Around the world, the use of social media became a tool of ‘insecurity’ and for creating social change, leading to peace. Much of the impact was felt in the Arab world, and somewhat in the west, triggered by social economic discontent and maladministration.
Apart from North Africa, the rest of the continent was not affected. It is yet to experience hostile political activism from its (social media) use. When the conditions for war became ripe, social media aided revolts against regimes.
The general use of social media websites in Uganda by mostly young, curious, and adventurous people in universities and well-to-do homes started in 2006. The earliest site to offer and popularize social networking services was hi5.com. It was famous for its highly graphic and eye-catching features. The insurrection of Facebook.com was a year later.
The blocking of hi5.com from access by university students provided the Facebook service provider monopoly over the market, as there was no other option for young people to start online relationships and share what was on their minds.
When Facebook.com came into being, it spread like wild fire, so much that no one escaped. Now it is the most used social media by far in the world; all universities, corporate bodies, service organizations, and most Ugandans access internet, with greater use of Facebook.
Hardly do staffs of organizations and companies spend a single day without checking in for chats, getting to know the minds of other people, and starting new relationships. In fact, to most users, visiting the site is a priority, despite having highly engaging schedules at work places.
The use of social media for political reasons is still row in Uganda, though; there are some aspects of it emerging, especially visible during campaigns for political offices. It is limited more to expression of what subscribers have on their mind, for cementing social relationships, to pass time, to start romantic relationships, to promote business ideas, and to trace old friends.
It also provides an alternative means of communication, cheaper than other media channels in many respects. While telephone calls cost more than a dollar to make a point to a single person around the world, the same amount enables mass communication, until exhaustion when social media sites are taken advantage of.
Without having to meet high costs of travel abroad and back home to meet several tasks, it takes only almost no time and effort in some places of the country, which have access to internet, to fulfill several tasks in much less time.
The manufacture of internet-enabling phones made life in the world of social media even more interesting; without having to go to class to learn how to use it, barely with so little to learn, majority of young people now use it, though, internet knowledge is limited to chatting and betting.
But also circumstances limit them to having such amount of knowledge, to survive through betting and maintain loving relationships. The life-system in Uganda orients citizens to work hard to survive, rather than complain about leaders and politico-economics. Politics is an end for the ‘idle,’ and a reservation of those already surviving by it.
Social media is most respected in the modern world for its role in generating and spreading violent protests and armed rebellions around the world, most especially in the Arab peninsula.
While that is true, social media can be put into good use, without compromising peace and stability. For example, it can be used to promote business ideas and organization values in the eyes of clients.
The widespread poverty, limited incomes, and low savings, whether perpetuated by the political class, motivate Ugandans to work harder and live on than generate conditions for violent change. A lot of people struggle to find a meal a day; the able-to-dos are restricted to certain choices of food that are cheap, and do not constitute balanced deities. Under such circumstances, social media is applied to seek and share strategies for escape, amongst which is the adoption of the tool of violence.
Thinking hard about the situation provokes one to wonder whether the bad socioeconomic situation was deliberately conditioned by government to influence citizens to focus more on developing survival strategies necessary to obtain primary needs (food and meaningful standards of living) than give them space and time to nurse nationalistic feelings for situation change, through channels as social media.
Opting to spend time in politics and generate conditions for socio-economic change, only detaches change agents from primary engagements necessary for them to survive. Besides, it is impossible to spent time advocating change on an empty stomach and work under a cloud of uncertainties about life and feelings of hopelessness. The consequence of that is violence against self and others, through substance abuse and crime. Under these conditions, the social media would be helpful at facilitating venting and release of bad emotions.
The bad emotions lead to aggressive behaviors and turn out costly to society as much as to the aggressor. Aggressive people use violence as coping mechanism during hard economic and political times to make ends meet by any means, through violent robberies, violent protests, rampant corruption, violent relationships, and mob justice against bad economic, social and political elements in the community.
Today, the menace of internal insecurity occurring among citizens, perpetuated by fellow countrymen, is hurting and creating fear at the domestic front. Whatever yields from the hands of hardworking Ugandans ends up into the pockets of robbers. They do not only end at denying fellow citizens what belongs to them, but going ahead to relieve them of their life obligations, through acts of murder!
The murderers are people, who because of the hard economic times, marginalizations, and lack of redress from concerned authorities, resort to costly strategies to make ends meet. The use of social media prevails perfectly in such situations as channels, through which citizens advocate structural reforms.
However, social media networking is still a privilege of urban dwellers, because of their closeness to influential areas, where new ideas from the rest of the world collect before spreading to the rest of the country. These include the use of phones with Facebook provisions, access to computers, and access to power.
The limited use of social media, alone, does not save the country from popular revolts, change of political guards or socio-economic situation. But the same conditions, under which Ugandans live, will one day turn around to widely consume authorities for their irresponsibility, with or without it (social media). Many years before the introduction of computers in the country, revolutions took place. The process, though, is much longer. By the time it becomes necessary to act for change, mass mental illness, due to hopeless-living, could have weakened hopes in the minds of those still struggling on.
But by the time conditions start to enforce change to occur, social media gadgets will be widespread around the country. They will ease change with far less effort, by highlighting the maladministration, inhuman living, and hopelessness, to provoke anger, hatred, and violence to enforce change. The opposite will also be true, when those in authority get emotionally-driven to act in people’s favor, so that the adverse effects of violence are prevented.
Presently, there is growing insecurity and fear among citizens, which could spread to reach the class of Ugandans, who currently feel secure, so that; from self-hatred, there is mutual, group, and national hatred for everything in the country, including the leadership. It is at this time that the use of social media for political, economic, and social change will become relevant in mobilizing and coordinating rebellions.
The continuing flooding of cheap Chinese phones and computers on Ugandan market will in the near future increase access to social media by most, if not all Ugandans. And when the social environment persistently gets ‘infested’ with poverty, famine, preventable deaths, insecurity, and maladministration, the use of social media to change the statuesque will be justified and eminent.
Whereas the use of social media is an amazing strategy for positive change, it can be infiltrated by security agents, who will be attracted by its vitality of facilitating access to information on the state of the minds of users, mobilizing social action, and possible causation of revolutions and counter revolution, which is known to trigger mayhem to nations.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda provides a good insight about how bad counter revolutions could be. If no meaningful systems are in place to provide the elimination process of mindsets showing revolution and counterrevolution signals among people of the same nation, it will be always a matter of time for violence to erupt, facilitated by social media.
There are, however, setbacks suffered by beneficiaries of social media once they misuse the facility, when some of the views posted turn out to harm their reputation, and deny them social capital or destroy relationships. Negative views posted push away loved ones, and create concern among authorities over the harm the negative-thinking person might cause to himself or others, through the social media.
In all, meaningful change is possible when its need is so massive that signs make it clear to discontented citizens that leadership would be faced with little or no opposition; change would occur with even far less damage to the economy and to lives. The use of social media warrantees certain values to protect oneself from self-harm and image-destruction.
Social media applicability for economic and social change is far from being real in Uganda. The ‘barometer’ reads peace and hard work for survival. The use of social media can turn out hurting, if no protective values and standards of use are set by the user.
Effective use of social media is an event of the future. The mass use of gadgets, as phones and computers is bound to influence society in Uganda for the better, but only in a long term. The hard times in the country today can only be faced with resilience and coping as some citizens are already doing.
But if the insecurity and widespread fears due to it becomes a mass effect; first, insecurity will become national; second, there will be a stronger need for change; third, a justifiable action for change will ensue. Generally, change has its time, it will always present itself.