Beyond #EndSARS, The Rising Political Influence of Digital Platforms in Africa.
Starting my day listening to Daniel Susskind, Author of “A World Without Work”, giving a keynote at The Oxford Martin School — while the fear of technology taking over jobs is widely reflected, my worry is mainly on the influence of technology in political space in Africa. I remain optimistic that technology will create more jobs than the one it will take. It has been that way for years. The question is, what else will it take or create?
When you have decentralized social movements against the government coordinated by people from across the world you immediately realized Twitter is not just a digital platform it’s a nation. It works well when the agenda is right like what we are seeing with the #EndSARS movement but what happens when the agenda is wrong? How do you control it? Are we ready for this? My main fear is that even those who have created these platforms don’t have control over them. 10 hours ago Instagram apologizes after its algorithm incorrectly flagged posts in support of #EndSARS, Nigeria’s anti-police brutality movement, as false information.
“Yesterday our systems were incorrectly flagging content in support of #EndSARS, and marking posts as false. We are deeply sorry for this. The issue has now been resolved, and we apologize for letting our community down in such a time of need,” — Instagram Statement
Yes I know, you thought they have control. With the gap between virtual and physical activism narrowing down there is a need to be more cautious. The rising inequality, hopelessness, and unemployment in Africa digital platforms can be a blessing or curse to the continent.
I’m concerned our political leaders can’t see this coming and aren’t prepared. Technology is taking over not just in Africa but globally. There was a lot to learn from the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We (Africa) are the youngest — hence the most vulnerable if things go wrong. Need I remind you Africa’s median age is 19.7 years old, 5o percent of global internet users are between the age of 18–34 years old according to Statista.
While the old power is centralized and held by a few the new power is decentralized and held by many. You can’t cut the head of the snake because the snake has made heads. You can’t control the agenda because everyone has their own agenda. I’m sure they're so many underlying issues behind #EndSARS that fuel the fire. Nigeria’s unemployment has more than tripled in the last 5 years. With a labor force of 80.2 million, about 21.7 million Nigerians are unemployed. In 2020, the number of mobile internet users in Nigeria amounted to over 85.26 million. It tells you a lot about who owns the virtual and physical power and why what is happening is happening.
The rising inequality is another issue — Nigerian legislators, among the world’s top-paid, receive annual salaries of between $150,000 to $190,000. Depending on exchange rates, they would earn around $160,000 more than British MPs who make around $105,000 according to data from The Economist. The problem is not their salaries but the quality of life of an average Nigerian compared to them. They want to hold on to the old power without knowing a new power is disrupting them.
Technology the Savior or The Curse
Technology can be a savior in bridging the gap between the citizens and the decision-makers in Africa. The voice of the people will be heard outside the election rallies and ballot boxes. It will help in bringing blended opinions of the young and the old on how institutions and countries should be run. The only challenge I see is when other voices and not the voice of the people brought into the equation. What will happen then?
According to this article on the Guardian, Cambridge Analytica was hired by a Nigerian billionaire to run a campaign in support of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, and the video was targeted at his Muslim opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, who went on to win the election. There is no suggestion that Jonathan was aware of the campaign. 2 years old Cambridge Analytica sought to influence the Nigerian presidential election in 2015 by using graphically violent imagery to portray a candidate as a supporter of sharia law who would brutally suppress dissenters and negotiate with militant Islamists.
It is difficult to pick what is fake and what is real if there are other agendas involved — fake news fueled the South Africa Xenophobia reactions to an extent of causing potentially catastrophic diplomatic incidences between Nigeria and South Africa. If some of us are not responsibly using these platforms the results can be ugly. There is a need intentionally and strategically to plan for disastrous situations just in case incidence like these occurred and we are unprepared, and they will happen because nobody can tame the beast known as the “Internet”.
I’m Remaining Optimistic
I’m sure technology will do more good than harm. My advice to politicians the solution is not to fight with technology because it will always win. The focus should be on addressing real issues facing our communities. Technology is giving them power like never before. They can hold anyone accountable anytime — it happened, is happening and it will happen. The most important issue to be aware and cautious about what is happening. These issues can have massive consequences on national security. It is time to have blended discussions between political and technological experts in Africa. The idea is not to control the voices, because it will never happen but to make sure the voice and opinions that are being aired are really voices of our people. It’s disappointing and disturbing what is happening in Nigeria and people should be held accountable. My the Almighty give our brothers and sisters the strength and courage to overcome this. But this is just the beginning of future waves. We all need to be prepared.
“..And yet Nigeria has some of the most energetic, enterprising, educated, and irrepressible people on our continent. If their immense energies are released, nothing can prevent Nigeria to prosper” —Mwl. Julius K. Nyerere