Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the internet in africa

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a special series for BBC about the internet in Africa. It’s provided me with some surprising and amusing insights into what’s happening across the continent.

Take for example the Lagos reporter Fidelis Mbah, who like many Nigerians is enjoying facebook. Before he left for a training course in Kenya, he put up a facebook status update announcing his arrival. When he got to Nairobi he found a number of his facebook friends (who he’d never met before) waiting to meet him – including one who’d driven all the way from Kampala in neighbouring Uganda!

In Kenya, a woman from Migori, Leah Okeya, has started using a site called ‘pulse wire’ to communicate with other people around the world living with HIV and Aids. She says despite having to use the village’s only internet cafĂ©, which often suffers from breakdowns and power cuts, being able to discuss her illness with people who live outside her community has ‘changed her life’.

One thing which I hadn’t anticipated, having spent the last 18 months in Chad where the internet connection was appalling, was that so many people in Africa are now accessing the internet via their mobile phones. In fact in South Africa, the editor of the Mail and Guardian online Chris Roper, estimates that more people get online that way than using a fixed computer. Africa is already jumping over the technical limitations in the way it jumped over the limitations of landlines.

But one of the most interesting things was asking the reporters themselves to write a blog about their experiences of compiling reports about the internet.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I am now back in the UK

..Having returned to work at the BBC World Service African service. Watch this space for new material.

In the meantime enjoy these photos!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Security in N'Djamena

In the last few weeks a number of serious security incidents have taken place involving foreigners working for international organizations, leading to the suspicion that a deliberate campaign is being carried out against them. Allow me to recount a few.

A female friend working for the UN followed the flow of traffic in the centre of town, where most of the drivers flouted a one-way rule on a main road. While the other cars were allowed to pass, a number of armed men jumped out in front of her car, and a police car blocked her passage. When she protested that everyone else had gone that way, she was asked to get out of the car. She called UN security, which irritated the armed men (one is never sure who is really a policeman here), and they pulled several guns on her, shouting and threatening until UN security arrived.

In another incident a male UN worker traveling home at night was picked up on a roundabout by another driver, who drove right up behind him flashing his lights and tooting his horn. The UN worker sped up to avoid a confrontation, and the driver followed him all the way to his compound where he drove in, knocking guards out of the way, and drove right up to the UN workers door. He managed to escape by running around the back of the house while the driver was hammering on the front door.

A family of five was visited by ‘secret police’ without ID one morning, and told they had 24 hours to get out of their house. When they protested that they had nowhere to go they were told they would be locked out of the house. Several calls to embassies and friends produced no results and they did in fact move the following day to a temporary house. Two days later the mother was stopped in the road by more armed men, demanding to see her papers. When she could not produce them, armed men got into the back of her car and refused to leave. Feeling threatened she started protesting and crying, but was hit on the arm by a policeman, who then impounded her car.