Communication Technology and African Politics (2019) 

From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communica tion in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” pro vokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent.  

The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of poli tics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the pos sibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communi cation approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in ex plaining the possibilities of such change. Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship.

A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by draw ing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of informa tion flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communica tive terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to pos sess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics. 

Srinivasan, S. & Diepeveen, S. (2019). Communication Technology and African Politics. In Cheeseman, N., Abrahamsen, R., Khadiagala, G.M., Medie, P.A., Beatty Riedl, R., & Smith, E. (eds.) Oxford Encyclopedia of African Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.