Africans should use social media to network and cause change when faced with poor standards of living, delivery of services and marginalisation by politicians, says Fatuma Abdulahi, a Somali intellectual and broadcaster.
Speaking at the at the second annual Media and Politics lecture at Golf Course hotel in Kampala Abdulahi, said it is only the poor or non-existent physical infrastructure that slows down the speed with which like-minded Africans can network and share ideas.
“For change to come, people have to network. The youth are marginalised and should use social media. You can’t have meaningful political connection and change in a disconnected society. Social media provides necessary networks,” she said at the lecture, organised by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME).
Citing Egypt, Libya and Tunisia where ordinary citizens used social media to topple governments, Abdulahi says people, especially youths and women, have to diversely network to realise political change.
“If politicians are to survive, they will have to be smarter, produce jobs, services, [and] infrastructure. But if people feel cheated…,” Abdulahi said on Wednesday during the second annual lecture by the African Centre for Media Excellence.
Speaking under the theme “Media and Politics in Africa”, Abdulahi faulted Africans for being too patient with politicians and the way services are delivered.
“Politicians take us as children; they come to us for votes and they drive away after that. Yet we go back and vote for them [at the next election],” said Abdulahi, who is also the country director of Internews Somalia.
Abdulahi said that with more than 200 million people aged 15-24, Africa has the youngest population in the world with a growing media class, especially women with disposable income and marginalised youth all connected via social media. She said politicians have lagged behind engaging this group, resorting to closing social media when they understand its power, like is the case in Ethiopia.
Benard Tabaire, the director of programmes at ACME, said the annual lecture was aimed at contributing to a resurgent cultural and intellectual life of Uganda and an opportunity to reflect on intersection between media and politics.
The lecture, moderated by NTV news manager Maurice Mugisha attracted media owners, practitioners and academics, communication professionals and civil society activists.
THE OTHER SIDE
Although many agreed with her arguments, Lt Col Ba-hoku Barigye, a former spokesperson of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces, said social media had done more harm than good.
“You cannot analyse or give a detailed story on social media. Everything on social media is just a headline,” he said. “I hope Uganda doesn’t end there. We need to know how to use social media positively; to change situations.”
Col Barigye argued that except for Tunisia, the rest of the Arab Spring countries that Abdulahi named were now worse than they were before social media-led uprisings.
Although Abdulahi acknowledged social media drawbacks such as inaccurate and sensational information, account hacking and sexist attacks, she is convinced that the benefits outweigh the shortfalls by far.
After thanking Amisom forces for stabilising Somalia, Abdulahi expressed concern that they were increasingly becoming unpopular due to acts against civilians. She suggested that Amisom “must be held accountable” for a number of innocent civilians they may be killing.
“It baffles me to see that no [Ugandan] is asking government to explain what is happening in Somalia,” she said. “Every soldier out there is a son, husband or citizen of Uganda. I think silence is not an option.”