The failed coup of 13 May 2015 led, overnight, to the quasi-destruction of independent media in Burundi. Ordinary citizens, journalists, and politicians turned to social media to gather information, voice their opinion, and try and influence public life. This paper considers this fast transition, the ways citizens, diaspora members, refugees, journalists and politicians have navigated it, and the sort of public space it has contributed to building. In line with the literature on social media, it is argued that a new public space was –somewhat forcibly– opened. However, we also contend that this space is not necessarily more inclusive of ordinary citizen, be they than the space available to citizens during the ‘golden era’ of Burundian FM stations (2005-2013). Although some platforms, and in particular WhatsApp, are vital for the circulation of underground information and can act as an alert system, social media seems, overall, ruled by a minority of brokers who partially overlap with the ruling elite.
About the speakers
Jean-Benoît Falisse is a lecturer at Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His main research interests are in the provision of basic social services (health-care, education, justice) in so-called ‘fragile’ contexts and refugee livelihoods. In the last couple of years, he has augmented his work on the community governance of primary health care centres in Burundi and South Kivu (DR Congo) with projects on access to education in DR Congo, refugee economies in Tanzania, and social media in post-failed coup Burundi. Jean-Benoît uses a mixed-methods approach that includes interviews, survey data, and experimental evidence. His background is in development economics, history, politics, and philosophy. He has done policy work with several international and local organisations such as the World Bank, UNHCR, and Caritas Netherlands. @jbfalisse