As mentioned in last week’s Global Feminist Link Love, Malawi recently elected Joyce Banda as its first female President. Given that Banda has “a distinguished history of civil society activism,” her appointment gives Malawians hope for increased social change. But it isn’t only Malawi’s government which may be progressing in a new direction. In the past year, Malawians have started to use new media and social networking to make their voices heard.
From Inter Press Service:
…the country’s online community was first stirred to action during last year’s protests. On Jul. 20, 2011, the apparently peaceful country of Malawi broke out into nationwide anti-government protests in response to a deteriorating economy and political mismanagement. Persistent fuel and foreign exchange shortages added to the frustrations.
The protests lasted two days and resulted in 20 deaths.
So when the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) temporarily shut down private broadcasters and popular news websites were blocked, Malawians turned to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for the latest information.
IPS goes on to explain that the number of Facebook users in Malawi increased by 50% between March 2011 and March 2012.
The idea of using social media to advance social causes is not a new one, though it’s considered by some to be flawed and controversial method. That said, the strategy appears to be working well in Malawi. For instance, in January, nearly 1,500 people supported the event “Stop Violence Against Women in Malawi” on Facebook, after women in Lilongwe were harassed by men for wearing pants. Additionally, Ralph Kasambara, a human rights defender and colleague of President Banda, was released from prison only eight days after he was arrested on the grounds of kidnapping and torture; it is widely believed that social media played a role in his release. The events of the last year have normalized the use of social media as a tool for mobilizing activism and advocating for social justice, and there’s no sign of that stopping. Hopefully, due to Banda’s activist background, the new Malawian government will now support, rather than challenge, these efforts.