Accepted paper:

Water wars in social media. Mapping online debates on the Nile in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt


Iginio Gagliardone (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

The paper comparatively analyses how contestation, nationalism, and cooperation play out in social media among online communities writing about the Nile in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Paper long abstract:

Development, climate change, and regional hegemony are all issues surroundings the use and transformation of the Nile. While risks of regional conflicts and opportunities for cooperation are being increasingly studied, the analysis of how individuals from different countries engage with them has been lacking. By analysing online debates on the Nile in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, this paper seeks to offer a unique contribution not only to a better understanding of Nile controversies, but to how different actors - governments, diasporas, scientists, as well as ordinary social media users - employ social media to further specific political agendas. The paper builds on methods for data collection and analysis that have been previously tested to map online debates and conflicts in Ethiopia (Gagliardone et al., 2016), to comparatively examine three interrelated issues: - Under which conditions social media amplify inflammatory speech and exacerbate transboundary water conflicts? Or conversely, when do they promote cooperation messages and facilitate constructive engagements? - Do social media offer a space to express dissent and alternative positions compared to official government propaganda, in the context of three countries where traditional journalists and media do not enjoy full freedom of expression? And how are governments seeking to extend their control over sensitive and highly securitized issues such as Nile water distribution? - How techno-scientific issues are presented and debated in social media? Do social media facilitate the circulation of scientific research and knowledge or rather to they contribute to delegitimise expert's authority?

panel P028
Social media and the political sphere in Africa: reshaping democratic engagement?