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Friday, 18 January 2008

This is Web power · Kenyans need blogs

Back from a break and some new-ish sites to tell you about, all of which show more new tricks and more great uses for the web (and they're truly inspiring). More to follow, first to Kenya.

NAIROBI — Dipping in and out of the headlines but far from resolved, the Kenyan crisis has shown up many media organisations and quite a few journalists in their ignorance about Kenya. Many have actually openly said that they don't 'get' it.

One good example was China's first statement, issued on Monday (14th). They, rightly, criticised colonialism's legacy, but also said:
"The Western 'democracy' transplanted to Africa is unsuited to local conditions and has sowed the seeds of disaster."
African bloggers have already picked this up and called it 'racist' — western media have so far missed it entirely.

What interested bystanders can now do though is get a wide range of Kenyan opinion and reporting 'on the ground' via blogs. If you really want to get some idea of what's happening and why, blogs are your best source.

There are dozens of Kenyan blogs. Some are by white people but most aren't, many are by expats. Some support President Kibaki, many the opposition but most aren't political. Many are religious or business blogs. Across the range you get endless eye-witness accounts and background, including from members of the Kikuyu, and one incredible photo-journalist's blog.

Saying far more in a few photos than yet another news-free monotone sob story from the BBC's Orla Guerin or ITV's Neil Connery (many Kenyan bloggers have praised Al-Jazeera's coverage), Joseph Karoki's blog has been documenting what's happening since the stolen election.

joseph karoki
Joseph Karoki
Karoki has been sourcing photos from all over - I noticed today that a New York Times photographer is now contributing. And linking to others such as this Flickr collection.

He, along with the other bloggers, have managed to build up a fact-heavy network which is trying to talk peace and preach calm. Anything else, particularly 'tribalism', is being shouted down by other Kenyans in their blogosphere - it's great to watch this network evolving, even if the circumstances are appalling.

Kenyan blog Mentalacrobatics, has another positive angle - which, again, I'm not seeing in the MSM:
I have been expecting many of the younger voters to come and express their anger at me for getting their hopes up that their vote was as powerful as anyone else’s vote. Instead what I have seen is very encouraging; people are engaged in the political process as never before.

For example, earlier on Tuesday a group of youth were busy calculating how many votes you need to be elected Speaker of parliament. At petrol stations you hear debates about whether Nominated MPs are nominated before or after the speaker is elected, people come up to me and ask if there is anything that can prevent Kibaki from stealing all the Nominated MP positions for his own party in defiance of tradition which states the nominated positions are given out in proportion to the number of seats won, and the most requested document request I receive by email these days is for the Constitution.

Tuesday’s parliamentary proceedings were broadcast live on TV and the whole country was watching and taking note. When Marende [opposition candidate] was elected speaker we could hear shouts of celebration from Kibera and Kawangware [Nairobi slums]. This engagement is not exclusive to the middle class. It looks like stealing an election is a fantastic way to get the public engaged in civic education. Now that is a massive silver lining!
The exasperation with leaders is constant, as is the demand for fair elections. One sign of blogging's growing power in Kenyan politics is that they've rapidly developed as an avenue for counter-opposition propoganda.

Another rapidly growing angle is the use of video. This has been circulating news of acts of police violence — The following video may disturb you - which have transferred to MSM.




All of which gives the lie to the opinion expressed not just by the Chinese but by many Westerners - that democracy won't work in Africa. Online you can watch Kenyans trying to build their democracy. I find this inspiring and the cynical, sometimes racist, attitudes to their efforts somewhat depressing and lazy.

Karoki and other bloggers are working with Mama Mikes - the big electronic money transfer business - with an appeal for Kenya. There, you can buy a shopping voucher which will be used by Kenya Red Cross for food, water, blankets, clothes, sanitary products, toys for children etc. (And maybe condoms).

There's also another excellent blogger initiative called Usahidi (Swahili word for 'witness') which is recording all acts of violence (on a Google Map).



As many bloggers have explained, what's happening - especially with the continuing total news media blackout imposed by the government - has shown exactly why the Internet is so important for Africa.



Addendum: Wikipedia is a good source on British colonialism in Kenya (stuff you wouldn't know from school). Did you know we (the British) had over a million Kenyans in concentration camps within living memory - during the 1950s uprising?



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