The SIG-III Blog

Notes from the ASIS&T special interest group in international information

Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

The Libraries of Timbuktu

A manuscript from Timbuktu

Image by ازرق, used under the Creative Commons license.

Not many outside central Africa are familiar with them, but the libraries of Timbuktu are an extensive wealth of knowledge and culture. From today’s Der Spiegel:

Fabled Timbuktu, once the site of the world’s southernmost Islamic university, harbors thousands upon thousands of long-forgotten manuscripts. A dozen academic instutions from around the world are now working frantically to save and evaluate the crumbling documents…

Albrecht Hofheinz, an Arabist from Oslo, estimates that there are up to 300,000 forgotten manuscripts in Mali. Insect bites have discolored the pages, he says. “The paper disintegrates, is destroyed by mold or eaten by termites.” Time is of the essence. Some of the volumes are being photographed using a digital photo studio provided by the University of Chicago. The first of the documents are expected to be available on the Internet by the end of the year.

This will be an excellent resource for scholars of Islam and of central Africa! I look forward to watching this work unfold and progress, especially since it is the result of years of effort.

Contributed by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 1, 2008 at 2:52 pm

The African blogosphere part II – Kenya

Kenya provides a great individual case study of the African blogosphere, as there has been a lot happening there in terms of developing Internet access and localized Kenyan content in 2007. Despite halting progress, The Kenyan government is working on securing more widespread Internet access through an undersea fiberoptic cable, and has received money from the World Bank to facilitate this connection (Duncan, are there any more details you can provide?)
In addition to this online community and aggregator, the Kenyan blogosphere is extensive and vibrant. Started July 5, 2004, the Kenyan Blog Webring is a portal to the Kenyan blogosphere with an impressive breadth of coverage and a vibrant community comprised of individual bloggers. Ndesanjo Macha, a citizen journalist for the Global Voices project, offers an excellent summary of KBW’s activities and role in giving Kenyans a voice online. He writes that

Since its birth, KBW has been able to bring to a global audience gigabytes of voices, opinions, news, knoweldge and debates from the Kenyan blogosphere.

Writing on his own personal blog, KBW administrator Daudi Were declared 2007 to be “the year of emergence,” where KBW solidified its position as an Internet institution in Kenya. He says,

The most frequent support question we would be asked in the Admin Team during the first two years was, “Why should I start a blog?” or “What is a blog?” or variations on that theme.

In the last year we mainly get asked, “I have a blog, how do I join the webring?” or “How do I get your aggregator to syndicate my content?” or variations on that theme. They “why” and “what” questions are decreasing, the “how” questions are increasing.

That is a good sign and KBW members have played a big role in convincing Kenyans to blog. These days when someone asks me why they should blog I simply point them to the KenyaUnlimited aggregator. I can almost guarantee you that they will read something that they either agree with whole heartedly or disagree with completely, that fuels an urge in them to get to a keyboard and start typing to contribute to the debate.

In response, Sokari from Black Looks adds her thanks that KBW has played the role that it has played for the past three years.

Beyond the KBW itself, certain individual blogs offer a constantly updated view of the Kenyan blogosphere and/or current issues facing the Kenyan people. In response to a perception that Kenyan government officials have begun trying to enrich themselves at the expense of the Kenyan people – a perception fueled by such events as police raids of Kenyan media outlets last year and police force directed at protesters protesting and attempt by the Kenyan parliament to award themselves pay raises, as well as protests against a law to restrict media freedom proposed by the parliament – Ory Okolloh and a blogger who goes by the name of “M” started Mzalendo, a watchdog blog that publishes updates on the activities of the Kenyan parliament. This project grabbed attention around the Internet, from the BBC to Ethan Zuckerman’s widely read blog. In fact Mzalendo received enough media attention both in Kenya and around the world that at least one Kenyan official has used the site to explain his rationale in voting as he did in parliament.

And no, not all blogs in Kenya are about technology, Internet access, and current issues. Hash, a blogger at White African, one of the best blogs on technology in Africa I’ve encountered, lists KenyanMusings as a blog of interest. KenyanMusings is a blog kept by a 25 year old lady in Nairobi who writes about her daily life, much the way a young blogger in Milwaukee or Tulsa might. Reading through her blog I found a lot of fluff, but I found her writing to be an interesting street-level view of life in Nairobi – similar to many of my friends blogs here in the U.S., but with a definite African perspective added to the mix.

This blogosphere activity has spawned a Kenyan information technology group, BarCamp Kenya, which has weekly meetings to discuss information and technology related issues and maintains a blog called Skunkworks. Google has taken notice of this activity, and had one of their employees featured in a BarCamp Kenya discussion.

Other types of Kenyan Internet community services are also developing themselves. Hash writes about Mashada, an online community, message board, and blog aggregator based in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. As Hash says,

…This is one of the best community sites coming out of Africa today. It’s got a very healthy community of active users that make it their daily destination for conversation and news.

As Daudi Were noted, 2007 has been (and continues to be) a year of massive growth for the Kenyan blogosphere. And as it continues to grow in coming years, so will its ability to tell the stories of Kenyans to a global audience.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 16, 2007 at 4:05 am

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

Written by sigiii

August 16, 2007 at 3:53 am