When people say that in East Africa we still don’t have bloggers who make an impact, they are living in some hole. Blogging and citizen journalism in the region is making great headways. We have bloggers and community journalists who are forcing governments to rethink their every move. While in Kenya community forums are divided in party and ethnic affiliations and mostly you will find major part of communications in vernacular, in Tanzania they are united in purpose.
Jamii Forums is a community forum. Started in 2006 by Mike Mushi and Maxence Melo, the community forum has seen all. The two have had run-ins with the police as many times as you can imagine. It is the pressure from the likes of International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Committee to Protect Journalists, Protect Online and international press which has made a point to highlight the impact of the forum. Maxence and Mike have been forced to change houses, phone numbers and hide background details just to blind the state agents trailing them wherever they go.
Maxence Melo, Founder Jamii Forums, in his Office
Before being named Jamiiforums in 2008, it was called Jamboforums. State agents decided to buy and copyright the name “Jambo” and the owners were approached with notice off suit and cease and desists orders requiring them to stop using the name Jambo. The forum was known as JF and so Maxence looked for a name which will still rhyme as JF. That is how Jamii Forums was born. Maxence is a trained Civil Engineer with more than 8 years supervising constructions all over Tanzania. He worked with CSI Constructions Ltd in Tanzania upto 2010 when he resigned to run the forum full time.
Jamiiforums has caused lots of sleepless nights. Some of the discussions and leaks which the forum has lead in are like Richmond Scandal where someone who just ran cyber cafes but had right connections with the Prime Minister then, Edward Lowassa, was illegally awarded tenders to supply power backup generators to Tanesco (KPLC equivalent). The PCCB and parliamentary committees relied on documents uploaded by forumnites on JamiiForums and the Prime Minister was forced to resign. There is where the life of Maxence and Mike became so dangerous that they really thought that it was the end for them. Other instances where the forum stood out was in the 2010 elections where Uchaguzi 2010 was a trending topic and in the discussions of Barrick Goldmine scandal and BOT scandal.
Just in April 2011, Pius Msekwa who is the chairman of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi made various allegations against Jamii Forums accusing it of being sponsored by the opposition party CHADEMA among other accusations. After the resignation of Prime Minister Lowassa in 2008, Energy Minister Nazir Karamagi and Minister for East African Cooperation Ibrahim Msabaha were also forced to resign because of the allegations and President Kiwete had to dissolve the cabinet. Some of the political, social and business leaders who blog on the forum are Zitto Kabwe, Slaa Wilibrod, John Mnyika, Mo Dewji, Dr. Hamis Kigwangalla, Hussein Bashe, Freeman A. Mbowe, Nape Nnauye, Salva Rweyemamu and Regia Mtema
Jukwaa la Siasais the most popular sub forum on the community website. The traffic to the website has exploded in the last six months. The forum has now daily page views of over 158,000 with more than 43,000 visits. It is the most visited Tanzanian website according to Quancast and is the sixth most visited website in Tanzania according to Alexa. The snapshot below will show you deep statistics about the website. Over 48 Million page views in a single month, average of 16 minutes spent on the site, over 1.2 Million unique visitors and 26% new visits. The forum has over 105,422 topics or threads, 2 million posts and around 39,000 members contributing since inception. Airtel now pays $2,000 for a banner on the website while Murphy Motors Japan pays $1,500.
Jambo Forums and now Jamii Forums was never started with a business mind. It has relied on donations from patriotic Tanzanians in the diaspora and within Tanzania to keep afloat. The forum has problems with local Media with even media moguls declaring that Jamii Forum is an enemy of Tanzania. Tanzanian media which is still very much controlled by the ruling elite has given them a blackout even when they have been persecuted. The forum is now run under Jamii Media Inc stable and they have opened a news website, Fikra Pevu, which translated to immature idea. The forum is run from home and boasts of a full home office studio. The forum traffic has forced the owners to run it from dedicated co-located servers in USA. In the run-up to the 2010 general elections in Tanzania, the local media was forced to listen to opinions of the owners of Jamii Forums as opinion leaders.
Already Jamii Media has already purchased www.jamiiforums.co.ke and will soon be launching a Kenyan version. Jamii Forums for Rwanda, Uganda and DRC are also in the pipeline.
Tanzanians might not have embraced Facebook, Twitter and other usual social media websites but they are very much alive discussing issues through Jamiiforums and others. President Kikwete has had his fair share of trouble with bloggers and even one time ordering the arrest of the bloggers who was running Ze Utamu. The blog published materials which portrayed the president in a bad light. Other popular blogs like Issa Michuzi, Mwanakijiji and others have made a great impact in Tanzania.
What do you think of community journalism in East Africa. Leave your comments below.
Robert Alai is a respected Kenyan blogger, technical evangelist, and social justice activist. Robert is known for his hard-hitting articles and opinions disseminated through his Twitter handle or Facebook page. he is the founder of KahawaTungu.