Saturday, July 4, 2015
Social media and the opening up of political space in closed African polities
Fearing that the mainstream media may be stifled or infiltrated by Ugandan government functionaries, former Ugandan Prime Minister and presidential hopeful turned to You Tube to announce he would contest against President Museveni. Meanwhile, the former Prime Minister's staunchest supporters including his sisters' in law turned to Facebook to defend him soon after his candidature was announced. In Nigeria,opposition election agents in rural outposts posted results onto Twitter to beat the present and clear danger of ballot stuffing and deliberate misreporting of the election results. During the height of the failed Burundi military coup, President Nkurunziza turned to twitter to announce he was still President even when the centre couldn't hold in Bujumbura. President Museveni recently scoffed at Whatsapp discourses which he perceived as fanning ethnic hatred. Social media is revolutionizing the contestation of political power and space in Africa. Factors working in favour of this trend include the fact that the majority of African populations are incredibly young, the proliferation of smart phones and the reduction in cost of internet charges. This however is still an elitist trend that is not yet mainstream but growing in importance with each passing day. African governments accustomed to controlling state media monopolies are having a hard time keep tabs on discontent. Will they go the nine yards of the China government which reportedly controls the internet and bans inconvenient web sites?