News / Africa

Africa's Governments Confront Social Media Protests

Protesters hold
Protesters hold "f"s in recognition of social network site Facebook's role in the North African revolts, during a protest in Rabat, Morocco (Mar 2011 file photo)
Nico Colombant

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has condemned the Uganda Communications Commission for ordering telecom companies to block access to social networking websites.  The order came earlier this month as activists were planning protests against higher prices and corruption. The commission said it took the action to reduce the threat of violence.

There were disruptions to the websites, but some telecom companies either asked for clarification or refused to comply, and messages still went through. Protests have since been spreading from the capital Kampala to other towns.

Anti-government protesters sit next to a
Anti-government protesters sit next to a "Facebook" graffiti sign during demonstrations inside Tahrir Square in Cairo (File)

Activists across the continent say they are inspired by the social media-energized upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt which toppled long-time rulers. Similar campaigns are being tried from Burkina Faso in western Africa to Swaziland in the south and Ethiopia in the east.

On Facebook, hundreds of Ethiopians have changed their profile photos to posters that have the Amharic word for "Enough."  Several groups are calling for nationwide protests on May 28th, 20 years after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came to power.  

William Kalema, whose parents are from Uganda, attended a recent Washington conference called "Wireless Democracy: Innovation in Africa."

Kalema says most Africans initially saw cell phones and Internet technology as offering economic opportunities, but he says much more is now at stake.

"Young Africans are using these technologies and they have not just an economic effect but a political one. They are sort of bringing together people from across the continent," said Kalema.

But Kalema says African governments like Uganda's have proven they are able to intercept messages as Uganda's did during this year's presidential election, reducing the effect of technology-driven protests.

"There is the potential but if governments are not open to it, that potential cannot be realized," said Kalema. "So I think there is definitely the potential for it to have political impact but I was troubled by the fact that intercepting text messages, it sort of undermines that process."

Kalema also points out that the most widely-seen video produced during the campaign showed long-time President Yoweri Museveni rapping, before he won re-election for his fourth term.

Another video which went viral recently - meaning thousands of people showed it to each other - has Angolan rapper Brigadeiro Mata Frakuzx railing against Angola's ruler for the past 32 years, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

The rapper was arrested in March for a few hours before a planned midnight protest which had been promoted on Facebook.

While these viral videos are being watched, and protests are being planned, the U.S. State Department is organizing workshops and contests across Africa to promote the use of new technologies to improve governance.

Katie Dowd, whose title is adviser for innovation at the State Department, says her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a strong proponent of Internet freedom.

"Secretary Clinton has an aggressive Internet freedom agenda. It is something that is included in our relations with other countries. It is something that we address," Dowd said. "We have a bureau called democracy, human rights and labor that focuses specifically on addressing Internet freedom and how we make sure it is part of our foreign policy agenda."

Dowd says the U.S. government helps social media activists with training and ideas, as well as support for projects, such as an application designed in Uganda that allows any audio, video or text message depicting alleged corruption to be directly transmitted to legal and media partners.

"We certainly want to encourage tools that enable the broader civic participation and engagement and believe that technology can open up channels of communication and conversation that were not otherwise there," said Dowd. "So where we can add value in that capacity building we certainly want to add value and hope those governments will listen where that is possible."

But some African government officials view such activities as outside meddling, undermining security and state institutions.

Earlier this year, when activists used crowd-sourcing technology (-gathering information from like-minded individuals -) to encourage protests in Sudan's capital Khartoum, a high-ranking member of the ruling party said government "cyber jihadists" would, in his words, crush any Internet-centered dissent.  Mandur al-Mahdi said the government has its own "cyber battalion" which he said is at the forefront of online defense operations.

Supporters of the Sudanese ruling party inundated anti-government Facebook pages with their own messages, warning people to stay at home during protests, which quickly fizzled out.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More