Nicole Stremlau is Head of the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies. She is currently leading a large ERC project on the Politics and Practice of Social Media in Conflict. Her research focuses on media and governance, particularly in areas of conflict and insecurity in Africa. Her recent projects examine the role of new media in political participation and governance; media law and regulation in the absence of government or in weak states; the role of media in conflict, peacebuilding and the consolidation of political power; and how governments attempt to engage citizens and communicate law-making processes, particularly constitution-making. She has recently led Oxford's contribution to a large EU project on media and democratization conflicts (MeCODEM). Stremlau's doctoral work explored the role of media during the guerrilla insurgencies in Uganda and Ethiopia, and how the successive governments used the media to consolidate political power in the aftermath of violence.
While Stremlau continues to research and write on Ethiopia, her more recent research has been on media and conflict in Somalia and Somaliland, which has received funding from the United Nations, among others.
As Head of PCMLP, Stremlau develops and manages international programmes on media law and policy, including the Price Media Law Moot Court Programme. She has established links between PCMLP with universities, law firms and media companies in India, China, Eastern Africa and the Middle East. Stremlau is co-director of the annual Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute, a researcher and author for the Horn of Africa for the annual Freedom House Press Freedom Rankings and an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Global Communications Studies, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.
While at PCMLP she has been awarded several grants for advancing her research as well as the agenda of the programme, including support from the Open Society Foundations, the United Nations, and the European Union. She was recently a co-investigator on the project “Reframing Local Knowledge: ICTs, Statebuilding and Peacebuilding in Eastern Africa” funded by the Carnegie Corporation and recently completed an ESRC-funded project on China’s role in shaping the information systems in Africa.
Prior to coming to PCMLP, Stremlau was director of the Africa programme at the Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research where she initiated a led the East African Journalists Fellowship Programme, as well as research projects on media and election violence and public opinion research in Darfur. She has been a regular contributor to Janes Intelligence Review and has consulted for the World Bank in Addis Ababa as well as for Human Rights Watch. Stremlau lived in Ethiopia for several years where she conducted research and spent a year as a features writer at the Ethiopian Reporter.
Research was profiled by the National Endowment for Democracy highlighting 11 of the most significant academics that have contributed to empirical understandings of the relationship between media and governance. (NED, 2012. Is there a Link Between Media and Good Governance? What the Academics Say)
BA with honors, College of Social Studies, Wesleyan University, Middletown CT.
MA, International Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, UK.
PhD, Department of International Development, London School of Economics (LSE), London, UK.
- The United Nations-led constitution-making process, while highly controversial, has sought to create an opening to help Somalia transition to a new phase in its political development. This article considers the structural features, problems, and opportunities of the process, particularly in the context of debates over external interventions and state sovereignty. It also addresses an area that is often overlooked during constitution-making: the role of media and communications in advancing narratives that not only shape perceptions, but also define the scope of the debate. International actors have worked to promote legitimating narratives, emphasizing certain aspects and values with a focus on the constitution being ‘Somali-owned’. This article shows how local and private media treated and reshaped these emphases and priorities. At this stage it is not possible to conclude whether efforts to “sell” the constitution have generated greater legitimacy, but what is clear is that the narratives that have dominated public discourse have been focused on participation and politicking, reflecting underlying concerns about which groups will have access to state resources, as well as responding to the interventions by international actors. This emphasis has obscured the role of local legal cultures and previous experiences with grassroots constitution-making processes and reconciliation in the Somali territories that might allow for the reimagining of the nation.One of the world’s most ambitious experiments in mobile money is underway in the Somali territories. In the absence of a strong central government and internationally recognized banking institutions, remittance companies and the telecoms industry have been innovating to provide services unique to the Somali context, which is making the economy increasingly ‘cashless’. Mobile money has posed new regulatory and legal challenges, particularly when disputes involving consumers are involved. This article focuses on a case study from Somaliland (the northern, self-declared independent region of Somalia) and examines Zaad, the dominant mobile money platform. Given the weak state institutions, there are a variety of actors, including private companies, government police and courts, sharia courts and traditional elders that play an active role in resolving conflicts that result from mobile money transactions, forging a hybrid judicial approach. We examine how these different actors intervene and create an enabling environment to allow innovation and foster trust in a region of the world that is frequently characterized as violent and lawless.This article explores whether, and to what extent, local knowledge features in research on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa, with a particular focus on neighboring Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. We question whether the claims of the transformative power of ICTs are backed by ‘evidence’ and whether local knowledge – e.g., traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution – is taken into consideration by ICT-based development initiatives. To assess this, we systematically reviewed literature in the region, focusing on academic outputs as well as research published by non-governmental and governmental organizations. Several key findings emerged, including: 1) empirical evidence on the successful use of ICTs to promote peacebuilding and statebuilding is thin; 2) few differences exist between scholarship emanating from the Global North and from Africa; and 3) overall, the literature exhibits a simplistic assumption that ICTs will drive democratic development without sufficient consideration of how ICTs are actually used by the public.There are significant parallels between media and democracy in Africa and Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in terms of political and institutional development. This chapter explores some of these parallels, as well as some of the major differences, through a focus on the role of the media in Africa’s broader democratization trends in three main areas: the media as political actors in conflict; the challenge of looking beyond the formal state to other forms of authority to understand the structure of the media and their relationships to the centres of power; and the attempts by some of Africa’s leaders to offer alternative theories about the role of media in democratization in conflict and post-conflict societies. The authors argue that hybridity, or the blending of informal and formal structures, is key to an understanding of the variety and complexity of the new systems, norms, and practices in Africa and CEE.The role of media in promoting political accountability and citizen participation is a central issue in governance debates. Drawing on research into the interactions between radio station owners, journalists, audiences and public authorities during Somali radio call-in programmes we argue that these programmes do not simply offer a new platform for citizens to challenge those who are governing but that they are also spaces where existing power structures reproduce themselves in new forms. We identify the ways the programmes are structured and the different motivations the audience has for participation. Three types of programmes are identified and their relationships with patronage, politics, and performance are examined. Rather than focusing on normative assumptions about the media as a tool of accountability, the article emphasises the importance of understanding radio programmes in their social and political environment, including the overlapping relationships between on-air and off-air networks.This article assesses the evidence used in arguments for the role of the media in conflict and post-conflict situations. It focuses on two broad areas within the literature. First, it examines literature on the contribution of media in war to peace transitions, including an assessment of the evidence used to show how the media may contribute to violent conflict and how they may provoke, or hinder, post-conflict reconstruction. Second, it assesses evidence used in arguments for the role new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as the Internet and mobile phones may have in liberation or oppression in developing country contexts. Through reviewing some of the most significant papers that were systematically selected in a literature review on media and conflict, our findings suggest that there are serious gaps in the evidence and the majority of evidence is located in the ‘grey literature’ or policy documents. The article concludes by suggesting future research agendas to address these gaps.The role of communications in facilitating public participation in constitution-making is often neglected and misunderstood, particularly in post-war state-building when mass media may be weak. In the early 1990s, Ethiopia's ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), drafted one of Africa's most ambitious constitutions, allowing for ethnic federalism, decentralization and democratic reforms. The constitution has been highly controversial and many of its aspirations remain unrealized. This article explores how the EPRDF sought to use the media to explain and encourage acceptance of the constitution. It offers a framework for analysis that is relevant for countries beyond Ethiopia by examining: the role of media policies in providing domestic and international legitimacy for constitutions; the ways in which media can provide a space for non-violent political conflict or negotiation, where elites can navigate political struggles and debate ideology; and the use of media to implement the constitution's most ambitious goals.Media interventions by international organizations and NGOs in conflict and post-conflict situations seek to develop and shape a media system to contribute to specific political and social ends. The analyses and assessments that inform these interventions are often based on an overview of the formal media and governance structures, such as mass media and state institutions, and overlook informal structures that may be instrumental for political and development goals. This article proposes a framework that can incorporate both the formal and informal modes of communication and participation that characterize a society. This framework encourages a ‘diagnostic’ approach centred around three areas: power, flows, and participation, and enables researchers to take into consideration features that are often overlooked such as customary law; a range of public authorities from politicians to Imams and local elders; information flows that may vary from poetry to mobile phones; and the culture of communication. Examples from the Somali territories, which are characterized by a weak central government, are employed to highlight how informal structures and actors intervene in shaping information flows and the importance of accounting for them.Somaliland has held several competitive and multiparty elections that have been cited by international election monitors as being “free and fair.” While political competition has been tolerated, or even encouraged by the governments in power, there has been a continued reluctance to allow private radio stations. Citing the possibility of destabilizing Somaliland's delicate peace, arguments against the liberalization of the media include concerns of radios used to further political polarization, mobilize groups to escalate simmering conflicts and violence, and the capacity of the government to regulate media outlets. This article locates these arguments against media liberalization in the context of Somaliland's larger nation- and state-building project suggesting that in transitions from war to peace, no matter how prolonged, there are very real concerns about processes of institutionalization and the sequencing of democratic reforms.Somalia is often described as ‘lawless’ or ‘the world’s most failed state’, a characterization that overlooks the way law and governance actually works in the absence of a capable central government. This article will explore the role of xeer law, or customary law, in regulating media, including both older media, such as poetry, and newer media, such as mobile phones, in Somalia’s complex legal environment. While Somalia remains one of the most dangerous regions of the world for journalists, dozens of radio stations are broadcasting in South-Central Somalia and there is a competitive newspaper industry in Somaliland. In addition, the telecoms industry is booming with some of the best connections and lowest rates on the continent for the internet and mobile phones. Various authorities govern media and resolve conflicts across the Somali territories. To understand media ‘law’ in this region we must look beyond the formal state structures.Divisive debates on what constitutes the Ethiopian nation, how the state should be structured and how power should be devolved, have dominated Ethiopia's private press since the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), came to power. The press has served as both a mirror reflecting these issues and a space for literate elites to engage in political debates. This article analyses the role of the media, and the press in particular, in Ethiopia's political debates. It also explores how the tenets of “Revolutionary Democracy” have shaped the media. This has polarized Ethiopia's media, which has been unable to effectively serve as a forum for the negotiation of political power or for reconciliation between divided sectors of society.In the zeal to ﬁnd a satisfactory mode of measuring performance, the ideathat evaluative measures are scientiﬁc—that they actually measure, and that they measure what we want them to measure—poses a barrier to proper analysis. In this chapter, I suggest overlooked areas for further understanding, for coming to grips not only with the strengths but also the weaknesses of existing measures. Drawing on examples from non-Western states, including some states that are regarded as “fragile” or “crisis” states, I also seek to suggest that the choice of evaluative approach itself may be, and often is, a way to alter a media environment. Thus, in discussing approaches to evaluating levels of press freedom (and related factors), it is not just a matter of taking the pulse of a country. Evaluative instruments often become part of a system, part of a pattern of evolving norms that suggest how societies should be structured. The rankings and the questions themselves are charged with values.This paper begins by identifying and discussing the current prevailing liberal policy towards the media's role in 'peace-making' and 'peace-building'. It then proceeds to assess whether this has been an effective or ineffective approach, and concludes by suggesting ways in which the debate can be reframed or expanded. In brief, it is argued that laissez-faire policies towards media development in societies that are in the process of resolving violent conflicts are unlikely to be the best option. While recognising that proposing censorship is problematic and controversial, the paper argues that there have to be restrictions on material that is divisive and inflammatory - although this inevitably raises questions of who should decide what is unacceptable and on what basis.
Media and international development; Politics in the Horn of Africa and Eastern African; Media, conflict and peacebuilding; Freedom of expression
News articles for Nicole Stremlau05 Dec 2018
A tale of two publics? Online politics in Ethiopia’s elections by Prof. Nicole Stremlau23 Nov 2018
PCMLP Summer Institute Alumni: '37 Front Street File: Now we know what you did last summer'21 Sep 2018
'Media, Conflict and the State in Africa' by Prof. Nicole Stremlau01 May 2018
UN launch of World Trends in Freedom of Expression21 Mar 2018
'Conflicting trends': global struggle for media freedom in the spotlight