Blogging for social change: Interview with Jeff Msangi

Jeff Msangi is a Tanzanian blogger based in Canada. He is also a columnist for a Tanzanian daily, Tanzania Daima. He has been a blogger since 2005. He blogs in Swahili at Harakati and in English at Proud African. His Swahili blog is mainly about development, politics and social activism. Jeff, a pragmatic optimist, strongly believes that blogging and other Internet tools can influence social change in the developing world. Jeff was interviewed recently by J. Nambiza Tungaraza.

Tanzanian blogger – Jeff Msangi

Tungaraza: When and how did you start blogging?

Jeff Msangi: I started blogging in August 2005. My first blog post was titled Africa ni nchi moja?, which in English means “Is Africa a country”? Ansbert Ngurumo who used to be the editor for the Tanzanian Daily newspaper (Tanzania Daima), which I was a syndicated Sunday columnist for, also a blogger himself, is the one who introduced me into blogging. It happened that he had posted one of my articles in his blog and invited me to read it. I loved the idea that my work could now be available on the Internet and I fell in love with blogging idea almost immediately.

Tungaraza: How would you describe your blog?

Jeff Msangi: My blog is mainly a social awareness blog. It constantly tries to awaken reader’s minds by pointing out what is wrong (in the socio-political system in Tanzania and Africa) and whenever possible offer a workable solution. Since I live in Canada, I also try to inform people back in Tanzania and Africa in general about what the Western world is like, what is real and what is not. It is an information blog in that sense.

Tungaraza: As you mentioned before, you were a columnist for some Tanzanian newspapers before you started blogging. Is writing on your blog different from writing in a newspaper?

Jeff Msangi: There is a difference in terms of “being in charge”. As a blogger, I have control on what I want to say and how I say it. In other words, I feel like I have maximum freedom of expressing myself as opposed to how it is done print media where editors’ reflections and thoughts are final. In most cases, you have to think of two people at once, your editor and your audience. Of course, there is no freedom without limits and responsibilities and therefore I am still cautious of what and how I write.

Moreover, in blogs you have what we now call “two way traffic.” Our readers can now challenge, correct, ask questions, and sometimes express their deepest feelings about a particular subject almost immediately by leaving comments.

Tungaraza: Is the participatory nature of blogs one of the advantages of blogs for journalists or columnists like you?

Jeff Msangi: One most significant advantage of blogs is that of bridging the gap between a columnist or a reporter and his or her readers. Through blogs, a columnist gets to know what his readers think about particular subjects, which brings a very good working relationship in terms of information exchange.

Tungaraza: What are some of the negatives, if there are any, you have encountered since you started blogging?

Jeff Msangi: So far I have no regrets other than the fact that the more you blog about issues, the more conscious you become about them and therefore you always wonder what can you possibly do to correct or improve the situation you are blogging about. You carry a heavy social burden through blogging, which is generally not a bad thing if you know your limits.

Tungaraza: How has your blog been received by the readers?

Jeff Msangi: Fortunately, my blog has been received very positively. In most cases, my readers agree with what I write and offer remarkable suggestions on what can be done to improve or correct our socio-political conditions. Of course there has been a few times when I have not been understood or had to remove some readers’ comments that I found offensive and destructive.

Tungaraza: There are more Swahili bloggers these days compared to when you started blogging in 2005. What do you think about this growth of Swahili blogs?

Jeff Msangi: I find this growth very stimulating. You know, information is power and therefore the more Swahili blogs out there, the more influential we become as Swahili bloggers. I anticipate, as a result of blogging, we will see true social change through debates and dialogue, which will ultimately re-shape social, economic and political policies. However, we need to clearly define our vision and mission and believe that blogging is a tool for social change. It is my hope that with the formation of the Tanzanian Bloggers Association, we will be able to achieve that goal sooner than later.

Tungaraza: Let us get this right. Do you really think that Swahili blogging community will bring about change in the society that it speaks to?

Jeff Msangi: As I said, yes, beyond any doubt I believe that Swahili blogging community can bring enormous changes in our society. We are actually already witnessing changes following what started as a simple online blog discussions. Moreover, I anticipate seeing citizens, through tools like blogs, participating in writing, planning and executing national social, economic and political policies. That will be a dream come true for me.

Tungaraza: Do you have any other ideas to share with us?

Jeff Msangi: Apart from congratulating you for an excellent job you are doing for blogging communities across Africa and elsewhere, I would like to see you taking the initiative of introducing blogging in schools. Real change starts from grassroots and, therefore, if you start fostering those young minds now, we will see a lot more from them in the near future.

Tungaraza: Lastly, what kind of advice can you give those who think about starting their own blogs?

Jeff Msangi: First of all I would absolutely support and encourage them. Blogs are not only a good source of information and knowledge but also a social networking tool. Above all, I would recommend them to write and speak their minds without fear so as to help build fearless and courageous communities.

Tungaraza: Jeff, thank you for your time.


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