The African blogosphere – more extensive than you might think

South Africa seems to have a ton of social networking services – see Uno de Waal’s blog post listing some of them. Yet aside from South Africa, I only know of one other African-born social network, mykenyanspace.com, and even this network is not actually hosted in Kenya. Apparently it is hosted in the U.S. and directed to Kenyans – see a description of it here. (Of course if there is a large African social network that I am somehow missing exists, let me know! Add a comment!)

It may be tempting to conclude that this absence of social networking is a product of fewer resources, fewer Internet connections, and less training with the use of technology, but reality is more complicated than this. It is true that each of these factors has hindered the development of social media in Africa, but in spite of these factors many Africans have begun experimenting with social connection tools. My observation is that while social networking is still limited in Africa, the African blogosphere is really taking off. The number of African bloggers may still be small compared to the total populations of nations in Africa, but the African blogosphere is extremely vibrant and active, and seems to be growing at an exponential pace.

There are some excellent pan-African blogging tools that have been deployed within the past year. For example, Afrigator is an excellent blog aggregator indexing over 1000 blogs on Africa. Muti is similar to Digg, where news stories are promoted or demoted by Muti readers. News and African culture blogs such as African Path have begun reporting throughout Africa, and special interest news sites such as Pambazuka report on different topics (in Pambazuka’s case, social justice in Africa). Last but not least, Hash, a blogger at White African, one of the best blogs on technology in Africa I’ve encountered, discusses African Signals a podcast on African information and development issues he recently started, as well as AfriGadget, a site dedicated to the use of technology (including simple technology – not always computer based) to solve problems that different communities in Africa face.

(As an aside, Ndesanjo Macha, a citizen journalist for the Global Voices project, conducted an excellent interview with Joshua Wanyama, a co-founder of African Path. Many of Wanyama’s thoughts on the African blogosphere and the future of blogging in Africa are worth quoting at length:

I anticipate a rise of blogging. Citizen media will continually grow. I think we will start seeing a more concerted effort to provide expertise in an area or a model that can allow for bloggers to earn an income by sharing their knowledge. More than that, blogging allows anyone to leverage their knowledge and potentially create a reputation that can give them a better chance at landing a prime job, improving your business or creating a following that can lead to political positions.

I also think a move to mobile technologies will improve the offerings for bloggers. Cell phones are really the access points for information in Africa. There exists some opportunity for entrepreneurs who can develop systems to serve content from news and blogging software to mobile phones in a package. I think we will keep seeing pilot programs and finally real products that will offer such services…

Africans should really care about blogging. Other than localized newspapers, one can’t access news generated by Africans featuring issues specific to them. We need that. Blogging provides access to alternative sources of news and stories that are important to Africans.

The need for African news generated by Africans goes back to creating our own identity and stories. When a western media house reports, on Africa, it is all blood, gore, famine, crime and other negative images. For them, a positive image is tourism. Africans have a lot more than just these issues. We need to hear about a farmer who has created a better way of tilling the land that has enabled the village to have a surplus of maize, or the lady who built a company employing 20 people from good fiscal management and hard work. These are the stories that make Africa wonderful. The hope that all Africans have in abundance is lost in the media and this leads to a negative connotation and identity for Africans. We have to take back our stories for future generations will love to hear what we had to say and actually see it as our own perspective and none other.)

On the topic of who narrates African stories (Africans themselves or others writing about Africa), Afrigator draws from blogs all over the world writing about Africa. Gargoyle on the other hand is a blog search engine that indexes African blogs specifically. The South African Mail & Guardian observes that Sokari Ekine’s widely read, pan-African blog Black Looks “is – unfortunately – one of the handful of African blogs to turn up in the top 10 (sometimes top 15) blogs in a Technorati search of their blog directory when using the search word ‘Africa.’”

Responding in particular to the Mail & Guardian’s observation, Ndesanjo Macha writes about Gargoyle, an African response to the Technorati blog search engine. He quotes Mike Stopforth’s positive reactions to Gargoyle:

It’s frighteningly quick. Warranted, I’m on a 1Mbps ADSL line at home, but if this is how fast Gargoyle can deliver meaningful (and quality) results, it’ll be my very first stop when searching within the SA blogosphere - something I’ve needed to do before and will most certainly need to do in future…

It’s not pretty, but that will come. It has the bells and whistles - an RSS feed for every search as an example, a feature I simply love (from an online reputation management perspective).

This site could very quickly become the standard alternative (or augmentation) to Technorati indexing for African bloggers. Well done on what seems to be a very solid platform.

In sum, the African blogosphere is generating a lot of activity. But in addition to the pan-African blog tools, individual African nations – Kenya and South Africa in particular, but others as well – are generating a lot of blogosphere and social media content. I will write about individual parts of Africa in a later post!

Posted by Aaron Bowen

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