Engage, Don’t Rage!

Five years ago it was radio programmes, earlier this year it was a TV media discussion programme and now politicians want to restrict Facebook and other new social media. What’s next?

Nudo’s Arnold Tjihuiko confirmed to The Namibian that he will table a motion in the National Assembly next month to discuss the use of social media.

The news of the motion comes a week after The Namibian reported that some Swapo members wanted the leadership of their youth league to be dismissed because of alleged negative posts on Facebook.

Tjihuiko is apparently not in favour of strictly controlling social networks but will table the motion nonetheless to propose that mechanisms be put in place to ensure that social networks are used cautiously and not abused.

Namibia’s politicians are quick to remind everyone of our country’s top ranking in Africa and the world in regard to free and independent media. What will happen to this ranking and our credibility as a democratic country if this freedom is fiddled with?

According to Tjihuiko, Facebook is a good media outlet and should not be seen as a “bad thing”.

However, if he manages to get his idea as far as a law, it will be extremely difficult to implement. Locally, the capacity and the will to curb free expression on an online platform is limited. Namibia will probably farm out this service to the Chinese who are experts in restricting the rights of their citizens by allowing only limited access to social media platforms such as Facebook. Imagine how Namibians will feel being ‘governed’ online by the Chinese.

I wholeheartedly agree with Tjihuiko when he says Government can use the social platform to engage citizens, especially young people, about State programmes. It offers a golden opportunity to inform and educate and to gauge the pulse of Namibia’s youth.

Politicians must learn that an informed, open society will always be better than a closed, ignorant one. Curbing social media is a slippery slope.

We should probably be afraid that this will happen. The last time we had an election, the ruling party’s lapdogs at the State-controlled broadcaster, NBC, took call-in programmes off the air. At the time a few regular callers had a lot of difficult questions for Swapo. Some of these programmes, like ‘Evi lyamanguluka’ on NBC’s Oshiwambo radio station, have not returned and others have come back wearing a slightly different, more controlled jacket.

Earlier this year, NBC TV’s ‘The Week That Was’ was removed. Many believe that the critical voices on that programme had something to do with its cancellation.

Tjihuiko and others who think of curbing, restricting and disallowing should perhaps take a look in the mirror and ask why they have come under fire on Facebook.

In fact, politicians and public institutions should go the extra mile to create a presence for themselves on these platforms. There is no Namibian ministry on Facebook while only a few high ranking politicians have personal Facebook accounts.

Even fewer are on Twitter.

It’s a magnificent marketplace for all sorts of ideas. It’s a soapbox where those in public service can stand and defend their decisions and it’s a space where the informed public can hold their leaders accountable.

In contrast, ordinary Namibians have taken to social media networks like ducks to water. Various online sources estimate Namibia’s Facebook users at over 220 000. More than 48 900 people from Namibia and across the planet have ‘liked’ The Namibian’s Facebook page and raise issues and interact with each other on the topics of the day.

But our politicians have a dismissive and relaxed attitude about those they want votes from. Talking at, and not to, the voters is something we do every five years from a dais in the shade while the public bake in the sun trying to get a glimpse of the dignitaries who arrived in big black 4×4 vehicles.

Our political parties still think the only way to talk to their followers is to herd them together in huge masses in sport stadiums where someone will shout a few slogans and an old man will butcher a speech he didn’t write, in a language he can’t read, to people who couldn’t care less about his message.

The world has moved on since the 1980s and our politicians’ refusal to learn new tricks and new ways of communicating with the masses show how out of touch with today’s youth they are.

If they want to restrict social media and what we say on those platforms what’s the next thing they’ll restrict or curb?

Source : The Namibian