World-famous Beninese musician Angelique Kidjo has won a human rights award, along with three African youth activist movements, for their work defending freedom of expression and peaceful protest.
Rights group Amnesty International announced the winners Wednesday, praising Kidjo and the groups Y'en a marre (Fed Up), le Balai Citoyen (The Citizen's Broom), and Lutte pour Changement (LUCHA) for their work in Africa and around the world. Amnesty says the award honors those who have shown exceptional courage in standing up to injustice, and who have used their talents to inspire others and further the cause of human rights.
The honor known as the Ambassador of Conscience Award has previously gone to world leaders such as Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as artists Bono, Joan Baez, and Ai Wei Wei.
Spreading ideas through music
Angelique Kidjo fled Benin in the 1980s after being pressured to perform for the country's authoritarian regime. Famous before she left her homeland, she has since become world-renowned both for her music and her activism. While recording and performing a mixture of African and U.S. influences sung in a multitude of languages, she has also worked to promote free expression, education for young women, and birth certificates for children.
In an interview last year (May 2015) with VOA's French to Africa service, Kidjo said music helps her spread her messages of freedom and human dignity. She told VOA's Salwa Jaafari: "I can't be in everyone's home physically -- my music will be there. And that's the power of an artist, compared to a politician. Because no one can give a speech as brilliant as what we can put on a CD."
The Grammy winner said she does not want to be a politician, but has hope that African nations struggling with internal corruption can solve their problems through democratic means. Kidjo said, "The day when the people -- the people of Africa get up and say 'we're tired of this stupidity,' it will be everyone together who will decide, not me."
Speaking ahead of the May 28 awards ceremony, Kidjo said the award "will energize me to stay outspoken about the crucial human rights issues of our time."
Also receiving the award is a group of Senegalese rappers and journalists who encourage young people to register to vote. The group known as Y'en a marre, or Fed Up, has been active in teaching peaceful protest methods and urging the government to implement land reforms, an issue important to the rural poor.
Burkina Faso's le Balai Citoyen, or the Citizen's Broom, is a grassroots movement co-founded by reggae artist Sams'K Le Jah and rapper Smockey (Serge Bambara). The group has been active in voter education and has taught young people to speak out about political corruption and transparency.
In a public comment on the award, Smockey said: "To all those who have placed their trust in us and who have read through our acts the commitment to fight against injustice: we want to reaffirm that our convictions remain as strong and safe as our dreams, which underlie them."
And Lutte pour Changement, or LUCHA, is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the community-based activist group focuses on social issues, human rights, and the protection of civilians from armed groups. Nine activists associated with the group have been jailed in DRC and are considered by Amnesty to be prisoners of conscience.
Amnesty called on the DRC government in February to release the LUCHA activists. In a statement, Amnesty called their detentions for peaceful protests "a clear sign of the growing assault on independent voices and civil society" in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Amnesty will hold an awards ceremony on May 28 in Dakar, Senegal.