Intra-African dialogue expands into cyberspace

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Many credit Obama’s ability to galvanize grass-roots support via online tools as an important factor in his primary and general election victories in 2008. As president, he continues to use Internet forums and inspire a social movement in which citizens can discuss policy and government actions. Civil society has expanded into cyberspace, helping democratize political debate. In Africa alone, the number of African Facebook users grew by 86.9 percent between the months of January and April. The recent launch of Facebook Lite, which favors low-bandwidth, is promoting intra-African dialogue.

The use of new communication technologies and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and MySpace is gaining ground in Africa, and Africans have discovered that social networks are useful tools for promoting change.

One Facebook group, This Africa Can, connects Africans to other Africans to exchange ideas and encourage active participation in the development process. The group posts discussions on such topics as “informing your city mayor, state governor or local governor,” “developing strategic relationships” and “submitting business ideas,” and members share African blogs and Internet resources.

The creator of the group, Kim Hannah Moran, said, “I believe and rely on what Africans do best naturally, and that is networking. … This is a natural thing with Africans; cyberspace has just made it simpler, better and faster for them.”

A recent campaign by Nigerians, “Light Up Nigeria,” used social networks to reach the Nigerian diaspora to bring attention to inadequate electrical infrastructure and to demand change. Through a Facebook site, Twitter and blogs, they assembled a virtual global community to take action on an issue. Find out more about this effort on the blog entry “Can Nigeria Live Up To Its Promise?”

Social network platforms have learned that they can adapt to low-bandwidth environments. According to data collected by O’Reilly Media Inc., from January to April, the number of African Facebook users grew by 86.9 percent.

In August, Facebook launched Facebook Lite, a version for users with less reliable Internet connections, offering the potential to open up many low-bandwidth areas to the opportunities that Facebook offers for hosting intra-African and cross-border dialogues. Facebook also recently introduced a Swahili version of its site.

Africa News Report  Africa News Report is a specialist information dossier dedicated to providing news information and analysis from a diplomatic and political perspective. Topics covered include some of the most pressing health, economic, political and social issues. Besides bringing its multi-facetted news, views and analysis to the fore, Africa News Report seeks to highlight the United States' policies and positions on diverse issues affecting the African continent.
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