Table of Contents
Within the contemporary context, it is widely theorized and in turn accepted that the digital revolution has largely shifted is continuing to shift the paradigms and landscapes of human endeavor. Since the late 1950’s when the initial spark of digital revolution was ignited, there has been a complete transformation in the way in which information and knowledge are spatialized across an array of sectors and platforms within the global sphere.
The aim of this study is to explore and analyse the ways in which the digital revolution, through advancements in various telecommunication technologies as well as wider technologies, has resulted in a series of changes, both rapid and incremental, which have impacted and will continue to revolutionize the ways in which the cultural, environmental and political landscapes have previously manifested within the African continent.
Visually oriented social media platforms on the internet such as Tumblr and Instagram have revolutionized the way in which dimensions of cultural representation and preservation occur. Whereas blogs have had significant impact on the growing impetus behind environmental movements as well as political movements. As a result, these proliferated dimensions within an increasingly ubiquitous cyberspace have given way to the catalyzing of a new wave African identity, continent and way of life. To this end the main research question is Africa in Cyberspace: A Paradigmal Shift in Cultural Preservation, Environmental Consciousness and Political Expression. The research question is answered through the use of empirical data and the use of case studies which are predominantly online based.
“What Black Consciousness seeks to do is to produce real black people who do not regard themselves as appendages to white society. We do not need to apologise for this because it is true that the white systems have produced through the world a number of black people who are not aware that they too are people.”
At the crux of this thesis lies the empirical analysis of the shifting socio-cultural, political and environmental landscapes, on the African continent, by the current unparalleled expansion of Cyberspace and thus of digital communication technologies. The main area of focus within the frameworks of this essay will be centered around and concerned with evaluating and explaining the different spatialities which accompany the increasing ubiquity of the Internet. Additionally, the analysis of the transformation and expression of collective and individual African and diasporan identities, which occur within Cyberspace, will be given significant focus.
The proliferation of the aforementioned central points of focus are further manifested in a number of specialized spheres, which are contributing to the reconfiguration and reformulation of the mainstream discourses and narrative which have continually been imposed and attached to the African continent and the African people alike. The digital communication technologies as manifested in user-generated services, such as blogs and in social networking sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, have led to what can be called a new wave of Black Consciousness and thus as a result the concretization of a more holistically self defined Africanness and Blackness. ‘Black Consciousness is in essence the realization of the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression. Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the Black World in a long time. (Biko, 1987, p.51)
The theorizations of Steve Biko in 1987 are significantly relevant within the digital age and the age of information as the accessibility to a plethora of knowledge, as materialized in Cyberspace, is contributing to the expansion of plateaus of understanding and thus of being by black people. Similarly, Cyberspace is enabling the formation and forging of spaces and communities in which self-expression and solidarity can occur. Both of these above aspects are key in the positive transformation of Afro-identities and consciousness’s which will further shift external paradigms of Blackness and Africanness in the wider context of being.
The chronological ordering of this paper is as follows; Chapter 1 will lay out the foundation frameworks of the paper by providing definitions, statistical data and general background information on rates of internet penetration, accessibility to computing devices as well as policy oriented solutions which further open the continent up to technological change. The second chapter will be concerned with the exploration and analysis of the role of digital media within spheres of representation and cultural preservation. The final chapter will be centered around exploring the ways in which e-sustainability and ethical production and consumption are being manifested within the African cyberspace. In closing a conclusion chapter will be put forwards and will aim to summarise the areas and arguments explored within the main body of the paper.
Since the late 1950’s, when the Digital Revolution saw its beginnings, telecommunication technologies have experienced a significant increase in their functionality as well as in their reach. Accompanying the advancements which have been made there has been a monumental increase in public interest and engagement within the realms of Cyberspace and with the digital world as a whole. There exists a wide variation in definitions of the term cyberspace. One such definition, relevant to the topic in question, describes cyberspace as being “a world of networks or computers linked via cables and routers which enable us to communicate, share and retrieve information” (Bryant, 2001, p. 140) The core feature of cyberspaceis an interactive and virtual environment in which a broad range of actors can participate. The seamlessly integrated global network of computers can be said to largely facilitate key social, cultural and political processes. The proliferation of networks and inter-networks have fundamentally altered the core functionality of a majority of societies across the globe. The paradigmal shift which has occurred has impacted the way in which individuals, communities and institutions alike are able to access and utilize information, as well as make use of the spaces and platforms facilitated within these networks and inter-networks.
Cyberspace and the digital world are most significantly shifting key landscapes within the African continent.According to an annual report published by We Are Social, the African continent, over the last couple of years, has been subject to the most exponential growth rates in internet penetration and thus in the use of the internet. Statistics given in the report show that the number of internet users across the continent saw an increase of more than 20% in 2018. The number of people with access to the internet in Mali increased sixfold since January 2017 and doubled in countries like Mozambique, Benin and Sierra Leone (We are Social, 2018) The increase in rates of internet penetration on the continent can be attributed to diverse technological trends, initiatives and developments. One such example is the continued cost reduction in computing and communication capabilities (Murray, 2003, p. 3) The increasing levels of accessibility to cheap smartphones as well as cheap mobile data plans play a significant contributive role in the growth of internet penetration in Africa.
The Sub-Saharan region of the continent has been identified as the world’s fastest growing mobile market. It is estimated that the region will have more than half a billion unique mobile subscribers by the year 2020. (GSMA Intelligence, 2017) The increase in internet penetration and wider accessibility to computing devices such mobile phones within Africa is significant in that it addresses and remedies the existing digital divide. The digital divide is a phenomenon linked not only to the topic of access to the internet but is also similarly linked to the one of usage and the benefits of usage. (Fuchs and Horak, 2008, p 100) It is a term which refers to the differences in access to and uses of information technology that are correlated with income, race and ethnicity, gender, age, place of residence, and other measures of socioeconomic status. (Noll, Aguilar et. al, 2000). It is believed that access to the internet is ‘‘a requisite for overcoming inequality in a society which dominant functions and social groups are increasingly organized around the Internet’’ (Castells, 2002, p. 248). Similarly, Kofi Annan highlighted the importance in access to and availability of communication technologies, such as the internet. In 1999, Annan put forward that 83 percent of the planet’s population, at the time, lived in developing countries and for many of them the capacity to receive, download and share information through electronic networks as well as the freedom to communicate freely across national borders was a necessity. In addition to this, he put forward that within a highly networked and integrated society being cut off from basic telecommunications services was a hardship almost as acute as the deprivation of resources such as jobs and healthcare. (Annan, 1999)
Therefore, in a society in which knowledge-intensive activities are an increasingly important part of the economy (Harrgittai, 2003) it can be said that the stratification of knowledge across global populations needs to be addressed and amended. Within the digital divide discourse, a number of smart policies have been suggested and implemented in order to bridge the existing gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not. It has been put forward that the primary and most common remedy in addressing the digital divide is the implementation of schemes or policies which fuel increased levels of accessibility to computing devices and thus to the digital world.
In response to a growing need to address global inequalities alongside the heightening demand and need for accessibility to cheaper smartphones by those who live within Digital No Man’s Land, global telecommunications company Airtel launched their own affordable smartphone which was aimed mainly at Pan-African Markets. In 2015 the Airtel Red Smartphone was launched across various countries in Sub-Saharan Africa such as in nations like Kenya, Burkina Faso, Seychelles, Zambia and Uganda.
In Zambia the phone was put on the mobile market for only K450 which was significantly cheaper than mainstream smartphone brands such as Apple and Samsung devices, which were being sold at a range of K6500 to K8500 (TechTrends Zambia, 2014). The Airtel Red Smartphone is built with connectivity functions which include Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and 3G. (NDTV Gadgets360.com, 2018) Although the specifications of the Airtel Red Smartphone come up short in comparison to mainstream phone brands, it was manufactured with the capacity to perform the same basic functions as devices such as the Samsung Galaxy or the Apple Iphone. The phone was rated as being an ideal first device for those who were starting out with smartphones, as they did not require high end devices for the ways in which they devices were being utilized and were in addition to this as rated good value for money. (TechTrends Zambia, 2018) In addition to the affordability and basic device functionality of the Airtel Red, the mobile phone is preloaded with social applications such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp which can be said to lie at the fulcrum of the acquisition of knowledge and information within the current digital age as well as enable means of non localized communication.
Cheap mobile data plans and initiatives to increase the number of mobile subscribers across the African continent has gained significant impetus. For example, multinational telecommunications company, MTN which operates across various countries in the Sub-Saharan region responded to calls to bridge the digital divide by introducing cheap internet bundle deals, reducing existing internet tariffs as well as implementing schemes to promote engagement and interaction within cyberspace. MTN Ghana, with support from the Ghanaian Ministry of Education, became one of the continents first mobile subscribers to empower their customers with free access to knowledge and information on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia Zero initiative was launched by MTN in order to ‘lead the delivery of bold new digital world to its customers by proactively providing new ways for customers to benefit from the digital revolution.(Mtn.com.gh, 2018)
The digital divide has increasingly been seen as an important socio-political as well as economic margin to bridge and thus a margin which has been incrementally addressed.
Despite the progress in addressing the continentally spatialized inequalities, there remains an often overlooked digital gender gap in which women have lower levels of access to the digital world. Empirical studies show that women within developing nations have significantly lower technology participation rates than men; a direct result of entrenched socio-cultural attitudes about the role of women within society. (Antonio and Tuffley, 2014, p, 673) In 2016 women in the Sub-Saharan region were 17% less likely than their male counterparts to own a mobile phone and thus have access to the internet. (GSMA, 2017) Studies have shown that when women are able to access and engage with internet technologies a wide range of benefits become manifest, in personal, family and community spheres alike (Antonio and Tuffley, 2014, p. 673)
Communication technologies, such as Whatsapp, can facilitate cheap and efficient correspondence between individual women and their business related networks. For example, a woman who generates income for herself and her family through operating a market stall can capitalise on having access to the internet by saving money and time spent on travelling to her supplier by placing an order or submitting an enquiry via text message rather than through physical interactions, which are often costly. Similarly access to internet technologies can be said to benefit women by enhancing and increasing the number of channels of empowerment which they have access to. One possible mechanism of empowerment for women in developing countries is social networking sites, such as Facebook, which encourage and facilitate means of self-expression. They also allow women to communicate with others beyond their geographical location and enhance their understanding of how the rest of the world works, which allows them to contextualise their own position within it and reflect on it critically. (Antonio and Tuffley, 2014, p.681)
It is important to note that although gender disparities in relation to internet access are significant within developing countries across age groups, it has been shown that women who are highly educated use the internet just as much as men. Researchers who attempted to measure the gender digital divide in six francophone countries in West Africa (Benin, Burkina, Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal) found no gender gap in connectivity or usage among young women educated to secondary school level and beyond (Hafkin and Huyer, 2008). This seems to indicate that education is a powerful tool in combating the gender gap in Internet access and use (Polat, 2012, p. 590). Therefore, an important tool in bridging the digital divide on the whole is not merely centered around increasing levels of accessibility but more importantly implementing policies and initiatives that promote and prioritize the education of women and men alike.
Society has reached the point at which knowledge and information are the two critical resources at the centre of the new economy which can be said to be heavily knowledge-centric. Knowledge is becoming a strategically important resource and a very significant driver of organizational, societal and individual performance (Yeşil and Dereli, 2013) Networks and inter-networks, mainly the Internet and subsequently Social Media platforms, have radically changed the way in which society was previously organised by facilitating easier access to knowledge as well as the expansion of various networks on a global scale. Thus decentralizing power which has previously rested dominantly within the elite stratum.
Social media has been defined as user-generated services (such as blogs), social networking sites, online review/rating sites, video sharing sites and online communities, whereby consumers produce, design, publish, or edit content (Krishnamurthy and Dou, 2008). Social media sites and user generated services such as Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter are at the crux of contemporary information acquisition, and similarly serve as crucial platforms for interaction and self-expression. Access to information and platforms of interaction and self-expression, which are provided by sites and networks within cyberspace, play a significant role in the formation, reformation and transformation of both individual and collective identities.
The identity of the African person has continually been assailed from a plethora of different directions. Whether it be through direct or indirect measures of abstraction. Historical processes which involved mass numbers of African peoples such as slavery and colonialism will be classified as direct forms of the erasure of Afro identity. During the years of colonialism in Africa, the identity of the continent and its people was continually stripped and exploited. European influence and imposition extended to the introduction of colonial educational systems which entailed school syllabuses being taught in the foreign language of the colonizing country rather than the maternal tongues of those who were forcibly being ruled over. This resulted in a number of African languages being overshadowed and engulfed by colonial languages.There exists an extensive list, as collated by UNESCO, of endangered languages on the African continent. By definition, an endangered languageis ‘a languagethat is at risk of falling out of use, generally because it has few surviving speakers. If it loses all of its native speakers, it becomes an extinct language.’ UNESCOdefines four levels of language endangermentbetween “safe” (not endangered) and “extinct” (Moseley, 2010) One such example of an African language on the endangered languages list collated by UNESCO is The Khwe language of Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa and parts of Zambia. Khwe is classified in the “definitely endangered” bracket. The decline in the state of the language can be attributed to the livelihoods of native Khwe speakers being significantly transformed by processes of Westernization experienced in colonial and post-colonial times. The imposition of foreign European languages continues to plague Africa and the notion of African Identity in the contemporary context as many African countries still employ the language of former colonial powers as their official operative language.
In addition to this, Indirect forms of the challenge to Africanness and African identity were presented through socially constructed norms such as the promotion of Eurocentric aesthetic and beauty standards which were not compatible with the existence or the natural state of being of the African people. The appeal in the fair skin and straight hair of Europeans was emphasized and in turn the melanated skin and kinkier textured hair of Africans was ridiculed. Subsequently chemical hair straighteners and skin bleaching agents were promoted and sold throughout African beauty markets and as a result many African people, women especially, internalised the toxic representations of their natural outer state of being.
User generated services, such as pro-African blogs, served as Identity-Affirming resources for the Black African demographic that interacted within those spheres which were oriented around the promotion and preservation of the African aesthetic. A number of self defined and representative digital spaces work towards the addressal of the cultural disconnect between Afro hair and African identity through the use of media.
Media plays a significant role in the shaping and social construction of both Self and Other. Means of mainstream Western media, such as Hollywood movies or the News, have continually presented a one-dimensional, and mostly negative, representation of the African continent and the African people. Social networking sites and blogs facilitate positively curated representations of African women, men and children and thus served as identity affirming resources, as well means for the acquisition of knowledge on African culture for African people. In addition to proliferating positive representations of the African person and reaffirming positive African identity, Tumblr serves as a virtual community in which sociability, meaningful connections to others, conviviality and empathy and support are constitutive elements. (Papacharissi, 2011, p. 106) Within these cybercommunities there exists a process of formation, reformation, transformation and expression of both individual and collective African identities.
1.2 Transformation and Expression of Collective and Individual Identity in Cybercommunities: Hashtag Activism
Cybercommunities or virtual communities have been described as being social aggregations that emerge from the net when people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships. (Rheingold 1992, p.12) As illustrated by the definition above, cybercommunities are organised primarily on the basis of shared or collective conceptions of the world and of Self. Online social life which is manifest and experienced in various digital spaces can be said to enhance and exemplify the emotion laden sense of belonging (Weise 1996, p.11) as well as forge spheres in which the materialization of collective social action is made possible. The aforementioned facets of belonging and change are made possible by sense of belonging or mobilization of identity which people can find on user-generated sites.
Similar to the African sense of identity, the African concept of community, in an increasingly globalized world, is faced with a great deal of challenges and has continually experienced various means of abstraction in concrete physical validity. Globalization is a critical tool in the realization of cultural homogeneity (Yanzuko 2013, p.43) and the rise of a single global village. Within the contemporary context of hyperglobalization, the volume, diversity, geographical scope and overall complexity of human migration have increased. (Czaika and de Haas, 2014) As a result there has been a massive centrifugal movement and dispersal of people and communities from the African continent into the Global World. Through the physical dispersal of Africans across the globe there has been a significant rise in virtual communities within the Black African public sphere. Rheingold (1993, p.62) puts forward the notion that the increase in virtual communities in recent years is a “response to the hunger for community that has followed the disintegration of traditional communities. One such reflection of Rheingold’s quote is evident in the disintegration of traditional physical African communities and popularization of online communities such as the African Digital Diaspora, a fairly recent social movement which has altered the spatialization of the identity of Africans and those within the African Diaspora.
Digital diaspora is the use of cyberspace by immigrants or descendants of an immigrant group for the purpose of participating or engaging in online interactional transactions. (Laguerre, 2004). According to Everett (2009, p10) 1995 was the watershed moment in which there was a transformation of the internet from a predominantly elite, white masculinist domain into a more representative African Diasporic presence. There exists an inextricable link between digital diasporas and the cultivation of new wave identities as well as the solidification and transformation of pre-existing identities. The internet, and more specifically cybercommunities, are an integral part of the metamorphosis of identities, especially those of minority groups living outside of their homelands.
This is reflected in the contemporary political context via the analysis of recent protests that have materialized around the world. Diasporans and migrant activists are increasingly using various cyber-communications to challenge even well established regimes. (McGahan, 2010)One such example of an identity affirmative and transformative political protest that has materialized through the diasporan use of the internet is the series of protests and marches that were organised by diasporan and migrant activists against the Libyan slave trade of predominantly black African migrants, which took place from the 9th of December 2017 onwards. These marches were held across capital cities and key cities in continental Europe.
The march that took place in London was orchestrated by a Diasporan organisation called African Lives Matter (ALM) which was founded in the United Kingdom by individuals belonging to the African diaspora. ALM is an organisation which was founded with the core purpose of protecting and preserving the welfare of African people around the across the globe. The main aims of the organisation include the goal of endeavoring towards the eradication of the continued slavery of African people and those of African descent across the globe, as well as a series of goals aimed at solidifying the notion of African identity and Africanness such as the nurturing of a Pan-African global platform that is centred around yielding the economic prosperity of African people.
At the ALM protest staged in London, demonstrators set up picket lines outside of the Libyan Embassy with the intention of drawing public attention to the issue and thus prompting the British Government into applying international state based pressure onto the Libyan Government to address and end the slave trade and inhumane treatment of predominantly black African migrants. In addition to this, African Lives Matter drafted and submitted a petition, through the UK Government and Parliament site, to further coerce the Government into taking action and applying international pressure. The petition received 268,690 signatures out of their initial target goal of 100,000 signatures. As a direct result the protests and the petitions led to the issue being promptly discussed in the UK Parliament within ten days of the increased levels of public outcry. The British Government responded by releasing a statement which said, “The Government shares the public outrage and welcomes the Libyan Government’s commitment to investigate these reports and ensure that those involved are brought to justice.(Petitions – UK Government and Parliament, 2018)
Another protest, within the same branch, that gained significant traction was the protest against the inhumane conditions, such as rape and torture, within the Libyan slave trade of Black African migrants which was held in Stockholm. The protest, at which close to 4000 demonstrators voiced their dissent at the circumstances in Libya, was organized by a Sweden based Gambian lawyer and founder of Black Vogue, an online makeup platform for black people and people of colour, Lovette Jallow. The event saw its initial beginnings when Jallow posted a status on Facebook calling for protests against the state of inhumanity in Libya. The post was engaged with and shared by over six thousand people both across Sweden and the wider global scale. (Al Jazeera, 2018)Therefore it can be said that a great deal of the impetus behind the protests and marches in London and Stockholm alike were based on cyber interactions on either websites or social media sites utilized by the digital diaspora and its various members.The use of cyberengagament and cybermobilization within the digital diaspora gives way to the mobilization of identities that occur in spheres of physical protest and continue to thrive outside of spheres of protest.
Both individual and collective identities are impacted by means of social interactions within cyberspace and in virtual communities. Individual identity is the conception and development of a sense of self that occurs and evolves over continuous periods of time. Locke considered individual identity or conceptions of self as being founded on the concept of consciousness. A plethora of definitions of the concept of consciousness are linked to sentience and awareness. The internet, through access to information as well as platforms for intellectual and emotional engagement, widens the scope for the development of individual consciousness and thus of the conception of Self within the wider systems of being. Although individual identity forms the basis of collective identity it is not the main unit of analysis in the wider transformation and metamorphosis of identity which influence social change. Alcoff (2006) puts forward that individuals cannot transform the public meaning, effects and implications of their identities by a sheer act, but collective acts of creative expression and resistance constantly contest and transform meaning, implications and political effects. Collective identity is a tridimensional process consisting primarily of cognitive definitions, the formulation of cognitive frameworks concerning goals, means and the environment of action. Secondarily active relationships, the activation of relationships amongst participants and thirdly of emotional investment, the emotional recognition between individuals. Melucci (1989) further defines collective identity as an interactive and shared definition produced by several individuals (or groups at a more complex level) and is as a result concerned with the orientation of action and the fields of opportunity and constraints in which the action occurs. As exhibited within the context of the Anti-Slavery in Libya protests, empirical data reflects a concrete link between collective identity and the materialization of social movements both online and in the physical sense. It is important to note that social movements would not be possible or have the same paradigm shifting impetus behind them without the sense of collective identity amongst individuals across groups.
Within horizontally accessible spaces mainly the internet and its various facets, collective identities are given the spaces and platforms to begin to emerge, connect and catalyze social, political and economic changes. Through social networking sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, and user generated services such as blogs hosted on Tumblr, networked collective action or cloud protesting has been at the crux of a significant number of contemporary movements and protests. In addition to this, social media and social networking sites greatly influence the way in which collective identity and thus identity affirming cybercentric social movements are constructed and spatialized. Within the social networking sphere hashtags are one of the most prominent ways of raising awareness on certain issues or movements as well as forging and solidifying platforms or spheres of representation, which are often marginalized within mainstream media. Consequently, Hashtag Activism has become a popular term and concept within social media circles. Hashtags such a #BringBackOurGirls and #FeesMustFall have drawn attention to issues of relevance within the African continent. In mid April 2014, over 200 female school pupils were abducted from their secondary school in the North-Eastern Nigerian town of Chibok. The terrorist group Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic organization, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings on the basis of being in favour of the rejection of a Western-style educational system, which the girls were enrolled in. (McElroy, 2013)In response to the mass abduction protests and vigils were staged across Nigeria, such as in the capital city Abuja and within the town of Chibok. As a further repercussion the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls quickly infiltrated online spaces and was first used in the Twittersphere, by a user based in Nigeria, and promptly began to gain traction and spread all over cyberspace and thus all over the globe. The popularity of the hashtag consequently spurred cloud protests and hashtag activism in which high profile celebrities and public figures, such as Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Ellen DeGeneres, engaged with the use of the hashtag with the use of social media tools and thus drew even wider global attention to the crisis.
According to the works of Mehmood and Nargiza (2002) social mobilization, which takes the form of cybermobilization within the contemporary virtual context, often allows for the effective participation of different stakeholders and decision-makers with similar interests to organize, strategize and initiate actions collectively for recovery, resolving and managing challenges for their collective benefit. Thus the use of hashtag activism, like in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign enabled the mobilization of not only the identities needed to catalyze collective social action but also enabled the mobilization of resources across the local, national and international levels at which the correction of social injustices could begin to occur. It has been put forward by (Olutokunbo et al, 2015) that the Bring Back Our Girls campaign is an indication of the effectiveness of internet technologies such as twitter in the mobilization of social movements as #BringBackOurGirls still remains an ongoing event or hashtag four years after its initial materialization.
Although the Bring Back Our Girls campaign was successful in creating awareness, enabling participatory processes and mobilizing resources as well as collective identities, it is important to consider the shortcomings in the overall effectiveness of the hashtag activism in the movement. Critiques of hashtag activism have been made using the foundational claim that simply raising awareness on a particular crisis or conflict, through retweets and reposts, does not directly achieve the ultimate end goal of instating policy changes, or in the specific case of the Chibok kidnapping ensuring the safe return of all the abducted girls. The limitations of hashtag activism are similarly reflected in the way in which online based solidarity can easily morph into Ironic solidarity which is mainly concerned with advancing the self-motivated interests of participants within the cloud protest sphere, such as appearing to be “woke” or politically and socially conscious. As these critiques may hold true in that the effectiveness of hashtag activism is limited in aspects such as not catalyzing policy changes within nations and spaces of conflict and crisis and instead only raising often short lived awareness, it is integral not to wholly dismiss the power of hashtag activism in promoting social and political awareness, especially on issues and crises which take place within spheres of marginalized voices. Social media sites like Twitter serves as a powerful public space for minorities and marginalized voices to circumvent traditional media which is often non-representative.
The increasing ubiquity of the internet and access to information within the African Cybersphere is altering means of cultural representation as well as the preservation of aesthetic cultural manifestations such as conceptions and thus adornments of natural Afro-textured hairstyles. The impetus behind the natural hair movement could be said to be rooted in exposure and subsequent digestion of culturally representative forms of digital media which are manifest on user generated sites and within social networks. The natural hair movement and the shifting in the paradigm of the politics of black afro textured hair carries deeply significant political and thus social meanings, which can be attributed to the various historical processes in which the identity of those with Afro textured hair had previously been spatialized, as well as within the contemporary processes of the spatialization of black identity.
All throughout history, during times of the transatlantic slave trade, imperialism and colonial conquest, and even in contemporary times Afro-textured hair has continually experienced multiple waves of upbraiding. Hair care practices and hairstyles within the African continent were of significant cultural importance as the various manifestations of the aesthetics of hair, across different tribes and groups, served as identity indicators and thus were of symbolically vital. Symbolic manifestations in hairstyles or headdresses alluded to tribal group, social status, spirituality and marital status. For example, for the Himba tribe, found within the North Western region of Namibia, hair is an integral building block and reflection of identity. Hair within the Himba tribe is often worn in dreadlocks which are crafted using a mixture of ground ochre, goats’ hair and butter. (BonnyIdenghaFoundation.Org, 2018) Within the Himba custom a teenage girl who had recently reached the stage of puberty would usually wear braided strands or dreadlocks hair that hung over her face, whereas a young woman who was said to be ready for marriage would tie back her dreadlocks, so as to reveal her face. Additionally, Himba men who were single would wear their hair in a single backwards facing plait to indicate their unmarried status, and once the were married, they would be required to cover their heads never to unveil them in public again, with the exception of funeral attendances. (Africa.com, 2018).
During times of slavery the appearance of natural hair as well as the traditional natural hair practices of Africans were significantly impacted in largely negative manners. Those that were captured were no longer able to maintain methods and routines of hair care which they were able to engage in whilst living as free men and women within the African continent. Traditional hair care routines were developed over a continued period of time and often utilised hair products concocted using indigenously occurring ingredients such extracts from the roots and leaves of certain plants or from clays like ochre. Men who worked in plantation fields often had to shave their heads for practical purposes, whereas as women who similarly worked in fields adapted by braiding their hair into various styles, like cornrows, which were well suited to their lifestyle as they were durable as well as low maintenance. Women who were house slaves experienced a starker dilution of their Afro-identity, as expressed through the hairstyles which they adorned, due to being subject to the wearing of straight flaxen fibred wigs to mimic the texture of their masters.
During colonial times black hair and black identity as manifested through hair, further experienced a dilution in its aesthetic validity through being policed by colonial school rules for example, which are still upheld in the contemporary context within a number of former colonial territories. School girls were often not permitted to wear their hair as it naturally grew out of their scalps, in Afro form, as it was seen as dirty and unkempt. In turn they were often expected to straighten their hair, to mimic the caucasian texture of hair, as this was presented to be neater and thus in accordance with the schools’ code of uniform and appearance.
In 2016 in Pretoria, South Africa the inherently racist school rules which were instated during colonial times, sparked widespread controversy and subsequent protests which were directed at combating the toxic narrative around black natural hair and its incompatibility with formal institutions such as schools. It was put forward by black students that academic staff at Pretoria Girls High School often expressed their discontent when black students wore their hair in traditionally black or African hair styles, such as Afro puffs, cornrows and dreadlocks. Some students were told to use chemical relaxers, while others were punished for transgressing school rules that limited the lengths and diameters of cornrows, braids or dreadlocks and similarly limited the height and diameters of Afro puffs. In response to the systemic injustices entrenched within the school rules, students took action and held physical demonstrations which protested against the social injustices which they were subject to. Images of the protests were shared on social networking sites such as Twitter and Instagram and went viral, initiating conversations about the systemically entrenched policing of black hair and thus of black identity. Similar cloud protests ensued through the use of the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh. As a result of the protests on the grounds of Pretoria Girls High School, in conjunction with the global cloud protests which occurred, the institutions’ discriminatory hair policy was repealed and revised in order to cater to the marginalized black students and their Afro hair. Hair is one of the more relevant aesthetic and cultural indicators at the crux of the African identity, thus it is important to be equipped with the tools and the means to able to counter the toxic and degrading narratives which were continually imposed upon Afro hair and were socially and systematically reinforced throughout history.
At the fulcrum of the Natural Hair Movement is the goal of shifting the negative representations of natural hair and thus promoting the adornment of natural tresses by black women. The Natural Hair Movement mobilizes the identities of black women and men who wear their hair in its naturally occurring coiled and coarse natural state, as well as seeks to convert those who have previously subjected their hair to chemical straighteners, by means of representative cyberspheres and communities. Technologically based social affordances on user generated sites like blogs have enabled an increased exponential progression and reach of the movement. The Black beauty blogosphere has significantly saturated the Afro with new social and political connotations, as well as provided a platform on which black women and men alike are able to define and decide on the social meanings which accompany the Afro. Representative media spaces, such as the black beauty blogosphere, are important as understandings of hair within the wider societal contexts are strongly perpetuated in mainstream media channels in which Black people who do not fit the stringent Eurocentric mold are underrepresented. The increasing presence of natural hair blogs and video blogs (vlogs) hosted on sites like YouTube, alongside increasing engagement in the natural hair movement not only encourages black women and men with natural hair to refrain from the use of chemical straighteners or “relaxers” but posits new standards and negotiations of beauty more accessible to the Black person. (Sobze, 2013, p.5) Digital media has forged a means of self-actualization and self expression within the black communities.
Due to Africa generally having had lower internet penetration rates in comparison to other continents like Europe and The United States, and thus lower rates of accessibility to spheres in which Afro hair was positively represented, waves of the Natural Hair Movement which took place in cyberspace were delayed in reaching the shores of the continent. Additionally, it can be said the pace at which the African continent absorbed the Natural Hair Movement and its goals of shifting the negative narratives around natural hair was slower in its manifestation due to there existing significantly high levels of anti-blackness within the continent. The high levels of anti-blackness can be attributed to socially entrenched norms, such as weave culture and skin bleaching culture which can directly be traced to Western cultural domination.
The Natural Hair Movement in the Western region of the continent has in recent years materialized in places like Nigeria, with an explosion of events centred around the promotion and appreciation of natural Afro tresses, such as the Natural Hair and Beauty Show held in Lagos. The event is hosted by one of the country’s first natural hair care brands The Kinky Apothecary. Other than having constitutive elements such as free hair and product consultation services and hair and makeup demos, the event also hosts a panel of popular natural hair bloggers, vloggers and digital influencers. At the most recent hair expo digital influencers such as Yagazie Emezi and Ronke Raji, shared their truths and experiences as black women with natural hair in Africa and within the wider digital diaspora. Yagazie Emezi, a multi-disciplinary artist used her platform at the event to showcase visual depictions of natural hairstyles in Nigeria through her photography which she shares using digital media on Instagram. Whereas Ronke Raji, a YouTube beauty vlogger contributed to the shifting of the negative narratives around hair by addressing the issue of managing unrealistic hair expectations as a naturalista. Events like the Natural Hair and Beauty Show in Lagos, which are organised mainly using the internet, are significant in that they facilitate a platform for the representation of niche content, like natural hair stories, as well as positive discourses which contribute to the necessary aesthetic and cultural shift that is needed to penetrate the mainstream and give black women a platform for their voices to be heard.
Similarly, the movement has begun to materialize in the Southernmost region of the continent, across various landscapes in South Africa. The politics of hair and the representation of Afro hair in South Africa is a valid unit of analysis due to there being a wide spectrum of historically aligned hierarchically organized races, cultures and identities which are manifest within the country. The wide spectrum of diversity, alongside the deeply problematic colonial and apartheid histories tied to the Rainbow Nation gives way to a complex process of representation, especially for Black women and facets of their identity such as their hair. Thus forging spaces and platforms for self-actualisation and representation is significantly difficult for those with Afro hair. (Marco 2012, p.4) puts forward that “while white women also make concerted efforts to ensure maintenance of the most superior form of a white image they can produce, the pressure of conforming to a particular [Eurocentric] beauty standard is heavier for Black women.”
As continually posited, hair is not limited to being solely a physical attribute but ultimately serves an important social role by functioning as a symbolic manifestation of culture and race. According to the literature of theorists such as Rosette and Dumas (2007) socially constructed meanings and connotations of hair often reflect the cultural differences within the black vs. white dichotomy. The normative mainstream discourse around “good hair” in both black and white cultures in South Africa are centred mainly around having straight, easy to manage hair. The gap within the mainstream discourse on “good hair” is incrementally being addressed by Cybercommunities and and online influencers within the South African Beauty Blogosphere and Vlogosphere. Haircentric landscapes are being shifted largely on the internet and transmute into the physical. Although, natural hair bloggers and vloggers outside of the country, mainly in the U.S and mainland Europe, have the capacity to serve as hair inspiration or natural hair icons, it is integral to have influencers on a more relatable local level. In July 2016, popular South African naturalista Nomzamo Mbatha was selected to be the face of L’Oreal Paris ELVIVE Curl Nourishment range, which is the brands first hair care collection which is targeted at the Black Afro wearing market. In addition to this, the number of South African natural hair vloggers using YouTube as a platform to broadcast positive narratives on kinky hair has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. Therefore, it can be said that various manifestations of new media are beginning to address the gaps of representation of Afro hair within the South African context.
As the Natural Hair Movement is sweeping across Africa the consumer demand for products tailored to natural hair textures is similarly on the rise. Although chemical hair relaxers and straighteners continue dominate the Black Hair market across the continent, due to the demand and supply processes of capitalism, a great deal of independent, mostly woman owned, African companies are beginning to increase in number and saturate the hair market. Similarly, the presence of hair salons and parlours that cater to providing services and treatments specifically for afro hair are exponentially increasing.
Organic handmade and locally sourced hair care collections are penetrating the Zambian hair market. Garden of Zucchi, an organic hair and beauty brand is one of the many local and independent hair care ranges which are beginning to gain popularity within the naturalista community in Zambia. The company’s manifesto states that Garden of Zucchi ‘is a brand passionate about all things natural. Its focus is on moisturized, more manageable healthy hair, trending away from a market filled with false promises and products full of chemicals’ (Nakazwe, 2018) As illustrated by the quote above, as the natural hair movement grows and processes of unlearning negatively reinforced narratives begin to happen, the awareness of the beauty of natural hair in the black community expands. This leads to there being a shift in the way in which the identities of naturalistas are spatialized.
As a result, the shift in the spatialization of Afro-identities catalyzes a product based response in the market, which can be said to further expand landscapes of representation. Though it is integral to note that although capitalism can expand landscapes of representation for black women through brands like Garden of Zucchi, it has the capacity to feed into and further entrench one dimensional, Eurocentric, beauty standards.
Capitalism, being a commodity based system of profit and power, promotes and perpetuates the largely unfounded and unrealistic mainstream beauty ideals which exist within contemporary society. The capitalist commodification of the body and beauty standards in present times, such as the appearance of hair, relies heavily on advertisements which are made using various means of media. Digital media, in the form of sponsored content, on social networking platforms like Instagram for example still heavily rely on drawing on the socially enforced insecurities of users and thus of consumers. Multinational beauty corporations like Nivea and Tresemme through their adverts proliferate unattainable beauty ideals which are materialized in the use of a thin, conventionally attractive and often caucasian woman as the main subject of the advert. Adverts of this beauty biased nature affirm the notion of having to modify or alter natural states of being, like afro hair, in order to be attractive and socially acceptable. Consequently, the large percentage of people who engage with media content in cyberspace and on social networking sites are likely to succumb to processes of consumerism which require the spending of money which in turn generate profit and power for those in the top rungs of the capitalist hierarchy. Therefore, in order for the capitalist system to work, there needs to occur certain levels of emotional exploitation which translate into financial exploitation.
Similarly, the capitalist system feeds into other problematic black hair related spatialities like cultural appropriation. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus and a number of other non-black celebrities sport traditionally black hairstyles such as cornrows as well as make use of styles of expression particular to black people such as twerking. As a result, appropriation of black culture occurs.Cash cropping on hairstyles that have historically been linked to black people and black culture, such as cornrows, has become a frequent occurrence within contemporary popular culture. The theory of cash cropping on black hairstyles can be traced back to a YouTube video uploaded by Amandla Stenberg, a popular bi-racial Hollywood actress. In the four-minute video Stenberg addresses the problematic social and political implications of non-black celebrities and pop stars, such as Katy Perry, who adopt and wear traditionally black hairstyles and make use of Ebonics in their public spheres of existence such as in their music videos or on their social media feeds.
The appropriation of cornrows and other aesthetic manifestations of blackness is a relevant unit of analysis in that the sporting of these traditionally black cultural expressions by non-black people proliferates the divorce of the solely aesthetic physical manifestations form the processes of historical struggle from which they stemmed and additionally reinforces systematic inequalities.
As previously posited hair has continually been one of the material expressions at the crux of black identity. Cornrows have deeply rooted historical relevance within the context of the slave trade- in order to maintain the health and appearance of their afro textured hair female slaves had to adapt and adopt braided styles, like locs and cornrows in order to keep their hair in good condition whilst living and working in deplorable conditions which rarely allowed for traditional processes of grooming.
Similarly, cornrows are having significant meaning and symbolic connotations within the more contemporary context of the Hip-Hop, Rap and R’n’B sonic landscapes. The aforementioned genres of music were born out of the creative expressions of the lived experiences of black people. Due to the general marginalisation of the black experience these genres of music addressed the need for the affirmation and concretisation of black culture, experience and identity. In the early 2000’s celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Maxwell and other black influencers wore their hair in cornrowed hairstyles. Genres like Hip Hop, R’n’B and Rap progressively became integrated into the mainstream of popular culture. This translated into other facets of black culture similarly becoming a part of mainstream culture. It is within this context that present day cultural appropriation of black culture occurs. Cultural appropriation is often morally problematic in that the uses and representations of cultural aesthetics and styles which are distinct to particular cultural groups by non-members have the capacity to cause offense, harm as well proliferate pre-existing socio-cultural and political imbalances.In contrast to this view philosopher James O. Young expresses his skepticism regarding ‘the claim that artists will not do much harm to the cultures from which they borrow.” (Young, 2008, p.113) He additionally tries to debunk the extent and frequency to which the harms and offences which he acknowledges impact members of the culturally appropriated groups.
Young’s definition of cultural appropriation, states that “The common feature…is the taking of something produced by members of one culture by members of another.” (Young, 2008) This definition requires the specification of the conditions under which cultural appropriation is or is not morally objectionable. (Matthes, 2016,p.347) Young’s definition of the constitutive elements of cultural appropriation alongside the general definition of the term within philosophical debate, can be said to be morally objectionable rather than morally neutral. Therefore, cultural appropriation is morally objectionable when a member of a dominant cultural group appropriates from a member from a marginalized cultural group. (Matthes, 2016, p.345)It is important to note that a member of a marginalized group employing western aesthetics and styles, such as a black woman wearing a straight blonde wig, is not considered to be cultural appropriation but rather cultural assimilation. Due to processes such as slavery and colonialism it is particularly difficult for a member of a minority group to not display or harness manifestations of the dominant western culture.
The appropriation of Hip-Hop through the use of Ebonics, motifs and style is harmful in that it has the capacity to proliferate the imbalance of economic opportunities within the music industry. For example, Riff Raff, a suburban white middle class man gained musical acclamation, popularity and a great deal of money by hijacking elements of hip-hop culture such as wearing his hair in braids or wearing grills and loose fitting trousers. Antithetically, black men who have the cultural right and leeway to wear grills and braids without the intention to capitalise on them are often subject to stereotyping and racial profiling which play into the loss of economic opportunities and in some cases in the loss of life. The same applies to black women across societies who wear their hair in either Afros, braids, cornrows or dreadlocks.
There exist high levels of discrimination against black hair within formal institutions, such as in learning institutions, as illustrated using the case study of the Pretoria Girls High School incident, and in the workplace alike. Discrimination against natural hair and alternative manifestations of blackness in the workplace can be illustrated using the case study of Melphine Evans, a black female executive that worked at British Petroleum Oil Co. Evans filed a lawsuit against her former employers for race and gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination. Evans was directly discriminated against due to her physical appearance being an explicit expression of black culture. Within the pages of the lawsuit it is stated that racially charged remarks against Evans’ outward expression of blackness included the following statement which was extracted from her letter of termination, “You intimidate and make your colleagues uncomfortable by wearing ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles (Dashikis, twists, braids/cornrows)” (HuffingtonPost.com, 2018)The theory of organizational culture can be said to underpin the systematic discrimination against black hairstyles worn by black people in formal institution such as the workplace. The organizational culture theory states that ‘the culture and norms of groups are inherited from the macroculture in which they were formed in (Ossenkop, Vinkenberg et al., 2015 p. 520) Corporate or formal culture, as well as global culture on the whole, is weighted heavily in favour of Western European norms (Reidy and Kangiri, 2016 p.?) Therefore, non-western microcultural norms and manifestations, like the braided hairstyles worn by men and women of African descent, often result in the marginalization of black expression in formal spheres, which in turn results in the imbalanced economic disadvantages faced by black communities across societies.
The problem at the crux of the cultural appropriation debate lies in the way in which a stark contrast between the way in which those of African descent and those of European descent are perceived and respectively positively and negatively stereotyped and thus treated. As illustrated in previous paragraphs, using the example of Riff Raff, when members of macrocultures appropriate elements of micro cultures, like braids and grills, they often gain popularity and capital as a result. Therefore, capitalism and the gaining of profit can be said to be at the centre of the abstraction of moral and political reasoning by appropriators who prioritise their individual gain over the more complex historical struggles of those cultural groups from which they appropriate.
Even though cultural appropriation within the contemporary popular culture context is rife, harmful and offensive, social media and cyber communities such as the black beauty blogosphere, through the provision of platforms of expression, have given the black community a space in which to have their voices heard and to dissent against or call out cultural appropriators and thus address the problematic manifestation of the mainstream adoption of black culture.
There exists a normative, mostly negatively laden, discourse around the LGBTQI+ community and its respective members within African spheres of existence. The mainstream narrative significantly divorces the notion of Africanness from the notions of non-heteronormative lifestyles as well as notions of identifying outside of the socially reinforced he and she binaries on the gender spectrum.This normative claim that the LGBTQI+ concept is incompatible with the African person, the African continent and the wider African identity is often legitimized on religious grounds. Similarly, there exists a widespread misconception within African communities of sexualities such as homosexuality, bisexuality, queerness and other manifestations of the LGBTQI+ landscapes being a product of colonial import; ideas imposed on African by the white man, belief systems that are in their essence “un-African”. (Chona, 2018) During the colonial and imperial processes, which a vast deal of African nations were subject to, the purposeful erasure and othering of Africanness lay at the crux of imperial and colonial conquest in Africa. The abstraction and disapproval of indigenous African cultural values, practices and custom were consciously orchestrated in order to concretise and politically justify the civilising mission and the White Man’s Burden.
Western expansionism during times of imperial conquest, was academically and theoretically justified by various theorists within the geopolitical discipline, such as Friedrich Ratzel. The construction of geopolitical spaces during imperial times relied on the active (re)formulation of the territories, spaces and geographies which Imperialist nations, like Britain, planned to expand into. The imperial geopolitical imagination consequently saw geographical landscapes such as nations in Africa and Asia as empty spaces, thus nullifying the relevance of African people and their respective cultures.
One of the most prominent ways in which Western expansionism, during colonialism and imperialism, manifested in Africa were through the means of the introduction of western values such as religion, more specifically Christianity. Christianity, it is argued, made its rapid advances precisely because its emissaries, the missionaries were closely linked with the whole apparatus of colonial rule. (Gray, 1982, p.61)The colonial and imperial legacies of missionaries are deeply entrenched within the social and political frameworks of contemporary Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, more specifically in Southern Africa- where Christianity is the most secular religion, the role that missionaries played was particularly significant in the shaping of ideals, ideologies and even legislation.For example, a majority of schools during the colonial era were built and run my missionaries, therefore a majority of African leaders, especially those that were part of the liberation struggles across nations, were educated by missionaries. Consequently, the models of education which a great deal of African leaders were taught were heavily laden with evangelist undertones.In addition to this the drive for independence in places like Zambia found a secure home in the churches. “The Christian Church… formed a crucial part of the associational landscape in many Sub-Saharan countries, consisting not only of a forum for spiritual communication but also a sanctuary for secular resistance.” (Howell and Pearce, 2002, p.182)
The conservative Christian values that were introduced during colonial and imperial times are not only reflected in the mainstream belief systems of a vast majority of African people but are further reflected in the constitutional laws of a number of former colonies across Africa. For example, in 1996, Zambia adopted its first post-colonial constitution and then leader, Frederick Chiluba declared the territory a Christian Nation, additionally prior to this constitutionally upheld declaration, as a former colony, Zambia had inherited the laws and legal system of its colonial master Britain. Since 1911 the laws concerning the expression of rights of the LGBTQ+ community have remained largely unrevised. Same-sex activity is proscribed by Cap. 87, Section 155 through to Section 157 of Zambia’s penal code- Section 155 (“Unnatural Offences”) classifies homosexuality and same sex relations, in the vague description “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.”, as a felony punishable by a 14-year prison sentence. (Fabeni, Johnson and Nana, 2007) Therefore, the combination of stringently enforced Christian values as well as pre-independence laws contributed to the way negative way in which the LGBTQI+ concept is perceived in places like Zambia. A similar set of laws exist in a vast majority of African countries, same sex relations are only permitted in 21 out of the 54 existing African nations, thus making homosexuality and all other facets of the LGBTQ+ concept illegal in 61.1% of the countries in the continent. Uganda is infamous for being one of the more fundamentally anti-homosexual nations on the continent. For example, a day after the president Museveni signed the anti-gay rights bill one of the countries’ tabloid magazines, Red Pepper, published an article entitled “200 Top Homos” which included the names, photographs, occupations and home addresses of members of the LGBTQI+ community who had publicly identified as either gay, bisexual or transgender. (Hanley et al., 2018)This was an infringement on the human rights of those who were exposed through the publishing of the article.
Thus is can be said that the formal legislative repression of the LGBTQI+ community transmutes into socially enforced notions and ideologies which further oppress the rights of people who identify and exist within the LGBTQI+ community. Legislative repression and social repression thus result in marginal spheres of underrepresentation. It is at this point that cyberspace and cyber communities, especially those that occur on social networking sites like Instagram, are largely accounting for the forging of safe spaces and platforms of representation for the marginalized voices within Africa.
Queer African icons who use social media as their platform of expression are largely shifting spheres of representation and thus initiating dialogue centred around the largely unaddressed topic of massive sociopolitical significance. South African queer icons, Desire Marea and Fela Gucci established a cultural movement called Faka, which was largely facilitated within the bounds of cyberspace. Using digital media and performance art the duo explore the alternative expressions of black queer identity in a characteristic lo-fi, glitchy aesthetic (Leiman, 2018) Cultural movements, like Faka, which are implemented by queer black youth in cyberspace are necessary in bridging the gaps of holistic representation within the African sociopolitical sphere. It is through representational spheres that processes of the decolonization of African minds can occur. The histories of great African civilisations, before the arrival and imposition of Western values and ideals, are greatly overshadowed and nullified in their significance.
Another way in which the internet is addressing the gap in LGBTQI+ representation is through the provision of access to information of African cultures and customs in which non-heteronormativity and queerness were a part of the sociocultural traditional frameworks. For example, an online article on a pro-LGBTQI+ blog, 76 Crimes, entitled ‘21 Varieties of Traditional African Homosexuality’. In this article one of the examples given allude to Nzinga, a warrior woman in the Ndongo kingdom of the Mbundu, in present day Angola, who ruled as ‘‘king” rather than ‘‘queen”, dressed as a man and surrounded herself with a harem of young men who dressed as women and who were her ‘‘wives”. Nzinga could be said to have been a physical embodiment of African non-heteronormativity.
Although the complex history of Africa has resulted in strong views and beliefs against the LGBTQI+ concept, the internet is largely shifting and addressing the social and political injustices which are experienced by the community and its members. It is important for this process and processes of the same nature to continue to materialize in order for Africa to weed out the colonial and imperial seeds and thus forge its own narrative.
Environmental degradation and climate change are substantially grave consequences that are inextricably linked to the hyper-consumerist societies and moneycentric systems which have been spatialized within the contemporary context. It is estimated that by the year 2050 the Earth would have accumulated 3 billion new middle class consumers (World Economic Forum, 2018) Consequently, rates of consumerism would increase exorbitantly and thus continually impact environmental landscapes negatively.
The environmental consumption of the consumption of household goods, in terms of resources, materials, water and land use requirements, account for an estimated 50-80% of Green House Gas Emissions (GHG) (Ivanova et al, 2015) Therefore it can be said that a majority of the environmental spheres and landscapes that are being negatively impacted are not as a result of direct individual behaviours, such as driving non-sustainable cars that emit toxic fumes for example, but are attributed to much larger systematic landscapes such as methods and means of production which cater to consumption demands. It is important to note that although a majority of mass production and hyperconsumption are spatialized within spaces in the Western hemisphere, the negative effects such as natural disasters or extreme climate change are being materialized largely in the Global South. Consumption across many product categories is influenced by the human desire to express meanings about oneself and to create an identity, but this is perhaps particularly the case with clothing, which is constantly on display (Berger and Heath, 2007). The forging of identities through the use of aesthetics, such as clothing, has become a widespread socio-cultural phenomenon within contemporary society. Given the importance of outwards expression and thus identity construction, to many consumers drivers to be ‘fashionable’ outweigh drivers to be ethical or sustainable (McNeill and Moore, 2015, p.212)
Fast-fashion, which is the most common category of consumption and mass production, refers to low-cost clothing collections that mimic current luxury fashion trends. (Joy et al, 2012) Examples of fast-fashion brands can be found on the high streets of a vast majority of Western cities. These include brands like Zara, Topshop, New Look and Mango. Fast-fashion brands are characterized by production processes which are incompatible with being ethical and sustainable. The immense use of water and chemicals, for growing cotton or dying textiles are responsible for a majority of climate crises and environmental disasters happening on a global scale.
Climate change is characterized by the increase in the frequency of heat waves, rising sea levels, flooding and the early arrival of spring. These changes in the environment negatively impact the African biosphere and thus the livelihoods of the African people. 80 percent of the farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa is managed by small holders. Of the 2.5 billion people in the developing world who live directly off the food and agriculture sector, 1.5 billion of those people live in low-income environments. Thus climate change affects and further disadvantages the everyday spatialities of those who live in low-income environments. The increasing unpredictable and erratic nature of weather systems on the continent have placed a further burden or food security (Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2018) as farming methods and crop production are severely and directly affected by heat waves and floods for example. In addition to this, environmental harms further impact the rural livelihoods of different populations across the continent, for example in August 2017, a flood severely impacted poor Sierra Leonean populations destroying a number of houses and killing over 1000 people.
As shown using the above examples, the impacts of hyperconsumption and mass production, which take place mostly in the West, are negatively impacting Africa and thus need to be addressed. A collective addressal of environmentally centred issues in Africa is necessary in the shifting of the paradigm, though there exists a significant gap in the engagement with environmentally centred literatures and understandings. The gap in understanding can be attributed to the fact that a majority of African societies have not been able to make the transition into becoming Post-Materialist. Due to the continent still undergoing processes of development individuals within these societies prioritize material values, such as wealth accumulation, as they are central to being able to provide and have access to basic needs.
Mass education on the rapidly shifting environmental systems as well as knowledge provision on alternative or sustainable ways of living are a possible solutions in the addressal of the environmental crises affecting Africa. Implementing strategies of mass education through the traditional means of education, via formal institutions, has not addressed the existing gaps in understanding. Therefore, alternative and informal means of mass education, such as the provision of access to relevant information available on the internet, can serve as a tool of change.
One such platform for education and mobilization of awareness is manifested in form of the African Environmental Blogosphere. Environmental blogs serve as wells of information which people can access in order to expand their awareness and thus their agency in issues that are central to their existence. Environment.co.za has been considered to be the continent’s top environmental blog. The site was founded in 2003 and since then has been dedicated to documenting and providing access to news, interactive forums and even legislation centred around the Sub-Saharan environment. It is a part of the e-community which is largely shifting awareness on the environment in Africa.
Due to the rise in awareness on environmental issues in Africa, patterns of ethical consumption and production are steadily on the rise. A number of African clothing brands have chosen to align themselves with ethical fashion consumerism and thus with the Slow Fashion Revolution. The Slow Fashion Revolution is centred around ethical fashion consumerism and thus focuses on reducing the costs and harms inflicted on the environment and the wider biosphere by the fashion industry. This is done by promoting the use of sustainably sourced materials, community driven initiatives as well as Fair Trade Practices. One such example of an African brand that embodies all the values that are consistent with the Slow Fashion Revolution is WayaWaya, a luxury brand company with its headquarters in Livingstone, Zambia.
Wayawaya is an organisation curated ‘by women for women.’ The initiatives ethos states the following, ‘Wayawaya is part of the slow fashion movement, with a mission of creating a meaningful industry for all the people involved. By providing vocational training and viable job opportunities WAYAWAYA support Zambianwomen in reaching their full potential. A more balanced, equal and human direction. Every stitch we make is a physical proof that people matter. (Wayawaya.no, 2018) In order to fulfil the organization’s core goals the WayaWaya team provide annual training for Zambian women from lower economic rungs, tailored by a team of occupational therapists, environment therapists, educators and artisans. They additionally prioritise creating viable networks for the women in sectors such as marketing-, finance- and other aspects relevant to their acquired skills. Therefore, slow-fashion, in the way in which Wayawaya alongside a number of other sustainable African brands, is positively impacted the planet and people, in contrast to practices of fast-fashion brands like Zara and Topshop.
In conclusion it can be said that the aim of this thesis was to critically analyse and engage with empirical data concerning the topic of African Cyberspace and its constitutive community forging and identity affirming landscapes as reflected on user generated sites and on social networking sites. This was achieved by evaluating three branches in which change is occurring within the continent. It was found that socio-cultural landscapes are being positively impacted, this was done through the exploration of digital media- especially that within the Black Beauty Blogosphere. Shifting political landscapes were being catalyzed by the mobilization of online identities which led to cyber-social movements such as the #BringBackOurGirls and #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh campaigns. It was found that environmental landscapes were being shifted by information accessible within the environmental blogosphere as well as by the increased presence of sustainable fashion brands like WayaWaya which promote and prioritize ethical consumption and production. There it can be said that this paper has shown the ways in which cyberspace and digital communication technologies are significantly and positively changing the way in which the African continent and the African people exist and interact with the wider world.
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