African Digital Art Photography
photo by Ben Heine

What exactly is this force of social media and how do we define it in context with Africa? We all witnessed the remarkable reach of social media during the Arab Spring when protestors took to social networks to organize and share the historical changes in the region. And earlier this year with the successful democratic elections in Senegal, we witnessed the grassroots appeal Twitter had in encouraging the population to vote. There is no denying that the level of social mobilization achieved was improbable without the efficiency of Twitter and Facebook. As creativity was spurred, there was the introduction of audio-visual productions which added an artistic element that caught the entire world’s attention. Last week’s AFFNYC discussion on grassroots media movements in Africa provided great insight to the impact social media is having on democracy, creativity, and developments on the continent. So this begs the question, is the future of African developments dependent on social media?

The recent Senegalese elections marked advancement towards democracy in West Africa, when 85-year-old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade conceded his loss to Macky Sall. Yet, what’s most impressive about Wade conceding is not just that he relinquished power, but the fact that his very supporters who were influential to his rise to power were even more instrumental (pun intended) in his decline, except on a different platform. Senegalese rappers who supported Wade’s successful election in 2000 (albeit by much slower social mobilization tactics) changed their song in 2011 after Wade turned his back on them and the country. “Y’en Ai Marre”, which translates to, “I’m fed up,” became the anthem for Senegalese voters. It was in cyber cafés that the rappers and the young men and women would implore their communities through the aid of Twitter trends like #sunu2012 and #kebetu. Everything was organized on a centralized system where voters could mobilize in real time and record their progress during the election. It may not seem like much, but let’s not forget that it was just over a decade ago that the USA had an issue with chads, dimples, and recounts. The transformative power of social media, as seen in Senegal, is that this new platform creates somewhat of an even playing field with politicians and their constituents. The dissatisfaction isn’t new, but it’s that there is now an efficient way to connect the dissatisfied population and create tangible and hard proof that the people hold the power. Check out the official music video for the Y’en A Marre movement.

On the more creative side of social media and Africa, all it takes is a visit to sites like AfricanDigitalArt.com to see that Africa is not lacking of artists in the digital game. This cultural online community features “African Nerds of a Creative Inclination” (if you will) who blend their geeky side with the unique colors, stories, and visual storytelling elements of Africa that not only push the envelope on traditional African art, but blurs the global lines of digital creations, for instance a growing genre called Afrofuturism…yeah, check it out. Jepcumba, the Kenyan born (but world citizen) creator of the website poignantly identifies the origin of the online community by stating, “It wasn’t available, so I created it.” And unlocking this unsung artistry has proven beneficial in providing a platform for these artists, as well as developing the industries to protect the art. Check out this video from the website.

The connective thread of all the presentations, the stories, and the impact social media is having on the continent is that social media is introducing the complexities of Africa that are often generalized and misrepresented on the global stage. It creates a platform for Africans to showcase who they are, what they want, and how they are creating what’s lacking in their communities. It’s Africa by and for Africans. And as poignant as this most memorable quotation from the night puts it, “In a continent with few computers and little electricity, a smartphone is not just a phone –it’s a potential revolution,” at this moment in history, social media is allowing this generation of Africans to share their stories instantly before the world tries to colonize it…again.

-Liberian Girl

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