A Global Voice can be heard

Over the past blog posts I’ve taken a look at (among other topics) the number of issues that hinder cyberdemocracy especially in Africa. The digital divide and the language barrier of the internet as it is are major contributing factors to the low levels of e-political involvement.

A large majority of websites are in English. However a large majority of the world’s population does not have English as their first language and some do not even speak a word of it. This presents an obvious language barrier and obstacle for any non-English speaker wanting to participate as an internet activist.

The digital divide has worked to cut off an entire section of the world’s population. As noted in a previous post, “even in the advent of this great cyber-democracy, those who were marginalized by the politics of the apartheid regime are still marginalized by the politics of this new virtual-democracy”.

But…this does not mean that e-democracy is doomed to fail in Africa. The fact that Africa only makes up 3.4% of the world’s online population does not mean that this 3.4% cannot become internet activists.

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Global Voices is a non-profit global citizens’ media platform that allows everyone the opportunity to raise global awareness about the issues that the mainstream media often forget, or simply choose not, to cover.

They use “weblogs, podcasts, photos, video, wikis, tags, aggregators and online chats – to call attention to conversations… that will help shed new light on the nature of our interconnected world”.

Bloggers spark up conversation, spread information and call on action for their particular regions. A team of translators ensure that all content is available in a wide range of languages like, French, Spanish, Chinese and Bangla. Users are even able set up their own networks which translate content into any language of their choice.

This means that with as little as just a GPRS enabled mobile telephone and basic computer literacy, a small group of women in rural North West province can take part in e-politics by blogging in seTswana. They could express the view of people at the grassroots level and have their content translated into a number of languages for global access.

South African bloggers are regular contributors to the site with debates often started with user comments. Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations, environmental issues, and the International Criminal Court’s charges against Sudanese President al-Bashir are only some of the most recent posts from South Africa.

South Africa still has a long was to go when it comes to internet penetration but that does not mean that e-politics is not a possibility.

Granted, one could argue that with internet access still largely in the hands of the more financially affluent, the politics of the poor and uneducated are still marginalize. However, with the government setting up more Thusong Service Centres, all voices can gradually begin to be heard at the global level.

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3 responses to “A Global Voice can be heard

  1. Hi,
    I am glad to have come across your blog, thank you for highlighting Global voices online on your blog. I started volunteering with GV back in 2005 for some of the reasons you highlight above. A global conversation can occur, and with time more voices can definitely be heard. please feel free to send me links to these rising voices, and do have a look at http://rising.globalvoicesonline.org/ it gives grants to reach out to communities such as those you pointed to.
    Cheers,
    Juliana.

  2. I’m concerned about how involved South Africa is in global initiatives. I’m a techno-critic especially because living in Grahamstown you see the extreme end of urban poverty with streetchildren and beggars running rampant. I wonder if they have a phone or if they care to send a message to the new grassroots moment. As long as the upper class echelons of society are debating the society, I suppose it’s progress… but we have to continue striving to make it more inclusive. Even if it means using normal means, rather than technology.

    You can always take a municipality committee meeting and transfer it online, but a conference call with local poverty stricken population may not be as feasible.

  3. Excellent comment Kele. There is indeed a pessimistic school of thought that (not altogether incorrectly) suggests that similar to the coffee shops and cafe’s that inspired Habermas’s original conceptualisation of the public sphere – the Internet represents MAINLY one class speaking to itself and reflecting issues on behalf of the marginalised who lack access to more than just the Internet. And that instead of promoting global activism merely provides a safety valve for the middle classes which diffuses potential for resistance, revolution and mobilisation. That is indeed a complex debate.

    Nevertheless, we cannot get stuck in an either/or debate when it comes to the democratic and empowerment potential of the Internet and other forms of participatory social communication (community radio springs to mind) that destabilises traditional hegemonies.

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