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The Digital Divide — Between English and French Speaking Africa

Take a look at that picture (h/t Bill Easterly & @portlandcomms). The highest number of tweets over a three-month period come from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Egypt. These countries also show the highest number of tweets per citizen. Each is a former British colony which continues to have strong ties to the wider English speaking world. (Click on the chart to enlarge.)

Former French colonies are far behind in tweets per person and twitter usage in general, with the exception of Rwanda, which is increasingly turning its back of Franco-Belgian Africa and integrating with the Anglophone world.

Sixty years after most African countries became independent, the legacies of two very different colonial imprints remain strong. Even in cyberspace, French (and Belgian) colonialism looks like a particularly grim curse.

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  • Anthony

    “Since the seventeenth century, the English-speaking world or at least significant chunks of it have believed that embracing and even furthering and accelerating change – economic change, social change, cultural change, political change – fulfills….” Perhaps the above legacy of colonialism left concepts of liberal prosperity and free trade that continue to redound WRM.

  • t0r67foulvjjcfxte

    Good point. This may explain differences in the views about “western guilt” over colonialism. The French have a lot to feel guilty about. The anglosphere, not so much. My feeling is that the best thing that could happen to a 3rd world country is to go through a two or three generations of neo-colonialism to fix problems caused by tribalism and to reduce government corruption. Instuting a western style education system, economic freedom, rule of law is hard to grow at home when it is alien to your culture. It’s easier to have it installed from outside.

  • Corlyss

    Indeed. The anglosphere leads the way to prosperity and stability and democracy. No colonial power did it better than England. For me the model of non-Anglo chaos is Italian Somalia, which, when contrasted to English Somaliland, is positively a petri dish for the experiment in which nation left the stronger legacy.

  • Ben

    I spoke with the company that did the survey; They didn’t get a fully representative sample. For example, they only took “localized” tweets, so that no tweets from Côte d’Ivoire were sampled. Still, there were plenty of tweets coming from Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, etc. Also, the map isn’t adjusted for population. The largest population centers also have the largest number of tweets.

    The English legacy of colonialism is not much better than the French and I would suggest that you not try and establish a hierarchy of suffering.

  • Hu Ngu

    A recent poll revealed that 60% of Jamaicans believed the island would be better off if it had remained a U.K. colony.
    17% said the island would be worse off.

  • Atanu Maulik

    Coming from India I can vouch for the benefits of British rule. Modern India is in some sense a British creation.

  • Luke Lea

    What is the French word for tweet?

  • Bebe

    Let’s see: Twitter use to measure the effects of British versus French/Belgian imperialism amongst former African colonies? Does the use/non-use of social media in the home countries have any influence on former colonies? Is the fact that there are more speakers of English than of French meaningful? Twitter commenced business in 2007, only adding a French platform in 2009: is this business decision of interest? Did you know that Twitter’s development website recommends using a “localized user interface” if the target audience is in a language other than English? Are there any local UI’s in those French-speaking African countries? Why is there such a high number of Tweets from Morocco, where they weren’t anyone’s colony, and they speak Modern Standard Arabic? Facebook has created interfaces in Swahili and Afrikaans. Meanwhile Twitter has been returning to Africa with new carrier agreements only within the last year, having shut down its SMS in Africa in 2008. In Africa nearly 60% of social media is done on mobile phones rather than the computer-based internet. And Africa is hardly one homogenous economic environment with a high level of market intergration- local solutions yield local success.

    Dear Prof. Mead, perhaps your research interns need to be replaced.

  • kalle

    once again people saying the problem with Africa is that it isn’t western enough!!! as an African born in a post colonial Africa I think its the exact opposite….Africa is not African enough…foreign Goods, Foreign Thinking!!! Everything is foreign….

    and as for those who say Africa would have been better off had the imperialist stayed are always makes cringe to hear such thing…how would the freedom fighters who liberated feel to hear any sane african say that…may be some people would love to live as second class citizens!!! not allowed to own property or chose careers of their liking.
    I would rather be a KING in a mouse hole, Than a mouse in a PALACE

  • saptarshi

    “…instuting a western style education system, economic freedom, rule of law is hard to grow at home when it is alien to your culture.”

    what a bunch of racist, colonial crap. get an education, t0r67foulvjjcfxte.

    and Atanu Maulik, get some psychiatric treatment for stockholm syndrome.

  • olufemi terry

    a couple things: t0r67foulvjjcfxte, tribalism is everywhere and unfixable. affluence has masked it in europe for a long time but no longer does in Belgium, for instance.

    second: Africans also play this game of which was the worst colonizer; its meaningless, perhaps what is more important to focus on is the behavior of the colonial power following independence. Britain more or less left its colonies to their own devices. France has continued to meddle. And of course portugal did not relinquish its colonies until ten years after Britain and France did so it’s an unfair comparison.

  • olufemi terry

    and its significant if one looks for a little granularity that Francophone Gabon outtweets Anglophone Ghana which is ten times as large populationwise. And so too does Burkina Faso.

  • Sonia

    Your article would more aptly be called “The Twitter Divide between English & French Speaking Africa”. The flaw in your use of digital divide instead is equating twitter use to internet use. All the above infographic shows is that twitter use is greater in anglophone countries. If the same infographic measured facebook activity, I’m sure a different story would be told.

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