Technological developments in the 21st century have led to an industrial revolution of sorts. Within the many African countries, this has been characterised by the rapid growth in the telecommunications industry: more specifically, the widespread use of cellphones and social networks like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. Even though the level of technological development might not have reached the same levels in Africa as it has in the Global North, its effect cannot be ignored.
While intra-state conflicts, political instability and transnational security threats have become more pronounced, the access communities have to political elites has been influenced by technological improvements. Analysing security from the human security perspective) putting the individual at the centre of the security paradigm rather than the state) technology has played an integral role in the levels of security of communities and their perception of the influence they have over state security structures. However, as governments across the continent spend increasing proportions of their annual budget on technological improvements the question of budget priority becomes more pertinent. In addition to this, technological improvements and the spread of social media has led to more accountability mechanisms as the ordinary person’s access to information improves and is able to spread more rapidly.
There are a number of positive examples of the innovative use of social media to improve peace and security of individuals within Kenya. In 2012, the Kenyan Chief, Francis Kariuki, was recognised using twitter to track down missing livestock and to stop crime by identifying criminals or criminal acts. The District Commissioner praised his efforts stating that his innovative use of technology brought the government closer to the people. However, the praise for innovative social media usage is not widespread amongst the political elite.
As the August elections approach, the Kenyan government has spent millions of Kenyan shillings on social media monitoring technology. As a result, there are fears that increased surveillance of social media will result in repression of basic human rights. In Kenya, this behaviour was characterised by the arrest of blogger, Ezer Kipurui. In Uganda, many social media platforms were shut down in the name of ‘’security concerns’. Social media repression has become a trend across the region as Burundi and Ethiopia also limited citizens’ access to information and limited their ability to report election irregularities through social media restrictions.
The role of social media in the lived experiences of people cannot be denied or ignored. Social media and technological advancement have led to innovative crime fighting and local conflict resolution strategies. It has also led to knowledge dissemination and the perception of government being closer to the individual. However, as communication networks expand, the ability of political elites to manipulate and distort those networks have also expanded. This has added a new dimension to advocacy efforts the work of human rights defenders. Therefore, technological developments have the ability to both enhance and hinder peace and security efforts in Africa and indeed globally.