Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Blogging Has Hepled In Africa

First of all I finally figured out how to add a title. Hopefully, that will make things more easier. Second, I posted this blog for my MK 402 class, but loved it so much that I decided to post it here as well since most of you guys are interested in humanitarian work. I encourage all of you to check out all the links within this article - very cool stuff happening in our world.

I found that Israel’s article “A Talk on Kenyan Violence, Hope, and Social Media” to be very interesting. Not only does it talk about international social media, but as how social media is helping NGOs. Something we have been spending a lot of time in class discussing. In this article, Israel interviews Erik Hersman, an American who grew up as a missionary kid in Sudan and Kenya. Hersman works as an application developer and web consultant at Zungu. More importantly, I believe, for this article and humanitarian efforts globally, he was the principle developer of Ushahidi, a history-makin wiki that allowed Kenyans to generate geographic information on where violence was occurring in their county. Ushahidi, meaning “witness” in Swahili, was created after a blog post by Ory Okolloh, who stated how useful it would be to have a citizen-generated report of the violence in Kenya, since normal news sources were not report all that was going on. Kenyans can send in reports via SMS, email, or through the website and they are plotted on the map. Additionally, images, video links, and additional information can be added to the system. All the information first goes through a verification process, conducted by volunteers at Ushahidi. I believe that the most important aspect of Ushahdi is that it has created a new type of website within the humanitarian sphere for crisis events. Kenyans and NGOs are hoping to duplicate this type of tool in other areas of the world that are dealing which crisis.

Other things Israel and Hersman discussed was the role of social media during the violence. Hersman mentioned how Juliana Rotich used Twitter, Flickr, and her blog to keep everyone in Kenyan updated. Other bloggers, including Ory Okolloh, Daudi Were and Joseph Karoki, provided the service of keeping the world updated with images and news.

While Africans struggle with producing decent websites, social media is helping them in two ways, one, it allows individuals to circumvent ineffective government and social regulations. And two, it allows companies a chance to leapfrog past their competitors who are unaware of the feedback loop provided by social media. As for international companies who want to do business in Africa, social media helps them monitor information through blogs and old-fashioned message boards. Additionally, organizations are contacting African bloggers, who are experts in a particular field, for direct input on specific issues. (This sounds a lot like the same stuff that is happening globally).

Additional social media sites in Africa include: Afrigator, Mzalendo, Muti, and Mxit.

I found this article to be very interesting. The only way would have improved it was maybe by adding specific facts about social media in Africa. How many bloggers there are? How many cellphone users are in Africa? How many internet cafes? I think Ushahidi sounds like a great program and I would love to hear more about it and how it will be used in a different place in the world for dispensing information about a crisis. As someone who is thinking about going into the Peace Corp, or planning on working with NGOs at some point in my life. Information about bloggers and crisis assistances would be extremely important for not only me, but my family living in the States to be able to track where I am in regards to crisis.

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