During Khalid Albaih’s talk/interview regarding the power of social media, he regularly discussed how social media is turning into the new form of how people get news and spread work like his (political cartoons). He also discussed how the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt in 2011 was organized and implemented through Facebook and how dictatorial, corrupt governments are struggling to figure out how to censor it. Countries like Sudan lets paper publications publish articles speaking out against them, but immediately confiscates the papers and shuts down the publication for a few days causing them to lose money. Social media is becoming this new realm that is not easily censored or able to be shut down quickly and revolutionaries are taking advantage of it.
After he brought up that he believed Facebook was this positive media where people could express opinions and organize revolutionary ideas, I could not help but think of a story I heard last year about a man named Alagie Jammeh from The Gambia. Alagie was funded by his uncle, the president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, to study at the University of California at Santa Barbara on a full scholarship. Alagie was greatly appreciative of this opportunity and was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. One day, he was invited by friends to go to a gay pride parade in San Francisco. Alagie could not make it, but in solidarity with his friends he wrote a simple post on Facebook, merely stating “No one should be denied their fundamental human rights because of their sexuality.” As a result of this post, his deeply homophobic uncle and president of The Gambia completely cut off his funding and ordered him to return to The Gambia. It is punishable by death or life in prison to be gay or support gay people in The Gambia where President Jammeh has gone on record saying “Any gay person that comes to The Gambia, we will slit your throat, we will kill you. You will go to jail for the rest of your life. We will not allow gay men or gay women in our society”. Alagie was kicked out of his off-campus housing and had no money for food, he continued to go to class knowing he would not be able to pay at the end of the semester. He lived out of his car and showered in the school’s rec center. He even contemplated suicide at one point, but knew he had to keep going. He finally reached out to his school for help and was paired with lawyers who were determined to get him his education back by granting him political asylum. He ultimately was granted asylum by the United States and graduated from UCSB in the spring (although I’m not sure where his alternative funding came from) .
Alagie’s story ultimately had a happy ending, but it also shows that some of these corrupt governments are in fact cracking down in ways that may not first appear on the surface. Alagie was in no way wrong in posting that status, but Facebook became this entity that led him to his eventual homelessness.
Below is the youtube video where I first heard of this situation and the article talking about his asylum grant: