By: Heather Gilberds
On Saturday, September 10th, Accountability Lab Liberia’s work attracted hundreds of young people to a town hall in Kakata, the capital city of Margibi county, where they gathered to listen to the latest songs from their favorite Hip Co artists. Hip Co music is uniquely Liberian—a form of hip hop that emerged in the 1980’s but gained popularity among youth in post-war Liberia. Hip Co artists rap in “Colloqua”, the colloquial form of Liberian English, and the songs have a political bent, describing social ills, lamenting the causes of poverty, or calling out corrupt politicians and public servants. A 2014 VICE article describes Hip Co artists as “spokespeople for a maligned generation”, a community arts movement that expresses the fear, hope, disappointment, and anger of a generation of poor urban youth with little hope for their future or the future of Liberia.
At the concert in Kakata, members of the Hip Co Accountability Network were releasing their new song—“Know Who to Vote For”—an anthem intended to encourage young people to become informed about who the candidates are and what they stand for, and to vote in the October 2017 general election. The 2017 election is an important one for political stability in Liberia—the third democratic elections since the end of the civil war in 2003, 2017 will see a shift in power from the current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It will also be the first democratic elections since the war not presided over by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which is in the process of transition and withdrawal.
Voter apathy and mistrust in the electoral system caused low voter turnout among youth in previous elections. In order to ensure they play a role in shaping the future of Liberia, youth need to understand that their interests, growth, and empowerment depend on their positive and informed participation in the upcoming election. As part of the Lab’s ongoing efforts to integrate learning into programs, the team conducted the first of what will be many event attendee surveys. Volunteers were trained to use a mobile phone survey system called KoBo Toolbox to collect data from attendees during the event, asking them questions about why they came to the concert, what they liked and didn’t like about it, what they learned, and how the Lab could improve events like this intended to engage young people about accountability issues in Liberia. By getting this kind of feedback from young people, the Lab can continually iterate and adapt to ensure that programs are responsive to what motivates and mobilizes young people.
Events like the Hip Co concerts are one way that Accountability Lab is working to engage youth in the democratic process. And it’s working. Our event attendee survey of 83 members of the audience indicates that almost half of the young people attended the concert simply because they wanted to hear the music. After two hours of listening to hip hop ballads espousing the importance of informed youth engagement, more than 85% indicated they were leaving the concert with a new understanding of the importance of voting. On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Kakata, the words “know who to vote for; vote for your future” really struck a chord with a generation desperate to improve their lives.
Photo credit: Chongyoon Aaron Nah