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Social Networking Unites African Activists
(Online communities build democracy, demand accountability)

By Laura Henderson
Staff Writer

Washington — “Africa’s future is up to Africans,” President Obama told an audience in Accra, Ghana, on July 11. A global audience, including many members from Africa, has responded to that statement on the Department of State’s America.gov eJournal Facebook site ( http://www.facebook.com/ejournalUSA ).

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people,” Obama said. In Africa as elsewhere, social networks are providing an opportunity for people to work together to do just that.

During Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s separate trips to sub-Saharan Africa, and at the president’s meeting with African leaders at the United Nations in New York, the message about the importance of good governance, and the conviction that Africa’s future is up to Africans, were central.  In August, Clinton made her way across sub-Saharan Africa, meeting with leaders of seven African nations, and telling audiences in Kenya, “The U.S. cannot solve Kenya’s problems. … We cannot dictate to you how to run this government; it is not up to us. … The answers to Kenya’s challenges lie with Kenyans.”

Internet users from across the globe followed the progress of Clinton’s tour through the America.gov Facebook page, taking part in a worldwide conversation on the most significant challenges facing Africa today. Throughout the month, fans of eJournal USA posted more than 700 comments, responding to questions about the roles of U.S. citizens and Africans in the continent’s development.

Of those participating in the conversation on the site, 57 percent said that the most important challenge Africans face is establishing good governance. Many participants urged the United States to pressure their governments to curb corruption and promote greater transparency. They also discussed the economic and social implications of more open governments, free and fair elections, and stable regimes.

The conversation was lively and pointed. In answer to the question “What is good governance?” participants responded:

• “Good governance depends on transparency, accountability, and equality in ways that are responsive to the needs of the people.”

• “Good governance to me is the act of living in peace of the people, having the heart of the people you are leading, thinking about what to do that other who are under you power may benefit from it.”

• “Good governance means the greatest good for the greatest number.” 

• “Good governance begins with me.”

The full conversation, gathered in an online publication, can be viewed at http://bit.ly/AF_Comments (PDF, 2.4MB).

EXPANDING CIVIL SOCIETY INTO CYBERSPACE

Many credit Obama’s ability to galvanize grass-roots support via online tools as an important factor in his primary and general election victories in 2008. As president, he continues to use Internet forums and inspire a social movement in which citizens can discuss policy and government actions. Civil society has expanded into cyberspace, helping democratize political debate.

The use of new communication technologies and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and MySpace is gaining ground in Africa, and Africans have discovered that social networks are useful tools for promoting change.

One Facebook group, This Africa Can ( http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=this+africa+can&init=quick#/group.php?gid=86081867615&ref=ts ), connects Africans to other Africans to exchange ideas and encourage active participation in the development process. The group posts discussions on such topics as “informing your city mayor, state governor or local governor,” “developing strategic relationships” and “submitting business ideas,” and members share African blogs and Internet resources.

The creator of the group, Kim Hannah Moran, said, “I believe and rely on what Africans do best naturally, and that is networking. … This is a natural thing with Africans; cyberspace has just made it simpler, better and faster for them.”

A recent campaign by Nigerians, “Light Up Nigeria,” used social networks to reach the Nigerian diaspora to bring attention to inadequate electrical infrastructure and to demand change. Through a Facebook site, Twitter and blogs, they assembled a virtual global community to take action on an issue. Find out more about this effort on the America.gov blog entry “Can Nigeria Live Up To Its Promise? ( http://blogs.america.gov/bythepeople/2009/08/13/can-nigeria-live-up-to-its-promise/ )”

Social network platforms have learned that they can adapt to low-bandwidth environments. According to data collected by O’Reilly Media Inc., from January to April, the number of African Facebook users grew by 86.9 percent. In August, Facebook launched Facebook Lite, a version for users with less reliable Internet connections, offering the potential to open up many low-bandwidth areas to the opportunities that Facebook offers for hosting intra-African and cross-border dialogues. Facebook also recently introduced a Swahili version of its site.

The discussion on democracy, good governance and related issues continues on the Department of State Facebook page and on America.gov blogs, where all ideas are welcome.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site: http://www.america.gov)

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