Challenges to the hegemonic African state: media and civil society in Kenya and Zambia

Mudhai, O.F., 2004. Challenges to the hegemonic African state: media and civil society in Kenya and Zambia. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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The central argument in this thesis is that urban-based political Civil Society actors, particularly Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and news media, in both Kenya and Zambia, perceive Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as presenting them with significant opportunities for achieving greater democracy. Representatives of these non-state actors view the Internet, e-mail and the cell phone in particular as tools that have not only enhanced their operational efficiency but also helped them overcome obstacles that the ruling elites often erected - using human, material and ideological state machinery - to stifle any form of challenge to their incumbency. Increasingly, the new media enable the non-state actors to engage in cross-border communicational activities as a way of effecting changes within states. They facilitate what David Held has described as webs of relations and networks that stretch across national borders. However, unlike recent cosmopolitan approaches to democratic theory and practice, this study privileges local conditions and off-line factors concomitant with the use of rapidly diffusing new media technology.

Taking a structural approach to democratic theory and thereby employing the civil society perspective with a focus on a recently modified public sphere concept, this thesis makes a significant contribution to knowledge through an empirical study based on interviews carried out in Nairobi and Lusaka around crucial election epoch. By providing a rare insight into perceptions on new media by a category of Africa's political actors who have been not only considered early ICT adopters and topmost users, but also largely accredited for recent waves of democratisation, this study departs from a plethora of existing literature that have been overly deterministic in favour of technological and conjectural slants to new media in the developing world. To augment authenticity and validity, every effort is made to contextualise the interviewees' claims. This directly addresses a substantial gap in the literature which has been widely identified but not, so far, addressed.

The thesis has four core arguments which form the basis of its claim to originality. First of all, it argues that democratisation in Zambia and Kenya is not merely illusionary, and that the new media have played some role in the transfer of power and political activity from a narrow political elite. To that extent at least, it supports the widespread 'democratisation through new media' thesis. But at the same time, and secondly, it takes a critical view of the naivety of many of the proponents of that argument, and points out that that naivety is sustained, at least in large part, by a tendency to over-generalisation. Through very detailed and carefully researched case studies, the thesis demonstrates that the process of both democratisation and the deployment of the new media by CSOs and NGOs is more complex and much more nuanced than the literature on the subject usually suggests. Thirdly, then, the thesis is original in so far as it is grounded in the original field work which has been conducted over a sustained period of time, including a number of visits to the case study countries and interviews and communications with many of the key players as well as the main theorists in the field. As a former journalist in Kenya, the author is aware that he has at once a privileged position in doing this research, which has allowed him access and insights which might well be denied to others, and at the same time a potentially dangerous proximity to the material, 'dangerous' here in a methodological sense. The strategies which have been used to counter those potential dangers are outlined and explained in the earlier chapters of the study. Fourthly, and finally, the thesis is original in its critical use of the Habermassian notion of the public sphere and its relationship to the potential for degrees of genuine or emancipatory democracy. That concept is helpful in explaining processes of socio-political change in Kenya and Zambia; the limitations may also be helpful to explain why the process of democratisation, though real, has been partial, and why the new media have only partially fulfilled the aspirations which their proponents have held for them in the specific context studied here.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Mudhai, O.F.
Date: 2004
ISBN: 9781369312706
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 26 Aug 2020 09:24
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2023 10:34

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