January 26, 2012
About the author : Edward is one of Africa’s young software entrepreneurs. He is a co-founder of an Internet start-up in Ghana and loves poetry.
In Tunisia, on the 3rd Friday of December 2010, out of frustration, a 27 old Arab merchant set himself on fire in protest of the seizure of his wares by a municipal official. Days later, three nations in North Africa topple their national leaders. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have suffered from an uprising which is today called the Arab Srping; an event started by a young lad called Mohammed Bouazizi whose primary goal was to be just an orndinary bread-winner this poor home. There were waves of this Bouazizi effect weaving through Bahrain, Yemen and Syria as well as some other nations. In this post I am interested in bringing to light the role played by social media during the Arab Spring.
Young mobile users are known to be the most active social media users in a research released in Nairobi. Twitter and Facebook served as the dissemination channels for announcing gathering locations and times in Egypt and Tunisia especially. To curb the power of social media, the affected governements either blocked the use of twitter or simply shut down mobile networks. In Egypt, Google launched a project which made it possible for the demonstrators to publish their tweets by sending it via SMS. You tube served as a channel for CNN and other media houses to gather unverified video footages taken by protesters in Syria. This provided observers outside the Syria with a fair sense of the situations on the ground. When Al-Quaddafi was captured, pictures of his capture went viral on twitter and facebook, offering interested individuals the opportunity to view and understand aspects of the rioting.
The use of mobile devices for social media is becoming more and more common among African youth. More than half of the 11.5 million tweets analysed from Africa were sent from mobile devices. It is time for us to harness the power of mobile especially during election periods for activities such as citizen journalism, reporting of irreguarities, posting of election results by observers etc. The Arab srping would have been a difficult one without the power of social media which fostered the sharing of information and discussion of issues regarding various topics. In this post Arab Spring generation, probably our focus could be harnessing the power of social media to act as an alternative voice for us all.
On Friday 27th January 2012, BBC Africa Debate, will be broadcast from Accra, Kofi Annan Center of Excellene. Participants will attempt to answer the question, ‘Is an African Spring necessary?’. In this discussion, obviously, the role of social media cannot be downplayed.