The Prospect of Mobile Journalism and Social Media for African Citizens

A Comparative Study About Participation in Public Debate in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa

by Almuth Schellpeper (Author)
©2020 Thesis 300 Pages


In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile technology has developed at a rapid pace and the numbers of mobile users have increased faster than those in the rest of the world. The underlying question of how mobile journalism and social media may support African citizens and contribute to social change forms the basis of this book. A qualitative content analysis provides the methodological framework to interpret the interviews with professional and citizen journalists and media experts. The results suggest that mobile and social media contribute to the plurality of journalism in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. Mobile and social media reporters are aware of ethical questions and journalistic standards; at the same time, they connect with local communities and adopt an advocative and subjective approach.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Abstract
  • Zusammenfassung
  • Acknowledgement
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Problem Statement
  • 1.2 State of Research
  • 1.3 Aim and Scope
  • 1.4 Thesis Outline
  • 2 Media Systems and Journalism Cultures in Southern Africa
  • 2.1 Media Landscapes and Practices
  • 2.1.1 Historical Media Review
  • 2.1.2 Media in Zimbabwe
  • Media System and Legislation
  • Media Organizations
  • Internet, Mobile and Social Media
  • Media Actors and Journalistic Practices
  • 2.1.3 Media in Zambia
  • Media System and Legislation
  • Media Organizations
  • Internet, Mobile and Social Media
  • Media Actors and Journalistic Practices
  • 2.1.4 Media in South Africa
  • Media System and Legislation
  • Media Organizations
  • Internet, Mobile and Social Media
  • Media Actors and Journalistic Practices
  • 2.1.5 Interim Results: Media in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa
  • 2.2 Journalism Cultures in Africa
  • 2.2.1 Diverse Models of Journalism
  • 2.2.2 Investigation of Media Systems and Journalism Cultures
  • 2.2.3 Afrocentric Approaches to Media Communication
  • 2.3 Citizenship and Public Spheres in African Societies
  • 2.3.1 Conceptualizing Citizenship and Public Sphere
  • 2.3.2 African Citizens in Online Public Spheres
  • 2.4 Interim Results: Journalism Cultures and Citizenship in Modern Africa
  • 3 Specific Forms of Journalism and Potential for Africa
  • 3.1 Public Journalism versus Citizen Journalism
  • 3.2 Mobile Journalism and Social Media as Interlinked Reporting
  • 3.2.1 Mobile Journalism and Social Media Defined
  • 3.2.2 Transformation in Mobile Journalism and Social Media
  • 3.3 Participation and Advocacy Communication
  • 3.4 Democratic Potential of Mobile and Social Media Reports
  • 3.5 Mobile Journalism Practices in Selected Regions
  • 3.5.1 Examples from Africa
  • 3.5.2 Examples beyond Africa
  • 3.6 Interim Results: Impact of Mobile Journalism and Social Media
  • 4 Theory Model of Mobile Journalism Cultures
  • 4.1 Mobile Journalism Model – Societal Perspective
  • 4.2 Mobile Journalism Model – Cultural Perspective
  • 4.3 Holistic Model of Mobile Journalism in Africa
  • 5 Methodological Approach
  • 5.1 Research Questions and Hypotheses
  • 5.2 Data Collection Methods, Instruments and Quality of Data
  • 5.3 Sampling, Selection Criteria and Fieldwork Practice
  • 5.4 Transcription, Data Analysis Procedure and Coding
  • 6 Description of Research Findings
  • 6.1 Experiences with Mobile and Social Media
  • 6.1.1 Data from Zimbabwe
  • 6.1.2 Data from South Africa
  • 6.1.3 Data from Zambia
  • 6.2 Role of Mobile and Social Media
  • 6.2.1 Data from Zimbabwe
  • 6.2.2 Data from South Africa
  • 6.2.3 Data from Zambia
  • 6.3 Mobile Journalism, Social Media and Citizen Journalism
  • 6.3.1 Data from Zimbabwe
  • 6.3.2 Data from South Africa
  • 6.3.3 Data from Zambia
  • 6.4 Mobile and Social Media in Different Contexts
  • 6.4.1 Data from Zimbabwe
  • 6.4.2 Data from South Africa
  • 6.4.3 Data from Zambia
  • 6.5 Mobile Journalism, Social Media and the Public
  • 6.5.1 Data from Zimbabwe
  • 6.5.2 Data from South Africa
  • 6.5.3 Data from Zambia
  • 6.6 Future Perspectives of Mobile and Social Media
  • 6.6.1 Data from Zimbabwe
  • 6.6.2 Data from South Africa
  • 6.6.3 Data from Zambia
  • 6.7 Interim Results: Viewpoints across Selected Countries
  • 7 Discussion of Research Results
  • 7.1 Hypotheses under Review
  • 7.2 Typology of Mobile Journalism
  • 8 Conclusion
  • 8.1 Recapitulation and Conclusion
  • 8.2 Recommendations for Further Research
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Bibliography

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1 Introduction

Africa is often called the “mobile continent” since it is undergoing a major digital development where the growth of mobile phones is exploding. More affordable mobile devices together with more mobile broadband connections are changing the telecom industries and transforming the continent. Market analysts predict that by 2020 the mobile sector will have contributed $300 billion to sub-Saharan Africa’s economy (Mutiga and Flood 2016). In most African countries, there are more mobile phones than adults, and people often prefer to perform activities on mobile devices rather than on laptops or desktop computers (Smith 2014).

The mobile subscriber base in southern Africa is predicted to grow faster than in any other region worldwide. By the end of 2017, the penetration rate of mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa was 44 percent. The Group Special Mobile Association (GSMA) forecasts that by the end of 2023 half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa will have subscribed to a mobile phone network (GSM Association 2018:2). Although in the last few years the rate of new subscribers decreased slightly due to challenges of affordability among the African population, the overall growth rate is still ahead of the global average (GSM Association 2018:9). In the region, cell phone ownership is the highest in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria (Pew Research Center 2015:6).

For many African citizens, a mobile phone is their first computer. The type of phone – either basic cell phone or smartphone with access to the Internet and various applications – might differ as well as the individual mobile activities of cell phone owners. However, most people in sub-Saharan Africa use their mobile phones for sending text messages, taking pictures or videos and listening to music. In some countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, mobile banking including better access to finances is popular as well. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, activities such as reading news, accessing social network sites or searching for health news and looking for a job opportunity on a mobile phone are less common (Pew Resarch Center 2015:2). Various applications for mobile phones specifically for the African continent have been created, for instance medAfrica, a platform related to health care information and services. The platform based in Kenya allows free access to medical information and aims to reach many Africans via their mobile phones in order to create more health awareness among them (see Center for Health Market Innovations 2018).

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1.1 Problem Statement

The worldwide Internet penetration rate which is the number of Internet users in each country in relation to its demographic data has been estimated to be 53 percent in January 2018, in contrast to 51 percent in southern Africa, 49 percent in northern Africa, 39 percent in western Africa and 27 percent in eastern Africa (We Are Social 2018 a). However, there are major differences of Internet use even within one country; in urban areas, the Internet penetration rate is often much higher than elsewhere in the same country.

Besides the increase of mobile phone users, the number of people consuming social media also continues to grow worldwide. In January 2018, there were more than three billion people who used social media on a monthly basis – 13 percent more than in 2017. Nine out of ten of these users access their social media platforms via mobile devices (We Are Social 2018 a). The most popular social networks globally are identified by the number of active users; in the global landscape of social media, Facebook is dominating with more than two billion users, followed by YouTube with 1,5 billion users and WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger each with 1,3 billion active users (We Are Social 2018 a). WhatsApp is the most popular messenger application used worldwide in 128 countries, including the sub-Saharan African region.

Investors have identified a huge potential in the African information communication technology (ICT) market. Compared to the Internet users worldwide the African Internet users represent ten percent (Miniwatts Marketing Group 2017). In actual figures, this is a relatively small number; however, the growth rate of Internet users and mobile phone users in sub-Saharan Africa is the highest worldwide and the second largest mobile market after Asia, according to the online research platform Gallup (Tortora 2014). Hence, the communication exchanges via mobile devices are strong among sub-Saharan African citizens and could be regarded as a key opportunity for media plurality and advocacy for community development on the continent.

Africa has a vibrant ICT community; often individuals committed to their communities and countries have started ICT initiatives to get actively involved in educating and empowering citizens in online content creation and debates. There are also various bloggers’ associations on the continent, for instance, in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe, and networks advocating for voter education exist, for example in Nigeria. South Africa has created its own blog awards showcasing the best bloggers of the country (see South African Blog Awards 2017).

The so-called tech hubs which are established in many countries in Africa belong to the growing innovative ICT development in transitional societies ←22 | 23→where local media initiatives develop digital content, services and sustainable business models, and promote local collaboration. Start-up Information Technology (IT) developers and programmers use the hubs to benefit from expert networks and shared infrastructure. AfriLabs, for instance, is such a network that has 27 tech hubs in 15 African countries (Verfürth 2014:127). For 2018, the GSM Association identifies 355 active tech hubs in sub-Saharan Africa whereby South Africa is leading with 59 hubs in total, followed by Nigeria with 55 and Kenya with 30 hubs. For Zimbabwe, 13 tech hubs could be identified (see GSM Association 2018:23).

With the messenger service, WhatsApp users can send text messages between mobile phones at no cost. The service provides a substitution for SMS. In 2017, 55 billion messages worldwide were sent with WhatsApp every day; most of them were text messages, but photos and videos were also exchanged every day (mediakix 2017). In South Africa, Highway Africa, an annual conference with a focus on discussions about journalism, media and ICTs, has been taking place for two decades. The platform is hosted by Rhodes University in Grahamstown and brings together researchers and media practitioners from Africa and the rest of the world in order to foster a network for sharing knowledge and experience of new technologies in the media (see highwayafrica.ru.ac.za).

Most African countries have a population consisting of a high number of young people. In 2015, 226 million youth between 15 and 24 years lived in Africa, which equals 19 percent of the global youth population (United Nations 2015 a:1). Especially the younger generations thrive on using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to make themselves heard, and also to comment on political topics (Economist 2016:36). Overall, those who engage in mobile activities in Africa are mostly young, educated and can read and speak English (Pew Research Center 2015:6). In 2017, there were about 160 million Facebook users on the African continent; in South Africa, 16 million citizens now use Facebook, of which the majority access it using a mobile device (Strydom 2015; Miniwatts Marketing Group 2017).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 300 pp., 8 fig. b/w, 8 tables.

Biographical notes

Almuth Schellpeper (Author)

Almuth Schellpeper studied media studies at the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen and development management at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa in affiliation with the Ruhr University Bochum. She taught journalism and media studies at academic institutions in Cape Town, Cairo and Bonn.


Title: The Prospect of Mobile Journalism and Social Media for African Citizens
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