Increasing connectivity and the spread of mobile phones have had a profound impact in Africa, resulting in a dramatic increase in the use of social media. Between 2008 and 2012, Internet bandwidth in the region has grown twenty-fold, with an estimated 46 per cent of the continent 1.2 billion population subscribing to mobile services by the end of 2015.
A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Social media in Africa finds that extremist groups in sub-Saharan Africa use social media with varying levels of sophistication to radicalize, recruit and share information and urges tailored responses to curb the trend.
Conducted by Rand Europe between late 2017 and early 2018 in seven countries (Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda), the study draws on structured literature review, informant interviews and Twitter data analysis (over 223,000 tweets from the three extremist groups were analyzed). It finds that Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIL opt for wide range of online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while others prefer private channels, such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
The findings of the report were presented on Monday 5 November 2018 at UNDP’s Regional Service for Africa (RSCA) in Addis Ababa during a forum discussion headed by Simon Ridley, UNDP Governance and Peacebuilding expert.
Participants included Eyerusalem Azmeraw, Project Officer with UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa; Jacopo Bellasio co-author of the report; Kate Cox, Analyst, RAND Europe and Omar Mahmood Researcher, Institute for Security Studies.
Expounding on the background of the research, Kate Cox explained that that the goal of the study was to bridge the gap in research on online radicalization in Africa, specifically on the recruitment and coordination efforts by Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and ISIL.
By certain accounts, African governments are awakening to the magnitude of the trend. as confirmed by nascent strategies aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) in Somalia, Nigeria and Kenya and are under development in Chad, Uganda and Sudan. According to Social Media in Africa, only Nigeria and Somalia have crafted strategies against radicalization, though they did not include an online component.
Experts agree that context-based local and national strategic responses are essential to address the use social media as a propaganda tool. Along those lines, Social Media in Africa urges African governments to:
• Develop national counter online radicalization programmes in consultation with stakeholders such as UNDP, social media providers, local institutions and law enforcement agencies to wind minds and hearts, shape the narrative and ultimately disrupt the dynamics of radicalization.
•Engage with relevant community actors to ensure that the messaging is relevant and sensitive to local audience and conditions.
•Establish a presence in the same online outlets as the extremist groups in oprderto ensure an effective and compelling response.Establish a presence in the same online outlets as the extremist groups to ensure the dissemination of an effective and compelling counternarrative.
Finally, panelists suggested that the private sector should be encouraged to take responsibility and cited the Global Internet Forum (which includes Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube) as an effective venue to share experiences and operational details in the global effort to address online radicalization.
For more information, please contact in Addis Ababa: Yoshihiro Saito.