WhatsApp in African trade networks: Professional practice and obtaining attention in AfCFTA policy formation
Keywords:Elite Theory, Platforms, WhatsApp, Influencers, Micro Celebrity, Entrepreneurship, Network consolidation
The emerging attention to the role of WhatsApp in African politics tends to examine it as a conduit for misinformation, or as part of a suite of digital tools that destabilize existing hierarchies. Within these larger transformations, African policymakers are finding ways of incorporating WhatsApp into their professional practice. This small-n study aims to understand more about the dynamics of elite influence and consensus building via participant observation of African WhatsApp groups that are dedicated to shaping the framing, construction and meaning of intra-continental trade policy in advance of the African Continental Free Trade Area coming into effect. I report how these groups view WhatsApp as a ‘technology of Pan-Africanism’ but also how this platform facilitates ‘backstage activism’ and self-promotion within elite cultures. The study also notes elite recruitment, and motivation, as well as these elites’ self-conception of science, technology, and innovation.
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