Africa: how internet is changing the “Heart of Darkness”
As we’ve seen in a previous post (Welcome to the African mobile revolution), over the last years social media in Africa have been growing at an incredible pace, due to a strong mobile coverage all over the Continent, and a constantly raising access to cheap mobile devices – even if, of course, there’s still a lot of room for further growth in poorer areas.
This fast evolution had a strong impact on – and have been deeply influenced by – the way society is changing.
We (people from Western World) have been used to immediately associate the concept of Africa with poverty – a part from a beautiful Toto song.
Certainly, well-marketed massive mediatic events like Live8 and Kony 2012 didn’t help in making the world get a proper idea of what’s really going on in the continent, and how fast things are moving.
Of course poverty, diseases and wars are serious subjects, but there’s a lot more than that. You can find a lot of info about how a wide range of things are improving in Africa, on a cool website called See Africa Differently – from which we borrowed the preview image of this post.
We want to begin with a very important question: does it really make sense to consider Africa as one, big and homogeneous area of this planet?
According to a post by Ugandan journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo – which we warmly suggest to read – the answer is yes.
The article has a very self explanatory title: “Africa used to be a continent of 50+ nations, now it’s becoming one big messy but delightful country”, and it shows how mobility inside African countries and globalization (with trends imported mainly from Shanghai and Dubai, rather than the Western World) are the key factors in understanding how the Black Continent is approaching the future.
“One of the least understood and underreported shifts on the continent is this migration by Africans within Africa and how much they were changing the continent. They are dramatically breaking down the walls that used to make it possible to say that one African country was different from the next.”
The social media scenario
This can be reflected on what happens in the digital scene. A service like M-Pesa, mobile payment and money transfert system, has been a great success in Kenya and Tanzania, helping millions of people that work in other countries to send money back home.
Web-based platforms like African Diaspora Network or Camerborn (evidentlty targeting people from Cameroon) have been developed in order to keep connections between local communities, especially considering the fact that people often move inside and outside the continent, as we’ve just seen.
Services like LAGbook – a Lagos-based social network created by two Nigerians born in 1990 – and South African mobile platform Mxit represent two clear examples of a vibrant African social media scene.
Side note: it’s particularly interesting to notice how both LAGbook and Mxit are self-proclaimed “Africa’s biggest social network”.
Impact on society: the Kenyan elections
All of the above have a strong impact on information, education and politics.
M-Pesa is helping families to get quick loans and access to credit, thus enabling children to attend school, “when they would have otherwise been forced to skip or drop out for lack of fees” (as you can read here).
Politics play a key role too. Let’s focus on Kenya: as it happened during the 2010 referendum, Kenyan 2013 elections are becoming a digital-centric event. A quick example: Google launched a Youtube channel to livestream the presidential debate, to enhance the awareness and promote online monitoring.
Also, we can see what the candidates are up to on Twitter: current prime minister Raila Odinga has over 100K followers, opponent Uhuru Kenyatta about 95 thousands. And both of them have been extensively using the hashtags #TeamKenya and #Kenya7s – together with millions of Kenyans – to celebrate the victory of the national team in the Rugby Sevens world tournament semi-final, over New Zealand.
But that’s not it: there’s also a multi-media project going on, based on a political reality show called Uongozi. It’s aimed at finding potential new young political leaders through a virtual election, creating an active and informed political debate among youngsters, trough TV, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter:
We can conclude using an exerpt from another very interesting Forbes article – written by Amadou Mahtar Ba, CEO of African Media Initiative – which perfectly sums up the fast moving African social and digital landscape:
“Once known as the “Heart of Darkness”, Africa is on the rise and the continent is facing a new dawn full of opportunities. The savvy interplay between information, news and technology is allowing the average African citizen to be informed, connected and empowered to effectuate change at both the micro and macro levels.”
When considering the digital scenario, Africa is not anymore a continent Western World should only pity on; it’s rather turing into an area of the world we should all keep an eye on.