The Growth of Kenyan Blogging And Social Media Communities
Looking back to 2011 as we were thinking about the idea of building a community of bloggers, I see why we need to be proud of the progress we have made over the years. The most talked about and shared content about Kenya and Africa at large back then were done by foreigners. In other words, not enough Kenyans were telling their stories and though bloggers were doing their best, their efforts at the time were never appreciated. Below are lines from my first blog post announcing the formation of BAKE;
“And when people talk about local content, nobody talks about blogs and bloggers even at the ICT Board. While the truth is, bloggers now create over 90 percent of the local content. Be it in form of videos, pictures, blog posts, social media sharing and updates and even journalistic news articles. It is time for bloggers to get involved fully in promoting local content and innovations.”
I remember a few weeks later I traveled to Mombasa to attend Connected Kenya and on the way from the Airport to the venue I sat next to someone from the Attorney General’s office. He asked me what I do and the organization I was going to represent at the event. And my answer was I am a blogger, and I was representing my blog. The next question was amusing but also showed how much people did not understand what blogging was. The question was “This blogger or blog, is it a new company from abroad setting operations in Kenya? I have not heard about it” I was happy to explain to him what blogging was about, but I somehow missed to see that he was not alone on that. I later came to realize that majority of the Government people were like him. It took us almost three years to get BAKE registered. At the Attorney General’s office, they kept on asking whether the blogging community was a political party, at some point they even believed that bloggers were hackers. It was during the time that Itumbi was alleged to have hacked ICC emails and at the same time internationally, Wikileaks was creating waves with leaked US diplomatic communications around the world.
To be honest that was one challenge that really got us by surprise. Of all the road blocks that we had anticipated to encounter, we never thought of that at all. But again, I understood where they were coming from. In most cases in Kenya, copying ideas and projects that have been proven to be working else is usually the norm. Go to any forum and you would hear constantly people mentioning how they are working with best practices from other countries. But there we were, starting something that had not been done or tried anywhere in the world apart from the attempt that had been made again by Kenyan bloggers in the earlier years.
All in all, we still learned some valuable lessons from that. One of them being that we needed to do a lot of training both for the public, the aspiring bloggers and the Government officials. And so, training became one of our core activities and since then we have trained over 25,000 content creators across the country. To ensure that our message went beyond the training halls we included Twitter chats, videos and articles aimed at enlightening the public about blogging.
While it took three years for the Government to accept that a community of bloggers is a good thing for the country, the Private sector’s reaction was let me say quite interesting. There were industries that understood and embraced blogging from the word go. But then there were others which took longer than even the Government to understand what blogging was about ……and yes the banking sector is one of them. As late as last year, the Central Bank of Kenya and the Chase bank management, blamed blogging and Social media for the collapse of Chase bank. The more I looked at their statement, the more I realized that the banking industry still do not understand the digital space. Compared that to how Safaricom for example reacted to the emergence of blogging and Social Media. Safaricom learned early on that they can use digital platforms to reach their customers and created a digital department. Within no time their Twitter and Facebook accounts became the best channels through which their customers use to get help or support. Basically, Safaricom turned the platforms that were initially being used to bash them to mediums for engagement and interactions. The company has also supported BAKE’s activities like sponsoring BAKE awards all through from the very beginning. Talking of BAKE Awards, it is one initiative by BAKE that became more famous than BAKE itself. It started with 13 categories, with over 400 blogs being submitted for the first awards. Fast forward to the just concluded one which received over 10,000 blog submissions for 23 categories. It became the discovery point for many new bloggers as well as helping the winners to greater heights.
It is important to note that the growth of local content creators has been in more ways as result of the greater adoption of the use of internet in Kenya. The number of estimated internet users according to Communication Authority latest statistics stand at 39.6 million users.
With time as the community of bloggers grew, complimented by other internet users, there came in a new set of challenges. Remember BAKE was created to promote local online content creation but along the way the question about the quality of the content being created became louder. Some people including a few journalists started calling for the bloggers to be regulated. The main reasons being the accuracy of the content by some bloggers, the issue of the copyrights and the latest additions being the use of FAKE News as well as cyber bullying. Just like it was in 2011, I now more than ever believe that having strong functioning online communities is the best way to make the online space better and safer. That is why as BAKE we are rolling out more trainings across the country to ensure that people understand how the internet and online space work. We will also continue to work with other online initiatives like “Be the Cop” by Communication Authority (CA), aimed at protecting kids online, SOMA Awards and others to build a more perfect community of content creators and online users. By the way the voting period of the SOMA Awards is on and you can vote your favorite social media personalities here www.soma.co.ke