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Advance critique of the Indaba

A number of African bloggers have pointed out that many of the speakers at the Digital Citizen Indaba in Grahamstown later this week aren’t bloggers, and that many aren’t black. Some critics offered these observations pretty forcefully.

Sokari at Black Looks writes, “more like the gathering of the Big White Chiefs oOOPS but wait I forget “we are all africans now. Maybe there will be a hall full of eager black faces looking intently at the white chiefs for guidance and hope for the future of this great land.” MMK at African Bullets and Honey wonders, “Will it be a roomful of white folks working for the betterment of the African? Please, I beg you, do not tell massa that I asked cause I know how much he is trying to help me speak and develop into a full, happy human being.”

Well, I hope not. But hey, as a white guy planning on standing up and speaking at this conference in roughly 48 hours, it seems worth looking closely at the questions MMK and Sokari raise. My involvement in the conference has been to offer to speak and to suggest African bloggers as speakers – I offered a long list of suggestions, some of whom were invited. I’m not the conference organizer, and don’t know the financial details that governed how many scholarships were available, who was able to be invited as a speaker and so on.

It’s worth pointing out that the Indaba isn’t a standalone event – it’s being run at the end of the Highway Africa conference, a long-standing conference that brings together journalists, geeks and folks from the NGO sector in Grahamstown – I suspect that the speaker list includes several folks who are already in town for that conference, as well as an emphasis on speakers from South Africa, who are less expensive to bring to the event.

But there’s no doubt that many fantastic African bloggers, including the two referenced above, aren’t going to be at the conference. And there’s no doubt that this isn’t a conference in the style of “blogger conferences” we’ve seen around the globe, most recently BlogCamp India, organized purely by and for bloggers. The goal of this event seems to be to build dialog between bloggers, journalists and the NGO sector, which explains why speakers include lawyers, journalists and funders, as well as bloggers.

It’s high time for there to be a continent-wide blogger conference or unconference. But it’s likely going to require funding for many folks to attend it, no matter whether it’s held in Nairobi, Jo’burg or Lagos, it’s not in everyone’s backyard. And raising that money may mean convincing the NGO types that there’s something exciting going on with blogging in Africa – to bring Global Voices bloggers to our annual meeting costs tens of thousands of dollars, which we couldn’t do without support from Reuters and from foundations.

I hope the conference attracts a lot of bloggers from Southern Africa as well as the speakers invited, and that there are great conversations about how journalists, bloggers and “civil society” can learn from each other. I hope that there’s enthusiasm for a continent-wide conference that makes it possible for a much larger number of bloggers to attend and shape the program, whether that’s a standalone event or part of a future DCI gathering. And I hope Sokari, MMK and others won’t be as disappointed by the outcome of the meeting as they were with the planning, though that may be a lot to ask.

4 thoughts on “Advance critique of the Indaba”

  1. I thought the event was for bloggers only, but it seems to be for NGOs as well. It will be cynical to think the organizers had racial motives in speaker selection.

    The humanitarian community had this the white vs. black debate and continues to, and I’ve to say it had merits at times. But blogging is different, black Africans are well represented in the blogsphere unlike the humanitarian community, after all it’s easier to setup a blog. Besides north Africans can be making the same argument – there are not black or white. It’s good to continue to talk about the African blogsphere as an entity and discuss such a tricky issues.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, looking forward to your updates on the conference.

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