I just came across the announcement for the Annual African Bloggers Conference planned to take place in 2009 in Kenya via the blog of the Association of Progressive Communicators. This prompted me to address one of the key questions when looking at social media for development.
The main challenge for using social media concepts, and the internet in general, is that many people, especially in the developing world, still don’t have access to it (see this statistics overview, wikipedia, as well as this nice map).
However, usage rates are growing tremendously, especially in Africa and the Middle East, and initiatives such as the bloggers conference give hope that the internet, as a genuine grassroots media, can reach not only the few. Through the internet and information sources such as blogs, the entrance barrier to join a political dialogue and the public sphere are much easier than through traditional media and TV.
A while ago, this article looked at South Africa and the influence bloggers and “citizen journalism” have on the political dialogue in the country, arguing that, while not yet in a scale as in the US, bloggers are are joining the discourse and start receiving attention by the media.
Of course, radio on the other hand still advantages providing a platform for discussions. Community radio projects keep to be successful around the world. A great initiative addressing how to tie in both media is the Radio 2.0 for development blog. See also a related post presenting the publication: Fighting Poverty: Utilizing Community Media in a Digital Age.
Merging text messaging and social media tools such as twitter provide another opportunity that will be discussed in a following post.
People are starting to make noise. With corruption being one of the main obstacles for development, there is the potential and the need to start engaging into social media tools and not write off the continent, just because of the technical challenges that still need to be overcome.