the importance of blogging in Uganda

Earlier this week, White African featured an interview with Neville Newey, creator of the Reddit-esque African social bookmarking site Muti. I think Newey, in addition to having an awesome name, is doing great things, and I agreed with every point he made in his interview until he answered the last question: What are your thoughts on the impact of blogging in Africa?

Newey claims blogging in Africa isn’t as influential as blogging in North America because news here is less frequently corporately owned, and therefore more independent, than it is there. I would argue that media in Africa is heavily censored — if not by corporations, then definitely by governments.* In Uganda, the New Vision is clearly Museveni’s plaything, and Blake Lambert (a Canadian journalist who was expelled from Uganda last year) has an excellent piece up at the Sub-Saharan African Roundtable about the numerous instances of media repression by African governments over the past year.

Blogs in Africa give their authors an opportunity to express views that aren’t being covered in the regular media. Sokari Ekine at Pambazuka News agrees: “African blogs have been able to challenge governments on issues such as corruption, human rights, economic policy and social justice in their respective countries (often anonymously) in ways that could not have been possible without risking arrest or harassment in the past.”

My thoughts on the impact of blogging in Africa? Many of the blogs that do exist are shaping the way people think and contributing to major debates in their countries — just look at Sub-Saharan African Roundtable or Weichegud. In 2006 the number of blogs on the continent doubled, and the number of blogs written by women quadrupled. The reason blogging isn’t as popular as it is in North America is simple — on a continent where fewer than 2% of the population has access to internet and only 70% is literate, creating and sustaining a thriving blogosphere is difficult. Still, I’m happy with the rate at which the African blogging community is growing, and I believe that as technology becomes more widely available, we’ll see bloggers influencing their societies just as much as their North American counterparts are.

*Paranoia (and the urge to mention his name) compels me to restate that the Daily Monitor and East African, the other two major English-language newspapers in Uganda, both belong to Aga Khan.

EDIT: Speaking of emerging blogging technology, I just found this post by Revence at Communist Socks and Boots. He blogged from the January UBHH using his cell phone. Way cool.

Merry Christmas from the Internets

AfriGadget is proof that the Internet celebrates holidays (if it didn’t, why would it be giving me such great presents?). This delightfully, inspirationally geeky blog is a bit Gizmodo, a bit MAKE — a chronicle of “African ingenuity” that’s a pleasant jumble of everything from battery-operated podcast broadcasters to trendy USB flash drive covers.

One of my favorite gadgets, though, is the PlayPump. No, it’s not anything like that. It’s a merry-go-round that pulls water from the ground, stores it in a tank, and makes it easily available from a tap. It’s brilliant.

I was happy to learn that USAID supports PlayPumps — compared with this debacle, it’s a rather impressive endeavor. I was even happier to learn that one of the lead fundraisers for the project is none other than my boy Jay-Z. This kid is everywhere.

i was going to write about karamoja…

…but Samuel Olara did an amazing job over at the Sub-Saharan African Round Table.

An excellent short history of the Karamojong people in the twentieth century can be found in this interview with Dr. Sandra Gray, an anthropologist who works in the region. The interview ends with the question, “Do these people have any political support within their own country?” Dr. Gray’s answer:

Everybody hates pastoralists. They’re among the last groups in the world it’s still politically OK to trash. They’re derided for letting their sheep and goats and zebu overgraze the land and turn it into desert.

That’s a lie. They did just fine for centuries.

Cavities and broken records: Africa’s lack of self-confidence

I quit my job this week (not the one with the peanut butter life saver — no worries, my life is still in good hands). I left for several reasons, but the last straw was a conversation that went something like this:

Me: You can’t rely solely on international volunteers to make this work. You need to recruit Ugandan volunteers as well, or even more heavily.

Director: But Ugandan volunteers are not as good as international volunteers.

Me: Why not? None of the international volunteers here right now have teaching degrees, but you’ve turned down three Ugandans who wanted to work here who all have teaching experience.

Director: But Ugandan volunteers are not as good as international volunteers.
His monomaniacal, unsubstantiated claim that the qualified Ugandans who have been clamoring to work for the organization are “not as good” as inexperienced college students from the U.S. was, shall we say, mildly unsettling. Earlier this month, Angelo Izama wrote on the sub-Saharan African roundtable about what he calls modern shamba boys. He laments what he considers to be the prevailing attitude among Africans, and especially African leaders, that they are inferior to the West:

“The shamba boy mentality is built on a conspiracy of history and circumstances that make it acceptable for our leaders to play second fiddle to their white masters and others whiter than them including Asians and Chinese nowadays. This complacency replaces their responsibility to become their own masters….”
Wendy Glauser also claims that “many Africans embrace a collective inferiority complex. Their governments are backward, corrupt and care only about power. Their people are tribalist, selfish, war-loving. This perception, like Canada‚Äôs public perception of itself, is one-sided and simple-minded, devoid of the complex current and historical international forces that determine the behaviour of a society and its government.”

Vividly illustrating the claims of these two authors is Dennis Matanda, who states that “Africans are not inferior to whites” but also writes that “Africa is not a cursed continent and neither is it ravaged by disease and poverty. The poverty you have is at the top [in the heads of the leaders so to speak] and the only rampant diseases are dental ones where the leaders have large holes in the back of their teeth.” He goes on to say that all African leaders are “mad” and that Africans are, as a whole, “lazy.”

Izama argues that the only way out of this attitude is for Africans to take charge of their own problems — “to find that desire to stop serving others and begin serving ourselves.” Glauser seconds this opinion, suggesting more indigenous lobbies and better African investigative journalism. Matanda offers no solution.

My two cents? The impending failure of the organization I just left is directly proportional to its leader’s reliance upon Western volunteers to swoop down and save it. I would argue that the persistence of many “African problems” is related to a belief that, eventually, donor money or foreign troops will come. This belief in the supremacy of Western aid, I think, makes many Africans less likely to take the steps needed to pull themselves out of poverty, disease and war. It’s an endless, self-perpetuating cycle of dependency: I want the West to save me, so I do nothing. I do nothing, so the West sends help. The West sends help, so I believe I am incapable of solving my own problems. I believe I am incapable of solving my own problems, so I want the West to save me.

Breaking out of this cycle is possibly the single most difficult challenge Africa faces today. Unfortunately for those of us who work in the realm of “humanitarian aid,” there’s not much we can do to help (kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?) except stand by and encourage those we meet to take charge of their own futures.

do you want an orphan with that?

It’s a horrifically crass thing to joke about, but here at Jackfruity we’re all about crassness (not to mention ending clauses with dangling prepositions), so I’ll go ahead and say it: if I had 100 shillings for every time I’ve been asked to take a Ugandan child back to the States with me, I’d be able to…well, I’d be able to take a Ugandan child back to the States with me.

It’s a request that makes me even more squirmy and uncomfortable than Jay-Z dressed up as a Maasai warrior, and each time I hear it I retreat a little further into my shell of paranoid mzungu-ness, wanting desperately for my skin color not to scream look at me, I’m a FOREIGNER!

Madonna, as you already know if you’ve peeked out from your hermit cave once in the last month, seems to have no qualms about it. Her adoption of a Malawi “orphan” is one of the most-discussed celebrity events of October. Of all the comments I’ve read about this much-debated attempt at charity, Mad Kenyan Woman’s is by far the funniest:

This is a new form of tourism. Visit us! We have teeming wildlife, colourful natives and unspoiled vistas. Further, in your guest suites you will find our complimentary fruit basket, bottle of champagne, box of assorted chocolates, complimentary tickets allowing you to enter the lottery to buy the African country of your choice, your personal slave and of, course, an adoptable infant guaranteed to be cute, black, lovable and incapable of speech and thus at your complete mercy. Should you decide that you wish to adopt, please fill out the form conveniently placed in your bathroom next to our complimentary bottle of Chanel, and drop it off at the reception desk anytime before checkout. Should you be in any way dissatisfied with your infant, we would be happy to make an exchange and to customize an infant for you according to your specifications of age, sex, tint, height and hair growth. (Additional charges may apply if we have to wrest your desired baby away from its parents, but you have our quality guarantee that these charges will NEVER exceed fifty dollars U.S.)

While I don’t come down as harshly on Madonna as she does (the pop star’s also contributing $4 million to a Child Center and other development projects in the country), I do think her criticism of the adoption is worth a read just for the writing. Another good piece on the same topic, written from the point of view of a Malawian, is at Afrika-Aphurika (via Global Voices).