Africa in Social Media Age: Looking in to the Prospect and Challenges

This post would like to forward in recognizing the power of social Medias compared with the conventional Medias for public participations in good governance and democratic systems as well as bring ti the light on possible threats on the platform including ever grown provoking and ethnic engagement of users. And to bring attentions to all stakeholders on how virtual community at grass root level work at the community to fully exploit the potential of social media as well as collaborate with users towards making social media more Abuse Free, People Centered and Constructive.

The applications and effects of social media have grown with the expansion of communication infrastructure and youth preference. Recently social Medias are widely used by public officials, political parties and activist to interact with the community. 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 political affairs.  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 social media to seek for political information, mobilize common interest groups, create user-generated content and share political views. The new platforms provides a great opportunity to politicians to reach out to their citizens and voters. The technology also link and facilitates interaction between community and elected parliamentarian representatives by providing a public online ‘Wall’, a space where community members can easily write comments in favor or against their political leaders’ decisions. 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 social media and what motivate youth to develop an interest in politics became an important factor in future campaign strategies for Political parties in their day to day activities as well as during election seasons.

Researchers also 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 social 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’. Any one could become potential citizen journalists, if equipped with a mobile phone that can record and instantly upload to the global networks regarding any wrongdoing by anyone and anywhere. Social media is seen as technologically and financially accessible to youths. 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, 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.

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.

Political leaders can rise social and political issues and outline 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, can also be used by political parties to mobilize voters.

Challenges of social Media and way forward

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 generated contents perpetuated among us. If anyone done research, Content generated by polarized that are highly incite usually done with posts came from fake profile including with names of celebrities and public officials. And Fake profiles lack regular posts in the timeline and with limited number of friends in their own circle while they are actively comments on posts came from anyone in the virtual space.

Whatever the importance of the post; the comments from these intruders (the one with the fake ID) came up with provocative and insane comments based on once ethnic and religion lines. While this remarks at the comments of public posts usually controlling enough to hijacked/diverted the main discussion of the group and leads most of the users’ time with making angry response.

If it is not systematically approaches, came with awareness campaign and useful strategy,  Social Medias will have its own threats in fuelling the virtual problem towards the real on the ground conflicts. In response to this calamities social media companies and regional organization have to initiate to work with social media users to come up with user friendly reporting systems for inappropriate content as well as filtering server for provocative contents in local language in an effort of making the platforms remain benefiting its users at large for social interaction and common cause.

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Africa: Developing Countries Urged to Invest in Food Security

The role of small scale farmers in ensuring food security has been highlighted as one of strategies that developing countries need to prevent famines and prevent food crises.

In a statement, David Nabarro, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, said governments, particularly in Africa need to prioritise food security strategies and invest in their agricultural sectors to reduce poverty.

He said one of the main challenges the world faces today is ensuring that it can meet the demand for food for nine billion people by 2050.

To tackle this challenge, he said, countries should focus on making sure that they have the necessary measures in place to be able to provide food for their population. However, this has become more complex in recent years due to volatile food prices.

During 2007 and 2008, rises in food prices triggered a crisis which saw riots in more than 35 countries as prices soared by as much as 30 to 50 per cent and 700 million people suffered from hunger.

Since then, prices have remained inconsistent due to uncertainty in the world economy as well as changes in demand and shortage of supplies.

Mr. Nabarro, who coordinates the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, said one of the UN’s priorities was to continue to sustain efforts in the 22 countries that experience recurring food crises, such as Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and parts of Uganda and northern Tanzania.

He also stated that one the main lessons learned by the international community in the past years was that repeated bursts of humanitarian aid were not the answer to help these countries in the long term.

Instead, funding for programmes that increase their resilience and investing in small farmers, who produce most of the food in Africa, proved to be a better strategy.

Long-term investment in Ethiopia meant it had been successful in providing a safety net to its citizens, while in Kenya poor infrastructure had hindered the ability to move food from plentiful to drought-hit areas, he noted.

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South Sudan – a blueprint for a food secure future

10 January, 2012

Six months since South Sudan became independent, Oxfam America’s President Ray Offenheiser highlights the great potential for agriculture in the country – but also the great challenges the sector faces, from lack of infrastructure to widespread violence and displacement, and the leasing of valuable land to outside investors:

As South Sudan emerges as a new nation, there may be no more pressing issue for its people, and perhaps for the stability of the nation as a whole, than the investments it makes in its agricultural sector and long term food security.

In recent years we have seen the impact of volatile food prices across the globe. In 2008 there were food riots in 38 nations, and the international community has yet to fully address the root causes of this food crisis. So the potential for shock effects in fragile economies like South Sudan are real.

South Sudan is however fortunate. It has abundant arable land, water resources, and large stocks of cattle and fisheries. The White Nile region is one of Africa’s most fertile areas. So there is enormous potential and opportunity for South Sudan to achieve a high level of food security for its people. Yet while the struggle for independence has been achieved, the struggles to ensure peace and security and to overcome extreme poverty are still to be fought and won.

These twin challenges are daunting. 30 years of conflict has seriously compromised agricultural production. As many as 3 million people in South Sudan are at risk of food insecurity, according to the UN. Just 4 percent of arable land in South Sudan is cultivated. The production of livestock and fish is just a fraction of its potential.

The nation depends heavily on imported food stocks. Interstate trade and international exports are minimal. And South Sudan undertakes the task of building its agricultural sector with significant deficits in human and institutional capital, infrastructure, finance and technology.

So where to begin?

Ensuring food security for all citizens of South Sudan

The first priority for investment in agriculture must be ensuring food security for all South Sudan’s citizens. With this goal in mind, there are some critical steps that must be pursued:

  1. Create an enabling environment for investment

    Building the key institutions that facilitate a functioning market economy is critical to attracting investment.

    Create an enabling environment for public and private sector investment.Critical to this is investment in building the key institutions needed to ensure peace and security, rule of law, macro-economic stability and a coordinated regulatory framework. These are prerequisites for any functioning market economy that hopes to attract significant foreign investment.

    Donors in this early stage have an important role to play. They should devote significant financial and technical resources toward assisting the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) to model excellence in governance; and toward building the capacity of those institutions that will manage aid funding, create the foundation for a vibrant market economy, and support civil society to engage in consultative processes with government in developing investment plans and monitoring performance.

  2. Build agricultural infrastructure

    Agricultural expertise and technology can dramatically increase productivity.

    Build the hard and soft infrastructure needed to support a growing agricultural sector. South Sudan must create a class of highly trained professionals to guide and manage the growth of its agricultural sector. It must create agricultural secondary schools, training centers, research capacity and a strong agrarian university.

    It must build an agricultural extension system to serve the needs of its farmers and pastoralists and to deliver new technologies into its rural areas that will dramatically increase productivity. It must build a strong land administration system that can deal with the sensitive issues of land tenure and adjudication across the nation’s complex agrarian landscape.

    It must explore the use of innovative tools like radio education to transmit knowledge to small farmers in local languages. It must create institutions that provide needed finance to support investment in its agricultural sector. It must define a role for the private sector in the development of the agricultural sector, and provide the incentives to private sector actors to invest creatively in supporting the goal of food security.

    It must build a system of trunk highways and feeder roads that will stimulate market investments across the agricultural sector.

    And in this early stage, it must resist the temptation to lease large tracts of valuable and highly productive lands and water sources on a long term basis to third party investors from abroad whose interests are at odds with the goal of ensuring food security for the South Sudanese people.

    Many food deficit nations are trying to ensure their own food security by investing abroad. Between 2007 and 2010, foreign companies, governments and individuals sought oracquired some 2.64 million hectares in what is today South Sudan for agriculture, biofuel or forestry products.

    This is a land area equal to that of Rwanda, representing 10 percent of South Sudan’s landmass. For a new nation, just embarking on building its agricultural sector, it is premature to permit too aggressive an approach to such investments which could compromise the longer range goal of building sustainable livelihoods for its own people.

  3. Prioritize small-scale and sustainable agriculture

    Small-scale farms have a huge potential for sustainable growth.

    Give priority to small farmer agriculture and building sustainable livelihood. Ninety percent of South Sudanese households depend on crop farming, animal husbandry, fishing or forestry for their livelihoods. Productivity across all these sectors is minimal. It is critical that investment planning drive the transition from subsistence production and food assistance to long-term sustainable production and food security for all South Sudanese.

    Support for pro-poor, sustainable livelihoods means:

    • Giving priority to increased investment to small-scale agricultural producers.This is an often ignored class of producers yet they hold the key to sustained inclusive growth in South Sudan.
    • Increasing access to, and ownership of land for returnees, internally displaced persons and vulnerable groups, and better targeting support in areas hosting large numbers of returnees who may lack land or experience in agriculture.
    • Addressing the critical role that women play within the South Sudanese agricultural sector. Throughout much of the country, women farm the land while men manage the herds. It is therefore women who will drive productivity increases in crop production. But to do so, they are going to need access to new skills and technologies and they are going to need equal rights and access to land. Women must be at the center of any strategy that would hope to achieve genuine food security for South Sudan.
    • Ensuring the adoption of strong, internationally-applicable standards of good governance relating to land tenure and management of natural resources, and the principle of free, prior, and informed consent in decisions about major national investments with consequences for communities and the region.
  4. Address conflict and insecurity

    Conflict and insecurity hinder development – and women and children are almost always disproportionately affected.

    Perhaps most importantly, the GoSS must acknowledge and address the impacts of conflict and insecurity on the agricultural sector.

    Insecurity disrupts cultivation, inhibits transport and trade, restricts access to markets, schools and healthcare and exacerbates vulnerabilities – with women and children almost always disproportionately affected.

    Recognizing the linkage between insecurity and development means increasing support to mitigating security threats, addressing root causes of conflict such as inequitable development, and supporting the professionalization of the security sector.

    The current fighting along the border is also a significant obstacle. Sudan and South Sudan will have to rely heavily on each other in the future, and having a peaceful border is vital for the long term development and security for both Sudanese and South Sudanese people.

    The international community has invested a tremendous amount in shepherding Sudan and South Sudan through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and independence. Now, however, the work just begins and donors must double down on their commitments to help South Sudan overcome the challenges of insecurity, displacement, and cyclical droughts and floods.

    As it makes this transition to a nation at peace with itself and with its neighbor, South Sudan will require a comprehensive balance of predictable, multi-year development assistance alongside continued support for humanitarian needs focused on strengthening the GoSS emergency preparedness and disaster management capacity.

    It will also be important to invest in programs of Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience that enable communities to prevent, mitigate and recover quickly from humanitarian crises. Donors should also look to emergent South Sudanese civil society as an important actor in providing humanitarian and development assistance that complements the programs of the state and private sector.

With the right priorities and the right investment strategies, and with support from the international community, we can all ensure the bright future that the people of South Sudan need and deserve.

This is an edited version of Oxfam America’s President Ray Offenheiser’s speech to the Agriculture Panel on 15 December 2011 at the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan Conference held in Washington D.C. 14-15 December 2011.