Citizen Engagement

Politics and Digital Media in Namibia

The aim of this PhD project is to explore how the youth engage in politics through social media in Namibia. The main three questions of this research project are: 1) Which youth participate and what motivates them to engage in local politics using social media? 2) What is the nature of youth participation in politics using social media? 3)  To what extent are they connecting with the government and other stakeholders on social media? You can find more information about this research project on this website.

The use of social media and an increase in internet subscribers in the global South has been perceived as a game changer in the way citizens and governments communicate, interact and share information in this era. As stated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there are over 650 million mobile-cellular subscriptions, and 162 million mobile active broadband subscriptions in Africa by the year 2015. It is believed that, new media are likely to lead to an increase in political participation while other researchers argue that it may not change the political landscape. On the contrary, all scholars are in agreement that it does change the political scene but some say for the worse and others for the better. Various studies (Papacharissi, 2010; Cohen, Kahne, Bowyer, Middaugh, & Rogowski, 2012) were conducted in the global North with specific emphasis on political participation, and democracy. One of their findings is that, young people are seeing contemporary politics as disengaging and different from older politicians that are there to fulfil their mandates and hence they feel excluded.

Arguably, contemporary researchers believe that youth are actively engaged in political, social, economic and technological discussions on social media platforms (Kahne, Middaugh, Lee & Feezell, 2011; Cohen, Kahne, Bowyer, Middaugh & Rogowski, 2012; Bartlett & Miller, 2011; Mattes and Richard, 2015; Quintelier and Vissers, 2008). However, Chadwick (2011) explains that, the presence of youth on social media platforms does not automatically guarantee their full and active participation in public affairs. Similarly, applying the Habermas public sphere theory, Mattes and Richard (2015), conducted research in South Africa to explore the active participation of youth in local politics and public affairs. To their surprise, the findings indicate that only few youth are participating in public debates, or attending community meetings or have interest in political engagement. This tend to support the claim by  Loader, Vromen, & Xenos (2014) that youth view physical attendance of political meetings as not constructive enough and does not guarantee them full freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, they are opting to use digital media technologies to freely and actively discuss issues that affect their lives.

Furthermore,  Cohen and team (2012) reported that 55% of youth in the United States under 30 years of age were not interested in civic/political life, and 64% of voting-age young people (18- 29) said they were “not at all” interested in campaign news for the 2008 Elections in America.

In a nutshell, various studies have been conducted with regards to political engagement, youth activism, social media and youth digital citizenship and e-governance, and political consumerism worldwide. Most of these studies are either looking at the general population use of social media or social media infrastructural development, or based on the western rather than the global South. Very few studies are conducted in the field of citizen engagement in politics using new digital media in the global South and none so far is conducted in Namibia, to explore how citizens actively engage in regional and local politics and decision making by using new digital media such as, Facebook. This PHD Project will look at digital engagement of citizens, especially the youth in two cases, based on two Facebook pages: Youth in Politics and Politics Watch Namibia,i.e. Khomas region, which host the capital city and most densely populated region with a great number of youth with high socio-economic status. The second case will be Ohangwena region, which is the second densely populated region in which a great number of youth but have low socio-economic status.

This PhD line of inquiry is timely, largely unexplored, and valuable to the new media domain. Despite studies yielding insightful commentaries on ICTs in this arena, resource-constrained environments generating rich usages that are not overtly utilitarian have remained hitherto unexplored. How youth connect and interact in the digital era through entertainment, creative, and playful means for maximizing political engagement is a central question for this PhD Dissertation.

The main research question for this PhD dissertation is:

How does the youth engage in politics through social media in Namibia?

This question is answered through the following sub-research questions:

RQ 1: Which youth participate and what motivates them to engage in local politics using social media?

RQ 2: What is the nature of youth participation in politics using social media?

RQ3: To what extent are they connecting with the government and other stakeholders on social media?

The study will be using an exploratory qualitative research design to explore the attitudes, opinions and feelings as well as experiences of citizens (young) people aged 18-35 on how new media technologies are used as a tool for citizen engagement in the political processes for effective public service delivery. Two Facebook pages are being analysed. These are: Politics Watch Namibia and Youth in Politics.

Qualitative content analysis (Facebook pages), participant observation (researcher attending regional and Constituency Youth Forum Meetings), focus group discussions (with representative Youth, Senior Government Officials, and Political Leaders) and semi-structured interviews (with representative youth in the two regions) are being used to collect relevant data for this research. Content analysis will be conducted for the two Facebook pages: Youth in Politics and Politics Watch Namibia. The researcher will focus on posts and type of discussions on these web pages while semi-structured interviews will be conducted with the youth aged 18-35 in Khomas region and Ohangwena regions. Additionally, Skype interviews will be conducted as the researcher may not have access to all the youth given they are online and could be from many places. The observations, focus group discussions and semi structured interviews will be recorded by note-taking and tape-recording on the attitudes and perceptions of the youth on how they engage in regional and local politics.

The questions for the semi structured interviews will be designed in such a way that, they are easy to understand and will be grouped according to the objectives and literature review that were mentioned earlier. Semi-structured interviews with the youth will be used because it reduces interviewer effects and bias when several interviewees are involved.

Term 2015-2018

Research team

Portrait Sadrag Shihomeka (Square)

Sadrag Shihomeka

PhD Candidate

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Portrait Susanne Janssen (Square)

Prof. dr. Susanne Janssen

Promotor

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Dr. Payal Arora

Co-promotor

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