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Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Why Kenyans Need to Pay Closer Attention to the IEBC, Census 2019 and the Building Bridges Initiative

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If both Parliament and these nascent movements fail to forestall the efforts of the ‘system’, it is certain to use the Chebukati report, the boundary demarcation process, the population census and the Building Bridges Initiative to entrench itself and it will be interesting to see how the ‘hustlers’ respond to this direct challenge to their ‘turn to eat’.

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Even as the state-controlled media holds us in thrall to the charade that is the war on corruption, preparations are underway to fundamentally change Kenya’s political system. The weekly reports of corruption are overwhelming and it is a challenge to keep track of who has said what and who has allegedly been grilled by investigators. What is clear is that a game of politics is being played, a game that is likely to go on until it is time to hold elections or a referendum to entrench vested interests. This is why I will instead focus on the self-congratulatory post-election evaluation report issued by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the preparations for the population census and demarcation of electoral boundaries, and what the so-called Building Bridges Initiative has up its sleeve. These three issues will have a more profound effect on our lives beyond the game of smoke and mirrors that is the war on corruption.

Even as the state-controlled media holds us in thrall to the charade that is the war on corruption, preparations are underway to fundamentally change Kenya’s political system

Let us turn to IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati’s 280-page report. If you have the patience to read through the 186 pages (the rest are annexes), you will be struck by how tone-deaf and dry it is. It describes an election process that was almost flawless and fails to capture the toll, both financial and emotional, that it took on the Kenyan people. Reading the report alongside that of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC), which basically indicts the entire IEBC leadership, is astounding. It reads even more bizarrely in the light of the end of assignment report submitted by former Commissioner Roselyn Akombe upon her resignation from the IEBC.

One would have expected that, during an election year in which election officials were murdered, the Chairman would pay tribute to his staff. The Chebukati report makes no reference to the murder of Chris Msando, a senior IEBC manager, or to any of the staff killed or injured, particularly in the period preceding the 26 October 2017 repeat presidential election. It is as though the murder, intimidation and threats against staff, including against the Chairman himself, did not take place.

Reading the report alongside that of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC), which basically indicts the entire IEBC leadership, is astounding. It reads even more bizarrely in the light of the end of assignment report submitted by former Commissioner Roselyn Akombe upon her resignation from the IEBC.

In a chapter dedicated to electoral security, there is no reference to the threats and intimidation visited upon IEBC staff by both Jubilee and NASA. The report instead dwells on details of a project funded by the United Nations (UN) to support police deployment, the very forces accused of violence against voters. The IEBC postponed and eventually never held presidential polls in Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu and Siaya counties, citing insecurity. There were numerous reports of polling officials in these counties having been threatened and even seriously injured.

If the Commission can sweep under the carpet issues of safety and security, why should we believe anything else it says in the report?

The report’s section on the use of information technology is even more disturbing. The Commission paints a picture of full compliance with the law in this area and identifies only two challenges: “inadequate time to procure, install, test, and commission technology due to late enactment of laws by parliament” and “lack of regulations to govern the scrutiny of election technology during petition proceedings.” The PAC report is much more detailed and transparent in its evaluation of the Commission’s performance on ICT. It shows, as does former Commissioner Akombe’s report, the intrigues behind the procurement of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS). The technology was deliberately sabotaged to benefit one party with the full knowledge and connivance of the IEBC and the selection of OT-Morpho to supply the technology was orchestrated by powerful state actors while some of the consultants provided by the UN to work with OT-Morpho were affiliated to the Jubilee Party. The murder of Chris Msando was pre-meditated and it had the desired effect. That the Chebukati report completely avoids reference to these issues – among many others – while presenting the IEBC as the victim, only serves to remind us of the wrongs committed by the IEBC against this country.

The Commission paints a picture of full compliance with the law in this area and identifies only two challenges: “inadequate time to procure, install, test, and commission technology due to late enactment of laws by parliament” and “lack of regulations to govern the scrutiny of election technology during petition proceedings

The forward by the Chairman is even more revealing of the inability of the Commission to honestly reflect upon its failures. The Chairman describes the 8 August 2017 election thus: “the Commission eventually conducted the August 8th General Election within the prescribed legal framework.” This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court annulled the presidential result, which Chebukati describes as “a season of mixed fortunes.”

It is difficult to comprehend how a person qualified to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court could refer to a historic annulment of a presidential vote as “mixed fortunes.” This is the same person who agonised over the release of the election results after informing the press that he could neither confirm nor deny reports that IEBC servers had been hacked. The entire report reads in the same flat manner, mechanically detailing tasks undertaken by each directorate and – with the exception of legal reforms – putting forward underwhelming recommendations.

One may wonder why we should pay attention to the Chebukati report but it is precisely because of its links to the population census/electoral boundary demarcations exercise and the Building Bridges Initiative that we should.

The Chairman describes the 8 August 2017 election thus: “the Commission eventually conducted the August 8th General Election within the prescribed legal framework.” This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court annulled the presidential result, which Chebukati describes as “a season of mixed fortunes.”

Despite the questions raised regarding the legitimacy of the Commission (only three of the requisite seven members remain and it is without gender parity, a constitutional requirement), it is business as usual over at the IEBC. The report is an affirmation that the ‘system’ is intact and ready to move on, that the IEBC has evaluated itself and found itself worthy of undertaking any major task placed before it. Chebukati says that the “Commission will also engrain the successes of the 8th August General Election and the 26th October Fresh Presidential Election.” The Commission seems to exist in a different universe where it alone could consider the 2017 General Election to have been successful. The Commission has signaled that it is ready to bury the past, together with all the questions that remain unanswered, and develop “concrete strategies that will assuage, if not cure, the missteps that may have been evident in the grand match towards a widely accepted election outcome.” This means that the Commission can now tackle the next item on the electoral calendar, the border demarcation process.

The game of politics has many tricks the most common of which is gerrymandering, the act of manipulating boundaries to benefit a political party or politician. Chebukati is now perceived as the safe pair of hands that can handle the gerrymandering. If he ever did have a moral compass, he lost it when he presided over the 26 October 2017 presidential election. He and his team are now fully initiated members of the system. Once an outsider, he has now joined the camp of Commissioners Molu Boya and Abdi Yakub Guliye and as one official who has witnessed the contempt with which both Guliye and Boya previously held Chebukati remarked, “they seem to have found a formula which works for them.”

The formula in question is the willingness to serve the system and the whims of those in power. The boundary demarcation exercise will predictably be used as another tool to manage the new bogeyman, the Deputy President. With the population census fully in the hands of the three Commissioners, we should expect the return of the ‘tyranny of numbers’ narrative. We should expect that those parts of the country with a historically low birth rate will experience miraculous increases in their population while others will magically have higher death rates and lower numbers of new births since the last census. The ‘system’ will work closely with the Chebukati team to manipulate the boundaries to benefit those who have a vested interest in maintaining their political and economic hold on the country.

The second significance of the Chebukati report lies in the ongoing debate on constitutional and legal reforms. Anybody who has followed political processes in Africa knows that these documents come in handy when one wants to change the constitution. Chebukati has served his masters well once again by providing in his report arguments which could be used to amend certain laws. The report is likely to be used as a source of inspiration by the Building Bridges Initiative. The report even provides a timeline for legal reforms which “… should be carried out at least two years to the election”, meaning that those planning a referendum need to hold it now or next year at the very latest.

The legal reforms proposed by the Commission go beyond electoral law amendments to include constitutional issues such as the electoral cycle. The report attempts to disingenuously insinuate itself into the debate on whether there are too many electoral positions without providing sufficient argument or data. It suggests that the electoral law should be amended to allow the holding of county and national elections on different dates, without providing any explanations beyond citing the fatigue of poll workers.

There are initiatives by members of parliament which could scuttle the processes set up so far by the ‘system’ but it is unclear if there is sufficient parliamentary momentum for their success.

All these are deliberate ploys by the Commission to anchor the report of the Building Bridges Initiative team to this “broadly consulted” post-election review. There are reports that the Building Bridges Initiative team is also finalising consultations. We have all too often seen predetermined recommendations emerge from purported view seeking exercises among Kenyans. At any rate, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga has already outlined the key elements to be expected in that report, as a precursor to the referendum. The ground is being prepared for the dynasties to protect their economic and political interests and for the hustlers to defend their loot.

The big question is what the rest of the population will do. Will we tug along and play victim later? Will we try to avoid treading on the path laid out before us by ‘the men from the shadows’ as John Githongo calls them? This is still unclear.

There are initiatives by members of parliament which could scuttle the processes set up so far by the ‘system’ but it is unclear if there is sufficient parliamentary momentum for their success. Hon. Peter Kaluma has proposed reverting to the 1997 Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) model where political parties nominate Commissioners. This would mean changing the current composition of the IEBC, potentially delaying a referendum or even the boundary demarcation exercise if the selection process is protracted. Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen is proposing changes to the Elections Act where parliament, rather than the IEBC, would have the final say on boundaries. Meanwhile, the cross-party PAC report recommends the immediate departure and prosecution of the current Commissioners.

However, all these processes would require parliamentary approval, not an easy task in the current political climate. With the Jubilee Party infighting, it is not clear if it will be possible to marshal enough votes and the situation is no clearer in the NASA camp although it is difficult to imagine ODM party members defying Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, lest they face his wrath as Malindi Member of Parliament, Hon. Aisha Jumwa recently did. As one friend remarked, “Baba is confident that Chebukati will deliver the referendum and presidential election for him.” It is also unlikely that the cross-party PAC report will have its day in parliament unless, of course, those at the helm of the Building Bridges Initiative determine that it is in their interest to implement the recommended changes.

The solution could be found away from parliament. There are media reports of civilians organising themselves around the Red Vests Revolution, Beyond Zero Corruption and Kenya Tuitakayo movements. Many of these groups appear to have been inspired by the French Yellow Vests protests and the ongoing protests in Algeria and Sudan. These faceless movements, if they are to have any impact, need to organise differently and focus on the issues that will galvanise the population. There is the likelihood that the State will find a way to silence these voices, but this should only serve to strengthen the resolve of those involved.

If both Parliament and these nascent movements fail to forestall the efforts of the ‘system’, it is certain to use the Chebukati report, the boundary demarcation process, the population census and the Building Bridges Initiative to entrench itself and it will be interesting to see how the ‘hustlers’ respond to this direct challenge to their ‘turn to eat’. Until then we can only expect another post-election or post-referendum report that glosses over issues and presents the illusion of a flawless electoral process that is unrecognisable to the country’s citizens.

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Ms. Abraham is a governance and institutional development expert.

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Philosophy for the People

For philosophy to be relevant in Africa, it must democratize and address contemporary social problems.

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In late September 2022, a consortium of universities hosted by the Universite’ Catholique d’Afrique Centrale in Yaounde, Cameroon held an “Ethicslab” to deliberate on the theme, “Justice, Democracy and Diversity.” The meeting brought together doctoral candidates in philosophy from Cameroon, Canada, Nigeria, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to be mentored by experts. Some of those experts included Dany Rondeau (Canada), Geert Demuijnck (France, based in the Netherlands), and Bernard Gagnon (Canada).

The driving force behind the event was Thierry Ngosso, a young Cameroonian philosopher based  at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland. Ngosso’s dream has been to deliver important philosophical lessons in a readily digestible way to younger African scholars while at the same time aiming for social transformation.

The study of philosophy in the continent is marked by all-too-familiar colonial linguistic and political divisions: the anglophone sector fastened to the thought of figures such as John Rawls and analytic philosophy, while francophone countries usually follow the dictates of continental philosophy. Ngosso thinks it is time to collapse these age-old colonial divisions. Also, philosophy seems removed from pressing issues, such as poverty. It can certainly be successfully re-energized by interrogating topics such as ethics and health, ethics and education, ethics and business, politics, the environment, and so on to broaden and deepen linkages between the discipline and urgent contemporary issues.

Nonetheless, philosophy has always been valued in Cameroon’s education system. As early as high school, students are introduced to the discipline. At postgraduate levels, there are various social media forums where students debate philosophical concerns of mutual interest. These debates are usually vibrant and engrossing.

Since its inception in 2019, the Ethicslab has been inviting two or three keynote speakers from disciplines such as sociology, political science and history to brainstorm about the intellectual concerns it seeks to tackle. The Ethicslab is concerned with issues of normativity and social change. Such an approach obviously grants philosophy an urgency, purpose and social transformational energy.

The Ethicslab is an intellectual experiment to identify the future stars of theoretical thought on the continent. During the 2022 edition of the event, quite a few promising upcoming scholars further etched their names;  Benjamin Olujohungbe (Nigeria), Charles Dine (Cameroon/Canada), Hammadou Yaya (Cameroon),  Opeyemi Gbadegesin (Nigeria), Elisanne Pellerin (Canada), Tatiana Nganti (Cameroon), Henri Gbadi Finimonga (DRC), Kakmeni Schaller (Cameroon), Eric Vernuy Suyru (Cameroon) and Ndedi Emma Maximine Ndjandjo (Cameroon). All these individuals are not only being trained in the rigors of theoretical reflection but also in the ethics of mutuality and reciprocity. Although they come from varied national, linguistic, and institutional backgrounds, the objective is to establish commonalities based on universally accepted cultural and human values.

Ultimately, Ngosso is interested in effecting meaningful social change in African communities through the study and use of philosophy. He plans to find funding for about ten doctoral students and thirty postdoctoral scholars in the discipline within the next five years. He also intends to shift the nodes of perception regarding the African continent from an ostensibly external locus to largely endogenous sources. To realize these grand aims, Ngosso has had to battle with numerous bureaucratic obstacles. The quest to change societies from within also entails transforming the traditional character and functions of academic institutions and establishments. This is no small task. What Ngosso has been able to do is wrest a degree of flexibility in how he operates within and amongst institutions. He is currently employed by the University of Maroua, Cameroon, holds an ongoing research fellowship at the University of St. Gallen, where he is based, and is a research associate of Universite’ Catholique d’Afrique Centrale. Within an African context, and perhaps any other setting in the world, such institutional flexibility and mobility are rare. But this is precisely the sort of liberty Ngosso requires in accomplishing his stated mission of social change.

Perhaps as part of ongoing efforts to demystify the study of philosophy, Ngosso arranged a trip to Kribi for all the participants of the 2022 Ethicslab. Kribi, a coastal town, is a perfect spot to unwind. Its coast is replete with tourist attractions such as the magisterial Lobe Falls, a pristine array of waterfalls nestled within Kribi beach. The Atlantic ocean is always enticingly open for a swim after intense brainstorming or away from the diurnal pressures of everyday life. There are also amazing seaside resorts and restaurants and the most delightful varieties of seafood to savor.

In 2024, Ngosso plans a grand event to mark the fifth anniversary of the Ethicslab. In this, he will have accomplished the entrenchment of modern philosophy in Africa, concomitant globalization of its multicultural potentials and tentacles, and finally, a re-configuration of the discipline for the myriad demands and expectations of the 21st century.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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War of the Worlds: Africa’s Next Great War

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

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It’s happening again. A Rwandan-backed rebel force threatens the Congolese provincial capital of Goma while foreign intervention is cobbled together to bail out the struggling Congolese army. Unlike the last two or three times this happened, the conflict faces the prospect of horrific escalation into interstate war. Rwandan and Kenyan troops are racing headfirst into a confrontation. As Kenya airlifts troops into the east under the flag of the East Africa Community (EAC), the Rwandan soldiers embedded within the M23 rebellion show no signs of backing down. These two African states, each claiming to have the most professional force in the region, will soon trade blows.

Nearly thirty years of complex, multilayered, and tragic war in the Great Lakes have led to this latest escalation. The eastern DRC never recovered from the deadly inferno that was “Africa’s great war,” a bitter conflict that drew in nine countries and killed as many as five million. While peace was declared in 2003, the embers of war continued to burn in the eastern DRC, where the war had injected violence into local politics. Local violence continues to blend with national- and regional-level politics. Rwanda, which has complex and often competitive relationships with Uganda and Burundi, has a history of repeatedly creating and supporting rebellions in Congo. While this current M23 rebellion has many Congolese members with genuine grievances, the force is historically constructed and supported by the Rwandan state. While it is unclear what exactly motivated this offensive, some point to Rwandan concerns over the growing influence of rival Uganda in the DRC. The relationship between Uganda and Rwanda is not straightforward, and there are reports that Ugandan elements have supported M23. The regional tensions at play here are unclear, as the Ugandan and Congolese states are not unitary actors. According to leaked UN reports, Rwanda is directly assisting this latest iteration of M23 with infantry, artillery, and logistics. It has easily beat back the Congolese regulars and their militia allies and downed UN and Congolese military aircraft.

In response to the escalation, the regional EAC has announced the deployment of a military force at the invitation of the DRC, its newest member. Kenya seems to have been the power player behind this intervention and has begun deploying its forces into the fight. The international community has slowly lost interest in the region, writing off the turbulence in the Great Lakes as an endemic low-intensity conflict, ignoring the possibility of an explosion. Some in Kenya, the regional economic powerhouse, dream of an East African unified market where a pacified region ensures that Kenyan goods are supplied to Congolese consumers. Rwanda believes that it can only be secure if it has influence in Eastern Congo, where various rebel forces opposing the Rwandan regime have sheltered. When that influence wanes, Rwanda backs a rebellion to ensure that its influence continues.

Whether you believe that Rwandan meddling and Kenyan-backed EAC intervention are valid responses to the insecurity on their western flanks, the current escalatory track is dangerous. No one is backing down until blood is spilled. Both sides seem to underestimate the other’s will and ability.

The new kid on the block, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, demands a military solution and proclaims negotiations a failure. He is inviting foreign armies across the region into the country to bring him the peace he needs to salvage his falling popularity. All the while, the badly needed security sector reform remains stalled by the great Congolese patronage machine. Under the EAC regional force’s flag, Ugandan and Burundian forces are now in the DRC to pursue their own enemies on Congolese soil, raising the possibility of inciting countermobilization. The eastern Congolese conflict ecosystem often reacts to foreign bodies with a violent immune response that would further inflame the conflict.

The limited attention span that the international community reserves for Africa is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. Former US National Security Council Africa lead Cameron Hudson pronounced on Twitter and to The Telegraph that the war in Tigray was “the new great war for Africa.” Unfortunately, the ashes of the last great war are being stoked yet again. Few players in the international game seem to realize the stakes.

The US did send its top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to talk to both the Congolese and Rwandans. Blinken’s public statements were ripe with both-sidesisms and seemed to accept Rwandan behavior as a response to Congolese support to the genocidal Rwandan FDLR rebel group—a problematic assumption. The Congolese political elite, when being generous, complain that the US position is muddled and confused. This reasonable view is much less popular than theories that accuse the Americans of actively backing Rwandan president Kagame’s plots. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories are grounded in real historical US blindness to—and occasional support for—destructive Rwandan interventionism in the late 1990s.

The apathetic international response to the crisis stands in marked contrast to the global response to the previous M23 rebellion nearly ten years ago, when the US publicly pressured Rwanda to withdraw support for the group. In 2013, a combination of the Southern African Development Community’s intervention under the UN flag, the rise of a capable Congolese army colonel, and US pressure led to successful negotiations with Rwanda and the defeat of M23. This time, attempts by the EAC to bring a diplomatic solution have failed thus far, and it seems that military pressure is the only effective tool the community can bring to bear.

This conflict is not doomed to descend into a larger interstate war, but the region as a whole will have to grapple with the consequences if it does. The international community must bring more diplomatic levers to bear, and the EAC must question the sweeping mandate of their current intervention. Regardless, the war is on an escalatory path, and the Congolese of North Kivu will suffer first as foreign forces battle over their home yet again.

Evan Nachtrieb graduated with an honors bachelor’s degree in political studies from Pitzer College last May, where he wrote his thesis on protest and insurgency trends south of the Sahara. He is currently in California.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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Twitter: Let It Burn!

Whether or not Twitter survives should be irrelevant to those committed to building a democratic public sphere.

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Elon Musk finally bought Twitter. Although everyone expected the move to quickly prove foolhardy, the speed of the implosion has been impressive. The latest gaffe is a failed attempt to monetize verification by requiring paid subscriptions for them, which has led to all manner of comical impersonations (one macabre highlight was a “verified” George W. Bush account tweeting “I miss killing Iraqis. “Tony Blair” responded with “Same tbh”). Some are watching with shock and horror and wondering if Twitter can be saved. But, when sulfur and fire rains, it is best not to look back.

Africa Is a Country managing editor, Boima Tucker, put it best some years ago: “Contrary to the utopian dreams of the early internet, the idea of a more democratic communications space has given way to a system of capitalist exploitation.” The thing to reckon with is the extent to which we have exaggerated the emancipatory potential of networked communication and social media, partly owing to our own psychic overinvestments in it. Which is not to deny that it has never shown democratic and egalitarian potential, but that’s never been what Twitter is forThere can be no right platform in the wrong world.

What was Twitter for then? In the New York Review of Books, Ben Tarnoff describes it as a “network of influence.” In a world characterized by the economization of everything, social media is the place to commodify the self, to transform one’s unique traits and personality into a product for public display. The main imperative online is to “stay on brand,” to cultivate an appealing enough persona in the endless “production of new genres of being human.”

The key contradiction of social media use, of course, is that even though these platforms appear to us as complete products that we participate in and consume, we are the ones responsible for ensuring their possibility in the first place. As the media scholar Christian Fuchs notes, “Digital work is the organization of human experiences with the help of the human brain, digital media and speech in such a way that new products are created. These products can be online information, meanings, social relations, artifacts or social systems.” Thus, it is us who create the value of these platforms.

In a better world, these digital communications platforms would be democratically owned and operated. But one also wonders if in a better world they would be as necessary. Perhaps, when we are less socially disaffected, living in societies with social provision, an abundance of recreational public goods and less exploitative, dignifying work, then we would all have less reason to be online. For now, the question is: in a time when this ideal is nowhere close to being within view, how best can we use platforms like Twitter as tools to get us to that world?

The possible answers here are murky. Twitter seems like a critical piece of infrastructure for modern political life. Musk is not alone in thinking of it as a marketplace of ideas, as something like a digital town square. Yet, and especially in Africa, Twitter is not as popular a platform, and even on it, a minority of Twiteratti exert an outsized influence in terms of setting the discursive agenda. But setting aside the question of who is excluded from the digitalized public sphere of which Twitter is a cornerstone, the important question is whether the quality of political debate that takes place is healthy or desirable at all. Granted, it can be fun and cathartic, but at the best of times, amounts to hyper-politics. In Anton Jager’s explanation, this:

can only occur at a discursive level or within the prism of mediatic politics: every major event is scrutinized for its ideological character, this produces controversies which play out among increasingly clearly delineated camps on social media platforms and are then rebounded through each side’s preferred media outlets. Through this process much is politicized, but little is achieved.

We would lack critical self-awareness if we did not admit that Africa Is A Country is a venue whose existence greatly benefits from an online presence—so it goes for every media outlet. Tarnoff points out that “… if Twitter is not all that populous in absolute terms, it does exert considerable power over popular and elite discourses.” To lack an online presence is to reconcile oneself to irrelevance. Although, the news cycle itself is a disorienting vortex of one topic du jour to the next. It makes difficult the kind of long, slow, and sustained discourse-over-time that is the lifeblood of politics, and instead reduces everything into fleeting soundbites.

Nowhere is the modern phenomenon of what Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called “pointillist time” more apparent than on Twitter. For Bauman, pointillist time is the experience of temporality as a series of eternal instants, and the present moment’s connection to the past and future “turns into gaps—with no bridges, and hopefully unbridgeable.” The consequence of this, is that “there is no room for the idea of ‘progress.’” Living through a mode where everything seems to be happening all at once, is both to experience time as what Walter Benjamin called “a “time of possibilities, a random time, open at any moment to the unforeseeable irruption of the new,” but curiously, at the same time, for everything to feel inert, and for nothing to seem genuinely possible.

For a while, notions of historical progress have been passé on the left, associated with Eurocentric theories of modernity. Now, more than ever, the idea is worth reclaiming. The Right today is no longer straightforwardly conservative, but nihilistic and anti-social, thriving on sowing deeper communal mistrust and paranoia. These are pathologies that flourish on Twitter. The alternative to media-fuelled hyper-politics and anti-politics is not real politics per some ideal type. Politics, in the first instance, is not defined by content, but by form. The reason our politics are empty and shallow is not because today’s political subject lacks virtues possessed by the subjects of yore. It’s because today’s political subject is barely one in the first place, lacking rootedness in those institutions that would have ordinarily shaped an individual’s clear sense of values and commitments. The alternative to digitized human association, as noted by many, is mass politics: only when the majority of citizens are meaningfully mobilized through civic and political organizations can we create a vibrant and substantive public sphere.

AIAC editor Sean Jacobs observed in his book, Media In Post-apartheid South Africa: “the larger context for the growing role of media in political processes is the decline of mass political parties and social movements.” Whether Twitter dies or not, and if it does, whether we should mourn it or not, should be beside the point for those committed to building a world of three-dimensional solidarity and justice.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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