Accepted paper:

Infectious Images: Memescapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo


Lesley Braun (Basel University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which viral Internet content circulates in and across Congolese communities. It discusses the overlap between print cartoons, and digital viral videos and memes, and highlight the new potentials online content offers in the way of political critique.

Paper long abstract:

Over the past decade, looming threats of political protest have led the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to quell civil unrest by periodically suspending Internet services. Referred to as "blackouts," periods of Internet restrictions point to the impending concerns of a president who was reluctant to cede power and hold elections. Social media has indeed become a prominent medium through which to communicate opinions and views—ones which would otherwise be violently repressed. The digital domain in the Congo offers people a new vital outlet through which to critique and comment on some of the larger social forces that inform their lives. Like mobile phone users worldwide, Congolese people now chronicle their daily lives through images—which thereby become an archive of the popular. From the mundane selfies, to sobering depictions of political power abuse, people are strengthening and forge new networks of communication through the circulation of digital images. Seemingly banal content posted on social media often carries with it political meaning. Photoshopped images of politicians in compromising situations offer a carnivalesque commentary of the arbitrariness of power. Viral content also interacts with other modes of communication such as rumour, which itself intersects with contemporary threats of biological virus outbreaks, most notably Ebola. This paper argues that since notions of contagion and virality carry with them their own ontological baggage, a consideration of cultural context is required for a deeper understanding of Internet participation in Congo.

panel Pol31
Digital technologies and the politics of data in Africa