It was the best and worst of times for conversations about Africa on Twitter in July. Hope ran high, but so did despair. In South Africa, a single event inspired both with the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma who was given a 15-month sentence for refusing to testify at the Zondo Commission hearings that exposed the extent of corruption in his government.
His sentence started in July, turning #ZumaArrest into a trending topic in South Africa and 15 other countries as the 6th most popular hashtag. Zuma was taken into custody on 7 July - and therein lies hope. “By imprisoning a former president, the country has set an example for constitutional democracies across the world, “ Foreign Policy wrote. However, hope was quickly followed by despair when protests turned violent and greedy with widespread looting. The military was deployed to Zuma’s home province KwaZulu Natal (KZN), and “#KZNshutdown” became the 7th most used hashtag.
Surprisingly, the tweet that had the most engagements under #ZumaArrest wasn’t about the event. Instead, it asked who between Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa was the best president in South Africa’s history. It generated just under 10,000 retweets, quotes and 7565 likes.
We think the question was answered perfectly by the most popular tweet about #KZNshutdown, which stated: “Protecting individuals is one of the reasons Africa is poor because we spend more time and energy defending individuals instead of fighting systems and policies that imprison us for life.”
Zuma’s arrest isn't the only political news that turned into a leading conversation on Twitter. #GERD, #TigrayGenocide and #EgyptNileRight were the 8th, 9th, and 10th most popular hashtags. #GERD refers to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The hydropower project has been in development since 2011. It’s also a source of a 10-year dispute between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. The Nile River - which flows in Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt - is the primary water source in Egypt and Sudan. Both countries are concerned that the project will impact the river’s flow and water supply. In July, the African Union hosted another round of ongoing talks aimed at resolving the dispute amicably. #EgyptNileRights was also inspired by conversations about ownership of the Nile and equitable access to its waters.
The #TigrayGenocide - which trended in 11 countries - is part of conversations and news from the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where conflict between the government and the region’s leading political party erupted in November 2020. In what has become typical of political disputes, civilian lives have also been affected. Almost two million people fled their homes, while around 400,000 have been affected by famine linked to the conflict. The United Nation’s acting humanitarian aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham called it "the worst famine situation we have seen in decades". However, the government of Ethiopia denied that it’s blocking aid to the region.
Where politics added gloom, music and sport provided much-needed lightness and, indeed, fun. #NowPlaying, the bot hashtag used initially by radio stations to post songs on Twitter, has been adopted by individuals to post the songs they are currently listening to. African countries are being tagged a lot in the posts. It was the second most popular hashtag and was used in 31 countries. It’s also related to the 5th popular hashtag, #PermissiontoDance, used in 19 countries. Both speak to the popularity of African music, or as Burna Boy would say, “Africa is the house” - and we’re loving it.
The 3rd and 4th popular hashtags - #EURO2020 and #Tokyo2020 – were inspired by the just concluded EURO soccer tournament and the Tokyo Olympics. However, the most liked sporting Tweet wasn’t about these events. An “Edouard Mendy appreciation post” by @ChelseaFC generated7,203 retweets and 58.7 thousand likes. Mendy won the Best African International’ award at the 2021 Ghana Football Awards.
So, what was the most used hashtag? Conversations around COVID-19 once again take centre stage. It was tagged in 45 countries, with South Africa and Uganda coming up more often than others. South Africa is still the epicentre of COVID-19 in Africa, while Uganda is turning to traditional medicine to fight the virus. Delta variant, number of cases and vaccine also featured in conversations about the virus.
As usual, we also looked at which individual account mentioned Africa or any of its countries most frequently. @mlnangalama, whose account is suspended for violating Twitter rules, posted 438 tweets that mentioned 38 of 54 African countries. Her most tweeted subject was the assassination of Kenyan politician and statesman Tom Mboya, who was killed on July 5, 1969. He is considered one of the founding fathers of Kenya. She posted 37 tweets about Mboya, followed by South Africa (27), Covid (26), South Sudan (19) and Jacob Zuma (12).
Talk about being engaged with African issues and conversations!