Two weeks ago, GULUspeaks launched an online campaign asking Gulu town residents to Speak Up.
GULUspeaks is a movement inspired by an investigative story Haunted by the Past produced by Benson Ongom of Next Broadcasting Services( NBS).
In the documentary, NBS uncovered child prostitution at Buganda Pub in Gulu.
The vision bearers of GULUspeaks were concerned by the silence of Gulu residents and mandated office bearers on the state of child prostitution and demanded that Gulu residents and their leadership must break their silence on child prostitution normalized by their silence.
During GULUspeaks social media campaign, a number of critics argued against social media as a means to bring social change.
In this article, I will illustrate how social media activism has created social change and why it is on the increase in Gulu.
Social media activism is defined in this article as the action of using social media platforms(Facebook,Twitter,WhatsApp) as a tool for online campaigns and mobilization to bring about social and political change in society.
Many social movements have increasingly seen social media as a means to collaboratively crowdsource different stakeholders(Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012)
Tamtam Finn argues that a good activist should be able to inspire other people, should believe in every word he says and should really love what he is doing. In this case he’ll be very loyal to the idea.
Historically, most activism has focused on creating substantive changes in the policy or practice of a government or industry.
Some activists try to persuade people to change their behavior directly rather than to persuade governments to change laws.
In November, 2018 residents of Gulu mobilized through an online campaign a protest against Umeme on the near absence of grid power in Gulu.
Residents argued, it was affecting their businesses and livelihood in town.
Umeme, the electricity distribution company reached out to residents and improved on power supply in Gulu. Umeme leaders in Kampala traveled to Gulu after residents organized a peaceful demonstration to their Gulu offices.
In January 2019, Gulu residents were mobilized under the leadership of social media activists Uhuru John Bosco, Chowoo Willy and Okano Emma among others to protest the mistreatment of people of Apaa, in Amuru.
The ownership of land in Apaa is being contested between Amuru district and Adjumani district local governments.
Uhuru and others were joined by local parliamentarians Hon. Odonga Otto(Aruu County) and Hon. Gilbert Olanya(Kilak South). Their presence and arrest and detention of activist Uhuru highlighted the gross human rights violation of the people of Apaa to national platforms.
Today, government has agreed to a committee chaired by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Hon. Jacob Oulanyah to investigate events in Apaa and find a lasting solution to the problem.
In April 2019, residents of Bardege Division in Gulu were mobilized online and protested the poor condition of roads.
The Mayor responded and the roads were graded and more access roads were opened in the division.
In May 2019, Gulu residents led by music artists Bosmic Otim and others mobilized people using social media and protested a decomposing body from Amuru district that was dumped in-front of Gulu hospital mortuary.
They took pictures and shared online and it went viral. Police and Gulu referral hospital management were forced to bury the decomposing body.
This year February 2020, Gulu residents lead by an online critic Omiyo Samuel and others organized an online protest against Capital Fm’s selection of only two music artists against seven from Kampala and not playing music of it’s local artists based in Gulu.
Capital Fm was forced to increase the number of Gulu based artists in their national tour show in Gulu and started playing music of local artists based in Gulu.
Therefore, to what extent is“pressure from below” a requisite for meaningful socio-political change and organizational reform conducive for social change?
As evidenced above, pressure from below through activism is currently a trending and reliable means of addressing communal social change.
While social media activism looks cowardly and weak and lacks in-depth, it has successfully inspired community dialogue that has more often resulted to social reforms.
Most social media activism has led to short term goals and successes in Gulu. The rise of GULUspeaks as a movement signifies that Gulu will experience more long lasting campaigns as the community loses confidence in it’s leadership to offer representative leadership to their social concerns.
This will be supported by majorly the youthful unemployed residents of Gulu whose expectations of Gulu as a city is high and with a lot of zeal and time to get involved in online campaigns and join social movements to express their frustrations.
This implies more local government leaders are going to be held publicly accountable for their decisions and actions while in office.
As, the election period takes off, it is expected that more activists will rise up to the occasion. Residents of Gulu will participate more in the governance of their social affairs since local campaigns will keep them more aware and confident to face off with state actors.
Conclusively, activism is a vehicle for change and social media is a reliable means to advance this change. As more online campaigns unfold, there is a possibility of more high handed approach by state actors who are being held accountable and this may translate from social initiatives to political initiatives.
The author is a Blogger and member of GULUspeaks Movement based in Gulu.