Youths, Social Networking and Political Transformation

The world is changing in a fascinating way. The recent events around the world today are reminding us that the era has more to offer than just connecting pals and families separated by miles of land or oceans. Whether it is yahoo mail, facebook, twitter, or livejournal, the worldwide web or cyber space has become a strong tool and platform for the democratization of communication, ideas, opinions and activism. Previously, politics and revolutionary decisions and actions were almost entirely limited to the physical space via forums and meeting rooms whether public or private. But the game is fast changing. Dictators who are adamant to change and prefer to cling on power regardless of the street protest-echoes and outcries; turn to mass crack-down as a response to the plea of the masses. As dictatorial regimes get tough on the opposition with censorship, the generation(the youths) who are more technologically more savvy than the older folks have their way of “spreading the message” despite mass media censorship by authoritarian regimes. Obviously the youths who are in majority the huge victims of bad governance and policies have become locomotives for political and socio-economic change; be it in America, Europe, the Middle East or Africa. Recapitulating on the November 2008 Presidential Elections in the US, we saw the brilliance of the Obama/David Plouffe team utilizing web strategy to conquer the White House. They hired Facebook’s co-founder Chris Hugues (24 years old) in 2007 to be the online campaign manager.With the mass involvement of young people in the movement for change, the results of the elections only did justice to such skillful campaign. In Iran, the nation-wide protests that started in June 2009 following the Presidential results that declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad victorious were the result of well organized social networking via Twitter. These protests in support of Ahmadinejad’s main opponent Mir-Houssein Mousavi were code named the “Twitter Revolution”. Young anonymous computer literates hacked into Iranian official websites and sent well targeted messages that backed the protest. Although the protest did not succeed to bring down Ahmadinejad, it powerfully and critically exposed the fraud and corruption in the country.
In 2009, another well organized “twitter revolution” that almost brought down a bad regime was Moldova. Besides social netwoks like facebook and twitter, many young activists make use of the blogosphere to mobilize minds around “hot topics” affecting their immediate societies. Blogging is a communication medium that is fast taking over the world. Being free and operating almost like a website, bloggers have contributed in inspiring social changes via their critical analysis and appraisals. Aside from blogging, revolutionary cyber – savvy minds such as Julian Assange and Wikileaks network have completely transformed the information medium and breaking fresher grounds by delivering unadulterated official secret information to the public. The audacity of Wikileaks to put the truth to the world via the internet is quite fascinating, worth encouraging and emulating.
This cyber locomotive for revolutionary change that has left most world political stations has not left the African continent gazing on the platform but carried her along. After spilling much ink over the political hibernation in Ivory Coast, it is the turn of Tunisia and Egypt to occupy the spotlights. In Tunisia, the power of social networking which was mainly organized and championed by youths who said “No” to political monotony and socio-economic retrogression, in favor of change. Unemployment and the rise in food prices are not new threats, or better still, unique to Tunisia; but they were justifiable reasons to protest. The well organized nature of the protests via updated twitter messages and the help of Wikileak’s release of secret cables about the presidential family’s financial malpractices contributed to inform as well as inflame both the Tunisian cyber-community and ground protesters alike. While videos and uncut footages of live manifestations and protests updates maintained their course; the death of Mohamed Bouazizi who burnt himself due to frustration exacerbated the protest, and finally led to the departure of President Zine al-Albidine Ben Ali who has been in power since 1987 (23 years). One other critical action that favored the Tunisian protest movement was the hacking of state official websites by the Anonymous group and the publication of messages in support of the protest. Indeed, the power of computer literacy was eventually key to increasing and sustaining the mobilization and keeping the protests focused on the prize - political change.
This revolutionary volcano started in Tunisia seems to have caught a piece of disgruntled garment from Egypt. Egyptian youths have devised a well organized and thought out protest plan to achieve their goal of ousting President Mubarak. As President Hosni Mubarak who has ruled for 30 years grapples with the protests and demands of the streets, the world is watching to see what will unravel after the president shut down the internet transmissions, monitors social networks like facebook and twitter, reshuffled the cabinet and promised of new reforms. In the meantime, the youths in Yemen in the Middle East are not indifferent to these revolutionary tendencies.
Most countries in Africa have very long serving presidents who do not want to relinquish power for constitutional or democratic change to occur. Many African countries will be having elections this 2011 and with the flames of change that are blowing from North Africa , we are watching to see if the winds will blow those flames to West and Central Africa. Talking about Central/West Africa, Cameroon is one of those countries where scholastic and alert networks have predicted a negative political occurrence as the country gears towards a critical and determining Presidential electoral phase this 2011. Characterized by political disgruntlement, opposition-aridity, press censorship and democratic blindfolding of the masses; the continent and the world is watching to see if the afore-mentioned predictions will hold true or if there will be a smooth political transition in line with the aspirations of many. Youth unemployment and price hikes are nothing new to Cameroon and Cameroonians. Matter of fact, it was the cause of the February 2008 street protests. When less than 100 youths died in Tunisia, street protests crippled the state system and led to president’s resignation; but in Cameroon, more than 200 unarmed youths died from the hands of the police and gendarmes and it passed almost unperceived. The question one ponders upon is: What made Tunisia’s protest more successful despite its less precarious socio-economic situation than the February 2008 protests in Cameroon? Is North Africa more computer-enlightened and literate than West/Central Africa? How can Cameroon and Cameroonians emulate the example in Tunisia to spark that strong and organized protest that would bring about a definite political freedom from 28 years of dictatorship and to socio-economic change? One behavior that is common with dictators is that, during their long term of office, they never carry out landmark reforms to better the lives of their people. But when faced with mass street protests and open violence, they immediately declare government reshuffling and framed beautiful reform promises in order to win the hearts of protesters and calm the streets. Aware of the approaching political stakes and knowing that the Northwest Region is a hotbed of protests, President Biya quickly seized the Military celebrations to carry out an intimidation campaign, punctuated by his one man-show and infrastructural promises to lead the Anglophones to docility. Biya’s one-man comedy show in Bamenda and the reception raises eyebrows on the political competiveness of the upcoming elections. Are there any hopes of political alternation through the ballots? Will the Southern Cameroons movement for the restoration of their independence take a superior push? Some youths have already created a social network (facebook group) to support the Southern Cameroon’s petition moves. Maybe the response will come from a general street uprising. If streets protests are going to be the only way out, the youths will have to make good use of the social networks to mobilize and organize their actions plans to succeed where they failed in 2008. There have been some secret cables released by Wikileaks involving Cameroon; especially Biya’s outrageous spending during his La Baule trip to France; as well as the BEAC financial scandal. These are actions that must not only be condemned by words of mouth but placed on the revolutionary table as evidences to oust negative regimes. Another factor which should be highly considered is the action of the military in Tunisia. When asked to fire shots at the protesters who Ben Ali termed “terrorists”, the military disobeyed the order and their “reasonable” cooperation was very vital to the success of the Tunisian revolution. Will the Cameroonian security forces prioritize reason, over irrational and inhumane actions? Will the Cameroonian forces show proof of maturity and professionalism? America and the wider international community have shown support to the revolutionary change movements that have taken place thus far against dictators in Africa. No matter what happens, the world will maintain its cameras on the youths of Cameroon and Africa as a whole as they prepare to make political and civic decisions that will affect their future and shape their destinies this 2011.



NB: You can read more from this author on hisblog.

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Tags: Protests, change, dictatorship, manifestation., network, social, youth


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