In December 2013, the United Nations declared 2015-2024 as the International Decade of Afrodescendants. Despite the growing recognition of our importance as citizens in our respective countries, Afrolatin@s continue to battle for inclusion, autonomy, rights and justice. The Afrolatin@ Project (ALP) will continue to champion the Afrodescendant struggle for human rights by using digital tools to preserve the culture and history of Afrodescendants, increase our visibility, and improve our access as citizens no matter where we reside.
Afrodescendants will benefit greatly if we integrate information and communications technology (ICT) more successfully into our agendas and strategies. Today’s research shows that web-based and digital tools alongside social media, can complement social action and provide new and unique strategies for communication.
ICT cannot replace the political and civic obligations that governments have to defend, affirm and promote the rights of Afrodescendants as full citizens. Nor are we suggesting that grassroots organizations simply replace existing programs with technology. We must also be careful to not reproduce existing inequalities (often referred to as the “digital divide”) when we use technology, Technology will not cure all social injustices but ICT has proven beneficial to underserved communities globally. It is important that Afrolatin@s consider its possibilities in our efforts to achieve full equality and enjoyment of our rights as citizens.
Ethno-Education, the Census, and ICT
Many of today’s Afrodescendant youth have grown up with technology of some kind. They stand to benefit most from a movement that recognizes the positive potential of technology. To address the absence of “ethno-education” for and about our communities we should consider using mobile phones to engage young people at all levels of literacy. Due to their wide-spread use, mobile phones can deliver educational content about our culture and history from primary school to the university.
Mobile phones make it possible for us to educate and learn without having to wait for official government action. Although teachers may be limited in what they are able to do, their input and participation in developing content should be included where possible. Community organizations working with youth should also incorporate the use of mobile phones into their existing work.
The outcomes and benefits are numerous: 1) encouraging technology-connected youth to create digital resources on their own histories and cultures by using their mobile devices; 2) making digital content on Afrodescendants available to formal education and research centers through open access platforms; and 3) encouraging the development of traditional educational and digital literacy competencies among Afrolatin@ youth using relevant content and technological tools.
Mobile phones can also assist in our consciousness raising efforts ahead of the next round of national Censuses in Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S. We know that a key element limiting Afrodescendant visibility in most countries is inaccurate census polling. The way different groups/communities are counted in the census is linked to public policies and funding for strategic resources such as education, employment, and social services. Mobile phones can be used to develop effective demographic questions or to send out notifications on the importance of Census participation. It should also be used to gauge the accuracy and transparency of the official government Census counts conducted over the next ten years.
Digital Strategies & Millennium Development Goals
The Declaration of Durban, from the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia in South Africa, affirmed that “the use of new technologies…can contribute to the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” One year earlier, heads of state from Latin America and the Caribbean met in the city of Florianopolis, Brazil and drafted the Declaration of Florianopolis.
This Declaration called for governments to focus on developing the technology skills of their citizens. Most significantly, it repeatedly called for the use of ICT to address regional socio-economic inequality, a persistent issue affecting Afrodescendants.
In the last 13+ years, regional governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have developed multi-year national digital action plans. Regional governments and civil society (i.e., Colombia, Panama, Brazil, Bolivia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti) also have launched ICT-focused initiatives using mobile technology to address the everyday challenges of the underserved.
In October 2013, the Secretariat General of Ibero-America, who recently launched their “Citizenship 2.0” and “AfroXXI” initiatives, held a conference in Panama City, Panama urging heads of state to pay greater attention to how technology can encourage transparency and support the underserved.
There is little doubt that since the Durban conference, we have made progress in raising the visibility of our goals. In recent years, digital and Web 2.0 tools have helped improve organizational capacity, increase the exchange and flow of information, and strengthened social activism. There is still work to be done. Discussions in several Afrodescendant conferences have raised the need for Afrolatin@ communities to include ICT skills in their agendas. They also have recommended we build alliances with our counterparts throughout continental Africa.
The Afrolatin@ Project believes it is critical that Afrodescendants combine these two concepts and gain knowledge from the examples set by the growth in the number of projects in continental Africa and other developing regions that use ICT to address the needs of the marginalized and disenfranchised.
The Afrolatin@ Project will continue to expand its use of information and communication technology and Web 2.0 tools to preserve the culture and history of Afrolatin@s and to increase our access and visibility. Our goal is to support other organizations and Afrolatin@ communities through training and education on how to leverage global technology to address local issues. Only by integrating ICT tools into the agendas and strategies of Afrodescendants and by developing ICT-centered initiatives will Afrolatin@s will not be left behind in the digital era.
 For purposes of this piece, ALP uses Afrolatin@s and Afrodescendants interchangeably to describe people of African descent from Latin America, the Caribbean and their Diasporas.