For the first time in media history in Malawi, blogging has been recognized as a practice playing an important role journalism. This follows the awarding of blogger and journalist Kondwani Munthali with a Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Blogging Award of the year. The recognition was part of the World Press Freedom Day celebrations on 3 May in Lilongwe.
Victor Kaonga (VK): Did you expect to be Blogger of the Year noting this was first time in Malawi that MISA had this category?
Kondwani Munthali (KM): Many people told me so. I rarely enter competitions and this one too did not require me to submit anything. It was done through voting. I felt honored that my peers thought I was doing a good job. But as I said, there are excellent bloggers whom I felt deserved the award, but Journalists in Malawi thought I was better and that is a humbling experience.
VK: Why did you start blogging?
KM: There were two Malawian bloggers, Dr. Steve Sharra and Victor Kaonga whom I followed much when I was on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 2007. They did not write much about news, but a reflection of issues that affected Malawi. I thought the blogs represented a freedom to share your opinion to a larger audience. But being a news person, over the years I do write less about my opinions and more news. It is a news blog now.
VK: Who have been your main readers?
KM: It is interesting that with time my blog has grown in terms of audience since I started linking my updates with my Facebook page and Twitter account. My blog visitors are mainly from Malawi which is very impressive. This is followed by the United States of America and for some reasons, I also have people in Romania who make part of the top 10 countries visiting the site. Individually, I am sure decision makers, diplomats, politicians and many ordinary Malawi read my blog. I get calls all the time or reminders that I have not updated the blog from various people. I feel honored to have many of these people visit my blog and pay attention to what I have to say.
VK: Do you ever feel scared because of blogging?
KM: Yes, Malawi went through political turmoil in the last 2 years. Even my company – Nation Publications Limited which has been very supportive at times thought some of us were being targeted by authorities because of blogging. The challenge is that people do not differentiate between opinion and facts. Very few people would accept that I have a right to express my opinion on any matter especially politics. I could get nasty reactions, comments or simply insults. I improved my security but thank God, nothing happened and now I am free to write what I want again!
VK: Would you share one or two highlights of the posts you written so far?
KM: The first one is an account of July 20. After Police beat us up alongside Civil Society leaders at Lilongwe CCAP, after seeing them chase and beat my camera man, that minute all I thought was running to survive. But later in the evening it dawned on me that we could have died and the situation did not look fine the following day. I started writing my account of events minute by minute. It has since been used as part of record of events of that day across the world.
The second is the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika and the suspense that engulfed the delay to announce his death. On Friday evening of 6th April after listening to speeches by then Cabinet Ministers claiming that then Vice President Joyce Banda could not take over, I wrote a piece around midnight appealing to those that had power that night to choose the constitutional way. I got a record number of telephone calls, some threatening but a majority thought I had written sense on the question of transition. When President Joyce Banda called for a Press Briefing that morning, I knew my country had evaded the worst. I would consider these two as my best pieces.
VK: Advice to bloggers especially in Southern Africa.
KM: The secret to writing is to keep writing, even when you don't understand what you write. The blog opens you up to a wider world. It helps us document our countries and region in our own words. We connect to the whole world and influence perception people have on our region. This is the time to keep blogging, until our story is told everywhere!
Global Voices Online and especially bloggers in Southern Africa wish to congratulate Munthali on this great award.
*Thumbnail: Kondwani Munthali receiving his award. Photo source: Munthali's Blog