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Africa's digital communications revolution: Valuing new voices in African public spheres

21st November 2013

Africa's digital communications revolution: Valuing new voices in African public spheres

Dr Sharath Srinivasan (Fellow of King's College, Cambridge); Director, Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), Cambridge

This seminar is part of the King's/Cambridge-Africa Seminar Series

Two decades ago, state broadcasters and foreign news services monopolised African airwaves. Today, many countries count scores of local radio stations – commercial, community, religious – often in rural settings and broadcasting in local languages. Moreover, mobile phones are enabling a multitude of African voices to be heard on interactive shows. Such interactions are reshaping relationships and identities – audience and journalist, constituent and representative, citizen and state, media and government – as well as reshaping processes that enact contestations over political accountability and legitimacy. The development of new, more inclusive and expansive, public spheres for debate and discussion presents an important juncture in African political development.

Africa's Voices is an applied research project at Cambridge's Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), and part of a wider research programme on 'African politics and the digitally-mediated public sphere'. During its pilot year, Africa's Voices worked with 9 radio stations in eight African countries, gathering and analysing SMS texts on interactive shows on agreed topics. Drawing on pilot insights, we are exploring ways to innovate technologically and methodologically to reconceptualise and analyse 'public opinion' in ways that value voices in their natural forms of expression. With industry collaborations (IBM Research Lab Africa, FrontlineSMS, Internews), we are developing an innovative new social research platform that can be used by practitioners, policymakers and researchers.

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