The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has not only shifted the way we handle many of the daily aspects of life but has also impacted the social well-being of the world’s population. With social media emerging as the definitive platform that can converge the globe, there has been a notable rise in global social movements.
To define these, global social movements (GSMs) are networks that collaborate across borders to advance thematically similar agendas throughout the world. Interestingly, in such times when social media usage has seen a sharp rise, these movements have equally become powerful actors in global governance and societal norms.
It is this conversation and more that was exhibited in the just concluded Uganda Social Media Conference 2021, under the theme “Digital democracy in a Post Pandemic Era”. The topic on The rise of Global Social movements and social media, moderated by Emmanuel Kwezi Tabaro – the Deputy Director, LéO Africa Institute – welcomed thoughts from stakeholders and experienced persons.
The rise of global social movements
Among the panelists was Musinguzi Blanshe, a contributor to The Africa Report, who believes a mere tweet cannot bring change. He points out that there are a lot of things that happen in the backend of these movements. His explanation is that whenever we see a tweet come out, there are many other actors that bring the people to the streets. And even when things backfire, or there is something to change, there is a backend system to resolve this.
“During the George Floyd protests, there was a lot of mobilization. Text messages. emails, phone calls,” he says.
Alexandra Hacke, a Political Science Major at the University of Bonn, suggests that the rise in global social movements is a result of an ongoing process. This is because digital tools have become more important to everyone, rather than just the younger generation – much as it is the latter that is more conversant with social media trends.
“If you have a feeling that something isn’t yet there, and you need to push more, and social media can help you do that. We are handling almost all aspects of our lives on the phone. Social media can help to build more pressure and create more tension on a specific topic,” she says.
Atim Judith, Program Officer KAS Uganda, believes that it is important to question the success of these global social movements and their activism practices. She gives an example that when George Floyd was murdered, it gave the world an opportunity to sit back and think about the things we take for granted.
“In the 90s, activism was mainly towards commercialization. Today, online activism gives and provides a platform for people to challenge the status quo, seek for justice, equity, and inclusion – that’s how feminist activism and #MeToo hashtags come in,” says Atim.
She thinks there are opportunities for us to reflect and ask ourselves whether it is comforting to push activism online and it does not yield results or there is a need to keep pushing more for change to be visible.
Pesh Ahumuza, a Digital Comms and Trend Setter, says that usually speaking up in Uganda is not guaranteed by the justice system. Some organizations have been set up to give victims and activists a haven – thus being a backup plan for the efforts. She also calls upon the government and institutions to step up when an individual speaks up on something that violates their rise.
“Let’s step up with funding and be very intentional when we are hiring people.”