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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 December 2005, 10:26 GMT
African bloggers find their voice
By Andrew Heavens
BBC Focus on Africa magazine

Victim of Ethiopian violence
Post-election disturbances triggered the blogging surge
The first news update appeared at 1030, just over an hour after shots started ringing out in Addis Ababa's crowded open-air market, Merkato.

"I was in a taxi on the way to Central Bus station," wrote one unnamed correspondent.

"The driver got stopped, and then the soldiers arrived immediately. They took him out of the cabin.

"I do not know what he did wrong. They beat and threw him over the police truck."

Later that afternoon, a woman called Mimi posted her story: "I was shopping in Merkato with my friend. All of a sudden I heard people screaming and running around me... we started running as fast as we could with live bullets flying past us."

These eyewitness accounts of Ethiopia's November unrest did not come from the news wires or even on the BBC News website, where thousands of emails were received, but from a small but growing set of citizen journalists - Ethiopia's band of bloggers.

Blossoming blogging

Until recently, blogging - the practice of keeping a journal style website with dated entries - has barely registered in sub-Saharan Africa, with switched-on South Africa as the obvious exception.

The relative scarcity of affordable internet access and the physical distance from the Western epicentre of the online world made blogging an elite pastime for expatriates living in the continent and Diaspora students outside it.

But the situation is starting to change.

Nazret has led the charge of Ethiopian blogs
Ethiopia is a case in point. In the past few months, the Ethiopian blogging scene has started to blossom.

While this is partly due to the slow but sure spread of internet infrastructure across the country, another reason is the number of seismic events that have taken place since the May elections - which have acted as a powerful recruiting sergeant for the blogging community.

In recent months, the stalwarts of the Ethiopian blogging world - chief among them ethiopundit - have been joined by a whole range of online upstarts, among them Weichegud! ET Politics, Satisfy My Soul (Ego) and Friends of Ethiopia, all of whom use the conveniently free and anonymous Blogger platform for their online musings.

Similar stories are unfolding across Africa.

One website doing its best to keep track of the new explosion is BlogAfrica, which lists the entries of around 100 of the best-read African blogs from Cairo to Cape Town.

That is a fraction of the estimated global blogosphere, but it can still produce a sizable flood of copy for anyone trying to read everything coming out of the continent.

"It can be a bit overwhelming, but it's a great overview of the conversations taking place in and around Africa," says Ethan Zuckerman, one of the people behind BlogAfrica, on his own weblog My Heart's in Accra.

Zuckerman, a resident fellow specialising in the impact of technology on the developing world at Berkman Center for internet and society at Harvard Law school in the US, is also one of the main drivers behind Global Voices - an even more ambitious project to follow interesting blogs from the whole world, with a focus on countries often overlooked by the mainstream media.

In recent months, it has covered everything from the Egyptian elections - via the blog Big Pharaoh - to the opportunities of getting rich on the Nairobi stock exchange on African Bullets and Honey.

Meanwhile Zimbabwean Pundit took on planned protests by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade unions (ZCTU) while, on a more personal note, the Nigeria-based Kids' Doc in Jos blog celebrated the arrival of much-needed children's medicine.


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