Digitally Muted: Africa and the Digital Divide (Part Two)
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‘‘The issue of global inequality is connected to the topic of the digital divide because technology is one aspect of material wealth and wealth production is more and more based on tech-nology and knowledge. Africa is of particular importance here because it is the most marginalized and excluded region of the world.’ (Fuchs & Horak, 2008)
A digital divide is the unequal distribution of digital technologies (online access -computers). It comprises of many factors and different theorists have their own concepts surrounding what causes such division. The notion surrounding this issue illustrates the impact of not being able to access digital content or technologies. For the African it means they are ‘forced’ to take the position of the peripheral observer as opposed to the central character. Factors that bring this about are a lack in social, economical, or cultural capital.
An individual’s capital will not only have an impact on whether or not they can be online partakers but also influences how they use the Internet (Fuchs & Horak, 2008). Van Dijk, suggests those with higher capital tend to use the Internet or their access to technology for more complex tasks. However those who were not abundant in capital tended to use their online access for more mundane or gratifying tasks (online gaming, social media sites or sending emails…). The latter could be noted as another cause as to why the continent presence online (in relation to the digital divide) is inconspicuous. Out of those who have access to new media frameworks not all will use their platforms to join in with the online revolution. “…Disadvantaged countries and rural and peripheral districts within these nations tend to fall further behind in human resource development as well as in economic progress and political participation.” (Furuholt & Kristiansen, 2007)
‘‘**Kojo’’ is an eighteen-year-old orphan from Ghana who lives with his uncle. Although he does not have a primary source to access the Internet due to poverty, he does however use outlets such as Internet cafés frequently to get online. ‘‘Kojo’’ typically uses the Internet to do homework, keep up with the pop culture in Ghana and chat with his peers on online sites such as Facebook.
‘‘**Lori’’, also living in Ghana is in her twenties, works a corporate job, and manages a few small business ventures. She tends to use social media for business, pleasure, and activism. Her use of Instagram is not only to post her weekend endeavors but also has been used to highlight the growing potential of Ghana and its social imbalances and possible solutions.
The above illustrates Van Dijk study of how an individual’s Internet use is impacted by their capital. From the examples above we can note ‘‘Lori’’ was able to partake in the digital revolution, as she wasn’t as limited as ‘‘Kojo’’ in Internet access or capital. This is not to say that there are not those who challenge Van Dijk idea. There’re many Africans who like ‘‘Kojo’’ are finding methods where they can advance their technological disadvantage. Take for example the use of mobile phone on the continent.
Sub Saharan Africans are the second largest mobile consumers in the world and this number is growing steadily. Many use mobile phones to connect online as opposed to a desktop as it’s a lot simpler to do so and does not require much electricity (Smith, 2014). Africans have found ingenious methods that allows for their voices to be heard in the online revolution and have developed solutions in dealing with the flawed infrastructure. In Kenya for example young Kenyans are not just using their phones to discuss when they’re going to meet up and chow down some masala fries. But are rather using their mobiles to report forms of corruption to community watchdogs.
‘‘Susan Kariuki, chief executive of Kenyan Youth Agenda, is using texts to both give youngsters a say in their communities and help expose corruption. Its tool invites young people to text in examples of corruption in the key areas of education, health, and water. Ms Kariuki explained that texts sent in have already made a difference. "In a school where money had been stolen, the money was given back. In a hospital where a doctor was taking medicines and selling them, all the medicines were returned." (Wakefield, 2011)
Although Africans may be at a technological disadvantage stories like Kariuki’s highlights rather than waiting for governments to build a better infrastructure, Africans are using what they have to ensure their voices are being heard. The use of such technology is helping pinpoint areas that need attention and is encouraging citizens to play a role within the digital revolution. More initiatives like Kariuki’s will be contributing to the voice of the African on new media outlets.
The lack of participation online is also due to a lack of knowledge on how to use new media technology. Hacker, 2003 noted that one of the components contributing to the digital divide is a lack in “skill access”. Some Africans may want to become partakers in the online community, may even have the convenience of a secondary outlet to do so (Internet cafe near their home or a neighbours laptop), but simply do not know how.
My Dad who is not the most technologically savvy individual, has often nominated my siblings and I to set up online-based networks for him. In doing so we have supported him with gaining an online presence and taught him ways in which he can be up-to-date with the online world. To help Africans get online and become participants of this realm we need to adopt the ‘Each One Teach One’ concept, equipping them with the skills to do so. The latter along with access to the technology will allow more Africans to tell their story. Being able to tell your story holds a level of originality that can never be obtained if put in the hands of another to mold. Although I provided my Dad with the skills to get online only he can tell his story to his standard.
Earlier this year I recall witnessing on Twitter the neglecting of a narrative resulting in disheartened Africans. BBC Africa a media platform that gives an African perspective did not address (what was regarded by many) an important issue affecting some on the continent. Instead chose to focus on a western news story. Although both news stories did coincide around the same period it took the platform days to report the African story. Twitter does have a limit on the amount of characters that can be used to convey a message but does not have a one comment a day policy. Therefore I could understand the annoyance of some of the platforms followers. Yet again those who are supposedly writing for Africans are keeping them out or forgetting to include them in their narrative. This is why more Africans need to become part of this digital online revolution.
In a continent that is lacking in basic infrastructure why would one be thinking of being part of the digital age? I see it as imperative that the African voice is hear in the new age across all platforms, by having a voice in the digital revolutions it is another way to evoke change. By challenging authority on the poor structure, mismanagement of the economy or health care via social media, Africans are holding their leaders accountable on an international scale.
The sound of the continent online voice is not completely mute, there are however areas, which need to be revamped or even created; such as more access to online platforms, investing in the African narrative and closing the digital divide. The latter and more needs to take place in order for the Sub Saharan African narrative to become amplified in the digital age.
B. Furuholt, S. Kristiansen, ‘Internet Cafés in Asia and Africa – Venues for Education and Learning? The Journal of Community Informatics( 2007), P.
Castells, M. (2002). ‘The Internet Galaxy’. Oxford University Press, Oxford
C. Fuchs, E. Horak. ‘Informational Capitalism and the Digital Divide in Africa’ Telematics and Informatics. 25 (2008). P 99–116
Pears, E. (2011) ‘Census: British Africans Now Dominant Black Group’ The Voice. [Online] 12th December 2012. Available from http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/2011-census-british-africans-now-dominant-black-group. [Accessed May 2015]
Smith, D. (2014) ‘Internet use on mobile phones in Africa predicted to increase 20-fold’ The Guardian [online] 5th June 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/05/internet-use-mobile-phones-africa-predicted-increase-20-fold [Accessed May 2015]
Wakefield, J. (2011). ‘Africa's Quiet Digital Revolution’. The BBC. [Online] Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14986314 [Accessed June 2015]
Van Dijk, J., (2006). The Network Society. Social Aspects of New Media, second ed. SAGE, London.