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Opinion - New media as antibiotics for a toxic political sphere

2020-10-06  Staff Reporter

Opinion - New media as antibiotics for a toxic political sphere

New media are credited by citizens as their liberating and expansive tools in a highly politicised sphere. Our political environment though is
presumed to be free has some features of a totalitarian environment, where citizens are likely to be silenced up for speaking the truth.
Currently, a thorough observation shows that authorities tend to be selective on what the society need to hear and what should not be
aired in the public domain, though it requires the society to know as it may affect their standard of living. This is tantamount to some
key traits of a selective democracy which, if not carefully guided may fuel anger, frustrations and unnecessary questionable ethical conducts
of the societal members.

New media offered much greater freedom to the previously and politically marginalised communities, especially the less well off,
rural-based citizens, youth, less connected individual citizens and those living in poorly technologically endowed regions of this

Valuable information has been unintentionally or intentionally kept to those who can afford to buy newspapers or listening to the radio or watch televisions or possibly being consulted about certain issues concerning the governance of the state resources.
Decisions were purely centralised by those in charge of the state resources, be it government representatives, political parties’
representatives or traditional leaders. We had cliques in our society for those that are privileged to have access to certain information
and those that are just public followers of the political-knowledgeable citizens. Grassroots citizens are only consulted and involved in
much less and plain decisions when those in charge feel is needed or for the sake of fulfilling various international treaties that calls
for inclusivity and participatory democracy around the world.

However, with the emergence of the internet, social media platforms and other various technological advancements, it became
difficult to do things behind closed doors. Critical citizens in our communities usually share very (supposedly) confidential
information on these platforms to sensitise their fellows on what is happening in the country. Many corrupt activities were unveiled
through digital media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp groups, and SMSes via mobile phones. Such corrupt activities
revolve around favouritism during tendering, recruitment, allocation of state resources, selling and buying of the land, awarding of bursaries and scholarships, the appointment of executive officers and so on. These platforms became our source of information. They empowered the grassroots level knowledge wise.

Though they are part of e-democracy initiatives, to a certain extent, the participation of the technologically neglected in these issues
online led to some people being arrested, some policy decisions to be reversed, disciplinary cases to be lodged, resignations of those that
are believed to have been benefiting at the expense of the grassroots citizens and fasttracking of some public service provision. This
is an undeniable truth.

Though, at first, those in authority tend to deny these revelations through online media platforms, at a later stage, many of these leaking
sensitive and shocking cases tend to be true or being reversed without giving a proper explanation. New media are now serving as
our virtual publics. They gave us a platform where we can question those in authority and monitor their performance.
I am not saying, we do not have greater misuse and unethical habit on these platforms, where citizens tend to reveal issues in the
public that were supposed to remain private and confidential to that institution’s internal processes. I know that we, as the users of
these platforms sometimes fail to distinguish between an issue of national concern and that only need to be known by the people inside that institution. I am not blaming citizens for doing this, because media illiteracy should be a second wave for our education system reforms. Additionally, I am also not ruling out the unbecoming, ugly and unacceptable use of these platforms to vilify, namecalling,  shaming, discrediting and de-campaigning against one another especially by various members of political parties.
What is worth to be celebrated here is the digital power that extended democratic freedoms and rights of citizens to be well informed of what
is happening in the country and beyond anywhere, anytime.

New media can now be regarded as checks and balances for the current government administration as citizens are closely monitoring all the activities to ensure that there is fairness, justice, credibility and adherence to the national and international laws.
Furthermore, they gave citizens power and opportunities to take part in decision making processes by debating and deliberating
on the governance of national issues. More specifically, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other
internet related platforms/devices are also serving as alternative radio, television or newspapers for the general public, either they
are in rural or semi-urban areas. It is through social media platforms that information is being disseminated from top to bottom and bottom to top without boundaries and discrimination.

This actually strengthens inclusive democracy practices and gave citizens a sense of belonging and ownership of the country’s
resources. This is happening in the absence of a Citizen Engagement policy, which we do not have in this country. This is the reason why it is difficult for our government representatives and other decision makers to recognise the nature of exclusion that the current practise
is putting on our people. 

New media enable us to question issues and decisions that look suspicious and need to be cleared out. Though government representatives, be it councillors, ministers, or other managers do not like to be corrected and reprimanded publicly, forgetting that they are the servants of the Namibian people. The usage of these platforms is only tarnished by the few individuals that lack
digital literacy ethics, moral sensitivity, and our decaying traditional norms and values. Some of the new media tools used as
antibiotic in a strictly controlled political environment, which is now devaluing and becoming less ethical are Mobile Phones: that
gave the extended power to send SMSes to specific individuals and question about their immoral activities or sometimes they directly
call those individuals.

WhatsApp: there are now various WhatsApp groups for organisations, units departments, villages, constituencies, or regions that serve as public spaces for deliberations and active engagement of both leaders and their subordinates, Facebook: since it is now more popular, many of the previously technologically marginalised citizens join freely on these platforms to talk about burning issues concerning their villages or regions without them being restricted to certain protocols such as making appointments with a councillor.

Therefore, I am appealing to my fellow citizens to embrace the use of these timely innovated technologies to educate, sensitise, monitor, reprimand, reverse, and find solutions to our country’s problems. Let us use them as public unifying sites and not public sacrifices. We should not misuse them as platforms for showcasing our inabilities to debate publicly or show our moral reversals.
New media should become digital antibiotics for the poor and less privileged members of the society to have a voice in public issues.

2020-10-06  Staff Reporter

Tags: Khomas
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