Boom in Blogs Gives Africans a Voice on the Web ; WORLD

Article excerpt

Daudi Were, a 28-year-old Kenyan, still reads newspapers. But if he really wants to know what's happening - in African countries where newspapers are state-owned or censored - he turns to the blogs. And he's not alone.

Blogs are taking off across Africa as a new tech-savvy generation takes advantage of growing internet access. The African blogosphere was, until recently, filled by the African diaspora and westerners living in Africa. But native African voices are now being heard.

Kenya, in particular, has seen a large growth in the number of bloggers. The Kenyan Blogs Webring began in 2004 with just 10 sites - now it has more than 430, blogging on everything from politics and business to arts and culture.

"When I first started blogging most of my readership came from outside Kenya," said Mr Were, who runs a blog entitled menta- lacrobatics. "However, increasingly we are seeing more and more hits from within Kenya. The Kenyan youth in particular are embracing the internet."

Although internet connections are improving, in many areas they remain poor quality and expensive. East Africa is the only region in the world that is still not connected to the global broadband network. "It makes it difficult to blog regularly," said Ory Okolloh, a young Kenyan blog-ger. "More importantly it makes it difficult for blogs to be accessible to a wider audience."

Her site, Mzalendo - meaning "patriot" - aims to keep an eye on Kenya's parliamentarians, recently focusing attention on MPs' attempts to award themselves a [pound]45,000 pay-off when their term of office ends this year. According to Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, blogs such as Mzalendo "are trying to cor-rect the weakness of the local press and provide a space for critique that does-n't exist elsewhere".

In parts of Africa where the media is tightly controlled, blogs have emerged as an essential tool in highlighting injustices. Ethiopian bloggers have provided far more detailed news and analysis of the recent trials of more than 100 opposition leaders and activists than any mainstream media outlet. The blogs cannot be read inside Ethiopia though - any that attack the government are swiftly blocked.

Much of the best on-the-ground reporting from Darfur has been done by blog-gers rather than journalists. …