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The branding of bloggers – #Africablogging breaks down boundaries on historic Ile de Gorée

by Brigitte Read
What does it mean to be a successful blogger in this strange post-truth world of social media, fake news and diminished credibility? Away from the lifestyle and foodie blogs, what is the role of socially- and politically-focused African bloggers – to provide analysis of the issues of our day, to offer an alternative voice or to remain independent and credible at all costs?

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These were some of the challenging existential questions that a group of influential African bloggers from across the continent grappled with when they met on the historical Gorée Island off Dakar, Senegal for the annual #Africablogging meeting in late November.

For some of the established #Africablogging members the trip to Senegal was the first time in West Africa and with new bloggers from French-speaking countries like Cote D’Ivoire, DRC, Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Senegal in attendance, issues of language and boundaries that separate were topics of discussion. It was agreed that more exchange and solidarity would be of great use, not only between Francophone and Anglophone regions but across country boundaries, particularly as some high-profile bloggers may face harassment for expressing their independent views.

"Blogging can serve as a gatekeeper and provide news analysis in stark contrast to the hysteria of some of the social media news coverage" said Christoph Plate, Director of KAS Media Africa, the organizers of the event.

Although the trend is for bloggers to be monetized ‘multiplicators’ and to become brands, the bloggers in the workshop – representing 12 African countries - felt strongly that they would rather shun the native advertising and commercialization trends than risk their credibility. Rather than being motivated by financial gain, most felt their function in the information ecosystem was to offer critical analysis that fills the space between events and conventional media reporting.

Source: @bloggingafrica

The workshop featured sessions on the role of blogging in facilitating change with Aisha Dabo (@mashanubian) outlining the cyberactivism campaigns that helped bring an end to the Jammeh regime in the Gambia. Zimbabwean bloggers Takura Zhangazha and Blessing Vava also brought the group up to speed on recent developments in Zimbabwe – and the counter narrative and political reality check that bloggers have been able to offer.

Much discussion centred on the use and limitations of social media, with representatives from Senegal’s state-owned news agency fueling debate on the reliance on different mediums to inform or sensitize society. It was agreed that in many cases bloggers are agenda shapers, that they are required to know their audience better than the average journalist who has a broad readership. There was a strong opinion that a blogger is not an activist, but rather a political analyst. Blogger Aisha Dabo underlined the importance of impartiality also for bloggers. Despite being a a strong opponent of the Jammeh regime in The Gambia she sometimes wrote positive stories if the Jammeh-administration had actually achieved something positive to write about.

Disturbingly though, in many parts of Africa authorities can feel threatened by bloggers who are able to bypass the gatekeepers with their online avenues to free expression. Independent voices are regarded as a threat and are monitored by state security networks. In some countries in West Africa, it was noted, once you have been identified as an activist, your name is on a short-list and there is a danger of being arrested. Blogging networks like #Africablogging can help to provide exchange, updates and common purpose to resist the harassment.

The small car-free island of Gorée was therefore perhaps an auspicious setting for the bloggers to consider their freedoms; between the 15th and 19th centuries it served as a significant departure point for the transport of slaves to the Americas. The island now serves as a museum to the horrors of the slave trade and as a memorial to the black diaspora.

As one workshop participant commented, “Politics in Africa is ugly. We need to highlight what is not working because we want things to change. No human rights are guaranteed, we need to fight to maintain them, and that applies everywhere, not just in Africa.”

Catch up on the discussions at the workshop on twitter with #Africablogging or read blogger Jacques Rousseau’s blog post about the workshop here

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Christoph Plate

Christoph Plate bild

Director Media Programme Southeast Europe +359 2 942-4971 +359 2 94249-79


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