Youth, Technology, and the Arab Spring: Is Sub-Saharan Africa Next?

By Brad Crofford


Youth and technology have frequently been cited as factors that contributed to the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Although few of the uprisings have led to significant positive change, they have nevertheless been disruptive. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the possibility of similar protest contagion in other regions. Sub-Saharan Africa is a region with a large youth population, increasing access to the Internet and mobile phone use, and many countries with few political rights and/or civil liberties. International media sources have thus repeatedly asked whether Sub-Saharan Africa will experience its own version of the Arab Spring.

This paper first discusses the role that social media played in the Arab Spring uprisings; mobile phones and the Internet are discussed to the extent that they enable social media and regime repression. This paper then briefly examines how youth circumstances influenced the uprisings, specifically in terms of youth and graduate unemployment. Statistics are subsequently presented to compare and contrast youth circumstances and technology use in the two regions. Ultimately, this paper argues that the Arab Spring case does not portend a similar protest contagion for Sub-Saharan Africa due to important differences between youth’s circumstances and technology use in the two regions.

About the Author:

Brad Crofford is pursuing his master’s degree in international studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he works as a graduate assistant. A Gilman Scholar and Alpha Lambda Delta Graduate Fellow, he has interned for the U.S. Embassy in Benin, the U.S. House of Representatives, and various nonprofits in Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C. Brad has spent over ten years living in France, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Haiti. He earned his B.S. in Politics & Law and his B.A. in Cultural & Communication Studies from Southern Nazarene University.

Photo taken by Goldman fund.

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