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Blogging Africa

“Digital Citizen Indaba 4.0”: Using Digital Media to Promote Social Justice in Africa

Dibussi Tande

2009-09-17, Issue 448

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cc Elvira Van Noort
In this week's blog roundup, Dibussi Tande reflects on the 4th annual “Digital Citizen Indaba” (DCI), which was held on September 5-6 2009 at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. The Indaba brought together bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, mobile journalists, citizen reporters, new media practitioners, online industry experts and civil society representatives from Africa and beyond.

“Digital Citizen Indaba 4.0”: Using Digital Media to Promote Social Justice in Africa

A report by Dibussi Tande in Grahamstown, South Africa

On September 5-6 2009, bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, mobile journalists, citizen reporters, new media practitioners, online industry experts and civil society representatives from Africa and beyond came together at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, for the 4th annual “Digital Citizen Indaba” (DCI). The theme of this year’s DCI – which kicks off the Highway Africa conference, the largest gathering of journalists in Africa – was “Digital civil society and journalism in Africa”. During the two-day gathering, participants discussed “the complex interaction between the mainstream media and civil society” and shared stories about “interesting and inventive experiments in digital media activism, and how’ journalistic take-up of the information disseminated during the course of this activism, have taken place”.


The Indaba (“gathering” in Zulu”) began with a welcome address by Prof. Jane Duncan of Rhodes University, DCI Coordinator and Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society. Prof. Duncan explained how digital media allowed communities marginalized by traditional medial to tell their own stories, and she described the goal of the DCI as helping to “build citizen skills to use new media”.

Keynote Address

The conference proper began with a keynote address by Cameroonian blogger, Dibussi Tande, which focused on “The state of social justice and digital activism in Africa.” Tande traced the evolution of civil society in Africa and its appropriation of digital media to promote social justice. He explained why the African civil society needed to make its voice heard on the digital public sphere, and analyzed existing challenges to the establishment of a viable digital civil society on the continent. He argued that one of the major challenges facing civil society in Africa was what he described as a “digital disconnect”, i.e., that the digital civil society in Africa was operating in a largely unwired continent, and that the bulk of Africa’s digital activists lived out of Africa and did not share the same geographical space as the people they were either trying to represent or influence. He also proposed a number of “best practices” for digital activists, the most significant being that in order for any online campaign to be successful, online engagement must translate into offline collective action. As he asked rhetorically, “What next after the revolution has been twittered? What next after the violence has been ushahidid?”

Tande’s keynote address is available online at:

Panel Discussion

The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion on “Digital Media and the Right to Language” moderated by Kafusha Mfula (Copperbelt Health Education Project – Zambia) with Elia Varela Serra (Maneno – Spain) and Eduardo Ávila (Global Voices / Bolivian Voices – Bolivia) as speakers. The discussion focused on ongoing efforts to increase the presence of indigenous languages on the English-dominated Internet.

Serra highlighted the growing practice of crowd-source translation through which a network of volunteers around the world translates online content into different languages thereby “democratizing” cyberspace. She also revealed that the presence of African languages on the Internet was beginning to reach “critical mass”. For example, online content in Swahili doubled within the last year, while Google Search and Google Translate are now available in Swahili.

Serra also introduced, a new blogging platform specifically meant for sub-Saharan Africa, which aims to give people who speak indigenous languages an online space to make their voices heard in their own languages. The site already has contributions in Bamanka, Lingala, Swahili and Zulu.

The next speaker was Eduardo Avila, Executive Director at Bolivian Voices, who called for a more diverse blogosphere. He talked about an online resurgence of indigenous languages in Bolivia, thanks to numerous efforts to bring unrepresented groups – such as speakers of the Aymara language – into cyberspace.

Day One ended with a brief introduction of the HIVOS “Citizen Journalism in Africa” project by Brett Davidson (Hivos – South Africa). Hivos supports the development of citizen journalism in Africa.

Day 2

The second day kicked off with a panel on “Gender, Civil Society and Digital Media” moderated by Ashraf Patel (SAFIPA – South Africa), with Maureen Agena (Women of Uganda Network – Uganda) and Nthatheng Mhlambiso (Behind the Mask – South Africa) as speakers.

Agena, the Information Officer of Wougnet, explained how digital media was being used by women in rural Uganda. She revealed that social networking tools had little impact in rural Uganda due to issues of accessibility, availability and cost. She pointed out that the biggest media being used were the radio and telephone because Uganda is a verbal community and because these media allowed citizens to communicate in their own languages. She also talked about the setting up of telecenters in parts of Uganda.

Next was Nthateng Mhlambiso, Managing Editor of Behind the Mask, a website about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Intersex (LGBTI) people in Africa. Mhlambiso touched on the misrepresentation of LGBTI people in the media and discussed how digital media has provided the LGBTI community with a platform to make its voice heard and to challenge inaccuracies and biases in the traditional media and society. “Newsrooms should be open-minded in terms of gay issues. Journalists should ask questions and not just publish what they think they know or speculate about gay issues,” she insisted.

The second panel of the day was “Civil Society Use of Mapping Tools and Mass Media Takeup” moderated by Bobby Soriano (Tactical Tech – The Philippines) with Brett Davidson (Stop Stock-outs – South Africa) and Daudi Were (Mental Acrobatics – Kenya) as speakers.

Davidson explained how the Stop Stock-outs project uses Ushahidi mapping software, SMS and Frontline SMS, to identify and notify the public and media of where medicines are out of stock in five countries –Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Daudi Were gave a demonstration of the mapping software and clarified that the project’s goal was to draw attention to the problem of medicine shortages, thereby forcing authorities to act.

The final panel discussion was on “Technology for Social Change: Land, Environment and Health” moderated by Rebecca Wanjiku (Blogger – Kenya), with Stephan Hofstatter (Freelance journalist – South Africa), Peter Benjamin (Cell-Life – South Africa), Ednah Karamagi (BROSDI – Uganda) and Bobby Marie (Monitoring Action- South Africa) as speakers. They discussed ways in which technology can be used to promote activism around land, environment and health.


After the panel discussions, participants had the opportunity for more in-depth discussions during five parallel workshops that took place around the Rhodes University campus.

The workshop on “Multimedia Tools for Journalism” was facilitated by Peter Verweij of the School of Journalism at Utrecht in The Netherlands.

Marlon Parker, lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, facilitated the workshop on “Digital Voices to Reconstruct Communities” which focused on how digital media can be used to empower distressed local communities. His presentation is available online at:

Former BBC Radio 4 producer and founder of, Jayne Morgan, facilitated another workshop on “Successful Podcasting”. You can listen to Jayne’s interview with Reg Rumney, Director of the Centre for Economics Journalism at Rhodes University, on the whys and hows of podcasting at:

Peter Benjamin, General Manager of Cell-Life, conducted another workshop on “Using Mobile media for Social Change”. Cell-Life is an organization which seeks to improve the lives of people infected and affected by HIV in South Africa through the use of mobile technology. According to Benjamin, “In Africa, the digital divide is not going to be bridged with PCs and the Internet, it has already been overcome through cell phones. A great majority of people in South Africa and the continent do have this electronic tool.” He argued that “What we’re lacking is not the infrastructure but the imagination to learn the many ways this technology can transform lives and not just transform the bank balances of the few companies that control the technology”.

Benjamin also explained how Mxit, South Africa’s popular text chatting application, can be used to send out cheap messages and provide other services, such as HIV/Aids support chat groups. “For the first time we have mass communication that is interactive,” he enthused.

Benjamin’s presentation is available at:

Brenda Burrel of facilitated a workshop on “Bringing Down the Barriers with Interactive Audio Programming and Mobile Phones”, which focused on the FreedomFone project in Zimbabwe. According to Burrel, “The people who need information the most live on the margins of society without access to the Internet, Email, Podcasting and all the other sexy new innovation in ICT. But technologists and media practitioners keep ignoring the fact that the majority of poor people don't have access to computers and fancy gizmos, and continue to innovate in ICT without the communication needs of marginalized communities in mind. The use of mobile phone in marginalized communities is high. Freedom Fone's interactive audio programming software intends to make the most of it.”

Brenda Burell’s presentation is available online at:

Resounding Success

This year’s digital citizen Indaba was quite diverse and was a showcase of exciting digital activism projects on the continent. The indaba’s focus on new media at civil society level was timely as delegates discovered the myriad of digital tools at their disposal, and left Grahamstown with a much better appreciation of the possibilities that digital media offers to civil society organizations and activists on the continent. Elvira Van Noort, Coordinator of the DCI, summed it best when she hoped that “when [delegates] return to their community they can find ways of implementing similar projects to assist in digital activism and social justice”.

With contributions from Thandeka Mapi, Gabi Falanga, Annetjie van Wynegaard, Taona Karidza, Lara Salomon, Simphiwe Kanityi and Prabhas Pokharel in Grahamstown.

* Dibussi Tande, a writer and activist from Cameroon, produces the blog Scribbles from the Den, and was a keynote speaker at this year's DCI.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

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