Social Media, ICT, and 2011 Elections in Africa

I’ve been brainstorming lately of a project for my thesis that would combine my interests in technology and politics on the African continent. With last semesters’ research into deregulation of African ICT, I want to focus on something more current. With the current events in North Africa being partially attributed to Twitter, Facebook, and the like, I want to see if Social Media and the ICT that powers it can have any discernible effects on other parts of the continent, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa, where there has been no spillover of the democratic movements. Thus with 17 presidential elections happening on the continent south of the Sahara this year in Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, DRC, Djibouti, The Gambia, Liberia, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe there would seem to be a large sample size  to gather data about ICT and Social Media’s impact on elections. But how to measure this impact? What indicators would I need for ICT and elections? Are these countries a large enough sample size, or should it be expanded to countries where ICT data is more readily available but are having only Parliamentary or Local elections? Or perhaps this should cover 2011 and 2012? With the massive growth of mobile phones on the continent, and more landings of fibre-optic broadband cables, using this connectivity for good governance could be a critical feature of studies on the continent in the coming years.

Some concerns by peers that have already been raised, include the sample size and what sets these nations apart other than geography? Will the results be so wide and varied that other socio-economic and political explanations have to be included that negate the results?

A few questions that I would want the research to answer are :

  • Does ICT/mobile penetration impact participation in elections?
  • How do governments understand social media?
  • Do governments change national e-strategies or ICT projects because of these perceived effects?
  • Do higher numbers of Social Media users impact the foreign perception of the legitimacy of an election?
  • Does use of ICTs to cover an election lead to greater legitimacy of the winner?
  • Does coverage by social media have any impact on corruption and ballot stuffing or prosecutions of election violators?

To do this, I’ve broken the project into two parts:

Part 1: Develop a list of indicators for Social Media and ICT and attempt to ascertain results from elections that can could be impacted by ICT. Then develop a model that can show that higher/lower indicators result in different electoral results (in terms of fairness, transparency, levels of violence, legitimacy of the winner, foreign perception of the election).

Part 2: Finally, with these results, I want to look at the political economy of ICT to see if leaders of African countries perceive ICT and social media to have certain impacts and whether they change or modify national e-strategies or ICT4D goals based on their political motivations. So for undemocratic rulers, do they restrict access and penetration because they perceive social media and ICT to be a threat to their rule or use it to promote their leadership, accomplishments, and propaganda ? Do democratic regimes encourage ICT penetration to reinforce democratic ideals? Does the government work with private companies to direct ICT resources to certain parts of the population, for what reasons?

This is a broad study that will require both qualitative and quantitative research. I’m starting from scratch in most categories other than anecdotal information and my personal interest. I have no idea if any of these goals are obtainable, but the answers are so important to the future of the continent that I feel they must be attempted.

Any and all feedback would be helpful as I try to make this into a study that could become an MA Thesis or at least make a contribution to understanding the future of African elections and how ICTs matter.

Right away, I need to determine my indicators for Social Media and ICT so that I can gather the data at the time directly preceding the elections.

With 17 Presidential elections and more parliamentary and local election taking place on the continent this year, the time is now for conducting this research. I’ll be back to update this throughout as I gain further resources for study.

Shoot me an email at africanfile@gmail.com or use the comments below. Thanks!

*thanks for afrorise for the cool mobile graphic in the banner

*see my finish thesis proposal here

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5 thoughts on “Social Media, ICT, and 2011 Elections in Africa

  1. Great project idea and I imagine you’ll go far. I already look forward to reading the results. For now:

    Data (as you are aware) is hard to come by. I’ve collected a variety of resources on my site that could be of use. Offhand I’m thinking:

    -info/links on national ICT policies
    -Facebook users by African country (SocialBakers.com)
    -Facebook fans of African leaders’ pages
    -links to news stories if you search by keyword

    Also, GlobalVoices.org has some good content (example)

    Many nations with upcoming elections have a low online presence and therefore lack both data and media attention. A fair amount of attention exists around Nigeria and Zimbabwe’s elections. Cameroon, Liberia, Uganda, and Zambia should be do-able as well. The rest – especially Central African nations – could pose challenges in finding current, accurate, and statistically relevant data. I’ll let you know if I come across anything else of interest.

  2. That’s what I’m trying to measure with my thesis! But it’s a pretty broad question. Hopefully indicators will start to emerge and analysis is done.

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