Digitally Muted: Africa and the Digital Divide (Part One)
The social media sphere in recent years has surprisingly sparked social change. Who would have thought that ‘tweeting’ could cause so much turmoil within rigid, dogmatic, suppressive governmental structures? Forcing those who debunked the notion of democracy to step down thus getting rid of dictatorship and welcoming egalitarianism. In other words in the fight for social justice (of recent years) social media 1- other platforms 0. But is this really the case? Although the social sphere is littered with many ‘activists’ for different causes and issues, there are still many that are voiceless and not as prominent in this digital revolution. The term digital revolution is synonymous with the change in technology and its production. I will be using this term in reference to a digital revolt that is taking place online, where alternative media outlets are being used to voice the ideas of the marginalised and challenge the status quo not the industrial aspect per say.
I will be outlining a few factors that are supressing the voices of Sub Saharan Africans in the digital revolution and some possible solutions that will counter their silence. The reason why I have chosen to focus on Sub Saharan Africa as opposed to the continent as a whole is; firstly I am part of the Sub Saharan African diasporic generation and this topic is close to home. Lastly I feel that the voice of the Arab African world is being heard across media platforms and has had a more visually dynamic digital revolution. ‘‘Facebook and Twitter may have grabbed the headlines during the Arab Spring uprisings but on the African sub-continent an altogether quieter digital revolution is taking place.’’ (Wakefield, 2011)
It could be said that the reason as to why we do not hear the African story is because of factors such as locality. After all the continent is not that close geographically. Therefore we do not need to hear of the African. False. Although the presence of Africans in Britain is not up to 5% (Pears, 2012) there is a population that wants to hear about Africa. Twitter is a great reflection of this. Many diasporic Africans ‘follow’ twitter pages of those who discuss the current issues on the continent.
I remember being a child and my Mum would run to the TV if she heard them say Nigeria, in the hope of hearing about ‘home’. My mother’s action has parallels with the African experience in reference to the western media, this constant want to find a story that mirrors your reality. Even with such advancement in technology it can be still difficult to hear about what is happening back ‘home’. If you do it is not an objective or organic viewpoint. The story’s agenda is often leaking with capitalism. If the African story gets reported it brings some form of profit to everyone other than the African. The gain does not necessarily need to involve currency but it could be projecting that one ideology is more profitable than another, so it is best if the ‘inferior’ is silenced so they cannot challenge such notions. But can this be applicable to the social media sphere? After all it is an outlet that is so liberating, unbiased, and revolutionary. Access to the Internet can be a catalyst for a social movement. However the inequality in access and distribution is what slows the process (Castells, 248, 2002).
Although it has implications of being ‘free’ the social media framework is to a degree controlled. Most of these mediums have an option to report content that may be deemed as unfavorable thus mirroring its restrictiveness. Alternative media does emulate tactics of its predecessor, not everyone can be a competitor in this playground of empowerment. In order to partake in such ball game, ‘players’ need to be equipped with the right capital. Like traditional media outlets ‘new’ media also has ‘old boy’ networking methods whereby ‘Money talks’.
The social media revolution is a revolt happening online; how can the continent be a prominent partaker if she is excluded from technological frameworks? Africa has not been able to preform best in the digital revolution not because she’s inadequate or does not want to tell her story but because she is being crippled by factors such as the digital divide......(Part two should be posted in a week or two God willing)
Click here for Part Two
Disclaimer: This essay was written by myself, feel free to share and get inspired by what has been written but please do not declare it as your own.