detail - Media Programme Sub-Sahara Africa
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The gathering was the third annual #AfricaBlogging network meeting with thirteen bloggers from across the continent coming together to share their experiences and learn to improve their craft. While most of the bloggers are regular contributors to the #AfricaBlogging website, the group also included a few new kids on the blog block, notably from West Africa – Senegal and Cameroon, as well as South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The four new bloggers – all women – introduced their blogs and spoke about their passions. Though their focuses vary, they are all united in their belief in democratic culture and the importance of debate and a plurality of voices especially around issues not adequately covered by traditional media.
After introductions, the workshop continued with a panel discussion on restrictive laws and social media shutdowns with input from #AfricaBlogging members from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda. Increasingly restrictive legislation, like the Cyber Crimes Act in Tanzania, has been used to target dissenters yet the panel felt it was important not to just focus on the laws, but to try to change attitudes towards open governance, and convince politicians and the public not to think of online debate as an attack with ‘virtual machetes’ but to recognize the value of freedom of expression to democratic standards.
The group was joined on the second day by a dozen local Ugandan bloggers. Kenyan digital expert, Mark Kaigwa, guided the group through the changing face of influence and politics online. He outlined the extent and techniques of sponsored online lobbying and deception, explaining how sock puppets, meat puppets and armies of “online militias” are using fake profiles to manipulate news and opinion.
The bloggers also learnt about the African Digital footprint with insight into the evolution of the online space; how a telephone number – a sim card – became the true passport to the internet in Africa and how the continent’s 340 million internet users look set to revolutionise commerce with WhatsApp.
Drawing on his years of experience, Mark Kaigwa guided the bloggers through the key considerations for building a personal online brand, how to understand and define your audience, create trust, deliver value and ultimately leverage what you have.
The group estimated that they currently have a combined digital reach of over 350 000. It is expected that this will expand as the #AfricaBlogging network helps to amplify their individual voices and brings them in contact with still more like-minded political bloggers from across the continent.
To read a selection of the blogs from the #AfricaBlogging members visit the #AfricaBlogging website.