Arthur Goldstuck
Arthur Goldstuck

Africa’s big blogging bang

New statistics show that the big bang of blogging activity that began in South Africa in 2007 has been echoed by the emergence of blogging as a high-profile phenomenon in the rest of Africa. The April-July tipping point in social media in South Africa, chronicled in this blog, also appeared to be the period during which blogging began to gain traction in the rest of Africa.

Thanks to Afrigator, the African blogging aggregator launched during that period, it is now possible to assess the intensity of blogging in Africa, if not the exact quantity. While isolated blogging portals and platforms, such as Blogafrica.com and African Path do exist, they play the aggregator role in only the broadest sense. Afrigator provides automated links to blogs, tracks their use and aggregates both content and activity around that content to the extent that it has become possible for the first time to draw conclusions about blogging in Africa.

But first, a BIG DISCLAIMER (apologies for capital letters, but such disclaimers in previous postings have been utterly ignored by the more hyperactive among us, who immediately dismiss any statistics that don’t agree with their worldview, without first understanding the context and stated limitations of those stats). Bearing in mind that not all African blogs link up to Afrigator, the figures mentioned here represent a sample of African blogs, and as such are only a conservative indication of the scale of blogging in Africa. The significance of the figures lies in the extent to which they provide a basis for comparison with South African blogging.

The total number of African bogs linking to Afrigator at the end of 2007 was 1 784. Of these, more than one-third — 665 — were blogs from outside South Africa. In January 2008, a further 207 blogs linked to Afrigator — with 42% being from Africa. This suggests that, while the rest of Africa lags far behind South Africa in the number of blogs, it is growing faster than South Africa.

Equally significant, however, is the number of postings to South African blogs relative to the rest of Africa: 75 457 for South Africa compared with 65 658 for the rest of Africa. On a per-blog basis, activity in the rest of Africa is far more intensive than in South Africa.

However, there are indications that access to these blogs is far more limited than in South Africa. The South African blogs recorded 18 875 505 page views in 2007, compared with 7 650 755 for the rest of Africa. Given that Africa represent more than one-third of the blogs, the fact that it represents little more than a quarter of the traffic is a clear pointer to the much-debated digital divide between South Africa and the rest of the continent.

But there are other significant differences between bloggers in South Africa and those in other African countries.

“The majority of South African blogs seem to stay clear of tackling hard-hitting issues, but the converse is happening throughout Africa,” says Justin Hartman, co-founder of Afrigator. “This is significant as it allows fellow countrymen to share in the debates and gives them an independent, unmoderated forum in which to do so. This, in turn, builds a major sense of community within.”

Not surprisingly, there is one major overriding theme in African blogs. “Without doubt we are seeing a major influx of political blogs coming through on Afrigator from other African countries,” says Hartman. “While we still have a large number of personal and technology blogs, the overwhelming theme is of a political nature, which is aimed at confronting these issues in a blogger’s particular country.”

An example of this was rapid growth in Afrigator’s Kenya channel after the disputed elections there led to widespread violence. The Zimbabwean election crisis has been as intensively covered by bloggers as by mainstream Zimbabwe media. A snapshot of this activity is neatly captured in a Sky News article entitled “Bloggers’ outcry over Zimbabwe delays”.

Says Hartman: “In many instances, objective news is often hard to come by and the rise of the blogger in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria has been spurred on by vast political unrest. We find that most new African bloggers want to have their say on hard-hitting issues which traditional media are often not reflecting.”

After South Africa, the most actively blogging country (as measured by Afrigator) is Kenya, followed by Nigeria. On April 2, 1 399 South African blogs were linked to Afrigator, as well as 201 from Kenya and 125 from Nigeria.