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Tanzanian bloggers’ virtual conference

Tanzanian bloggers held their first virtual conference on November 18th, 2006. The aim of the conference was to discuss various steps to be taken to make the community more effective and expand its reach. Most bloggers feel that there is an opportunity for blogs to be a tool for critical national dialogue and social development. And that, in order for revolution in citizen media to take roots in Tanzania, the blogging community needs take the lead, starting with establishing its own goals and vision.

The conference came at a period when blogging is increasingly becoming popular in the country. It was organized collaboratively using online tools. Doodle was used for voting purposes (to decide on the date and time of the event), this wiki page was used for proposing the conference moderator, brainstorming conference agendas and discussing other related issues. IRC@Work was used to set up the conference channel, #blogubongo. Login instructions were posted on the wiki and on blogs. Members’ blogs were used as a space for discussions and for spreading the word about the conference.

Offline, Majira, a Swahili daily paper in Tanzania, carried an article about it and Mwananchi, another Swahili daily paper, had a feature article arguing that the conference was a practice in virtual collaborative democracy and an indication of the dawn of Tanzanian citizen media. Mwananchi Sunday edition carried another feature article last week discussing the outcome of the conference.

For some reasons, some bloggers had login problems. They were either logged out automatically or not able to login at all. While the conference was going on, the conference moderator, Ramadhani Msangi, was simultenously leading the discussion while corresponding with bloggers who were unsuccessfully trying to login. The comment section on Jikomboe was also used to communicate with bloggers who were experiencing login problems.

In attendance was Mike Mushi, a Tanzanian computer geek and the founder of HabariTanzania, Jambo Forum, and Blog Tanzania, a blogging platform. Mike is a friend of the Tanzanian blogging community. Quickly, he created an alternative channel through Jambo Tanzania, which redirected bloggers to the official conference channel, #blogubongo. He posted login instructions on Jikomboe’s comment section. This solved the problem. However, some bloggers had given up by the time the problem was solved.

The conference, which lasted for over two hours, had a loose format. The conference moderator’s task was to make sure that participants stayed on topic and let them know when it was time to move on to a different agenda. The agendas were formally announced by the moderator the day before the conference after selecting from the wiki suggestions that had a wider support.

It was decided through voting that November 18th will be the National Blog Day in Tanzania. The date was chosen in order to remember the day this conference was held. The National Blog Day will have a different theme each year and blog awards will be given out on this day. The type of awards to be given was not decided. The idea, however, is to give out something physical, cultural and meaningful. A few participants suggested makonde carvings. Perhaps Tingatinga art will be one of the awards.

All participants agreed that there is a need to find ways to distribute blog content to people without Internet access. In order to do this, it was decided that a healthy relationship need to be developed between bloggers and the mainstream media. A few newspapers in Tanzania are slowly, though not regularly, starting to publish content from blog posts.

Three newspapers were named as friends of the Tanzanian blogging community at the moment: Majira, Mwananchi, and Tanzania Daima. Efforts will be made to have a regular section of interesting content from blog posts on these newspapers.

In recognizing the importance of radio stations in Tanzania, two participants volunteered to establish a relationship with the leading FM station in the country, Clouds FM. Normally, radio stations in Tanzania read and review interesting and topical articles from major morning papers. The plan is, therefore, to convince the stations to include blogs in their reviews. Also, a popular news site in Tanzania, HabariTanzania, will soon start posting entries from Tanzanian bloggers. [Update: HabariTanzania has started posting entries from Tanzanian blog posts (including Global Voices Online)]

Considering the low rate of Internet penetration in Tanzania, the possibility of having blog posts available to people through a popular medium such as radio was very exciting to all participants. Internet access is limited to urban Tanzania and can be expensive, particularly with the current power rationing in the country. Most participants also saw the need to reach out to senior editors and reporters through mini-workshops to show them, among other things, how they can use and benefit from rich, informative, and original content on Tanzanian blogs.

On the issue of a bloggers’ code of ethics, it was agreed that more time was needed to think and debate about it because of its sensitive nature. There was a consensus, however, that in order to establish trust, respect, and exercise social responsibility, some minimum ethical requirements have to be encouraged and observed.

Once there is a general agreement about the code of ethics, bloggers will produce a single document, an improved version of the Dodoma Declaration. Dodoma Declaration is a bloggers’ code of ethics modeled after guidelines created by CyberJournalist.net, which was written by bloggers who met informally in Dodoma early this year.

It was also agreed that the Tanzanian blogging community should work towards establishing a formal community structure with leadership positions, a clear vision, goals and objectives. The community will have its presence online through a website and an aggregator and possibly a physical presence in Tanzania at a later stage.

Time did not allow for participants to sort out the details of such a structure, i.e., leadership positions, voting procedures, terms of office, the official name of the community, goals and objectives. Therefore, an interim committee was formed through voting to elicit ideas and opinions from bloggers about issues that needed more time and input.

The committee is made up of Da’ Mija (the Netherlands), Jeff Msangi (Canada), Ndesanjo Macha (USA), and Ramadhani Msangi (Tanzania). The process is expected to be as transparent and participatory as possible.

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