Wednesday, 16 November 2011

social media as a tool for social change in Africa

That's what i thought about when i decided to write this piece. How powerful could social media tools such as facebook, twitter, blogs and mobile phones be? How potent is the social media in catalyzing change in Africa? The answer seems not to be far-fetched. In 2009, 10,000 protesters took to the streets in Moldova in what was dubbed the 'twitter revolution'. The Iranian 'green revolution' rode on the wheels of social media sites. Social media has also played a critical role in the sweeping protests across North Africa and the Middle East, while Obama's message of 'hope' was largely successful because he was able to reach out to people through the social media.
Indeed the social media has become a veritable tool for groups to disseminate their messages and recruit individuals with similar ideas. They have been used to galvanize opinions across varied interests and incite people towards action. This implies a changing shift in the social paradigm where previously only a few people(and organizations) controlled the messages and information made available to people. Now, the people have found a platform through which their voice could be heard.
Judging from the fore-going, the social media can also play an intricate role in redefining the social order in Africa. Governments would be held more accountable for their policies and actions. Messages would be relayed faster and changes would occur at a more accelerated rate. In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to ban the Nigerian Football Federation was reverted because of comments from football fans on his facebook page. Africa would also be able to correct the many mis-representations and ill conceived notions. Africa would be able to start telling its own stories.
The tools of social media have re-invented social activism. We now line in a new environment where the media is an environment itself. The traditional relationship between those in political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, co-ordinate and give voice to their concerns. Using countries such as ivory coast and Egypt as case studies,these assertions are buttressed by facts showing the role of social media in ensuring potent revolutions. While ivory coast has an internet penetration of less than 5%, Egypt on the other hand has an internet penetration of 21% (which is still low). The revolution in Egypt was successful in a far less time than that of ivory coast which degenerated into a 6 month civil war which ended with the intervention of french soldiers. This was because ousted president, Lauren Gbagbo was able to retain control of the media in the country and frame the situation in a way that
suited his needs.
However, we must be cautious at this juncture not to assign a messianic status to social media. It is the people themselves not the technology that is the real force. Social media site merely provide a platform through which power is exerted. Perhaps it is in recognition of this fact that governments such as china, Iran and Syria restrict access to some sites. In Uganda and Egypt, internet access was suspended in the face of rising opposition. So this throws up another question: would African governments support the penetration of internet vis-a-vis social media tools, seeing the potential danger of it challenging the already existing power structures? Only time can tell

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