Digital experts have argued that the struggle to gain influence in Africa has shifted online, with the recent geopolitical events showing the extent to which different actors globally will go to influence the conversation and narratives of the population in Africa.
This was said during a Digital Communication Network (DCN) Global forum, a two-day event that brought digital professionals, influencers, and thought leaders from diverse fields into a discussion about building a resilient digital space for Africa.
Speaking in a panel that expounded digital developments and geopolitics, Dr. Sam Kamau who is a lecturer at the Aga Khan University- Graduate School of Media and Communication argued that, the ‘struggle for influence targeting Africa has shifted online,’ citing the recent geopolitical events including Israel-Hamas conflict and Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“Internally in terms of the conversation that African countries are having about political issues you can say there is greater agency even among the population,” said Dr. Kamau in his presentation.
“Even regarding international issues, for example, the Russia-Ukraine conflict or Israel-Hamas you will see a lot of conversation in ordinary WhatsApp groups.”
In his presentation, Dr. Kamau argued that one of the areas where the influence of global actors is noticed is during voting in various UN resolutions, in which he underscored Africa controls 28 percent of the votes.
“On one side I am excited that citizens are engaging in this conversation but on the other hand I can tell somebody else or other external forces are influencing these conversations,” argued Dr. Kamau.
Despite the observed struggle for influence, experts have also argued that the continent has built enough leverage to seek its position on issues. One of those experts who said he is ‘optimistic’ about the trajectory of Africa is Cameron Evers, a Senior Analyst of Emergent Risk International, U.S.
“I think Africa has a lot more bargaining power now, and a lot more choices more businesses are coming in, more countries are coming in especially from the Middle East like Saudi Arabia into Sudan, U.A.E into Sudan, and Turkey everywhere,” explained Evers.
“There are more choices about who Africans can do business with it is not just China China-dominated narrative,” added Mr. Evers.
In the same vein of increased African agency, it was noted that more citizens of Africa are engaging in telling their stories better, especially the youth.
“When it comes to news about Africa in the global north the narrative has always been very negative,” said Maha Bashri, an educator with United Arabs University, Sudan. “What technology is enabling us to do is to own our message,” emphasized Bashri.
Disinformation and Platform Geopolitics
Two observable trends were highlighted in the bid to influence the conversation in the African digital space. One was through a disinformation campaign that involved several strategies from the use of bots, and influencers to religion and the other was manipulation by tech companies who sometimes choose to limit certain speeches and narratives.
Speaking of disinformation, Athandiwe Saba who is the Managing Editor of the Code for Africa in South Africa, shows several examples of disinformation campaigns by countries like Russia and China especially in West Africa. It was noted that there was “the weaponization of the unresolved injustices from colonialism.”
On the other hand, it was noted there is a practice of social media companies limiting narratives and speech that do not align with their anticipated positions. Dr. Kamau explained this in his presentation:
“So, in terms of platform geopolitics, the question is who exacts ideological influence on the conversations on the platforms?
“Because what we are seeing is deliberate efforts to limit the conversation that does not necessarily go with the alignment and narrative that is aligned to the people who own the platforms.”