P119 – Digital Social Networks and Political Transformations in Africa
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Lafay Marina / CEPED, Paris Descartes
Quet Mathieu / CEPED, IRD


Internet has been gradually set up in Africa since the early 2000s. In 2014, it is estimated that 20% of people living in Africa are using it (International Telecommunications Union). Despite huge differences regarding uses and access, social networks have become social spaces of protest, activism and mobilization – for instance in the case of diaspora networks.
By no means are these new tools of political activism replacing former ways of political participation. They have rather mixed with them through dynamic processes.
The limited spread of the internet implies that in Africa more than anywhere else, its political uses must be investigated cautiously, without any preconceived deterministic considerations about the role of technologies. Therefore this panel wishes to question in an interdisciplinary manner, the role of internet and of the social networks in the African mobilizations. It will address their specificities and reflect on their interactions with the set of usages and spaces of communication, protest and media.

Réseaux numériques et transformations politiques en Afrique
Implanté en Afrique depuis le tournant du siècle, Internet est utilisé par environ 20 % des habitants du continent en 2014 (estimations de l’Union Internationale des Télécommunications). En dépit de disparités de connexion et d’usages, les réseaux sociaux se présentent comme des espaces courants de contestations, de mobilisation, de fédération (exemple des cas de populations dispersées), sociale et politique.

Cependant, ces nouvelles formes de mobilisation ne se substituent pas aux autres formes de contestation, y étant souvent associées de manière dynamique. En Afrique plus qu’ailleurs, en raison de son utilisation encore réduite, les usages politiques de l’internet doivent être questionnés avec précaution, sans a priori déterministe quant au rôle des technologies.
Ce panel souhaite donc questionner de façon interdisciplinaire le rôle d’internet et des réseaux sociaux dans les mobilisations africaines en appréhendant leurs spécificités et en pensant leur articulation avec l’ensemble des usages/espaces de communication, de contestations et d’expressions médiatiques.

Paper 1

Omanga Ducan / Moi University, Kenya

Meshak Koskei and Bwayo Humphrey / Moi University, Kenya

Social Media and the Making of the New-Baraza: Chiefs and Mediated Deliberative Practices in Kenya’s Local Administration

The baraza in Kenya generally refers to a formal public gathering for the purpose of interaction between the ruled and the rulers. Previously, the baraza was used extensively as a quasi-compulsory public meeting convened mostly by chiefs and addressed by politicians and civil servants and were spaces of state-centric discourse often meant to legitimize a provincial political ideology.
The ‘new baraza’ represents the increasingly mediatised deliberative practice that is complementing and in some instances appearing to displace the age old baraza in Kenya. At its core, the ‘new baraza’ is shaped by social media, specifically Twitter and mass mobile phone text messaging, thus transcending economic and technological hurdles and vastly transforming deliberative practice and group action in local communities. Using data obtained from the field, we argue that the deployment of Twitter as an administrative tool in the central rift region of Kenya as a mode of maintaining cohesion and social mobilisation is not necessarily new, but rather a refashioning of the old baraza. The paper shows
– how the combination of simple mobile phones and Twitter create the ‘new baraza’ which then becomes an effective site in convening and cajoling the public for various kinds of group action
– how deliberative action in the new baraza is embedded in the everyday interactions
– how the new baraza appropriates some of the defining characteristics of technologically networked communities.

Paper 2

Lamoureaux Siri / Max Planck Institute, Martin Luther University

Digital rights activism and social movements: controversies of knowledge production in Sudan

This paper presents recent research on the ongoing digital rights movement taking place today in Sudan.The notion of “digital rights” has emerged in recent years alongside human rights as a global discourse and development imperative, notably in the Arab Spring where it aligned with social movements. While highly debated, it is nonetheless thought by some observers to have changed the scope of these revolutions. No revolution took place in Sudan, but digital activism based on open-knowledge philosophy – that “information is power” has introduced new tools and techniques for social movements, which have been highly controversial, due to their potential subversive power. Facebook, Twitter, Ushahidi in particular along with SMS are potentially threatening since they enable new ways of producing evidence and shaping “truth”.
Digital activists in Sudan, in fact, are subject to digital sanctions and surveillance not only from the Sudanese government but also from the US, which has since 1997 placed an embargo on the import or export of goods to and from Sudan. While Sudanese initiatives are subject to extraordinary constraints, digital activists have engaged in a variety of concerns from health or education charities, elections monitoring, nomad routes to the 2013 floods in Khartoum. In this paper, I discuss the ideologies, epistemologies and technical constraints of digital activism in Sudan, and problematize the assumptions of Open Source theory for this context.

Paper 3

Brunotti Irene / University of Leipzig

Cyberbaraza and contemporary political transformations in Zanzibar

Since 2010 a power sharing agreement has been included in the constitution of Zanzibar and, soon after elections, the opponent party´s leader Seif Sharif Hamad has been appointed as First Vice President. This process (maridhiano – reconciliation) radically changed a sociopolitical context where identities´ features have always played a decisive role in social and political participation. In a context where political and civil rights have been denied for decades, the new political scenario has allowed different feelings of belonging and identification. These very feelings seem to be represented and reproduced on the internet, more specifically throughout social networks (tovuti za kijamii, blogu and alike – cyberbaraza). Although issues of access and freedom mine the assumption that the internet replaces former ways of political participation, the unique narratives appearing on the web portray an important shift in Zanzibari self-identification and, possibly, in social participation. In analyzing the sustainability of the political transformation and because of the imminent Tanzanian general elections (October 2015), a study on the digital socialscape opens up to confrontations (concerning also critical issues like the Union) disentangled from previous identity framework and conveyed into a new creative mobilization.

Paper 4

Kołba Magda / Graduate School for Social Research, Polish Academy of Sciences

Kenyan citizenhood in the digital sphere. New spaces for activism and resistance created by Kenyans on-line.

With more than 2 million Facebook users and almost 50% internet penetration rate, Kenya is one of the Africa’s dark horses in the ICT-usage race. It is also home of many innovative solutions in the digital politics sphere. The citizens can, and do, watch the Parliament’s doings via the mzalendo.com website. The politics is widely commented and discussed on all the social media platforms and using all the available technologies.
One could say that whatever happens in a so-called „real world” has an immediate reaction in the on-line sphere by the citizens themselves. Only during last year there were several examples of citizens movements that have started in the social media sphere and resulted in actions undertaken by citizens(e.g. mydressmychoice march) or by the Government(e.g.#KenyansOnTwitter and the policymakers’ reaction). In my presentation, I would like to present some of them and propose to treat social media and ICTs in general as a tool for creating new spaces for citizens’ agency (and not a space per se). I will discuss the concept of tactical media and the citizens’ role in creating their content – and thus, being a co-author of a public political discourse. I will also focus on Boelstroff’s et. al. digital anthropology methodology and its relevance when analysing African societies’ activities in the digital sphere.
The presentation will be based on on-going field research, both in Nairobi and remotely.

Paper 5

Merolla Daniela / Leiden University, the Netherlands

Amazigh / Berber Websites. Cultural and Political Strategies

My paper addresses the cultural engagement of Amazigh/Berber websites and Facebook pages such as www.tamazgha.fr/, www.agraw.com,http://www.amazighworld.org/, marokko.nl, MNLA Mouvement National pour la liberation de l’Azawad Facebook page, New world Embassy of Azawad Facebook page, and the way in which these sites interact with, respectively, the social movements that participated in the riots of the Rif region (Morocco) in 2012 and the Tuareg military rebellion that led to the contested “new state” Azawad in Mali, the fighting between the MNLA and Islamist groups, and the international military mission MINUSMA. I explored Amazigh websites as framework for cultural expression in the dynamics of online and offline cultural productions (Merolla 2002, 2013). My present investigation focuses on the way in which the cultural and often humanist discourses diffused by Amazigh websites – set up in the Maghreb and in the diaspora – engage the dynamics of social and military uprising.

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