According to an annual report from Are Social And Hootsuite, Africa has experienced the fastest growing internet penetration, with internet users across the continent amassing more than 20% when compared to 2017. This staggering increase in social media users in Africa has been received with open arms — by a large section of the African government.
However, some few African countries have issued a stern warning as regards the use of social media and they have introduced taxes and shut down internet services for a while — and also ban the use of social media apps — to kick against it. As it continues to grow in leaps and bounds, it will in effect be a threat to so many African governments. One of the most popular trends in Africa is social media monitoring.
The question now is, why are these leaders afraid of social media?
Social media and Politics
Africans are using the internet and social media as a tool to voice out their grievances and effect social change. Social media has allowed users to become more involved in politics. These days, there is nothing out of the public eyes as social media access helps people to know more about the government.
With social media, citizens can participate more in the political scene unlike what it used to be. It has enlightened the populace and provided the platform for democracy, accountability, and transparency in governance. Social media has become a potent weapon for political mobilization across the continent. Imagine Twitter and Facebook as an active medium for starter movements.
Nigeria’s Parliament was forced to disclose its annual spending in 2017 with the #OpenNASS campaign. More was the #bringbackourgirls that was effective in demanding action from the government as regards the missing Chibok girls. Even the #Nottooyoungtorun campaign was critical to get the government to sign the bill for youth involvement in the Nigeria political scene.
Nhlanha Nene (Finance Minister) firing was unjustified and coupled with the reports that President Jacob Zuma financed his private home with monies from the state treasury angered the citizens and pushed them to come together in many cities in South Africa with the #ZumaMustFall. This hashtag was common in the protest against Zuma’s corruption. Some individuals even hide their identity with the help of a VPN in South Africa to air their views about the matter.
The likes of #RhodesMustFall was active in the student protest against retrograde policies and attitudes in higher education; even the #FeesMustFall became prominent in criticizing the high cost of education and the remuneration for staff.
The youths have the opportunities in the social space to engage African political leaders. They are consistently driving the discourse using this platform. The traditional media cannot keep up with the current trend — the government has total control over it.
Facebook is finding its use in the debate of political issues like social injustice, good government, corruption, and so many other societal ills. To this end, the political structure of most African country is under scrutiny. But the political class despises these trends and would do all it can to curtail them.
Since social media became a big deal in Africa, it has been under the watchful eyes of the government. In Africa, if you know too much about the government and what it does, that could mean trouble. The government of the day is always seeking to hold on to the next available excuse to crush social media campaigns with issues like national security, suspected terrorist links, dissident views/Treason, etc. But it is not always the case.
Nigeria has outspoken people as related to issues affecting them — it does not move the government or political figures in any way. A cybercrime law was put in place in May 2015 when then President, Goodluck Jonathan was at the end of his tenure. Bloggers and online journalists were arrested based on “cyberstalking” for criticizing the government officials with their writings. Harassment and intimidation was the order of the day.
More so, the Cameroonian government clamped down on internet access. The Anglophone region could no longer access the internet; this happened in the better part of 2017 and 2018. It stemmed from perceived systemic oppression and marginalization of Cameroon English-speaking citizens. This remains the longest shutdown across the African continent.
The African government will go the extra mile to ensure that the political power they enjoy remains so for a long time. They fear the people calling for accountability and good governance; and as a result, they are enacting laws that will make it impossible to access and use social media as a tool to voice out injustice.
Even Museveni, the President of Ugandan, blocked the social media during the February election; it is a no brainer that he is still in power.
The social media is a powerful tool in the hands of Africans, and with the ever-increasing youth population — not even the government can stop them — there are more positives to watch out for now and going forward.