No Apologies

Years ago there were Africans, say Kenyans, who excelled at Alliance High School, then at Nairobi or Makerere Universities. Then opportunities beckoned for many of them – for some, it was jobs in the colonial or the new African governments. But for others, they yearned to learn more, and applied for or won scholarships to the West or East for further learning. Maybe there was a CIA or underhand motive behind the generosity of these governments i.e. give us your best leaders and we will mould/educate them to do our bidding after they return home.

You have all seen some of those class pictures from prestigious universities with one black or brown or yellow face staring back among the sea of white faces. They may have been subjects of curiosity or hostility, but these students had been hard workers in their countries who had excelled, and many continued to excel at their new institutions. Afterwards, some returned home, some chose to settle there, while others disappeared in the vast north.

The Digital Indaba of 2006 was not like that, however.

First thing to know about it was that it was not a solitary conference in the wilderness. It came at the tail end of Highway Africa, Africa’s largest annual gathering of journalists, now in its 10th year. The conference this year addressed several topics including MDG’s, access to knowledge, web 2.0, corruption, EASSY, community media, among others.

Running through all these was the theme of new media – in which journalists and the media continue to embrace the challenges and opportunities brought by digital technology and the internet. This year the organisers formally added on bloggers forum aka the digital indaba that covered the last two days of the conference.

Some raw numbers: There were more black faces than white faces, speakers and delegates, at Highway Africa because there are more black journalists than white journalists in Africa. There were more white faces at the Digital Indaba because there are more white bloggers in Africa and the world. And yes – white South Africans are Africans.

At the conference, we learnt that countries like Egypt and Iran have many thousands of  blogs while India and China have millions of blogs. At any meeting, it is impossible to get a truly representative sample, something even organisers of blog conferences in the last two countries admit.

The organisers selected some bloggers from Africa to attend. From Kenya, these included Mentalacrobatics and Kenyan Pundit who were both Kaybee award winners this year.

According to the daily newspaper, which was published each day of the conference, there were 36 Kenyans invited. That’s only behind Nigeria, Algeria and of course South Africa. We met and got to know many of them, who work at the Nation, Standard, KBC and several other media houses in Nairobi. They too had applied for scholarships and won for their work this year. For many, it was not their first time at Highway Africa. Unfortunately, many of them left before the Indaba started, but I am sure you’ll see more of them staying on next year to discuss their new blogs.

Yes, we bonded, we did not sell out. Elsewhere, others have eloquently written about the lessons drawn from the week in SA. I was very happy too meet, hear, talk, or interact with Adam Clayton Powell, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Alec Hogg, Andrew Kanyegirire, BeckyIT, Bheki Khumalo, Ben Akoh, Brenda Zulu, Chris Kabwato, Colin Daniels, Dali Mpofu, Emeka Okafor, Ethan Zuckerman, Guy Berger, Henry Chasia, Kenyan Pundit, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Marazzmatazz, Mentalacrobatics, Mike Stopforth, Neil Jacobsohn, Ramon Thomas, Vincent Maher, among others from both conferences. They have all influenced Bankelele in a positive way and I hope the results will become apparent shortly

There will be more indabas in future, TED Africa (in Arusha) and others, which I hope to attend if I feel they will add value and I am still keen on blogging. If there are scholarships I will apply for them, if I am still keen on blogging. I may win some, or I may not. I hope others Kenyans win/get these opportunities and also draw some positives.

Mentalacrobatics has thrown down the gauntlet to Kenyans bloggers to organize their own meetups like South Africa, India or China. We have had several mini-conferences at Buffet Park to celebrate the bond of blogging, but maybe it’s time to have a formal one, with serious discussion, but will we exclude White African, Kikuyumoja, Kenyan Cricket, or others on the basis of race?

That would be stupid because in the online world we don’t even know half of who we are. We are largely anonymous, using pseudonyms to draw ourselves out. I hope we can draw some corporate sponsors, educational and government institutions like South Africa has done. Otherwise, without that, there are no scholarships, prizes, dinners and concerts.

11 thoughts on “No Apologies

  1. sokari

    Will we exclude White African, Kikuyumoja, Kenyan Cricket,? why should we are we not working with these guys right now and have been for the past 1-2 years? The essence of this whole discussion has been lost which is unfortuate really!

  2. Ndesanjo Macha

    Apart from few comments that I made on my Swahili blog, i havent said much about this debate. I am going to write a piece on my english and swahili blog about this. I think, somehow, critical points to the debate have been overlooked. I think debates such as this one, no matter how sensitive it may be or how emotional it can get, are important.

  3. Kenyananalyst

    I like the tenor and content of your reflections. For a while, I thought the debate hadn’t been lost entirely. Not that I doubt there wasn’t much to it. Just that it had been muddied too much already.

  4. coldtusker

    So true… Many “Africans” yearn to be “included” when they go to Western (“White”) & complain about racism countries whereas happily act racist while in Kenya!

    Look at Mark Shuttleworth… young S.African who has done great for himself & is now a philanthropist vs the numerous smart educated but corrupt “Black” Africans…

    If Mark had been “chased” away to UK or USA then Africa would have lost a great brain!

    I would trade a “Shuttleworth” for any number of crooks like moi, mugabe, sese seko & bongo!

  5. Anonymous

    I think the real point of the debate that raged about the indaba was probably more about exclusion than race. Many were not invited, scholarship or not, and they could get there on their own ‘steam’. May be it’s not practical to send out invitations to everyone but how about an open invite?
    The TED is still a bit exclusive. I’m sure many Kenyan bloggers can get there on their own but with limited scholarships (just 100) who’s going to pay $2,800 just for the conference? Besides from the website, TED isn’t exactly a blog (un)conference.
    Something with much lower barriers to entry (none even better) like what mentalacrobatics is suggesting is the way to go.

  6. coldtusker

    That’s the beauty of blogging… there are few boundaries (unless you are in China!)

    There are always space limitations at any conference even if its free. Invite the whole dunia & 7 Billion might show up!

    The “blogging” dog & pony show is not something that can be held in a stadium! So you have to limit it somehow! By Invitation Only.

    Sure we like weddings (for the food & beer) but By Invitation Only even when the prez’ daughter/son are getting married!

    If I had a free invite to a conference in SA… I would hama there asap. I did NOT get an invite BUT perhaps if I could interest more folks in reading my blog i.e. become influental, I might be invited!

    Someone (not me, I am too lazy) should try something similar in Kenya! Do invite me for the free pombe!

  7. bankelele

    Sokari: My point was that I don’t see how this angle ever entered the whole indaba discussion

    Ndesanjo Macha: Nice summary you have put up

    Kenyananalyst: Thanks, had a great time, it was a good experience and I want to share that

    Coldtusker: I have to read up Mark Shuttleworth. We have KBW meets, put pombe is not free!

    Mwenye Nchi: They could only have invited so many. It was of course cheaper to invite more South Africans to speak and participate -maybe when we have our sit will be skewed towards E. Africa but we must also reach out to others. Re TED, Arusha is near, but I too can’t afford to splash $2,800. The KBW meets at buffet park have all been fun (and much more affordable too!)

    Mzakai: He gave a talk, but I was not aware of the Winnie angle!

  8. Kenyan Pundit

    The blogging indaba was open to all who could afford to make it there, it wasn’t an exclusive event like TED is all you had to do if you could afford to travel was register on the website…

  9. toiyoi

    ColdTusker said:
    If Mark had been “chased” away to UK or USA then Africa would have lost a great brain!

    I think you are passing the buck here; lets own up. There may have been issues trying to “chase” people out, but the people choose to be chased, they had no “backbone” to “stand up” to bullies. Period.

    Such people (i included included) may actually have no solutions for kenya (and Africa), for if they did, they would have stayed and provided these solutions. Lets give honor where honor is due. And cowardice where due. Period.

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