The temptation to write about the wave of change that is sweeping across North Africa is just too much to ignore. The credit goes to the new found “friend” – internet.
The recent campaign by young people against the rule of Hosni Mubarak has shown that social media networking sites are more than a tool for exchanging greetings, photos etc. In the 21st century the internet can help transform our lives.
In many developing countries young people make up the majority of national populations. They are a large and crucially important group with the potential to contribute to the development of their societies. Too often however, that potential is not exploited. Their ambitions, energies and aspiration are allowed to go to waste; buried under neglect, a lack of educational opportunities and other challenges of daily existence; un(der)employment, poverty, disease, conflict to name but a few.
There is a tendency to see young people as a problem and not the solution. They are seen as passive players on scene waiting for their time once they become older. Yet many children do have a voice and are capable of articulating their desires, needs and ambitions. Young people can participate in the decision-making in the near future and not in a longer term. A nation which does not understand this is denying its own potential.
The new media has found a way of giving the voice to young people. The youth have found a platform to air their concerns, register their frustrations and hopes for the future. The new media such as the internet and cellphones are important tools for young people to test their knowledge and opinions in relation to their peers.
The internet has also transformed the media. Increasingly, the way in which people receive news is being revolutionized by access to the internet. Online journalism has transformed not only the manner in which news is conveyed, but also the ability of ordinary people to become more directly involved in the gathering and disseminating process. Blogs, chatrooms, podcasts and social networking sites have blurred the distinction between “professional” working journalists and their readers, producing a new breed of “citizen journalists” and commentators who can communicate directly with their audience.
Egypt is perched in the far north of the African continent but reports which were reaching us in Zambia showed how internet facilities such as facebook, twitter and podcasts played a significant role in mobilising people. People turned up in huge numbers on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria to mount pressure on their longest serving leader – Mubarak. Efforts to disrupt the internet and the phones paid no dividend to the Mubarak regime.
The challenge for many developing countries is to make the internet available and accessible to everyone. Governments should work towards creating information societies were everyone has access to the internet. There is something we can learn from the Finish government who have made the broadband a “legal right.”
A poll conducted for the BBC World Service earlier this year found that almost four in five people around the world believed that access to the internet is a fundamental right.
Charles Mafa – Journalist, Zambia.