You have probably by now already seen the above titled article in the paper and this is my reply to that.
Citizen journalists have taken the world by storm providing an alternative source of information on their blog, 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? (As the organizer, I can safely say that the location for our meeting is always on the table for discussion, you would think he would have asked me about that.) And what’s the whole essence of having a Happy Hour? (Again, he could have asked those of us who turn up. I will go ahead and list them. To put a face to the blogs we read and love so much. To have a forum where we can discuss, face to face, some of the controversial posts that we have read in the previous month. To have fun and meet new people and make new friends. To engage intellectually on different things including the rising food prices. If he attended all the BHHs, he would have known this.) 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? (What is wrong with celebrating life? His blog tagline is “Friend of God” and from all my time going to church I can say that is what life is about. Rejoice and be glad in the life that God has given you. Again, you might think he would have raised that.)
With Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing 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. (I was there, I can honestly say, we could have moved. Actually we did move and if anyone had suggested it, we could have switched seats again. Aside from that, I managed to have a conversation with Thomas Smyth just fine without having to scream at each other. Also, what were this American’s expectations? He didn’t engage anyone at all, I walked up to him to make conversation and if he was truly the researcher he claims to be, you would think he would have gone out of his way to engage everyone and find out what he had come to find out which I honestly still don’t know.)
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. (Girls were eyeing him?)
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.” (clever Ugandan blogger? Dennis, why do you agree with the description “theatre of the absurd”? Is it because much of what you see on blogs does not align with your strict moral code? What happened to the whole “hate the sin not the sinner” I have been living by as a Christian myself?)
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. (Does you blog have a disclaimer that you are a Christian? Something that may offend strong Muslims or Atheists who would rather not read your blog? There is just so much that can be offensive and that is simply human. When you read and decide you are offended, you can always leave. You are not required to keep the page on your screen.)
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. (What is with all this intellectual bullshit? What I find intellectual might not be intellectual to you? For example, your failure at being an objective reporter have significantly reduced my view of your intelligence. Does that mean I should stop reading your blog or the Monitor for that matter?)
“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.” (why is the only person you interview one who you know has the exact same views as you do? What is sad is I don’t have a degree in Mass Com and I would still have done a better job than you on this article.)
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.” (OMG, do a google search on Ugandan blogs or visit Node Six’s new aggregator)
Could it be that 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. ( A blog is perhaps the one thing that truly upholds our freedom of speech. Why do you want to quell this? I have as much a right to vent and fantasise and work on my writing as you do to writing badly researched articles that appear in a National newspaper)
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.” (This definition if it applies to Ugandan blogs should also apply to blogs worldwide. Do you know how many blogs about celebrities and day to day happenings exist world wide? Do you even care?)
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 and blah, blah, blah.” (When did this become the definition of a blog? WHEN?)
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.
Dennis, I am quite disappointed in your reporting and not because you have touched on a subject close to my heart but because I expected more from you as a qualified journalist. Your article is one-sided, not well researched and what’s worse it really sounds like it. It does not sound professional at all but then again, how many articles in our papers do. It’s no wonder I only read feature articles. The reporters suck, the editors are letting this bad writing run in the papers because there is nothing better to run and the public is also settling or in my case reading news off the internet that is better written and better researched and more in-depth than what is run in our papers.
Probably what is irking me the most is, you won’t take this criticism constructively and it will simply fuel another badly researched article on your part.