The opening panel discussion at BeyondBroadcast is titled "Local Perspectives" and it invites citizen media innovators from around the world to show off their work. Unfortunately for the schedule, the panel includes six terrific speakers, roughly twice as many as could fit in the allotted time.
This situation has led Malagasy to fear democracy - less than 24% of the popular now express enthusiasm for democratic government. There's widespread resentment towards the international community for perceived meddling in Malagasy affairs. And it's clear that Madagascar needs a comprehensive agricultural policy.
Lova was one of the founders of FOKO Madagascar - founded in the wake of TED Africa in Arusha by Harinjaka, a prominent Malagasy blogger, the goal of the project was to help Madagascar become more digitally literate and present, and to send the message that Madagascar is "open for business". Lova quotes Mike Tyson - "Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth." As the crisis spread in Madagascar, Foko began documenting protests in the street, trying to fill the gap in international reporting.
Citizen media in Madagascar includes not just the FOKO bloggers on the ground, but a network of 55 bloggers living in five countries. They use blogs, Flickr, twitter and SMS to communicate, and their perspectives are aggregated on Rising Voices and Global Voices. By working with Ushahidi and Frontline SMS, the project is able to involve a much broader group than just the 160,000 internet users in Madagascar - it reaches 2.2 million mobile phone users. This work has led to international attention, including stories on CNN and in the Wall Street Journal. This is great, but there's still only news coming from Antananarivo in mainstream media, while Foko reports from five different cities.
While the internet reaches very few Malagasy, it's critical for the diaspora, and for the public perception of Madagascar. The current government wants international recognition and has proven willing to intimidate journalists and bloggers - there's a desperate need for a structure to protect these reporters. But we're also seeing evidence that social media helps organize social movements, like the movement to free Razily, which ultimately succeeded in releasing the young man who led Madagascar's "Tiananmen moment."
NYCMA doesn't focus on original reporting - their work is primarily about translation. "It's a forum for people who make this media" to bring coverage of communities to a wider audience. While the website doesn't get overwhelming traffic - about 20,000 visits a week - it's read heavily by NY city and state government agencies.
Ponce De Leon explains that the economic slump has hit her members hard. Little businesses that support community media are having financial problems, and they're sometimes unable to support local media. There's a shift from print to internet, but it's much slower than in mainstream media. Roughly 39% of the organizations she works with have strong, interactive websites. Some are moving directly to internet radio, which is likely to serve as a hub to facilitate connections for diaspora communities.
In the near future, the main focus is on the 2010 census. New York has at least 150 languages represented in the school system - it's extremely worrisome that the census is being conducted only in seven languages.
Digital tools, he tells us, are bringing people into conversations even when people are reluctant to address the issues at hand. Democracy is government by discussion, and Daudi tells us, it's based around the idea that the other person has something to say that's worth listening to. Decisionmaking by discussion is very African - if you marry a woman, you may end up spending a long day negotiating her dowry. You could probably complete the debate in ten minutes, but the discussion takes forever because you're avoiding conflict. That's what decisionmaking structures like Indabas are about - we have discussions until we can work through most conflicts.
Blogs today create a new space for discussion. "Blogging is probably the most African thing you can do online today. I'm pretty confident that if my grandmother had the internet, she would have been a blogger."
It's not content that's king, Daudi tells us - it's content and community. This is one of the strenghts of Global Voices, he argues - bloggers discover that there's a community that has their back. This is also a strongly African idea - "Ubuntu means "You are, therefore I am'". Identity and existence is a function of community.
The rise of new media in Africa is exciting, but it can be very scary. It's fun to watch the Kenyan government put exam results online and have servers taken down from the load of proud grandparents in Canada logging online to read them. But when Kibaki declared himself the winner of the 2007 elections and began naming ministers, Daudi tells us, the new ministers' farms were burning before Kibaki finished reading the statement. Violence can spread as well as opinion, information and news. The lesson, Daudi tells us, is that people want to be relevant and want to be heard - if we can't find ways to let them speak, they'll burn things instead.
TXTPower, the organization that Cruz helped to found, helps organize citizens and consumers via mobile phones. Huge demonstrations helped topple the previous government and bring President Gloria Arroyo to power… and a clever ringtone campaign almost toppled her. And major consumer movements are organizing against mobile phone tarrifs and taxes.
TXTPower's methods are pretty funny. To protest a special SMS tax - which would affect the 2 billion SMS sent in the country per day - TXTPower circulated the Speaker of the House's personal mobile phone number. The thousands of messages received caught attention from the most important local newspaper. In the wake of a fiscal scandal about vote rigging, an audio clip of the President (allegedly) asking a colleague whether an election had been correctly fixed became a hit political ringtone, and TXTPower's server was taken down by the interest.
TXTPower turns eight years old this August, and "we're confident of winning more battles." One of the co-founders (Mong Palatino, the Southeast Asia editor for Global Voices) was just elected to parliament. And new campaigns focus on the costs of mobile phone service, on training people to learn how to get more out of their phones, and on a political campaign to ensure that Arroyo doesn't turn into "an eternal leade" - actions on are being coordinated on Twitter, Plurk, Facebook and other social media.
Read more about social media in our archive:
This piece originally appeared in My Heart's In Accra.
Photo credit: Flickr/cazimiro, Creative Commons License.
I think it's time that international community take responsability to take over the putchist in Madagascar.We need a quick and strong action to overcome this problem if not population will be tired and accept the putch as there is not any option for them to fight the putchist and their mutins