ICT and politics: New vista of opportunities for democracy (1)

The truth and reality about technology is that it has changed the game of life forever. If you want to know how obsolete a trend or an idea can quickly become, try to keep up with the ever-changing realities of the ICT world. For me as a person, it is all about solutions – how can Nigeria as a nation, graduate from being only a consumer in the ICT world to becoming a producer of hardware, software as well as a content generator?

Be that as it may, I wish to focus on ICT and how it brings about a host of other opportunities in the political arena of the country. Very soon, the political climate of Nigeria will become agog with the frenzy of political campaigns, meetings and scheming’s in preparation of the 2015 general elections and it most likely that the current trends in ICT will take a front seat in the tools that will be utilised in these campaigns etc.

Away from campaigns, of further importance for the electorate, I am of the school of thought that ICT remains an effective weapon in tackling and stemming political fraud once and for all if there is a political will to do so. There is a lot of voter apathy in Nigeria with a good number of the electorate choosing to stay out of the voting process as they are resigned to the fact that those they have passionately voted for in the past have disappointed them by looting the treasury in mind bugling fraud cases.  This is the case in other parts of the world too. In most democracies across Europe, there is a growing climate of dissatisfaction with governments and their traditional methods of policy formulation.  For example, In the UK’s 2001 general election only 59% voted, a fall of 12% from the previous election in 1997, when about 71% voted, and the 2001 figures was the lowest turnout since 1918 (Cabinet Office 2002).

However, the negative effects of globalization, especially the global economic meltdown of the previous decades saw a marked increase of interest of the electorate in governments’ activities and decision making process in the Western world. People now want to have a greater say in how they are being governed.  Even the American public started showing significant increased interest in government activities especially after the 911 terrorist attacks. Both the governments and the citizens in these countries are now turning to ICT as tools for endearing greater participation by the citizenry for enhancing efficiency, approval and legitimacy of political processes.

Nigeria may not be too far removed from this global mass participation.  Events of the oil subsidy protests of January 2012 cannot be divorced from the influence of ICT.  Even in Asia and the Middle East, places that are renowned for their high level of media censorship, major telling cracks are beginning to emerge in the wall.  The role of the ICT in the Arab Spring is the subject of a growing library of discuss and publications too vast to mention here.

In some cases, ICT has been of major influence in trans-national political mobilizations that helps impoverished and remote communities in developing countries in combating global challenges like climate change, multi-national crime syndicates, and other social challenges such as trafficking of women and young girls for sex trade, thus changing the dynamics of international relations and politics. Increased and improved access to the digital space through internet based platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yahoo and other discussion platforms is enhancing an international network of Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, and Community Based Organisations, CBOs, in bringing human rights and other social issues to the fore front of political discuss and agitations in their various countries.

In India for example, local NGOs are engaging the usual internet based platforms to make direct political demands in combating the menace of trafficking of women and young girls for sex trade. They are using ICT to gain international support for the power and authority to demand change in the form of stringent measures to combat the menace, and more effective policies and laws to protect the rights and welfare of women and children in these poor and vulnerable communities.

However, the effective use of ICT for political mobilization has not remained the exclusive prerogative of the Civil Society Organization community.  The internet has been harnessed by political representatives in advanced democracies since the mid-1990s. Initially, the internet was host to static pages containing information about politicians and political parties. Since 2004, however, politicians took up the initiative in robust online campaigns, matching the best examples of citizen-led activism, with politicians in the US pioneering most of the innovative practices now associated with online campaigning.  Deploying the best of Web 2.0 (the second generation of web design that enables the two-way flow of information, encouraging user generated content), political parties and candidates now have websites that combines several key functions; providing a direct link between voters and candidates, allowing citizens to have a greater input into the political agenda of their parties and representatives, improve citizen access to political events, and are cheaper than broadcast and print media. The use to which President Obama of the USA deployed the use of ICT in his campaigns to win the 2008 elections is a vivid example of how far ICT can take a committed individuals seeking elective positions.

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