In Niger, the political debate takes over the networks
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This Sunday, February 21, the polls will reveal the unknown in relation to the next president of Niger and will put the final point to an election marked by exceptionalities, even beyond the pandemic times in which they have been celebrated. In recent weeks, social networks have been the scene of a lively debate with which users of digital platforms and pro-democracy activists have tried to extend a constructive political discussion to the virtual space. In the middle of this will is an initiative, Takara2021 which, in addition to promoting planned exchanges on some topics of interest, has encouraged a more spontaneous conversation space through the label # Takara2021, a word that in Hausa means competition. “The elections are in themselves a competition”, justifies Tamimoudari Noma, one of the promoters of the campaign.
These elections take place in a context full of nuances. On the one hand, it highlights an important movement without precedent. Mahamadou Issoufou, the president for the last decade, has decided not to run again, respecting the constitutional norm that establishes a limit of two terms as head of the country. If there are no setbacks, the elections could constitute the first handover of democratic and peaceful power. Issoufou has seen his presidency clothed in an aura of openness and respect for the rules of the game, with two terms marked by relative calm and a reduction in tension with the northern Tuareg communities. However, in this balance, some shadow episodes, such as the controversial ones, often go unnoticed. problems with the justice of Hama Amadou, the activist arrests and human rights defenders, journalist arrests and the digital space control measures and telecommunications.
“The X-ray that we have is the following: it is true that President Issoufou is leaving after having made many advances in infrastructure, but he leaves a pending account in the fight against impunity that has been maintained during his mandates. They have been reported for a long time diversion of funds in the Ministry of Defense, for example, ”says Tamimoudari Noma, a Nigerian digital activist who is among the promoters of Takara2021, a project committed to promoting citizen participation in the electoral process. “The withdrawal of President Issoufou is an unprecedented event, without a doubt. But neither can we lose sight of the fact that it is a constitutional obligation. The level of demand has been reduced so much in the past that normality seems like a feat, ”warns Noma.
Next Sunday, Nigerians will be able to choose between the ballot of Mohamed Bazoum and that of Mahamane Ousmane, both veterans and experienced men of the country’s politics. Bazoum is the candidate of the party in power, one of the outgoing president’s closest collaborators and one of the heavyweights of his roster of ministers, including his responsibility as head of the Interior Ministry in some of the toughest times for civil society organizations. In other words, Bazoum represents the figure of the continuity candidate. Meanwhile, Ousmane has emerged as the stronghold of the opposition after being the second most voted candidate in the first round and some established political leaders have assured him their support in this final assault. Ousmane was already at the head of the country since 1993. In fact, he is considered the first democratically elected president, after the arrival of the multiparty system. His tenure, however, was abruptly interrupted by a coup in 1996. Despite the considerable difference in votes in the first round between Bazoum (39.30%) and Ousmane (16.98%), the last word has not yet been said. Not surprisingly, the opposition candidate also came in second place in the first round of the elections that ended up taking him to the presidential seat 28 years ago.
A digital initiative such as Takara2021 draws attention in a country access to the Internet reaches only 13.6% of the population
When the names of the two candidates who would face each other in the second round of the presidential elections were known, the Takara2021 initiative was definitely activated. Through a Twitter profile, a group of digital activists has wanted to animate the political debate and lead it towards the confrontation of proposals and measures to avoid other speeches that can divert the attention of voters. In recent weeks, through conversations on this social network, the programs of the two candidates have been dissected publicly and by experts according to the themes they considered fundamental. They have analyzed the proposals in economy, education, energy, health, tourism, promotion of the private sector, digital development, governance, security, promotion of women and defense of children.
Tanimoune Ibrahim, Oumou Kane Y Tamimoudari Noma, the three activists and expert users of digital platforms, have been in charge of designing the strategy and managing the activities. “But with us you are all tuitosphere 227 (way of referring to the community of tweeters in Niger, by the country’s telephone code) that has been involved in the discussions that have been generated, ”Noma clarifies. He himself explains his claims at the time of launching the action: “The objective was to analyze the programs of the two applicants, point by point, together with users with special influence and demonstrated neutrality, so that the country’s Twitter community can understand them better. It is about trying to get Nigerians to stop voting for the regional or ethnic affinity for the candidates ”.
The objective was to analyze the programs of the two applicants, point by point, so that the country’s Twitter community can better understand them
Tamimoudari Noma, activist and creator of the # Takara2021 initiative
In short, the idea that is repeated over and over again is the improvement of governance, of the exercise of democracy by citizens, precisely at a time when there are lights and considerable shadow spaces. “Despite the most common speeches”, warns Noma, “governance in Niger has been placed before a severe test, as evidenced by the decline in our country in terms of freedom of expression and perception of corruption.” For this activist, what happens in the digital sphere is fundamental: “Without going any further, citizen engagement is hampered by bans on demonstrations, or by controversial laws on cyber crime and the intervention of digital communications, which aim to muzzle voices discordant that can only be expressed in the networks ”.
A digital initiative like Takara2021 is striking in a country with the technological profile of Niger. The latest Digital 2021 report, prepared by We Are Social and Hootsuite, reveals that, in January 2021, in Niger there were 3.36 million people with Internet access, which means 13.6% of the population. But it’s just three years ago in january 2018, the number of Nigerian Internet users did not reach one million, that is, 4% of the country’s inhabitants, so in these three years the number of Nigerians who surf the net has quadrupled.
For the promoters of Takara2021 it is necessary to use all the tools available to improve governance. “We know that Twitter is not excessively popular,” says Noma, “but we are counting on a mirror effect to take place and that the discussions are transferred and shared on other platforms such as Facebook. The most important thing for us was to choose the moderators well: people with prestige and with proven experience in the different areas to help citizens shed light on the decision they have to make ”. In fact, the response has been better than expected and has led this group of activists to make an unanticipated decision about the continuity of the project. “The rulers did not like it too much”, jokes Noma, “but the citizens are asking us to continue, so we have decided that the account will become a citizen observatory of the promises made by the candidate who wins the elections” .