Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Using Social Media in Citizen Engagement in West Africa

It is now common knowledge that ICTs play important roles in the development process. In West Africa, projects such as Esoko, Grameen MoTech and Project ABC are confronting the challenges of development from different angles. Another interesting area with great potential in this sphere is the role of ICTs, social media in particular, in citizen engagement.

Côte dʼIvoire-based Nnenna Nwakanma of Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) explores the question: "Social media and networks: what potential is there for policy engagement by citizens in West Africa?" Nnenna first gives a vivid account of the cultural diversity of the West African region and then gives key Internet statistics. She then goes on to cite instances of the usage of social media in discussing policy issues in Ghana, Nigeria and Côte dʼIvoire. From Nnenna's study we learn of different instances of social media in policy engagement:

Citizen-to-citizen engagement- During the Ivorian elections, individuals and news outlets used the #Wozonmai and #CIV2010 Twitter hashtags to disseminate information and advance different viewpoints with regards to developments. Another instance is the Enough is Enough (EiE) campaign run by a coalition of youth activists to ensure accountability during the Nigerian elections.

Government-to-citizen engagement- Ghana's Constitution Review Committee put together various channels such as Facebook, Twitter and SMS to collate views from individuals as part of the country's constitutional review process. The Ghana Police Service has equally deployed Twitter and YouTube as digital frontiers for their security and safety activities.

President Goodluck Jonathan says "let my people talk to me"
Perhaps, the leader who has used these tools most extensively is President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. President Jonathan uses both Facebook and Twitter to engage ordinary Nigerians. The latest update on the president's Facebook page is as follows:
"Last Friday I launched a comprehensive database on all Vehicles in Nigeria designed to link every vehicle to its owner/operator such that vehicles can be traced within seconds. This is part of proactive steps we are taking as part of a review of our national security architecture to lay greater emphasis on intelligence and citizens' participation in security surveillance. Terrorism has no conscience and spares no one. We must stand together against terror in its destructive manifestations."
Based on a survey carried out as part of the research, it was found out, among other things that:
  • There is increasing use of Internet and social media among citizens in policy engagement discussions
  • Authorities are becoming increasingly aware of the use of these tools by citizens. Citizens are also of the know that the authorities are aware of their activities and may be monitoring them
  • Access to the Internet and social media is being seen more and more as a human right.
In light of the implication of social media in the recent political events in North Africa and the Middle East, and the London riots, the study provides interesting perspective to the situation on the ground in West Africa and future possibilities. You can freely download this study at diplomacy.edu website. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the role of social media in citizen engagement in the sub-region. What are the positive windfalls that could be gained? What are the pitfalls?


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  2. Nice article on social media points, using this on citizens is cool.
    More from Social Media Exchange

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