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Monday, May 4, 2015

Collective Struggle & Solidarity is Africa Unity #AfricaDay



Over the past years, our African unity has been tested constantly to realize that unity is not a one-day celebration or a mere occasional response to threatening events happening across the continent. Unity, instead, shall be a continuous collective struggle and solidarity.

For the past year, Africa has not healed from pain, bloodshed and diseases. From Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the recent crimes in South Africa, and the disaster of endless deaths of Africans sinking in the middle of the Mediterranean; from Al Shabab attacks in Kenya, to the Islamic State killings in Libya, and to Boko Haram massacres in West Africa - a similar pattern of extreme brutality spreading across.

I’m afraid that our sufferings will become normalized and our people will become just numbers and statistical tragedies on indices…

Early this year, over a million people flooded the streets of Paris with more than 40 world leaders participating, protesting the vicious murders of 17 people, including 12 journalists at Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine. While masses marched side by side in the rally at the Boulevard Voltaire, similar tragedies were unfolding on Africa. Just four days before the Paris attacks, Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria (and now in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and the Republic of Niger) carried out its deadliest attack, where more than 2,000 people were slaughtered, including children and women.

These events, when reported in Western media, drew no attention for mass solidarity, but instead, all it could bring to us was travel alerts, tourism and investment threats, and foreign intervention to step into resolving our crises because of the absence of our leadership. Has anyone organized an international protest against the African massacre? Have any African leaders flown to Abuja, Nairobi or Tunis to stand in solidarity with each other?

Likewise, the global outrage over the Chibok abductions, where more than 200 girls still remain kidnapped, was intense but short-lived. The attention of international media soon faded and leadership reaction has been shortsighted. That’s why the kidnapping, killings and abuse by Boko Haram have continued unabated.

I don’t have answers to why these atrocities continue to intensify; I have even more questions. When are we increasing our vigilance and strengthening our collective stand against those who commit such atrocities? When are we starting to treat Africa as our borderless united motherland and not as small divided territories?

The solution to face these atrocities on the continent is not only to ensure short-term security measures or aid, but mainly to work on social and economic development. When are we starting to have a serious talk about economic integration? When are we implementing serious intracontinental collaboration in the attainment of Africa’s development objectives? Africa’s prosperity, as a united continent, will depend essentially on tighter political, trade and economic integration.

As we continue losing our natural and human resources, I am also afraid we are losing our confidence in our civilization, our pre-colonization history, our common identity and ourselves. Usually the unions play a major role in protecting the civilizational values, but our African Union (AU), previously known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU), has failed spectacularly. The AU is strongly based on important principles of unity and pan-Africanism. However, most of us either do not know them, or do not live our lives by them.

African Unity is not only about solidarity within the continent but also our collective response outside. AU member states have rarely voted together in international fora to safeguard common African interests. Regional institutions have had no uniformed mutually beneficial policy towards interacting with outside powers because most of the African countries are eventually bought off by former colonial powers. Sadly, the leaders unite only behind the AU, ECOWAS, CEMAC or SADC to protect each other when abusing and censuring their citizens.

Looking towards the future, we need:
  • A renewed focus on what unites us and in finding our common interest to build a peaceful and prosperous common homeland that allows its citizens and youth to flourish.
  • A united political will to move forward together in solving our problems at continental level, and not turning our backs on our neighbors’ problems.
  • A celebration of our differences as our diversity and our diversity as our unity - a shift in dealing with Africa’s cultural differences that led to the divide and rule by outsiders.
  • To resolve our disputes always through peaceful means that would enable us not to be exploited or manipulated.
  • To unite our youth movements in a common vision to lead the next generations on a solid foundation of values and unity.
While many of our leaders may have forgotten the treasure of wisdom our ancestors handed down to us, the rest of us should not. So let’s remember the African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Self-reflection on my participation at CSW UN Women Celebrity Event

The 59th session of the Commission 
on the Status Of Women (CSW
 in New York City

When I first received the invitation from UN Women to speak at the commemorative event of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, I was a bit surprised. Surprised, not only because it’s me who was identified from the million young voices around the world but also because UN Women has finally taken this big step to provide such a crucial space for a young voice in this high level public event.

I’ve already read couple of days before receiving the email that this celebrity event was expecting over 2000 people with Heads of State, the Secretary General of the United Nations, The Executive Director of UN Women, senior political leaders, eminent gender equality advocates, dignitaries, musicians, artists…

I opened the invitation letter with a lot of curiosity to know why me? And what is expected from me? Between opening the email and opening the invitation letter, I thought this would be another huge event where young voices are used to be the face that the UN celebrates to support their agenda, no more, no less. I also thought maybe I am nominated and chosen because I come from the region where recently people started to matter.

I was addressed as a distinguished women’s advocate and peace activist, just the way I identify myself but without feeling “distinguished”, because I believe I am doing the work with way more distinguished changemakers around the world, with whom I am inspired everyday to continue changing the reality of young women, our reality.

The invitation listed that I am “a great voice that will be raised to break the chains of gender-based discrimination, stereotypes and violence. Empowering women is empowering humanity!” the letter continues  “We would be honored if you would join us at this historic event and advocate for a world without gender wage gaps and unequal opportunities, a world without low representation of women in leadership in the private sector and in public office, a world without child marriage, violence and other violations of rights of women and girls”.

It all sounded perfect, that’s the world we all want, but not really convincing of why my voice would be important? Why I shall fly from Tunisia all the way to New York when I have a lot of work on my plate already during March?

It is until I read… “Given the relevance of Tunisia as a relatively successful new democracy among the countries of the Arab Spring, yours is an important voice from the region. Yours will be the voice of the new generation of feminists”, … then, I actually decided, YES I have to be there. I have to tell them it’s not the “Arab Spring” but the “Revolution of Dignity”, I have to tell them we are not “new” feminists, we are a continuation of great feminists and history of struggles and victories of my region, and that we are not “relatively successful new democracy” but we have already had “milestones in democracy, freedom and dignity”.

The UN Women invitation has written great part of my talk already. This happens to me every time I feel challenged with these institutions. In order to accept such invitations, I have to make sure I am actually needed in New York at the UN stage more than where I was supposed to be at that moment.

I was given 3 to 4 minutes to speak; I couldn’t ask for more when I knew that Hillary Clinton has equal time to speak herself. I received the program and then realized I am speaking after Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Hillary Clinton, Bill de Blasio, Melinda Gates, Farhan Akhtar, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and before Patricia Arquette and other public figures.

And it was my time on stage,



 Many people would tell you a lot of compliments following your talk when it’s powerful and when the words are chosen perfectly for tweets. But what really made me proud at the end of the event is that many people were telling me “I appreciate what you said” which means it was powerful but truthful. I didn’t want to deliver of perfect speech that says, “women’s rights are human rights” just like what Hillary Clinton said in 1995 and repeated in 2015. I want to say next year instead of “our stories shall not go unrecognized” that “our stories ARE now recognized”. We are a generation of no perfect wordings but rebellions with critiques, a generation that doesn’t use simple data in a complicated language or address simple people with complicated titles.

My highlight of the event was neither entering the pressroom with 10 cameras taking pictures of me while walking on the carpet, nor actually meeting all these celebrities and speaking on the same stage. My highlight was meeting the amazing Maysoon Zayid, on my way to the restroom. If you don’t know her yet you can’t miss watching her TedTalk I got 99 problems…palsy is just one. I was so happy to see her and started speaking in Arabic and she immediately started telling jokes with her lovely humor.

She has been on the stage few minutes after my speech and she said what made the whole audience stand “don’t leave women with disabilities behind”. While we exchanged contacts at the end of the event, she told me “I am already felling so proud of the lady I just met few minutes ago in the restroom”. Likewise, I was feeling so proud of her with the different image she presents for Arab Muslims and people with disabilities.

Unlike some of the events where I leave very frustrated from the slow process of the UN, perfect program for the perfect audience, and unsatisfying outcomes, this was one where my voice was heard and hopefully carried many of the concerns of my generation.


Following my return from New York, it has been very humbling to receive all the encouragement and support, endless requests for interviews and to be listed among the 12 best quotes of the event along side with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Hilary Clinton. However, the reward of this event was really to break the headline and change the narrative from the "Arab Spring" to "the Revolution of Dignity" at Uplift ConnectNew Story Hub and Youth Post.

Aya Chebbi, April 2015




Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tunisia after Bardo Attack - The Story unlike the News

Published at Your Middle East and WELDD



On March 18, Tunisia witnessed an attack on the Bardo Museum in the heart of the capital city, Tunis, next door to the Parliament.

Suddenly, international media was disseminating misinformed news about the situation in Tunisia, promoting an image of “terrorism” and “Jihadism” taking over the country, “destroying its economy”, and “threating its democracy”. It is actually not the attack that will affect our economy and tourism but it's the narrative mainstream media propagates at all times.

THE HEADLINES have been as dramatic as “In Tunisia, terror attack undercuts Arab Spring's best prospect”, or “Travelers warned of risks as Tunisia reels from attack”, ignoring that we have had at least 20,000 foreign visitors entering the country after the Bardo attack, and as lame and wrongful as “Tunisian town near 'Star Wars' backdrop now features in battle against ISIS”, ignoring that Les Dunes Electroniques, one of Tunisia's biggest musical festivals have taken place on the set of Star Wars just a few weeks ago, on February 21 when over 10,000 people attended. 

There is another story that has to be told not only by us, Tunisians, who obviously would encourage people to visit our homeland, but also through the testimonies of foreign visitors who have themselves experienced the beauty, safety, and hospitality of Tunisia.

I have interviewed visitors from Europe, Africa and America following the Bardo Attack. They have all stressed the difference of the narrative the media represents for Tunisia and what is actually on the ground: 



From Belgium, Hilario Palomeque said: “The news were putting over and over the videos of the attacks and I decided actually to avoid watching that because it creates an image of Tunisia which is not real.” He added, “I came in solidarity…as a response to violence it’s important to maintain this presence because it’s the best answer to violence.”

FROM BRAZIL, Janaina Plessmann, who arrived just a day before the attack happened, said: “It’s my first time in Tunisia. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity of meeting all the amazing Tunisian people I was meeting on that day. I was not really feeling anything related to any danger…or any fear even on that day.” She continued: “I was trying to share with people that I was feeling very secure and safe here, the country and the people are amazing… and what happened has nothing to do with any kind of nationality or religion...”
At the end Janaina made a request: “Please come and visit this very beautiful country to enjoy, I’m sure you will be surprised!”

Edna Bonhomme from New York has been in Tunisia for the past two months, she said: “Tunisia for me has been a very warm open, and compassionate space. People have been very willing to take me to their homes to visit small towns, places like le Kef and Kasserine.” As a black woman she said she would not have “that kind of hospitality in small towns in the United States where I’m from.” Edna admires Tunisia and she encourages everybody to visit: “I personally learnt a lot by being here.”

From NIGERIA, Adebayo Waifi Gbenro came despite the attack to show African solidarity, he said: “to tell everyone in the world that we are not terrorists… we’re not bad people and all we need to do is for them to get a story from our own perspective, not a foreign perspective…”

These are a few testimonies among over 20,000 visitors who entered Tunisia after the Bardo Attack. That’s by itself a strong message of the world’s solidarity and Tunisia’s firm stand against all forms of violence.

#Visit_Tunisia #IloveTunisia #ProudlyTunisia #SomeoneTellCNN


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Aya Chebbi: From Tunisia’s revolution to global activist


My profile by Eric Reidyas part of a series that started at the International Women Day.
Sitting under a breezy tent on the second day of the 2015 World Social Forum, which took place in Tunis from 24 to 28 March, Aya Chebbi shifted in her seat with an animated intensity. The 26-year-old Tunisian activist and blogger was listening to four middle-aged panelists discuss the necessity for NGOs and social movements to listen to marginalized voices to build their goals around people’s real needs. Read More


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Rethinking Regional Security through Africa's Economic Integration


In 2013, I was shooting a documentary called “Kenya’s Conscious Transformation” under the Africa Inspire Project, when Kenya witnessed the Westgate attack. At least 67 people have died.

Following the peaceful 2013 general elections, I decided to explore and highlight the role of youth and women in the peace process that transformed its previous 2007/2008 volatile post-election violence. On my last day in Nairobi, a few hours before heading to the Westgate shopping mall, I heard about the Al Shabab attack. It was a tragic and sad day, waiting for the fate of the hostages and praying for the victims.

Two weeks ago, Tunisia has also witnessed an attack on the Bardo Museum in the heart of the capital city, Tunis, next door to the Parliament. I had then experienced the same saddening feeling.

International media, as usual, don’t help much in such events, especially when it happens in Africa but the headlines make it actually worse. The headlines have been as dramatic as “Tunisia's tourism fights for survival”, ignoring that we have had at least 20.000 foreign visiters entering Tunisia after Bardo attack, and as lame and wrongful as “Tunisian town near 'Star Wars' backdrop now features in battle against ISIS” ignoring that Les Dunes Electroniques, one of Tunisia's biggest festivals have taken place on the set of star wars just few weeks ago on 21 February where over 10.000 people attended. I remembered then, during my interviews in Kenya, the youth telling me about their campaign on Twitter #SomoneTellCNN and #CNNApologise.

The Kenyan online community reacted with harsh criticism to CNN’s reports of the grenade blasts in Nairobi. The news network reported on the story with footage from 2007-08, giving the impression that violence had erupted all over the country.

Like Kenya, Tunisia had its fair share of CNN misinformed disseminated news. Though we are all witnessing equal tragedies of non-state actors’ crimes, the coverage is, for instance, different from the Charlie Hebdo attack with a Western perspective.

However, what we need to actually reflect on is the relationship between regional economic integration and regional security, which shall depend on the nature of the security threats that defines the region.

In Africa, we are yet to boost the economic integration, while we are witnessing the rise of armed attacks. Why can’t we yet secure the flow of goods but control the flow of arms? Following Libya’s war, the Mali conflict, the Amenas hostage crisis and other security threats, cross-border terrorism and arms smuggling are on the rise. Transitional politics and fragile stability are impeding policy-makers from drafting lasting and coordinated frameworks to combat this. The impact and leverage of armed attacks will continue to affect African countries transnationally.

However, the over-stated threat of terrorism is far from feeding exclusively on economic and social grievances or the democratization process. It is as much the creation of states’ quest for internal regime stability, as the result of their own incapacity to effectively collectively address the security vacuum in different countries (for example, northeastern Mauritania, southwestern Algeria, northern Mali, and Niger).

Some argue that regional economic cooperation will foster insecurity rather than security. Besides, building a viable intra or inter-regional cooperation is a challenging proposition because of post-colonial African states and governance. However, I think this situation ushers in a much more fluid context, affording fresh windows of opportunity for these extremist groups to exploit divisions, and further its agenda.

Building regional economic integration is still centered primarily on security considerations. As African states, we are increasingly concerned with security risks generated by our neighbors arising from poor governance that might cause cross-border instability. These problems highlight that regional economic integration ought to be primarily inter-governmental with a minimum of supra-national aspirations.

I think we need to:
  • Develop a strategic vision. A critical factor in developing an enabling environment for regional economic integration is whether governments have the necessary leadership to push economic integration. Despite Europe’s recession, the reflexive response in North Africa is to continue to look northward to Europe for economic relations. At the same time, the focus on regional neighbors is often limited to purely security-related concerns.
  • Governments in the region need to think more strategically about the benefits of building closer economic ties with our neighbors. Investing in border regions could prompt greater economic growth and improve security conditions. Good governance and clear investment codes are essential components for that.
  • Promote a strong business environment is a necessary component of a broader enabling environment.
All in all, we need to identify potential growth points and then connect with each other beyond security dilemmas.  


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Media Profiles

April 2015- Middle East Eye

My profile by Eric Reidyas part of a series that started at the International Women Day.
Aya Chebbi: From Tunisia’s revolution to global activist . Sitting under a breezy tent on the second day of the 2015 World Social Forum, which took place in Tunis from 24 to 28 March, Aya Chebbi shifted in her seat with an animated intensity. The 26-year-old Tunisian activist and blogger was listening to four middle-aged panelists discuss the necessity for NGOs and social movements to listen to marginalized voices to build their goals around people’s real needs. Read More





April 2015- Super Girl of the Month by Girl Pride Circle

Featured as Super Girl of the Month. Also published on Youth Blog
Aya's story is that of a bold and daring super girl, with a rare zeal for undiluted activism. Read More.
Our warm congratulation to you for every steps that you take towards positive changes in the society, we really know that it is hard and challenging but you never tired. We the youth are proud of you and wish you all the best in whatever way you go and initiatives you take. Read More




 March 2015- Deutsche Welle

 
 My Profile at DW
   Aya is deeply concerned about the kind of world      today’s children and young people will face in the    future, and about strengthening the democratic  structures in her homeland. Aya is “Proudly Tunisian”  – as she calls her blog. Read More 




December 2013- Taking on the Giant

My profile as One of Tunisia’s Most Promising Female Leaders
Her blog has managed to get tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. Aya confesses that her goal was never to have a successful blog, but one that engages people. Read More




December 2014- African Role Model by Ignite the Youth
My Profile as the African Role Model
What immediately stands out about Aya is her undeniable loyalty to her nation - The Republic of Tunisia. This young African beats her chest for Tunisia, cries for Tunisia and would undoubtedly bleed for Tunisia! Her national patriotism is so immense, it beams from within her in a manner that says "I have no shame in who I am and where I come from!" Indeed, she is unashamed and publicly announces that she is "Proudly Tunisian" Read More



January 2014- AfroElle Magazine
Featured on the Magazine Rebirth Issue about New Generation Leaders



November 2013- Daily Mavrick
My profile interview as part of the series on the Voices of Young Africans by Khadija Patel

As part of a new Daily Maverick series profiling young, African leaders, we sat down with Aya Chebbi, a Tunisian blogger and activist. She is the kind of young person that inspires hope in humanity, a 'doer', an active participant in the society she has grown up in. And still she is warm, insightful, humble. Just don’t use the phrase “Arab Spring” around her. Read More






February 2013 - ELLE Belgique Magazine
Tunisie, Ou Vont Les Femmes?
Céline Gautier interviewed me for the Belgian Magazine ELLE Belgique. It is a women magazine but mainly featuring pop culture, life & love, hair & beauty, accessories, shops etc... The interview was about women's rights in Tunisia and the ruling Islamic party Ennahda. Celine also captured my attention with the same comment as Fiona : " I'll make you some questions  in order for me to understand better what's happening now in Tunisia regarding women's rights. As the Europeans have a lot of misinformation, I'll ask you to give us some facts and not only feelings or thoughts"

December 2012- Madison Magazine
After the Revolution Tales
Fiona MacDonald wrote this article on the Australian Magazine Madison about stories of women in the Arab Uprising what she called "After the Revolution". She interviewed women from Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia including myself. Fiona said when she first contacted me and explained the message behind her article: " women have played a crucial role in the revolutions but many Australians don’t know much about what’s been happening (other than what they see on the news) and how empowered the Arab women are". I am proud of her final piece which had I guess a positive reaction worldwide and I hope also in Australia.

The interview was also published at the Intentious
September 2012- Inspirational Friday
 My Profile as the Hyper  Volunteer
  She is 25 but don’t be fooled by her youth.  Aya Chebbi is a serial traveller, blogger, and  volunteer, she started her own NGO, while  pursuing several academic careers  (dropping out some, picking up others). Oh,  and she has one or two (more likely twenty)  ideas that she would like to turn into  organisations and projects to help make her  country and the world a better place. Want  more? She is also a very enthusiastic talker  with a bright personality and a huge smile.  Her enthusiasm is hard to resist. Let the  Aya wave take you through revolutionary  times and global adventures.  Read More


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