Role of Social Media for Good Governance and Democracy: Literature Review and Personal Observation in Horn of Africa

Social media refers to web-based platforms that allow users to create, share, rate and search for content and information.  These tools become ‘social’ in the sense that they are created in ways that enable users to share and communicate with one another. This includes mixture of web-based technologies and services blogs, micro-blogs, social sharing platforms and social networking services.

This blog part would like to review the role of social media platforms in nation building in the horn of Africa and to a wider region at large. Recognizing the power of this Medias compared with the conventional Medias for public participations in good governance and democratic systems as well as giving attentions to threats related to the technologies including commonly observed provoking and racial remarks/ comments. And to bring attentions to all stakeholders look forward how virtual community at grass root level and social-media giants shall collaborate towards making social media more people centered, developmental, a media for the voiceless and in an effort to build proactive democratic systems while at the same time making sure  the , zero abusive foot-print by embarrassing all basic human rights.

Trends of Internet Penetration in the Region

The applications and effects of social media have ever grown with the expansion of ICT and youth preference to engage actively in politics of respective nations in the horn of Africa and to the regions at large. Facebook, one of the biggest social networks was created in 2004, the biggest video sharing website Youtube did not exist before 2005 and the most popular micro blogging site like Twitter only traces back to 2006. Following this, it has been widely used by public officials, political parties and activist to interact with this ever growing virtual community, which was not a common one decade ago. As we can see from the figure below the trends of internet penetration in the region have been grown since its introduction, this by far shows there is an ever growing population of the virtual community in the region that could be a played a great role to shared commitment towards building a democratic systems and good governance in this fragile region.

Year Kenya Sudan Uganda South Sudan Djibouti Ethiopia Eritrea Egypt* South Africa *
2016 45% 26% 19% 17% 12% 4% 1% 33% 52%
2015 45% 26% 19% 17% 11% 4% 1% 33% 51%
2014 43% 25% 18% 16% 11% 3% 1% 32% 49%
2013 39% 23% 16% 14% 10% 2% 1% 29% 47%
2012 32% 21% 15% 12% 8% 2% 1% 26% 41%
2011 28% 17% 13% 9% 7% 1% 1% 26% 34%
2010 14% 17% 13% 7% 7% 1% 1% 22% 24%
2009 10% 14% 10% 5% 4% 1% 1% 20% 10%
2008 9% 11% 8% 3% 2% 1% 1% 18% 8%
2007 8.0% 8.7% 3.7% 2.0% 1.6% 0.4% 0.4% 16.0% 8.1%
2006 7.5% 5.0% 2.5% 1.8% 1.3% 0.3% 0.4% 13.7% 7.6%
2005 3.1% 1.3% 1.7% 1.4% 1.0% 0.2% 0.3% 12.8% 7.5%
2004 3.0% 0.8% 0.7% 1.3% 0.8% 0.2% 0.3% 11.9% 8.4%
2003 2.9% 0.5% 0.5% 1.0% 0.6% 0.1% 0.3% 4.0% 7.0%
2002 1.2% 0.4% 0.4% 0.8% 0.5% 0.1% 0.2% 2.7% 6.7%
2001 0.6% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.3% 0.0% 0.2% 0.8% 6.3%
2000 0.3% 0.0% 0.2% 0.3% 0.2% 0.0% 0.1% 0.6% 5.3%
Population

 2016

in million

47.25 41.18 40.32 12.73 0.90 101.85 5.35 93.38 54.98

* Egypt and South Africa used as a comparison, since the two African nations have high internet penetrations rate and study shows that more than 90% of peoples who have internet access have used social medias.

The data for the above figure are collected from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internetusers

The term “Horn of Africa” is not only a geographical expression but it is rather a geopolitical concept. The Horn of Africa proper consists of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, the Sudan and South Sudan. Stretchily, it also encompasses Kenya and Uganda. Some are convinced that the nations of the Horn of Africa are endowed with a dynamic, youthful and entrepreneurial population and an abundance of natural resources. Yet, for too many years, peoples of this region have been suffering from hunger, conflicts, poverty and growing inequalities and instabilities. The twin problems of poverty and conflict have various and complex causes. sine from history so far scholars put it as most of the wars / conflict in the Horn of Africa during the past decades have been described in terms of ethnic conflict, both by the adversaries themselves and by external analysts. Sudan civil wars have been characterized as ethnic conflicts with cleavages along religious, racial, cultural, and linguistic lines. The various civil wars in Ethiopia, Somali conflicts and Djibouti have also linked to ethnic conflict.

Good governance

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) defines governance as “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes, and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”. One of the fundamental principles of good governance is transparency, which ensures that the decision-making and the subsequently due process monitoring and implementation of this information is freely available and directly accessible by all stakeholders.

The United Nations Development Program views corruption as “the misuse of public power, office or authority for private benefit – through bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud, speed money or embezzlement”. Corruption does not necessarily appear only in monetary terms. When an official fails to deliver the services that were paid by the government, this may be defined as “quiet corruption”. Quiet corruption thus may include deviations that can be potentially observable, such as being absent from work, but also deviations that are hard to observe, for example to bend rules for personal benefits, or to deviate from the expected conduct

Political Participation

Historically, citizen’s participation in the political processes has been considered a fundamental element of an ideal democracy. Thus, participation represents a significant component in political communication and democratic institution.  Recent reports indicate decreasing youth participation in political activities such as low turnout at elections.

two decades ago, there has been serious academic concern about the low political participation among youth in many parts of developed and developing nations, thus, some scholars have identified this as a threat to good governance particularly in developing nations. Before the coming of social media, space in newspaper and airtime on radio and television were limited and expensive; thus youth, specifically cannot express their opinion nor participate in politics through the old media.  Online social networking sites such as Facebook have brought new hopes and opportunities by connecting youth with politicians and common interest groups to share information and opinions.

Studies have suggested that youth are now using Facebook to seek for political information, mobilize common interest groups, create user-generated content and share political views. Facebook provides a great opportunity to politicians to reach out to their constituents and voters. The technology also link and facilitates interaction between community and elected political representatives by providing a public online ‘Wall’ a space where community members can easily write comments in favor or against their political leaders.

More youth are showcasing stronger reliance on it as their online platform for securing political information they need to make an informed political decision. Hence, targeting and tailoring political messages online to the youth through Facebook and what motivate youth to develop an interest in politics should be an important factor in future campaign strategies for Political parties in their day to day activities as well as during election seasons.

Social media vis-à-vis Good governance and Democracy

Researchers argue that social media has a great potential to increase government outreach, enhance problem solving capacities and improve decision-making processes. Citizens´ demand for a transparent government is fermenting a new age of opportunities through social media, web-enabled technologies, mobile technologies and E-Government. With the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and new media citizens became able to be journalists themselves avoiding unnecessary mediation of traditional media. As scholars put it: ‘The powerful have been spying on their subjects since the beginning of history, but the subjects can now watch the powerful, at least to a greater extent than in the past’. We have all become potential citizen journalists who, if equipped with a mobile phone, can record and instantly upload to the global networks any wrongdoing by anyone, anywhere.

Freed from the necessities of professional media and journalist skills or the centralized control and distribution of industrial mass media organizations, social media is instead seen to be technologically, financially and accessible to youths. Equipped with social media, the citizens no longer have to be passive consumers of political party propaganda, government spin or mass media news, but are instead actually enabled to challenge discourses, share alternative perspectives and publish their own opinions. In this age of widespread communication and political consciousness, people expect political participation and accountability much more than they did in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. social media allows citizens not only to influence public debate, public opinion and public policy, but, on a more direct level, also to get the chance to tackle matters of consequences, for example to address deficiencies in infrastructure projects, improve project planning and uncover cases of corruption.

Social media can be empowering to its users as it gives them a platform to speak. It allows anyone with access to the Internet the ability to inexpensively publish or broadcast information, effectively democratizing media. In terms of time, Social media technologies allow users to immediately publish information in near-real time. There is a growing prospects that shows social media must be used by Parliaments, Parliamentarians, governments and political parties as they are highly effective tools to involve and inform citizens in public policymaking and in the formation of governments.

The rapidly advancing world of information technology affects all spheres of life but none more so than politics and the replacement of authoritarian governance with democratic governance. Easy access to information from around the world promotes liberty, competition and choice.  It can also be used to advance respect for the rule of law and human rights and other indices of good governance such as equality and free and credible elections.  Use of the new social media enables group thinking to promote concepts such as the independence of the judiciary, the development of civil society, multiparty systems and democratic institutions which are participatory, transparent and accountable. Such media empower and unite people.  Political leaders can rise social and political issues and shape public opinion, and the media can give a voice to those who previously did not have one. It will also provide members of parliaments with the information they need to hold their representatives accountable in a more transparent system of governance. While the public can use the social media to influence political debate, he said they can also be used by political parties to mobilize voters.  More generally, the social media can also be used to enable faster responses to crises.

The way forward

In general, there is a strong assumption in the literature that social media have a tremendous power to improve transparency, accountability, good governance and democratic system coupled with my observation in the ground. But the ever growing threat that hinders for harvesting the advantage of social media in different parts of the region needs great attentions and further research and strategies shall be raised from the virtual communities for avoiding polarized and extremist contents generated ideas perpetuate among us.

The research questions for further study should include what is the motivation behind posting and commenting so provokingly and in a polarized way, how the majority of the virtual community who have worked for the common goals in politics usually to bring democratic systems and good governance by using social media  shall not be influenced / diverted by this incite posts from fake identities and how institutions responsible for these platforms ( like Facebook) shall came with better options / solutions for users in reporting towards intruders posting inappropriate contents.

If everyone can make little research in this concerns Content generated by Polarized and incite contents usually done with posts came from fake profile usually including but not limited to names of celebrities and public officials. The appearances for fake profiles are lack of regular posts in their own timeline and with rare number of friends in their own circle but surprisingly they are actively comments on posts came from anyone in the virtual space.

whatever the importance of the post to bring the issues for discussions for developing good governance and democratic systems; the comments from these intruders (the one with the fake ID) came up with provocative, insane and with a very nature of sensitive like racism / ethnic/ religious based insulation  remarks that have usually controlling enough to hijacked/diverted the main posts/discussion as well as it has leads most of the users in that space busy with making angry response to this comments.

Even if the virtual communities have aware of the importance of social media in building democratic systems and good governance that would take part  a role/ bring a light for multi-party systems, inclusive development, self-determination / identify, transparency, corruption, systematic exclusion and other issues that came to be important for the prospects of each nations and toward this region ; if we are not systematically approaches and give attentions to intruders came with   ethnic and religious polarizations and extremism that usually done for the purpose of dismantling / diverting the virtual community in the social medias would have its own threats and consequences for fuelling the online drama towards the offline conflicts.

In response to this calamities social media companies and researchers in the region need to initiate to work with social media users at grass root to come up with user friendly reporting systems for inappropriate content includes contents with local language so that the platforms would maintain/remain for the advantage of the peoples at large for interaction, building of democratic systems and good governance.

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