By Takura Zhangazha*
There was a terrorist attack in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu this week. Over 300 Somalian citizens were murdered and scores more were injured. Social media did not explode with emotion as it has done with other terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in the global north. There were no Somali flag coloured backgrounds to Facebook images. Neither was the story covered with as much fervour and thorough analysis as global media is wont to do.
African social media acolytes did express twitter solidarity. Some tried to put out/ post streams of anger, solidarity with the victims and even consciousness on the callous incident. In this they were also quick to remind anyone who cared to check out their social media feeds the evidently different attitudes to social media solidarity when it concerns tragic and callous incidences of terrorism in Africa.
Regrettably such comparisons have never had an actual impact on how African lives are viewed. And how no matter what happens, global social media’s reaction will always be more sympathetic to events that affect the global north. Not only because it is where social media’s centre is but more as a result of an historical solidarity and togetherness. A solidarity that has failed to transcend artificial social borders.
Add to this our own propensity, as Africans, to demonstrate this emotional solidarity with the global north in its times of tragedy and things become a little clearer.
For all of this there is never a singular explanation. Social media has come to mean many things to us as Africans who have acess to it. It has changed our ability to receive and impart information within our own contexts and it has connected us to the world. It does not however mean that social media is not without its own baggage with regards to racial bias or negative profiling of people of colour globally but even more if they are African.
And this, in a similar manner to what Palestinian academic Edward Said referred to as Orientalism, is the result of historical/colonial biases against the African continent that persist even after we appear to have arrived at liberation. And its not our fault that undercurrents of negative views of Africans and their ways of life exist. These are biases that have been brought to being not only through direct or indirect rule as it occurred during the colonial era but also through language, imposition of cultures.
Indeed this topic remains uncomfortable in the global north especially given the rise of the right and in some cases ultra-right to power or at least close enough.
Where we add the wide and hegemony crafting reach of social media, these views are generally fortified as opposed to being undermined.
And as Africans we have to understand that this new age of negative perceptions on migration, race and nationalism in the global north, aided by social media, is not a push over. But we must be wary of seeking recognition from such bigotry and pursue social media solidarity based on shared values and principles than a desire to be seen to be going with the flow.
This would require that we should also have our own strong social media solidarity and be quick to show it. Not in mimicry but in meaning. The latter being a reflection of what we would have referred to yesteryear and partly today as Pan Africanism and a realisation that our placement in the global order of political and economic things requires that we retain such a consciousness.
In the case of us Africans on social media, the medium does not have to become the message. That is to say, we cannot use this tool in order to be co-opted into a lifestyle and value system that is not reflective of our realities and aspirations.
We may not be the owners of social media as a medium but we can most certainly influence its content while we are at it. This requires a return to understanding ourselves and our contexts and not always being swayed by events as they occur via social media in the global north.
In this we must be careful to avoid viewing issues in binary terms and repeat the very mistake that has brought us to a social media that reflects more sentiment from the global north. We must avoid ‘othering’ those that would want to ‘other’ us.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)