Friday, April 20, 2012

Using mobile media in Angola to gain an engaged citizenry

Internet bandwidth within Africa is continually on the rise, alongside the availability of online and mobile media.Through emphasising Angola as a case study, I will address this technological and social revolution.

New media platforms are changing how people communicate with each other around the world. However, there is great variation in both the kind of communication platforms people make use of, as well as in how they access these platforms (Sarrazin, 2011). The media in Africa is expanding rapidly due to advances in telecommunications, especially mobile phones and the internet (WorldTravelAfrica, 2011).

Sadly, computer ownership and internet access are still the prerogative of the wealthy few in wide swathes of the African continent. Nevertheless, mobile internet access is on the rise, and if current growth rates continue, African mobile phone penetration will reach 100 per cent by 2014 (Sarrazin, 2011). In mid-2011, mobile users constituted around 90% of all African telephone subscribers (Paul Budde Communication, 2011).

International submarine fibre optic cables have reached several African countries for the first time in 2009 and 2010, or they have brought competition in this sector to an incumbent monopoly provider, with more cables expected to go online in 2011 and 2012. This has started to revolutionise the market by radically improving the supply of international bandwidth and lowering its cost (Paul Budde Communication, 2011).

Another development worth mentioning is the rise of mobile reporting in Africa. Journalists across the continent are increasingly using the mobile phone as their primary reporting tool needed to collect text, photos and videos. This content is often distributed via the internet and is an early example of convergence in the internet and mobile medium (Paul Budde Communication, 2011). This assists in tackling the digital divide that has left Africa in what has been termed the ‘black hole’ in the past.

Currently, Angola is one of the world’s poorest countries (BBC News AFRICA, 2011). It is striving to tackle the physical, political, and social legacy of the 27-year civil war that ravaged the country after independence (BBC News AFRICA, 2011). Angola has, and continues to face the daunting tasks of rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting during the civil war that ended in 2002 (African Rainbow Consulting, 2009). Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. Many Angolans rely on food aid (BBC News AFRICA, 2011). After the civil war, foreign investment in Angola has multiplied, and the mobile market has soared despite a continued duopoly between Unitel and Angola Telecom’s Movicel (Paul Budde Communication, 2011).

With regard to telecommunications, compared to global internet penetration, Africa only accounts for 5.7% of all Internet Users in the World. Angola has a 4.6% penetration with 233, 280 Facebook Subscribers: Refer to Appendix: A & B (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2011). In Angola in 2009, 20% of the population had mobile phones (African Rainbow Consulting, 2009). This is likely to have increased as it’s important to note that often people who do not own mobile phones still have access to mobile phones that belong to family members or neighbours.

According to BBC News (2011) the state controls all media with nationwide reach, including radio, which is the most influential medium outside of the capital of Luanda. Television, the private press, and internet access are very limited outside Luanda. Angola's only daily newspaper, Jornal de Angola, and the terrestrial TV service TPA are state-owned and rarely criticise the government. The constitution affords for freedom of expression, but the government does not always respect this.

As a result, private media outlets have often been liable to harassment. Anti-defamation statutes protect officials from reporting deemed "offensive". Nevertheless, several private newspapers and radio stations have carried criticism of the government (BBC News, 2011).

Free speech and the availability of unbiased news information is not provided in Angola; it is highly likely that the availability of alternative media provided through platforms such as social networks, blogs and independent websites would be popular as they tend to provide information that attempts to criticise the government and redress issues. Even if the information provided by citizens is not professional journalism or unbiased, it does open the platform for rational, critical debate which lies at the core of free speech and democratic ideals. Twitter, as an example, allows for popular content to ‘trend’. Therefore, people across the globe become aware of issues or concerns that are widely ‘tweeted’ about.

Furthermore, the increasing availability of bandwidth, mobile usage and the rise of online media will allow for citizens to provide alternative information to people located outside Angola so as to provide increasing knowledge about local happenings. These, have been, social uprisings, strikes, or human injustices as noted in the past such as sex trafficking, forced labour, and subjections to domestic servitude (CIA, 2011). Mobile media has shown to be very successful in organising large groups of people within Africa and in publicising local injustices.

In the past, peaceful demonstrations were banned in Angola, or participants were arrested (Norwegian Council for Africa, 2011). With the end of the civil war, the continuous fight for peace and justice could be addressed through modern media such as mobile phones which offer the most promise in terms of internet availability in Angola. The availability of online media offers the ability to provide informative, critical and balanced information through free speech by all citizenry.

In the case of Angola, the availability of mobile technology and internet could help to facilitate freedom of speech, and to bring about awareness to issues around justice, freedom, equality, and free speech. However, due to tight government restrictions, many journalists’ have been arrested and there have been cases of media harassment (Afrol News, 2011). Angolan journalists are facing growing problems through experiencing mistrust and hostility that the authorities are showing towards some media (Afrol News, 2011). In terms of citizen interest in various subject matters, citizens may find outside media sources to be more engaging and rational as it offers a diversity of voices and opinions as opposed to traditional local media that offers opinions that are always state-approved.

While currently, online media has not been widely adopted, it promises much for the country given the ways that are being paved ahead for the future as addressed below. The median age of all Angolans is 18 years old (CIA, 2011). Therefore, the literacy levels of the youth and their adoption of new technology will be integral in their attempts to address and redress the issues plaguing contemporary Angola. According to the CIA (2011), generally, Angolan’s over the age of 15 can read and write.

Mobile phone penetration rates, in particular, have resulted in an abundance of ideas for new media platforms aimed at bridging the information divide between the well-connected and the disconnected (Sarrazin, 2011). Seventeen people, including several journalists, were arrested at the start of a demonstration, heavily monitored by police, in the Angolan capital, Luanda. The protest began as an internet campaign arranged by an anonymous group of individuals, announcing ‘a new revolution of the Angolan people,’ set up a website calling for an end to the 32-year rule of President José Eduardo dos Santos (Jacobs, 2011).

Public is defined by accessibility for everyone; by the excludability of control over access (Luhmann, 2000). Extrapolating from Habermas’s work, the public sphere can be defined as “a neutral zone where access to relevant information affecting the public good is widely available, where there is free discussion (without state domination) and where all participants are equal in public debate” (Curran & Gurevitch, 1991: 83). Hence, it is a place where critical, rational debate occurs among citizens of a populace. Currently, this space does not exist within Angola. Online and mobile portals offer the most promise to this country in terms of a free and engaged Angolan populace. Attempts have been made by the public; in early 2011, there were reports of a social media campaign calling for protests to end President Dos Santos' 32-year rule (BBC News AFRICA, 2011).

Both mobile phones and the internet provide exciting new opportunities for one-to-one as well as one-to-many communication. Newly empowered citizen journalists now report on issues and events relevant to their own communities. Political activists take to the web to gather support and organise rallies (Sarrazin, 2011).

International development agencies can become active in a number of ways in order to support the recent development in new media platforms. Promoting media literacy, lobbying for affordable mobile phone and broadband tariffs, and increasing the audiences of alternative citizen media are just some of the possible fields of activity (Sarrazin, 2011). SADC executive secretary, Tomaz Salomao said there was peace and called for more solutions to fully unite the region. He said their attention will be on their strategic plan to boost infrastructure (Norwegian Council for Africa, 2011).

Thus far, the Angolan mobile network operators have launched 3G services and are shaking up the broadband market where fixed-wireless operators and ISPs with CDMA and WiMAX-based networks have been competing with Angola Telecom’s ADSL and cable modem services. However, prices are still beyond the reach of most Angolans, due to the high cost of international bandwidth as a result of Angola Telecom’s monopolisation of the SAT-3/WASC international fibre optic submarine cable. This can be addressed by the landing of new international fibre systems in the country, which is expected to change this from 2011 onwards, coupled with a US$500 million national fibre backbone network rollout (Paul Budde Communication, 2011).

Journalism can be a driving force of change, building confidence in society and opening the door to new and dynamic forms of democratic exchange. The digitalisation of media has a fundamental role in contemporary society as it breaks down traditional media business models. Information technology has developed dramatically and is now a part of everyday discourse. The consolidation of peer groups around shared values and codes of meaning for the members of the group leads to the emergence of a collective identity.

Social network sites allow publics to gather and this could consist of all people across all space and time. Using mobile phones, citizenry could be kept abreast of latest developments and unity toward boosting infrastructure could be effectively achieved.

It is well known that conflict often arises through lack of communication. This has been a major problem for Angola and Africa generally. Mobile communication could thus be instrumental in addressing citizens, and in gaining informed, rational and critical debate through engaged citizenry.

Given the great difficulty that Angolan citizens and journalists face in producing media, online media seems to be the space to tackle the issues at hand. Noting the struggle in producing even online content, a current recourse could be Angolans blogging, tweeting and uploading news content from outside Angola. However, there are the brave few that are risking their lives by bracing the injustices from within. Angola has experienced turmoil and conflict for decades; mobile and online media possesses immense potential to tackle the shackles of injustice.

The technological and social revolution of the Internet and social and mobile media is yet to revolutionise Angola’s ability to become a democratic nation in terms of free speech and engaged citizenry. The cables expected to go online in 2011 and 2012 offer this potential to Angola. The currently increasing levels of penetration and the current attempts at addressing injustices through social media is at the forefront of making a positive change for the future of Angola.

27 comments:

  1. This is really interesting! But where are the references to your soucres?

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  2. I didn't attach the reference list to my blog. If you would like it, send an email to me at: faimallick@gmail.com

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