On the Role and Design of Social Media and Enhanced Technology
Ubuntu in the Network:
Humanness in Social Capital
in Rural Africa
Centre for ICT for Development | firstname.lastname@example.org
[ 1] Putnam, R. D.
Bowling Alone: The
Collapse and Revival of
New York: Simon &
[ 2] Butler, J. Giving an
Account of Oneself.
New York: Fordham
University Press, 2005.
March + April 2010
The “social capital” concept continues to motivate
policies aiming to bridge the digital divide; for
instance, a 2006 European Commission recommended to the European Parliament social capital
as a principle to guide e-inclusion strategies. The
Internet’s role in enabling us to accrue resources
via our relationships with others over time
was epitomized in the celebrated Social Capital
Markets ’09; panelists in one session linked underexposure of Africa’s talent to online social capital.
While there is much scholarly HCI analysis on the
function of social networking sites (SNS) in social
capital, little concentrates on Africa. Here, I aim
to redress that balance.
There are highly publicized examples of mobi-
lizing Facebook for advocacy, social upliftment,
and charity for Africa—from locating Sudanese
war-crime suspects to campaigning Coca-Cola
to distribute medicines. To some extent, digital
social networks within Africa have effected change
through activism (e.g., Facebook and Frontline
SMS) and are increasingly accessible by local
language translation (e.g., Swahili Facebook), and
entry to sites via cell phones (e.g., Ugandan Status.
ug) and mobile applications (e.g., East Africa’s
Sembuse). However, increased SNS use in Africa
will not necessarily narrow the divide. SNS use is
low by international comparison; consider how 30
percent of the UK’s population are active Facebook
users, while that value dips for South Africa, at
2 percent, representative of a particular social
milieu. The huge majority of Facebook users in
South Africa are in college or are higher-education
graduates (97 percent) and, in Uganda, dwell in cit-
ies. There are few non-white faces on any African
Twitter network. Accumulating those resources
that make us “healthy, wealthy, and wise” [ 1]
involves distant, formal, and diverse contact or
bridging capital to link to resources beyond our
immediate network. Even in the U.S., Facebook use
generates more capital for urban than rural and
for white than non-white people. Market forces
shaping competition, such as between Twitter and
Facebook, mean that SNS are constituted by the
social capital in the networking of existing elites.
So, in applying social capital to strategies to guide
SNS for e-inclusion in Africa, we must consider
what lies within interactions that build those ties
of goodwill or mutual obligation.