Technologies of politics in Africa
Africa’s ‘digital revolution’ continues to provoke new thinking on how power is mobilised, organised and exercised across the continent. Social movements, street protests, democratic elections and state authority are being enabled and constrained in different ways as communication technologies, new and old, are innovated, imported, adapted and controlled. How are new communication technologies altering who has political power over whom in the region? What role are technologies playing in contemporary and evolving relations between social movements and states? What new global configurations of power in the region are emerging as a result of who controls the infrastructures of a digitally mediated world? What is the politics of these new technologies in their role in the exercise and contestation of political authority?
This research stream welcomes papers on these and other questions, with a particular interest in scholarship that combines elements of being empirically grounded, multi-disciplinary and attentive to local ideas and thought. This stream will offer the opportunity to connect researchers from and working on different parts of eastern Africa (broadly conceived) and beyond, and to discuss momentous contemporary political and social developments. Sponsored by the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA), the convenors envisage that relevant contributions to the stream be developed into a special collection for submission to the BIEA’s Journal of Eastern African Studies.
Panel: Imagining Africa’s Tech Futures
Convenor: Nanjala Nyabola (independent)
So many of the goals of social and political innovations in technology is grounded in science fiction and other creative realms. Social credit systems, genetic editing, surveillance systems and other platforms have all been imagined in fiction as text, film and even radio. Yet, until the rise of the Afro-futurism movement, tech futures have been broadly silent on Africa. Africa is rarely represented as an active participant in tech futures except in outliers like the Black Panther franchise or the fiction of writers like Nnedi Okrafor. The limits of this speculative future is reflected in the place that technology is playing in African politics and society. Africa is therefore seen as a subject of much of the social and political technology currently under development, rather than a place where key social and political questions around technology can be imagined and addressed. Africa’s surveillance architecture replicates the political goals of other regions, digital elections are based on tech developed elsewhere, military, health and other technology is developed, bought and sold along the interests of powerful nations elsewhere. Africa is contemplated merely as the recipient of technology.
The goal of this panel is to give scholars and practitioners working in the humanities, particularly literature, philosophy and the arts the space engage with the broad question of Africa’s tech futures. Rather than engage with politics, the panel aims to build from the current social and political landscape to contemplate what questions these tech futures raise for African societies. What could the future of technology in politics in Africa look like? What moral and ethical questions do these possibilities raise? How can African societies best prepare for these tech futures? How do the humanities inform the current tech landscape in Africa? What rights can African citizens and societies have within these futures? What possibilities does fiction create for imagining inclusive tech futures for African societies?These are some of the questions that can be addressed by abstracts and papers submitted for this panel.