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Once in every 5 years, people’s attention turns to politics during the political campaigns. Suddenly issues that used to be ‘part of life’ become the most important issue of the year. The road that we always grumble about becomes a broken promise, the failing grades of students becomes a statement about our education system and so on. This is true not only of Tanzania but rest of the world, IMHO
But also it is the time that politicians pay closer attention to us and try to understand what we want and better still what will it take to get us to elect them. This is the game of politics and policymaking. And it is in the midst of this, that in the 21st century we are looking at the internet and Web 2.0 (including social media and applications like Facebook and Twitter) and look at how the game is changing. And this is true not only in the US but also in a least developed country like Tanzania, IMHO
One of the most frequent argument, I hear from people is that the internet in Tanzania does not matter. Tanzanians are not interested in the internet; they are too busy making ends meet; they do not follow events and chats on internet; that having a Facebook or twitter account is just a niche thing. But for any politician, policymaker and stakeholder in this area, they can only afford to ignore Web 2.0 at their own peril. Every month the internet population is increasing but at first glance, the statistics look discouraging with only 676,000 internet users (1.6% of population) as of June 2010 and 141,580 Facebook users (0.3% of population) as of August 31st 2010 in Tanzania. (From Internet World Statistics)
But I believe that these figures greatly underestimate the reach of internet especially when mobile phones are becoming mini internet modems and computers rolled into one, IMHO. Today even a simple phone has internet connectivity and internet usage fees are becoming cheaper by the day. The TCRA (Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority) puts mobile phone users in Tanzania at about 17 million by the end of last year (December 2009), so if we assume that about 10 % of the mobile phone users access the internet that is 1.7 million (read Citizen) . But as I probably have a mild form of dyscalculia, I would rather not get into the statistics but instead point out how useful and wide reaching it is. When presidential candidates have on average 10,000 followers on Facebook and a wall post by one candidate generated 90 comments in 3 hours, it really makes one think hard about the power of Web 2.0. When blogs and forums generate hundreds of response and people post photos, news and gossip from all around the country, that is when connectivity works. Censorship no longer works on the internet as news travels fast – at the speed of light. There are no more secrets and everybody has an opinion and they are less and less worried to express themselves. That is how the internet is changing how we communicate, that is why it is important to be part of it and not shun it.
Today the elder generation is not comfortable with technology and the Twitter and Facebook accounts of some politicians and policymakers are maintained by professionals or their younger family members. But when the candidates and policymakers start experiencing and eventually mastering personally the social media, a whole new world opens in front of them.
This is also a great tool. Because it is also mostly the younger generation that make up a huge percentage of the voting population and that is closely linked to the internet and social media usage. Just like Obama discovered the power of the vote of the young, so must also politicians and policymakers all around the world come to terms with the power that the young have. Addressing issues important to the youth and talking or communicating with them in their ‘language’ is key in getting their support as well. And when they are ‘with’ you, their ability to mobilize and energy is a powerful force that can help propel any campaign to victory, IMHO
So if you are an internet user without Social media account, maybe it is time to get at least one and start exploring the world. But if you are interested in making a career in policymaking, it is imperative IMHO.