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Covid-19 and African governments: Digital communication index

As many countries have begun their deconfinement in theory of a hypothetical exit from the crisis, citizens around the world begin to question the management of the pandemic. The health crisis, which will be assessed in detail by experts and specialized international institutions, has also turned into an economic crisis and, as we address here, a crisis of information. 

Before Covid-19, the last crisis the world experienced on the same global scale was the financial crisis between 2007 and 2008. But, at that time, social media were still in their infancy; fake news, if they already existed, did not have the same capacity or speed of propagation; governments then did not have the same communication management tools. Today, in the era of social media, live, instant messaging, online movements… governments of 2020 have had to deal with new ways of communicating with their populations from the very beginning of the epidemic. For many people restricted to their homes, individuals have exploited the possibilities offered by digital technology to share and exchange from a distance and maintain the contact with their loved ones but also with society, to keep up to date with the latest developments of the pandemic, and with the health and economic measures taken at national and international levels.

The Covid-19 pandemic crisis was unprecedented in its scope and the speed with which it hit the planet. But it was also unprecedented in terms of means of communication available to States and institutions for the protection of populations. For the first time in a time of global crisis, technology has allowed leaders to communicate in real time and on a wide scale with their citizens.

Covid-19 and social media: how have governments in Africa communicated in the face of the pandemic?

Despite the fears and warnings issued as early as March, Africa remains the least affected continent by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, countries had to face many positive cases and many fake news shared “en masse” on social media, which represent real threats to public health. Beyond the management of the health crisis, public communication, which remains a governmental prerogative, is as much a lever as a challenge in the response provided by States to contain the epidemic. How have African leaders adapted their communication during this pandemic? Have they set up dedicated strategies on social media to inform, raise awareness and protect their populations against the dangers of the pandemic?

The 4P Lab and La Netscouade have joined forces to analyze the digital communication of governments in the 10 African countries that were most affected by the pandemic

Methodology of the study 

Each of the ten countries was screened against three specific indicators: 

  1. Their online presence
  2. The quality of the management of their institutional accounts
  3. The specific digital communication put in place for the crisis

The first indicator ``Online Presence`` consists of the following metrics:

  • Evaluation of official websites’ updates, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of the Heads of State, Presidencies and Ministries observed. The scale is adapted to the particularities of the platforms: a website will no longer be considered up to date if it has not been updated for at least 6 days, while the limit will be 4 days for Facebook and Twitter. A non-existent or non-updated site or account will count as 0 points, a site or account that is rarely updated will count as 0.5 point, and an updated account will count as 1 point.
  • An institution with at least one certified account is awarded 1 point.

The ``Quality of management`` indicator includes the following metrics:

  • Quantification of activity: the average number of messages published per day. Between 1 and 2 messages: 0.5 points; between 2 and 3 messages: 1 point; 3 or more messages: 1.5 points.
  • Qualification of the proximity of institutions to their audience on social media and interactions: regular answers to users’ questions are worth 1-point, rare answers 0.5 points.
  • Evaluation of the frequency and use of live broadcast features (regular = 1 point).

The final indicator ``Communication specific to crisis management`` is composed of the following metrics:

  • Reactivity of the institution to the confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus in the country and announcement of measures put in place (1.5 points if the institution published on the day of the announcement or up to two days later, between 2 and 3 days: 1 point, 3 and 4 days: 0.5 etc.).
  • Frequency of interactions with social media accounts of foreign institutions (rare, regular, frequent).
  • Coordination between the different accounts of the institutions observed (frequency of retweets and mentions of the ecosystem accounts in the same country – very rare, rare, regular).

The indicators analyzed were evaluated over a period of one month, for the majority they do not fluctuate over time.

 

The maximum score a country can get is 39 points.

Two distinct levels of digital communication practice in times of crisis emerge from this analysis. On the one hand, States that take advantage of social media to address their populations. 

On the other hand, governments that have not yet prioritized digital tools. Among them, some of the countries surveyed make very little use of social media.

Country wdt_ID Position Score Index 1 Index 2 Index 3
Senegal 1 1 32 11.5 8 12.5
South Africa 2 2 27 12 5 10
Cote d’Ivoire 3 3 25.5 11 6 8.5
Nigeria 4 4 25 9 5 11
Morocco 5 5 23.5 13 5.5 5
Ghana 6 6 23 10 4 9
Egypt 7 7 18.5 7.5 4.5 6.5
Cameroun 8 8 16 6.5 5 4.5
Guinea 9 9 14 3.5 1.5 9
Algeria 10 10 13.5 3.5 4 4

Classement des pays par score total obtenu

Proximity, transparency, and responsiveness on social media: Senegal, South Africa and Côte d'Ivoire at the top of the list, followed by Nigeria, Morocco and Ghana

At the forefront of social media use for public communication: Senegal with a score of 32 points. The countries in the Top 3 of the ranking (Senegal, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire) all have a well-established identity on social media, with a dense and organized ecosystem of mostly certified accounts, and a dynamic and reactive animation. 

Senegal use social media codes, for example through the dissemination of video content or GIFs for awareness-raising and the use of a hashtag dedicated to the pandemic in the country (#Covid19SN), even if it is not systematically added to the tweets of the authorities’ accounts, allowing Internet users to easily find all the official information on the evolution of the virus on the territory. Live is also frequently used, notably on the Senegalese President’s Facebook page.

Awareness-raising and a dedicated hashtag have also been implemented by the authorities of Côte d’Ivoire, 3rd on the table with 25.5 points, who, in addition to disseminating videos and computer graphics of government information and awareness-raising and using a dedicated hashtag (#Covid19CI), have set up a video format to answer frequently asked questions by citizens published on President Alassane Ouattara’s Facebook page.

Social media are more conducive to horizontal communication than more traditional communication tools. The accounts of the Senegalese Presidency, for example, gave the floor to  Senegalese Internet users who wanted to affirm their support to medical staff and patients during the pandemic in videos subsequently shared on the accounts of the Senegalese President.

Daily information and awareness-raising bulletins are put online or presented live each day on the institutional accounts of the authorities of these three countries, particularly in South Africa, 2nd in the ranking with 27 points: the accounts of the South African Department of Health have accurately reported the evolution of the pandemic in the country but also the details of the strategy adopted by the government and its effects.

Internet users in these three countries (Senegal, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire) thus have easy access both to reliable information on the pandemic in their territory and to awareness campaigns adapted to their use of social media included in their public communication management in times of health crisis.

Nigeria, Morocco and Ghana, come respectively 4th, 5th and 6th in the ranking with 25, 23.5 and 23 points

For Nigeria and Ghana, it is once the ecosystem of accounts is taken into account that the difference between them and the Top 3 countries becomes clear. Little used before the outbreak of the crisis, it should be noted that all the official accounts of these two countries are certified on the various platforms, allowing easier identification by Nigerian and Ghanaian Internet users. 

Among these three countries, the accounts of the Ministry of Health of Morocco demonstrate  interaction with their subscribers. 

Nigerian, Moroccan and Ghanaian Internet users can find reliable and regular information on the evolution of the pandemic across national borders and awareness-raising messages in the institutional accounts of these three countries. 

The video format is being used by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, whose speeches are both subtitled and transcribed in sign language.

Egypt, Cameroon, Guinea, and Algeria, at the bottom of the rankings

At the bottom of the ranking with respective scores of 18.5, 16, 14 and 13.5 points: Egypt, Cameroon, Guinea, and Algeria are almost absent from social media. 

Egypt and Cameroon, respectively 7th and 8th in the ranking, have invested more extensively in social media since the Covid-19 pandemic. If Guinea, which came in 9th position with 14 points, has made real efforts in terms of digital communication specific to the crisis, digital tools are not being fully exploited. 

Although some of these four countries seem to master some of the codes related to digital communication, the social media use at that moment does not allow to position in the digital ecosystem.

In conclusion

The disparities in the digital practices of these 10 countries are significant. The use of platforms by some of them is relevant, their leaders have been able to exploit these new spaces for communication with their populations and strengthen their presence on social media during this large-scale crisis. 

Africa’s digital and technological ecosystems are extremely vibrant, increasingly organized and mobilizing ever-increasing numbers of people. It is likely that government communication practices will evolve in favor of digital, in order to reach Africa’s connected populations more effectively.  

4P International works for the innovative development of information and communication governance models. 4P promotes a Public-Private-Population Partnership through change management, digital governance, international relations & new partnerships. Its philosophy is to place individuals at the heart of public and private strategies. 

The 4P Lab focuses its research on compliance models, governance and communication protocols in the digital age.

 

La Netscouade is a digital corporate communication agency, created in 2007 and integrated into the Open Group in 2016. The agency’s 55 employees aim to regenerate digital communication and make it more creative.

Sustainable commitment is their credo: they help their customers to create the conditions of trust, so that their audiences invest in the long term alongside them.

They are particularly mobilized on societal issues: CSR, education, health, digital, environment, mobility.

 

Press contact: 

Manon Fouriscot, manon@4p.digital

[1] At the time of analysis, on 5 May 2020, the following 10 countries, in alphabetical order, had the highest number of deaths due to Covid-19 disease on the African continent: Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.

[2] Account certification is a feature offered by social networks to certify the true identity of the personality or institution holding the account. It protects against false accounts and identity theft, which can be extremely dangerous in the case of official personalities and reassures Internet users of the official and reliable nature of the account concerned and the information shared on it.

[3] [4] Beyond the non-digital communication tools, other institutions were able to take over the social networks according to the customs and traditions of each country, which were not included in our field of research, which was restricted to the accounts of Heads of State or Heads of Government, Presidencies or governments where appropriate and Ministries of Health.

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