After witnessing the critical role new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) played in supporting political change in Northern Africa at the beginning of 2011, expectations have grown that in Sub-Saharan Africa authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes may also be challenged by emerging uses of ICTs for political change. However, there have been little signs that long-standing leaders in countries like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, or Uganda may be ousted from power by a popular uprising supported by and coordinated through the use of new technologies. What are the reasons for this apparent absence of impact? How much of the lack of technologically mediated mobilizations for greater rights and political freedoms depends simply on the limited diffusion of ICTs such as the Internet? How much depends instead on the particular nature of politics on the African continent (where the most significant protests to date have been channelled by partisan and divisive politics rather than being the expression of an empowered civil society)? And, in the absence of revolutionary outcomes, are ICTs affecting and possibly transforming the nature of political mobilization and participation in more subtle ways?
The workshop will address these questions by providing a platform for scholars studying the role of ICTs in political transformations to engage with the arguments put forward by researchers investigating governance processes in Africa. It will focus not only on the newest technologies, but explore the unique ways in which new and old means of communication are being and could be combined in Sub-Saharan Africa to enable citizens to express voice and affect political processes. Participants will examine, for example, whether and how the increasing availability of mobile phones is promoting innovative ways of influencing government policies and of claiming rights, but also how these innovations fit in longer term patterns of use of communication to affect governance. The overarching aim is to explore whether, as has been the case for applications such as mobile banking, the most significant uses of ICTs for participatory politics in Africa may emerge from a unique combination of global influences and local needs, rather than from the application of tools and uses that have been proved successful in external contexts. This inter-disciplinary workshop complements the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR)’s current research project on how innovations in ICTs can transform governance processes in Africa.