Thursday, October 21, 2010

Social media in Africa - What I learned today

Post by Peter Casier, originally posted on Blog Tips

We are never too old to learn.

This morning, I was participating in a session at the AgKnowledge Africa share fair in Addis, on "How to report on agriculture issues".

One presenter introduced his experiences as a radio reporter, where he travels around interviewing farmers on the diverse aspects of their daily life, their problems and solutions. Rob from Shujaaz explained how they use a combination of comic strips, Facebook, a website and a radio show to reach out to Kenya's youth. Gladston from Story Workshop is using drama and a radio show to get farmers together.

I was asked to explain how I used social media to 'report on agriculture'.. At first I thought, "Gee, I don't really report on agriculture". But as the other speakers enthusiastically showed their media efforts to get a message out, I thought of my series of interviews with farmers in Africa, on ways they adapt to climate change. Then a light went on in my head: the same way we conducted the interviews, and published the content on social media, could be used for other topics too.

So I told the crowd how we go around different countries, taking video and audio interviews, pictures and sound snippets. How we prepared for each interview, processed the video and audio, and then published it on a wide area of social media channels (blogs, Flickr, YouTube, podcasts,...).

In my presentation, I stressed that this effort is mainly geared to bring the message OUT: we take the input from the farmers, and publish it for the 'world to see'. "Because many rural areas in Africa are still not connected to Internet", I stated, "it is still difficult to use social media to create a networked social community amongst people in these areas, using social media tools".

A lively discussion followed. The presentation spurred several people to explain how they use social media for their causes, in different countries in Africa. And by jolly, how enthusiastic they were. How eager to learn how to use social media better.

But it also raised another point: several people stood up and explained the rapid trend of mobile phone networks reaching out the far-away-places, and how that automatically brought Internet connectivity to those areas.

Beatrice, from Kenya, explained how she publishes a blog for dairy farmers, with posts often spurring a long string of comments. She said that most of the commenters on her blog were actually people in rural areas.

Rob also said that most of the active people on Shujaaz' Facebook page were from out-of-town.

And then I got completely dazzled when someone pulled out statistics from Safaricom, Kenya's leading mobile network, showing that 98% of the Internet traffic actually comes from rural areas. [Update: These figures look to be very high, I emailed Safaricom to get some detailed figures.]

While what happens in Kenya is not fully applicable for all places in Africa YET, they have always been a trendsetter in communications. So the prediction is that within the next decade, Internet WILL reach out to Africa's rural communities, and with that, social media WILL become one of the main ways to communicate, share knowledge, and form social communities.

And that is what I learned today.

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