News / Africa

South Africa’s Space Program Wants Twitter Input

Study says growth across Africa is driven by use of mobile devices, March 2011 (file photo).
Study says growth across Africa is driven by use of mobile devices, March 2011 (file photo).
Nadia Samie

A new study shows that social networking is growing on the African continent, especially in South Africa, where the country’s Twitter-active population posted around five million messages in the last quarter of 2011, double the amount of tweets coming out of Kenya, the continent’s second most Twitter-savvy nation.

Now South African authorities are getting in on the action, using the micro-blogging site to gauge public opinion on important matters -- most notably, the country’s space program.

South Africa’s National Space Agency is reaching out to citizens via Twitter, asking for input on what its agenda should focus on over the next 20 years.

It’s a move that hasn’t surprised Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx, an internet research company.

"The only surprise about the move onto Twitter and Facebook is that it took so long for a government agency to do it," says Goldstuck. "But it's appropriate that a high-tech agency like the Space Agency should take that step, because you would expect them to be visionary and forward thinking."

The main drawback of gauging public opinion via social media, though, is that it reaches only the internet-savvy market -- a small, mostly elite segment of South Africa's population.

"Initially, the internet user in South Africa, and therefore the social networker, was part of the higher income group," says Goldstruck. "But with the explosion of smart phones in South Africa, we're seeing the growth of the internet in the mass market through mobile access to the web and through apps and the like. And particularly because of the fact that any smart phone that you buy today will already have Twitter and Facebook installed on the device, or at least a logo or link to those services. As a result of that, the broader market is moving into social networks in this country. The fact that there's something like 4.8 million Facebook users in [South Africa] and as many Twitter users suggests that it's not only the haves, it's beginning to move into the arena of the have-nots."

To balance the scales, South Africa's space agency is also engaging citizens face-to-face, aiming to create an all-round robust public discussion on its planned space program.

To assess the power of social networking in Africa, one needn't look further than the Egyptian revolution, which began with a couple of Twitter messages. But how does South Africa measure up to other countries -- the United States, for example -- when it comes to engaging citizens online?

"There's a fundamental difference in the way government uses social networks in South Africa [as] compared to the U.S.," says Goldstruck, explaining that South Africa still has a way to go. "In the United States, social media and social networks played a major role in the last presidential election, and that woke up the entire landscape to the importance of Twitter, as both a campaigning and communication tool between government and citizens. In South Africa, it played a very small role."

But the government's first decisive step into the Twittersphere has got locals buzzing. It is only logical, they seem to think, that cyberspace would prove the ideal place to help plan the country’s journey into space.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

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

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video In Cambodian Capital, Political Motives Seen Behind Canceled Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs