How Africans Are Using Social Media to Drive Political Change

April 08, 2016 at 05:18 am | Uncategorized

Fredrick Ngugi

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

April 08, 2016 at 05:18 am | Uncategorized

"Hashtag activism" raised global awareness of the April 2014 mass kidnapping in Chibok, Nigeria. (Photo: africannewstoday.com)

For a growing number of people today, regardless of age, it’s inconceivable to live in a world without social media. Even for those who are against it, there’s no denying that social media has impacted the world big time over the last ten years. What was previously viewed as a simple mode of communication for the younger generation has now become one of the most effective catalysts for change in Africa and the world in general.

For many years, Africa has endured a series of autocratic governments whose effect has been endless political strife, assassinations, starvation and civil wars. In their quest to evade accountability, these tyrants have colluded with state-run or mainstream media to spread propaganda and conceal the truth.

But with the emergence of a vibrant African social media community, the scale of justice has slowly started to tilt on the side of parity and fairness. Leaders now have to deal with hard questions and account for any omission or commission that demands public scrutiny.  

Unforgiving African Bloggers

Blogging has accorded the public freedom to air their views and ask for accountability from their leaders without government’s propaganda and silencing. When the government resorts to indoctrination and muzzling of the mainstream media, people turn to bloggers for the truth.

Many corruption stories have come to light thanks to fearless bloggers who are willing to sacrifice everything just to tell the truth. It also appears that most whistle-blowers now entrust bloggers with sensitive information more than the mainstream media.

A good example is Afrileaks, a popular online platform where African whistle-blowers can share confidential documents without revealing their identities or contacts. The website is run by an alliance of African news organizations that are committed to exposing the truth.

Popular Kenyan blogger Robert Alai has been very enthusiastic in exposing the rot in both public and private sectors. In January 2015, he shared a secretly recorded video clip of Kenyan member of parliament Alfred Keter, who was caught insulting police officers at a weighbridge station where they had detained a truck belonging to a nominated member of parliament, Madam Sunjeev Birdi, for lack of the necessary paperwork.  The video caused a storm on social media with members of the public unsuccessfully demanding for their resignations.

These bloggers have succeeded in sensitizing the public on any misappropriation of public resources by those in power. It is from these revelations that the public gets to demand responsibility from leaders and effect change by voting out those implicated in corruption scandals.

Hashtag Activism

Human rights activists have devised news ways to demand accountability from leaders where they use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to air their views and mobilize support against an issue they feel is undermining people’s rights. #BringBackOurGirls is perhaps the best example from Africa; it has been nearly two years since the hashtag brought worldwide attention to the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian girls from a school at Chibok.

In Kenya, the Twitter community has proven its power to drive change, and neither government nor the private sector is immune. Just recently, in September 2015, Kenyans on Twitter were on fire as they demanded President Uhuru Kenyatta to fire Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru who had been adversely mentioned in a corruption scandal where 800 million shillings belonging to National Youth Services was misappropriated. A few days later, President Uhuru reshuffled his cabinet and Waiguru announced her resignation. The hashtag #WaiguruResigns was active on Twitter for several weeks afterward.

From exposing corruption to demanding better governance, social media has proven to be a powerful form of activism in Africa and the world at large. In fact, such “hashtag” activism is considered a more effective catalyst for change in certain circumstances than throwing stones or carrying placards.

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