Boom in blogs gives Africans a voice on the Web

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The Independent Online

Daudi Were, a 28-year-old Kenyan, still reads newspapers. But if he really wants to know what's happening - in African countries where newspapers are state-owned or censored - he turns to the blogs. And he's not alone.

Blogs are taking off across Africa as a new tech-savvy generation takes advantage of growing internet access. The African blogosphere was, until recently, filled by the African diaspora and westerners living in Africa. But native African voices are now being heard.

Kenya, in particular, has seen a large growth in the number of bloggers. The Kenyan Blogs Webring began in 2004 with just 10 sites - now it has more than 430, blogging on everything from politics and business to arts and culture.

"When I first started blogging most of my readership came from outside Kenya," said Mr Were, who runs a blog entitled mentalacrobatics. "However, increasingly we are seeing more and more hits from within Kenya. The Kenyan youth in particular are embracing the internet."

Although internet connections are improving, in many areas they remain poor quality and expensive. East Africa is the only region in the world that is still not connected to the global broadband network. "It makes it difficult to blog regularly," said Ory Okolloh, a young Kenyan blogger. "More importantly it makes it difficult for blogs to be accessible to a wider audience."

Her site, Mzalendo - meaning "patriot" - aims to keep an eye on Kenya's parliamentarians, recently focusing attention on MPs' attempts to award themselves a £45,000 pay-off when their term of office ends this year.

According to Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, blogs such as Mzalendo "are trying to correct the weakness of the local press and provide a space for critique that doesn't exist elsewhere".

In parts of Africa where the media is tightly controlled, blogs have emerged as an essential tool in highlighting injustices. Ethiopian bloggers have provided far more detailed news and analysis of the recent trials of more than 100 opposition leaders and activists than any mainstream media outlet. The blogs cannot be read inside Ethiopia though - any that attack the government are swiftly blocked.

Much of the best on-the-ground reporting from Darfur has been done by bloggers rather than journalists. During a 12-month stint in Darfur as part of the African Union Mission in Sudan (Amis), Werner Klokow, a South African infantry major, blogged regularly on the problems Amis was facing in the region. An anonymous Western aid worker recounted the daily struggles of delivering humanitarian assistance in a blog entitled Sleepless in Sudan.

Some bloggers worry that by focusing on the problems, they are portraying their home country in a poor light. One of the most popular bloggers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cedric, wrote: "I admit I give more coverage to things that aren't going well in my country, but on this blog, I only speak of what I see personally from day-to-day."

Out of Africa

Anonymous Nairobi, Kenya

"This week our members of parliament gave us another bile-inducing moment with yet another attempt to raise their salaries. These are people who live in an economic matrix where they believe that ordinary laws do not apply to them. They raise their own salaries (which other job can claim that?), pay a pittance in taxes, and are able to propose and play with myriad bills - that all concern other peoples money."

Obed Sarpong Accra, Ghana

"What would have happened if Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa (including my Ghana) closed their borders on South Africa when they were struggling under the barbaric white apartheid regime, ha?... South Africans owe pan-Africa a moral obligation and in every way must pay the restitution when they could - to any African. Just kidding. I know South Africans fear for their jobs. That may be genuine; but didn't we all when we helped them."

Titilayo Obisesan Abuja, Nigeria

"I felt very ashamed and disgraced at the state of Port Harcourt. As if my grief and disappointment was not enough, two days later I had the unfortunate privilege to travel by road from Port Harcourt... to Lagos. This journey proved to be nothing less than a most nightmarish experience. Saying the roads are very BAD is an understatement. From the very little my eyes have seen of... the oil-rich region of the country... the only way I can describe the state of the Niger Delta region is what I have termed the RAPE of the NIGER DELTA."