The title of the upcoming WikiLeaks biopic THE FIFTH ESTATE invokes the words of French philosopher Montesquieu who left us the concept of the Three Estates of the Realm (Church, Citizens, and The Government). Essentially the three exist to check the power of the others. Edmund Burke argued the Press makes up a Fourth Estate (a check on the aforementioned three). Later William Dutton argued that a Fifth Estate are not just the users of transmedia but all those connected through the internet and who use it to take action. Great recent examples of this ‘Fifth Estate’ at work are WikiLeaks, but also those who opposed SOPA in the U.S., communities like Global Voices, and my former colleagues at Ushahidi and the greater Crisis Mapping community.
In Africa these connections look very different than they do in North America and Europe. The first four estates are roughly the same: The Church, Citizens, The Government, and The Press. But its hard for me to see how those the connections relevant to developed countries, are always relevant to those in developing countries. The needs are different. What it means to accomplish significant change is very different.
So, I argue that Africa isn’t a place, but a space — a state of mind that exists in the diaspora, those who live there, and others connected beyond borders.
The above image was created by Kai Krause to represent the mind-boggling scale of the physical size of Africa. However, I like it because to me it represents how, even when removed and living in other parts of the world, Africans are still the stewards of Africa.
I personally do not see the distinction between people who are African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Kenyan, Uganda, whatever. There only those who take responsibility for participating in the development of the continent and those who don’t. Focusing on to narrowly on where you’re from or where you’re physically at misses the point and further excludes you from a broader community. This difference in ‘connection’ matters, especially when you look at the untapped wealth the African diaspora holds around the world.
So I like to think that the African diaspora, is the real Fifth Estate of Africa. They have the money, the political sway, the mobility, and personal security that allows them to truly affect change in Africa. They aren’t connected specifically through technology (though many are) but mostly through heritage and community. The question is whether or not the Diaspora will exercise this power or not.
Think of it like this. Africa has vast quantities of land, minerals, solar energy, wildlife and agriculture that has been commoditized to its own exclusion and detriment. The only thing left to be exploited is its own agency and human capital. Its no wonder then that ‘The Diaspora’ is now who development agencies are turning to as a resource to fund projects and programatic work. Same story but hopefully with a different ending.
You can view the slides below or download them here.
This presentation was given at the Kongossa Web Series 2013 in Montreal, Canada. thanks for inviting me!