Friday, February 4, 2011

Who will jail web democracy in Africa?

Last year, on one of the evenings of the FIFA Soccer World Cup in South Africa, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu came to speak to a group of us. A garden filled with media people from all over the world. In his address, he revisited the days of democratic and anti-apartheid activism and said “it was the media that did not forget us”. That line stuck with me.

Dr Nelson Mandela, affectionately called “Madiba” has left hospital after a mild respiratory infection. The moment he checked into hospital, the whole world was aware. Media camped outside the hospital premises and live coverage was maintained. The media still remembers..

Laurent Gbagbo has requisitioned the agencies of the West Africa Central Bank in Ivory Coast. And the bank's headquarters in Senegal has changed the access codes of the treasure room. The whole world is listening..

President Ben Ali of Tunisia took off with a plane from Tunis airport. He will transit through Malta. While the officials of Malta are saying “no official information”, someone has it on Twitter that the Air Control of Malta has communicated with Ben Ali's pilot. We get there before “official information”..

Mrs Sarah Jibril wants to be the first Nigerian female President. She won one vote in her party primaries. Over 4000 delegates voted. She also voted. Sarah Jibril was the only one who voted for Sarah Jibril. Dont bother going to court to contest anything...

A French military advisor to the Togolese government assaults a journalist in Lomé. Another journalist records the scene and puts it up on YouTube. In less than a week, it has been viewed over a million times and shared on so many Facebook pages that the French republic had to recall the officer. And Togo had to let the journalists (the one molested and the one who shot the video) walk...

Et cetera, et cetera..

The new media in Africa is the social media, the people's media, the web media, the blog, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter media. This media has hit the roof, blown the roof, and is headed to “where none has been before”. The weight of this new, social, online, citizen media in Africa democracy is great, greater than what one single individual can say in a blog! From Cape to Cairo, Cape Verde to Djibouti, Comoros to Jos..

For anyone interested in African democracy issues, you cannot not pay attention. In less than two weeks, what President El Abidine Ben Ali thought was normal went viral and by the time he was ready to act, it was too late and he was washed by the wave of tweets, of photos, of blogs, of videos and of people on the streets.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the #civ2010 of Twitter has overwhelmed the political landscape. Because it started monitoring before the votes were cast, it made it difficult for the powers that be to use the old systems of election rigging. During the results of the first round of the presidential elections, we were publishing about one minute after reading. Just the time needed to crosscheck, spell check and hit “Enter”. By the time the second rounds came around, the platform had blown the roofs. On its own, alone, the citizen media of #civ2010 has achieved more information feed on the issue that it has forced all parties: winning and losing, international and national traditional media to converge.

In Nigeria, I followed the #PDPprimaries. President Goodluck Jonathan, kicked off the day by sending an early morning tweet and a Facebook update to rally support for him. The elections themselves started 6 hours late! All this time, I was waiting..typing, tweeting.. with thousands of other Nigerians all over the world? Why? Because the one that wins #PDPprimaries is almost certain to win the Presidency. #PDPprimaries lasted 15 hours. The final results were announced at around 7AM the next morning. We kept awake! Every single count was on web radio, on Twitter, on Facebook.

Egypt is on. This country has the highest number of Internet Users per capita in the continent. But no, it is not a case of in-country count..

It is a case of a continent whose population, home, abroad and in the diaspora has realised that “media makes democracy” and that the “Internet give you media power”. And are determined to make optimum use of it. Across the continent, initiatives like #civ2010, #wonzomai, #EiENigeria, #Sidibouzid are on the increase.

Africa web democracy is alive and is here and here to stay. The instantaneous nature of it is wonderful! Its power to connect national and diaspora is its strength and its capacity to churn out huge information is incredible. Then we did not have the cable and the bandwidth, but now both are coming. First we did not have access, but we are getting there. Then the terminals were few, now, they are everywhere. Then we did not know how to use the Internet while maintaining our safety, now we are “safety experts”. First the options were limited, but now, they are unlimited.

How do you plan to go around us?

Jailing opposition leaders is no longer working, jailing bloggers is getting less effective, blocking sites is “a known problem with a known solution”, even when the national Internet servers are shut down, we have “ready and trusted alternatives”.


PS: Blog also published by The Commonwealth on http://www.commonwealthigf.org/blog/who-will-jail-web-democracy-in-africa/

4 comments:

Serene_lofar said...

Hello! An impassioned blog. Would you like to contribute this post to an online newsletter called Digital Natives 'Links In the Chain'? It's brought out by the Centre for Internet and Society, India. The upcoming newsletter focuses on Internet Governance and Online Regulation. Details can be found here: http://cis-india.org/research/dn/links-in-the-chain-volume-8

look forward to your response. Cheers! Nilofar

Serene_lofar said...

Hello! An impassioned blog. Would you like to contribute this post to an online newsletter called Digital Natives 'Links In the Chain'? It's brought out by the Centre for Internet and Society, India. The upcoming newsletter focuses on Internet Governance and Online Regulation. Details can be found here: http://cis-india.org/research/dn/links-in-the-chain-volume-8

look forward to your response. Cheers! Nilofar

Nnenna Nwakanma said...

Hi Lofar, you can already see that this is a contribution I made to a publication. If you would want me to do a fresh contribution, you can always ask.

Serene_lofar said...

Yes, please. You know where to get in touch with me :-) Deadlines for the Internet Governance and Online Regulation newsletter is July 15. Would you be able to write something by then? Many thanks, Nilofar