Something transformational has been happening online: African voices have begun populating social media, quickly becoming the undisputed champions of development punditry. No longer are we faced with what the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie called “the danger of a single story”. Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media are bringing African voices and new, varied narratives to the forefront. And, what’s even more remarkable, is that these online platforms are not being used for simple pontification and acerbic commentary (although there’s a fair bit of that as well). These tools are also being used to replace staid development paradigms, by organising and developing African-driven institutions.
One form of social media in particular has had a noticeable effect. Twitter’s short messaging network has revolutionised political discourse and rewritten the rules of international development dialogue. Controversial development projects such as the #1millionshirts campaign (pdf – see page 11) and Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video came under heavy diaspora scrutiny online. Invisible Children’s video campaign to capture the notorious Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony became a victim of its own success and was dismissed as “over-simplified” and “misleading” by many prominent voices in the diaspora. Likewise, the negative feedback against the #1millionshirts campaign – a project to dump 1 million T-shirts into the African marketplace – was so powerful that founder Jason Sadler pulled the plug on it.
With social media bringing African voices to the fore, gone are days when do-gooders can launch misguided development projects with impunity. This, in turn, has encouraged more collaboration and shared learning. After killing his project, Sandler took the initiative of engaging with African diaspora, including myself, to understand better how he could put his talent to good use.
New institutions for economic development