Mobile phone technology and social media in Africa are dramatically transforming the continent from an information-scarce to an information-rich environment, said panelists at a roundtable on “Africa’s Information Revolution and the Implications for Governance and Security” hosted by The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS).
Africa Center Director Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.) noted, “Africa is experiencing a tremendous information revolution, with an annual growth of more than 65% in the number of mobile phones in use in Africa since 2005. This reality is transforming the free flow of information across the continent.”
Watch the full speech of Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.)
Steven Livingston, Professor of Media and International Affairs at George Washington University and author of the ACSS Research Paper “Africa’s Evolving Infosystems: A Pathway to Security and Stability” observed, “The rapid growth of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Africa affects the domains of security, accountability and economic development. Africa’s information revolution is helping people create new networks of information sharing.”
Watch the full speech of Dr. Livingston
Jonathan Gosier, Director of SwiftRiver at Ushahidi, a Kenyan non-profit software company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping, said, “The rapid decrease of prices for ICT devices in Africa has elicited more online participation and helps people self report what they see, allowing crowd-sourcing for crisis response.”
Eric Chinje, Head of the Global Media Program at the World Bank Institute, said, “In an effort to use technology to make information accessible to citizens, in 2008, the World Bank initiated the creation of a program called IMAGE: Independent Media for Accountability, Governance and Empowerment.” IMAGE is committed to building a robust and independent media sector in Africa that can provide society with the tools and information to hold government to account.
The panelists agreed that the Africa’s information revolution is changing the nature of tackling problems on the continent. When combined, mobile telephone and radio are creating new capabilities for collective action. They can serve as a broad distribution, participatory, media network with some of the same dynamics of the internet, but accessible to a much wider, and non literate audience. They are also an essential element in the process of creating a new system of security alerts in countries like DRC.
Follow-up discussion focused on the challenges and opportunities brought by the development of ICT in Africa, including the demographics of African users, whether there is something inherent in the development of ICT that could solve the problems of instability, and if it could contribute to a leapfrogging in the development of African countries. Each of the panelists were optimistic that the growth of ICT would open new opportunities for collective action and achievement. This, in turn, could leverage policymakers to support programs in domains that benefit the general population.
One major consequence of the Africa’s information revolution is that the balance of power is shifting. Power is being given to regular citizens, thanks to the technological change.
More than 60 persons from the US government, academia, civil society and diplomacy took part in the event.