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On Social Media, the African Diaspora Redirects the Conversation on International Aid

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, February 8 2013

When the much-hyped Kony 2012 campaign crashed and burned last year, it became a symbol of the misguided approach taken by many glamour causes in international development.  The story quickly became a laughingstock in the international media.  Yet even before one of the campaign’s directors was found running naked on the streets of San Diego, Ugandans and other Africans living in diaspora were engaged in a social media takedown of Kony 2012. 

Ugandan social media strategist T.M.S. Ruge wrote in the Guardian this week that the growing online presence of the African diaspora is starting to drive a conversation on development issues long controlled by international aid groups.  Social media has connected and mobilized Africans watching developments in their home countries from abroad, and they’re working to counter narratives of incapability and dependence espoused by NGOs and the international media: 

No longer are we faced with what the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie called "the danger of a single story". Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media are bringing African voices and new, varied narratives to the forefront…These tools are also being used to replace staid development paradigms, by organising and developing African-driven institutions.

Ruge details the efforts that have been made in the African online diaspora to dispel the influence of campaigns like Kony 2012 and #1millionshirts, an initiative thought up by an American social entrepreneur that planned to dump a million garments on countries already overburdened with first-world castoffs.   An organization called Africans in the Diaspora is now generating micro-investments for small businesses through social enterprise, connecting Africans abroad to communities at home. 

This new model – “Africa, for Africa, by Africa,” – could reorient development models throughout the continent.  Ruge hopes it will also increase diaspora Africans’ impact on their countries’ political dialogues. 

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