P 50

Social Media, New Affordances, and Participatory Citizenship in Africa

Panel abstract
Since the turn of the century, the mobile phone and the growth of the internet have changed how Africans interface with power and connect with the diaspora. With visible affordances in social media, especially in the explicit ‘convoking logics’ such as ‘liking’, ‘friending’ and ‘following’, the convergence of social media and mobile telephony is central to new debates on how social media has become effective as platforms of activism, community policing, civic action, and political deliberation.
In much of Africa, the combination of social media and Smartphones have ‘liberated’ and emancipated mediated communication from the centre (state and institutions) and given more agency to ordinary individuals insofar as participatory governance, accountability, and political/civic action are concerned. With consideration to the popular perception of limited participatory governance in Africa, the urgent question that begs answers is the extent to which citizens’ participation in Africa has been enabled, disrupted, or enhanced by ‘outside forces’ through social media platforms.
The purpose of this panel is to convene scholars from as diverse a field as media studies, anthropology, political science, and history among others for a discussion on how social media in Africa is increasingly mediating between social individuals and groups.

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 8.30 - 10.30 am, 11 am - 1 pm (double session)
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 202

Convenors
Duncan Omanga (Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya)
Joyce Omwoha (Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi)

Panellists
Caroline Mose (Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi)
Syntia Hasenöhrl (University of Vienna, Austria)
Brenda Bukowa and Sarah Gibson (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa)
Shillah Memusi (University of Bayreuth)
Peter Simatei (Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya)
Tilo Grätz (Free University of Berlin)
Dércio Tsandzana (Sciences Po Bordeaux, France)
Nwamaka Patricia Ibeme (National Open University of Nigeria, Lagos)
Trust Matsilele (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
Iyabode Omolara Akewo Daniel (National Open University of Nigeria, Lagos)

 

Paper abstracts

Caroline Mose
‘Rabid Feminism and the Boy-Child Problem’: A Case of Kenyan Social Media Discourse

In recent months, a high-spirited debate has erupted on Kenyan social media on the neglect of the ‘boy-child’, as the ‘girl-child’ continues to benefit from concerted efforts as part of a long-standing affirmative action to raise the status of girls and women in the country. According to those spearheading this debate, the girl-child in Kenya has been elevated at the expense of the boy-child, who remains disenfranchised and, in many ways, tortured in the Kenyan imaginary. The fault for this disenfranchisement of the boy-child has laid at the door of what has been termed ‘rabid feminism’. This tag has created discursive scatologies that have served to refocus combatants, as it were, on the issues around gender and feminism in Kenya, perhaps catching feminist and scholars off guard. This paper is interested in locating these discourses within ‘activistic’ social media spaces. It shows how these discourses contribute to community policing (community here being a more conceptual one of women and/as so-called ‘feminists’). It interrogates the idea extended by the champion of the ‘boy-child’ of feminism being an ‘outside force’ intent on over-empowering the Kenyan woman into becoming an object (and subject) of disobedience, in effect, upsetting the social order, and the feminist response. Ultimately, it cross-examines the interactions and mediations between social groups and individuals within the lens of participatory citizenship, locating these within feminism, gender and disenfranchisement of these social groups.

Syntia Hasenöhrl
‘Ils Font Partie Du Mali’ – Negotiating Political Identities on a Malian-Diasporic Online News Portal

Social media intensify the connectivities of African societies that have been built for decades through migration and communication. Recent literature has explored the role of social media for relations in transnational families, for the engagement of diasporic agents in national politics, or for the organization of public protest. This talk focuses on everyday discourses that manifest in social media and their contribution to constructing political identities in a postcolonial context of struggle for national unity. Building on online ethnography and critical discourse studies, my talk explores user engagements on the Malian-diasporic online news portal Maliweb. It analyses the construction of political identities through the cooperation and contestation of users and media agents who engage in this online environment from different social and geographic positions. Thus, I explore in which ways this news portal and its mobile affordances can enable a public sphere in which users engage in participatory citizenship through the construction of political identities. These explorations illustrate that the construction of ‘a’ national identity by Malian-diasporic agents on Maliweb includes the negotiation of diverse positions on who does and who does not belong to the Malian nation – and for what reasons. Moreover, this is related to intersectional articulations of power relations along multiple lines of social differentiation such as class, gender, generation, location, and religion. With their mobile affordances and connectivities, social media, thus, are an important site to explore the formation of political identities in situations of struggle for national unity.

Brenda Bukowa and Sarah Gibson
Young People, Mobile Media, Participatory Citizenship, and the Digital Public Sphere in Zambia

Since the early 1990s, the rapid technological developments in Zambia have transformed communication in a number of ways. Changes in the sphere of mobile communication and social media have revolutionized traditional spaces of communication, leading to the expansion of participatory culture among young people in Zambia. This environment has set a tone for a formation of a digital public sphere, following Castells, creating opportunities for civic, social and political engagements to the previously marginalized groups such as youths. Mudhai and others have argued that a relationship between participation, public sphere, young people and new media exists. This study therefore, argues that mobile media (especially the smart phone) and the pervasive increase of social media (social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter) have played an integral role in bringing the African youths into spaces, which Dralega, in 2009, refers to as ‘platforms for active participation.’ The paper proposes that the notion of traditional participatory citizenship practiced by Zambian youths through radio, TV, and newspapers is inadequate in the context of young people as it limits a broad range of unique features of youth such as individuality, identity, representation, power, and participation in society. This paper urges for an alternative approach to the exploration of participatory citizenship which questions institutionalized measures of political participation and/or notions of civic engagement that are practiced through traditional media like TV and Radio. The paper demonstrates how participatory citizenship through mobile and social media in Zambia (an African country where communication spaces are generally shrunken), has influenced participation of Zambian youths in political and social contexts, while it has been guided by the Zambian regulatory and policy frameworks governing mobile and social media technologies.

Shillah Memusi
Facebook Justice: Arresting Gender-Based Violence in Kajiado, Kenya

Customary rules of engagement among the Kenyan Maasai involve a dispute resolution system mediated by a council of elders. Each council is responsible for a location, typically a village, but higher councils exist to mediate issues that transcend localities. A Maasai National Council of Elders acts as an over-arching body, but it is one whose constitution and mandate are a matter of political debate. In many cases, these councils manage to settle matters in a manner agreeable to all parties, promoting peaceful co-existence between families and among community members. But what happens when resolutions are unacceptable, and assistance from local government officials is not forthcoming? This paper presents a case where Facebook triggered justice for a woman who succumbed to rape injuries in Rombo Ward, Loitokitok Sub-County. It uses this case to demonstrate how Facebook, in Kajiado County, has become an accountability tool on matters transcending domestic disputes to county government nominations in manner that matches that of Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) and the Black Twitterverse.

Peter Simatei
Understanding Technologies of Voice/Text as Tools of Social Transformation in Kenya

The invisibility and the inaudibility of the ordinary people in Africa (something Karin Barber wrote about thirty years ago in relation to the exclusive dominance of media platforms by tiny national elites) seem to have partly ended in the last decade. The remarkable transformation in communication technology, the liberalization of airwaves and the expansion of democratic space in a number of African countries are some reasons worth to mention. In Kenya, for example, the synergy of mobile telephony and private FM radios in mid-2000s largely brought the ordinary person to the center of national life and discourse. This paper seeks to understand the nature of this synergy and the significant role it plays not only in the production of listening spaces and public cultures, but also, in social transformation of those involved. The focus is on how FM radio and the mobile phone (which appeared almost at the same time) have been appropriated as popular media forms and, thus, as tools of empowerment for the ordinary citizen.

Tilo Grätz
Mobile Phones, Social Media, and Political Participation: Interactive Radio Shows in the Republic of Benin (West Africa)

My paper investigates processes of media interactivity, political participation and connections between mobile phones, social, and ‘traditional’ media, exemplified through a case study on radio call-in shows on social problems in the Republic of Benin (West Africa). The main protagonists of these shows are frequent callers known as ‘grogneurs’, occupying a pivotal role in current communication processes in the country. They are very active both in using social media, stimulating the rapid circulation of sensitive political information, and in intervening in public debates, dominating most of the mentioned interactive radio shows. The paper examines their personal motives, and media strategies regarding information procurement, networking and the appropriation of media technologies. It also addresses their ambiguous relationships with journalists, local politicians, motor taxi drivers, and the wider audience. Furthermore, to better understanding current media formats such as the ‘grogne shows’, as well as the multiplying WhatsApp forums, we must investigate the outlines of pre-existing, but also contemporarily changing, popular communication practices in Benin, including their particular social and cultural norms. Finally, any short-handed normative accounts, e.g. in terms of democratic media, should be replaced by a more multifaceted analysis, taking into account the intricacies of social and interactive media and practices of public communication in West Africa today.

Dércio Tsandzana
Social Media and the (Re)Building of Spaces and Practices of Political Participation in Mozambique

The collective mobilization in 2010 in Maputo against the expensive life marked a new page in the history of collective mobilizations in Mozambique. This demonstration caused four deaths and was promoted through SMS and Facebook. Since this event, we observe an evolution to use several spaces of participation to express an opinion about many issues in the daily life in Mozambique, a tendency that contributed for the emergence of collective conscience on the importance and the use of new technologies: mobile phone and social media. Focusing on understanding this trend of opinion building in an urban dimension and youth engagement, this paper answers three questions: (1) which modalities of political participation exist in Mozambique?, (2) how do the new modalities of political participation (social media) contribute to impel social and political change in Mozambique?, (3) how does youth use social media to promote civic engagement?

Nwamaka Patricia Ibeme
Social Media, Affordability, and Utilization Among the Users in Nigeria

The 21st century is knowledge-driven. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the pivot; thus, transforming the nations into Knowledge. Social media and mobile technology are powerful tools in providing education in developing countries like Nigeria. Considering the crucial roles ICT plays in transforming the lives of the people, it is imperative to create awareness and enthusiasm in the people especially in the developing nations for effective utilization. The importance of social media, its affordability and citizens’ usage form the bedrock of the Nigerian development; it boosts our socio-economic and national development. It also widens the horizon of the youths; making them participate actively in national development. It is convenient and flexible, giving wider access for the youth to interact with professionals online. This economizes the time, brings global interaction, ideology and linkage. With the ICT, the world is in the hands of the people. All education is the education in ICT. ICT is the life-wire of the intellectual dissemination in this digital age. The study advocates that social media should be adopted at all levels of our educational system in Nigeria in order to effectively reach the rural audiences and increase access to knowledge and participatory citizenship in governance and society. It is within this background that the study finds its essence.

Trust Matsilele
Social Media Dissidents in Zimbabwe, 2013-2016

Dissidents exist in every nation, always have, and perhaps, always will. They have existed in that space between being patriots and enemies of the state. Social media, on the other hand, is a recent tool of communication. A central fact of social media is its ductility in the hands of different users. Indeed, there are as many uses of social media as there are users. One such use is in the propagation of political dissidence. The addition of a tool –social media– that allows dissidents not only to network, but also to do so with previously unreachable audiences, at the speed of light, turns dissidents into household names accessible to the wider majority and an existential headache for governments. This access creates ‘artificial’ bonds between dissidents and their fans, which sometimes surpasses the relationship between the state and citizenry. Research suggests that the admixture of social media and political dissidence has had many governments in interminable panic, a consequence of the many unknowns that lie in this space. The term dissidence has a very specific social, historical and political association in the country: dissidents are ‘vapanduki’, a reference to rebels or enemies of the state. To label one a dissident, is to paint them as justifiably deserving of violent repression by the state. This paper proposes a simple, critical aim: to examine how Zimbabwean ‘dissidents’ used social media and how government and the ruling party responded to this use between 2013 and 2016.

Iyabode Omolara Akewo Daniel
Netizens as Action Citizens: the Case of Female in Nigeria (Fin) Facebook Finsters, Their Stories, and Their Actions

Online citizen action has been a very popular way of bringing down unpopular governments as shown by the Arab Spring. In addition, it is also the means of garnering support for or opposing political candidates, depending on how the public perceives them. Nonetheless, scholars have not focused on the way the online community has also become a means of gender mainstreaming and gender empowerment. This paper thus looks at the online community called Female in Nigeria, a Facebook group serving as an online platform that has greatly empowered around one million Nigerian women, who are married to Nigerian men. The paper does a profile review in terms of looking at the systematic way the online platform has helped to change the defeatist psychology of many Nigerian women by empowering and emboldening them to fight against injustices, even if it is against other women that are perceived as doing anti-women things. The paper will take a critical look at the testimonies of these women and do a profile analysis of the contents of their Facebook posts based on Daniel’s proposal of female self-determinism. This is in order to determine their past and current linguistic choices. The findings will reveal what essentially changes in the women stories. The suspicion of this author is that these women’s ability to bond and watch one another’s back is very important in creating these assertive women the platform is creating.