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Will Kenya’s Vision 2030 Megaprojects Bring the North in From the Cold?

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The proposed megaprojects have shifted the focus of conflict to disputes over land and boundaries, an emotive issue that reinforces the deep-rooted sentiments of regional exclusion and inequality.

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Will Kenya’s Vision 2030 Megaprojects Bring the North in From the Cold?
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Northern Kenya is the embodiment of the precariousness of a post-colonial nation-state. Both the colonial and the post-independence governments neglected the region, leaving it completely underdeveloped compared to the rest of Kenya, a situation American writer Negley Farson described “as one half of Kenya, about which the other half knows nothing and seems to care even less [about].”

The colonialists referred to the inhabitants as “the hostile tribes” and as the relationship between the rest of Kenya and the north became fraught, the region attempted to secede immediately after Kenya’s independence, a step that set the tone for the way the area was governed post-independence — closed and ignored.

Independent Kenya adopted the methods of the colonial administration and continued to enact restrictive legislation. Where the colonial administration had passed The Outlying District Ordinance of 1902 and The Special District Ordinance of 1934, the Jomo Kenyatta administration passed the Preservation of Public Security Act of 1964, hot on the heels of the Shifta War. In 1970, the government passed the Indemnity Act that applied to North-Eastern Province (Garissa, Wajir and Mandera) and Isiolo, Marsabit, Tana River and Lamu Districts. The Act immunised the government against any claims for compensation for human rights abuses committed between the 25th of December 1963 and the 1st of December 1967.

The securitisation of the region led to egregious human rights violations by state security agencies. Massacres were committed in Wagalla (Wajir), Malka Mari (Mandera) and Daaba (Isiolo), and people and livestock were confined to restricted areas as part of the strategy to counter the Shifta insurgency. Today, high poverty levels among the Waso Borana are attributed to these events, with communities narrating that any livestock found outside the designated areas was either killed or confiscated and taken away by the military.

Thousands of families escaped to Somalia, only returning in the early 1990s and settling in lower Garbatulla in Isiolo County. To date, some of these people have no Kenyan identification documents, which are vital for access to services such as opening a bank account, MPESA (mobile money) transactions, admission to tertiary education, and travel from rural villages to Isiolo town.

The securitisation of the region led to egregious human rights violations by state security agencies.

Government policy changed with the adoption of Sessional Paper No. 8 of 2012 on the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands, which aims to address development imbalances, reduce poverty, manage violent conflict and ethnic strife, address climate challenges and make investments in the livestock markets sector among others.

Vision 2030

Isiolo County is referred to as the gateway to northern Kenya. Situated about 285Km from Nairobi, this once sleepy and dusty county now finds itself at the centre of Kenya’s development plans. In effect, the government has placed Isiolo at the heart of Kenya’s Vision 2030,  the country’s new development blueprint for transforming Kenya into “a newly industrialised, “middle-income country providing a high quality of life for all its citizens” by the year 2030.

Vision 2030 is perhaps an antidote to Sessional Paper no. 10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya. This first post-independence development plan created a dichotomy of low potential and high potential regions, a logic that placed northern Kenya in the low potential region, with the result that it received little in the form of investment from the government.

The key pillars of Vision 2030 are mega-infrastructure projects, some of which are national and some of which are regional and involve Isiolo County. The county has been selected to host one of the three resort cities planned for northern Kenya and destined to become industrial, economic and tourist hubs. The other two cities will be in Lamu and Turkana. Other flagship projects are the proposed multi-billion-shilling Crocodile Jaw dam on Ewaso Ng’iro River on the Laikipia-Isiolo border, which is facing stiff resistance from the local communities and environmentalists due to fears that it will negatively affect over 3.5 million people and wildlife downstream.  Other already completed projects are the Isiolo International Airport and the Isiolo-Moyale highway.

Emerging conflicts

Isiolo’s strategic location makes it a regional transport hub linking northern Kenya to the rest of Kenya and to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia through the multi-billion-shilling Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) corridor.

While these developments will undoubtedly spur Isiolo’s growth, they risk causing more conflict unless judiciously executed; the region already experiences ethnic strife, cattle rustling, cross-border conflict, land and boundary conflicts between Isiolo and the neighbouring counties of Meru, Garissa and Wajir, and there is a new simmering boundary tension with Marsabit and Laikipia counties.

The benefits expected to accrue from these investments have heightened tensions between Isiolo and the neighbouring Garissa and Meru counties, with each county laying claim to a road or an area. The likelihood of border conflict is therefore high with the planned construction of the US$750 million (KSh81 billion) Horn of Africa Gateway Development Project (HOAGD) — formerly the Northern-Eastern Transport Improvement Project (NETIP) — which is set to begin this year. Once completed, the road will link Isiolo to Garissa, Wajir and Mandera.

In his report LAPSSET The history and politics of an eastern African megaproject, Adrian J. Browne argues that Kenya’s optimism about the LAPSSET project is based on “conservative feasibility statistics”. According to him, large-scale infrastructure projects “could inject between 2% and 3% of GDP into the [Kenyan] economy” and even yield higher growth rates of between 8 and 10 per cent of GDP when fully operational. Such growth would be a game-changer and could transition Kenya into a middle-income country.

However, these projects have a dual impact on the community. First, for the pastoral communities whose livelihoods depend on uninhibited mobility of livestock and humans, these projects will interfere with their migration corridors. Secondly, these projects are being undertaken on land that has been taken away from the pastoralist communities, in some cases, on land that pastoralists use for grazing in times of acute drought.

While these developments will undoubtedly spur Isiolo’s growth, they risk causing more conflict unless judiciously executed.

The 6,500 acres of land at Kipsing Gap —  sandwiched between Katim Hill and Ol Doinyo Degishu Hill — about 20 kilometres west of Isiolo town, is where the multi-billion-shilling resort city will be established. However, the Kipsing Corridor is the area the communities fall back on during periods of drought.

Speculative land buying in anticipation of the large-scale infrastructure projects could potentially displace the local people. Large-scale infrastructure projects are also the source of fierce contestation between the local communities and even spiteful remarks between the county’s political leaders, with each claiming a section of the area where they believe a project will be implemented. Isiolo leaders have also claimed that they have little or no information about the project.

Community wildlife conservation

The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT)-led conservation model is a hotly and passionately debated issue in Isiolo. Supporters of wildlife conservation argue that conservancies attract tourism and create employment opportunities for community members, improve security, expand the livestock market, and preserve open green spaces to create world-class recreation facilities.

Those opposed to conservancies challenge the prominence given to wildlife over pastoralism, and express fears over bio-piracy and the loss of potential grazing land. They also cite the risk of increased conflict, and the replacement of traditional resource governance institutions such as Deedha with ineffective structures.

The influence of the conservation sector is so entrenched within the political leadership such that government officials from the criminal justice system to the interior ministry are appointed to the NRT board, a move that is designed to legitimise its operations. Noordin Haji, Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been proposed to sit on the NRT board, which is also scouting for a representative from the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government.

Other individuals proposed to sit on the NRT board are Mbuvi Ngunze, the former CEO and Group Managing Director of Kenya Airways, Dr Betty Addero Radier, CEO, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB); Dr Julius Kipngetich, former Director and CEO, Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS); and Jarso Mokku, a respected Elder from Isiolo and the current CEO of Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative (DLCI).

Mathew Brown, Managing Director the Nature Conservancy, Africa Division; Flora and Fauna International senior Director Joana Elliot; Mike Watson, CEO Lewa Wildlife Conservancy; and Kenya Forest Service, CEO Julius Kamau have also been Proposed to sit on the NRT board.

To entrench its existence further, the NRT is also suspected of having sponsored a “deformed” bill, the Isiolo County Community Conservancies Bill 2021, which was hurriedly formulated and adopted without public participation.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was established in 1989 to conserve and manage wildlife. However, the NRT has grown in influence, outstripping the KWS through donor funding; the organisation has taken the lead in shaping Kenya’s wildlife conservation policies.

The NRT claims on its website to be a grassroots conservation outfit, building peace and conserving the natural environment. However, local communities in Isiolo blame the organisation for using the dreaded and well-trained 9-1 and 9-2 conservancy rangers to support Samburu raiders during inter-community conflict. An unpublished 2019 report produced by Waso Borana Professionals (WBP), Errant Natives and the Borana Council of Elders (BCE) provides details of documented gross human rights violations, unfulfilled promises, and compromised livelihoods due to loss of strategic water points and grazing lands.

Local communities in Isiolo blame the NRT for using the dreaded and well-trained 9-1 and 9-2 conservancy rangers to support Samburu raiders during inter-community conflict.

Deadly and violent conflict has been a feature of the region for decades, the feuding often driven by conflict over pasture and water and facilitated by easy access to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).

But the proposed mega-infrastructure projects have now shifted the focus of conflict to disputes over land and boundaries, an emotive issue that reinforces the deep-rooted sentiments of regional exclusion and inequality.

If Kenya is serious about its development ambitions, the government must walk the talk and redeem itself from the earlier missteps of Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965, which relegated northern Kenya to the periphery.

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Guyo Haro is a natural resource and conflict 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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