P213 – Politics and Digital Media: Creating New Spaces and Strategies of Participation and Protest
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Bernal Victoria / University of California, Irvine


Digital media are a global game-changer in how politics are conducted as revealed in the Arab Spring protests, wikileaks, and the recent revelations about the mass surveillance conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency. This panel contributes to the emerging body of scholarship investigating the novel and significant ways African citizens and states are deploying various digital platforms to engage in politics. Papers may explore how digital media (such as websites, Facebook, youtube, Twitter) are being used in diverse ways that include: to establish new spaces and public spheres, foster distinctive communities and subjectivities, develop national narratives and counter-narratives, document and publicize abuses, mobilize publics, and stage political protests. A central concern of the panel is to explore how the engagement with digital media is creating new conditions for the conduct of politics and to consider the implications for the future of state-citizen relations as connectivity becomes more widespread on the African continent.

Politique et médias numériques : Créer de nouveaux espaces et de nouvelles stratégies de participation et de contestation
Comme nous l’avons constaté lors du Printemps Arabe, avec Wikileaks et à la suite des récentes révélations sur la surveillance de masse orchestrée par la NSA, les médias numériques ont une influence politique d’ordre mondial. Ce panel contribue aux problématiques qui s’intéressent depuis peu aux nouvelles façons dont les citoyens et les Etats africains s’impliquent politiquement en déployant différentes plateformes numériques. Les contributions exploreront de quelles manières les médias numériques (tel que sites web, Facebook, youtube, Twitter) sont par exemple utilisés pour établir de nouveaux espaces publics de débat, pour promouvoir des communautés et des subjectivités, pour amplifier ou contester les récits nationaux, pour documenter et diffuser des abus, pour mobiliser un collectif ou pour organiser des mouvements de protestation politique. Les principaux objectifs de ce panel sont d’explorer comment les usages des médias numériques créent de nouvelles conditions dans les pratiques politiques d’une part, et de rendre compte des implications futures pour les relations entre citoyens et États, d’autre part, dès lors que la connectivité s’étend de plus en plus sur le continent africain.


Paper 1

Bernal Victoria / University of California, Irvine USA

Diaspora, Politics, and the Space of Cyberspace: Turning Eritrea Inside Out

The space of cyberspace is elastic, connecting the diaspora and the homeland online in ways that blurs boundaries and reshuffles territory-related distinctions. Thus, for example, Eritreans are able to express themselves more freely online than they can when in Eritrea, but at the same time use websites as a national space that serves as an extension of the nation to encompass the diaspora and the virtual. Eritreans in diaspora have used digital media diverse and shifting ways to participate in national politics from outside the country. Eritreans in diaspora have, moreover, used cyberspace to de-center the nation, shifting its primary locus from the state’s center of power in Asmara, to Eritreans wherever they may be located. Cyberspace can be simultaneously inside the nation and outside it and it also can be used to re-territorialize, as when Eritreans in diaspora treat websites as national space and write their posts in ways that sound as if they located inside the country. The internet is tethered to the earth and to geo-political configurations of power and relations of sovereignty, yet it remains a powerful tool for reconfiguring territorial relations and unsettling distinctions between categories of experience.

Paper 2

Pype Katrien / University of Leuven, Belgium

“(Not) Talking like a Motorola”:Mobile Phone Practices and Politics of Masking and Unmasking in Postcolonial Kinshasa

The expression “talking like a Motorola” (koloba lokola Motorola) was for a long time used during Mobutu’s reign indicating the undesired disclosure of information. It manifests the perception of many Kinois (inhabitants of Kinshasa) that the Motorola handset was only deployed by Mobutu’s secret service agents in order to detect and report criticizers of the regime. Today, mobile phones are not anymore the asset of political agents. The idiom is thus out-dated. Yet, other lines between “what can be said [over the phone]” and “what cannot be said” are being drawn.Transformations in practices of secrecy, concealment and, their counterpart, divulging of information are key axes of the production of power and contestation of authority in state actions and in strategies of civil society. I attempt to locate the mobile phone within Kinshasa’s political society, and analyze the ways of relating to the Congolese state and to worlds of power beyond the national level as these are articulated through fantasies about cellular technology and practices with the mobile phone. The analysis is based on Kinois’ discourses about wireless technology and practices with the mobile phone, state actions within the telecom sector and interviews with employees of cellular enterprises.

Paper 3

Schemmel Annette / Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

The Artist Travel “Exit Tour” (2006): Pioneering in Real and in Virtual Space

This paper reflects on Exit Tour’s Internet strategy. In 2006, six artists associated with the artist initiative ArtBakery embarked on Le Douala-Dakar de l’art contemporain, a two months voyage to the Biennale de Dakar. Buses and risky scallops were the artists’ vehicles of choice because this form of travelling allowed to boycott the West-African flight connections’ stopover in Paris, and to build a Pan-African network so as to overcome the artistic isolation experienced in Cameroon. Underway in Benin, Togo and Mali, the Exitour members gave presentations and workshops at artist initiatives, while also promoting their web link through merchandise items like bags and stickers. Ironically, the five Cameroonian Exit Tourists were kept from presenting during the prestigious event of the Dak’art opening because they were held back at the Senegalese border. Together with the Swiss participant artist Dunja Herzog I will compare Exit Tour’s web solutions to those deployed by the initiators of Overcoming Maps (est. 2001) and Invisible Borders: The Transafrican Project (est. 2009). We will also draw attention to the disappearance from the Internet of important knowledge resources on recent African art; early adopters of digital communication like the video art pioneer Goddy Leye (1965-2011) used to build their websites on free, ad-financed web space, which commercial providers have meanwhile taken offline, or relied on Western partners for Internet presence.

Paper 4

Woldemikael Tekle / Chapman University, California, USA

The Role of Shame in Social Mobilization and Resistance among Eritreans in Diasporas and in Eritrea

The tragic drowning of 359 Africans, mostly Eritreansnear Lampedusa on October 3, 2013 received global media coverage and deep emotional responses across the world. Digital media played a key role in generating shock waves of shame, sympathy and sadness as well as the mobilization of human rights activists and sympathizers for the rights of Eritrean refugees. This was not the first or the last instance of tragic drowning of African refugees in the Mediterranean, but the confluence of reporting from digital and other media brought the feelings of shame and sympathy of various international, state and ordinary actors towards African refugees together for the first time. Digital media brought African refugees from being invisible aliens to recognition as victims of the global divide between Europeans and Africans. Many observers believe the Eritrean government’s requiring the youth to serve in national service for unlimited time is the main cause of the youth flight. Using global shaming as a resource, Eritreans in diaspora mobilized themselves in seeking policy change within the ruling regime in Eritrea on the required national service. Digital media has played a vital role in creating these networks. Religious leaders inside Eritrea then took unprecedented steps in shaming the leaders, government and supporters. This has shifted media discourse in Eritrea from indifference to concern on the grave crisis of the youth inside Eritrea.

Paper 5

Mekawy Yasmeen / University of Chicago, IL USA

Passionate Publics: Emotions & Events through Social Media in the #Jan25 Revolution

Through an examination of the 2011 Egyptian uprising, I propose that mass mobilization
was driven the interplay between the prevailing emotional habitus and events as they are refracted through the virtual public sphere. I argue that discourses of indignation and dignity (specifically regarding police abuse) circulating through social media emotionally primed early movers for collective action. Over the past decade discussion in online public spheres crystallized into an emotional habitus of indignation against the regime. However, indignation blended with feelings of hopelessness and fear, which tempered enthusiasm for action. This emotional habitus was disrupted by transformative, emotionally charged events. The digital public sphere was the medium through which these events were collectively constituted as events. This provided the emotional impetus for a critical mass of individuals to overcome fear and mobilize, and also helped produce crucial feelings of solidarity and togetherness in the absence of organizational and ideological coherence. Finally, the revolutionary narrative articulated through the virtual public sphere (as well as on the ground during those 18 days) provided a framework through which different groups and latecomers could code their activities as part of a unified revolutionary project, despite conflicting interests and political agendas.

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