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The Cheetah Generation – Africa Connects To Social Media

Social Networks Offer More Than Selfie Opportunities For The Continent

Facebook has announced it has 100 million users in Africa – half of all the total internet users across the continent. Whether or not Zuckerberg’s attempts at world domination (sorry, providing internet access to all) will come to fruition, it is becoming increasingly clear that a new generation of African ‘Cheetahs’ are using social media and the opportunities it offers to slowly bring about change for their underdeveloped continent.

In June this year, Facebook spearheaded a major initiative to bring internet to Zambia. Internet.org gave locals access to basic apps and sites like Wikipedia, Google, women’s rights campaigns and of course Facebook.

Zuckerberg sent a team of engineers to Africa to investigate the difficulties of operating in locations that suffered from slow connections and a lack of memory on local devices – apparently the team’s monthly data was used up in three-quarters of an hour. Their tweaks and improvements seem to have paid off as more than 80% of Facebook users are now accessing the site from a mobile phone, supporting developments in high-growth countries to get the population connected to the internet. 

This comes at a time when vast numbers of people in Africa are accessing the internet on their mobiles, not just for communication purposes but as a lifeline for banking, employment and health services. 

The Cheetah Generation, who are at the forefront of this social media revolution, are the new and angry young African graduates and professionals, looking at their continent’s issues and problems from new and unique perspectives. Technology is undoubtedly driving this change and helping to spread their democratising and liberating views. The term was coined by Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, who calls on a young, fast "cheetah generation" to take back the continent from the complacent bureaucrats he calls hippos. “They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the "restless generation" but they are Africa's new hope”.

Of course internet access is still undreamed of in many villages and districts, and freedom of expression and information is often strictly limited, but the introduction of social media and the implementation of active social networks is driving a mini-revolution across many areas of Africa. Mariéme Jamme, co-founder of Africa Gathering, which explores how social media is changing Africa, writes in The Guardian of how “Egyptians rewrote history this year when they used social networks to bring down their president. Kenyan technology developers and bloggers are using technology to put their country on the world map and East Africa is getting connected with the arrival of fibre optics”.

These Cheetahs are investing capital in small businesses, agricultural programmes, supporting women in education and business and social entrepreneurs are bringing initiatives to areas which will benefit from change. Internet access is by no means universal but the middle classes at least can now demand access to quick and reliable information. 

This was exhibited in the ongoing Ebola crisis, where social media is playing an instrumental role for sharing important information and updates about the disease. Across West Africa people are using social media to educate one another on the symptoms of the disease and share prevention methods. #FactsOnEbola has been trending in Nigeria, started at the end of July by Japheth Omojuwa, a Nigerian blogger with over 100,000 Twitter followers. He told BBC Trending that he started the hashtag after having a conversation with friends and responding to the call of civic duty to serve his followers and the public.

Hashtags and social media has been used across Africa for campaigns and human rights, for example the recent #BringBackOurGirls campaign had a worldwide reach, highlighting the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

Social networks don’t just offer an information service, but provide important support and solidarity in the face of such disasters. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, a mobile messaging campaign called on the citizens to take a warm water bath in order to promote good health and sanitation, and act as a reminder of the strength of community in a time when the Ebola disease is pulling it apart. Warm water was shared with neighbours who didn’t have access to water heaters and the entire city was awake for a few moments in the dead of night. There have been many support groups formed online and on Whatsapp - social media offers a unifying source of strength for many still suffering. 

Elsewhere in the continent, those in a more fortunate position to activate change are doing so through the internet and social networks, keeping leaders in check and challenging wrongdoing – they are using social media to democratise their communities in some small way, and more transparent, user-generated content is coming through. The new media revolution has arrived in Africa and many are calling on its proponents to hold authorities and governments accountable for the development of their communities.

The Cheetah Generation is just what Africa needs right now – Western aid in the form of practical and useful services that Africans can use and harness themselves. The combination of energy and determination of a new generation and the opportunities offered by social networks could form a powerful alliance to challenge and overthrow archaic structures; from this, forward-thinking Africans can start building communities with the technological and political know-how offered by social media.

Katie Rowley 

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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The Cheetah Generation – Africa Connects To Social Media Reviewed by Katie Rowley on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Rating: 5
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