From Social Media to the Streets – The (Non-)Translation of Digital Activism to Social Protest in Sub-Saharan Africa

P23 – From Social Media to the Streets – The (Non-)Translation of Digital Activism to Social Protest in Sub-Saharan Africa

Daniel Kaiser .  African Studies Center Maputo
Carlos Bravo . Goethe University Frankfurt

Ever since the so called “global wave of protest” in 2011, the role that social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter play for the emergence of social protests have received widespread attention in academics and the media alike. However, studies have mostly concentrated on explaining actual protests with preceding digital activism. In this panel, we are looking for contributions that start from analyzing digital activism as a new form of participation in political debates in African countries. We would then like to ask when, how and why this kind of activism does or does not translate into “real” social protests by comparing several cases of translation and non-translation in different geographical contexts. How do people use digital forms of activism? Who are those people? How do governments react to this? Why and how have those expressions of dissent (not) been brought to the streets? In how far do protest repertoires change? What is the role of the diaspora? What are valuable methods to investigate such dynamics? What are possible strategies to support/accompany such dynamics (for example for NGOs)? We are looking forward to contributions from all disciplines.


Em Moçambique, existe uma forte percepção social de que a educação formal não tem respondido com a devida importância e o merecido comprometimento ao desenvolvimento da componente humana e cidadã dos seus graduados. A educação informal, especialmente a que ocorre através da Internet e onde se destacam as redes sociais como o Facebook, constitui, nos nossos dias, um dos mais importantes meios de comunicação educativa com poderoso impacto na exposição e partilha de informação e conhecimento essenciais para o processo de socialização e de integração das pessoas, bem como para a construção de representações sociais, de valores, de comportamentos e de capacidades que um indivíduo necessita para a sua plena realização e afirmação social. Por essa via, a presente comunicação visa reflectir sobre como a educação informal, disseminada através das redes sociais, pode ser uma alternativa para o engajamento cívico e político em Moçambique. Através de uma revisão bibliográfica e da análise documental sobre o tema em estudo, alicerçada de forma quantitativa com a realização online de um inquérito por questionário e de entrevistas semi-estruturadas, assume-se que a educação informal através das redes sociais tem sido uma alternativa relativamente bem-sucedida e potencialmente crescente, mas ainda não influenciam, de modo directo e decisivo, a forma como a cidadania e a política é feita em Moçambique. Apesar disso, é inegável que as redes sociais têm funcionado como um veículo importante e incontornável de formação, de exercício e de disseminação de educação, informação e conhecimento junto da população moçambicana que a elas têm acesso.


Edgar Mundulai Armindo Barroso . Faculdade de Letras, Universidade do Porto .

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010, there has been a wave of protests led by ordinary men and women with no political affiliations. In 2016 Zimbabwe also experienced its some protests led under the #ThisFlag banner calling on the citizens to protest peacefully so that the country’s political leadership can take notice of some of the issues like the economic challenges the country is facing. The recent demonstration dubbed #ZimShutDown has come as a shock even to the government which was now used to a rather docile and passive populace which went quiet after years of repression and police brutality. With this background in mind, first the paper seeks to investigate and analyse the reasons that might have galvanized ordinary citizens to take to the streets even though they were fully aware of the dire consequences of their actions. Secondly, the paper seeks to establish the extent to which social media has changed the African political landscape as most of the citizen movement protests are carried out through social media and instant message applications. Third, using the Zimbabwean case study, the paper intends to find out if the rise of citizen protests has also been matched by a corresponding decline in the influence of opposition political parties who were once the vanguard when it comes to calling on the government to account for its actions. Lastly, the paper intends to identify all the role players in this new wave of citizen activism and find out whether the citizens themselves have the ability to sustain it and see it through to the end.
Tend Chinaware . University of Fort Hare .
Gilbert Pindano . University of Cape Town .

2016 is a very important year for Zimbabwe in many respects particularly the coming together of citizens into forming ‘online’ movements to protest against the government over the various manifestations of the Zimbabwe crises. In light of this, this study explores the changing role of the social media in mass mobilization and the erasure of political identities into a national movement advocating for the restoration of Zimbabwe’s bread basket status. It complements but also engages with the ongoing conversations which have considered the seeming aloofness of the Zimbabweans and lack of confrontational approaches as passive docility. While this has found traction in mainstream scholarship as well as the social media platforms such as WhatsApp where Zimbabwean online activists are caricatured and ridiculed as weak when compared with their peers in countries such as South Africa, Tunisia and Egypt who have shaped policy and changed the course of things using the media and confrontation, in this paper we argue that these conclusions cannot be any further from the reality. The Zimbabweans are not docile and comparing them with developments anywhere would be missing the point. The battles, battle fronts and nature of the ‘enemies’ are certainly different and we believe given the context, Zimbabweans have in fact appropriated the social media and through jokes, queries, critical posts have managed to change the course of a number of things as well as negotiate survival. In doing this, we examine the #Thisflag, #Tajamuka and #Occupyunitysquare movements as well as protests over the banning of quail bird (chihuta) production, late payment of salaries, stay-aways and the current controversy over introduction of bond notes to arrive at our conclusions.


Wesley Mwatwara . University of Zimbabwe .
Ushehwedu Kufakurinani . University of Zimbabwe .

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