Political repression in Africa: Why African Leaders are censoring the media

Mass Media plays a very quintessential role in governance, infact in some parlance, it is often referred to as the fourth arm of government. From inception, It has been an effective tool for disseminating relevant information about governance and bridging the gap between government and the people, which to a very large extent is the core of democracy: freedom of expression. The Global Center for Democracy and Government Bureau, 1999 further unfolds the foregoing thus; “the role of media in democracy is it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation, secondly information serves a ‘checking function’ by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them”. Basically, It solidifies the relationship necessary for growth. The importance of the mass media therefore cannot be over emphasized. In Africa, as the Ghanian UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said when discussing African media during his term, “if information and knowledge and central to democracy, they are conditions for development,” another cogent role of African media is the onus to stand in and illuminate the rightful image of Africa since the outside coverage “continue to be little short of abysmal.” (Martin 334).

Nevertheless, the emergence of social media and its ability to reach and impact a vast number of people has influenced a lot of outcomes in political events, and the atmosphere of the political milieu especially in Africa, the persistence in its widespread and effect has led to its censorship. It is pertinent to therefore, elucidate the meaning of censorship. The Cambridge dictionary describes it as the action of preventing part or whole of a book, film work of art, document or other kinds of communication from being made available to the public, because it is considered to be offensive or harmful or because it contains information that someone wishes to keep secret often for political reasons. Internet censorship can take different dimensions, from the government blocking certain websites or materials to threat legally, physically to online protesters. Since independence, most African countries have obtained exclusive dominance over the old media i.e Newspapers, public radio and television stations e.t.c According to Statista accounts,” as of December 2020, Nigeria had more than 154 million internet users - the highest number reported in all of Africa. Meanwhile, Egypt in second place had 54.74 million users. The majority of web traffic in leading digital markets in Africa originated from mobile devices - in Nigeria, one of the countries with the largest number of internet users worldwide, 74 percent of web traffic was generated via smartphones and roughly 24 percent via PC devices. This is due in part to the fact that mobile connections are much cheaper and do not require the infrastructure that is needed for traditional desktop PCs with fixed-line internet connections” the constant advancement of technology and social media has made it possible for Africans from all around the world to receive and share information that has further enabled a spark in response and contribution to many issues affecting Africa,  for these reasons and more African leaders seek to censor social media and sometimes ban some social media platforms for a period of time or strategic times. Over the years ban and censorship on social media had increased and such bans could be on for a very long period of time A number of African governments have resorted to blocking access to social media sites in their countries for all sort of reasons. In the last six months, at least six countries — Uganda, Congo, Chad, Burundi, Zimbabwe and most recently Ethiopia — have blocked access to Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook for reasons ranging from security to allowing students to prepare for exams. Nonetheless, people have devised different means to circumvent these ban, one of them through the use of VPN’s . 2015 research conducted by Portland Communication, showed that social interaction by Africans on twitter were more political than in other parts of the world, which could be a pointer to why governments on the continent are getting wary of such platforms and are cracking their whip.

 

In North Africa, social media sites such as Facebook played a key role in fueling the Arab Spring that started in early 2011 and led to regime change in several countries in the region. “Social media did not cause the Arab Spring but helped to co-ordinate it,” Arthur Goldstuck from technology market research company Worldwide Worx, told the BBC. In Nigeria as well during the “EndSARS” protest that happened in October 2020, social media platforms were key in the organization and the unification of the voice of the people. For instance, when dozens of people converge on a location to host their own protests, they share their location on Twitter asking for “reinforcements”—a move that has seen crowds go from a few dozens to hundreds within hours in some places. Even when the government met the protesters with resistance and violence which led to the “Lekki massacre of 20th October 2020” people were able to reach out to international media organizations that conducted extensive journalism on the issue without influence from the government. In fact, Aljazeera once reported thus “This was far from the first time Nigerians had made such a demand. It was, however, by far, the first time their calls garnered such widespread support and international media coverage – thanks, largely, to the prominent role of social media in spreading the word”. Nonetheless, people have devised different means to circumvent these ban, one of them through the use of VPN’s. Through social media, citizens can get more involved ins political activities and speak up (soro soke) when their rights and freedoms are trampled upon. Social media is largely pivotal in sparking and enabling the conversation that could lead to the revolution needed in Africa-these conversations unfortunately, are by no means entertained by the elements that occupy various leadership positions across the countries in Africa.


Written by Nelson

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