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DCI Blogging Indaba – some (final?) thoughts

DCI panel

Apart from a few smart-ass remarks on my blog, I have largely avoided any commentary on the controversy (and rather stimulating debate) surrounding Blogging Indaba.
Why is this? Because like I said before, I have little time for polemics (let alone time to regularly blog anymore) and I’d rather focus my energy on changing situations that I am irked about (to the extent that I can) rather than ranting on the internets.

That being said, the debate was welcome and while I think that some of the commentary was way overboard in terms of paranoia over an African blogosphere take-over-by-whitey, I will never question the right to question…hell, Mzalendo was born out of the very idea that individuals should question their government. Furthermore, isn’t that what blogging is all about…at it’s very core…individual expression….whether you are writing about your socks, hard fucks (KM where are you?) or the implications of the Kengen IPO.

An aside: I find it very interesting that the very same people who were arguing that blogging remains a very personal domain that should not be subject to any code, indaba, elite project, do-gooder goals etc., were disappointed that the Kenyan bloggers in
attendance “sided with their benefactors, engaged in a little self-depreciating humour or remained silent.” And, are now asking us to disseminate lessons learned etc.. Made me wonder…what if, in exercising my ability to blog what I want to blog about, I chose to say absolutely nothing about the blogging indaba? So what if Mental blogged only about toilets? How does this fit in with the virulent reactions about the idea against message dissemination from forums like the indaba? MMK wrote, quite eloquently, “A central goal of these kinds of meetings is to move ideas and knowledge out of their tacit forms – where they are owned by individuals and received by individuals – to codified forms. Not for the benefit of the blogger but rather to profit the administrator who enables and ‘owns’ the codifying space. Knowledge when it is codified is made into a standardized message that is precious in the marketplace, far more in many instances that its tacit counterpart.” Can we recognize that whether we like it or not, ideals about blogging, some mainstreaming etc will be inevitable (and get over it, blogging is a very elitist activity…talk of how what we are engaged in will impact the masses is spurious at best..from what I can tell, we the African elite barely have our act together)? Halafu/afterall, what is KBW if not some legitimizing tool? Fortunately, while I’m still trying to wrap my head around this, Marazzmatazz has done a superb job of stepping up and sharing the nuggets of wisdom that he gained at the conference.

My, that was a digression wasn’t it.

Like I said earlier, I did have great ambitions of doing a blow-by-blow summary of events/panels during the indaba, but this never happened for several reasons mainly related to the fact that I was in attendance as a speaker and was putting together my presentation/workshop up until the very last meeting, and had several meetings related to Mzalendo during some of the panels, and I’m currently I’m doing the closing paperwork/contracts for two deals at work worth several million rands and only got to spend a week in Grahamstown in exchange for my promising my boss rapid response to any emails that require my attention. Unfortunately, some of the panels that I did manage to catch focused on what I felt were peripheral issues e.g. describing Web 2.0 – something that was helpful to absolutely no one in attendance. So, instead of giving a granular perspective of what I think were important ideas the came out of the conference (for those who are looking for that, please see the wiki and Marazzmatazz if you haven’t already), I’ll do my best to give a larger picture view.

That, ladies and gentlemen inaitwa disclaimer.

Haiya…what was accomplished by the indaba?

1. An interesting two weeks on the African blogosphere. Debate is good…now let’s take this somewhere concrete.

2. Sokari wonders”How is this going to encourage people who know nothing about the possbilities of blogging or who dont have access to technology – how is it going to help them?” In my view the Indaba certainly will not help people who don’t have access to technology…in fact one of the challenges posed at the conference was to move away from all this talk about Web 2.0 in a vaccum and start thinking about how Web 2.0 tools can be used in conjunction with other tools to reach those without access e.g. merging the ability of those of with access to create individual content via podcasts with traditional forms of media which remain critical in Africa e.g. radio. Instead of sitting around and complaining about how white male software developers are not developing tools for countries without widespread access (why should they I wonder?), lets challenge African developers to develop tools that are relevant to the African context (have I said this enough times, lets stop whining!). I do think it did encourage others to think about possibilities of blogging, at least that’s the feedback I got after my talk on Mzalendo, which is built on a blogging platform. The idea that all these new tools are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves was something that I think was effectively communicated by the end of the conference (though it didn’t start out that way). I talked to a number of attendees, mainly journalists from other countries, who were learning about blogging tools for the first time and were interested in using blogs particularly to circumvent the influence of corruption when it comes to editorial decisions at major newspapers, and to a number of people who worked in civil society organizations who wanted to learn how to use blogs to boost their online presence….so yes, I think attendees were introduced to new possibilities.

3. Alaa’s talk on the role of blogs and other forms of technology like email and SMS and amplifying the voice of activists and encouraging people to almost fall into more mainstream forms of activism e.g. street protests was powerful – again reinforcing the theme of not obsessing about blogs and other tools as ends in themselves. What I like the most about his presentation, which came right after mine, was that it represented an excellent example of an idea a coined during my presentation – micro-activism – the idea that while technology won’t be facilitating political revolutions in Africa any time soon, it is a great way to give voice to the individual, usually at no cost, and that small step can often lead to bigger possibilities whether it is gaining self-confidence or becoming the go-to resource for financial reporting.

4. From the DCI programme, “Our other goal is to provide a networking platform for fellow Africans that will hopefully promote further collaboration on the continent and build a strong, active online community.” I think networking did happen and I suspect their will be collaboration taking place e.g. Alaa wants to discuss replicating Mzalendo in Egypt, but it’s impact will be limited by the fact that the audience itself was limited.

5. Andrew Heavens’ photo blogging workshop was very popular. More than the straight up blogging workshop – suggesting that people aren’t interested in tools (anyone can set up a blogger account), but interesting ways to use tools. OK, this wasn’t an accomplishment, just an observation.

What was not accomplished?

1. The fact that the indaba piggy-backed on Highway Africa (focused on journalism) and the location of the conference limited it’s ability to reach a wider audience and meant that we spent an unneccesary amount of time on the bloggers vs. journalists debate and on justifying blogging rather than on sharing practical lessons.

2. I’m repeating myself a bit but some of the panels had little relevance to the state goals of the indaba e.g. the civil society one and the we media one, I don’t think the conference organizers had a true sense of how diverse the African blogosphere is and they generally did a poor job of putting together a series of panels that truly demonstrate the possibilities of blogging. I would much rather have listened to Ndesanjo speak about building a Swahili blogosphere etc. Side note: I agree with White African here that the content of the conference is much more powerful than the fact that everyone there looks like you…most of the ideas that have inspired me the most have been cribbed from conferences where I was one of two black people in attendance, but one shouldn’t assume that networking isn’t a challenge is such situations…it is.

What next?

I’m with Mental on this. Take all the energy spurred by the debate and work on putting together a conference that is more representative and relevant. Prior to the blogging indaba, the only other person that I’d heard speak about an African blogging conference and who I know tried to do some background work on putting one together was Ethan Zuckerman (another white male for those who are keeping score).

It will be interesting to see whether this idea grows legs though…when we started Mzalendo, one of things we counted on was strong support and assistance from KBW especially with the idea of blogging from Parliament, after all KBW had no shortage of a cacophony of voices of people who were disgusted with our MPs (some of Thinker’s most popular posts are those that diss MPs)…apart from a few individuals who stepped up (less than 10, I think) Mzalendo never became the the blogger activism vehicle we thought it would…instead most of the people who have been critical in getting us good data, pointing out errors, spreading the word, etc. are people who’ve generally never even heard about blogs or read a blog and in some cases have little to do with Kenya…funny how that turned out.

OK, time for dinner.

3 comments to DCI Blogging Indaba – some (final?) thoughts