Tuesday, 21 June 2011, 4.00 p.m., Plenary Chamber
Hardly any development is as closely associated with the phenomenon of globalization as the rapid spread of the Internet. In many parts of the world, a bewildering amount of information is available at an unprecedented pace. The fast growth of interactive social media applications is fostering the formation of social networks and accelerating the bundling of societal interests.
With its organizational and informational potential, digitization can also wield great impact on political systems and fundamentally change the balance of power. The popular uprisings in large parts of the Arab world since the end of 2010 are formidable testimony to that. But beyond the border marked by the Saharan Desert between the Arab cultures of the north and Sub-Saharan countries to the south, there’s a sudden drop in the relevance of Facebook and similar platforms. Sub-Saharan Africa is largely untouched by the events in North Africa and only a small fraction of the population is a part of digital society.
This panel discussion will address the question of whether distribution of the Internet as a tool of mass media seems possible in Sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-term, for example due to the decreasing cost of technological hardware and data networks. It will also explore the political consequences to be expected if the digital gap continues to close. In light of events in the Arab world this is of particular significance because information and political participation appear to be not only fundamental rights, but also basic human needs that break forth sooner or later.
So one could speculate that the results for Sub-Saharan Africa would be similar to those in North Africa were the Internet to become a mass medium there. Given that politics in this part of the world is often characterized by discontinuity, lack of democracy and despotism, it’s even conceivable that the key to a politically and economically stable future for the continent lies in closing the digital divide. One aware, well-informed and politically proactive citizen could be all it takes to create the basis for a stable political system and more sustainable economic development.
Academy of the German Armed Forces for Information and Communication, Strausberg, Germany
de Bastion, Geraldine
Institute of African Affairs
GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, Germany
Senior Scientist and Lecturer, University of Bayreuth, Institute of African Studies, DEVA, Germany