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#EndSARS: The latent power of hashtag activism



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#EndSARS: The latent power of hashtag activism
By get.Africa Weekly • Issue #40 • View online
Barka da asuba,
That’s “good morning” in Hausa
Goodluck Jonathan will probably never forgive the Obamas. 
To hear Nigeria’s former president tell it, Michelle lending her voice to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and Barack urging Nigerians to open the “next chapter” at the polls were big reasons why he lost the 2015 elections.
In his book “My Transition Hours”, President Jonathan writes:
“If someone was conducting an experiment on how propaganda could be used to bring down a government, it worked”.
Jonathan’s successor President Muhammadu Buhari is currently serving his second term and isn’t at risk of losing an election, but the ongoing #EndSARS protest is turning out to be a similarly defining moment of his legacy.
Digital Critical Mass
#EndSARS is a social campaign that’s opposed to Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), arguably the most oppressive and brutal unit of an already oppressive and brutal police force. 
In the past, there have been calls to do everything to the unit from disbandment to reforms but the government paid lip service to all the agitations. 
However, on 3 October 2020, a video of SARS officials allegedly killing a young Nigerian man went viral, prompting a level of protests that were previously unseen. 
Hundreds, and in some cases thousands of people, have taken to the streets in major cities across Nigeria and around the world.
But also important is the reaction the movement has created online. 
As at 9 October, #EndSARS had been tweeted over 2.4 million times and it became the #1 trending topic in several countries. There have also been other smaller acts of online resistance. For instance, President Buhari’s official Twitter account has lost more than 100,000 followers… and counting.
On 11 October, Nigeria’s police chief announced the dissolution of SARS; some saw his announcement as a victory, while others are taking it with a pinch of salt and continued the protests.
Social Media Bill 2.0  
Hashtag activism is often looked down on as an inferior form of protest, but few things are better at focusing the world’s attention on a specific issue than a borderless, bulletproof Twitter hashtag.
Many also question its efficacy in bringing about change in the real world, but that criticism strikes me as disingenuous. Within any successful social campaign, the role of hashtag activism is to amplify other forms of protests, not to replace them.
At any rate, if this form of activism weren’t so potent, governments in places like Uganda, Tanzania and now Lesotho wouldn’t be coming up with creative ways to regulate what their citizen’s post online.
Nigerian politicians, too, have shown an interest in controlling the social media space; a bill to combat what has been described as “falsehoods and manipulations” online was introduced in November 2019, and is still being deliberated in the Senate. 
The next few weeks and months will be interesting, will Nigeria’s contentious social media bill finally go away or will #EndSARS remind politicians why some of them really wanted it passed in the first place? 

get.Africa is a weekly roundup of the most interesting stories in African tech. To support, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel, share this issue or send us an email. You can also check our archives.
Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash
Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash
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