Unstoppable march of social media and democratisation

National-assembly-buildingWITHOUT mincing words, it will not be out of place to conclude that democracy is gaining impetus in Africa. From Ghana to Ethiopia, and South Africa to Egypt, the last 25 years will probably go down in history as a period of far-reaching democratic reforms and political adjustments in Africa. On the continent, one government after another succumbed to growing domestic demands for political reforms which became evident in the decline in military rule and one party system. Arguably, the sustainability of democratisation in Africa can be said to be the manifestation of what Samuel Huntington popularised as the ‘third wave of democracy’ which he predicted would surely happen after the collapse of the Cold War.

The proliferation of democratic institutions, the emancipation of political landscapes, the constancy and creditability of elections hitherto unheard of in certain African countries, particularly the acceptability of defeat by an incumbent president in Nigeria, have all signalled that a thrust towards democratic consolidation on the continent is evident and on a quantum increase.

Fundamentally, I wish to say that a profound benign engine of increased democratic transduction and transformation in Africa is the social media. The social media continues to be a great platform for democratic conversations and political events, thereby facilitating and accentuating participatory democracy in Africa. Recently, in a social media conversation, one of the fundamental questions I asked is, can the social media help get rid of tyranny and ‘the sit-tight syndrome’ among incumbent leaders in Africa? However, one thing that is certain is the fact that the underlying impact of social media platforms cannot be denied because they are revolutionising the political cosmology of Africa. Social media has thus far had numerous implications for both African leaders and the electorate.

It is no longer news that the social media played a critical part in the “Arab Spring” revolutions, allowing political actions to be organised through the social networks of people with shared interest in democracy and common desires for liberty. This ultimately orchestrated the toppling of a number of autocratic governments of North African countries.

Is social media going to help in advancing democracy in Africa? Politically, as it is obtainable in other spheres of life, social media has the power to influence millions of people. Recent elections of Nigeria serve as the best examples of the affirmative effect that social media platforms can have. In 2011 and 2015, during the voters’ registration and elections, Nigerians on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms actively participated in the political engineering and electioneering. Similarly, in Kenya, voters, particularly during the 2013 election, were influenced by SMS and the social media.

The social media is at an alarming rate becoming a veritable campaign network against corporate malfeasances, governmental fiscal recklessness, political laxity and other forms of endemic corruption terrorising Africa. However, with the ability to use the social media to mobilise many people either for political activism or to harvest huge and active support for opposition elements, leaders in Africa are starting to take steps to control it. A case that comes to mind is what took place during election time in Ethiopia while the government blocked the use of SMS services in 2005 thereby limiting the political rights and other fundamental human rights of the Ethiopians. No wonder, this was one of the cardinal points raised by President Barak Obama during his recent (July 2015) official visit to the country.

One piece of candid advice for African leaders and governments is that they should not consider trying to limit the use of the Internet and the social media for political purposes. Politics and democracy are all about the people and since the social media helps in virtual and real crowd gathering, the politicians and policy makers in Africa must romance the new media. It is in their interests and that of the continent that the social media should be considered a veritable tool and benign engine for accentuating the new waves of democracy pervading Africa. The social media is not just for the proclamation and proliferation of complaints. It is a veritable tool for positive feedback, political insights, promotion of political activities/policies and its understanding, endorsement of relevance and establishment of trust and political will. It is a platform that can help in initiating community based programmes or reforms and also to help in sharpening existing government programmes. It can be used to create awareness about government policies and activities. It can be used to know the interest of selected groups and that of the generality of the citizens. In the same vein, it can be used to motivate citizens to take some actions such as voters’ registration, elections and payment of taxes.

It is evident that the use of the social media in accentuating participatory democracy among all stakeholders (the electorate, politicians, policy makers, government officials, civil societies, etc) and ensuring political accountability will certainly continue; because, more Africans are having increased access to the Internet, the social media and mobile phones. As a matter of fact, more Africans are accessing the Internet and social media via their mobile phones. For instance, 80 per cent of Internet use in Nigeria is via mobile phone. About 48 millions of Nigerians are on the social media. Recent report shows that Africa is currently the second largest mobile phone market after Asia, with more than 700 million mobile connections.

Therefore, the social media must continuously be used to hold politicians responsible and accountable. I also advocate that this should be extended to other state actors such as the police officer, traffic officers, immigration, customs and prisons officers, as well as non-state actors. The social media must be used to put all hands on desk, following the aphorism among the Yoruba of Western Nigeria: ‘Ki Africa ba le dara, ajumose se gbogbo wa ni,’ (meaning – for Africa to attain development and advancement, it requires our concerted efforts), particularly via the social media and other socio-political cum economic platforms.

• Johnson is of SMB Consulting. www.smbafrica.org, smbafrica@gmail.com, +234 08149382121, 08099312551).



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