Ethiopia: AU vows to protect social media from state meddling

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - The African Union (AU) has vowed to protect democracy and keep the social media open for use during elections while expressing serious concern over the regular social media shutdown during elections as happened in The Gambia and Uganda recently.

The AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Aisha Abdullahi said on Thursday the organisation raised serious concern over the social media shutdown during elections, saying stifling the voice of the population was likely to deny Africa the potential to effectively benefit from its youthful population.

“It is true in 2016 we had instances during elections when the social media was shut down. We raised serious concern including the recent case in The Gambia. The social media can be abused but the radio was also abused in Rwanda. We urge everyone to take note that the social media has come to stay. Let us use it responsibly and we urge people expressing themselves to use it responsibly,” Abdullahi said.

The AU has declared the year 2017 as the Year of the Youth, under the theme of harnessing the Demographic Dividend. The AU officials want countries to ensure policies in place favour the youth in employment and enhance youth participation in politics and decision-making.

However, social media, the platform through which the youth have been able to engage with the AU on a number of issues, appear restricted in some instances.

“We run the risk of having child soldiers and a bigger risk to Africa’s democracy if we do not embrace the issues of good governance. The younger people in Africa have taken the lead in the use of information and communication tools. This has revolutionized our systems,” Abdullahi, a Nigerian diplomat, told reporters in Addis Ababa.

The AU is campaigning to ensure the continental economic and social development plan, known as Agenda 2063—the Africa We Want—is backed by stronger democratic ideals and people-driven, with the youth able to participate in the decision-making processes, Abdullahi said.

“There are mixed feelings from Africans on the ability of our continent to harness the demographic dividend," a term coined by the continent’s development experts, to refer to the need for Africa to positively utilise its youthful population effectively to create economic centres of growth.

According to AU officials, the discrimination of the youth through cultural practices which stop younger people from participating in political and social affairs, the systematic use of laws and regulations to bar the youth from accessing certain benefits, pose threats to the youth.

“These forms of alienation of the youth in order to retain the status quo pose a great threat to our democratic system. We must empower the young people to play their role in our continent,” Abdullahi said.

In an effort to realize the youth agenda, the AU has proposed measures including increasing the participation of the youth in elections.

Research findings availed to the AU, show majority of the youth, among them, young women, fail to participate in elections and voting and usually express no interest at all on political affairs.

However, the social media have enabled the AU to reach as much as 53 million youth on specific issues.

“We are prepared to protect and sustain this channel,” Abdullahi said.
-0- PANA AO/MA 26Jan2017

26 january 2017 16:18:15

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