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Africa's Media Explosion

New America Media, News Feature, Edwin Okong'o Posted: Nov 27, 2009

Charles Muigai is concerned that two years after violence broke out in Kenya following disputed elections, Kenyans have done little to avoid a repeat in the 2012 elections. Muigai said Kenyans are not having in-depth discussions about what happened.

Post-election violence has been the hardest topic to discuss, Muigai said. A lot of Kenyans do not read beyond the headlines.

Even in the diaspora, Kenyans still distrust each other. Mingling across ethnic groups is rare. Muigai said he wants to change that. He spent $5,000 of his own money to build an Internet radio station in Dallas, Texas, to give Kenyans a medium they can use to discuss various issues.

On Sept. 9, 2009, the Truthsayer Show went online and has been broadcasting every Thursday at 8 p.m. Central Time. He chose that date because Kenyans dial 999 in emergencies. In addition to listening, the audience can call in and even log onto a chat room while the two-hour show is in session.

African immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly taking advantage of low cost of starting online media to launch Web sites facilitating discussions between the Diaspora and the continent. Although the Internet has been a bridge between other immigrants and their home countries, connecting African immigrants to the continent has been slow because of underdeveloped infrastructure.

However, countries like Kenya have developed their infrastructure and now have broadband, which has increased the number of people online. Even those in Africa who dont have computers are able to access the Internet through mobile phones. Blogging and social networking sites rank highly in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Sudan, according to Alexa.com, the Web site-ranking company.

Thats an indication that more and more people are getting online, and thats good news for us, said Julia Opoti, co-founder and publisher of KenyaImagine.com, a citizen journalism Web site that publishes news analysis and commentary.

Opoti said she and her partners were so excited by the promise of Africas growing Internet users that they have spent more than $10,000 to build and improve KenyaImagine.

Cyril Ibe, a Nigerian-born assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, called the blogs, chat rooms and sites that have sprung on the Web an explosion. Although most African media online consist of chat rooms of mere chatter that doesnt produce any meaningful discussion, Ibe said their existence was a good thing.

What they have done is give Africans that much-needed, almighty voice that every human being strives to have, Ibe said. Many are just noise. Whether it is the Congolese or the Nigerians chatting about their political problems at home, they very easily degenerate into media of name-calling. But where the medium is backed by professionalism there is always a big difference.

Ibe said he had seen some Africans, especially those trained as journalists, take advantage of new media and Internet technology to improve their careers.

Living in this country, they know that journalism is no longer on the traditional route, said Ibe. They also see knowledge of new media as an avenue to adapt and blend into American journalism.

Opoti said the desire to be distinctive from unregulated online chat rooms is the reason she and her partners invested thousands of dollars to improve KenyaImagine. In addition to paying for maintaining the Web site, they have used the money to pay for Internet access for their Kenyan-based editors, who help run KenyaImagine like a newspaper.

What we have done is refine that discussion, Opoti says. We have found a niche in people who are interested in more than news people who say, Yes, this has happened, but what are the implications on the people in Central Kenya or Northern Kenya?

While sites like KenyaImagine focus heavily on issues of the continent rather than of African communities in the United States, others are increasingly doing both. Nigerian immigrant Chido Nwangwu, for instance, owns USAfricaonline.com, a Houston-based small media company with a strong, muscular reach, that has been publishing in multimedia since 1993.

We are not your typical news site, says Nwangwu. News is not as rare to get as is informed insight. That is where we have an edge. We can report the same thing that the mainstream media report on, but beat the daylight out of them in terms of insight.

Nwangwu, who has served as an analyst for CNN in South Africa, said that although USAfricaonline initially offered news and analysis on Africa to Africans and others interested in the continent, the rise of the African immigrant population in the United States demands that their media address issues that affect them, such as immigration and the economy.

In the African community, we cant even spell 'stimulus package,' Nwangwu said.

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