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Fr. Peter Okojie in the Vatican Radio/Vatican News offices, Rome, Italy. Fr. Peter Okojie in the Vatican Radio/Vatican News offices, Rome, Italy.  

Africa, the Church and digital media

One of the defining elements of the modern world is digital media, which has built and continues to navigate a course for social interaction. Africa is not left out in this project except that it has not been able to situate itself as a major deciding voice in this technological ecosystem that is still emerging.

Peter Okojie – Vatican City

As far as digital media is concerned, most of the supporting technologies originate from the United States of America, Asia and Europe. Africa cannot boast of her own technology. Not to have one’s own technology or not to be present at the decision table preceding the emergence of new technologies is tantamount to a certain level of exclusion, which at best favours one who is present.

Digital media: What is all about?

It is easy to refer to digital media without necessarily attempting to define it. When people talk about digital media, either they refer to platforms such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram etc., or they refer to the technology that it supports such as imagery, digital video, games, web pages, social media, databases, mp3s and audio.

Even though all of these references underscore aspects of digital media, none of them defines the entirety of the concept. The truth is that digital media is not a very easy concept to define. However, beaming the focus on the adjective, ‘digital’ helps us to appreciate the concept of digital media. By extension, digital media includes a social character but not directly equivalent to social media. Internet as a superhighway of networks is the very structure upon which digital media manifests its intents.

Should the Church in Africa embrace digital media?

Mainly, the Church –particularly in Africa, has been slow to embrace digital media.

Digital media is responsible for the single largest space of human social experience; it is a force that cannot be ignored without consequences. Digital media has taken the traditional media (print, TV and radio) to a different level. Today, storytelling thrives on the creation and distribution of narratives in digital format.

Unlike the traditional storytelling formats and genres, digital media storytelling excels on brevity mindful of the current day attitude of “impatience.”

If the Church is to continue to remain faithful to her Lord and Master, she would go to all nations in their various havens. She is to be that voice that reminds all and sundry that with great power comes great responsibility.

Africa and the challenges of reliable power supply

Digital media thrives on very reliable power supply and network infrastructure. Most of Africa struggles with realising these for several reasons, such as economic, poor management of power utilities or weak political will to improve the status quo. This, however, is not reason enough to do nothing.

The challenge of formation

Although not only true of Africa, many people in Africa begin to interact with the digital media without any prior training or formation on the ethics that must accompany responsible use of the digital media. Hence, innocent errors are copious, fake news and misleading content thrives in a continent where “sharing” is a way of life. As a result of this, sometimes, even fake news is shared in good faith.

The allure of western cultures

The influence of western culture in Africa continues to grow and sometimes to the detriment of those values that give Africa its beauty and richness. It is easy to find Africans downplaying the African while exulting the non-African. A lot of this depends on the abundant western content in Africa sometimes dumped in the name of “charity.” This abundance sometimes blinds Africans from seeking her own – if it costs little or nothing to get what works for me, why bury myself in a very demanding research that will cost me more, they ask themselves.

Africa’s hope is in its rich cultural heritage

No one can give what he or she does not have; one can only take from what he or she has and give in charity. From within, Africa may not have the economic wherewithal to begin building giant infrastructures or begin a wild goose chase simply because she wants to enter into competition with Asia, America, and Europe. However, at least Africa does not lack the intellectual competence to revisit her cultural heritage and comb it in order to bring out the essentials in a structured and understandable manner for “this generation” to see the treasures hidden beneath.

African Governments must digitise education

It would be of immense value to Africa to have willing governments, generous donors from within and outside support the project of digitalising Africa. This would include the education and formation of more people in the vast possibilities of digital media while paying attention to the ethics of responsibility.

Church houses of formation can be leaders in digital media

Specifically, seminaries and formation houses could be crucial in this project, as their role is very critical for the future Church. Once able to boast of creating digital content for the teaching of the faith, the Church in Africa must not fear or become discouraged in continuing to flood the digital media with authentic content in an environment where already misleading content regarding the faith abounds.

Content, content, content

The web is content; content is web. Web is content means it is a whole collection of various kinds of information for nearly all types of audiences and contexts. As the blood is to the circulatory system of the body, so is content for the web. The parable of the Weed and the Wheat in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 13:24-30 is instructive: Sow the good even if the bad threatens. Where “everyone” is a content creator and publisher of or on digital media, the only time when users of digital media ask, why in order for them to reach the truth is when on the same web there is content that stands in opposition to falsehood. All of this cannot be left to no one when everybody has something at stake.

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Fr. Peter Okojie is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria. He is specialising in Digital Media at Loyola University Chicago in the United States. Presently, he is with Vatican Radio/Vatican News’ English Africa Service for a short period. 

04 June 2019, 14:08