Has social media saved Africa?
Yesterday was huge for me, Nigeria and Africa. As I write this blog history is being made. President Buhari has just sworn in the Nigerian Cabinet after what many pundits have called Nigeria's first truly democratic Presidential election. Such a huge step towards progression would not have been possible without the power of social media.
As a British Nigerian I am incredibly proud and happy to be posting this after being involved in the election. After it was announced that Vice President Osinbajo would be running in the election I flew to Nigeria and spent some time with him assisting in the early stages of a communications plan for the campaign.
After spending a lot of my time talking to voters I had no doubt that the majority of people in Lagos wanted a new government. The only fear I had was whether their wishes would be reflected in the result. The focus was on the Independent Nigerian Election Committee, the politicians and security forces to make sure that the election itself would be fair and safe. The one thing that most commentators hadn’t realised was that the power would truly be in the hands of the people.
In 2013-2014 I spent some time helping to advise the Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello, during the preparatory stages of his campaign. It quickly became clear, to all of us involved, social media was going to have a far bigger influence over the result than in any previous election I found myself taking him and his campaign staff through best practice and assisting in the early implementation. We all embraced the fact that social media could, and would, hold politicians to account.
The retiring chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Jim O'Neill, is best known as the man who came up with the term “BRIC countries”. Last year whilst he said that the world’s next major economic boom is likely to come from “MINT countries”. Nigeria is one of these countries that is likely to soon rival the GDP of the UK. However, according to O’Neill, Nigeria needs to “sort out” governance before it can take this mantle. We are seeing the signs of this happen.
Whilst Nigerians went to the polls many in the diaspora, like myself, were constantly keeping an eye on #NigeriaDecides. The term trended day after day in the country and at times across Africa. It meant that we knew what was going on all over the country in a raw and honest way. Just a couple of years ago none of us would have truly believed such a simple hashtag could positively change our nation’s history.
When politicians, supporters and officials tried to alter votes it was immediately highlighted. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook suddenly gave power to many who were once powerless. Average Nigerians were tweeting moments of joy and anger to celebrate casting their ballot and to highlight issues.
The power that has been given to the people illuminates the impact of honest and focused communication in Africa. A continent that is dear to many of us is clearly moving in the right direction whilst social media has given a voice to the voiceless. I look forward to witnessing the change.
Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP