The Ugandan bloggers are having an existential crisis of sorts. The self-examination among the Blogren, as they’ve started calling each other, began in January when several bloggers objected to the establishment of Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour and the Uganda Best of Blog awards.
Two recent events in Kampala sparked a new round of posts concerning the purpose of blogging in Uganda. The first was the visit of four Danish documentary filmmakers who came to study the Ugandan blogosphere. They wondered what sector of the population they’d see through the eyes of the average Ugandan blogger.
The 27th Comrade responded with a scathing critique of traditional media approaches to Africa:
Have you, blogren, noticed that whenever Africa is shown on CNN (or whatever other channel is feeding you on the Enemy's propaganda), all you see are smelly little kids with flies in their nostrils?… I have a whole pile of stories to tell about growing up on the equator…. But because I am well-fed, I speak (horrible) French, I dunno what war sounds like… I use Linux, I hack Haskell, I love Ruby, I have been a computer freak from age 9 (and never off the Blessed Continent for a second), and I program SMS engines in a boring afternoon (yes, Americans are welcome to the duel—I'm trying to brag here), I am not going to be the subject of Focus on.
In a follow-up post he noted that this kind of media attention “brain-washes the West into thinking we are all a**holes. We aren't all, mainly because the UG bloggers are in Africa, and so is my Mum.”
Country Boyi took up the media thread, inspired by a conversation with a reporter who explained the need for more local perspective in international news, especially in stories about the decades-long conflict in northern Uganda. He pledged to contribute some of this perspective:
I therefore must read as much about international humanitarian law and understand the Rome Statute of the ICC. The court is going to be my beat. I need to stay on top of the news. I must learn how the system works, study hard and “walk the beat” for in covering courts, Katy told me, I'll be documenting history.
The second event to spur the purpose debate was last month’s riots in Kampala over the sale of Mabira Forest land for use as by sugar cane company. Berating his fellow bloggers for failing to write more extensively on the violent demonstrations, Henry Owera focused on the importance of citizen journalism — whether the “citizens” are expatriates or Ugandans — and of “keeping a journal [on] the situation and events” in the country.
Last week the search for meaning spread out of the blogger circle to an unidentified “Ugandan Blogosphere Fan,” who wrote to Josh at In an African Minute and thanked Ugandan bloggers for unintentionally reminding him of the many kinds of life in the country:
Occasionally I get completely saturated in the worst-case stories that I retell over and over again (babies in latrines, child soldiers, wholesale rape and murder, maize meal, missing limbs) that I forget Kampala has a thriving community of people who drink coffee and talk about the greater world and give each other blogger awards. It's important for me to see Uganda in another context besides a backdrop to the hopeless misery I write about.
* A note from Joshua Goldstein:
I want to thank everyone who read and commented on my posts over the last 8 months. I especially want to thank the Ugandan blogren, which I have had the pleasure to watch come together at Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour in Kampala and in the blogosphere. I won't be far.