Is the internet good for African politics?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

A second dynamic is harder to measure or prove, but is also likely positive: greater national unity…

One source of gain is simply that the colonial era is receding ever further into the past. In the meantime, a wide array of media outlets have helped to further African notions of national unity and cultural coherence. Soccer and other athletic teams compete on the world stage, and African players competing in Europe are portrayed as representatives of their nations, not particular ethnic groups. Commercial brands and celebrities help define national identities. Exposure to international media, most of all through smart phones and the internet, cements the notion that these regions are indeed perceived as nations by the outside world and that such designations are likely to stick. Mobile phones have knit together different African regions, and ethnic groups, in closer economic ties.

The notion of a nation as an “imagined community,” to use a term from political scientist Benedict Anderson, is under accelerating construction in many parts of Africa. Cultures and cultural expectations are adapting to current borders, even given earlier injustices, thereby contributing to falling rates of violence and conflict.

Unfortunately, Africa is exposed to a lot of “fake news,” perhaps more than Americans are. The good news, if you would call it that, is that Africans seem to be relatively skeptical of social media as a news source, and they put a relatively high degree of trust in international media.

Better yet is that most Africans say that the internet has improved their politics and economics. For instance, 64 percent of Nigerians reported in 2017 that the increasing reach of the internet was good for Nigerian politics. That number compares to just 43 percent in 2014, and positive impressions of a similar nature are common throughout Africa. For all the talk about social media creating divisions (such as in Myanmar), the net effect of modern technology seems to be greater unity, including with respect to national borders.

Do read the whole thing.

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Older, more settled populations are less likely to go to war.

Populations don't "go" to war, they're pushed into it by septuagenarian war mongers like John Bolton and the overwhelming majority of the US congress, people that will use younger proxies to immolate their supposed adversaries. That's the nation/state methodology. In tribal circumstances killing is on a more personal and less efficient level, although warring groups in Africa have been quick to adopt colonial technology. Westerners look at blood-soaked hands as barbaric but celebrate drones and cruise missiles as the proper way to dispose of an enemy but are offended when the same techniques are used against them.

African players competing in Europe are portrayed as representatives of their nations, not particular ethnic groups.

If only it were so in the US, where the sports media went gaga over Jordan Greenway becoming the first black to make the US Olympic hockey roster. Pointing out first time achievements by African Americans never gets old.

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Is national unity a function of media generally or the internet? Here, television (at one time) had a unifying effect, while the internet had the opposite (especially social media algorithms that connected the like-minded). I would think that the algorithms in social media in Africa would have a greater de-unifying effect because of the many tribes and ethnic groups. I mean, does one expect more social responsibility from Facebook and Twitter in Africa than elsewhere?

Yup. Tyler observes this trajectory: "For instance, 64 percent of Nigerians reported in 2017 that the increasing reach of the internet was good for Nigerian politics. That number compares to just 43 percent in 2014".

That's nice, but it's looking at only two points along the timeline. As other commenters have noted, there may be a number of important time series involved here: electronic media such as TV and social media may have a unifying effect initially in a country that starts with little of either; Nigeria itself may have had to go through a unifying process especially in the wake of its past civil war in Biafra; and as the US has arguably experienced social media may be on their own trajectory from unifying force to divisive force.

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"The good news, if you would call it that, is that Africans seem to be relatively skeptical of social media as a news source, and they put a relatively high degree of trust in international media."

Those poor, poor people....

"international media" is far from perfect, but never underestimate freedom of speech. lots of people have died for this little issue.

you could argue freedom of speech is wasted on banal things, but at least we have something to waste.

"lots of people have died for this little issue."

Especially in Africa.

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Text messaging to coordinate meetings with remote partners? A 30% savings on transportation. Ability to view equipment cataloges and market pricing for capital goods? Increases planning efficiency by 30%.

World Bank says
http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/publication/poverty-rising-africa-poverty-report

According to latest World Bank estimates, the share of Africans who are poor fell from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. The report argues that the poverty rate may have declined even more if the quality and comparability of the underlying data are taken into consideration. However, because of population growth many more people are poor, the report says.

Most of the productivity growth since 1990 has been internet driven, first PCs on the web then phone. The ability to simply coordinate better results in large reductions of lost inventory.

You hit upon what's known as the "tyranny of distance" in Africa, and a purported reason, akin to something Jared Diamond might write, as to why Africa is backwards: far away from the sea (compare to Mediterranean countries) and poor road infrastructure, and bad, expensive to fly planes (compare to Alaska's bush pilots, and of course the USA is a richer country that can afford to live in Alaska). Local is the yokel.

Go figure, the southern boundary of the Mediterranean is Africa: from Morocco to Egypt.

Isolated Ethiopia have been 10+ years on a roll. Of course, they're coming from so low that ~10% yearly growth needs to be kept for some years more to effectively deliver.

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Cell phones put them in touch with markets. They know the market prices almost instantly.

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The internet is good for many, many, many things. Social media? Not so much.

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It used to be that internet companies were media companies. Now, media companies are internet companies. Why? Because internet companies don't own any assets. Look at the NYT, they don't even acknowledge their own bias publically, though they may be self aware. Come on, those people planet sized egos must reflect some coherence. Yet their political bias is a mask for a seedier underbelly, which isn't even moral corruption so much as unethical behavior. There are offenses like the Michelle Goldberg use of "sheepish" post Matthew Shepard. The fact they did not report on Kellen Winslow Jr. or Thomas Houston. The PTSD inducing reporting and headlines around Racism. All made worse because given the internet era has handed them a monopoly. As Tolstoy said about families, that happy ones were all the same and unhappy ones were each different in their unhappiness. The organizational management of newspapers (and individual journalists) should be to help democracy come to terms with its governmental regulation--albeit an enormous task. As Mr. Said of Israel's Jewish achievements..."it is right that they not sloppily be tarnished with the sweeping rhetorical denunciation associated with "racism." You ask me, the Plague is the most neutral narrator I've ever come across. Yes, there are isonomic rights. Yes, the Russian scientists, the I.S. chesnovs and whatnot, were brutal.

But look at the NYT coverage of Global Warming. Since around 1995, internet companies have had the luxury of attribution. So advertisers know how their ads work. We don't have attribution in global warming. If it took 40 years to figure out the existential threat of nuclear war (by the way, it's only been severely lessoned), why would Paul Krugman using Hell in his Op-Eds aligning with Headlines of Hell be excused? Abolitionism is positivist, not normative. The NYT is certainly not an abolitionist entity.

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Look, the Montreal protocol worked, no doubt.

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'Africa is exposed to a lot of “fake news,” perhaps more than Americans are.'

Is that actually possible?

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Seems like countries with more fragile democratic traditions might be more susceptible to fake news and bonnet trolling. Are elections in such places getting sufficient scrutiny?

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