Speaking with a Kenyan Pundit – an Interview with Ory Okolloh

Meine newthinking-Kollegin Geraldine de Bastion hat für die Vorbereitung einer re:publica’09 Session über Blogs in Afrika ein Interview mt der kenianischen Bloggerin Ory Okolloh gemacht. Dies gibt es jetzt hier transkribiert und in englisch: Speaking with a Kenyan Pundit – an Interview with Ory Okolloh.

Ory Okolloh is best known for her blog coverage of the Kenyan election and post-election fallout on KenyanPundit.com. As a blogger and activist she is one of the outstanding figures of the digital cultural movement emerging in Africa. In an interview, Ory gave insight into current developments, her experiences and ways to create global syngeries.

netzpolitik.org: As an African blogger, do you feel one of many or one of a few?

Ory Okolloh: I definitely feel like I am one of many – the blogging community in Africa has exploded in the last few years. There is a great aggregator called afrigator.com which gives good oversight of blogs in Africa and for Kenya you can visit kenyaunlimited.com to get an overview. There is definitely a growing community out there.

netzpolitik.org: Many of the initiatives and political blogs I hear of originate in Kenya – is there a boom going on, and if so, what are the factors encouraging this development?

Ory Okolloh: Kenya is one of the communities that is unique in terms of the fact that is very vibrant and tapping into current issues. I think one of the reasons for the creation of a vibrant blog and now even twitter community is that those of us who started blogging would give others support and there is a strong sense of community – especially in the beginning when there where not many of us, we would make sure we would comment each others blogs and would all get to know one another. Another factor might be that we like a number of African nations are a very youthful country. With people being used to sending SMS and using mobiles, blogging seems like a natural extension to many.

netzpolitik.org: Can you briefly describe the traditional media landscape in Kenya? As a Kenyan Blogger, are you filling a gap?

Ory Okolloh: There is quite a vibrant media landscape in Kenya as compared to other African countries. Although you could say we have taken a few set backs in recent years with increased government intervention on the media. There are two issues: one, there is a lot of self censorship even though its not official people know the government does watch what you are saying and two, there is corruption in terms politicians wanting their story framed a certain way. Those are big challenges. Instead of keeping the government on their toes many journalists lie down and play dead. There is often an air of fear not because of direct oppression from the government but rather because of uncertainty amongst media how far their freedoms go.

So in a sense bloggers do fill a gap – speaking for myself, I am not subject to that fear, I just blog whatever comes to my mind. So you can find more alternative view points in blogs. An example would be the Kenyan elections where the compliance and fear of traditional medai actually hampered their ability to report on the violence that was breaking out. Many people turned to blogs for more up to date coverage. The other gap blogs are filling is addressing issues that are not covered by traditional media. We do not see ourself reflected in the mainstream media – so blogs are an outlet for many.

netzpolitik.org: Do you put yourself at risk through the work you do in any way? Are there any experiences of political repression?

Ory Okolloh: No. Absolutely not. I think thats because most Kenyan politicians do not really pay attention to what is happening on the net. They think the audience is so insignificant that it is not worth following up on. But what is interesting is that during the post election time many people where reading my blog and passing on the information to others via email and SMS – so the information was being disseminated to a much larger audience than just the ones reading the blog or even those online. Also because I am pretty well known, I hope that does give me a bit of cover should anything ever happen – but I believe I blog about things that people are speaking of anyway, I don’t see my work as so radical.

netzpolitik.org: Are the changes in the media landscape impacting on political protest culture?

Ory Okolloh: An new protest culture is emerging through the spread of mobiles more than because of the Internet – again an example of this is the outbreak of violence after the Kenyan elections 2008. The word is able to get around faster. A lot of people send me information that I then publish on my blog and make it available to a global audience. So for instance, if there is an arrest and the person or people watching have a mobile phone support can be organized within minutes. Information can move fast and on a larger scale, that makes a huge difference, Also a number of Facebook groups have come up like „Kenyans for change“ or „ Kenyans Youth for politics“ so there is political organizing going on there too. In the end, I think if you want to influence Kenyan politics you have to be on the ground, but the emergence of new media is allowing more people to voice their opinion and become involved.

netzpolitik.org: Tell me a little bit about your main projects – the Kenyian Pundit blog and the MP Watch site

Ory Okolloh: Initially I started it blogging on politics about five years ago – my personal blog is http://www.kenyanpundit.com/. I am not as active as I used to be beause my attention has been diverted to other projects such as the website I started called http://www.mzalendo.com At that time the Kenyan parliament had set up a website with profiles on the MPs but lacking information on institutional background and real transparency. So we were able to find all this information on-line and set up a mirror sight and opened it up for comments. The most active communities have had very active debates on their MPs performance and some have even begun to organize themselves off-line to deal with issues in their constituencies. Especially around the election period we where quite busy. The sight is a great way to show what issues the average Kenyan wants to be addressed.

netzpolitik.org: Do you think African blogs change the image the world has of Africa?

Ory Okolloh: I do think blogs are helping combat a stereotypical image of Africa. The diversity of both eastern and western Africa is highlighted, it gets the word out there that there are ambitious, educated, text savvy people living in these countries. Sometimes the mainstream media coverage paints such a tainted picture – its not just about blaming western media though, we have the responsibility to tell our story and need to step up to make a better job of covering ourselves – and blogs are one way of achieving that, putting out a different image. For instance if you type in Kenya in Google, Kenyan Pundit comes up and you can see there is a different face of Kenya. Blogs give a more personal view and more local context. I think they have been critical in breaking down the attitudes people have and re-shaping them.

netzpolitik.org: Adressing an audience of German bloggers: What message do you have for them? What lessons be exchanges – what synergies can be made?

Ory Okolloh: The easiest thing you can do is create awareness and tell your audience about the community of African bloggers that is out there – so perhaps you can feature an African blog you like or point people towards the Afrigator. It does not have to be political. Maybe there is someone who is just a good writer or has great African cooking recepies. So that is the easiest and most direct way you can engage: introduce your audience to a different face of Africa.

netzpolitik.org: Of course you can take this to a different level of knowledge exchange if you are interested in a certain topic- for instance there are Kenyan blogs on environmental issues and solar energy and if there are bloggers interested in these topics in Germany it would be good to share.

Ory Okolloh: The most important thing though, is to chip away at the ignorance that is out there. You care about things that you know about. So reading an African blog may help to make abstract issues more tangible – if you read my blog you might care about me and the issues I and my countrypeople are facing.

Medienlese.com hat auch ein Interview mit Geraldine über die rp09-Session gemacht: Bloggen in Afrika.

Passend zum Thema: Digitaler Wahlkampf in Subsahara-Afrika.

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