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HP01 - Virtual politics: Digitalization and its impact on political regimes in Africa

Convened by Benedikt Erforth, Lena Gutheil and Daouda Cissé (German Institute of Development and Sustainability)

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Digital technologies transform and revolutionize our economies and societies. They influence the way we work, live, and interact. From its existence as a separate cyberspace of yore, the digital, today, co-constitutes individual and societal behavior. Governmental and non-governmental actors alike seek to employ and control digital tools in their political and economic interests. In Africa, the potential for transformation is particularly high. Digitalization uproots productive sectors, drives political mobilization, and offers solutions to social problems. Yet inadequate governance of digital technologies poses barriers to businesses and leaves citizens’ data open to exploitation. Adding to this, external actors, including the EU, China and the US, are increasingly active in Africa’s digital space. They provide network infrastructure and regulation of digital content, and thus create fears of Africa becoming a new battleground for great power rivalry and object to digital colonialism. This panel enquires into the nexus between digital technologies and their impact on regime types, regime change, and regime stability across Africa. The underlying question that the panel seeks to probe refers to the extent to which digital tools can be employed to either foster autocratization or strengthen democracies. We are seeking paper submissions that contribute to one of the following questions: (1) How do digital surveillance tools affect state control and allow for or curb democratic participation? (2) How do external actors (both Western and non-Western) engage with the African digital market place and which impact does their engagement have on both the economy and politics? (3) What new pathways for political participation does digitalization create (participation can be considered as having both positive and negative impacts). (4) What is the effect of digitalization on democratic aspirations among young people? How do you young people use and maximize the potential of urban and digital spaces to influence policy and or receive political and policy redress? We seek mainly empirical papers, yet make also room for broader theoretical reflections. The case studies should be concentrating on the African region and/or the region’s engagement with external partners, notably – yet not limited to – the EU, the US and China.