Daniel Nwaeze: Countering Boko Haram’s Media Campaign

It was during those few seconds of deafness that Daniel Nwaeze realized he wanted to do more, needed to do more.  He was 17.  Yet another riot had broken out.  From bloody ethnic fights to gang rumbles to gambling arguments gone wrong, street shoot-outs in his area of Nigeria had become the norm.  This time, someone pulled out a gun and fired it into the air right next to Daniel’s head.  In that moment, he decided to start finding ways to combine his passions for media literacy and peacebuilding into concrete ways to address the situation on the ground.  He developed the idea of turning people’s real stories of resilience and activism into media content to challenge Boko Haram’s narrative and recruitment campaigns.

Daniel had two nicknames growing up.  The first was, “Information Minister,” because would run to the news stand every morning and read as many papers as he could, and then run home and tell family, friends, and neighbors the news.  He earned the second nickname, “Mr. Wide Boat,” as an International Relations student at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, because he often tried to generate consensus by pointing out that the boat is wide enough to accommodate everyone’s differing opinions and allow for progress.

Daniel started Diplomacy Opportunities (link: www.diplomacyopp.com), identifying opportunities and setting up a community of young people interested in peacebuilding, media literacy, and youth development in the first phase, which is now complete.  The project is currently in the second phase, in which the organization connects members to internships, conferences, fellowships, and other opportunities.  “At Diplomacy Opp,” Daniel said, “we promote activities and impact of youth irrespective of gender, as we believe all voices matter.  We also encourage youth globally to engage partners and connect to opportunities through our platform.  More recently, we started Development Ambassadors, a section where we profile young people in our community, and #ShapeNarratives to tell and rewrite the narratives involved in building peace and preventing and countering violent extremism.”  The Facebook group (link: https://www.facebook.com/diplomacyopp/) has over 17k followers.

To bring his work to an even wider scale, Daniel joined the Afrika Youth Movement as chair of media and communications, where he leads over 5000 members in over 42 countries, bringing out young people’s voices in places including Cameroon, Uganda, Gabon, and the DRC.  “As a media team,” Daniel explained,” we try to tell the youth narratives of Africans in Africa by Africans from the youth lens about their resilience and activities towards peaceful coexistence and development.  At Afrika Youth Movement, we are entirely youth run and youth led, with inclusive membership.  Our most popular campaign, #AfricaSmile, connects youth on the continent to stand for peace and build friendship.”

The journey has not been easy.  Once he almost lost a colleague to media propaganda on terrorism.  “It took months of dissecting the message, exposing the motives, and long discussions about peaceful coexistence to avert this,” he said.  In another incident, a regional branch of his church was attacked in Okene, Kogi State, and 19 worshippers were killed.  In 2015, he lost a community member to cult clashes, prompting a dark period of soul searching, which ultimately led him to move beyond online activism and to make more direct personal connections and physically implement his ideas–a change which he says ultimately led to a shift and expansion in his whole approach.

What keeps him going?  Support from his colleagues is an essential factor, but Daniel describes his main motivation as, “the fact that ISIS/Daesh and Boko Haram are effectively using the media space to recruit young people, incite violence, and promote propaganda.  The fact that there is more to be done to shrink the space for violent groups and build sustainable peace keeps me up and ever passionate.”

Daniel Nwaeze can be reached by email atdanielnwaeze@gmail.com, on twitter @danwaeze, and on Facebook as Daniel Nwaeze.

Post reviewed and edited by Maija Jespersen, Peacemaker 360´s Editor.