Panel 42

Voice for the voiceless: knowledge, technology and transformation

Panel organisers: Paula Uimonen, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, Sweden & Vicensia Shule, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


We are living in a time of intensified mobility. Our lives are characterized by multiple movements, migrations from one space to the other, physically or technologically. These movements are mediated through new communication and media technologies, which shape our daily lives as well as our social and political engagements. The sharing and exchange of information and knowledge has become so central to shaping the activities and outlooks of people in all spheres of life that it is hard to think of mobility without mobiles and other forms of communication technology.  The sharing and exchange of knowledge can be in the form of images, words, sounds, artistic expressions and other sociocultural modes. This panel focuses on the circulation and exchange of knowledge in various forms and how it transforms societies. It focuses on how technology has facilitated communication by giving the voiceless voices in ‘marginalized’ areas in Africa. While recognizing the transformative power of new media and communication technologies, it also explores the structural challenges of digitally mediated forms of expression and exchange in a politically volatile world.

Approved abstracts panel 42

1. Shrinking freedom of creative expression and the artists’ struggles for alternative spaces in Tanzania

Author: Vicensia Shule, Senior Lecturer, Department of Creative Arts, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The election and sworn in of John Pombe Magufuli in November 2015 as the fifth president of Tanzania was received with enthusiasm and expectation of better life and more freedoms. Magufuli was presented as the ‘savior’ who would crack down on rampant corruption and embezzlement of public resources. The ‘euphoria’ did not last long. On 26 January 2016 his government banned the live streaming of bunge (parliament) sessions. This was followed by a number of media bans through presidential speeches and ‘draconian’ legislations.  Artists’ abduction, arrests and torture related to their artistic works escalated. Use of social media was restricted and several arrested for questioning president’s statements under what has been referred to as ‘sedition’.

The nature of the censored acts and individuals has raised concern, why now? Where is the ‘free space’ for artists to ‘indulge’ with their creativity? Looking at the sample of unfolding events it is important to research further on the nature and the consequences of the imposed restrictions on arts and artists. This article not only assesses cases related to state control of arts and artists in mainstream and social media but also analyse the implication of state control on arts and artists. The observations reveal that the issued state restrictions on freedom of expressions are politically motivated and have consequences on the creative fraternity. Fear of abduction and torture, dismissal of ‘political’ content in the mainstream media, reduced incomes amongst artists are some of them. In order to ‘survive’ artist have created survival mechanisms including refraining from producing part works which seem to challenge the existing regime, compliance with the state propagated ‘moral’ dress codes as well as (re)joining the ruling party membership.

2. Nollywood Representation of Immigration and Crimes in Tade Ogidan’s "Wahala Kunle (Family on Fire)"

Author: Azeez Akinwumi Sesan, Department of English and International Studies, College of Humanities and Culture, Osun State University, Nigeria.

The popular narrative of experts and technocrats in the sustenance of global peace is the management of immigration, which has become a threat to internal security of the host countries. Nollywood (the name identity for Nigerian film industry) film makers have also intervened in the narrative of immigration and crime through the plot and subject matter of their films. Whala Kunle (Family on Fire), a film which narrates the trials of Kunle and his two elder brothers who are Nigerian migrants in United Kingdom, is one of such films on immigration and crimes. The narratives of the film reveal the postcolonial identity of most Africans who are desperate to migrate to Europe and America for “greener pasture”.  Homi Bhabha’s postcolonial ideology of mimicry, which emphasises fixation and authorisation of [post] colonial experience, and unhomeliness, which expresses the sense of being displaced, is adopted in the analyses of the film texts with focus on the characterisation of Kunle and the overall film spectrum. The characterisation and thematisation of the film text underline the psychological and sociological orientations of some Nigerian youths to migrate out of their country to make quick money. These orientations are revealing of the socio-economic matrix of contemporary Nigerian society where the rich and the mighty manipulate the socio-political space at the detriment of the masses. The film, Wahala Kunle, reveals the significance of films to address migration problems confronting most nations of the world.

Key Words:  Tade Ogidan films, Genre of Nigerian films, Nigerian film culture, Trans-border crimes, The criticism of Wahala Kunle

3. VIUSASA: Visual Mobilities and Mobile Audio-visuals that ‘Fixed' Film Distribution Challenge in Kenya

Author: Rachael Diang’a, United States International University - Africa.

The audio-visual industry in Kenya has been identified as a key growth industry, with great potential income generation ability. Key in ensuring this potential are two things: quality film productions in good quantities and meaningful distribution mechanisms. Successful distribution of films motivate Newer and consistent productions hence self-sustenance of an industry. It is a pity however, that shaky distribution and exhibition management has caused a missing link that has largely contributed to Kenya’s film industry’s slow growth towards. This has killed the dreams of many creatives. Producers have failed to make profits, let alone break-even. Luckily, since 2017, the industry has seen advancement in the films distribution thanks to the introduction of VIUSASA. VIUSASA is a Kenyan video on demand (VOD) platform that offers users entertainment and information on video content at the users’ convenience. It offers a variety of short videos in Kenya, and it is an initiative of Citizen TV, one of Kenya’s leading TV broadcasters. This paper interrogates VIUSASA’s impact on the Kenyan Film industry, especially in the area of distribution. Of the key areas this paper delves into are VIUSASA’s approach to film distribution, its catchment audience, strengths and achievements as well as possible challenges. This paper therefore basically documents the various aspects of this new trend in the audio-visual industry in Kenya. This study is motivated by the fact that VIUSASA has unleashed to the audience a lot of information that was otherwise ‘locked up’ and rendered immobile.

4. Exchange of Climate Change Information: The Interplay between Indigenous and Modern Communication Systems in Climate Change Adaptation among the Maasai of Ngerengere, Tanzania

Author: Dotto Paul Kuhenga, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

This study examines the interplay between indigenous and modern communication systems in the exchange of climate change adaptation information among the Maasai Community of Ngerengere area, Morogoro Region, in Tanzania. The relevance of this study relates to understanding how the long-established indigenous communication systems (music instruments and others) are being integrated with the modern (television, radio, newspapers and social media) to exchange information of climate change adaptation. Specifically, this study explores the understanding of climate change and climate change adaptation information among the Maasai communities in Ngerengere area, and how climate change is an issue of concern in their area; examines the indigenous and modern communication systems these communities use for exchange of climate change adaptation information; and why they prefer such systems; and establishes the interplay between the two types of communication systems for exchange of climate change adaptation information among them. The study draws on the theoretical frameworks of the Propaganda Model (Herman and Chomsky, 1988; Herman, 1999), and the Western science-indigenous knowledge binary tensions approach (Mohan and Stokke, 2000; Briggs, 2005). The Propaganda Model postulates that mass media are far from the idealistic picture imagined by the masses and no longer act as the ‘fourth estate’ or the watchdog of the countries’ political and social systems; but they are subordinate to the existing political and economic elites. The Western science versus indigenous knowledge binary tensions approach argues that frequently, both Western science (modern or mainstream media) and indigenous knowledge (found in indigenous media) are represented as two different, opposing knowledge systems, characterised by a binary divide – evolving out of the epistemological foundations of the two knowledge systems.

5. Reconsidering unequal access to mobility: the use of social media to overcome immobility

Author: Parvati Raghuram & Markus Roos Breines, The Open University, UK.

The question of how opportunities and limitations for mobility intersect with people’s social positions has been widely debated by scholars such as Massey (1994) and Sheller and Urry (2006), who have demonstrated that mobilities are part of the everyday power geometries and is a resource to which people have unequal access. However, it remains unclear how transnational mobility and immobility perpetuate existing social hierarchies. This paper addresses the question of how different opportunities for transnational mobilities are contested through the lens of an often overlooked group; international students in Africa. Analysing the data collected through a large-scale survey and phone interviews with students in different African countries for the IDEAS research project (, we seek to identify how transnational mobility and immobility interweaves with social, racial and financial factors among Namibian, Nigerian and Zimbabwean distance education students at the University of South Africa (UNISA). By emphasising the diverse strategies students in different countries and social positions employ to navigate administrative practices that remain highly localised and reliant on human interaction, we shed light on the use of social media as a means for people to counter the disadvantages of immobility. Although distance education institutions may be contributing to reproduce social inequalities by rewarding students’ mobility, we argue that the use of new communication technologies challenge existing social hierarchies by complicating the social outcomes of unequal access to mobilities. As such, this paper identifies the transformative power of social media in Africa, which highlights emerging strategies for overcoming immobility while simultaneously problematizing how spatial mobility is valued amidst shifting technological opportunities.

6. Silicon Valley as a Colonial Metropole

Author: Siguru Wahutu, Berkman Klein Center of Internet and Society at Harvard University, USA.

Recently, revelations to the extent to which social media giant Facebook either willfully or due to sheer incompetence shared user data with a third party (Cambridge Analytica) which the latter used for nefarious electoral reasons have shocked many. Keen observers of Africa however, were not surprised by these revelations since we have long viewed cyberspace as the new colonial frontier. In this essay, I show why and how digitally mediated exchanges and expressions in Africa can be studied through a colonial approach.

The largest and most influential tech companies are located in the global north, specifically Silicon Valley. Companies such as Facebook have gained immense control and influence over communicative structures and cultures of millions in the global south. With this in mind, this paper begins from the premise that cyberspace, and the current battle for hegemonic control, has become the new arena where contemporary colonial masters enact their imperial ambitions. Consequently, cyberspace's colonisation points to the fact that the traditional notions of ‘state-centrism’ have to be rethought since we can no longer assume that “nation/state/society is the natural and transhistorical form of social relations” (Go 2009:783). As argued by Hall (1999:40), the internet’s growth “mimicked Europe’s first colonial expansion,” in Africa.  In this sense, this paper argues that Silicon Valley has become the new metropole from where control of the colonies and the colonised emanates. In the same manner through which early trading companies were agents in "global colonisation in the 17th century,” (Hall 1999:47) Silicon Valley companies are their successors.. However, unlike the European trading companies, companies in this new metropole are birthed and influenced by notions of American "exceptionalism" which argues that the U.S. is unique for its enduring "liberal, democratic, individualistic, and egalitarian values"  forged at its founding moments (Go 2008:203).

7. #NottooYoungtoRun: New Media and Renegotiated Youth Participation in Nigerian Politics

Author: Adeyemi J. Ademowo, Department of Sociology, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria.

Political participation and active citizenship are vital to democratic sustenance. Studies have been conducted to evaluate and expand discourses on political participation most especially the role of politically active youths as mobilizers and voters in elections. The focus on youths as mere voters was further underscored in the electoral laws which are filled with clauses and age limits set for elective offices.

However, the recently proposed NotTooYoungToRun Bill and the concomitant online agitations by the youths through the new media platforms, and popular (hashtag)#NotTooYoungToRun, have exhumed two vital issues: the effects of social media on youth political participation and the attempt by the youths to use the powers of new
media platforms to mobilize and renegotiate the terms of youth participation in Nigerian politics.

To make sense of these and other issues related to the proposed renegotiated terms of youth participation in Nigerian politics and the impact of social media in the agitation, one hundred (200) active youths and fifty (50) other political actors were purposively sampled using questionnaires and key informant interviews. The study unpacks the major issues that triggered the agitation for renegotiation of youth political participation, the role of the new media activism in promoting (hashtag)#NotTooYoungToRun and the NotTooYoungToRun Bill, the challenges in getting the Bill passed, what has become of the Bill since passed by the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly, and the possible effects of the renegotiated terms on Nigerian democracy.

The study further underscores the place of the new media in facilitating participatory politics, most especially peer-based acts, through which individuals and groups can find their voices and influence issues of politics so as to challenge the status quo.

Keywords: participation, democracy, elections, new media, politics

8. Women’s voices, digital infrastructure and world literature

Author: Paula Uimonen, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, Sweden.

This paper probes how women writers in Nigeria and Tanzania use digital media for their creative work, drawing parallels between infrastructural enablement and literary worlding. It argues that African women writers offer insights into the embodied practices and cultural imaginaries of digitally mediated creativity, which can shed light on the paradoxical entanglements of infrastructure. The potential of digital media for African literature has been acknowledged in various scholarly accounts (Cole 2017, Nesbitt-Ahmed 2017, Uimonen 2016, 2018). Similarly, a growing body of research interrogates the poetics and politics of infrastructure (Larkin 2013), including electricity (Anusas and Ingold 2015, Boyer 2015, Gupta 2015, Winther and Wilhite 2015). This paper discusses the opportunities and challenges of digital media for female writers in Nigeria and Tanzania, from self-publishing and online promotion to infrastructural malfunctioning. While recognising the enabling potential of digital infrastructure, the paper shows how writers improvise their way around digital constraints in their efforts to make their voices heard in world literature.   

Keywords: Infrastructure, world literature, African women writers, digital media, cultural imaginary

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