Communication and Citzenship – Practitioner Experiences from Africa

panosIAMCR/Panos London Joint Plenary in Braga

This year IAMCR is sharing an open plenary session with Panos London. The session will share and discuss three case studies from Africa that will demonstrate innovations, challenges and opportunities for creating spaces to improve citizenship through communications.

The session’s objective is to provide a platform for collaborative thinking and projects in communication and citizenship for African practitioners and theorists.


The explosion of communication tools and technologies has redefined the way people organise themselves to demand actions and to participate in social and political institutions. This has challenged democracies, totalitarian governments and religious hierarchies across the world. Equitable, uninterrupted, affordable and innovative communication tools push the role and boundaries of citizenship which is going through a tremendous redefinition even while it remains primarily defined by civil, political and social rights and guaranteed by a state.

Opportunities for public participation are unprecedented and the power of organized citizenship is growing in developing societies due to communication tools, technologies and infrastructure.  A glance at today’s communicative actions by ordinary citizens shows that this mass participation is much more vibrant than Habermas’ public spheres that were defined in terms of salons and literary pamphlets.  In developing societies, communicative actions are becoming a mass political and social tool, especially with opportunities for citizens being able to organise , both face-to-face and virtually.

New media tools provide opportunities for citizens to challenge the type of rule that they live under.  For example, an NGO called Daraja implements a project Raising the Water Pressure project in Tanzania where citizens use mobile phones to put pressure on local government to address problems with rural water supplies.

African experience

Unlike western democracies, very few citizens in African countries enjoy guaranteed political participation and freedom of expression. The session will focus on three important areas of communication that will affect the citizenship of Africans in the way they participate, organise and express their voices for their own development:

Participation – this area will examine the use and power of voices of ordinary citizens to address their political, social and development demands.

Politics – this area will look at a communication action of select groups or ordinary communities that demand better governance and accountability.

Policies and practices – this area will look at enabling environments for active citizenship. This will include at opportunities and challenges created or constrained by regulatory, technological and commercial bodies. Case studies will share innovation at the community levels that promote participation and citizenship.


Introducing the theme – Murali Shanmugavelan, Head of the Information Society Programme,  Panos London
Moderator – Prof. Annabelle Sreberny, President of IAMCR
Three case studies
Interactive discussion with participants


The session is organised by IAMCR and Panos London. Panos London promotes the participation of poor and marginalised people in national and international development debates through media and communication projects. It is part of the worldwide Panos Network of independent institutes working to ensure that information is used more effectively to foster debate, pluralism and democracy. 


Annabelle Srebernysreberny
President of the IAMCR

Annabelle Sreberny holds the Chair of Global Media and Communications at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) since 2006. Prior to that, she was Director of the Centre for Mass Communication Research of the University of Leicester from 1992-1999. Her research work has been in the area of International Communication, increasingly on Globalization, and with a strong feminist orientation. Her interests include theories of globalization, particularly in relation to gender issues and the changing configurations of the public and private. She has focused on media and processes of socio-political change and democratization in the South, with particular emphasis on the Middle East and Iran. Sreberny was elected President of IAMCR from July 2008 for four years. She is an Associate Member of the UNESCO ORBICOM Network. In 2002 she became an elected member of the Royal Society of Arts.

Murali Shanmugavelanshanmugavelan
Head of the Information Society Programme, Panos London

Murali Shanmugavelan is Head of PANOS’ Information Society Programme. His work looks at improving social inclusion in developing countries through the use of new communication technologies.  Shanmugavelan specialises in how new communication technologies and information and communication policies can empower excluded and marginalised communities. He is currently co-implementing a pilot project in Bangladesh to improve reproductive health services delivery through mobile phones.  His publications include ‘Public should say how digital billions are spent’, Panos London (May 2008); ‘Market forces alone won't end the digital divide’, Panos London (February 2008) and ‘Media, development and governance’GFMD - Media Matters (October 2006).

David Soutersouter
Managing Director, ICTDevelopment Associate

David provides expertise on information and communications policy and regulation, on ICTs and development, and on the social, economic and cultural impact of communications and the Internet. David is Visiting Professor in Communications Management at the University of Strathclyde, and Visiting Senior Fellow in the Department of Media and Communication at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  His academic and policy work both focus on the relationship between communications, social change and public policy.

Alice Munyuamunyua
Director, Communications Commission of Kenya

Alice Munyua is convener of the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), and the East African Internet Governance Forum (EAIGF). She is an experienced advocate for African civil society and works on Information Communication, policy, regulation and internet governance. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), vice chair of the Kenya Network Information Centre (KENIC-Kenya's ccTLD ),   member of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number’s (ICANN’s) Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)  representing Kenya.

Ben Taylortaylor
Executive Director, Raising the Water Pressure project

Ben Taylor is a policy analyst and activist, with a particular focus on local governance and the water sector. Ben has a Masters degree in Development Management from the University of Manchester, UK, and has lived and worked in Tanzania for over 10 years. Since August 2009 Ben has worked as the director of Daraja (, prior to which he spent three years doing policy research and advocacy work for WaterAid Tanzania.

Ken Banksbanks

Ken Banks, founder of, devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world, and has spent the last 17 years working on projects in Africa. Recently, his research resulted in the development of FrontlineSMS, an award-winning text messaging-based field communication system designed to empower grassroots non-profit organisations. Ken graduated from Sussex University with honours in Social Anthropology with Development Studies, and was awarded a Stanford University Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship in 2006, and named a Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow in 2008. In 2009 he was named a Laureate of the Tech Awards, an international awards program which honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity.