(White?) African Blogger Conference in a Week
September 7, 2006 30 Comments
Word on the street, the Khartoum one where I am for the week, is that there is a Digital Citizen Indaba on Blogging conference being held in Grahamstown, South Africa. It is a shock that there should be this kind of meeting without AB&H being told about it. From the list of speakers, listed below, it appears to my untrained and possibly quite mistaken eye that their last names are not very black African; at least they wouldn’t be in East Africa. (Whisper: Will it be a roomful of white folks working for the betterment of the African? Please, I beg you, do not tell massa that I asked cause I know how much he is trying to help me speak and develop into a full, happy human being.)
I feel that I have no choice but to trash it; what is blogging if not a weapon for attacking the virtuous? This admittedly may be difficult because the conference actually seems quite interesting. It appears from the program that the attendees will be treated to dispositions from lawyers versed in internet issues – whatever those are – and that there is even a session to establish ‘an African Citizens Code of Conduct.’ Now that last one I find weird. The power of the internet and blogging is precisely that it is not being planned or coordinated centrally or even subject to a particular point of view. In any case are Africans so misbehaved or even depraved that they are always being subject to codes of behavior? Is the governance agenda and its associated funding buzzwords now to seek us out even in the digital world?
Whenever African is combined with words like empowerment, development, agenda, code, The People, plan, unity, globalization, and a conference is convened, I suspect a hustle. The same kind you would encounter in any brothel bar or illegal drinking den in any city on the continent. You know the guy who sidles next to you, face drawn and haggard with worry, and then says, ‘excuse me please, I came to the city and had all my money stolen. Now I just need help with a little bus fare to return home.’ Or ‘hey, you want good time? I will show you good, clean girls – or boys if you like.’ These hustles precisely match the ones that go something like this: ‘Funding this conference to develop the girlchild’s access to blogging will enable her African voice to be heard in the era of superpower driven globalization.’
As always, the ‘establishment’ in the form of the traditional media and academia, not to mention the political classes, come to the latest advances in expression late and with all manner of grand pronouncements heralding shifting paradigms and revolutionary action. This very worthy meeting to which I would again observe AB&H is not invited seems to fit the scheme exactly. I am sure there will be moans and sighs over the disproportionately low number of bloggers in Africa; and firm declarations to close the ‘digital divide’ and ’empower’ Africans. Out of the conference will come a flood of little proposals to every development agency in the land – ‘help us speak to the world’ will be the theme. There are 20 speakers invited:
Ethan Zuckerman (Global Voices, USA) – Alaa Abd El Fattah (Blogger & Activist, Egypt) – Pieter Verweij (Senior Lecturer, University of Utrecht, Netherlands) – Matthew Buckland (Publisher, Mail & Guardian Online) – Ory Okolloh (Blogger & Activist) – Ashraf Patel (ICT Programme Officer, OSISA) – Zimbabwean Pundit (Political Blogger) – Fackson Banda (SABMiller Chair of Media Democracy, Rhodes) – Emeka Okafor (Blogger & Business Journalist) – Ramon Thomas (Managing Director, NETucation) – Mike Stopforth (Communications Strategist) – Tom Johnson (Institute for Analytic Journalism, USA) – Ray Hartley (Deputy-Editor, Sunday Times) – Juanita Williams (News Editor, IOL) – Chris Roper (Online Editor, 24.com) – Alec Hogg (CEO, Moneyweb) – Ian Gilfillan (IT Author & Blogger) – Andrew Rens (Intellectual Property Legal Expert) – Vincent Maher (Director, New Media Lab, Rhodes) – Andrew Heavens (Photojournalist & Blogger)
You may have noticed that 13 of the 20 do not appear to be bloggers; I hope the speeches are put online so that I can savage or praise them with due consideration.