If there was one thing Roland N’Dekploman loved growing up in San Pedro, Côte d’Ivoire, it was drawing.
“I drew a lot, but didn’t know at the time that drawing was a passion of mine,” Roland says. “I also loved reading comics.
“I remember my uncle threatening to burn my comic books, I read them so much.”
Roland, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and founder of the nonprofit Le Neuf, a news platform using comics to examine the day’s headlines, is focused on using his drawings to connect with young leaders across Côte d’Ivoire and the whole of Africa.
“In my country, a lot of young people don’t read newspapers. They are on the internet and love Instagram and pictures,” Roland says.
“By reporting relevant information in the form of comics, it grabs young people’s attention,” Roland adds. “Now they are more engaged and better understand the society they are living in.”
As Roland sees it, comics are a platform on which young adults can find and analyze the news.
“I tell stories in the form of comics for people who don’t like to read,” Roland says. “Some subjects like economics can be complex, but when you are sharing a cartoon, you are bringing important ideas to light in a simple form.”
“If young people aren’t informed, they can’t hold their leaders accountable,” Roland says.
For Roland, graphics are key in helping young leaders not only to understand the society they are living in but also to question wrongdoing and to advocate for change.
One issue Roland has faced over the years is how to finance his news organization. In this, he has found the most success in partnering with other institutions to fund his independent project.
“I was able to work with NGOs and other organizations, creating graphics for corporations and using that money for my newsroom,” he says.
Roland encourages others interested in civic engagement to use storytelling whenever possible to connect with young adults across the state.
“Use stories, even if it’s not in the form of comics,” Roland says. “Stories have the power to impact people; they stay in people’s minds, they teach them something.
“So, if you want to attract young leaders, tell a story about how voting and accountability can change the way you live, how it can help you build the society you want to see.
“With comics, I want to grab young people’s attention, I want to develop their critical thinking skills, I want to keep them informed.”