The role of the Internet in pathways to democratization: A Critical Survey of the Literature

by Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW (Yayeh KITAW)
PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis

Introduction: The debate around the Internet and Democratization

Since the late nineties, scholars, policymakers, media professionals have strived to untangle the puzzle of the relationship between the use of the Internet and democratization. Relying on statistical as well as qualitative methods, these scholarly endeavours investigating how the use of the Internet and democratization interrelate have failed to yield consistent and conclusive results. Indeed, new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) present both opportunities and threats for democracy (Horrocks and Pratchett, 1995). In particular, the Internet, following its global growth over the last two decades, has been increasingly expected to become a liberating technology as well as a threat for autocratic regimes (Hellmeier, 2016; Howard and Parks, 2012; Diamond 2010; Groshek 2009).

Since the globalization of the Internet, researchers have been puzzled about its effects on political institutions and their operation as well as on democratic values and processes (Best & Wade, 2009; Howard, 2010; Groshek, 2011; Meier, 2012). This bewilderment has led to a burgeoning literature on the probable effects of emerging ICTs on democratic processes (Weare, 2002) and an understanding that democracy and democratization can no longer be effectively studied without some attention paid to the role of digital information technologies as they are bound to be used for good or ill (Lidén, 2015; Meier, 2012).

Amidst the debate concerning the liberalizing or repressive effect of the Internet, present-day research shows that the Internet’s impact on the democratization of authoritarian regimes is at best limited (Rød and Weidmann, 2015). Among the reasons forwarded is that autocratic governments take control and actively censor online content (Greitens, 2013; Hellmeier, 2016), prosecute dissident online activists, use the Internet for the purpose of spreading propaganda (Kalathil and Boas, 2003; Morozov, 2011), and strengthen their authoritarianism by promoting Digital Government while censoring the Internet (World Bank Development Report, 2016)

Following Groshek (2010) who notes that “Technological developments, especially communicative ones, have long been romanticized as powerful instruments of democracy, Kalathil and Boas (2010:10) assert that the Internet has helped authoritarian regimes rather than harmed them. Kalathil and Boas (2010) further argue that the Internet’s net impact on authoritarian rule has often been obscured by the conventional wisdom that the Internet is inherently of a democratic nature and inexorably undermines authoritarian regimes.

Furthermore, when carefully examining the full range of Internet use under eight authoritarian regimes, Kalathil and Boas (2010) justify their choices of a regional approach to the selection of cases from Southeast Asia and the Middle East mentioning the lack of data and underdevelopment of the Internet for cases in Africa. They note, however, that a large concentration of authoritarian regimes is in Africa and Central Asia and that as more data becomes available, research examining such cases would emerge and fill the gap.

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Vous souvenez-vous d’Adoua? Do you remember #Adwa126?

English Version at the end

Emperor Menelik II à la bataille d’Adoua

L’Éthiopie ne célèbre pas de jour de l’indépendance mais le jour de la victoire d’Adoua, nom d’une ville située dans le nord de l’Éthiopie. Il y a 126 ans, le 1er mars 1896 vit la victoire de l’Empereur Ménélik II d’#Éthiopie sur l’armée italienne colonisatrice. Les Éthiopiens de toutes les régions ont uni leurs forces pour sauvegarder leur souveraineté et résister à la colonisation.

L’impératrice Taytu Betul, épouse de Menelik II

L’impératrice Taytu Betul, épouse de Menelik II, faisait partie des forces éthiopiennes qui ont vaincu les soldats colonisateurs le 1er mars 1896 à Adwa.

Le président du Conseil des ministres italien Francesco Crispi a été déposé avec son gouvernement peu après la bataille d’Adoua, une bataille qui a ébranlé les fondements de l’impérialisme européen.

Depuis l’année dernière, l’#Éthiopie, animé par la même ferveur, mène une autre bataille pour sauvegarder la souveraineté du pays, luttant contre les fausses représentations dans les médias grand public et les réseaux sociaux concernant la situation au Tigré. En dépit de ces défis, les programmes de réforme sous la direction du Premier ministre Abiy se poursuivent.

Célébrant le 126e anniversaire de #Adwa126, Munit Mesfin nous enchante avec son ‘Vous souvenez-vous d’Adoua?” dans une mélodie unique de style Ethio-Jazz.

Bonne détente!

Do you remember #Adwa126?

Ethiopia does not celebrate an Independence Day but the Adwa Victory Day. 126 years ago, the 1st of March 1896 saw the Victory of Emperor Menelik II of #Ethiopia over the colonizing Italian army. Ethiopians from all regions in #UnityForEthiopia joined forces to safeguard their sovereignty and resist colonization.

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