The spotlight is on Brenda Zulu, a Zambian journalist and blogger. Brenda’s blog provides her reflections on information, communication and technology issues in Africa. Based in Lusaka, Zambia, Brenda has been blogging since 2004 and is one of Zambia’s seasoned blogger’s. I talked with Brenda about her life, her blogging origins and the state of Zambian blogosphere.
Soneka Kamuhuza (SK): How long have you been blogging?
Brenda Zulu (BZ): I have been blogging since 2004. Besides blogging I also teach Web2.0 applications at workshops to civil society, media and any other interested parties. This includes blogging, micro blogging, podcasting, vlogging, social bookmarking and the use of social media effectively by media organizations.
SK: What is the current attitude towards blogging in Zambia?
BZ: Well there is a number of Zambian bloggers but most of them live in the Diaspora. Many Zambians living in the Diaspora blog frequently than Zambians living at home. This is also associated with issue of access to the internet for Zambians at home. Many Zambians can now access internet on their mobile phone where they can mostly do micro-blogging. Otherwise, some even connect their mobile phones to their computers if they would like to do some blogging. Others access the internet from internet cafes, libraries, use mobile dongles, rabbits, wifi, etc. Internet access in Zambia is not cheap even with the coming of optic fibre networks. As one moves away from the city to rural areas access to the internet doubles while losing mobile networks.
Zambians living at home are not prolific bloggers. There are many Zambian blogs online but most of them are dead blogs as they are not updated frequently. Many Zambians are good at micro-blogging and the use of Facebook. Zambians use Facebook more than any other social media platform. Very few Zambians are on Twitter and among the few that have Twitter accounts very few use their accounts. Many claim that they don’t know how to use Twitter.
SK: What do you see as the influence of blogging on Zambian media?
BZ: The Zambian media does not really blog. Many media personnel see blogging as an extra activity. If blogging was bringing in an extra income for Zambian journalists, blogging would be rampant amongst them which is not the case. There is nothing influencing Zambian journalists to blog as many still need to learn the ropes about what blogging is and why it is relevant.
If anything, very few working journalists have equipment of their own. Many journalists use computers, recorders and cameras from their workplaces and they wouldn’t necessary be blogging while at work because they would be stealing company's time. In any case, while journalist can access the internet at their work places some newsrooms are still lagging behind in terms of access to the internet. Many journalists I have taught blogging still say that they still lack internet access and that it was hampering them from blogging. Apart from this it is usually the lack of knowledge that is hampering Zambian journalists to blog. For seasoned bloggers, blogging is just a way of life. When one has a readership and a following they always feel obliged to blog and keep their audience informed.
SK: Are there limitations to your ability to blog?
BZ: Yes there are limitations to my blogging because I now have to blog on other spaces for clients for money. My blog is actually suffering because I am busy creating other blogs and content for clients. In that case, I can safely say that blogging has opened up many closed doors as it has made me busy. Apart from blogging to create my ICT brand, I have used blogging to popularize myself and my work online.
Infact, blogging opens up new opportunities for us people in the media sector. Apart from tutoring on blogging, I have been contracted to liveblog and speak at events, I have also become a news source for media on new and social media and web2.0 issues. I believe my skills have also helped me to be part of two fellowships as everyone wants to learn about new media and how they can benefit from it in career building and also in specilised reporting. These include the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) under the Women’sEdition fellowship in the USA and the Women In News Programme in France which is part of the WAN-IFRA programme.
SK: How does technology infrastructure affect blogging in Zambia?
BZ: Well, I will talk about myself and how I have managed to blog even under difficult circumstances. I started blogging when I used to access internet at the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) resource center. I usually used to work offline on my laptop and then blog only when I had internet access. Firstly, I started blogging because I wanted to archive my articles as the publication I used to work for had no online presence and also used to refuse my ICT articles. I only blogged articles I did on information communication technologies (ICT) as my blog allowed me to do that. Sometimes I also blogged stories that were never used by my publication.
With or without access to technology, blogging can still go on if people are just passionate about it. I blogged more after I was first to be given an award as the Best female Journalist in 2003 in writing ICT stories by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). I wanted to brand my myself in the web which I did because of blogging. Blogging has helped me to find new strings I could contribute stories to as many editors just expressed interest for me to write for them after reading one or two of my blog posts.
SK: What do you see as the role of bloggers in the upcoming elections?
BZ: I just wish that bloggers could work together in creating content and aggregate it in this year’s elections. The role of bloggers in this year’s election is basically to keep the electorate informed but also to create spaces of interactivity and discussion with the community.
The objective of blogging elections is also to capture information that will be presented in different areas of Zambia and also give the voice to voiceless election-aspiring candidates especially women who want to be in leadership.
Integration of data from multiple sources will be required to provide meaningful information and content. Involvement of stake holders is crucial for sharing and dissemination of information for knowledge sharing for the general public. We will need to aggregate content from blogs so that the content will be organised, highly read and it should be presented in text or data, pictures and video and audio (podcasts).
Blogging elections will help geographically dispersed people to also be sensitized. Collaborative framework for community participation even after the elections come to an end. This will help improve the quality of information by linking information from multiple data sources and also reduce cost of content creation and deployment for providing better access through multiple devices.
SK: How would you describe the state of Zambian blogosphere?
BZ: The state of the Zambian blogosphere is growing at a very slow rate. There is need for bloggers to be committed and consistent.
SK: What is the current public attitude towards blogging in Zambia? Are bloggers/online journalists under threat in Zambia?
BZ: Well, the public is ready to consume any other information from any other platform including the Internet. A wordpress based news outlet called the Zambian Watchdog has gained popularity with the owner living in exile because of some stories that were published on the site.
I was also threatened to be sued over stories published on the Southern Africa Social Forum as I was the one who in charge of content management. A journalist and also former President Fredrick Chiluba’s Press Aide Emmanuel Mwamba has been taken to court for a story he allegedly posted on Zambian watchdog.
The public reads blog posts that are circulated and aggregated by the general public.
SK: Would you say that blogging has become a new public sphere in Zambia?
BZ: Not really!!!!!!!! Unless you talk about micro blogging using Twitter or the use of Facebook in Zambia. It is now a fashion trend for Zambians to update their Facebook profile on a daily basis and also to leave comments on other people’s Facebook pages. There is still need for prolific bloggers, though, so that many blogs can be read.
SK: Are there government officials or politicians who blog?
BZ: The President has a blog but I think it is not him who updates it. It has been born as a campaign tool for this year’s elections. Rupiah Banda’s personal website was officially re-launched on Monday 21 February. Boasting a new design and brand new content, the site include more useful information and personal details about him and his wife and the nation of Zambia. The website provides a crucial channel to help President Banda reach the Zambian people. It comes as part of his pledge to drive forward progress and development and so help Zambia to achieve a better place in the world.
The website was first launched in September 2010. He also has official Facebook page and a YouTube channel. Main opposition parties have online presence and the opposition presidential hopefuls such as
Haikainde Hichilema and Michael Sata have personal sites. In 2011 we can see the shift of election campaigns to online platforms.There are also some Members of Parliament and Minister who have Facebook pages such as Dora Siliya who is Education Minister and a former journalist. She uses the page to disseminate government information.
SK: Brenda continues to commit to sharing her experiences and expertise with the rest of the world through blogging.