In 2006, Time Magazine ranked "You" as the Person of the Year, implying that anyone — including you and me — now had the power to produce media content.
Citing the shift from institutions to individuals in media content creation, Time named anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web as their 2006 winner.
For the majority of people in Africa, citizen-generated media is still a distant notion, far removed from the daily reality where information is a scarce commodity.
In other words, Internet access is indeed a pipe dream in Africa, thereby limiting the potential of user-generated media to make a difference. Media, including the Internet, is largely an urban phenomenon.
Undoubtedly, the proliferation of new media tools that put power in the hands of people to create content is changing the media landscape.
Citizen-generated media is influencing revolutionary changes in the way that the media operates, allowing consumers to play a key role in the production process of content.
In the past, political and economic imperatives were largely responsible for determining the nature of content, with consumers reduced to passive recipients.
Traditionally, media organizations have operated as huge blocs of power, responsible for making judgments about what information is disseminated to the public.
Political and economic considerations have shaped the news values of many media organizations around the world.
As a result of such news values, some information is not considered in media coverage.
However, the new information environment, in which citizens can take a more active role, both expands individual freedom of expression and the platform upon which democracy is built.
For Africa, the power of the new information age to change society for the better is beyond doubt. Today, no continent is deprived of information as much as Africa. So, new information technologies can certainly create a liberal marketplace of ideas, which is critically needed to enhance social progress in the continent.
However, Africa needs a proactive rather than a protective or reactive approach in the development, implementation and use of new information technologies.
In Africa, the greatest challenge of user-generated content expanding personal freedoms and the democratic space is that few people have access to new information technologies.
According to research, fewer than 4 out of 100 Africans currently use the Internet, and broadband penetration is below 1 percent. More than 70 percent of Internet traffic within Africa is routed outside the continent, driving up costs for businesses and consumers.
Significantly, Africa has had the highest growth in mobile use globally — a positive indicator for expanding the information and communication framework.
Africa’s lack of information technology infrastructure needs to be overcome to put its citizens in a place in which they are able to participate in the democratic space offered by new technologies.
According to S. Yunkap Kwankwan of the University of Yaounde, Cameroon, only a proactive approach will help Africa leapfrog the development process.
"African countries are not encumbered by extensive networks built on obsolete technology, which will require an evolutionary process of replacement," says Kwankwan. "The technological inertia is thus quite low.
"In technology leapfrogging, the extent of the leap is in inverse proportion to the technological inertia carried along. The push should therefore be for the cutting edge. The latest technology should be used in building new infrastructure."
Governments in Africa need a paradigm shift away from their reluctance to make information widely available to the citizenry. This change in attitude is critical to making information available to citizens.
"African countries will thus leapfrog several stages and decades in the IT development process. In doing so, they will learn from the experience of more advanced countries the ways and means of providing the greatest social benefits to a large fraction of the population while avoiding any unpleasant side effects," says Kwankwan.
As a start, governments need to consider low-cost satellite access, low-cost computers and open source software, which connects previously neglected villages to the Internet.
There are some who argue that priority should be given to health care, education, literacy, water and power.
But, if truth be told, information is indeed power, and through information citizens can begin to generate local and relevant solutions to the challenges that they face.