I had an interesting conversation in Nairobi, Kenya last week. I was sharing some ideas with someone, about the possibilities presented by the Internet these days, for spreading news and ideas. I was mentioning the growing excitement around blogs, the rise of citizen journalism, services such as Facebook and Twitter.
The person I was talking to looked unconvinced. She said, yes, these are all good and well, but in Africa hardly anyone has good, reliable Internet access. So Internet-based information just reaches the elite.
I agreed with her concerns, but insisted that things are changing rapidly. For one thing, the bandwidth available to African Internet users is about to increase dramatically, as new undersea cables are installed and make landfall. For another, cellphones, and Internet access via cellphone, are starting to offer very exciting possibilities. In fact, in South Africa last year, the number of people accessing the Internet via cellphone overtook those surfing on PCs and notebook computers. You can read the report here.
Yes, things are perhaps not as we would wish them to be, and there’s a long way to go, but no communications person working in Africa can afford to ignore the power of the Internet and social networking.
This was brought home to me by a few experiences during my Nairobi trip. One day, I was walking in town with my friend, Rebecca Wanjiku, who has a blog called Wanjiku and Technology. As we passed by the Stanley Hotel, someone yelled out “hey, blogger!” We turned around, and this person said he’d recognised Rebecca from her blog — someone she’d never met before.
Earlier in the week, the Daily Metro had carried an article about how young Kenyan bloggers are mobilising to try to bring about political change, inspired by Barack Obama’s use of the Internet during his election campaign. Examples are the Facebook groups, Kenyan Youth for Change, with 150 members, and Half a Million Kenyans Unite Against Greed of Kenyan MPs, with just under 15 000 members!
In the week, I also met up with Daudi Were earlier, who is a long-time Kenyan blogger and very involved in trying to get more and more bloggers doing their thing. One of the websites he’s involved with is called Generation Kenya. This site aims to mark the 45th anniversary of Kenyan independence by “initiating a countrywide project to search for and identify Kenyans from all walks of life, born since 1963, who have contributed significantly to creating a better Kenya.”
Another project Were is involved in, is KenyaUnlimited — aimed at promoting the Kenyan and African blogosphere. It offers a Kenyan blog aggregator — and a quick look at that shows just how many Kenyan blogs there are.
I’m using Kenya as an example because it’s my most recent experience, but you can find pretty much the same thing happening in almost any African country. For an Africa-wide overview, have a look at Afrigator for links to some 5845 blogs.