Narratives of “connectivity” typically rely on discourses about Africa as a blank space devoid of social networks that are unique, vibrant, and continually being modified. While this takes agency away from Africans, it rests on the colonial assumption that “connectivity,” just as “civilization” before it, is inherently exogenous, white, and male. This talk begins with the Rhodesian fantasy of connecting Africa from the Cape to Cairo and traces this logic through the contemporary discourse of digital inequality. It argues that the story of media & tech and African society today is as much rooted in the “hubris of good intentions” espoused by Henry Morton Stanley and Lord Frederick Lugard as it is in Silicon Valley’s missionary bent. In both, the Global North’s actions are presented as bringing Africans into history and launching them into the future. Of course, the Africa this discourse embraces is an imaginary Africa rather than a geographic Africa with people in it. This imaginary is vital because, as Tageldin reminds us, for the Global North to understand itself, “Africa must be both ever compared and ever beyond the reach of comparison: beyond the pale of Western humanity” (2014, 303). When it comes to media & technological advancement, narratives about Africa and Africans are always, as Mbembe reminds us, “pretext for a comment on something else, some other place, some other people” (2001, 3). The anchoring motivation for this talk is an excavation of moments of Africa’s “self-writing” in its pursuit to challenge the continual erasure and elision in connectivity narratives by the Global North.
j. Siguru Wahutu is an Assistant Professor at NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard. His primary scholarship examines media constructions of knowledge in Africa, focusing on genocide and mass atrocities. His research interests include the effects of ethnicity and culture on the media representations of human rights violations, global and transnational news flows, postcolonial land claims, and the political economy of international media, with a regional emphasis on postcolonial Africa. His primary book project offers an extensive account of media coverage of Darfur between 2003 and 2008 within various African states (including Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt). When not studying media and genocide, he works on data privacy issues and media manipulation in African countries. This secondary research stream is the subject of his second book project currently under contract with MIT Press. Wahutu’s research has appeared in African Journalism Studies, African Affairs, The International Journal of Press/Politics, Global Media and Communication, Media and Communication, Media, Culture and Society, and Sociological Forum.
Sponsored by the IHC’s African Studies Research Focus Group, Africa Center, and History Department