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Social Media and the Democratic Process in Africa

Convenors

Peter Aloysius Ikhane (University of Ibadan, Nigeria)

Elvis Imafidon (SOAS, University of London)


The democratic process in Africa is much beset with challenges on different fronts: electoral violence, vote buying, election rigging, and ethnic politicking and marginalization (Ng’oma 2017; Olayode 2016). Particularly challenging, however, is that the democratic ‘virtue’ of self-dignity realised through unhindered participation in the democratic process (Runciman 2018), is being undermined. The social media, which has become central in political engagements, and holds promise of unsuppressed democratic participation (Ogri, Mboso & Adomi 2016) has begun to come under the heavy-handedness of the state. 

In many countries in Africa, the state has begun to make it difficult for social media users to freely express themselves or question their leaders, by crafting and implementing heavy-handed regulations that require online users to register with regulators, as well as compel bloggers and content creators to pay exorbitant taxes (Karombo 2020). For example, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania and Burkina Faso are among countries who have joined a growing trend of heavy-handed regulatory oversight of social media users. Indeed, the oversight tendencies of the state has been particularly crucial ahead of recent elections in Tanzania (28 October, 2020), Burkina Faso (22 November, 2020) and Uganda (14 January 2021), where leaders sought to contain the effect of social media on their re-election bids (Karombo 2020). Restrictions on social media were also implemented in 2019 around elections or referendum in countries including Togo, Burundi and Guinea (Obia 2021).

Though, in Africa,  the suppressive control of free speech in social media is not by the big tech companies, who own social media platforms as David Runciman had alluded to in his “How Democracy Ends” (2018), if, however, Runciman’s persuasive argument that the attack on individual’s dignity through suppression of free speech is the greatest threat to democracy’s survival in the twenty-first century be broadly construed, then the limiting encounters of self-expression occasioned by the state’s restrictions of social media use in many African countries pose a grave challenge to the survival of democracy on the continent.

In the light of the foregoing, the we invite submission of contributions that critically engage the role of social media in the democratic process with reference, but are not limited, to the following questions:   

  • Are there rational grounds for restricting the use of social media in the democratic process? 
  • How should the value and virtue of self-expression in relation to the democratic process be actualised through social media? 
  • What are the assumptions of theory that undergird state policies on restrictions to the use of social media in the democratic process? 
  • Is state restriction of the use of social media in political engagement a sliding slope to autocracy?

Submission Guidelines

If you want to apply, please submit an approx. 400-words abstract of your paper prepared for blind-review by the 7th May 2021. We will respond within three weeks. All abstracts and enquiries about the workshop should be sent to: manceptafricandemocracy@gmail.com 

Participants selected for the workshop will be asked to submit complete papers to the same email address by 20th August 2021, so that papers can be circulated among the participants before the workshop. We aim to allow for 15-20 minutes per presentation and 25-30 minutes for Q&A. However, this may be subject to change. Please note that we especially welcome and encourage submissions from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in political theory. 

Registration for the workshop will open in May. All participants must register in order to attend.

This year’s fees are

Academics:  £45

Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20

Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

Note: MANCEPT offers bursaries to attend the conference (available for current graduate students only), and the application deadline for a bursary is 15th June, 2021. Please state in your application to our panel whether you intend to apply for a bursary. 

Plans are being made for publication of papers presented during the workshop either as articles in a special edition of a widely indexed journal or as chapters in edited volume with a reputable publisher.

We look forward to reading your abstracts,

Peter Aloysius Ikhane and Elvis Imafidon