Bruce Mutsvairo and Massimo Ragnedda (2017) Emerging political narratives on Malawian digital spaces, Communicatio, South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, Volume 43, Issue 2, page 147-167.
Social media platforms are being considered new podiums for political transformation as political dictatorships supposedly convert to overnight democracies, and many more people are not only able to gain access to information, but also gather and disseminate news from their own perspective. When looking at the situation in several sub-Saharan African countries, it becomes clear there are various challenges restricting social media and its palpable yet considerably constrained ability to influence political and social changes. Access to the internet, or lack thereof, is a recognised social stratification causing a “digital divide” thanks to existing inequalities within African and several other societies throughout the world. This article reports on a study that analysed a popular Facebook page in Malawi using a discursive online ethnographic examination of interactions among social media participants seeking to determine the level of activism and democratic participation taking shape on the Malawian digital space. The study also examined potential bottlenecks restraining effective digital participation in Malawi. The article argues that while social media’s potential to transform societies is palpable, keeping up with the pace of transformation is no easy task for both digital and non-digital citizens. The study demonstrated social media’s potential but also highlighted the problems facing online activists in Malawi, including chief among them digital illiteracy. Therefore, the digital sphere is not a political podium for everyone in Malawi as shown by the analysis of digital narratives emerging from the country’s online environment, which opens its doors to only a tiny fraction of the population.