Since the Arab Spring in 2011 and the popular mobilizations in Egypt, Tunez and Morocco, cyber optimism has spread across Africa. It has been understood as a general confidence in ICTs, Internet networks and smart phone technologies as tools which can contribute to people’s collective action, protest and further democratization. Digital activism has also become a relevant research focus for scholars working in the South Saharan region.
Many cases of digital activism have supported the idea that ICTs are useful to defend women’s rights and to spread the protests against women’s human rights violations. One of the most remarkable examples was the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in 2014, which denounced the kidnap of 270 schoolgirls in Nigeria, perpetrated by Boko Haram. The #MyDressMyChoice campaign also became salient in Kenya (Nyabola, 2015), while phone messaging was significant to disseminate the call and to organize popular mobilizations against life precariousness and economic policies in 2019 Nigeria.
However, as Idowu (2023) has argued, cyber optimism has faded very soon in South Saharan Africa. Repression of mobilizations, the arrest of leaders who were popular on the Internet and new policies which curtail the critical uses of ICTs, make us question to what extent these devices are broadening the opportunities to fight political oppression and economic exploitation.
Regarding this dilemma, the panel seeks to open the discussion on three specific aspects:
1.-First, the Global South countries have been identified as mineral producers for ITCs, but their popular classes have had limited access to the Internet and to the benefits of software apps and platforms. So, the first question would be to what extent this is impacting popular protests and collective action in Africa, especially among women. Is mining extractivism sparking mobilization? At the same time, are ICTs expanding the political capacities of African populations? What are the main political uses and who are the principal users?
2.- Second, ICTs have favored the dissemination of campaigns, news and political calls reporting cases of abuse, oppression and exploitation that were hidden before for an international audience. Have these new dissemination opportunities been useful to push governments and companies to change their policies regarding women and women’s equality? Have the new communication possibilities had real policy effects for women beyond publicity?
3.- Third, popular movements and activists have made use of the Internet, departing from their material conditions and their cultural codes. People appropriate ICTs according to their needs and beliefs. Also, they face government restrictions, repressive online policies and personal security challenges. How do people react to these conditions? How do women transform available ICTs into political communication instruments? How has the Internet transformed their organizing habits?
Contributions dealing with these questions and other related topics will be more than welcome to the discussion.