RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ugandan bloggers gone crazy

Citizen journalists have taken the world by storm providing an alternative source of information on their blogs, but Ugandan bloggers are not standing up to be counted, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

On the evening of July 31, a short woman in blue compact jeans chased a beefy man around a bar table as she mirthfully pleaded to have her phone back. Patrons raised their eyes from their drinks and watched on mystified, wondering if this “run-and-catch” was part of the entertainment menu. The players were members of the Ugandan blogging community who had just gathered at the Turkish restaurant, Effendys, with the rest of the inner circle for their monthly meet-ups – what they call the “Happy Hour”.

Before arriving here an hour or thereabouts, a debate had raged between two bloggers and a visiting American: Are all Ugandan bloggers okay with taking their meetings to a bar? And what’s the whole essence of having a Happy Hour? Is it just to celebrate life by drinking expensive coffee and beer, fraternising, raising money for an orphanage or engaging intellectually say on the rising food prices?

With Michael Jackson’s Thriller blaring in the background, Thomas Smyth literally shouted his order, for that was the only way the waitress was going to hear. That’s about when the two adults pursued themselves around tables. It was the beginning of a shocking evening for the American. Soon, girls were eyeing him surreptitiously and whispering (possibly about his towering height) and taking pictures with their phones. Thomas Smyth gulped his drink and left the Happy Hour prematurely. He had come with a hypothesis: That this community of erudite bloggers was going to transform the Ugandan society but a few minutes with them and he began to doubt.

He didn’t know that a clever Ugandan blogger, S.A.G.E, had in August 2007 summed the Ugandan blogging scenario as “the theatre of the absurd” for which he incurred the wrath of the “blogren.” Blogger Savage had called him “a waste of space on earth and a disgrace to the entire human population” and insulted his parents saying they would have done the “world a huge favour had they decided to have a good night’s sleep instead of engaging in hanky panky the night” S.A.G.E was “conceived.” Ironically, Savage’s attack of S.A.G.E drew a backlash as equally inane. One blogger Keitetsi said Savage sounded like “a menopausal goose” and that if his comments were “on paper, it would be the kind of stuff people in jail use to wipe their butts.”

As drama ensued, the personalities of many Ugandan bloggers were exposed to a level where the discerning would no longer find it confounding that a woman would for example upload a picture of her g-string on her blog and ask if the readers like it.

A June 30 blog entry boldly titled “Boobs!” by Ugandan blogger Carlo, contained four pictures of women’s cleavage. Her blog soon jammed with comments from men and women begging with desperation to know to whom the ample busts belonged – Carlo’s or her sisters. Only a few wondered if she was crazy to flash such erotica.

“My blog is called Carlo’s for a reason; it’s all about me, so I put up what I want,” she defended herself. “I put them [cleavage] there to attract attention as a light-hearted beginning of a week so we’re not totally focused on serious issues but can laugh sometimes and be ridiculous, you get?”

While it’s true it’s the blogger’s prerogative to fill their blogs with whatever material, those creating blogs are prompted to restrict their sites to invited readers or to put a disclaimer that the blog contains adult content.

From S.A.G.E’s understanding, bloggers are supposed to update their lives and voice their opinions on things they strongly feel about to provoke intellectually stimulating debate.

“But in Uganda, it’s more of who’s more dirty,” he says. “They are not going to be interested if you don’t tickle the bad boy and the bad girl in them; so girls talk about the first time they lost their virginity in the shower room, and boys about how sweet sex in the morgue is and everyone cheers and their egos are massaged. Their superficiality comes to the surface as they smite those that would rather tell them the truth than hype them.”

Journalist Rodney Muhumuza agrees. “We don’t seem to have a lot of reported blogs in Uganda, which is very disappointing. In America, bloggers investigate and conduct interviews to scoop 'The New York Times' but most Ugandan bloggers that I know care about life at its most basic,” said Muhumuza, who writes The Kampala Review blog. “It’s more often about sex, sex and more sex. It’s hardly the stuff that will inspire a sober mind.”

Could it be they know they write banality that they hide under pseudonyms? Rather than heroes, you meet unrepentant cynics and provocateurs that spend a bulk of their time venting, fantasising and gibbering about trivialities with unflagging devotion. Writing about life in the Internet age, David Kaiza dramatically captured this in the June 30-July 6 issue of 'The EastAfrican' by noting, “The culture (of blogging) puffs out like a hot air balloon; directionless and pointless.”

It is this lack of focus that has left Ugandan journalist and blogger Benon Herbert Oluka disappointed: “I would expect people to use their blogs to give more insight into everyday happenings because I tend to get hooked to thought-provoking articles than someone whose blog is about where they hang out last night.”

One of the most popular and respected Ugandan bloggers, 27th Comrade, thinks many Ugandan bloggers are “simply not interested in serious discourse; it’s not a bad thing; it’s just different.”

Flipping the other side of the coin, there are also purpose-driven bloggers, however few, that command the respect of the intelligent and educated alike. Tumwijuke of the Ugandan Insomniac blog is for example loved for her ability to “poke the social conscience of people”. Writing with zing and flair, she has almost single-handedly cracked into the dominance of traditional media by arousing discussion on issues of national and global importance, for which she was in February this year voted Uganda’s best blogger by fellow “blogren”.

For some however, the uniqueness of blogs is the greatest thing to happen online. “Bloggers don’t have to follow conventional rules like the newspapers and that’s what I love most,” says Jared Ombui an avid reader of blogs. “Writing for them is a heart thing and often you find closet stories; the kind you will never see in our newspapers. I love that they are usually short and funny and also the comments from readers are hilarious.”

For blogger Denda, it’s the spirit of comradeship that he loves about blogging. “It’s like neighbours checking on each other,” he said. “I knock on your blog anytime and find out what’s going on in your ‘house’. During the Happy Hour we share ideas and swap books and meet some of the bloggers we love to read –that’s the whole beauty about blogging.”

It’s a positive sign especially in this era where blogs are increasingly being seen as points of reference. Already, there is a heated debate on the Internet that they will soon replace mainstream media which shows the power blogs possess.

Still, if the world’s best comic-strip artist was to invent something that best depicts the Ugandan blogging experience as whole, it would not be the kind patriots would like. It’s only after we have revolutionised the way we think and blog that people like Thomas Smyth will not leave the Happy Hour with inhibitions.

--Daily Monitor, Monday September 1, 2008