Languages
Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 10:21 UK

Blogs grow up in Madagascar crisis

Rajoelina supporters run from police in February
Violence erupted in Janaury, the president was overthrown in March

Madagascar's government was overthrown in a coup earlier this year, after weeks of turmoil and street protests. As the Indian Ocean island begins a UN-brokered period of transition, the BBC's Christina Corbett reports that the political crisis has inspired a generation of cyber-savvy Malagasies to take to cyberspace.

After a year of stresses and strains, both claimants to the title of president of Madagascar appear to have come to an agreement.

The crisis has triggered something like social-media activism here in Madagascar
Blogger Tahina

Andry Rajoelina, the incumbent who was installed after the March coup, and Marc Ravalomanana, deposed in the coup, have reportedly agreed a power-sharing deal.

The overtly political nature of the response to the deal in cyberspace is indicative of how far Madagascar's bloggers have developed.

In a blog called "reflections on Malagasy political life", an entry concludes: "A bad agreement is better than civil war."

Another blogger, known as Tgoose, muses: "In the next 15 months Madagascar is going to have one hell of an election. Can you imagine if you had to choose between Ravalomanana, [former President Didier] Ratsiraka or Rajoelina? That would be insane."

Andry, one of the legion of Madagascar's political bloggers, says the political crisis has transformed the way many people use the web.

"The internet can be a real platform for serious debate," he says.

Grab of blog
Some Malagasy blogs get thousands of hits

"Before, most bloggers talked about personal everyday things. But now many more are involved in trying to find out the facts and analyse political events."

Tahina launched his blog in 2008 - a time when politics barely registered with him.

"When I started I didn't really want to blog about politics," he says.

"But since the crisis started I feel that I have something to say about what's going on here. I also blog about the social effects of the crisis and what Malagasy people think about it."

Tahina believes it has shown just how powerful blogging can be.

"It's a way for us to say to the world who we are and what we are. And that has been proven through this crisis," he explains.

"A lot of people from abroad rely on us to give them true information from citizens, not from the biased mainstream media here."

Web activism

When Madagascar's political situation began to deteriorate last year, few people outside the country noticed.

Things turned violent in late January and more than 100 people were killed in weeks of rioting.

An internet cafe in Antananarivo
Finding access to the internet can be difficult for the bloggers

Since then there has been an explosion in the use of online social media.

Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter have become popular forums for debate, and video and picture sharing.

"The crisis has triggered something like social-media activism here in Madagascar," says Tahina.

Lova Rakotomalala, who analyses Malagasy bloggers for Global Voices, a project promoting citizen media across the world, believes the political crisis has helped inspire political expression among young Malagasies.

He says he wants to see the Malagasy blogosphere evolve into an internet forum similar to Kenya's Mzalendo.

Mzalendo, meaning "patriot" in Swahili, is a volunteer-run website whose self-declared mission is to "keep and eye on the Kenyan parliament".

Long-lasting freedom?

And many in the Malagasy blogging community believe their role should involve much more than sitting in front of a computer.

In late February, Tahina and his friends were in a cafe watching the shadows of armed soldiers flicker through closed shutters, moving down the street outside firing warning shots into the air to disperse rioters.

Andry Rajoelina (left) and Marc Ravalomanana (right)
The political rivals have agreed to a transitional period

The acrid smell of tear gas seeped through the windows - a familiar smell during the early weeks of Madagascar's political turmoil.

Today the city's streets are quiet, but Antananarivo's bloggers still face many obstacles.

"The real big challenge is to find out the real facts of some events," says Andry.

"We face a lot of difficulties on the ground, and it's not easy."

For many, simply finding access to the internet is difficult.

"Most of us don't have an internet connection at home. So if we want to blog we either have to do it at work or in internet cafes," explains Andry.

"But in some places internet cafes are very hard to find, and most of us can't afford to spend a long time in them."

One thing bloggers fear is interference from politicians.

Until now, cyberspace has been a relatively free space for people to express their views.

Andry hopes that this will always be the case.

"Is it going to last? I don't know. There are people who work for the government who know the Malagasy blogosphere very well," he says.

"If they feel that we represent a kind of danger for the government maybe they will do something. But we don't know yet. I hope it doesn't come to that."



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
The web watchdog biting Kenya's MPs
14 Mar 07 |  Africa

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific