dictators promote is simply a myth because of the structural violence of their regimes. It is those that deprive people of their fundamental human rights that are disturbing peace, not those that are requesting the respect of such rights. You cannot deprive someone of food, shelter, healthcare, education, and then arrest and torture him when he complains, and tell him you want peace. Peace starts with social justice.
Anything else you’d like to add?
There was a point when so many people had given up on the struggle in Togo, and told me things would never change and some said that even if it would, they wouldn’t benefit from it. I told them this struggle isn’t about us. If our ancestors were as selfish as we are behaving, we would still be slaves today. The only compensation any activist should expect is posterity.Fight for others because others fought for you.