December 12, 2005
ARTICLE: Beating the Beeb
Here's an article I did on Ehiopian blogging for the latest edition of the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.
Beating the Beeb
By Andrew Heavens in Addis Ababa
The first news update appeared at 10.30am, just over an hour after shots started ringing out in Addis Ababa's crowded open air market the Merkato.
"I was in a taxi on the way to Central Bus station," wrote one unnamed correspondent. "The driver got stopped, and then the soldiers arrived immediately. They took him out of the cabin. I do not know what he did wrong. They beat him hard and threw him over the police truck."
Later that afternoon, a woman called Mimi posted her story: "I was shopping in Merkato with my friend. All of a sudden I heard people screaming and running around me.
"I was in a state of panic for a while and my friend started to pull me towards her. Then we started running as fast as we could with live bullets flying past us. With the confusion I lost my friend. Now I don't know where she is."
These eye-witness accounts of Ethiopia's November unrest did not come from Reuters, Associated Press or even the BBC World Service. They came from a small but growing set of citizen journalists - Ethiopia's emerging band of bloggers.
Blogging - the practice of keeping a journal-style website with dated entries - has been all the rage across Europe and the United States since the turn of the millennium.
Up until recently, Sub-Saharan Africa has been little more than a blip on the world's blogging map (with switched-on South Africa as the obvious exception). The relative scarcity of affordable internet access and the physical distance from the Western epicenre of the online world made blogging an elite pastime for expatriates inside the continent and diaspora students outside it.
But the situation is starting to change. Ethiopia is a case in point. At the end of last year you could count the number of blogs coming out of Addis Ababa on one hand. If you were looking for blogs written by native Ethiopians, a couple of fingers would have done.
In the past few months, however, the Ethiopian blogging scene has started to blossom, slowly but surely. Part of the reason is the slow but sure spread of internet infrastructure across the country. Another part of the reason is the number of seismic events that have taken place since its May elections - events that have given people a lot to talk about.
The elections themselves have acted as a powerful recruiting sergeant for the blogging community.
"We are looking for Bloggers especially from Addis to blog on events in Ethiopia. Please contact us for details," wrote the editor of Nazret.com, whose 'Live From Addis Ababa' blog collected the eyewitness accounts quoted above.
In recent months, the stalwarts of the Ethiopian blogging world - chief among them ethiopundit - have been joined by a whole range of online upstarts among them Weichegud! ET Politics, Satisfy My Soul (Ego) and Friends of Ethiopia - all of whom use the conveniently free and anonymous Blogger platform for their online musings.
Similar stories are unfolding across Africa. One website doing its best to keep track of the new explosion is BlogAfrica.com, which lists the entries of around 100 of the best read African blogs from Cairo to Cape Town.
That is a fraction of the estimated global 'blogosphere' (blog tracking company Technorati earlier this year estimated there were currently 14 million blogs online across the world). But it can still produce a sizable flood of copy for anyone trying to read everything coming out of the continent.
"It can be a bit overwhelming," said Ethan Zuckerman, one of the people behind BlogAfrica on his own weblog ..."My Heart's in Accra".
"But it's a great overview of the conversations taking place in and around Africa."
Zuckerman, a Resident Fellow specializing in impact of technology on the developing world at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in the US, is also one of the main drivers behind Global Voices
- an even more ambitious project to follow interesting blogs from the whole world, with a focus on countries often overlooked by the mainstream media
In recent months it has covered everything from the Egyptian elections via the blog Big Pharaoh to the opportunities of getting rich on the Nairobi Stock Exchange via the blog African Bullets and Honey.
Zimbabwean Pundit took on planned protests by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) while, on a more personal note, the Nigeria-based, Kid's Doc in Jos blog celebrated the arrival of much needed children's medicine - "A celebration ... the children's medicines we had been awaiting for months had finally arrived. For the past six weeks we've been putting off starting new HIV patients on antiretroviral drugs, because we didn't have a good supply or, in the end, any supply at all."
Beyond that, there have been posts from as far afield as Algeria, Rwanda and Namibia.
Back in Ethiopia, the blog entries keep coming in.
Even before Nazret.com put out its appeal for new bloggers, it had already added AddisFerengi and LondonBlog to its stable of Ethiopian-centred websites. Even newer blogs that sprung to people's attention reporting on the November violence included Un ferengi a Addis and Ethiopian Paradox.
Hardly a revolution just yet. But the Ethiopian blog count has already started moving beyond fingers and thumbs.
Posted by aheavens at December 12, 2005 10:24 PM