Author: Tanja Schreiner

From soap to song: How Ivorians are using social media to tackle Ebola

Since the Ebola epidemic began in Guinea last December, the virus has claimed close to 4 000 lives and infected more than 7 000 people, most of them in West Africa. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been hardest hit, with lock-downs imposed and armed forces called on in an attempt to stop the spread of the epidemic.

In neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, which has not been affected yet, bloggers are proactively using social media in a bid to keep Ebola at bay.

“It is important to have a good hygiene”, a young woman in a YouTube video explains,” so I let myself lather against Ebola now!” She takes a deep breath and presses her lips together. Next to her, a man lifts a large plastic bucket. In one fell, he pours the frothy content over her head. Soaking wet and laughing, she lets out a squeaky cry.

Edith Brou, a popular Ivorian blogger, started the “Mousser contre Ebola” (Lathering against Ebola) campaign to raise awareness about the virus. Inspired by the very successful Ice Bucket Challenge, she initiated a local version on YouTube: with soap instead of ice and hygiene items instead of monetary donations. The foam shower’s principle is simple: by accepting the challenge, you must give three soaps or hand sanitizers to friends. If a person rejects the nomination, he is ‘punished’ by having to distribute nine hygiene items to people around him.

Since the campaign started in mid-August, it has triggered a veritable wave of lather on social media under the hashtag “#MousserContreEbola”. In a swimming pool, a bathtub, or on a roof – more than 50 people already have taken up the challenge. On her website MoussercontreEbola, Brou collects videos and photos from participants and provides important information about the world’s worst Ebola epidemic.

Edith Brou, blogger and founder of the Lather against Ebola challenge. (Pic: Supplied)
Edith Brou, blogger and founder of the Lather against Ebola challenge. (Pic: Supplied)

Of course, she also received negative responses to the challenge, Brou says. Some people thought it “useless or ridiculous”. But as many people in the country do not believe that Ebola really exists, it is particularly important to raise awareness. Despite the government’s prohibition, some Ivorians still continue eating bush meat. Others trust in God to protect them or repress their fear from the virus with humour. Côte d’Ivoire really is very close to the danger, Brou says. “The virus can arrive at any time.”

Another Ivorian blogger, Florent Youzan, has created a free interactive map for the prevention of Ebola. On it, “proven cases” in Guinea and Liberia, two neighbouring counties that are severely affected by Ebola, are featured.  An orange marker is in the middle of the map: “On Saturday, August 30 2014, a suspected case of Ebola struck fear into Yamoussoukro, the political capital of Côte d’Ivoire.”

Youzan’s map also tells users about sensitisation and prevention activities organised in the country. In the village Kandopleu, in the west of Côte d’Ivoire, the government simulated an Ebola case to practise for an emergency. The Red Cross sensitised the population in the regions near the borders with Guinea and Liberia.

Stop Ebola, a reggae-style song, has been doing the rounds on social networks for several weeks.

A young man dances in the streets of Abidjan and sings, “You get very high fever, fatigue, headaches, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. You cough heavily and you start bleeding. Watch out brother, this virus is dangerous!” Taking an official communication by the government,  journalist and blogger Israël Guébo rewrote the text into simple, accessible French and incorporated reggae music for a catchy tune.

“Every citizen should contribute to sensitisation against Ebola”, he says. He sees music as a simple and efficient way to reach a wide range of many people. A mobile operator already offers Stop Ebola already as a ringtone. Alongside the official version in French, Guébo published versions of the song with German and English subtitles. His goal is to have the song heard across all bars, restaurants and taxis “to delay to a maximum” the arrival of the virus in Côte d’Ivoire.

Tanja Schreiner studied journalism and communication in Germany and France. She has lived in several African countries and currently works in Côte d’Ivoire. Connect with her on Twitter.

Dreaming of an African tennis champion

While football is wildly popular in Africa, tennis is an almost invisible sport. However, this could be changing if new developments in two small West African countries, Togo and Benin, are anything to go by.

About ten years ago, several young Africans successfully gained good classifications from ATP, the governing body of men’s professional tennis circuits. Currently, however, there is not one black African among the 500 best tennis players in the world, as tennis enthusiast Boniface Papa Nouveau explains. The Ivorian is an initiator and promoter of two new tennis tournaments in West Africa and aims to develop his favourite sport across the continent.

An early passion
Papa Nouveau works as a delegate for the international transport company Hesnault in Togo and Benin, where he currently lives. Having grown up in France, he discovered his passion for tennis early in his life. At the age of ten, when the French-Cameroonian tennis player Yannik Noah won the Roland Garros tournament, he got his first tennis racket. Since then Papa Nouveau never got away from the sport. Due to a severe arm injury in his youth, he had to give up his dream of becoming a professional player and taught tennis for many years instead. Today he still is an enthusiastic tennis player and hopes that one day an African could become the next world tennis champion.

Boniface Papa Nouveau (centre) with two participants. (Pic: Tanja Schreiner)
Boniface Papa Nouveau (centre) with two participants. (Pic: Tanja Schreiner)

International players coming to West Africa
After organising his first successful tennis tournament in West Africa in 2012, Papa Nouveau decided to organise two more in a row in the following year. The first, called Open du Togo, was held from 9th to 14th of December 2013 in Togo’s capital Lomé. Fifty-four players from 12 different countries participated. The second, Open de Cotonou, ran from 16th to the 21st of December 2013 in Cotonou, Benin. With 78 young players coming from 13 different countries, the level at the tournament in Benin was already higher than the previous year. Among the participants were international tennis players such as the French Alexandre Renard, the Colombian Juan Gomez and the Franco-Beninese Alexis Klegou. The latter is the unbeaten winner of all three tournaments since 2012. Wanting to motivate numerous young players to participate in the tournaments, prize money was even handed out to players who only won one single match. The winner’s prize money from the competition in Togo was 700 000 CFA Francs (around USD$1500) and 1 000 000 CFA Francs (around USD$2100) in Benin. As Papa Nouveau explains, he was able to realise the tournaments thanks to the support of sponsors and corporates, but it is a challenge to find funding in general.

A sport for the rich?
There are questions whether tennis – not being the cheapest of sports – has the potential to ever be really successful in developing regions like West Africa.  “If you want to buy equipment in Africa, sometimes a city doesn’t even have a sports shop that sells rackets. If they do, it’s three times the price in Europe,” Frank Couraud, International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) development projects administrator, told CNN. Even though West Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world, Papa Nouveau does not think that tennis is a sport reserved for the rich. Take Clément N’Goran, one of Côte d’Ivoire’s greatest tennis champions. He grew up in a family of 13 in a poor neighbourhood in Abidjan. As his parents could not afford tennis rackets for their son, he learned how to play with wooden paddles that he made himself. At the height of his career he was the 150th ranked player in the world.

Also, many young Ivorians that succeeded in having a good classification were born into poor families. When they played well, the International Tennis Federation supported them. “After the age of 18 it should be up to the state to back them up. But as [the state] does not do so, most of them in the end become tennis coaches”, Papa Nouveau says.

Football wins over tennis
One reason why it is so hard to implement tennis is because football still is the most popular sport in Africa. There is almost no visibility of tennis in the media, Papa Nouveau explains. ITF’s Frank Couraud told CNN: “If you look at our budget ($ 4.3 million each year) it’s what FIFA gives to maybe one or two nations. There’s a huge discrepancy.”

There are a lot of young talented tennis players in sub-Saharan Africa but many of them do not get the possibility to further develop their skills on an international level. One of the reasons for this is that there are not enough tennis matches in Africa, Papa Nouveau says. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example,  there used to be professional tennis tournaments a decade ago which gave players the chance to win ATP points. Today, national tournament don’t even exist. When young African players finally get the chance to compete professionally, they are not able to give their best because they are not used to playing in a match, Papa Nouveau says. He’s had many requests to organise tennis competitions in countries as Niger, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.

According to CNN, Africa has not produced a grand slam singles finalist since South African Kevin Curren lost against Boris Becker at the 1985 Wimbledon Championships. Looking at the current ATP single rankings, there is only one African among the best 100 male players in the world – South African Kevin Anderson on rank 21. You can say as much for the best 100 female players, with Chanelle Scheepers from South Africa being the only African to be ranked 79th. This shows that tennis does not have the same reputation in all African countries. The situation in North Africa is much better – in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt there are a lot of tournaments, clubs and many young players with good classifications.

South Africa's Kevin Anderson celebrates his victory against France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin during their men's singles match on day five of the 2014 Australian Open. (Pic: AFP)
South Africa’s Kevin Anderson celebrates his victory against France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin during their men’s singles match on day five of the 2014 Australian Open. (Pic: AFP)

There are a small number of professional tennis tournaments where players can earn ATP ranking points in Africa. In 2013,  Morocco was the only African country to host the ATP Wold Tour – the global professional tennis competition organised by the Association of Tennis Professionals. However other African countries have already hosted the Pro Circuit by the International Tennis Federation, which is an entry level of professional tennis tournaments. Last year, three North African countries (Egypt, Morocco, Senegal) and four sub-Saharan countries (Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, Rwanda) hosted one of the ITF Pro Circuit’s tournaments.

A future for African tennis
What is necessary for tennis to become more popular in sub-Saharan Africa? According to Papa Nouveau, three things: a big tennis tournament in every African country; tennis federations and governments need to do more to develop the sport; and more tennis clubs in order to initiate tournaments.

Papa Nouveau wants to continue promoting tennis in this region. “It would be great if we could add a competition in the women’s and doubles categories. Moreover I would love to have more young people coming from all over the world.”

He plans to organise three professional international tennis tournaments in West Africa this year – one in  Côte d’Ivoire, one in Benin and one in Togo.

Tanja Schreiner studied journalism and communication in Germany and France. She has worked in several African countries and currently works as a journalist in Germany. Connect with her on Twitter.